In the early fall of 1849 the two principal founders of the Iowa Cistercian monastery left Dubuque for Europe. The Irish abbot went to France; the French bishop went to Ireland.
Dom Bruno had not until now been able to attend the General Chapter of the Congregation of La Trappe, and on arriving in France he hastened to spend nearly a fortnight at the Abbaye Maison Dieu of Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe. The General Chapter, it should be explained, is a legislative and judicial body made up of the abbots and other titular superiors of the entire Cistercian Order. When called upon at the sessions to address the Chapter Abbot Bruno informed it of "the settlement he had just founded in the State of Iowa (United States)." So reads the report of the sessions of 1849. "He has already installed there six religious; thirty-four others are only waiting his return [to Mount Melleray] in order to go to complete the community. The General Chapter gives its approbation to it. This will be the monastery of Our Lady of La Trappe of New Melleray."
Bishop Loras arrived in Ireland while Dom Bruno was still in France. He visited Mount Melleray Abbey on October 7th and remained p68 for part of a day. He was led by the prior to the chapter room where he spoke piously and feelingly to the community and gave it his blessing. Learning that sixteen monks had departed for the Dubuque foundation some three weeks earlier he left the abbey highly pleased, and proceeded to the College of Maynooth in search of priests for his missions and then went on to Dublin. It was while he was visiting here that he had the good fortune to encounter Dom Bruno who had just returned from La Grande Trappe. The abbot was proud to take him about and introduce him to the dignitaries. He had seen this polished and suave missionary bishop on Mississippi steamboats and in Iowa ox‑carts. Of this visit in Ireland he wrote enthusiastically a few weeks later: "I had the truly great pleasure of meeting Doctor Loras at dinner in Dublin. We had Dean Meyler to meet him, all who saw him, Seculars as well as Regulars, were delighted with him; his manners were admired more even than those of Dr. Murray, the Archbishop, of whom Queen Victoria said that he was the most elegant courtier she had met with."
On reaching England on his way to France, Loras wrote a remarkable letter which was published in the London Tablet and in which he described the scenes of starvation and suffering he had witnessed in Ireland. Roused to profound indignation at the sight of the princely dwellings and parks of the rich English landlords amidst the miserable poverty of the helpless Catholic tenants, he severely pilloried the English government: "One is at a loss to understand how this state of things can be tolerated in this age of light and philanthropy . . . One could hardly believe that Ireland and England were both under the same laws and protected by the same government; and more than that, the poor Irish are either incarcerated or transported whenever they attempt to better their miserable condition."
It was to help his impoverished monks to escape from such conditions that Abbot Bruno was now sending them to America. Knowing that when the sixteen monks who had departed before his return would reach Dubuque there would be difficulties to face, he immediately sent a bank order on London for one hundred and fifty pounds to Father James, the superior at New Melleray, and a month later he sent one hundred more. In late November he wrote to Father Terence Donaghoe at Dubuque:
"I love New Melleray as much as Mount Melleray. Cheer up the Brothers, dear Father, in p69 case they require to be encouraged, though I hope and believe that they know too well the History of the Cistercian Foundation to need any comfort from creatures . . . If necessary, I will mount an ass, and beg through the world, like St. Stephen of Citeaux, rather than leave my debts unpaid.
"I expect to have fifty Brothers in New Melleray before the first of April. I fear nothing, for we have God with us."
It was well that he feared nothing; but when the news of the disaster now to be described reached Mount Melleray it flung him and the entire community into the deepest mourning.
Prior Francis Walsh after receiving the abbot's letter written on August 18th in Dubuque instructing him to send the three choir and eleven lay brothers immediately to America, added two more lay brothers to those named by Dom Bruno, and on September 10th, two days after the receipt of the letter, these sixteen left for Liverpool. They were accompanied by a priest, Father Patrick Mohan, who had labored for twenty years in the diocesan clergy, and at the age of forty‑six — four years previous to this time — had received the habit of a Trappist monk. With him were the two choir brothers, Brothers Benedict, a doctor of medicine, and son of John McNevin, an officer of the Royal Navy, and Brother Mary Bernard Murphy. The lay brothers were: Victor, Patrick, Ignatius, Michael, Peter II, Stephen, Francis, Mark, Kieran, Athanasius, Philip Neri, Edmund and John Evangelist. Among these brothers almost every trade had a representative. Most of the monks were in their twenties and thirties and were strong and hardy men; the oldest one by far was Brother Victor, who had been born in 1777, entered Melleray Abbey in France when he was forty-five, and was now in his seventy-third year.
At Liverpool the group waited a week in order to secure passage on a sailing vessel for New Orleans, which was much cheaper than by steamer, and because from New Orleans they could more easily transport all their luggage by boat up the Mississippi to Dubuque. At last they found such sailing passage on the Carnatic, and as Brother Kieran pointedly put it in his account, "Father Francis paying our passage fare just two pounds five shillings per head for 16 steerage passengers, it was in all 36 pounds, or what Fr. Clement and Br. Ambrose paid for their fare on a steamer."
Father Francis, the prior, bade them farewell on the 18th of September, and exactly seven weeks later on November 6th the two p70 hundred and seventy‑six passengers, most of whom were Irish folk, were landed in New Orleans. The very next day they were transferred to a •four hundred foot steamboat, among whose three hundred odd passengers the Irish brothers found Germans, English and Americans. The steamboat, the Constitution under Captain George Washington Cable, started north immediately for St. Louis, •twelve hundred miles distant. "The scenery on both sides of the Father of Waters as the Mississippi is called," wrote Brother Kieran, "was grand in the extreme, the beautiful villas, the sugar plantations and refining houses with the poor slaves as busy as bees packing the sugar casks, but above all the orchards of oranges with their yellow fruits waving in the odoriferous tropical breezes of Southern Louisiana. We were shown the residence of Zachary Taylor who was then President of the United States."
The ocean sailing vessel, before it had reached New Orleans, had run short of food, and what provisions had then been served to the steerage passengers were so tainted and decayed that the brothers were in a weakened condition when they boarded the "Constitution." This steamboat had carried cholera patients previously that year and there was little doubt later but that infection was in that ship. There was delay in arriving on the steamboat, the berths were already filled, and the monks were placed in an open part of the vessel with nothing to protect them from the sudden transition from the heat of the day to the intense cold on the nights along that part of the Mississippi in November.
A little over two days after leaving New Orleans, the boat stopped for a while at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Brother John Evangelist and two other brothers bought bread in the city. Shortly after their return to the Constitution Brother John Evangelist was seized with the cholera, and after a vehement struggle, died the next morning. His was the first death of a long list of passengers who succumbed on this voyage. He was buried that evening at Walnut Point, Warren Creek, in the state of Mississippi. Two of the brothers who helped to bury him were the next victims, dying the next day, Sunday, the 11th of November — Brother Patrick and Brother Stephen. They were buried in the same grave at Miller's Woodyard in Bolivar Creek, Mississippi, and with them was placed the body of a little Catholic child from Coblentz, Germany.
Father Patrick prepared these brothers and the others who were to follow them in their journey into Eternity by hearing their confessions p71 and shriving them, but none could be anointed as he had no holy oils. He had them buried in their Trappist habits and a cross set up at each of their graves. Meanwhile panic had broken out on the crowded steamboat. Father Patrick and his monks worked heroically among the stricken passengers. Captain Cable, observing the disease ravaging the brothers and remarking their valiant service among the other sick on board, manifested a special interest in them and sought as best he could to ameliorate their condition.
Brother Edmund was the next to pass away, dying on Monday, and was buried that evening at Ash Grove, Obion County, Tennessee, north of Memphis. While the monks were reading the litany for the dying, there was one brother — so writes Brother Kieran who witnessed all the tragedies — "who will not be named — well, the boat though 400 feet in length was hardly long enough for him to keep away from his dying companions. Yet it is a matter of thanksgiving that cowardice in this crisis was exceptional."
Brother Ignatius died the next morning, on Tuesday, and was buried at Donaldsville, New Madrid County, in the state of Missouri. Near him were buried a negro and a white Protestant woman. The last of the cholera victims was old Brother Victor. Being aware of the death of the other five brothers he was heard to utter a little before he died: "Oh my, oh my, will any of us live to reach Dubuque?" He passed away on the evening of the 13th after the longest struggle of all and was buried a few miles below Cape Girardeau in Missouri.
On reaching St. Louis three letters were immediately despatched to Mount Melleray recounting the consternation of the horror-stricken remnants of the lonely little colony of monks in a strange land over the disaster that had befallen them. All of them spoke of the extraordinary solicitude of Captain George Washington Cable toward them. The edifying manner in which the brothers ended their career and the charity which the surviving brothers had manifested toward them had so impressed this veteran Mississippi steamboat captain that he confided to Father Patrick before leaving him at St. Louis his determination to embrace the Catholic Faith. Mention here must be made of the valiant work of Father Patrick. In his letter to Mount Melleray he had cited Brother Mary Bernard for his fearless ministrations to the sick and dying, and this brother, gratified by the commendation, wrote to Abbot Bruno: "Father Patrick has particularized me and others in his letter, and I think it only p72 my duty to do so to him but words fail me. I cannot tell you with what humility, courage and charity that good old man has conducted himself not only on this trying occasion, but since we left home. May God bless him and have mercy on us."
The monks had passed the spot where just four hundred years before the first Christian explorer of the valley had also been buried in the Mississippi and from the days of De Soto to their own there had been numerous martyrs of charity and martyrs of blood for Christ along the mighty river. But just the year before a much larger group of Cistercians, forty-three in number, mostly French with a few Spaniards, coming from Melleray on their way to the Ohio river and what was to be Gethsemani, had followed the identical passage from New Orleans without a death, without an illness, without a single untoward occurrence. As for the Irish Trappists, however, it seemed as though the hand of a tragic destiny was continuing to shape the course of their history.
It was a cold and murky day, the 14th of December, when the said news of the catastrophe reached Mount Melleray, and a mantle of melancholy settled over all the Cappoquin countryside as the bell in the abbey tower tolled out the terrible message. Each mournful, musical chime was a throb of anguish in the soul of Dom Bruno, as he lamented the plight of his dear sons and his cherished foundation in America. "What can I say," he wrote a little later, "but Blessed forever be the Name of the Lord! Alas for the Dead, the early Dead, the untimely Dead, — alas, alas, for the living — but I should not write this for the Dead are safe and the living are resigned. May the Holy Will of God be blessed and praised forever." A high mass was sung for each of the deceased brothers, every priest of the community offered up three masses for each unfortunate monk, and all the lay members assembled to recite the usual prayers for the dead as if they had passed away at the abbey itself.
Back in America, especially in the West, the nephew carried the accounts of the tragedy, and the somewhat matter-of‑fact description of it as the account appeared in the Missouri Republican of St. Louis on November 16, 1849, bears quoting:
The Cholera. — The steamer Constitution, Captain Cable, arrived at this port yesterday morning, about 5 o'clock, from New Orleans. She left that port on the 7th, having on board about 300 emigrant passengers, fresh from the holds of filthy ships, and with all the seeds of disease about them. They p73 were composed of Irish, German, and English people; and as is usually the case, there was no appearance of disease until the boat had left Vicksburg. Between that time and her reaching this port, there were about thirty cases of sickness, and seventeen deaths, including three children. Of this number about a dozen died of cholera, or of cholera in a modified form, the patient surviving the attack two or three days.
Among the passengers were sixteen Monks, from Milrey Monastery, county of Waterford, Ireland. They were destined for Dubuque, or some point in that vicinity. Of this number, six died on the Constitution. The clerk had a register of all their names, but he was unable to distinguish the living from the dead, and did not furnish us with a list of the names.
At St. Louis less than sixty passengers of all those taken on board at New Orleans were brought into port, as the others had fled in crowds from the plague at each stop. At St. Louis there was a delay of three days for the monks as the north-bound boats feared being caught in the ice on the upper Mississippi. At last one old stern-wheeler was found willing to run the risk, and Brother Mary Bernard, the housekeeper, paid the agent seventy dollars as cabin passage fare for the ten Trappists who had escaped from the cholera. Eight days later, exactly eleven weeks after leaving Mount Melleray, the little group landed in the Dubuque harbor at night, and were met by Brother Ambrose who through long days had faithfully awaited their arrival. He was shocked and astounded at the terrible news of their losses on the river, and explained that neither the superior, Father James Myles O'Gorman, nor any of the brothers had heard a word of the disaster since no mail had arrived ahead of the steamboat. He led them to the City Hotel for their first night in Iowa, and there they were welcomed by Mr. Dennis Mahoney, a prominent man of his day who later became a leading Iowa legislator and newspaper editor. Their firm friend during many years, he became an object of their solicitude, when during his stormy career he was imprisoned by order of President Lincoln because of his Southern sympathies in the Civil War.
The country about Dubuque with its hills and prairies covered with snow seemed rugged and desolate to the new arrivals. The next day two yoke of oxen hauled their luggage out to the New p74 Melleray monastery, while Brother Ambrose crowded Father Patrick and all the brothers into a horse-drawn conveyance. In the confusion their bedding and bed‑clothes had been left behind, and they spent their first night's lodging in New Melleray in a heap of straw in the new shed where the sheeting kept out the snow and let in the freezing breeze. With their accession the Trappist community now numbered seventeen members, of whom four were priests: Father James, the superior, Father Bernard, Father Clement and Father Patrick; two were choir religious: Brother Benedict, the medical doctor, and Brother Mary Bernard, the housekeeper, or bursar; of the eleven lay brothers, seven were tradesmen — Brothers Joseph and Peter were carpenters, Brother Michael was a tailor, Brother Francis a shoemaker, Brother Athanasius a tailor, Brother Mark a mason, and Brother Philip Neri a blacksmith; the remaining four brothers, Ambrose, Timothy, Barnaby and Kieran, devoted their time to the farm and gardens of the monastery lands. Among the unfortunate brethren lost on the Mississippi had been several of the most skilled artisans in the order. All these seventeen brothers and fathers now composing the gallant little community were diligently employed during the winter and spring as the voice of Cistercian obedience dictated, entirely indifferent whether it was at their ordinary trade or in other labor less agreeable to their wishes. The accommodations in the new frame monastery building were still primitive; the frost had come early; the food was coarse. The kind Sisters of St. Joseph's convent nearby made and mended the brothers' stockings, baked their bread for them and often nursed them during their illnesses in this first, strange winter in Iowa.
Meanwhile in Ireland at Mount Melleray Dom Bruno continued in his determination and preparations of sending a second and larger contingent of his Cistercian brothers to New Melleray at Dubuque. The spirits of the members of his abbey as far as the contemplated voyage to America was concerned were by no means depressed by the tragedies of the previous November. A letter from Father James that reached them about the beginning of the year of 1850 had encouraged them: "I hope that the afflicting news will not damp the courage of those destined for this country. I would tomorrow take the same route (indeed there is no other at present by which luggage can be conveniently brought) but I would be more particular as to the character of the vessel and as to the berths I secured."
p75 Prior Francis Walsh had, it will be recalled, been previously chosen to be the superior of the New Melleray institution, and selected to go with him were the four choir religious, Brothers Jules, Francis, John Baptist and Liguorio; the lay brothers, thirteen in number: Edward, Philemon, Peter I, Hilarion, Matthew, Lawrence, Robert, Mary Augustin, Romuald, Clement, Nicholas, and Andrew, and lastly Brother Malachy Rochford from the English house of Mount St. Bernard, who joined the Irish group at Liverpool, England, just before they sailed; the four novices: Gregory, Joseph, Anselm and Vincent; and two postulants, of whose names we have no record. Of these, the majority again were young or middle-aged men. Two of them, Brothers Edward and Philemon, had been members of the French community of Melleray, back in the 1820s; the choir brother, Francis, who was an architect and had helped in the erection of Mount Melleray Abbey, was the oldest of the group — sixty-three years of age. Several were specialists in their trades; Hilarion was a cabinetmaker, Clement was a millwright, while Brother Peter Mannix, also known as Peter I, was a cook. Jules, a choir brother, was a Frenchman, who at thirty was professed at Mount Melleray and was a great benefactor of the community; to the former abbot, Dom Vincent, he had given over two thousand pounds towards the erection of the abbey.1
On the day of their departure from Mount Melleray, the 17th of January, 1850, Abbot Bruno assembled these eager Cistercian colonists in the abbey church at the sound of the eight o'clock bells. There, with stole and crozier, he knelt at the foot of the altar and recited with them the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the prayers for travellers; then ascending to the altar he gave them his solemn benediction. After he had accompanied them on foot to the gates of the abbey lodge, and given them a God‑speed as they left for Liverpool, he wrote to Father James, the superior at Dubuque, enclosing a bank order: "I consider a short note with £50 better than a long letter with no money . . . I calculate that the Brothers will have a tedious passage for we have had a dreadful storm here. Such a storm we had not in Ireland since the hurricane in 1839. p76 May the Lord preserve our dear Brothers!" At Liverpool the Trappist band waited for a week in order to secure passage on a sailing freighter, the Amelia, which was to carry no other passengers but themselves. Dom Bruno had arranged that they should take on board this vessel while it was anchored in the Mersey river plentiful and good food so that there should be no repetition of suffering because of foul provisions. They had their own quarters and Brother Peter was to continue serving the twenty-three of them as their cook. From the start to their final destination their voyage was in strong contrast to that of the brothers in the previous autumn.
They had a splendid crew of sailors on the Amelia which was a vessel of only six hundred and thirty tons. Brother Clement, the young millwright, in one of the many letters sent by these brothers and that fortunately are still in existence today, wrote to Abbot Bruno: "There are 17 Seamen, and it is strange they are from 11 different countries and also speaking different languages, viz.: Irish, English, Scotch, Polish, Italians, Russians, Portuguese, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Americans. A more moral crew I believe there is not at present on the Atlantic; they are in general a model for us; every attention is paid to our wants, and indeed we assist them in pulling the ropes, so we agree very well; to crown our happiness we are alone, nearly as comfortable as if we were at home." However, for the first two or three weeks of their passage they ran into extremely stormy weather, and the severe pitching of the ship caused the monks a considerable amount of suffering. Brother Hilarion broke his collar bone; Brother Anselm badly sprained his leg; Brother Jules, the Frenchman, was sick for three weeks and several others were sick for rather long spells during the first half of the voyage. A young Scotch sailor, only eighteen years of age, fell overboard one midnight and was drowned; Brother Francis, the elderly architect, took very ill and never recovered. A droll side-light on their trials is gained from this excerpt from the letter of one of the novices, Brother Gregory:
"We continued in this awful state until the day on which the Prior got 2 great falls, but not hurt . . . this was not all, for there was nothing but tumbling and tossing, and when at dinner they and their dinner wd be dashed across the table. The Prior seeing this confusion, said to them, Brethren try to bear your cross as well as you can, for the Lord knows it is a cross, and a great cross to be falling and breaking our bones, I wish we were in Dubuque!"
p77 "Poor Peter, the Cook," as he signed himself, put a somewhat humorous note in his perplexities:
"I tell you that I had not ½ an hour sickness since I left Liverpool, yet I had to drink deep of that bitter cup of which Adam's Children, each in his turn partake more or less . . . I will tell you, the Amelia was not advertised for passengers, hence, the place fitted up for cooking our food, reminded me of Fr. Augustin's turf box. It was •about 6 feet in height, 5 feet long, by 3½ broad, in this box I had to work 9 long weeks without one day's respite. The cooking utensils made the matter worse, a ½ stone pot, a kettle, pan and saucepan; neither of these would fit well on the miserable grate. When the ship wd heave all was tossed up and down, and I had to follow them in all directions to pick them up, and at my return the kettle etc were upset, the fire nearly out, and the poor brothers, waiting for something to eat, and my face black from the smoke. Many of the brothers said that I could not nor wd not stand it, but thanks to God and to the glorious Queen of Heaven I did stand it, even to the surprise of the hardy tars."
Only one member of the group, the novice Brother Joseph, failed to show the resoluteness and patience which distinguished all the other Trappist monks. Unwilling and disobedient, he finally threw all docility to the winds and openly defied Prior Francis on several occasions and spoke abusively to many of the brethren. When the prior was finally compelled to inform him that he could never profess him, he replied that he intended to depart as soon as he reached New Orleans.
Meanwhile the illness of Brother Francis became worse and developed into acute pleurisy. When it became apparent that he was to die, even the sailors joined in with the brothers in their prayers. Prior Francis imparted to him the last rites, and at four o'clock on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday he expired as the community was reciting the litanies. Captain Jordan and the crew were all sympathy and kindness, and arranged to have the monks to hold their wake during the night. In the morning the captain ordered the sails to be hauled up so that the ship rested quietly on the slightly swelling sea. While the members of the crew stood uncovered, the short service was enacted on the open deck at half after eight. The monks chanted the Miserere and Father Francis, reciting what he could of the Trappist funeral ritual, crossed the hands of the lifeless monastic architect on his breast, those hands which had helped so p78 cleverly to draw the plans and so faithfully to lay the stones of stately Mount Melleray abbey. The corpse was sprinkled with holy water and then as the musical groanings of the gently moving ship and the winds and the wash of the sea blended into a Requiem symphony, the procession of the brethren escorted the weighted body to the rail where the sailors allowed Brother Francis' remains to slide silently into the waters of the mid‑Atlantic.
The weather and the climate had been changing and from here on the conditions of the voyage were ideal. As it grew hotter the brethren spent most of their time, even during their prayers and religious exercises, on deck; every morning at four they bathed in a barrel‑tub placed in front of their quarters. They saw porpoises and flying fish and whales. When favorable winds shot their splashing vessel through the lovely Caribbean they watched interestedly as flocks of birds from distant verdant tropical shores flew far out over the waters, and with joyful spirits they approached the Mississippi delta below New Orleans.
They passed the bar in a dead calm and had proceeded with the help of a tug •some twenty miles up the river when a fierce hurricane of rain and wind suddenly broke upon them, a storm forcibly described by Prior Francis:
"The sun was going down when a squall rushed upon us, like hell opened, pitching the ship on beam ends. The Captain screamed to the Pilot to save the sails by lowering them as the storm was sweeping them away like cobwebs; the Pilot shouted: 'To hell with your sails, but save the ship. To sea! To sea! up with your helm, and keep her to the wind." Oh, how we prayed — how we trembled, how we repented, and flew to Mary, and not in vain: We are safe."
Back out in the gulf they waited until the storm had declined. How harrowing and terrific this last storm must have been is further emphasized by this excerpt from Brother Clement's letter:
"Oh, it was frightful, the fore top sheet was torn away, the lightning and thunder, the agitation of the sailors with very little cursing for the first time. The Prior assembled us to prayer, many of us gave the Sailors great assistance and we were wet to the skin. O to see the waves rolling! when prayers were finished, there was an abatement visible . . . A steamer towed us back in. There are •105 miles from the bar to N. Orleans. Palm Sunday. We are on the great river, O what a splendid sight! the plantations, the niggers out of their huts: 4 o'clock this morning, we are •60 miles from N. Orleans, we expect to be in today!"
p79 Arrived safely in the bustling southern city on Palm Sunday, March 24, the monks attended the mass that was celebrated by Prior Francis in the newly erected St. Theresa's Church and all of them received Holy Communion. The convent of the Sisters of Charity and the large orphanage conducted by them were connected with the church and through these the brothers were led on a hospitable tour of inspection. After the mass it was Prior Francis' sad duty to dismiss the obstreperous novice, Brother Joseph. The latter, now quite contrite over his rash behavior, begged the pardon of the brothers whom he had offended and remained some time with them assisting them with their heavy baggage; then bidding them farewell he left with the announced intention of becoming a sailor.
It was here at St. Theresa's church that the Cistercian group visited with one of the most distinguished world figures of their day — Father Theobald Mathew. This noble Irish gentleman of international fame, universally known as the Apostle of Temperance, had reached New Orleans only a few days ahead of the Trappists and was now engaged in giving the pledge of total abstinence to some 16,000 persons in the city. He was still on what amounted to a triumphal tour of the United States, and only three months before had received in Washington one of the greatest honors that the American republic could bestow. In our present day the nation still resounds with the acclaim given by the United States congress to that illustrious national hero and pro‑consul, General Douglas MacArthur, after his return from Japan and Korea in 1951. The accolade tendered to Father Mathew, the humble foreign friar, was of the same glorious measure, and only once before in American history had a similar honor been given and that was to the Marquis de Lafayette, the friend of George Washington, who had brought his name and his sword to the cause of American freedom. A short three months before this visit with the Dubuque Trappists, the immortal Henry Clay rising up in the hall of congress spoke of this honor to the Irish Capuchin as "but a merited tribute of respect to a man who has achieved a great social revolution — a revolution in which no blood has been shed; a revolution which has involved no desolation, which has been achieved without violence, and a greater one, perhaps, than has ever been accomplished by any benefactor of mankind." And on the same occasion, that distinguished statesman, Lewis Cass, paid him this eloquent tribute: p80 "You grant a seat here to the successful warrior returning from the conquest of war" — referring to Lafayette, and prophetically also to the redoubtable Douglas MacArthur today; "let us not refuse it to a better warrior — to one who comes from the conquests of peace, from victories achieved without the loss of blood or life, and whose trophies are equally dear to the patriot and the Christian."
This was the priest who wrung the hands of his Cistercian countrymen, and inquired after his dear friend, Abbot Bruno, and asked to be remembered to him; he knew of Dubuque and Bishop Loras, who had written him and begged to have him lecture in Iowa on the cause of temperance which was also sacred to the heart of the immigrant French bishop.2 Realizing the close circumstances in which the brothers found themselves at the moment he pressed a loan upon them which according to Father Francis amounted to fifty pounds.
A slightly distorted version of this meeting as well as of the amount of the loan appears in Father Mathew: A Biography from the pen of John Francis Maguire, a member of the British parliament, and published in 1864:
While on his visit to New Orleans, a number of the brethren of a religious order in Ireland landed in that city. They were on their way to one of the Western States, there to establish a convent and a colony. The money necessary for their purpose was to have been remitted to them in New Orleans; but days passed, and no remittance arrived. The poor men were in great distress of mind, being naturally alarmed at their helpless condition, when they fortunately thought of applying to Father Mathew for advice and assistance. The assistance was readily granted by one who could feel for their position of embarrassment; and in a day or two after, the brothers were on their journey up the Mississippi, with a sum of more than 200£ in their possession, advanced to them by Father Mathews. The p81 money was faithfully returned, but not sooner than a year after.
The account book of New Melleray, however, clearly shows that the loan was repaid only a little more than four months later, namely on August 6th, 1850, and the amount which Prior Francis had received from Father Mathews is distinctly stated as "$250.00" or fifty pounds.
After three days in New Orleans, during which not only the brothers' luggage but also those provisions that still remained fresh were removed from the ocean sailing vessel, the Amelia, to the handsome Mississippi steamboat, the Sultana, the Trappists started on their voyage to St. Louis and this time as cabin passengers. The passage was described by Brother Peter as "a first rate run up the river Mississippi." And what was the surprise and universal happiness of the brothers when they learned that the owner and captain of the splendid Sultana was none other than Captain George Washington Cable of whose profound kindness to the unfortunate monks on the cholera-stricken Constitution they had all heard! Again did the captain assume the role of brotherly adviser; he looked after the comfort of everyone; he related in detail to them the story of the tragic trip; he called attention to the steamer Constitution itself when they passed it, now laden with cattle; he pointed out for them the spots where the brothers were buried. On Good Friday they passed the general locality of the grave of the first monk who had died, Brother John the Evangelist, but no cross could be seen and nothing could be identified. And so it was with the other graves; the river had overflowed its banks and washed away the crosses and all distinguishable marks. Only the cross above the grave of Brother Edmund which was passed on Easter Sunday morning could still be seen. In the ensuing years since 1850 the mighty stream has completed its task of absolute obliteration. The bed of the Mississippi has in some places along its southern passage shifted entirely. Even the geographical names of some of the spots where the Trappist brothers were interred have vanished from human memory as well as records. A search during recent years carried on most accommodatingly by army engineers and Mississippi river pilots at the request of the monks of New Melleray Abbey has proved all but fruitless " 'gainst the tooth of time and razure of oblivion."
At St. Louis, after Prior Francis had been hospitably received by Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick and his clergy, he and his gallant p82 band made the final lap of their voyage to Dubuque as cabin passengers on the Excelsior, arriving at their destination of New Melleray monastery on April 12th, 1850. At their departure from him in St. Louis Captain Cable had sent his warm and affectionate compliments to all the Trappists at the monastery, and when these gentlemen learned of his second meeting with the brothers conjecture was rife on the subject of his conversion, which step he had told Father Patrick the previous November he was seriously contemplating after witnessing the heroic and edifying death of the monks. Father Terence Donaghoe, the Sisters' chaplain, claimed that he had been informed that Captain Cable was baptized.
This rumor, however, was unfounded at the time, and so the matter rested in doubt for a century. A few years ago a search was made of the baptismal registers of various churches in the cities along the Mississippi. At long last the record was uncovered: in St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis on September 30th, 1855, Captain George Washington Cable received conditional baptism as a "Convert from Methodist Sect" from the hands of the celebrated Dutch Jesuit, Father Arnold Damen, one of the most successful convert-makers of America and after whom today Damen avenue in Chicago is named.
1 Before becoming a Cistercian monk, Brother Jules' name was Henri Maurif. Born in Angers, France, in 1808, he was the son of M. Maurif and Jeanne Olivier, members of the French aristocracy (according to some plausible accounts, of the French nobility). Some of his wealth may also have gone toward the erection of the secular church at New Melleray.
2 Louis de Cailly, the grand-nephew of Bishop Loras, wrote in his Memoirs of Bishop Loras and of Members of his Family: "I cannot remember whether Father Mathew, in his visit to the West, lectured in Dubuque; but it was in 1849 that he stopped at several river towns on the Mississippi . . .
"This was after Father Mathew's royal and triumphant reception in New York, in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and Philadelphia. He was given a grand dinner by President Zachary Taylor, and honored with a seat in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, all wishing to pay homage to him who had been the monks, under divine guidance, of reclaiming six millions of fellow‑men from the demon of drink."
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