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Chapter 20

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 22

 p348  Chapter XXI


Father Nerinckx' various importations. — Mr. Hendrickx goes to New Orleans. — His death. — Father Nerinckx' love of the beauty of the House of God. — He supplies churches and convents with ecclesiastical ornaments. — The gift of the poor servant girl. — Celebrated paintings.

In this age of railroad and steamboat facilities, it is as difficult to conceive the amount of trouble and expense which the bulky baggage of our missionaries of old entailed upon them, as it would be preposterous in our own times to bring from the mother country the numerous articles of church furniture, pictures, bells, altars, etc., which they procured for their poor churches and lonely stations in those primitive days.

In these United States, as everywhere else, the catholic priest was the outpost of christian civilization. This is especially true of Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, and neighboring States. The picture of Kentucky, as drawn in a previous chapter, makes it nothing short of a desert for any civilized being. And from a letter of the venerable Father Nerinckx, written in 1807, we gather a list of articles which this valiant  p349 soldier of the Cross thought fit to import for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his flock. "I asked you for seeds of different kinds of trees, shrubbery, and fruits. Please notice in packing them that you must allow them sufficient air, and not press them too much, so that they be not killed or rotten. Although we are not entirely without church furniture, our wants are great indeed; missals, crucifixes, statues, and pictures are most needed. Not one of our churches has what may be called an altar except Holy Cross; none has more than one chasuble; nor is a linen alb to be found in any of these which I did not furnish myself. Middling good linen, which we get from Ireland, costs $1.50. I also procured four chalices. . . . Music books are another article that I very much desire. . . . Being constantly occupied in building churches and altars, I wish we could obtain books and pictures from Belgium, in order to give our workmen here some good models and sketches. I desire you to send me a good edition of Gestel, Sanderus, etc.,​a along with the other books I ordered. . . . Also send me some more salves, with explanation of their virtues and directions for use. The salves which I brought from the Hospital of Dendermonde, were used with good results, not for myself, thank God! but to cure a negro boy who was badly burned. . . ."

Builder and architect, the good Father made churches loom up in the wilderness, and established missions, around which the hardy border-pioneer  p350 reared his log hut and reclaimed the forest to civilization. Spiritual doctor, who guarded the soul against the dangers of a life in the wilderness and poured a healing balsam in many a prurient wound, he was also ready to go to the relief of the corporal infirmities of the flock and procure them remedies which the distance from populous centers would have precluded them from getting in time. Attentive to their every want, he brought them church ornaments to lend a charm, and a, till then, unknown splendor to the celebration of the holy mysteries, as also fruits and flowers with which to adorn their gardens and enrich their orchards, beautifying their homes and making them renounce their oft repeated wanderings, to settle contentedly under the shadow of the cross which surmounted the rustic sanctuary.

Father Nerinckx had learned by experience how useful all these things were, and unmindful of the cost, trouble, and annoyance attending the transportation of huge trunks at so great a distance, he returned to his mission with a full supply of articles of every description. He paid two hundred Dutch guilders for ship-transit, and, by special favor, only $240 for internal revenue, although the church goods used to enter the States free of charge. In a letter, addressed in 1818 to his Belgian benefactors and giving an account of his many expenses, he says that every passenger has to fill up a lading-bill, stating the price and giving a description of the  p351 articles imported, and swear to their true value. "By neglecting to comply with these requirements, the Italian and French priests who arrived before me," (probably Very Rev. De Andreis, C. M., and companions, who reached America in July, 1816,) "had to see all their things unpacked, and valued piecemeal. The Right Rev. W. Dubourg, Bishop of Louisiana, who came shortly after my arrival with a numerous suite, having more experience and friends, went to the head of the Department, and succeeded in passing all his luggage without almost any expense, under the title of church apparatus. Those who would, at present, come by New Orleans, have nothing to pay, that city having been declared a free port of entry for a term of five years, of which the current year is the second."

On his arrival in Baltimore the goods were found to be in a good state of preservation, and in order to profit by the franchise of New Orleans and at the same time to avoid the enormous cost of transportation by land, Father Nerinckx advised Mr. Hendrickx, who had up to this time remained with him, to go by sea to New Orleans, and take part of the baggage with him. Unhappily, the young man experienced a very rough sea, which damaged the goods considerably, and it was only after a stormy passage of fifty days, three times the duration of an ordinary voyage, that he arrived safe at his destination, where he was kindly received by the Vicar-general, the Superior of the Ursulines. Strong  p352 and healthy as he was, Henry Hendrickx was the only one whom sea-sickness had not affected during the lengthy voyage from Europe; but on the second day of his arrival in New Orleans, he caught the yellow fever, which was just then raging in that city,​b and, notwithstanding the best of care given him by the sisters, he died a week after in the dwelling of the Vicar-general, who gave him the last religious rites of our Holy Mother the Church. His death was a great loss to the young diocese of Bardstown, which stood in great need of his talents, and to which he had intended to devote his life. The sickness and burial of young Hendricks cost Father Nerinckx about $200; his passage and freight expenses amounted to $150, which, together with $50 pocket money that he had given him, brought the expenses of that trip to very near $400. How much more the baggage would cost him he could not state, for it had not yet reached him in December, 1818.

The transportation by land of Father Nerinckx' trunks was enough to frighten any body less energetic and less confident of God's providential help. The two hundred miles from Baltimore to Pittsburg cost him $7.50 a hundred pounds, viz.: six hundred dollars for the eight thousand pounds' weight which he had kept with him. From Pittsburg he had a chance of having it conveyed by water on the Ohio down to Louisville, a distance of four hundred and fifty miles; the charges, however, amounted  p353 even then to no less than $300. The remainder of the journey from Louisville to Loretto (sixty miles) cost him $1 to $2 a hundred.

At the time that Father Nerinckx was in Belgium selecting his choice collection of church ornaments, many a person, laboring under the false but too common idea that worn-out things are good enough for the missions, asked him what he intended to do with all those precious things in the wilderness of America? The answer is worthy of the zealous priest, who "loved the beauty of the house of the Lord": "Let us believe," he writes in 1818, "that Christ, the King of Glory, is worthy of, and delights in, our tokens of the most profound veneration, in whatever place it may be. I think that the pious Belgians rejoice with us that the Holy Sacrifice, which used to be offered here (and is yet in some places) in chasubles of coarse tissues bordered with old bonnet ribbons, instead of silk and gold galoon, is now celebrated in many a mission, in silk, damask, and silver ornaments, to the glorification of the true God. Such things add to the splendor of the ceremonies of the church, and inspire the ignorant and lookers-on with a greater veneration for our religion; seeing, they admire; admiring, they inquire; inquiring, they finally desire the gift of faith, obtain it, and ever after love and practice the law of God." Lack of faith alone could account for the silly observations of the fault-finders; for  p354 He who seeks the hundredth sheep lost in American wilderness, is the same God who so tenderly cares for the ninety-nine others who are feasting on the rich pastures of catholic countries. The new-born Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger, received, in the stable of Bethlehem, the adoration of the three kings, who, opening their treasures, offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Compared to the many friends anxious to help in the propagation of the true faith in the New World, the fault-finders were few indeed. Through the noble generosity of those Belgian friends, Father Nerinckx was enabled to purchase some very rich ornaments, and neatly repair and improve chasubles of less value. An old and tried friend of the venerable missionary, Mr. Jos. Peemans, of Louvain, was especially instrumental in obtaining many valuable articles.

It may prove interesting to the congregations that are still in possession of some of these objects, to know where they came from and how they were obtained. The richest and most complete set of vestments, including fireº copes of the finest material, was bought from a collegiate church in Brussels at a very high figure. Father Nerinckx donated it to the cathedral church of Bardstown, and Bishop Flaget used it for the first time at the Pontifical Mass of Easter Sunday in the chapel of St. Thomas Seminary, at which Very Rev. De Andreis and his Italian  p355 and French companions assisted. Our missionary here remarks that the chapel being as large and as well-built as the one of the Seminary at Mechlin, the grandest ceremonies of the church could be easily performed therein, the only drawback being the substitution of an old pianoforte in lieu of the organ. The cathedral church was also presented with the beautiful bell of the abbey of Ninove by Father Nerinckx; with a very good organ, the first ever seen in Kentucky; and with a fine gilt remonstranceº and ciborium.

The Seminary, which was sadly deficient in every thing, got a set of white vestments for four priests and black ones with cope, which Father Nerinckx had purchased in Mechlin; another white set, with blue columns and an embroidered cope, used for first class solemnities, the gift of Mr. Peemans, of Louvain; twenty chasubles of different colors and value, together with as many albs and other linen articles, and a small remonstrance.

The Dominican Fathers received, through Father Nerinckx, who had solicited aid for them from their friends in Bruges, Bornhem, and other cities where they were known, over thirty chasubles, some complete sets of vestments, among which a beautiful embroidered one, and a quantity of the very best Flemish linen, done up in albs, amices, etc.

Father Nerinckx also gave Rev. Badin, for  p356 his several congregations, eight chasubles; four to Rev. Chabrat, etc., etc. To the then small convent of the Daughters of Charity, in Nazareth, he donated five chasubles and a remonstrance purchased in Mechlin. The churches of St. Charles and St. Mary's got each three chasubles, linen, a chalice, and a ciborium.

A sweet little bit of romance is attached to those two last named ciboriums that will enhance their value in the eyes of their happy owners. Father Nerinckx having staid over night with a pastor in Flanders, could not help noticing the profound veneration which the old servant-girl entertained for him. He was so much pleased with her solid piety and humble faith, that, notwithstanding his poverty, he resolved to give her, before leaving, a little gratuity, not so much as a return for her kind services as a memento of the missionary priest. But before he had time to do so, the poor girl had slipped a little paper into his hand with so much dexterity that none of the persons present noticed it. When he afterward examined the paper, he was not a little surprised to find in it a guinea! Having had occasion to pay another visit to the same friend, he thanked her for her generosity, but insisted upon her taking back the gold coin. But the pious housekeeper told Father Nerinckx that her alms being given to the poor American missions, and not to him, he was not at liberty to refuse her gift. "When the Trappists left for America," she continued, "I gave  p357 them a chalice, and I have now resolved that you also shall accept one from me;" and so saying, she handed the astonished priest one hundred guilders. In vain did he urge that she was poor; that she would be in need of it herself, if not now, surely later; that he did not like to accept so large a sum from a person in her circumstances, etc. She cut short his protestations by telling him that she had gained the money honestly, by working hard and spinning early and late, and that she was free to dispose of her little treasure as she had a mind to. The missionary had to accept it. Neither would she hear of thanks; like a true christian, "she laid up for herself treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume; and where thieves do not dig through nor steal."​1a Nor could he obtain her name; Nelleken N–––––, Ancilla, M. B., (Nellie N––––– servant-girl, a great benefactress,) is the only title that recalls her memory to the grateful prayers of Loretto in the long list of Belgian benefactors. "When doing an alms deed, she did not sound a trumpet before her, . . . that she might be honored by men, . . . her left hand knew not what her right hand was doing."​1b Ah! how many a noble soul, now living in retirement and obscurity, will shine like the brightest gem in the light of God's justice at the last day, while ostentatious Pharisees will have received their reward in this world, and be covered with  p358 shame on the day of the great retribution! Father Nerinckx devoted the generous gift to the purchase of the two ciboriums alluded to, by adding a little mite of his own. May not we confidently hope that Jesus has long since introduced to the celestial mansions above, the charitable soul who procured him a decent receptacle here below?

To his convent of Loretto, Father Nerinckx gave three large bells, on which he had caused the motto of the society, "O Suffering Jesus! O Sorrowful Mary!" to be cast; a full set of white vestments, and an antependium embroidered in silver and gold; and a dress and mantle for the statue of the Blessed Virgin. These belonged to a community of Benedictine nuns, of whom Father Nerinckx bought them, and they constitute the primae classis of the Mother-house of the Little Society of the Friends of Mary. The same house obtained, moreover, a full set of antique and very fine red vestments, partly donated by a benefactor of Liege; a cope bought out of Father Nerinckx' own scanty means; six or seven chasubles, among which a superb one presented by his friend, Mr. Peemans, of Louvain; two chalices, a ciborium, a remonstrance, and a good supply of albs, church linen, beads, and pictures, which were given him in Belgium. Besides these donations, Father Nerinckx spent over three hundred francs for beads, pictures, etc., for his missions. He subsequently adorned the convent chapel of Calvary with the tabernacle  p359 purchased from the Recollet Fathers in Mechlin, and sent three chasubles, a chalice, and some altar linen for its use. His third foundation, Gethsemani, commenced in 1818, received a complete set of vestments and antependium, bought from an old abbey in the diocese of Liege; also a silver crucifix, some chasubles and linen, a chalice, ciborium, and remonstrance; most of these being the donation of some good souls for the first new house he would establish after his return. He placed in the chapel of that convent the tabernacle which used to adorn the altar of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, in the Metropolitan church of St. Rumoldus, Mechlin (where he had been vicar, and first exercised the ministry), and a beautiful Calvary, in the same style, purchased in the same city.

About a hundred paintings, which he had purchased, had not yet reached Kentucky at the date of writing his letter (end of 1818). Among these were several valuable works of art, two of which he presented to the Cathedral of Bardstown; a Crucifixion, and a scene of St. Bernard's life, a masterpiece which now hangs over the altar of St. Joseph in the Cathedral of Louisville,​c and which he is said to have purchased from among the wrecks of a church that had recently been sacked by the French. This painting represents St. Bernard, with the Sacred Host in his hand, giving a solemn reproof to William of Aquitaine for his schismatical and licentious conduct. Both these valuable treasures were  p360 removed to Louisville on the transfer of the Episcopal See to that city, in 1841.º

More church ornaments and a quantity of books were also on the way; the former were intended for his twelve country missions, which had as yet had but a small share of the bountiful supply which Father Nerinckx had brought with him.

The Author's Note:

1a 1b Matth. vi.

Thayer's Notes:

a Cornelius van Gestel, author of a Historia Sacra et Profana Archiepiscopatus Mechlinensis (The Hague, 1725); Fr. Antonius Sanderus, author of Chorographia sacra Brabantiae (Brussels, 1659; reprinted in The Hague, 1726). Fr. Nerinckx misses home and would like to follow the sacred art of Belgium as a pattern in his missions.

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b This was very bad luck. Yellow fever would plague New Orleans for a good century or so: but 1817 was its first recognized outbreak. See Kendall's History of New Orleans, pp110‑111.

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[image ALT: A vertical oil painting, rectangular with a semicircular upper portion, depicting a crowded scene with about twenty people, almost all standing, in various poses surrounding a man seated on a raised dais or a chair on a low flight of steps; above, two cherubs regard the scene. It is a 17c painting of William of Aquitaine Converted by St. Bernard.]
c The 17c painting by the Flemish artist Gaspar de Crayer, William of Aquitaine Converted by St. Bernard, hung for many years in a prominent place in Louisville's Cathedral of the Assumption, then was moved during a building restoration and ignored for thirty years — and has recently been beautifully restored and returned to a place of honor in the church. An excellent, interesting article in the July 2008 issue of the Cathedral Star Newsletter on the painting, its provenance, its restoration, may be downloaded from the Cathedral's website.

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Page updated: 1 Oct 19