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Chapter 24

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 26

 p414  Chapter XXV


Father Nerinckx' second journey to Europe. — Mustela Putorius or Mephitis americana? — Major Noble, of Virginia. — Reminiscences by the wayside: the Indian chief of Vincennes. — Mr. Thompson, of the Alleghanies. — Baltimore and its environs. — London. — Letters of Bishop Flaget, the sisters of Loretto and Father Nerinckx.

Father Nerinckx, accompanied by Rev. Mr. Chabrat, who was going on a visit to his native France, started on his second journey to Europe in the Spring of 1820. The following interesting account of their journey on horseback to Baltimore, written at his brother's house in Somerstown, colonel, is dated:

O. L. Ascension Day, 1820.

"Two months and four days from Loretto to London.

"We left the Seminary of Bardstown the 9th day of March, 1820; a violent wind, a frost which lasted about four weeks, and six inches of snow on the ground, rendering our journey very painful and dangerous. My companion, who is blessed with the gift of tongue, preached at several  p415 towns, in the court-houses (there being no churches), along the way, to the great satisfaction of all, but especially of those to whom the tenets of our Holy Catholic Faith were yet new. After about a week's travel, we met with a little accident which may excite your curiosity. Right before us on the road was a little animal about the size of a small dog, entirely unknown to us, but beautiful to look at, with its striped fur and handsome tail. We hastened to surprise it, and make it come to a standstill; but the thing seemed in no hurry, and just as we tried to bring it within reach by a light stroke of the whip, it settled quietly down, and wagging its beautiful tail, made a well directed sweep at us with a certain liquid substance which emitted the most abominable of odors. This most unbearable of smells communicated itself to our clothes, and saturated them so that it annoyed us for two months. Some say that the stench never leaves them, and the dogs who hunt that animal are sick for many days after, infecting their master's house and even the grain in the barn. That interesting animal is called a polecat; we had often experienced the effects of its presence on our travels through the country, but had never seen it. This proves, better than any musk, the divisibility of matter! The polecat defends itself with no other weapons, and fears hardly any enemy. It taught us not to interfere with unknown things, and to keep away from them even when their appearance  p416 charms us. Lack of this precaution has filled many a region with stench!

"About this place we had to ford a river, the water of which was so high that our horses had to swim, but we crossed it without accident.

"Leaving the State of Kentucky, we arrived, after a few days of travel, at Somerset, a catholic station in the State of Ohio. Four years ago, this place had scarcely half a dozen houses, and, perhaps, thirteen German families in the environs. To‑day, there are about a hundred dwellings, and a city, with a beautiful square, laid out. This mission, called St. Joseph's, is in charge of the Dominican Fathers, and is already attended by so many catholic families, that the church, but lately built, is going to be enlarged this year in order to accommodate them all. In six months, thirty families, mostly Methodists, were gained over to the true church, among them a lawyer of great ability. We remained here two nights.

"Desirous of paying a visit to Mr. Noble, in Virginia, we lost the opportunity of calling on Prince Gallitzin, the venerable missionary priest of Pennsylvania, who more or less expected us. This missionary, of whom I have spoken in former letters, is himself a convert to our holy religion, one of its most able defenders with the pen as well as in the pulpit, and I would not be at all surprised if he were nominated to one of our new dioceses. He is a renowned  p417 preacher in English and German, but is troubled with many infirmities.

"We found Mr. Noble, of Virginia, at home; and here my companion had to change horses, his being exhausted. Mr. Noble, commonly called Major Noble, is a recent convert to the catholic church, and deserves to be held up to the best of catholics as an example of submission to the church. The history of his conversion is too interesting to be omitted: A catholic, on his way from Kentucky to Baltimore, stayed all night at Mr. Noble's house, and that gentleman having noticed that his guest did not join the family in prayer before and after supper, asked him the reason of his unchristianlike conduct. The catholic answered, offering him a small volume: "If you will take the pains to read this book, you will know, before my return, the reason of my refusal to join in your prayers." Mr. Noble accepted the offer, and next day the traveler continued his journey. . . . On his return for Baltimore, he inquired of his host whether he had found out the reason of his conduct, and was happily surprised when Major Noble answered in the affirmative, asking, at the same time, what he had to do to become forthwith a member of the catholic church, since, in his opinion, there was no need for further inquiry, and he desired to lose no time. The catholic observed that the fact of having married his first wife's sister might be an obstacle in the way of his conversion; but Mr.  p418 Noble answered promptly and generously that whatever might be required of him, he was ready to do it. The matter was immediately referred to the Vicar-general,​1 who advised Mr. Noble to separate from his wife until the necessary dispensation would be obtained frontier Rome. The really noble convert complied forthwith with the request, and, to make matters easier, undertook a journey to New Orleans with four or five vessels of merchandise. In about six months the dispensation arrived from Rome and Mr. Noble from New Orleans, and the Vicar-general was requested by both husband and wife (for she became a convert at the same time her husband did) to receive them into the church, and join them in the holy bonds of lawful marriage. But before this was done, their house was literally stormed by the protestant parsons of the neighborhood, who took the loss of this prominent and most respectable family much to heart. The very day he was received into the church, five ministers came to entreat him to reconsider so rash a resolution, and to prevent his conversion at all hazards.  p419 But Major Noble only answered that he was too well convinced of the truth of the catholic church to remain any longer a slave of their errors, and politely requested them to go away from the house and leave his family in peace. His conversion has been followed by many others. . . . It is not every day we met with persons of so great force of character, ready to make such sacrifices and to conquer in a manly way all human respect.

"I desire to notice here another conversion which I do not think I related before. The Rev. Father Rosati, a Lazarist of St. Louis, and Rev. Mr. Chabrat, a priest of Kentucky, who related the incident to me, being at Post Vincennes, in the State of Indiana, met on the streets of that city an old chief of one of the Indian tribes. Approaching them with great respect, the Indian seized Father Rosati by the arm, saying: 'You are the minister of the Great Spirit; I want you to tell me what I have to do to serve Him!' Having secured an interpreter, Mr. Rosati began the conversation by asking him whether he believed in the existence of a Great Spirit?' 'Yes,' replied the chief, 'that I always believed; and I will tell you now how I serve Him: On getting up in the morning, raising my hands to heaven (and here he suited the action to the words), I thank Him for having preserved me during thing, and ask Him to help me during the day; at night I thank Him for his protection of the day, and beseech Him  p420 to preserve me from all dangers during the night. Any thing else I know not, and do not; but you are His minister, and you have to tell me what is to be done. 'Do you know,' further inquired Father Rosati, 'that in that Great Spirit there are three persons, namely: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?' "That I did not know,' promptly answered the simple child of the forest; 'but I believe it, because you tell me to. You are His minister, and ought to know.' Father Rosati undertook to instruct the old man carefully for several days, and found him to be an apt scholar, owing to his noble faith. The priest having given him an instruction about baptism, the Indian immediately signified his intense desire to receive the sacrament, putting his hand repeatedly on his head. As soon as he thought the chief sufficiently prepared, the priest delayed no longer, and administered to him that most necessary of sacraments. Scarcely was he baptized, when he was prostrated by a very violent sickness, which caused his death in a very few days. As long as the instructions lasted, and also during the illness, his son and some other Indians were constantly around him. They came in large numbers to assist at the funeral, which was celebrated in the most solemn manner, in the presence of most all the citizens of the place. The ceremonies made a strong and lastng impression upon the Indians, and when they were at an end, the chief's son, together with many of his tribe, came to thank  p421 Father Rosati, kissed his hands, and entreated him to come and live with them, and instruct them as he had done their old father, that they might die as he had done. They finally left, sad, because of the loss of their chief, whom they had much loved and respected; but happy and edified, because of his beautiful death, so full of true courage, resignation, and edification.

"And now allow me a remark. How did this chief know that there was a Great Spirit? He had never fallen into the hands of any fanatic. Who had told him that Father Rosati was the minister of the Great Spirit, since they had never seen one another nor even spoken one to another. Mr. Rosati was there by chance, for he did not reside in that region, but belonged to the suite of Bishop Dubourg, with whom he now resides, in Louisiana. It seems that this Indian, without book or printing-press, knew fully as much and did more than many a learned scholar of to‑day, who, after long study, reading and writing, did not yet find out the Great Spirit, nor learn the prayer of the wild man in the forest. Had this Indian chief fallen into the hands of the great and learned (!) masters, it is likely he would not have died as he did.

"A few years ago, I baptized, when in that region, some of these Indians' children. Although the slaves of many vices and very ignorant, these savages exhibited very good dispositions and had many natural virtues. We traveled through their hunting grounds without molestation  p422 and without being once insulted; there was not the least necessity for a guide; where we met them, they were friendly. They were all decently covered, the women especially so. Their jollifications and dances were held among themselves, without the females participating in them; as, for instance, when one hundred and forty of their number came to greet Governor Harrison. After having delivered their address, they sent their women away with the guns which they everywhere carry with them, and performed several dances, after which the women returned. Unhappily, they like very much spirituous liquor, which the whites sell to them for the sake of filthy lucre, and when under the influence of it, they become very cruel. Their wars, carried on between the different tribes, are also very barbarous; and, at such times, woe to the pale face who falls into their hands; they torture him in the most atrocious manner.

"Having bid farewell to Mr. Noble, we continued our journey, and two days after arrived at Mr. Thompson's, a very virtuous catholic, living in the great Alleghany Mountains. After breakfast, that gentleman, who lives here with his four children by a second wife, invited us to inspect the church which he is building on his own farm and at his own expense, the few catholic families in the neighborhood being poor. He thinks the building will cost no less than $10,000, and he added that he was going to sell part of his lands to be enabled to finish the church, which  p423 is now raised up to the windows. Being somewhat of an architect, Mr. Thompson​2 made the plan himself. It is in the form of a dome, and pleases me better than any church I have yet seen in America. He also offers land for a priest and school, and it seems that Father Dubois, the founder of Emmettsburg, is going to accept the offer. The church will be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"The conduct and generosity of this catholic gentleman are seldom imitated in Europe, even by the richest of catholics. It is then very unjustly, that all our American Catholics are looked upon as ungenerous and unwilling to contribute to the spiritual wants of the church. For, if you notice the number and diversity of buildings mentioned above, you can not but see that, since the time Archbishop Carroll, who has now been dead five years, first became Bishop, many have been the sacrifices made by catholics. Before that time they were continually oppressed and persecuted in the true sense of the word, and that lamentable state of things only came to an end with the Revolution. Of course, we acknowledge that here, like in Europe, not all who profess to be catholics dare practice their religion faithfully. Surely not; and the uninterrupted immigration from the Old World is little calculated to brighten our hopes. . . . Hence,  p424 gifts from Europe will always be gratefully accepted; for this country is so vast, that there is no end to our needs. We have to work in a wilderness, as it were, in which many articles, such as books, statues, silks, etc., are not to be had, even if we had the money with which to purchase them.

"It may be worth a passing notice, that Mr. Thompson lives on the road from Wheeling to Baltimore, which is to be a twenty mile stone road,​a sixty feet wide, right through the mountains and rock three hundred Irishmen, mostly catholics, have undertaken the job, and have to finish it by the month of August this year. A similar stone road is resolved upon from Louisville to Pittsburg, a distance of more than five hundred miles. Over eighty steamboats are constantly plying up and down the Ohio; some averaging three hundred and even five hundred ton; going down stream they run at the rate of two hundred miles in twenty-four miles in twenty-four hours, and not unfrequently reach New Orleans, a distance of one thousand two hundred miles, in five days. Many rivers are being provided with locks to make them navigable; canals are being made for communication between the lakes, rivers, and sea; the building up of numerous cities, and public improvements are being pushed ahead with incredible spirit. But these matters are not of the sphere of my letter, in which I wish to treat of ecclesiastical matters only.

 p425  "Leaving Mr. Thompson, we continued our journey, and arrived on the Wednesday of Holy Week in Emmettsburg, Maryland, founded by Rev. Mr. Dubois, a Sulpitian. Forty young men, attending the college which he instituted here, had made their first communion the Palm Sunday previous. The situation of the college on the mountain is very picturesque; the discipline of the institution is edifying; many of the scholars, who also pursue the studies of philosophy and theology, are from the West Indies. The Sisters of Charity also have an academy here, and are doing well. Both institutions have about a hundred scholars.

"Proceeding on our journey (the weather continued cold), we arrived on Thursday neither in Fredericktown, at the house of Rev. Father Malavé, an old acquaintance. This zealous missionary has recently bought a house, which he intends altering into a school for the education of children whose parents are unable to pay. A married man with his family lives in the house, with the understanding that he has to teach the poor children.

"Having passed through Montgomery Court-House, a little town where Rev. De Vos is stationed, we arrived at Georgetown, fifty miles from Fredericktown, in time to celebrate Easter. Here we admired the flourishing condition of the Society of Jesus, which counts over fifty members, and of their beautiful college, accommodating  p426 about a hundred students. At the college I had the pleasure of an introduction to and conversation with Mr. Barber, the converted preacher of whom I spoke to you before. He is studying theology; his conduct is exemplary, and his progress in study surprising. He can not but wonder now, how the truth so clearly demonstrated in his authors, can be so persistently denied by the enemies of the church, and when he reflects how long he remained in ignorance, he is truly ashamed of himself. His only son, a boy of about twelve years, pursues his studies at the same college. We also paid a visit to Mrs. Barber, the wife of the Jesuit Father just mentioned; she made her solemn vows at the Convent of the Visitation, near the church where Mr. De Theux is pastor. This convent was established by the recently deceased Archbishop L. Neale, has fifty religious, and keeps, besides the boarders, among whom are Mrs. Barber's three little daughters, a school for day scholars and one for poor children. I was also told that Mr. Barber's father and mother joined the church recently. The father, also a protestant minister, tries to bring more into the true fold by writing pamphlets. He is living in Massachusetts,​3 and his writings had one good effect:  p427 Many families have already adopted all the catholic practices they know of, and evince a great desire to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There are few or no catholics in that State; the young Barber will likely be sent there as soon as ordained, and will be the first priest ever sent into that part of the country.

"During our three days' stay at Georgetown, we crossed over to Washington, the capital of the United States, contiguous to this city, in order to obtain our passports. We were treated with much civility, and our papers signed by Mr. Adams, Secretary of State, were given us gratis and without delay. Whilst here, we went to see St. Patrick's catholic church, which,  p428 upon my first arrival in America, consisted of a square frame building in very poor condition; it is now a handsome church of freestone, accommodating three thousand people. The funeral service for the Duke de Berry had just been held in the presence of all the foreign ambassadors and of the most prominent members of the United States Congress, which was just then holding its sessions. Rev. Father Kenney, Visitor of the Jesuits, and an Irishman of uncommon eloquence, preached the funeral oration, to the admiration and delight of all present. That same day had been appointed by Congress to render funeral honors to Admiral Decatur, whose unfortunate death​4 had just occurred, and who had reaped so much glory during the war with England; but they adjourned the ceremony in order to assist at the services in the catholic church.

"Rev. Mr. Chabrat here disposed of his horse, and went by stage to Baltimore, a distance of forty-five miles. I kept mine, although it has but one eye, (and I hope to find it in Baltimore at my return,) because it is gentle and strong, and especially because I can not now afford to buy another. Horses that can stand plenty of work and travel are the only ones worth having for a missionary priest. Before going to Baltimore, I paid a flying visit to White Marsh, the novitiate of the Jesuits, where I arrived the Wednesday after Easter. I found many  p429 changes: the church is considerably enlarged, and they had about thirteen novices at the time.

"I had only thirty miles more to travel to reach Baltimore. Coming from White Marsh on to the main road to that city, you get a fine view of the catholic metropolis, which, viewed from a distance of five or six miles, seems to hang on the mountain side. The first object that strikes the eye is the majestic metropolitan church over­looking the whole city, and the dome of which required over three hundred and fifty thousand feet of cut stone above the roof, other stones and materials not included. In that dome are two principal rooms, one of which is destined for the library of the archdiocese. Archbishop Maréchal, a Sulpitian, formerly professor of the Seminary of Lyons, France, and lately rector of the Seminary of Baltimore, has already donated all his books to that library. This metropolitan church, without doubt the most important building of the kind in this part of America, will exclusively of gratuitous gifts and interior ornaments, cost over $250,000. The Archbishop hopes to have it ready for services by the 15th of August, feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patron feast of the archdiocese.​5

"The young men of Lyons​6 have given notice  p430 to the Archbishop of their intention to present to his metropolitan church a high altar of white marble; the King of France is going to send him a beautiful bell.

"A few months ago, died in Baltimore a sailor, who, after having lived many years as an habitual drunkard, invested his last $50 in a lottery, the highest premium of which was $50,000. Desiring to satisfy his craving appetite for drink, he soon afterwards offered to sell his tickets for $10, but he could find nobody willing to buy them, and he was obliged to await the result of the lottery. To his amazement, he gained the highest prize, and began his life of debauchery anew. Finally he fell sick, and died about a month after, having passed his last days in deploring the excesses of his past life. By his will, he left $10,000 to the metropolitan cathedral and $5,000 to St. Patrick's church. The lesson given by this drunkard, brought by sickness to reason, temperance, and faith, has few followers even among the more pious.

"Close by the metropolitan church, the Unitarians or Socinians have erected their first  p431 meeting-house in a very neat and tasty style; but they have miscalculated. The building costs $60,000; it has broken two or three of their best houses, and now belongs to the bank that lent them the money. The architect, a Frenchman whom I met here in London, did not fare any better. He lost all his property, and his only daughter died on the way to Europe; the poor man feels the latter more keenly than all his other losses. Such are sometimes the judgments of God.

"I should have remarked that, when they commenced building the metropolitan church, it was entirely out of town there being only a few houses scattered around it. Situated about five minutes' walk from St. Patrick's Point, it will be very near the center of the city, if the latter is built up as it is now laid out.

"We had reached Baltimore on Thursday, and found there a vessel ready to sail for Rotterdam the Sunday following. We had traveled a whole month on horseback and suffered much, and had scarcely time to purchase a few necessary things; but our taking the desired and much needed rest would have delayed us too long, and we embarked very early on Sunday morning. We were the only two passengers, had a good captain and tolerably good sailors, so that we enjoyed a very pleasant trip after the usual course of sea-sickness was gone through. Having experienced five severe, though not very dangerous storms, we arrived before Dover the  p432 twenty-ninth day, and resolved to land, and pay a visit to my brother and sister and their school for the poor in Somerstown, London. A carriage took us to the English capital early in the morning, having made seventy-two miles in nine hours.

"Although London is a wild world, we soon found out that many there serve the Lord in retirement and devotion. The catholics attend faithfully to the services in their churches; and the poor, who are numerous here, are helped with a generous liberality. The poor schools are very much favored, and it is worthy of note that the Duke of Sussex, brother to the king, kindly consented to preside at the dinner which is annually given for the benefit of the Somerstown poor schools, where none but catholic children of the poorest class are educated. No ladies are invited to those dinners, and everybody pays his fare. After dinner, and a speech by one of the invited guests, the poor children are presented to the assembly by their teachers, and every one gives liberally. Such a dinner realizes sometimes as high as six or seven hundred pounds sterling.

"We bought a good supply of English catholic books, which can be had here better than anywhere else, but at high prices. We also subscribed to the Catholicon and Orthodox, two catholic journals edited by laymen, and entirely devoted to the interests of our holy faith. These papers are well established and count many  p433 regular subscribers in America. The world-renowned Bishop Milner, one of the most learned writers of the kingdom, is a regular correspondent of one of them.

"I also profited of this opportunity, and had the rules of our Loretto Society printed here.​7

"In London I met Mrs. Hill, who, some years ago, lived with Mr. Hill, her husband, at their castle of Bornhem, Belgium. They are both English, and converts to the catholic faith. After having lived some years together, they have separated, by mutual consent, to lead a life of greater perfection. Mr. Hill became a Dominican in Rome, celebrated his first Mass in that city last Christmas, and is preparing to join the Dominicans in Kentucky.

"Whilst here, we also heard of an incident of peculiar interest, which happened on the feast of Corpus Christi, this being the day on which the House takes the test oath, as the oath by which the members are required to deny the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and the doctrine of transubstantiation, is commonly called. One of the noble Lords having made a few remarks on the object of that oath, based on the pretense that catholics by their act of adoration of this sacrament are guilty  p434 of idolatry, said, in the course of his speech, that it became necessary to know what they were actually swearing to. Said he: 'To swear about things with we do not sufficiently know, would make us guilty of an inconsiderate and rash oath. If the catholics truly believe that Jesus Christ is really present in that sacrament, it is Christ — that is, God — whom they adore, hence they are not guilty of idolatry. But,' concluded the noble Lord, 'if it is true that catholics are idolaters, then all I can say is, that the Pope has gained a complete victory over the Almighty;' giving his colleagues to understand that this idolatry was scattered broadcast over the whole world, since catholics are to be found everywhere in ever increasing numbers. The English have now sent Bishops and priests to their colonies and give them pecuniary support!

"In London, we also admired the new catholic church of Moorefield. I also visited the English church of St. Paul. This building is monumental, but can certainly not compare with St. Peter's of Rome, or the Duomo of Milan. I am even of the opinion that the Metropolitan church of Baltimore, crowning the city and hill, appears to better advantage than St. Paul's, which stands very low."

After having remained a few days in London, Father Nerinckx set out for Belgium. He took the greatest precautions not to have his advent there publicly heralded, as it had been the first  p435 time he revisited the land of his birth. The fact of his having taken with him several young men, some of whom were liable to military conscription, made him fear that his movements, during this second visit, would be watched with suspicion by the governmental authorities. On this account, also, he deemed it prudent to avoid any thing that might prove an occasion of offense to the civil officers, and, during his stay in Belgium, he selected retired places of abode.

The letters which Bishop Flaget had intrusted him with, with a view of obtaining help for the Kentucky missions, and the letter of thanks from the Sisters of Loretto, a translation of which we give below, he circulated privately among his friends; and they had, if not the success which would have attended their publication in print, the desired effect of stimulating anew the generosity of Father Nerinckx' countrymen.

Letter of Bishop Flaget.

"Bardstown, February 8, 1820.

"To my Benefactors of Belgium:

"If people of the world would think it a breach of all the rules of politeness not to acknowledge a service rendered, of what great fault would not priests, and especially a Bishop, be guilty, if they failed in a duty so consonant to reason and so much recommended by our holy faith.

"Although I am conscious of having but very  p436 few of the episcopal virtues, yet I feel that I have a grateful heart; and I can say, in all truth, that I take, perhaps, more pleasure in publishing the favors done to me, than charitable souls have in showing them to me. My generous benefactors in Flanders may then rest assured that neither I nor my faithful co-operators will ever forget them; that their names are deeply engraved in our hearts, and that they are inscribed in the annals of the Loretto convent, the sisters of which, worthy of the first centuries of the church by their austerity and their fervor, make it their special duty to pray every day for those who have so liberally helped them.

"Independently of the sweet satisfaction that we feel in obliging sensible and grateful souls, how many merits do not those charitable persons secure in the eyes of a God, who does not let a glass of cold water go without its reward? These great motives will, I trust, enkindle anew the fire of charity in the hearts of all my generous benefactors of Flanders; and they will give new proofs of it to their countryman, Mr. Nerinckx, my zealous and fervent co-operator.

"Convinced of their good will toward me, I thank them, not only for what they may do for my diocese, but even for what they would have the intention of doing; and I shall not cease to pray to God to reward them a hundred fold in  p437 this world and in the next, and I subscribe myself their

"Very devoted and very grateful servant,

"Benedict Joseph Flaget,

"Bishop of Bardstown.

"The little Loretto Society," writes Father Nerinckx, "grateful for the kindness shown them, and the share they had in the distribution of church ornaments for their little chapel, profit of this opportunity to testify their gratitude to their benefactors by sending letters of association to all those who took a part in what has been provided for themselves or for the diocese of Bardstown, the welfare of which their institute obliges them to have especially at heart."

Letter of association.


"Sister Mary, Sister Ann, Sister Juliana, and Sister Helen, Superiors of the Houses of the Society of the Friends of Mary in the state of Kentucky, United States of America.

"To the gentlemen and ladies, our kind and religious well-wishers:

"All hail and blessing from the Suffering Jesus and His Sorrowful Mother!!

"Although the law of charity commands us to pray for all men, we think ourselves obliged to do it in a more particular manner for those who  p438 have shown their zeal for the promotion of our institute, and a special wish for our remembrances. Knowing then, most respected and honored gentlemen and ladies, this to be your case and disposition, we very gladly send you our letters of gratitude and association, trusting, notwithstanding our own unworthiness, upon the infinite merits of our Dying Saviour and His afflicted Mother, our Head and Patroness. We do promise you that, during life and after your death, you shall have a share in all the devotions and pious works in the houses of our society.

"We also hope, most honored and respected gentlemen and ladies, that we will find a place in your holy performances. Having been informed of your names and qualities, they are, and shall be on our records as a blessed memorial during the existence of our society. These, our engagements and wishes, we humbly request our Reverend Father to communicate to you in the name of

"Your most humble servants,

"The sisters of Loretto Society as above.

"Done at Loretto, 10th of January, 1820, the eighth (year) of the institute."​8

"I would desire," continues Father Nerinckx, all persons who, through their good wishes, have obtained this right of association, to consider themselves associates. It was my desire to send every one individually a copy of these  p439 letters in the usual form, as the old religious communities used to do; but, by a special act of liberality (!) and humanity (!) of the government, I am deprived of that happiness. I trust, however, that the benefits of this association will not suffer from it, since they are out of the sphere of the government power."

Father Nerinckx subsequently gave an account of his success in the following letter, the only one that reached Loretto from Belgium. It is one of the few English documents in Father Nerinckx' handwriting, and we give it as written in all its energy simplicity and freshness of faulty diction:

Letter of Father Nerinckx.


"2d of November, 1820.

"The peace of our Lord Jesus be with you all!

"Your letter of August 13th left Bardstown the 19th, and was handed safe to me, October 28th, the only one I received. The Right Rev. Bishop wrote twice. Rev. Mr. Chabrat, who is well, sends me word middling regular. By these letters I understand that Sister Apollonia departed this life and is gone to heaven. We thank God for his blessings. The more I consider the world, the less I doubt of the true  p440 happiness and salvation of the Friends of Mary. O Blessed Mother of God! that has afforded you the means of these double comforts!

"To follow the contents of your letter: I thank you for all the pious and kind remembrances which I, on my side, have tried to keep up. Your good wish for my return is an effect of good nature and grace, but can not profit you much; still, my superiors here advise me for it. I willingly prepare, in the sixtieth year of my age, to cross the seas again, to do what I can, and to help you, if possible. My condition, as I told you often beforehand, could not fail, in a country now become heretic, and of course filled with all its evil consequences, to suffer mightily in the undertaking. Providence, still, has not entirely forsaken us. Should I have gotten nothing else, but the old English books, with some new ones, if they come on sale, they will be worth my pains. I have ready half a dozen statues, or rather half ones, of our Lady, middling well done, and some more utensils for the church; some more things, and valuable ones, are sent to our Bishop, yet on the road, if I do not mistake, for they may have arrived by this time.

"You have, it seems, received none of my letters; yet I wrote to you three times. I feel sorry for your sickly company; I beg them all to be of good heart and receive these afflictions with courage, united with body and mind with the Suffering Jesus and the Sorrowful Mary. I have thought, sometimes, that your dwelling in  p441 the basement under the chapel might be against your health; if there is any possibility of doing so, I want you to live in the large building.

"I thank God for the favors he bestows on the community and visitors through the intercession of Blessed St. Francis Hieronymo. Keep on venerating this holy friend of God and ours.​9

"A great favor is just now bestowed upon the whole christendom: We received here a Breve of the Holy Father announcing that the body of St. Francis of Assisium (who is represented in our Loretto chapel,) has been found with the sacred stigmata, whole and fresh. It had been buried for nearly six hundred years, nor did anybody know the exact place where it had been hidden. A few months ago it was found, after fifty-two days of digging and searching for it, under the altar of the lower of the three churches of Assisium, built one above the other. Favors and indulgences will be granted on this occasion. Every christian wonders that, in a time of general apostasy as this is, this remarkable favor should be granted, and they hope for some great event which will turn to the benefit of the church.

 p442  "The poor school of my brother and sister in London is improving fast; over one hundred children attend it. They have been much pleased with the tidings from ours; they keep some of our rules, and wish to join with you in prayers, good works, and pious remembrances. Several new houses in this country wish to do the same. Some new societies have been started here, but, besides the risks they run from governmental interference, I fear (and so do many prudent men here,) that their wealthy and too worldly fixings will make them of but short duration, howsoever pious they appear to be. Your ways of living are stricter and poorer, and that much more religious and safe because founded on piety and charity.

"I received letters from Rome concerning your society, telling me that the Right Reverend Bishop of Kentucky has received ample instructions upon the rules, some of which they wish to be altered. I wrote to the Bishop about it, and I expect he has fixed business. Be you obedient and faithful; you see how short time is, how serious the matter, and, withal, how long blessed eternity. May not one of you miss it! Your rules are printed in London; but, since the answers from Rome, some will have to be altered.

"I hope Providence protects you in temporals, so as to have first necessaries; with these we must be satisfied. The help I will give, will be of little account; the persecution  p443 here ruins me entirely; but God wants no means of assistance. Rev. Mr. Abell's sickness has caused a sensible grief. I hope that, by this time, he is well again, as I wish you all to be. I am well myself, thank God! — in fact, more so than I desire, for I am growing heavy, notwithstanding my continual labors and travels on foot. Rev. Mr. Badin has the care of two parishes in France; his return to America is doubtful. Rev. Mr. Hill, a convert and now a Dominican, comes from Rome with six other Dominicans, and he wishes to start with me next Spring for Kentucky. We will likely come together shortly after Easter, if there be any vessels, so to be with you about the end of June. I thought of coming before Winter, but my well-wishers desired me to stay, and business hinders my departure. I hope all our acquaintances and persons attached to our houses fare well, and things go on, if not in grand style, at least piously and christianly. Receive here, all God's blessings, my hearty wishes and true marks of sincere affection, and love in Jesus and Mary.

"C. Nerinckx,

"Your father, as you are willing to call me, to my great confusion.

"P. S. Greet your gentlemen confessors in particular.

"Should the Bishop not have received my letters, (I wrote several to him,) you let him peruse  p444 this, accompanied with my deepest for his person and character.

"Particular greeting to Mr. and Mrs. Dent; to Mr. Leak and lady; to Mr. Vincent, Polly, Mr. Cassel and lady, etc. Whites and blacks, to whom all good things.

"I wrote you a letter from Baltimore, after I had been at the Visitation; one long one from the vessel, and a long one from this country. My well-wishers here I recommend to your special devotions. Best things to all the scholars everywhere."

The Author's Notes:

1 Viz. to Father Badin, of whom Father Nerinckx always speaks as "the Vicar-general." Archbishop Spalding gives an entirely different account of Major Noble's conversion, page 180 of his "Sketches of Kentucky," which were edited with the assistance of Father Badin. We must, however, observe that Father Badin was, at the time of the writing of that book (1844), seventy-six years of age, and could scarcely be expected to remember, after a lapse of at least twenty-five years, all the particulars of a not uncommon event, which Father Nerinckx here relates shortly after it had happened.

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2 This is the Mr. Thompson to whom Rev. Nerinckx refers in his letter to the Archbishop of Baltimore in the previous chapter.

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3 Daniel Barber, A. M., born in Salisbury, Conn., October 2, 1756, was originally a Congregationalist minister. His youngest sister married Noah Tyler, and became the mother of Bishop Tyler, of Hartford. In 1807 he baptized in his sect Miss Allen, daughter of General Ethan Allen, who subsequently became a convert, and joined the community of Hospital Sisters of the Hotel Dieu in Montreal, where she piously died, in 1819. Mr. Barber became an Episcopalian minister at Schenectady, N. Y., at thirty years of age, and continued to act as such, first at Manchester, Vt., then at Claremont, N. H., for thirty years. His youngest son, Virgil, born in 1782, was a parson in Fairfield, N. Y., in 1816; coming to visit his father, he read some catholic books, which the latter had borrowed from Bishop Cheverus. Before his father saw him again, Virgil and his family had become converts the same year. Virgil had been to Rome in 1817; on his return, in 1818, his wife had become a nun, at the Visitation, Georgetown, and he himself was preparing for the priesthood. He visited his father in Claremont in 1818, and made converts of his father and sister, and of his aunt, Mrs. Tyler, and the latter's eldest daughter. He then went to Georgetown, and subsequently returned to Claremont, where he remained until the death of his wife in 1825. Daniel Barber still lived in 1834. Father Virgil H. Barber, S. J., died in Georgetown College, March 27, 1847, at the age of sixty-five. His wife, Mrs. Jerusha Booth Barber, born at New Town, Conn., July 20, 1789, in religion Sister Mary Augustine, died at Summerville, near Mobile, Ala., on the night of January 1, 1860. Their only son, Samuel, became a Jesuit, and their four daughters entered the convent.

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4 He fell in a duel with Commodore James Barron.

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5 It was not dedicated till May 31, 1821, having been begun by Archbishop Carroll eighteen years before. Cfr. "The Catholic Church in the United States," by Henry de Couvey, pg. 110.

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6 The Latin inscription on the altar states that this altar was presented by "priests of Marseilles, to Ambrose, Archbishop of Baltimore, formerly their professor of theology." Archbishop Maréchal taught in Lyons, St. Flour, and Aix; whether he did at Marseilles we have seen nowhere stated. May be those priests of Marseilles studied under him at Lyons, or Father Nerinckx, hearing of the promised altar by Archbishop's old students, and not knowing of his teaching in Marseilles, took it for granted that the Lyons old seminarians were alluded to.

Thayer's Note: The altar, according to Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State, Federal Writers' Project (1940), p223, was "of marble with a red damask screen that forms an effective background for the gold altar fixtures". It is no longer the high altar, but is still in use in the recently renovated Cathedral; I don't know whether the inscription still exists.

There once was a photo of this altar on the Baltimore Basilica's website, but it has either been removed or moved around so arcanely that it is now impossible to find again.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (article Ambrose Maréchal) and various 19c American sources all accept Maréchal as having taught at Marseille; I find no independent evidence of it on the Web, including under the correct original French spelling of his first name (Ambroise).

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7 The full title is as follows: "Rules of the Society and School of Loretto, Kentucky. London. Printed by Keating and Brown, printers to the Rt. Rev., the Vicars Apostolic of England, 38 Duke street, Grosvenor Square. 1820," pgg. 48.

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8 Copied literally from the printed narrative of 1825.

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9 Among the many statues and pictures which Father Nerinckx brought from Europe in 1817, was one of that saint, which Father Nerinckx told the sisters to place in the infirmary, the inmates of which he wanted to look upon St. Francis Hieronymo as their patron and best doctor. Many cures, believed to be supernatural, were effected through his intercession, and are worked to this day.

Thayer's Note:

a Sic. The road is the great turnpike proposed from Baltimore, MD to Wheeling, WV, sections of which were built but not the entire road: clearly no local road is meant since mention is made of traversing the mountains, and in the next breath the 500‑mile Louisville to Pittsburg road is described as "similar". According to Scharf's History of Baltimore City and County, p314, the full length of the Baltimore to Wheeling turnpike would have been two hundred fifty-nine miles; the straight-line distance between the two cities is more than 220 miles. The text should thus probably read "a two hundred and fifty mile stone road"; in his manuscript the author must have written, or meant to write, 250 mile, which was read by the typesetter as 20 and then fully spelled out by him.

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