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Fray Antonio de Sedella
Is there any possibility of reconciling all these diverse opinions? In my study of the historical sources, there are (3) matters which I think are unknown to the general reader:
(1) An abridged Life of Antonio by a Louisianan, published in New Orleans, 1829. It is written in French and is the property of the President of this Society, who assures me it is the only copy in existence.
(2) A translation of an interview between Lafayette's Secretary and Antonio, published in 1824, a copy of which is in the Howard Library.
(3) A letter translated in full, from the pen of Antonio to Monsignor William Du Bourg. It is highly interesting for it is a direct historical proof that, in spite of Shea's defamation (and Shea has thoroughly studied his vituperative adjectives) the Bishop, without the shadow of a doubt, in 1818 offered the auxiliary Bishopric of the Diocese to Antonio, who, in this very candid, almost daring letter for any Priest to write to his Bishop, refuses the honor, and gives Du Bourg his reasons.
Evidently jealousy ran very high between the cities of St. Louis and New Orleans. It is significant that Du Bourg was consecrated in St. Louis and not here. Antonio's letter is written in pure p25 Castillian and bears the marks of a highly educated man. To quote from Antonio's life written in 1829: "The Rev. Father Antonio was the legitimate child of Pedro Mareno and Ana of Arze. He was born at Sedella, Diocese of Malaga, Kingdom of Granada, November 18, 1748, and was baptized by the name of Francisco Ildefonse Mareno. His parents were poor but respectable. He was made Priest by the Bishop of Guadixº in the convent of the Capuchins of Grenada, December 21, 1771, and instituted Curé of St. Louis Cathedral of New Orleans, November 25, 1785. The following is in the Archives: Fr. Antonio of Sedella, Capuchin, Monk of Andalousia, came to the Mission of Louisiana in the year 1780. He was Auxiliary Vicar 1787, administrator of the charity hospital; Philosopher, Theologian, Master of Arts and Morals, and other advantages with which he is blessed, as well as landed proprietor, 1787. He was also instituted Curé of the Parish of St. Louis of New Orleans November 25, 1785." Celui qui nous de cette précieuse histoire, peut compter sur la véracité des notes qui suivent: elles ont été extraites des pièces qui sont ici. (Page 8, Vie de Père Antonio.)º
We first notice him in the stern and harsh garb of an attempted Administrator of the Inquisition. No country in all the world was so bound hand and foot by the Inquisition as Spain. No city was more free from this heavy burden than New Orleans under the French Domination. O'Reilly, the first Spanish Provisional Governor, changed all this in his "Bando de Buenoº Gobierno" 1769. Is it true that Antonio introduced the Inquisition? Fr. Chambon exonerates Antonio of this crime. He says: "By a faithful comparison of the traditions concerning Antonio with the old records of the Cathedral Archives which (1908) have not been published, Antonio deserves neither excoriation nor extraordinary praise." December 5th, he was appointed head of the Holy Inquisition: this caused him so much anxiety and sorrow that he kept it secret for a whole year and did not place his credentials before Miro. The charge of Antonio's introducing the Inquisition thus falls to the ground. (O'Reilly introduced it 9 years before.)
In a catalogue of documents collected by H. Remy of the History of Louisiana there is this certificate which should excite our interest: "St. Michael. Cahier No. 1, Page 15, Nov. 2nd, 1777 — de Galvez avec Felecia Maxent par Antonio de Sedella Grand Inquisitourº de la La Certificat."b This date and title would be most important if true. I have examined the Cathedral Archives and have a certified copy from the Archivist of a marriage p26 between this lady and gentleman taking place at this date, but the Celebrant was Cyrilo de Barcelona Bishop of Tricalyc and not Antonio. Perhaps the catalogue does not correctly describe the document. The truth is, he was not here in 1777. Gayarréº says that Antonio wrote Miro that he was appointed Inquisitor in 1788, and "by the proper authority," which I suppose would mean the Inquisitor General. The story of Miro's answer is set forth by Gayarré in detail. Was Miro surprised when Antonio said he was Head of the Inquisition? He says that he was: "Al leer oficio de dicho Capuchino me estremeci." Observe the date, June 3rd, 1789. Why did more than one year elapse between Miro's "shudder" and Antonio's commission? Is not Miro's "shudder" a piece of camouflage? There is strong evidence against the element of surprise.d In the Pontalba Letters, which are the property of the Louisiana Historical Society, there is the record of a correspondence between the Captain Governors of Havana and the Governor of Louisiana. Mark the date July 21, 1787. "Que no al Fray Antonio de Sedella Vicario de esta Provenciaº de escercerº los functiones del Commissario del santo oficio hasta reales orden."º
"That permission shall not be granted to the Fray Antonio de Sedella, Vicar of this province, to exercise the duties of Commissioner of the Holy Office, until a Royal order is given." There is a gap of nearly two years between Miro's decision concerning Antonio and his report to the King of Spain. In the same year that Antonio was elevated to the full authority of the Parish, Miro sets forth his decision. Why did he think it wise, or necessary to set forth at length a deed (the banishment of Antonio) which seemed on the surface wise and justifiable? It was perfectly true if the Inquisition was to be carried on then Immigration to New Orleans would cease from growth. No documents are at hand and I can say nothing. But as a matter of fact, which no historians have so far explained, (3) things happened which can be partly explained by documents: (1) Cyrilo, Auxiliary Bishop of Tricali who was in authority in New Orleans, was abruptly deprived of his office by a Royal Order:
Rev. Father in Christ, Don Fray Cirilo de Barcelona of my council, Bishop Auxiliary of the Diocese of Havana! The Rev. Bishop thereof having under date of December 22nd, 1791, represented to me, the deplorable state of religion and discipline in the province of Louisiana excited the compassion of my royal mind and induced me to deliberate on the most efficacious means to remedy p27 it. With this in view, I directed the Privy Council of the Indies by Royal Order of April 23rd, in the year last past, 1790, to give me their opinion whether it would be proper to separate that province, and Florida from his Diocese and establish a Bishop in them, and having done so in the consultation of Oct. 22nd in the same year I saw fit to resolve that the brief should be solicited therefor. His Holinesshaving agreed thereto and expedited the Consistorial decree for the dismembering of said provinces, etc., I have resolved to relieve you of your office of Auxiliary and direct you to return at once to your Capuchin Province of Catalonia. I, the King: By order of the King, San 23 November, 1793."
The effect of this order was to cause Cirilo to leave New Orleans and go back to Havana. (2) Another most curious circumstance was the abrupt ending of Miro's government. Read any history of Louisiana and you will find to your astonishment that no one historian has given a satisfactory explanation of why he was obliged to leave Louisiana. The 3rd curious happening, is that Fray Antonio was allowed to come back to New Orleans (page 9) and resume his old Parish. Again I quote from the French Biography of Antonio: "Also we have him mentioned to S. M. in April, 1790, as one well worthy among the ecclesiastics of this Diocese. Now, wishing to do him justice, we shall declare that July 17, 1795, this Bishopric already having been erected, the power having come from Havana, we have re-inducted him into his Parish, August 7th, of the same year, (but according to another account Oct. 22nd, 1794,) restoring to him all the rights of which they had deposed him. His zeal in the exercises of his ministry since this period has been unfailing. His announcing of Fête Days was most constant as was his catechising of the children during the different seasons of the year. He has always gone with us in our visits to the interior and beyond the seas, showing at all times the same enthusiasm which joined to a Priestly deportment acquits him in public estimation and in the report of those who do not associate with us. In the interests of veracity, let us testify to Antonio's firm religious belief worthy of a King, which the kindness of a real King has seen fit to give him, certain that he will not abuse it and that it will more than offset those charges against him of which we have already spoken. Signed in our palace of the city of New Orleans, Oct. 8th, 1801. Louis, Bishop, of Louisiana, etc., Arch Bishop of Guatemala before Isidore Quintero, Secretary."
These charges! One historian says (page 177, Miss Grace King),º "that the clergy still remember a story about an early love and duel, his defiance and insubordination, and the suspicion that he was not p28 only a free Mason, but one in high standing." Shea in his book called "Life and Times of Arch Bishop Carroll," makes very serious complaint against Antonio in Vol. 2, pages 548, 549, 569, 593‑6, 640, 671. These I call, "The Arraignment against Antonio." November 25th, 1775, Bishop Cyrilo appointed Antonio as Parish Priest. He came here in 1779, and Shea calls him, "The scourge of religion in Louisiana."
The following is quoted from Shea: "To increase his power, Antonio solicited an appointment as Commissary of the Holy Office, and in consequence Miro sent him back to Spain in 1789. He resumed his functions here, seeking to ingraciate himself with the people." (Shea gives his authority as Gayarré, who quotes from Miro. But Miro spoke of Antonio's removal — not his return). All friends and enemies agree that Antonio was a brilliant man. How then, would he "solicit" the duty of the Inquisition? But whether or no Antonio desired this office, is a matter that sinks into insignificance compared to the terrible indictment which Shea quotes: "Codice IV, Canada, Isthmo de Panama, 1818‑20: Archives of the Propaganda: an official document, saying that Antonio was sent to Spain for having killed a man in quarrel concerning a woman, but escaped punishment by a lavish use of money." Is this true? Shea believes it, for he says in a note, page 569: "Catholics are often reproached with the lax morals of the Church at one point or another. Yet those who make the charges, as in this case (Cirilo) extol the unworthy priests and condemn those who endeavor to reform the Clergy and expel unworthy men from the sanctuary."
With utter shamelessness writers apply the epithet "good" to the licentious Dagobert and Sedella, living openly in concubinage; but stigmatize Bishop Cyrilo, a man of spotless life, as "ambitious, detested, the bitter and heartless reviler of good Father Dagobert." This criminal charge is supposed to have taken place in the early days of Antonio's sojourn in New Orleans. If he was sent to Spain "for a man" in 1789, then the story of the Inquisition was a mere blind to cover up this disgrace. Why should Bishop Louis Penalvert de Cardenas have left an attestation of the good and faithful works of Antonio dated 1795? Over four months ago a request has been sent to Italy to produce an authenticated copy of the Indictment of the Propaganda. No answer has (January, 1919) so far been received. Until I see a copy I shall refuse to believe in its existence. It was a loose age, and nine-tenths of the people were credited by the Bishop Cardenas with a studied attempt p29 to lead a life of shame. But here is a Priest, accused of murder and adultery, and still permitted to be in control of a great Parish!
Unless the diagnosis of his character is entirely at fault, it is impossible to imagine that either the Bishop would attest to a falsehood, or that Antonio knowing of such a charge, would remain unmoved by its shame! "An enemy hath done this!" No man could live an open life of sin and yet at his death be mourned by thousands.
The city of New Orleans was then not more than forty or fifty thousand, and the lives of its people were necessarily open books. All the evidence is clean against those who have thrown mud at this really remarkable man and Priest.
We now come to that part of Antonio's life when he had returned to New Orleans, but, according to Shea, continued to be the "Ecclesiastical Scourge of Louisiana." April 3rd, 1803, the treaty of Paris ceded New Orleans to the United States. The Rectorship of Antonio was stormy, as Father Chambon admits. The Revs. Patrick Walsh, Thomas Hassett and John Oliver, who were in charge as Vicar Generals, endeavored from time to time to force their authority upon Antonio. Notice that four important points were brought out:
(A) Thomas Hassett, June 10th, 1803, asked each Priest in this part of the country whether he wished to retire to Spain. This is important to remember.
(B) Patrick Walsh took from Sedella the right to exercise any part of his Priestly office. This episode is discussed by Miss Grace King in her most interesting vein. The result was the forcing of Walsh to restore the "Faculties" to this Parish Priest and the election of Wardens, who, in turn, elected Antonio rector.
This matter is set forth at length in a series of papers called "Documentos Procedentes de la Isla de Cuba." — Legapo 142.
(C) The defiance of Antonio is taken by his enemies to Gov. Claiborne, who, says Shea, chose to treat the matter as a quarrel between two priests. (See letter dated July 12th, 1805, Vol. 3, Letter Books of Claiborne.) The Governor was absolutely right in his position: the civil law has no right to interfere in Ecclesiastical disputes. But Shea is very bitter when he says, page 590: "Thus Claiborne lent the whole influence of his position to break down the discipline of the Catholic Church and maintain in the Cathedral of New Orleans a man whose immoral character and neglect of duty were notorious and who would in any New England village have been consigned to jail."
p30 (D) Not satisfied by their failure to implicate Antonio, his enemies accused Antonio of treason against the United States! James Madison says to Claiborne: "Of the Spanish Friar Antonio de Sedella the accounts received here, agree with the character you have formed of him. It appears that his intrigues and his connections have drawn on him the watchful attention of the Governor of that territory." (Vol. 3, page 120.) A little later, Oct. 10th, 1806, Claiborne wrote to Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War, (Vol. 4, page 28): "On this morning I requested the Catholic Priest to attend me at the Government House. I mentioned to him the reports concerning his conduct which had reached me. The priest declared his innocence and avowed his determination to support the Government and promote good order. I nevertheless thought it best and proper to administer to him the oath of allegiance and shall cause his conduct to be observed. The Priest declared the reports to have originated from the malice of his enemies. The division in the Catholic Church has excited many malignant passions and it is not improbable that some injustice has been done to this individual." Note that after this letter, Claiborne makes no more complaints against Sedella.
Shea makes one last charge. (Vol. II, page 671.) He tells how in 1814, when the Battle of New Orleans was raging the Vicar General issued a pastoral appointing public prayers in the churches. General Jackson expressed his high approbation of Du Bourg while "the wretched Sedella, false to the country, as he had been false to religion and morality, had intrigued against the National cause." Shea cites for this his authority a passage in Gayarré which, while saying in Claiborne's words, that Sedella was seditious, does not and cannot be construed, as saying that he is a traitor. Claiborne merely said that Sedella ought to be "carefully observed" and in those troubled times of Aaron Burr, James Madison, and the American Government would made short shrift of Sedella, if such a charge had been proven.
There is no book called "The Battle of Orleans" which contains the passage quoted by Shea, in the Howard Memorial Library, which is equivalent to saying that those who collect war literature, did not consider it important enough to add to their collection! Shea's language is more of a general indictment of character than a specific instance, and his is not the language of the historian who balances carefully his documentary evidences. So the charge of being "a traitor" also falls to the ground.
And now we turn to (3) glimpses of Antonio in his old age. I translate from a book called "Lafayette in America" by the general's p31 secretary, A. Levasseur,º 1829, Vol. II, page 231.
"Father Antonio (called this name by one and all) is a true Spanish Capuchin of the Order of St. Francis, who for many years has lived in Louisiana. Animated by a burning and sincere piety, he prays for the world without asking anyone to pray for him. Placed in the midst of a population of different religions, he did not think himself at all obliged to create trouble for the conscience by seeking to add souls for the Kingdom of God. Sometimes like a Capuchin, Father Antonio asked alms, but this was never done save for the sake of a noble action and because his small revenues, emptied by constant charity, did not permit him to relieve the sufferer himself. All through the years when the yellow fever came at the return of autumn and rested its murderous hand up the city; when people of wealth, alarmed, took refuge in their beautiful country places in order to seek a haven from sickness and death, then the piety of Antonio showed itself in its real colors and with all its power. During those days of terror and dread, abandoned by their friends and kinsmen, he succored them. Of all whom he saved, and they were not a few, there was not a single soul who could say, before he relieved my needs he asked me what religion I was — Liberty and Charity! This was the whole morality of the Fray Antonio. But he was not loved by the Bishop.
"When the General came to see him, he was robed, as is the custom of his order, in a long brown cassock, caught in over the loins by a heavy cord. The moment Antonio saw the General, he threw himself into his arms while exclaiming: "Oh my son, I have found grace in the sight of God because He has allowed me to see and hear you, the worthy Apostle of Liberty." He spoke for some time with Lafayette, evincing the most tender affection. He complimented him upon his glorious reception, well merited, which the Americans had extended to him, and then retired modestly into a corner of the room far away from the crowd. I seized this moment to approach him and salute him. How greatly I was touched by his conversation. Such sweetness! Such modesty coupled with such warmth of soul. Each time he spoke of liberty, his eyes glowed with fire divine and he looked exactly like those Apostles of Liberty of whom he talked."
(2) Another monograph already quoted from, is the eulogy upon Antonio by an unknown writer. I will not quote it at length, for some of it is verbiage and fulsome flattery, yet in the light of Shea's denunciations, it is pleasant to read of praise rather than blame. One wonders at the adjectives used to express the real beauty of life this Priest led among his people until the recollection of Shea's language concerning him. Perhaps this is the reason why Antonio who read p32 Part (1) of his Abridged Life allowed it to remain, being already convinced that Claiborne and James Madison as well as Shea, would not crown his memory with laurels:
"Antonio had been here about 23 years when the voices of new busy-bodies were heard. In this matter of justice the voice of the people is always the voice of God. As it has been asserted many times our Saint accumulated considerable money and that this was contrary to the spirit of saintliness and 'Rules of the Order' it is most necessary to stop every idea that tends to lessen the veneration we have for his memory. When those good Franciscans departed from Spain with other ecclesiastics, they were particularly recommended by the Pope to the Bishop of Havana, who gave them a most favorable welcome, and because of the Bull of His Holiness, released them entirely from the observance of the rules and statutes of their Order, permitting them to robe as the Seculars and to have special dwelling places, and to dispose of moneys which they gathered together, just as it seemed best for them. Apart from this release from the 'Rules of the Order,' Fray Antonio received the Title of Preacher and Confessor to the King, and one understands that the Catholic Sovereigns have the power of conferring with these titles, the same exemptions and privileges as have been given by the Bishop of Havana. You see then that Father Antonio was plainly and doubly justified as to the Obligations of his Order! Now let us explain how he has amassed those moneys and how he has used them. Each family wished to have him perform its baptisms and marriages. (I interrupt this narrative to say that the Archives have records of over 3,500 marriages performed by Antonio). He would give them the blessed Sacrament for nothing, but it was a double pleasure for those families to present him — a paper of sugar plums which held one or many pieces of gold. When he returned home, he gave them all to the poor. He did this in silence, but in spite of all his precautions the knowledge of these benefactions was made public. I remember that one day Doctor ––––– came to my house and said he had just given to Mr. ––––– Melon 1,000 piastres for bread to be given to the poor by order of Fray Antonio and that only a short while ago he had paid out 1,200. I also knew he sent considerable sums to his convent, to his numerous family and others. While he received with one hand he gave away with the other." This abridged life of Antonio seems to prove conclusively that he had the right from the King to depart from the Rules of his Order and that he was not a miser, but gave away nearly all that was given to him. His dwelling place was a hut in the rear of the Cathedral. (Pages 11 and 12).
And now I p33 ask you to listen to a letter from Antonio himself to Monsignor William Du Bourg, the original being in the Castle Archives and the "copia" certified by the Archivist. The translation of the Spanish is as follows:
"New Orleans, Jan. 2nd, 1819. Monsignor: God is witness of the sorrows that fillsº my heart because of the momentous question you have thought wise to lay upon my weak shoulders. I am not the worthy Priest that you say I am. Neither am I possessed of the righteousness that should pervade the Apostolic See. The inspiration born of knowledge; the nearness of the grave and the terrible judgment of Jesus Christ, appeal more to me than the hallucination of conceitedness. Without virtue or talents, I would cause the congregation to go astray, instead of unifying and instructing them in spiritual affairs. Doubtless I would make a useless or Bad Bishop. If the faithful of the Parish adore me as you say, there is no other merit, on my part, than a well meant wish to aid them spiritually. All else, is because of kindness, religion and gentleness, of these people whom I love with just the same affection a father would give to his son. Content in the administration of this Parish, I have gone on the broad highway of my life, away from my native land, always happy in the intimacy with people. Never have they ceased to listen and respect me, far more than I deserve. Daily I pray for them, and fatherly love for my Parishioners will accompany me to the grave and endure as long as my ashes. All my reputation before God and man would be the response to my ministry, and believe me, Monsignor, that I would be more than grateful, should you do all in your power to help me to be a good Parish Priest, which would be an action far better than to vest me In Pontificals. Heaven will reward you for the distinction with which you have honored me. Recognizing this, permit me, Monsignor, to offer you my gratitude and the love of an old Parish Priest who has some observation coupled with the longing for the greater glory of God, the upbuilding and peace of all the world. It is indubitable that Inquisition, reform and of the clergy pertains with absolute right to the Bishops, and that, observing the formalities of the law, they can even pronounce their own removal and temporary confinement or perpetual.
"It is equally certain that Parish Priests can exclusively advise and admonish, when those guilty of crime make their confession: to go beyond these limits is unjust: consequently, if you are perfectly certain of the crimes of those Priests that you cite in your letter; it is in your power after prosecution to give the corresponding judgment. The crimes of which you speak are most grave. It is notorious that p34 criminal acts have been committed and that you have verified the scandal. Here is that which pertains to your tribunal; not to your character of a Father but only of a judge. Your jurisdiction is indisputable. The submission of the culprit to your legally promulgated sentence ought to be complete. But what hinders your pastoral rectitude? I address you with all my evangelical strength. When you fix upon the mind the offences of both ecclesiastics it is natural that they should be exact in their form: Their punishment is of interest to the reverence due the Church for the example of the religious and the restraint of the evil talkers. Monsignor, make an offering to the Holy Mother in your Diocese. Make a day of rejoicing for your Consort, comforted with the punishment of evil and good. The presence of the Prelate has more weight than 1000 admonitions. Your virtues are props to your venerable character. They will build up the thoughtful, and put the froward to confusion. So much so, that perhaps females who have gone astray would return to the sheep-fold with the liking and glory of their pastor? So be it! That with your mantle you would have the happiness of bringing to pass what Constantine the Great sought to do, — talking with his Priest. In any event, pray fervently if you wish to promote in your Church, honor, piety or Christian instruction, take the remedy that your zeal and authority dictates — but permit me to say, Monsignor, that I absolutely assert that my promotion to the Episcopal dignity is not the remedy for these evils. In that event other evils would spring to life. I speak to my Father and Pastor with the only desire for the greatest good and I must be candid. Use your judgment. You shall decide. Consider in what (degree) I may be Coadjutor. How should I discharge the duties of my ministry in lower Louisiana? Since the creation of the Bishop in Louisiana, I have acknowledged this Parish as the Mother and Titular.
"In the adjustment of territory, I have repealed no ruling of the government. The government of the United States by protecting uniformly the churches and their teachers, does not concern itself with their business and religious establishments. As soon as the Holy Father renews the right of Presentation, which Spain held by her Concordat with the See of Rome, His Holinesswill name for you a Bishop of Louisiana. Until that day comes, have we not the Pontifical decision which takes away from New Orleans the Episcopal See? How would it be possible to nominate a Coadjutor in the capitol city? If it were to be discovered in your Church that a man had been weak and well stricken in years; had been intrusted with the affairs of the Church universal, or that the government had p35 made it necessary for you to take away from the State the trust confined, it would be tantamount to frame the right to name a Coadjutor. If by residing in the capital you should nominate a Coadjutor as in the remote parts of the Diocese, you would have substituted the Episcopal functions and you would have done nothing more prudent; but to put the Bishop Titular in a country very inferior, and the Coadjutor in the capital is rather monstrous! To look for a Coadjutor in a person not only much older than the Titular also at an age so advanced as mine, is quite orderly — and what would the faithful say at such a proceeding? Do you suppose that the faithful of New Orleans would not resent it and call it a misfortune which would deprive them of that right and honor due the capital which would hold the Chief ecclesiastic? Such a novelty would produce a great sensation; it would be a dreadful crime and at once complaints would be made to Rome. All men would disregard it and esteem their own interests. There would be a cutting off from the faithful of glory, honor, and useful considerations. The Episcopal See would be forced up by the roots; it would be very considerable in the future, disagreeable things would happen. It is not pleasant to see the Cathedral in St. Louis established by reducing this Church to a mere Parish and it is worse to deprive that city of its Seminary which ought to be proportionate to the best advantage for religious education. Never would I be deprived of the rights which I had at first and always demanded; that the Bishop divide his residence in both Churches, and it would not be extraordinary that some of the faithful instructed in the unvarying system of the Church of Rome in that establishment of conciliar seminaries, would demand readjustment. Finally: that those Senior Trustees whose affection for me, you know, shows generosity in making a partition to sustain with dignity the Episcopal See. Always would it seem right to the respect and affection they confess for me; but that they would fall short of justice without a doubt, that their good trusteeship, etc., would compel them to be generous in their treatment, not only of me, but in the other matters which might be revealed of, as the Episcopal character, just as their own conscience would compel them to be just and right to their own Church, although finding difficulty at first. It would seem extremely absurd to see a Coadjutor with an endowment and a Titular with small income. The Diocesan ought to take care of the Inferior, not the other way round. This weighty thought is the burden of your letter October 11, 1817. It is to say when I should be Suffragan. But it would be necessary that you should be raised to the Arch Bishopric; all the more reason p36 why you should not have a Coadjutor in New Orleans, unless the should reside here. Finally: that if I were Bishop I should choose for my Curate the Priest that would please me most. The nomination or presentation of the Curé for such Churches does not belong to the Bishop without sanction of the Legislature. That right is indubitable to whom it pertains. Monsignor, I have spoken to you from the depth of my heart. Ask me of what I have talked over with you, with entire confidence, I will verify it. I ask God to pour out upon your soul the oil of consolation, for your great glory, the upbuilding of the Church and the consolation of all your Dioceses. The least of such is your most attached quality. — F. Antonio de Sedella."
A reason for the attitude of Antonio as shown by his letter is indicated in the final question which we can discuss, but with no hope of any documentary evidence. Was this Priest a Free and accepted Mason? Up to the present time (Jan., 1919) the Secretary of L'Etoile Polaire has not been able to find indisputable evidence. Among the notices for his funeral, printed in "The Louisiana Gazette" and "The Bee," both of date Jan. 22nd, 1829, appear two requests. One, that Masons of all Lodges should walk in the procession and second, a special notice that the members of L'Etoile Polaire should take part. Miss Grace King is a verbal authority for Gayarré asserting a Masonic Burial was accorded Antonio after the Church service. If he was a Mason it would explain much in his life and dealings with men, otherwise obscure. If there are documents hitherto hidden which challenge the character of Antonio and prove him to be all that Shea asserts, then it is high time for them to be shown. This is an age that demands documentary proof. The Abridged Life of Antonio: the interview with Lafayette: the letter to Du Bourg after the latter, Aug., 1813, had written to Carroll lamenting the defiance of Antonio, prove him to be a most remarkable man filled with the characteristics which make for true greatness.
If Shea was right, then the people of New Orleans were all wrong, their love and admiration for this venerable Priest were misplaced. All the newspapers in New Orleans omitted publication Jan. 22nd, 1819. The House of Representatives resolved to attend the funeral in a body; Mr. Ed. Livingston in the name of the New Bar adjourned the courts until the 23rd of Jan. and delivered an oration upon Antonio called "The Tribute of Respect," in the course of which he said: "Antonio's charity and virtues would have entitled him to Canonization — and if his title to that distinction were to be tried, the Advocate of the Evil One would burn his brief p37 and despair of showing one reason why he should not be revered as a saint in heaven who lived the life of one on earth."
All this is evidence beyond the shadow of a doubt. And today 90 years after his death, he is honored as he never was honored during his life. As the writer of the "Abridged Life" says: "The Saints are always persecuted." My opinion is that this remarkable man faults germane to a positive and executive nature, yet, by his genuine piety and good works deserved the general admiration and love that he gained and held. It is 90 years almost to a day since the passing from this life into Life Eternal of Fray Antonio de Sedella. I would respectfully suggest that in 1929 the 100th anniversary of Antonio's death, the Louisiana Historical Society, prepare a program and exhaustive history of this man who did more for New Orleans, morally and spiritually, than any other known person.
a This must surely be the portrait illustrated; which, however, does not accompany this article of the Quarterly: rather a supplement to it by the same author in Vol. II No. 4, p368. Allowing on the one hand for poor 1919 photoreproduction, and barring on the other hand studied malevolence on the part of the painter, this likeness, with its air of evil and craftiness only slightly tempered by a hint of insanity, and Sedella's own letter quoted at the end of this article, together would appear to undo completely all of Bishpam's arguments — except for the very last one, the most puzzling of all: there is universal agreement that at the end of his life he was loved and venerated by many New Orleanians.
b Sic. This seems to represent this original reading:
Grand Inquisiteur de la Louisiane
c Francisco Antonio Pablo Sieni Flannings (Cirilo de Barcelona, 1731‑1809), O.F.M.Cap., auxiliary bishop of Santiago de Cuba, titular bishop of Tricala: good biographical sketch and bibliography at Episcopologio de la Iglesia Católica en Cuba.
d A sharply different view is given by Rt. Rev. F. L. Gassler, Catholic Historical Review, 8:59‑63.
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See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 24 Dec 20