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Life of Charles Nerinckx
Camillus Maes

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Rev. Charles Nerinckx
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Father Charles Nerinckx was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest who came to the United States in 1804, and served the church vigorously in pioneer Kentucky, establishing parishes and building churches in that State, and founding one of the earliest teaching orders of Sisters in North America. Very much like Daniel Boone, at the end of his life, he moved to Missouri where he died in 1824.

It seems clear that this book was written with a view to supporting Nerinckx' beatification: the man has almost no flaws, and his life is viewed — explained, justified — thru a prism of heroic virtue; his biographer has even reported (chapter 30) what with the sanction of the Church might be called miracles. Nerinckx has not been beatified, though; the careful reader will doubtless form an idea of why not, but a Dominican perspective on one of the more important facets of Father Nerinckx' life in Kentucky dots the i's and serves as a useful corrective: "Fathers Badin and Nerinckx and the Dominicans in Kentucky" by the Rev. Victor F. O'Daniel, O. P., published in the Catholic Historical Review.

But once balance is restored, there can remain no doubt that Charles Nerinckx was a robust, heroic pioneer figure of the "Old West"; and we know the tree by its fruits: the Sisters of Loretto — the order he founded and nurtured, as meticulously chronicled in this book — continues to bring healing and civilization, in much the way he envisioned, to countries around the world. Maes's biography, though long recognized as flawed, is also still a window on conditions in the early United States — not only religion but travel, land tenure, and pioneer life — and even to some extent on the 19c history of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Birth of Charles Nerinckx. — Parentage. — Rev. John Henry Nerinckx. — Mary Nerinckx. — Rev. F. X. Decoen, S. J. — Early education. — Rev. Charles Nerinckx ordained a Priest. — Vicar in Mechlin.


Pastor of Everberg-Meerbeke. — Catechism and Sunday Schools. — Reforms. — Father Nerinckx' proscription. — Chaplain in the Hospital of Dendermonde. — His hiding-places. — He exposes his life to chastise a blasphemer. — His studies and writings. — Declines a re-appointment.


The French Revolution. — Father Nerinckx resolves to go to the American missions. — An account of his vocation. — Princess Gallitzin recommends him to Bishop Carroll. — She meets him in Amsterdam. — Annoying delay. — Father Nerinckx embarks for America. — A floating hell.


Father Nerinckx appointed for Kentucky. — "Again a schoolboy" at Georgetown. — His humility. — Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucault and the French ambassador. — Visit of the Trappist prior. — Father Nerinckx prepares for his western mission. — His arrival in Kentucky.


Early Kentucky history. — The Shawnees. — Virginia explorers. — Catholic settlers from Maryland. — The league of sixty catholic families. — Father Whelan. — The first catholic church in Kentucky. — Father Badin. — St. Ann's church. — Other Missionaries. — Father Nerinckx.


Father Nerinckx on the mission. — A noble project. — He writes to Belgium for men and money. — "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." — Poverty of Kentucky catholics. — A visit to Post Vincennes. — Who shall be bishop of Kentucky? — A pen-picture of Father Badin.


The Trappists. — Father Nerinckx foresees their failure. — His desire to join them. — Obedience better than sacrifice. — St. Stephen's. — Holy Mary's. — Bells. — Church furniture. — Danville. — St. Charles' church. — State of the Catholic Church in Kentucky in 1807. — Rev. Nerinckx' bodily sufferings. — His missionary field of labor.


Catholic schools. — Father Nerinckx' zeal for the instruction of the children. — "Arms up!" — He plans the establishment of a religious community. — Its objects. — Building of a convent near St. Stephen's. — The building destroyed by fire.


The Jesuits in America. — Catholic progress in Kentucky. — A procession in 1807. — Wheeling. — Washington. — New Lancaster. — Chillicothe. — Quebec. — Boston. — Knoxville. — Holy Mary's. — St. Clara's. — St. Charles.


Father Nerinckx' piety. — His daily life. — His zeal for the spiritual progress of his people. — The Dominicans. — Their advent the occasion of petty persecutions against Father Nerinckx. — Father Nerinckx asks to retire to some other field of labor. — Yields to Bishop Carroll's advice, and remains in Kentucky.


Father Nerinckx appointed administrator and bishop of New Orleans. — He declines the appointment. — He offers himself for the Louisiana mission. — New trouble in Kentucky. — The New Orleans difficulties. — The vicar-general opposes Father Nerinckx' departure.


Missionary labors. — St. Anthony's, Rough Creek. — St. James', Clifty. — St. Bernard's, Adair City. — Other settlements. — Father Nerinckx' courage, cheerfulness, and kindness. — His adventure with a wolf. — His labors in the confessional. — The fruits of his zeal. — A touching incident.


Father Nerinckx' bodily strength. — His adventure with Hardin. — Carrying the cross in Bullitt county. — Saluting the negro. — Father Nerinckx' simple oratory. — His success in making converts. — Arrival of Bishop Flaget in Kentucky. — The Episcopal palace.


New efforts in behalf of education. — The little school of Hardin's Creek. — Its first teachers. — They retire from the world. — They start a religious community. — Election of the first superior. — A primitive boarding school. — Father Nerinckx founds the Loretto Society.


Churches of the Long Lick and Casey Creek. — Father Nerinckx removes to St. Charles. — First taking of the veil at Loretto. — Black dye and chemical experience. — First regular election of a Dear Mother. — First rules and their author. — Building a new convent and residence.


Bishop Flaget visits Loretto. — New difficulties. — Death of Mother Ann Rhodes. — Her burial: self-denial in death. — Father Nerinckx' tribute to her memory. — Dear Mother Mary Rhodes. — Practicing holy poverty. — Fortunate "old maids!"


Taking the veil. — Sister Monica. — Blessing the church and convent. — "Do not forsake Providence." — Pittsburg stoves. — New postulants. — Protestations of the people. — Bishop Flaget explains.


Father Nerinckx goes to Europe. — Notes by the way. — His journey to Rome. — Impressions: the Rome of the Emperors and the Rome of the Popes. — Pius VII. — The papal blessing. — The Loretto rules approved of. — Return to Belgium.


A letter from Bishop Flaget: the Loretto institution a success. — Father Nerinckx' appeal to his Belgian countrymen for men and money. — Its wonderful effects.


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' 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.


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.


Father Nerinckx resumes the direction of the sisterhood. — Establishment of Calvary, 1816, and Gethsemani, 1818. — St. Augustine's, Lebanon. — Father Nerinckx introduces Rev. Abel to his more distant missions. — He purchases Mount Mary's for a brotherhood. — Its subsequent history.


Consecration of the Cathedral of Bardstown. — The Theological Seminary. — Consecration of Bishop David. — New Dioceses. — Catholic statistics of the United States and Kentucky. — Statistics of the Loretto society. — Father Nerinckx' last will.


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' return to Kentucky. — How the original founders of the Jesuit mission in Missouri came to the United States. — Sketch of the establishment of the Missouri Province. — High mass of thanksgiving in Baltimore Cathedral.


The Society of Jesus. — Establishment of the Western Missions. — The Missouri mission organized. — Novitiate at Florissant. — Indian missions. — The Pottawatomies of Michigan. — Father Desmet and companions. — Various establishments of the Missouri Province.


From Baltimore to Kentucky. — The Maryland postulants. — Sister Alexandrina Doran's wonderful vocation. — Mount Mary's. — Establishment of Bethania convent. — Election of a Dear Mother. — Establishment of Mount Carmel, Bethlehem, Perry county, Missouri, and Mount Olivet. — Holy Cross church. — Project of a Negro sisterhood.


Crowning difficulties. — Rev. Guy Chabrat's opposition to Father Nerinckx. — Father Nerinckx leaves Kentucky. — His farewell letter to the Sisters of Loretto. — He goes to Missouri. — He visits Bethlehem, Perry Co. — His death at Ste. Genevieve, August 12, 1824.


Burial at the Barrens, Mo. — "Father Nerinckx is in Heaven!" — Removal of his remains to Loretto, Ky. — His Epitaph. — Supernatural Events. — Rev. Chabrat again. — Tributes to Father Nerinckx' memory. — Loretto convent removed to his first residence, Marion county, Ky.


Was Father Nerinckx a rigorist? — His mortification. — His devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin. — His discernment of vocations. — His kindness to the sick. — His unbounded confidence in Divine Providence. — His devotion to the Sacred Heart. — His humility.


The Loretto Society. — Apple Creek, Perry county, Mo., etc. — Cape Girardeau, Mo. — Father Nerinckx' Library. — Cedar Grove, Louisville, Ky. — Mission among the Osage Indians in 1847. — Interesting account of their customs.


Florissant, Mo. — "Our Lady of Light," New Mexico. — Burning of Loretto Convent, Ky. — Cairo, Ill. — Death of Father D. Deparcq. — Denver, Colorado. — Other foundations.


Appendix. A hymn. — Some pious sentiments on the flowers which adorn the altar. — Ecclesiastical Superiors of Loretto. — Mother Superiors of the Loretto Society. — Statistics of the Loretto Society in 1879.


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Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is the original — and to my knowledge only — edition, published by Robert Clarke & Co., Cincinnati, 1880. It is in the public domain: details here on the copyright law involved.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was well proofread, with few typographical errors. I marked my corrections, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read what was actually printed. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

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