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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Catholic Historical Review
Vol. 1 No. 2 (Jul. 1915), pp125‑127

The text is in the public domain.

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 p125  Rt. Rev. Camillus P. Maes, D. D.,

The untimely death of the Bishop of Covington removes from the scene a figure of more than ordinary worth and importance in our Catholic life. This son of Flemish parents, and graduate of the American College at Louvain, was among the first fruits of that vigorous institution, and during life prized no honor more highly. The distinguished band of young priests who left their native Belgium on the morrow of our Civil War counted in its ranks not a few scholar­ly and ardent missionaries, but none of greater zeal, learning and refinement than Camillus Maes. His services to the Diocese of Detroit as secretary to Bishop Borgess and pastor at Monroe were in due time rewarded by his nomination to the widowed See of Covington as its third bishop, and here since 1885 he displayed all the qualities of a great pastor of souls. It is not easy to appreciate or describe the intimate relation­ships which in three decades arise between a good bishop and his faithful clergy, religious communities and faithful people. Suffice it to say that they cover the entire spiritual and religious life of his flock, and to no small extent affect also their civil and domestic lives.

From the day of his consecration Bishop Maes took place among the most efficient prelates of the American hierarchy. Catholic education appealed to his heart with irresistible force and by the erection of schools and the introduction of teaching communities, as well as by voice and pen, he never ceased to promote its interests. His diocese, modest in size and wealth, acquired an enviable equipment of institutions of learning and charity. The remote and mountainous parts enjoyed always his special attention.​a Ecclesiastical art recognized  p126 in him an enlightened and generous patron, whose varied and sustained efforts in this direction culminated in the truly splendid cathedral which he left all but completed,​b an imperishable monument to his zeal and self-sacrifice, his fine pure taste, and his intimate sense of the mutual relations of architecture and the other arts. One does not wonder therefore that he was deeply interested in the religious life of the priesthood, or that he was the organizer of the "Priests' Eucharistic League" in the United States and the founder of its organ "Emmanuel." It was the missionary life which first appealed to the young Belgian seminarist, and so in his excellent Life of Father Charles Nerinckx he was able to fill out and color from his own affections the details of that wonderful chapter of priestly zeal and devotion.​c As a member of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore he had a part in the formation of the new American ecclesiastical discipline, which since then has been so largely reproduced or imitated elsewhere. The American College at Louvain regrets in him one of its warmest and most helpful friends, to whose habitual solicitude, good advice and generous aid its prosperity is in no small measure due.

Bishop Maes was a polished speaker, a writer of much distinction, and an excellent linguist. As a member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University he rendered most valuable service to the cause of higher education, and as its secretary for many years he so endeared himself to all his colleagues that his loss seems irreparable.

He took an active interest in the formation of the Catholic Historical Review. It was his encouraging letters at the beginning of the enterprise which not only stimulated those who had the project at heart but also outlined to a great extent the scope and form of the new publication. He was particularly anxious to see it assume a national outlook, in order that the excellent work done by the different Catholic historical magazines, such as the United States Catholic Historical Society Records and the American Catholic Historical Society Records and Researches, could in this way be made known to the Catholics of the country at large and thus encourage similar enterprises in other Catholic centres. Catholic historical science has lost a valuable worker by his death. As one of the original contributors to the Review, his article on Flemish Franciscan Missionaries in North America (1673‑1738) has a pathetic interest for all those who saw in it the beginning of a complete history  p127 of a period about which little so far is known with strict accuracy. "You have evoked a literary ghost snuffed out years ago by a mitre!", he wrote to one of the editors when he took up this subject which linked so intimately his love for his native Belgium and for his adopted home, America. In that other and better patria whither his soul has fled his great interest in Catholic American historical work will continue, for it was the strongest passion of his life and remained such until his death. Requiescat in pace!

✠ Thomas J. Shahan,

Bishop of Germanicopolis.

Thayer's Notes:

a See for example his immediate response to an Appalachian mining town in a far corner of the Commonwealth: History of Jenkins, Kentucky, p. E‑1.

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b Work ceased on the cathedral in 1915, the year of Bishop Maes' death: whether the latter was the cause, I don't know; at any rate, "all but completed" is somewhat optimistic, but the recognizably unfinished building is fully usable: see its page at the Diocese of Covington for photographs and further details.

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c Fr. Nerinckx, a Belgian compatriot of Bishop Maes', was a Kentucky missionary priest and pioneer (1761‑1824). The link in the text is to the complete biography, onsite.

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Page updated: 1 Jun 20