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Chapter 19

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Charles Nerinckx

Camillus Maes

published by
Robert Clarke & Co.
Cincinnati, 1880

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 21

 p332  Chapter XX


Father Nerinckx' return to America. — Dutch laws. — Emigration. — Father Nerinckx and companions embark for the New World. — Tempests and pirates. — Arrival in Maryland. — His associates join the Jesuits.

Father Nerinckx left Mechlin about Easter of 1817, delayed a fortnight longer in Antwerp, and proceeded thence to Amsterdam, where his companions, eight young men and two Flemish priests whose services he had succeeded in enlisting in the cause of the American missions, soon joined him. One of them, however, came very near being left. Full of zeal and happy to devote his life to so noble a work, the young man had made no secret of his intentions. Unacquainted with the red-tape formalities to which central government officials delight to subject those who are unfortunate enough to stand in need of their services, the open-hearted youth was rather alarmed at his first experience with the outer world. As he pondered over the document which was laid before him at the passport office of Antwerp, he, who was innocent and without guile, understood, no doubt, as he  p333 had never done before, the wisdom of the lesson which Christ gave to his apostles when sending them out to preach his Gospel among men; Be ye, therefore, wise as serpents, and simple as doves. But beware of men! . . ." Under so strikingly similar circumstances, a new light broke upon his mind, "and it was given to him in that hour what to speak," and how to evade the provisions of the ominous prohibition paper. Its contents were to the effect, that no person could leave the mother country and travel abroad or emigrate to foreign parts, firstly if, being a minor, his parents were opposed to his departure; secondly, if he had not complied with the national law of military conscription; thirdly, and this was the main objectional clause of the document, if they left with the intention of devoting themselves to the foreign missions. The reason given for this arbitrary prohibition was, that the secretary of public worship (and a protestant at that!) stood in need of their services in their native land!

Such were the iniquitous means by which a bigoted government sought to entrammel the extension of the catholic faith, and the exercise of the individual liberty of its catholic subjects. No wonder if such a course of action proved in the end disastrous to the Dutch supremacy, and blasted the hopes entertained by the allied powers of ever effecting the lasting amalgamation of Holland and Belgium. Inflated by his late successes, Prince William Frederic of  p334 Orange Nassau looked upon the Belgian provinces, ceded to him in 1815, as the spoils of victory. Instead of trying to conciliate his catholic subjects, who would have been loyal citizens of the kingdom of the Netherlands and devoted friends to the Orange dynasty after the galling experience of a twenty-five years' French tyrannical protection, he did all in his power to alienate their affections. And he succeeded so well that a revolution broke out in 1830, and Catholic Belgium proclaimed and successfully maintained its hard-earned independence.

Father Nerinckx had not been without apprehension on that score, and communicated his fears to Bishop Flaget, for he could not but be aware that his movements were being watched by the officials. On December 20, 1816, he wrote to Archbishop Neale, of Baltimore: "I intend to set out for America next March, and hope, with the divine protection, to meet your Lordship in good health within a few months. I am not without misgivings about the success of my mission here, for, to the embarrassments caused by the government, must be added the probability of war and the increasing number of privateers who cover the seas." However, the Flemish youth in question secured his passport and joined the little band of missionaries in Amsterdam, where he relieved, at times, the tedious days of a whole month's delay at that post, by the zest with which he related to his  p335 companions his experience with Dutch custom-house officials.

Whilst here, our friends became greatly interested in the subject of European emigration. Hundreds of families of all nationalities had gathered in Amsterdam awaiting their chance of embarking for America. In their daily peregrinations along the docks, watching a favorable opportunity to set sail, the missionaries could examine at leisure into the causes of that uninterrupted exodus which has been taking such formidable proportions ever since. During the ten years previous to 1817, extensive emigration had been precluded by the friendly relations existing at the time between Great Britain, France, and the United States; but soon after the restoration of peace, a new impulse was given to it, and during the year 1817, over twenty thousand immigrants arrived in the States. The extravagant wars of Napoleon I had impoverished France, and had brought Alsace and Lorraine to so abject a state of misery, by his long-continued taxations of friends and foes, that the poor emigrants from those provinces testified to Father Nerinckx that their only object in leaving their homes was to find a crust of bread for their wives and children. The restoration of 1815 had not even succeeded in giving temporary relief to the devastated provinces; and, after two years of struggle for existence, love of country was stifled  p336 within the breasts of the sufferers by the craving pangs of hunger.

However, most of the emigrants congregated at the port of Amsterdam were Germans, who went to seek, in a foreign land, the political and religious liberty which was denied them at home. Subsequent to the fall of the Napoleonic Empire and the re-establishment of the independence of German nationality, a confederation of all the States which had contrived to maintain their sovereignty during those troublesome times, had been formed in June, 1815, and had given great hopes to the people. But "the enthusiastic hope of the German people that Germany would once more appear as a powerful united nation was sorely disappointed. No national representation was to give stability, upon a popular basis, to the confederation. The Diet being only a temporary convention of the representatives of princes, all jealous of their individual sovereignty and unwilling to recognize the claims of the people, became an abject tool of political oppression. . . . Wherever the people of a single State endeavored to obtain free institutions, the Diet found occasion to interfere in favor of absolute monarchical power."​1 Princes forgot that absolute monarchism had had its time, and that a new order of things had begun; a new light had dawned upon the people — an era of representative legislation and constitutional government. The consequence  p337 of that error was soon apparent. With the natural tardiness inherent to their race, the Germans gave the authorities time to reflect: and when it became a settled fact that justice would not be done to the people, they set about their work with the no less natural tenacity of purpose which knows no obstacles. In 1817 began that steady emigration, which has increased every year in proportion as it has been opposed, and which, in our own day, not even Prince Bismarck's despotic regulations have been able to check.

A month had elapsed since his arrival in the Dutch seaport, when Father Nerinckx succeeded, at length, in securing passage for himself and companions on board the brig Mars, Captain Hall, a Quaker of Baltimore. For the consideration of four hundred Dutch guilders, the captain gave up his cabin for their exclusive use, to the great joy of the missionaries, who were anxious to perform their devotions in common. There being room for only seven occupants, the three others went in quest of lodgings among the one hundred and thirty Alsatian and German emigrants who completed the list of passengers, and joined their brethren in the spiritual exercises during the day.

Having left Amsterdam the 8th of May, 1817, they embarked on the brig the 16th of the same month, at the island of Texel. The voyage was long and dangerous. Scarcely had they entered  p338 the English channel, when, on Whitsunday, a storm arose, and heightened the danger usually attending the passage of those straits. The most strenuous efforts of the crew seemed unavailing, and one of the sailors who was clinging to the rigging, in order to save the canvas, was dashed, with the sails from the topmast, overboard and lost. During that violent storm, James O. Vandevelde, one of Father Nerinckx' companions, was thrown down on deck with such force as to break a blood-vessel, suffered much during the journey, and was so enfeebled from the loss of blood that on landing in Baltimore he had to be carried to St. Mary's Seminary. Tossed by the winds and waves, the ship floated about for three days and three nights without sails and without a helm, at the mercy of the ocean, to the great consternation of the passengers, most of whom never had been to sea before. However, the tempest finally subsided; the vessel was put in good trim; and our friends, unconscious of further danger, submitted themselves with rather ill-grace to that unmerciful sea complaint, to which all novices have to pay tribute, and against which poor Father Nerinckx struggled with any thing but success for a whole month.

In the meantime, the Mars, manned by willing hands, but steered by incompetent heads, made little headway; neither the captain nor the mate was qualified for his post, and, misguided by their ever-varying calculations, the  p339 brig after passing the Azores was making straight for the tropics. Having at length discovered his mistake, Captain Hall headed northwest for the banks of New Foundland, and was complimenting himself on his unmerited escape from the disastrous consequences which his random sailing might have brought upon him, when, as ill luck would have it, he fell in with a privateer. The Mars was soon running before the wind with all the canvas which our Quaker could muster; but the piratical vessel, rigged for such emergencies, succeeded in boarding her to the dismay of the poor emigrants, who, expecting to be hurled overboard after having escaped so many dangers, gave way to mournful lamentations for ever having left the land of their birth. However, their fears proved to be groundless. Captain Mooney, the master of the pirate, was a native of Baltimore, and having expressed his satisfaction at meeting a countryman, far from manifesting any hostile intentions, he offered to revictual the Mars, which, having lost so much time by steering out of her course, was failing in her provisions. Captain Hall thankfully accepted the proffered help; he bought several barrels of biscuit, salt beef, some tuns of fresh water, and a great quantity of dried fruits and wine, with the pirate had in abundance, having plundered, three days before, a Spanish merchant-ship on its way to Spain, and out of which the shrewd Marylander intended to make  p340 an honest penny. Incompetency as a mariner did not prevent the captain's being a ready-witted business man, as all Americans to the manor born. Truly,

Except wind stands as it never stood,

It is an ill wind that turns none to good!

Every thing now seemed merry as a marriage bell, and our gallant captain went on his way rejoicing, and with, perhaps, more than three sheets in the wind, when, one fine morning, the vessel ran upon the dangerous shores of northern Long Island, and sprang a leak! The Mars took water so fast, that had it not been for the German and Alsatian emigrants' strong arms, and the self-sacrificing help of the venerable missionaries, she would surely have perished. Passengers and crew were for three weeks, night and day without interruption, at the pumps; and even then the least storm would have proved fatal. But Providence watched over Father Nerinckx and his generous companions, and brought them safe into Chesapeake Bay after an eventful passage of eighty days.​2 They landed  p341 in Baltimore on the feast of St. Martha, July 29, 1817.

Having arrived in Maryland in the hottest season of the year, the missionaries soon experienced the unhealthy influence of so great a change of climate, and they would have proved a great burden to Father Nerinckx, had it not been for the kind interference of the pastor of St. Patrick's,​3 a Frenchman and an intimate friend of his, who obtained lodgings for all of them in the Sulpitian College. They were, however, loath to tax the generous hospitality of the Sulpitian  p342 Fathers too long; the more so, as with the exception of one, they had all resolved to join the Society of Jesus. In consequence, Henry Hendrickx, of Hougaerde, near Thienen,​4 remained with Father Nerinckx, and the nine others soon set out for the Jesuit College of Georgetown, where eight of them at once entered the Novitiate. The ninth one, whose name I could not ascertain, having, upon mature deliberation, come to the conclusion that he had no vocation for the Order, withdrew.

Father Nerinckx was strongly attached to the Society of Jesus, and on every possible occasion gave proof of the high esteem in which he held it; indeed, the height of his ambition, while in Rome, had been to join it himself. In bringing so many men with him, he mainly complied with the request of Father Anthony Kohlman, the Provincial of the Jesuits in Maryland, who had begged of him to obtain, if possible, young men disposed to labor on the American mission. Forgetful of his own needs, and of the sad neglect of the poor diocese of Bardstown, he cheerfully sent those robust laborers where he thought they would do the most good; notwithstanding the fact that he had written so many letters complaining of the dearth of priests in his own missions, and the imperious necessity in which he was of securing help. The venerable B. J. Flaget, Bishop of Bardstown, gave him, at his arrival in that city, a  p343 gentle rebuke for his too self-denying disinterestedness, saying: "Father Nerinckx, why did you not bring some of those agree Flemish priests along with you? There are excellent subjects among them, able to fill any position; I like them very much."

The eight who joined the Jesuits at Georgetown were the following:

1. Mr. Cousin, a priest of the diocese of Ghent; he died at White Marsh, at the close of his novitiate.

2. Rev. P. Devos, also a priest of Flanders, born in 1782. He was a very pious man; but finding that his settled habits of solitary independence rendered him unfit for community life, he left the Society of Jesus in 1819, and Archbishop Carroll appointed him pastor of St. Mary's church, Rockville, Montgomery county, Maryland, about fifteen miles from Georgetown.

Mr. Lemuel Clements, a venerable old resident of Rockville, has a vivid recollection of these old pioneer times. His eyes moisten and his tongue grows eloquent when he speaks of his old friend and pastor; and, as you listen to his account of days gone by, you can not but think that it must have been a virtue of no common order which could stamp its impress so deeply on even one follower. Mr. Clements furnished us the following details, in 1877: "The church in Rockville was built with a steeple or tower at the rear, the lower part of which was used as a sacristy. Father Devos lived in the upper  p344 room for two years. In 1821, I moved him from the steeple up to my house, on the Wharton farm, near where St. Rose's church now stands. He lived with me four years. I gave him my best room, which he converted into a chapel where he said Mass regularly. At this time he had charge of the whole county. He said Mass at Barnesville, Rockville, and St. John's. When he made an appointment for Mass, he never allowed any thing to disappoint his people. On one occasion he was going to Barnesville, on a very cold day, and found the Branches with more or less ice in them. When he reached Little Seneca, his horse refused to head the ice; and, being rather a poor horseman, although he always traveled on horseback, he dismounted, walked through the water, and made the horse follow him. A heavy cold, which eventually proved the cause of his death, was the result.

"He never stayed away from his charge even for one night, and being in the habit of going to Georgetown to confession, he would never remain there over night until commanded to do so by the Archbishop. During the twenty-five years he was in Montgomery county, he visited Baltimore only once.

"He became infirm several years before he left the county, and was not able to attend to the duties of the mission. In January, 1844, I moved him to Georgetown. He thence went to his friend, Rev. Edward Knight, pastor of St. Peter's  p345 Church, Capitol Hill, Washington, and died there in March, 1844. He was attended in his last sickness by Father James B. Donelan, who told me that the almost unbearable stench in his room previous to his death, was changed to a sweet fragrance so soon as he died."

The testimony of Rev. Father Van Horsigh, then residing at St. Peter's, corroborates the latter statement. He told Rev. James A. Ward, S. J., now of the novitiate, Frederic,º Md., that after death the body of Father Devos exhaled a most extraordinary and delicious perfume.

3. Mr. James Oliver Vandevelde, of Lebbeke, near Dendermonde, was professor in the Petit Seminaire of Mechlin, when Providence threw "in his way, . . . one of the most celebrated missionaries of the New World. This was Father Charles Nerinckx of Kentucky, who had been to Rome in the interest of our Western missions, and especially those of Kentucky, and who, on his return, visited Mechlin. Young Vandevelde was not slow in seeking this saintly man and pioneer missionary, who imparted to him full information on the American missions, their necessities, want of laborers, and of the abundant fruits they produced; and the young follower of the Cross disclosed in turn his fixed purpose of devoting himself to so glorious a work. His self-offering was accepted, and it was arranged that he should accompany Father Nerinckx to America, complete his theology studies at Bishop Flaget's Seminary at Bardstown, Kentucky,  p346 and then devote his life to the labors of the missions."​5 On his arrival in America, however, he made up his mind to join the Jesuits. First, professor at Georgetown College; afterward on the mission in Montgomery county, Maryland; successively professor, vice-president, and procurator of the St. Louis University, Mo., and finally president of the same institution, Father Vandevelde filled the duties of his several positions with more than ordinary ability. He was subsequently sent as representative of the Vice-Province of Missouri to the congregation of procurators of the society which assembled in Rome in 1841, was made Vice-Provincial of the Missouri province in 1843, consecrated Bishop of Chicago in 1849, and at his own request transferred to Natchez in 1853. He died in the latter city, November 13, 1855, from the effects of a fall down the stairway, having fractured his leg in two places.

4. Father Henry Verheyen, of Merxplas, had made the Spanish campaign under Napoleon. He became a missionary in Maryland, and died at St. Thomas' Manor, Port Tobacco, Charles county, of bilious fever, November 30, 1823, at the age of thirty-six years. His great zeal for the salvation of souls and his solid virtue gained for him the esteem and respect of all those who were happy enough to know him.

5. Mr. Peter Joseph Timmermans, of Turnbout, was secretary to the commissary of that  p347 district, when he joined the little band of missionaries in 1817. He became an indefatigable missionary, and together with Father Vanquickenborne, his Socius, rendered great services to religion in Missouri. He finished his earthly career at St. Stanislaus, Florissant, Missouri, May 31, 1824, aged thirty-four, after a few hours' illness.

6. Mr. Strahan, from near Turnhout, province of Antwerp. He accompanied the former to Missouri as a lay brother, and left the society soon after.

The two others had come out with the intention of rendering themselves useful as lay brothers in the pioneer missions of the Society of Jesus. They were:

7. Brother Christian Desmet, born in Marcke, near Audenaerde, January 24, 1771, who died at the College of Georgetown, D. C., March 29, 1845, after having been a model of a true and holy religious in his twofold employment of baker and sacristan.

8. Brother Peter De Meyer, of Segelsem, the only survivor of the party, who is enjoying a green old age of eighty-four years, at St. Stanislaus Novitiate, near Florissant, Missouri.

The Author's Notes:

1 New American Cyclopaedia, Vol. VIII, pg. 210.

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2 Letters of Father Nerinckx, edited by J. Lesage Ten Broeck. This editor of the Flemishº relation remarks that "one thousand eight hundred immigrants entered on the same day different ports of the Union, among them the well-known French exile, General Vandamme." He remained in the United States until 1824, when he returned to Cassel, his birthplace, where he died, July 15, 1830. "A great many Frenchmen had already emigrated to the States, and were projecting the foundation of a city on the banks on the Ohio, the name of which would be worthy of its inhabitants." He refers, no doubt, to Gallipolis. "So far back as the year 1710, contemporaneous with the erection of the See of Baltimore (1789), the erection of an Episcopal See at the obscure and out-of-the‑way town of Gallipolis, in Scioto county, Ohio, was very seriously contemplated in Rome, through French influence. It is related, as a reason for this, that shortly before this period a colony of French Catholics, numbering about seven thousand, had settled on a large tract of land, purchased for them in this region by the French Land Company. This settlement was called Gallipolis. The project went so far as the nomination of a Bishop, and M. L'Abbé Boisnantier, a canon of St. Denis, Paris, was appointed Bishop of Gallipolis. This design was abandoned, however, owing to the failure of the Scioto colony, the title of whose land was not clear, and the colonists finding that they had been imposed upon, returned to their native land. When, in 1793, Fathers Badin and Barrieres went West, they found but a remnant of the little settlement which had long been destitute of the ministrations of a priest. These two missionaries remained here for a few days, heard confessions, offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for these delighted people, and baptized some forty children." N. Y. Freeman's Journal, May 25, 1878. These reverend gentlemen were on their way to Kentucky; that was the first time that Mass was said within the limits of the State of Ohio.

Of late years Gallipolis was attended from Jackson, Ohio. Right Rev. S. H. Rosecrans, Bishop of Columbus, appointed Rev. J. B. Gambler resident pastor of the place in 1878.

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3 Probably, Father de Moranville.

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4 In French: Tirlemont, province of Brabant, Belgium.

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5 Lives of Deceased Bishops, by Richard H. Clarke.

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