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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 21

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 23

 p361  Chapter XXII


Father Nerinckx in Baltimore. — Mr. and Mrs. Barber. — Father Beschter and the Pennsylvania farmer. — Father Nerinckx' arrival at Loretto. — Father Rosati and the Indians. — A list of the Kentucky clergy in 1817.

Guided by the letter written to his parents in 1818, we will now follow Rev. Father Nerinckx on his way back to his dear Loretto. The narrative may allude to many events more fully set forth in other works, but perhaps add some unknown details; we therefore give it as edited by J. Lesage Ten Broeck:

"During his stay in Baltimore, Rev. Nerinckx was informed of the fact that Mr. Barber, one of the three protestant ministers who had publicly renounced heresy in the presence of Father Fenwick in New York, had left for Rome, where he intended to join the Society of Jesus. His wife, who became a convert at the same time, has, after mutual consent, also embraced the religious state in the Visitation Convent of Georgetown, and their four children are being educated in the academy of the same place. When Luther abandoned the catholic church, he  p362 publicly declared that he could not live without a wife, and he took unto himself a woman consecrated to God. Mr. Barber, abandoning the sect first established by Luther, proves by his conduct that he, lately a preacher of error and bound to a wife, finds grace enough in the catholic religion to abandon every thing to follow Jesus, and to embrace, according to His advice and the example of the Apostles, a state of greater perfection. His wife, on the other hand, shows to the world that a married woman can live without a husband and choose evangelical perfection, and so becomes the honorable counterpart of the carnal Catharine Bora, who broke her vows to become the wife of the fallen Luther!

"Mr. Barber, who enjoyed quite an enviable reputation among protestants, knew but too well their weakness (!) not to be convinced that they would calumniate and slander him in every possible way, unless he guarded himself against their malicious attacks by prudence and circumspection. Before his brother ministers became aware of his intentions, he asked them for a testimonium, which he truly said to want for very important reasons. They readily complied with his request, and, owing to his acknowledged talents and good parts, gave him a very honorable and laudable commendation. As soon as he had the document in his possession, Mr. Barber delayed no longer to declare himself a catholic, and made his public profession of faith, together with two other protestant preachers.

 p363  "At the time Father Nerinckx was in Baltimore, the Socinians were building their first meeting-house in the immediate vicinity of the new Freemasons' Lodge. Well-assorted neighbors, indeed! It was also during his sojourn in the city that there fell such a violent and long-continued rain, that, in a few hours, a large portion of the capital of Maryland​a was under water; many bridges were carried away by the flood, and a number of lives were lost.

"Willingly would the pious Father Nerinckx have visited the Sisters of Charity in Emmettsburg, and the Jesuits of Georgetown, and bid adieu to the young men whom he had so recently sent there; but just as he was getting ready, he received a letter from his Bishop, earnestly entreating him to continue his journey. His spirit of obedience and self-abnegation needed no more to forego that legitimate gratification, and, having bought a horse and saddle for the sum of $140, he immediately set out on his wearisome journey of nearly seven hundred miles.

"In the evening of the same day he reached Frederickstown, where he was received with open arms by the two resident priests — Fathers Mallevé,º his old friend, and Beschter,​1 both Jesuits, in whose pious and entertaining company he spent but a few hours. Father Beschter communicated to him the welcome intelligence that we would soon be enabled to issue a  p364 second tract on the doings of the revolutionary society of Freemasons, one of their principal men having made his profession of faith, and having placed in the hands of said Father many interesting documents which would throw a new light on their secret doings. Among many other interesting anecdotes, Father Beschter related to him the following occurrence, which created at the time considerable merriment in the neighborhood at the expense of the unlucky farmer. Whilst building the beautiful church of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, which, together with the priest's house, cost over $6,000, Father Beschter went around collecting alms of all those who were willing to help along a good work. On his rounds he arrived at the residence of a rich protestant farmer, and asked him for a small donation toward the erection of a church for the poor catholics of the district. The gentleman refused, on the ground that he always paid himself for what he wanted, and never went to others for help. Father Beschter having asked him whether he never stood in need of anybody's aid, he gruffly replied that he did not; and upon a second and emphasized inquiry of the priest, an impatient "No, sir! get thee out," was sufficient intimation that he had better leave. "All right!" said the humble disciple of Ignatius, without the least alteration in his manner or voice, and he left the premises. In the course of the day, the farmer strolled to where his men were working in the field, and,  p365 highly elated over his exploit, related to them how he had "fixed that Romish priest." A week later, a heavy freshet, occasioned by sudden rain, completely destroyed his mill and flooded his fields, inflicting incalculable damage on the now crest-fallen bigot, who did not enjoy it half so well when the men recalled to his mind how he fixed that Romish priest, and hinted that, forsooth, he might be in need of another man's help sooner than he expected.

"Bidding good-bye to his friends, Father Nerinckx was again in the saddle, and four days' travelling brought him to Pittsburg, where he was obliged to exchange horses, his pony's back being too sore to stand the saddle. Having reached Lewistown, in Kentucky, he again had to trade horses, his being so lame that it could not carry him further. Here he also had the misfortune to fall down a steep flight of stairs. He had put up at a house for the night, and having got up early in the morning, in order to start before daylight, as was his custom, he missed the steps and fell all the way down, with evident danger of his life, escaping, however, with a few severe contusions. Thanking God for his almost miraculous preservation, he continued his journey toward Loretto, where he arrived without further mishap on the 4th of September, 1817, after an absence of two years."

"Our father," writes Sister L–––––, "arrived at early twilight on Thursday evening. The family being rather on a slight lookout for him,  p366 readily perceived his entrance at the big gate, as it was called. Notice was instantly given from one to another, and presently all were in the yard advancing to meet their worthy, good, and duly cherished father. All were delighted to see him, and he also seemed equally rejoiced to see his devoted children. He had a blessing and a smile for every one, clearly showing his extreme happiness in being once more at his little home, Loretto. He had all to accompany him into the church and to unite with him in a short public prayer of thanks to God for his great success and for his safe return. He then, in a few words, recounted to them his visit to Rome, and to Great Loretto in Italy; also, his visit to Belgium, and the great success with which Divine Providence was pleased to favor him whilst there, and he requested that from that time forward the Family, in all its branches, would ever pray for its generous benefactors of Belgium. He then left the church, and, being, yet at the door, was immediately surrounded by all, for the sake of hearing him speak a few words more, aware that they could not accompany him further. He again talked with them for a while, and then withdrew till Mass next morning. His luggage did not arrive till about three months after."

"On the 8th of September, feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Father Nerinckx, anxious to pay his respects to Bishop Flaget, visited him at St. Thomas Seminary,  p367 three miles from the episcopal city. Here he met with Very Rev. de Andreis, Vicar-general of Bishop Dubourg and founder of the Congregation of the Mission in America, who, with two other Lazarists, Messrs. Rosati and Acquaroni, was awaiting the arrival of the Bishop. Three Brothers of the Christian Doctrine and four Flemish students were also staying at the Seminary at the time.

"Father Nerinckx next paid a visit to Rev. Badin, with whom he found a young Flemish priest from the environs of Alost, who belonged to the retinue of the Bishop of Louisiana. He had joined Mgr. Dubourg in Ghent, and together with some other young men from Flanders, who designed to help toward the material prosperity of the mission by tilling the ground, had the intention of forming a religious community bound by vows to further the good of religion in Louisiana."

"When I arrived at the Seminary," writes Rev. Nerinckx in 1818, "the three Italian Lazarists were already working on the English speaking mission, and gave proof of great talents. One of them, Father Rosati, who is teaching dogmatic theology, gave a mission in Post Vincennes, and had the happiness of baptizing an Indian chief's son. The young man died shortly after, and the other Indians expressed a great desire of enjoying some day the same blessing. Whilst the Lazarist was still among them, two protestant preachers arrived at the  p368 Indian encampment, bearing to those benighted savages the heavenly tiding embodied in their Bible, and promising them true happiness. The Indians inquired of them whether the masters who had sent them were Blackgowns? Having replied in the negative, the poor fellows were next asked whether they had crucifixes? No, they had not. Had they wives? Yes, they had. 'Ah, well!' remarked the chiefs, 'you are no better than we are, and we do not stand in need of you or yours.' What an important proof of the influence which an unmarried priest, distinguished as such from the generality of people, has over even the uncivilized savages! Post Vincennes has obtained two distinguished young French priests from the Bishop of Louisiana, and so has Detroit.2

"The new diocese in the State of Louisiana​3 offers the grandest prospects of success for our holy religion, and promises to become soon one of the most interesting missionary fields of christendom. The superior qualifications of Monseigneur Dubourg, the excellency and the number of his co-laborers in that vineyard of our Lord, the vastness of the diocese in which an uncommon and admirable zeal is stirring up alike the Indians and the civilized; every thing seems to promise the realization of these fond hopes. Some little grains of the old seed sown by the  p369 hand of the ever faithful and never equaled Jesuits have been preserved, and the Netherlanders, so long persecuted for their faith, can not but rejoice and be encouraged at the sight of the miraculous workings of their all-conquering never conquered faith! I am sure that every year's record will offer material enough to fill a pamphlet with religious news and edifying sketches.

"In Kentucky, the laborers are working zealously enough, but their number is too small to satisfy the demands and the wants of the people, and to gather in the great harvest ready for the reaper. The American youth is yet too little prepared to think of a religious vocation, and the seminary too devoid of means of support to be useful to the desired extent; besides, our catholics are too few in number and too poor to supply the necessary means. This state of affairs, notwithstanding the feeble efforts of a few missionaries supported by the pious generosity of my Belgian countrymen, have already been blessed in a miraculous manner!

"The entire Kentucky clergy consists of the following:

"1. Right Rev. Benedict Joseph Flaget, born in Clermont,​4 a Sulpitian of Paris; lately professor  p370 in the Seminary of Baltimore, and now first Bishop of Bardstown.

"2. Right Rev. J. David, Frenchman and Sulpitian; formerly professor and missionary in Maryland; later, president of St. Thomas Theological Seminary in Kentucky, and now nominated by the Holy See, Coadjutor of the diocese of Bardstown.

"3. Rev. Father Badin, the oldest priest on the mission in these regions.

"4. Rev. Charles Nerinckx, a Belgian, the third one in point of years.

"5. Rev. Father Chabrat, the first priest ordained by the Bishop of Bardstown; a zealous and able Sulpitian.

"6. Rev. Father Olivier, an old and venerable French priest of over seventy years of age, missionary in Kaskaskias, in the Illinois Territory.

"7. Rev. Father De Rigaut, a Frenchman ordained in Kentucky, and devoted to the superintendence of the temporal interests of the diocese.

"8. Rev. Father Mary Joseph, Prior of the Trappists, who thought of settling in Illinois, but who is on his way back with the intention of rejoining his order in France.

"9. Rev. Father Abel, a young American priest, twenty-five years old, and endowed with the most distinguished qualities and superior talents. He is Father Nerinckx' pupil, and his successor in the administration of his distant congregations.

 p371  "10. Rev. Charles Cooms, also a young American priest, ordained at the same time with Father Abel.

"The convent of the Dominicans consists of Rev. Father Adam Wilson, an Englishman, and first Provincial of the new mission in America; Rev. Father Edward Fenwick, an American, Prior; Rev. Father Argier, and Rev. Father Tuite. These four are all elderly men, and were formerly in the Bornhem convent, near Antwerp, Belgium. The four others are young priests, viz.: Rev. Fathers Willet, Miles, and the two Montgomerys, and complete the list. So that, all told, we have in Kentucky eighteen priests, two of whom are Bishops.

"The Dominicans are also zealously and efficiently at work in Ohio. Rev. Father Fenwick accompanied by his nephew, Rev. N. D. Young, left Kentucky, in 1818, to establish a mission there, and to found an establishment for the education of youth. They have found many German Catholics in these regions, and are desirous of having a few German priests, with good recommendations, to join them in their new field of labor. They write to the Bishop of Bardstown that the Methodists come over in scores, anxious to be received into the catholic church. That extraordinary number of conversions is especially due to the publication of a controversial tract, showing the want of a legitimate mission outside of the true church of Christ; it has had the most happy results, and has made them leave their  p372 unlawful preachers to follow the legitimately appointed pastors of the catholic church.

"Shortly after my arrival in Loretto, the Bishop started on a missionary trip around his diocese, especially among the neighboring scattered Indian tribes of the Northwest. He intends to go as far as Quebec, in Canada, where he is invited to assist at the consecration of the newly appointed Bishop of Havana.

"In a recent letter, the Bishop tells me that he met with a roving tribe of Indians. Desirous to know to what church they belonged, he made the sign of the cross, the want of knowledge of their language preventing any better mode of conversation. They signed themselves immediately in the same manner with boisterous expressions of delight, and some having run to their encampment, soon returned with fragments of old beads which they held up to him with beaming countenances. One of them, somewhat of an interpreter, told the Bishop that some Presbyterian and Calvinistic preachers and Biblemongers had been among them, but that they refused to listen to them or to keep them in their midst. He also managed to make the Bishop understand that, years ago, they had received the first rudiments of the true faith from a Jesuit Father who had been some time with them."

The Author's Notes:

1 Afterward President of Georgetown College.

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2 They were MM. Blanc and Jeanjean, appointed for Vincennes, and MM. Bertrand and Janvier for Detroit.

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3 St. Louis, in what was then called Upper Louisiana.

Thayer's Note: The footnote is loosely accurate, but the running text is not at all: the State of Louisiana, formed in 1812, had her present boundaries, and Upper Louisiana was not within them. The remainder of the Louisiana Territory — often still referred to then as Upper Louisiana — was at that time officially renamed Missouri Territory, a name it kept until 1821, and thus at the time in question.

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4 The Bishop was born in the town of Contournat, commune of St. Julien, not far from Billom, in Auvergne, France. Billom is about ten miles from Clermont Ferrand. See Life of Bishop Flaget, by Bishop Spalding.

Thayer's Note:

a Baltimore has never been the capital of the state of Maryland: neither now, nor when Maes wrote, nor during the life of Father Nerinckx, nor at any other time. The error bespeaks more than anything else the Catholic viewpoint of our author: in 1817, the city was the seat of the metropolitan archbishop of the United States, and can thus be called the Catholic "capital" of Maryland.

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