by Mary E. Gentges, SMC ' 86
Taken from St. Mary's Magazine
Introduction: The Historic Missionaries of St. Mary's
In the historical article of our last issue we visited the old Jesuit cemetery on Mt. Calvary Road to to find the great stone that marks their resting place of St. Mary's first nuns, the brave ladies of the Sacred Heart.
Returning again to that open hilltop where our pioneers sleep the sleep of the just, we stop this time at the central obelisk around which a double circle of simple headstones marks the graves of the early Jesuit fathers and brothers of St. Mary's. Missionary heroes of the American frontier, they were the first to call God down on the altars of these prairies; they cared for His House in a raw land; they preached the true Faith to Indians and white settlers; and they were principal agents for the pioneer organization of the Catholic Church in Kansas. From eternity they watch over their successors at St. Mary's, the priests of the Society of St. Pius X, who continue the work of God in this place.
In viewing the worn headstones, each marked with the cross and IHS, and engraved in Latin with dates of birth and death and country of origin, one is struck by the fact that from the very beginning, workers have come from all over the world to labor in God's vineyard at St. Mary's. Their nationalities read like a Latin geography: Belca, Helvetus, Gallus, Germanus, Italus, Hibernus, Anglus.
Let us meet them, the great missionaries -- those who lie here and others who do not -- whose stories are woven into the history of St. Mary's.
Early Jesuit Missionaries in the New World: First Contact with the Potawatomi
The story of St. Mary's has many beginnings. One strand reaches back to the first heroic Jesuit missionaries of North America. In 1641, when St. Isaac Jogues and Fr. Charles Raymbaut penetrated as far west as Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, they met representatives of the Potawatomi tribe, those children of the forest who seem to have been specially marked by God to be receptive to the Faith. Of Algonquian stock, they were related to the Ottowa and Ojibway (or Chippewa).
Fr. Jacques Marquette also made early acquaintance with the Potawatomi in the course of his explorations and historic voyage down the great Mississippi in 1673.
In 1669, near the head of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Fr. Claude Allouez founded the Mission of St. Francis Xavier for the Potawatomi and neighboring Sauk, Foxes and Winnebago. Probably it was he who founded the most important old mission center for the Potawatomi on the St. Joseph River near the Indiana-Michigan line. As early as 1712 the mission was in a thriving state, and for long decades the Jesuits labored there for the spiritual good of the Potawatomi.
In 1773, tragedy struck when, under pressure brought to bear upon him by the Bourbon courts of Europe, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. It would not be solemnly re-established throughout the Church until 1814 by Pius VII. With the suppression went the ruin of the Jesuit establishments in the West. The natives of the forests were left without priests, but the faith among them was not to perish altogether, for they passed on to their descendants some rudiments of Catholic belief and a desire to receive the "blackrobes," a desire that would lead one day to the establishment of our own "St. Mary's Mission."
Missions in Maryland and Kentucky: Fathers White and Nerinckx
Turning to another thread of our story, we meet Fr. Andrew White, S.J., the "Apostle of Maryland," who arrived there in 1734. Fr. White, and the Jesuits who followed him, labored for both the white and Indian population of the colony until the suppression of 1773. When the ban was first lifted in 1805, Bishop Carroll summoned the priests who had formerly been members of the Society of Jesus, and encouraged them to begin a new Maryland Jesuit mission and novitiate, first at Georgetown College, and later at a country estate, White Marsh.
A diocesan priest who secured many vocations from Belgium for the Jesuits' new Maryland Mission was the husky Belgian Fr. Charles Nerinckx, "Apostle of Kentucky" and one of the greatest missionaries in our history. When he arrived in 1805 to join Fr. Stephen Badin (first priest ordained in the U.S.), Kentucky was then the western edge of the United States. Throwing himself into the missionary circuit, Fr. Nerinckx, mounted on his mare "Printer," travelled the rough trails in all weathers to bring the faith to the pioneer Kentucky settlers. He built many churches and founded the order of the Sisters of Loretto.
On trips back to Belgium Fr. Nerinckx recruited young men to join the few aging Jesuit fathers laboring in America. Among those who answered his call were Felix Verreydt of Diest, future founder of St. Mary's; Peter de Smet of Termonde, who became the famous missionary of the Northwest; and Peter Verhaegen of Haeght, who would be missionary of central Missouri.
Another Belgian with a missionary vocation was Fr. Charles Felix Van Quickenborne, S.J., from the diocese of Ghent. Arriving in Maryland in 1817, he served scattered Catholics, attempted to convert the Protestants, and reached out to the Indians who knew the stories of Fr. Jogues, and were begging for "blackgowns" to teach their people. Until the end of his life, Fr. Van Quickenborne's great yearning was to evangelize the Red Men.
The Jesuits Arrive is Missouri: Early Work of Fathers Verreydt and Hoecken
Louis Du Bourg, a native of Santo Domingo and second Bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas, invited the Maryland Jesuits into the Mississippi Valley. In 1823, Fr. Van Quickenborne led a little group on the arduous journey westward over the Cumberland Road, by boat down the great rivers, and on foot across the muddy bottoms of the Mississippi. Having crossed to the western shore of the "Father of Waters" at the fair-sized town of St. Louis, the young Jesuits thougtht that they had entered another continent!
They were installed on Bishop DuBourg's land at Florissant, where they were befriended by St. Philippine Duchesne and her Ladies of the Sacred Heart. The impoverished Jesuit novices felled trees, built their own cabins, and struggled through the first winter as best they could while carving out of the wilderness a farm with which to support themselves.
From the novitiate the fathers rode a circuit among scattered pioneer Catholic families of Missouri. Fr. Van Quickenborne and Mother Duchesne were kindred spirits who desired nothing so much as to work among the Indians, and already in 1824 attempted to start schools for Indian boys and girls.
Fr. John Felix Livinus Verreydt
Among those first novices at Florissant were Peter De Smet and Felix Verreydt, who had been admitted to the Society on his arrival in Maryland in 1821. Born in 1798, Fr. Verreydt would live into his 80's, and would be the founder and first superior of St. Mary's Mission during his middle life. At Florissant, Mr. Verreydt was prefect in Fr. Van Quickenborne's short-lived Indian boys' school, which meant that he had to corral the boys, care for them, and teach them not to be ashamed of manual labor.
Mr. Verreydt caused Fr. Van Quickenborne some anxiety as to his fitness for the priesthood; however he mastered his faults and as a priest was a great consolation to his superior. Fr. Verreydt was ordained September 23, 1827, with De Smet and two others, in St. Ferdinand's Church at Florissant. Assigned to nearby St. Charles, where the Jesuits had the first stone church, in the diocese, he rode from there to surrounding mission stations.
In 1835, he became the first resident pastor at Portage des Sioux, an impoverished Creole parish in the Mississippi bottoms. In the rotting wooden church (which he soon replaced with a brick one), Father found a few benches, a hole in the sacristy wall that served as a confessional, and "vestments so shabby you would not be allowed to use them in Flanders."
Next he was sent to Dardenne where the church was so dilapidated that the holes in the floor were a real hazard. Again, he built a new church.
Later, Fr. Verreydt was missionaire ambulant, riding circuit over the territory opened up by Fr. Verhaegen in central Missouri upriver as far as Jefferson City. He also traveled up the Mississippi to the Salt River District of northeastern Missouri, then being settled by Kentucky families. Bishop Flaget of Bardstown had advised them to locate close together so priests could more easily take care of them.
Except in winter when the roads were impassable, Fr. Verreydt was on the road nine months of the year, and visited each of his little groups three times annually. He described the life of a circuit priest: the lonely hours on horseback; the dangerous crossing of swollen streams; the gathering of pioneer families from miles around for confession and Mass in someone's home; the Protestants who came to hear a sermon, and were so edified by the Catholics that they were sometimes converted; the sessions of instruction that went on till late at night; the families who had to sleep over because they were far from home; and the necessity that fell on the pioneer wife of feeding all these people. The following day, it was on to the next house thirty miles away by horseback, and all to do over again. Since Catholics wanted a decent place for Mass, they would soon set up log chapels, and these were eventually replaced by true churches.
Fr. Christian Hoecken
One of the greatest Indian missionaries of Kansas, Fr. Christian Hoecken, was another Belgian who had been recruited by M. Pierre Jean De Nef, director of St. Joseph's College, Turnhout. A generous benefactor of the Missouri Jesuits, he was their zealous lay recruiting agent!
Already a priest, Fr. Hoecken set sail from Antwerp on September 5, 1832, began his Jesuit noviceship in Maryland, and completed it at Florissant. We will see much of him in the course of this narrative.
Work Among the Indians of Kansas: The Kickapoo Mission
Despite the fact that there were never enough priests both to care for the churches, schools, and colleges of the whites and to evangelize the Indians, Fr. Van Quickenborne's determination to begin Indian missions never flagged. In 1827, he first contacted the Osage in southeastern Kansas, although it would be years later through the efforts of Fr. Verreydt before a permanent mission could be set up among them.
In 1835, Fr. Van Quickenborne visited the Kickapoos in northeastern Kansas near Fort Leavenworth. This tribe had come in contact with Jesuit missionaries in America as early as 1669. In June 1836, Fr. Van Quickenborne with Brothers Mazzella, Barry and Miles, arrived to found the Kickapoo mission. While the Indians looked on in wonder, the first Mass was offered up on the feast of Corpus Christi in the cabin of a French trader.
Fr. Hoecken arrived and astonished the Indians by learning their language, for which he even composed a grammar. While Br. Mazzella was erecting a log building, the religious lived in a rough cabin and slept on the floor. When the Jesuits performed the spiritual exercises of the annual eight-day retreat in the sweltering heat in the cabin, the Indians strolled in to stare at the blackrobes in prayer, but never dared interrupt them.
Although only 50 years of age, Fr. Van Quickenborne was worn out from his labors. In 1837, he was recalled to St. Louis where he died and was buried at Florissant.
Meanwhile, despite difficulties from the very beginning, the fathers opened a school with 20 Kickapoo pupils. Fr. Hoecken taught English; Fr. Verreydt, music, Br. Miles, penmanship. Even though the Indians loved Fr. Hoecken, "the Kickapoo Father," the harvest was not great; only about 30 attended Sunday Mass regularly. The arrival of whites peddling liquor and vice further hampered the work of the missionaries and in 1841 the mission had to close its doors. After that, the Kickapoo were served from Sugar Creek or other missions.
St. Joseph's Potawatomi Mission at Council Bluffs
In the summer of 1835, during one of his trips to Indian country, Fr. Van Quickenborne had met a band of Potawatomi who begged for a Catholic missionary.
Since there are several bands of Potawatomi in our story, an explanation will be helpful. By the 1830's the government removal of the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to unoccupied lands in the Indian Territory of the west was in full operation. The pressure from westward moving white settlers was inescapable. They brought the land under cultivation and caused the roving Indians to lose their hunting grounds. The Indians were cheated by the whites and corrupted by their influence. Even the Indians' friends, the missionaries, agreed that it was better to move them away from the corrupting influence of the whites to the west where the fathers could set up missions for them. By continual government treaties the Indians were dispossessed of their eastern lands and moved westward.
Over time, the Potawatomi of Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois emigrated westward in successive bands to the new reserves in eastern Kansas. Sometimes they intermingled, sometimes they settled only temporarily in a spot before moving on; thus, complicating the story. The Council Bluffs Potawatomi, also called the Prairie Band, had come primarily from Illinois, many from the Chicago vicinity. By 1840, the Potawatomi of the Osage River district in Kansas were divided in three bands: The St. Joseph band on Pottawatomie Creek; the Potawatomi of the Wabash about 15 miles south at Big Sugar Creek (named for the sugar maples along its banks); and the Prairie Potawatomi dispersed among both groups, with some residing among the Kickapoos near Leavenworth.
After the failure of the Kickapoo Mission, Fr. Verhaegen set up a new mission of St. Joseph near Council Bluffs (Iowa). Fr. Verreydt and Br. Mazzella were named for the initial staff. Fr. De Smet's name was substituted for another priest, and thus, almost accidentally, America's great future missionary of the Northwest entered the mission field and began his adventures -- which make an entire history in themselves.
On May 31, 1838, two thousand Potawatomi, came to greet the missionaries, but the "great number" of Catholics the fathers had heard about proved to be non-existent. Only a few had been baptized or knew any prayers. Since they changed their wives "as often as the gentlemen of St. Louis change their coats," converting them was going to be difficult!
Col. Kearney gave the Jesuits an old block-house which they made into the first Catholic chapel in western Iowa. One of the fathers' first conquests was the wife of the head chief -- she became a fervent Catholic. Baptisms of both adults and children followed; couples received Christian marriage; and groups began gathering to recite prayers in common.
Fr. Verreydt was edified by the Indians' politeness, for they never got out of temper or argued during conversations. The one menace to their peace was drink. Each arrival of the steamer with its cargo of whisky resulted in drunkenness, brawls and killings. The drink evil would be the downfall of the mission that had been so promising. Fr. Verreydt, who had 300 Christians and 50 candidates for First Communion, wrote to the Carmelites in Termonde, Belgium, begging prayers for his poor neophytes.
In spring the missionaries were destitute for supplies when the steamer bearing them sank. They only saved a plough with which they could plant corn, and wine that they might continue to offer Mass.
When Fr. De Smet went upriver to negotiate peace with the Sioux (who kept the Potawatomi in terror), it was the beginning of his work among the Indians of the northwest. Later, when the Flatheads from west of the Rockies travelled all the way to St. Louis to ask for a blackrobe, Fr. De Smet would be sent to them.
It is interesting to note that Catholicism around the city of St. Joseph in northwestern Missouri traces to visits of Fathers Van Quickenborne, De Smet, and Verreydt to the area in the years 1837-38. In 1838, the first Mass was offered in the home of a settler by Fr. Eysvogels, and records show that Fr. Christian Hoecken administered the sacraments there in the 1840's.
Fr. Hoecken and the Potawatomi in Southeastern Kansas
Fr. Hoecken was not stationed continuously at Council Bluffs. In 1838 he founded a mission for the Christian Potawatomi who had arrived in southeastern Kansas. Due to poor health, he returned for awhile to the Missouri novitiate. In 1840, he was back at Council Bluffs with Fr. Verreydt ministering to the 50 families who had had the courage to resist the drink evil. But the situation worsened, and in 1841 the fathers were obliged to turn their efforts to the "Forest Potawatomi" of Indiana who were already at Sugar Creek in southeastern Kansas. In August, Fathers Hoecken and Verreydt, with Brothers Mazzella and Miles went to Sugar Creek. After this, they travelled periodically to Council Bluffs, until 1846 when those Potawatomi also moved to the new reserve on the Kaw under the care of the Jesuits.
We go back now in our history to the year 1837, when a chief of the Christian Potawatomi in southeastern Kansas, Nesswawke, communicated with Fr. Hoecken at the Kickapoo Mission, begging for a priest. In January, 1838, Fr. Hoecken travelled to their camp to offer Mass and witness the marriages of two of the chief's daughters.
On one of these early trips Fr. Hoecken and his superior Fr. Verhaegen travelled together. They became lost on the prairie and slept out at night beside a fire to keep away the wild animals. Next morning they were consoled to find an Indian cabin; the women preparing breakfast were delighted when Fr. Hoecken spoke to them in Potawatomi and showed the fathers the way to the cabin of Napoleon Bourassa, an important Potawatomi leader and devout Catholic who had been educated in a Catholic school in Kentucky and spoke fluent English and French. In October 1838, Fr. Hoecken was directed to take up residence among those of the tribe who were living on Pottawatomie Creek. As we will see, he got there just in time to receive Fr. Benjamin Petit and his 650 expatriated Indians who arrived in November. Later the tribe shifted 15 miles south to Sugar Creek.
Fathers Stephen Badin and Benjamin Petit Among the Potawatomi
Again we must go back to see the interesting history of those 650 expatriated Indiana Potawatomi who reached southeastern Kansas with Fr. Petit on November 4, 1838. Their Christianization had been the work of two great priests. In 1830, there were Potawatomi on the Indiana/Michigan borders who were children and grandchildren of those who had been Christianized by the Jesuits in the 1700's. At Detroit, their chief Pokegan approached the vicar-general Fr. Richard, pleading for a priest to break the bread of life for his famishing tribesmen, and ended with a moving recitation of the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Credo in his own language.
In that year they were sent Fr. Stephen Badin, formerly of Kentucky. He found that only 20 of the Indians had been baptized; but that the memory the "holy fathers" who had instructed their grandfathers was so precious that they came eagerly and with simplicity to receive the true religion. In two years, 300 converted; in another year, there were 600 Catholics.
At Fr. Badin's death in 1837, the Potawatomi begged for another priest. His successor was Fr. Benjamin Marie Petit. Born in Brittany in 1811, he had come to the United States as a seminarian. Just ordained, he possessed the passionate zeal for souls of the great saints. Fr. Petit worked among both the white settlers and Indians in the area of South Bend, Indiana and Bertrand, Michigan.
Meanwhile, the government had been steadily moving the Potawatomi bands westward. On August 6, 1838, the Indiana Potawatomi were to have vacated their old lands; because certain conditions had not been met, they refused to go. Fearing an uprising, the government rounded up 800 Potawatomi and sent them westward like prisoners with a military escort. Their forced emigration has been called the "Trail of Death."
When Fr. Petit caught up with the caravan, he found his Christians marching under a burning sun in clouds of dust. The old and the sick were dying, the children dropping from exhaustion. Father celebrated Mass for them, ministered to the sick, and baptized some newly-born babies who soon found themselves in the bliss of eternity. On the long trip across the dry prairies, the Indians offered up their trials with the generosity of the first Christians, gathered daily for prayers, and astonished the Americans by their piety. About 30 died on the trip, and a large number deserted, so that at journey's end there were only about 650 left in the party when they were received with open arms by Fr. Hoecken.
Fr. Petit was relieved to be able to consign his Christians once again to those Jesuits who had first given them the Faith. He had written that he desired nothing but only the glory of God and the salvation of these Christians. His mission accomplished, the courageous young priest fell sick with fever. For six weeks, he suffered, shivering in winter cold in the only shelter available, a tent. Fr. Hoecken, who had some knowledge of medicine, nursed him as best he could.
Somewhat improved in January, Fr. Petit set out for Indiana. Although three great open sores were draining his strength, he journeyed by horseback and wagon to St. Louis. Arriving there in a state of exhaustion, he was taken in by the Jesuits, who were edified by his patience and resignation. Despite extreme weakness he begged to offer Mass for the feast of the Purification. It was his last. On the 10th of February he died a holy death and was buried at St. Louis. Only 27 years old, he had truly given his life for the souls of his Potawatomi. In his will made shortly after his ordination in 1837 he had written, "If it should please God to send me death I accept it in all love and submission to His amiable Providence and hope that His mercy will have pity on me at the last moment. I commend myself to Mary now and at the hour of my death."
The Sugar Creek Mission
Sugar Creek was in Linn County, eastern Kansas, near the present Centerville. The Missionaries called it "St. Mary's Creek." Alone, Fr. Hoecken cared for a flock of over 600, and trained catechists to go out to neighboring tribes. When his health broke in the summer of 1839, forcing him to return to St. Louis, Fr. Herman Aelen took his place.
Fr. Aelen is credited with naming the mission after the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. The Indians built a large chapel which was dedicated on Christmas Day, 1840, under the title "The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin." Over 500 Potawatomi attended the High Mass and Solemn Vespers. Young Indian girls carried a beautiful statue of the Immaculate Virgin in procession all over the settlement that day as a token of the devotion of the people of Sugar Creek to the Mother of God.
Many of the flock assisted at Mass daily, received Communion regularly, were faithful in praying the Rosary, and had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother to whom they loved to sing hymns in their own tongue. On the eve of the Assumption in 1841, Fr. Aelen heard confessions in Potawatomi for 18 hours! After the disappointments of the other missions, the response of the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek was a great consolation. As the congregation continually outgrew their church, they built larger ones, and were working on their fourth at the time the mission was moved to St. Mary's.
In 1840 the Jesuits opened a school for Indian boys at Sugar Creek; along with their lessons they learned to farm. Meanwhile, recovering his health in Missouri, Fr. Hoecken was thrilling St. Philippine Duchesne and her nuns with stories of the Potawatomi mission. The following summer, she and her companions came to Sugar Creek to open a girls' school. (See their story in the Christmas, 1995 issue of ST. MARY'S MAGAZINE.)
Accommodations were primitive, but soon there were 50 girls in the school, learning their lessons in reading and writing, domestic skills from baking to sewing, and the prayers and hymns of the Church. The Indian mothers came also to learn the secrets of housekeeping. Truly the sisters brought civilization to the prairies.
Elderly Mother Duchesne wrote about the 50 First Communicants, the 70 adult converts, and the 200 who received the Brown Scapular. They gathered for Mass and catechism, and morning and evening prayers.
In August, 1841, after the failure at Council Bluffs, Fr. Hoecken returned to Sugar Creek with Fr. Verreydt, who was named new superior, and Brothers Mazzella and Miles.
In 1843 there were 61 pupils in each of the schools. The parish boasted many confraternities, and liturgical functions included an eight-day mission preached according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, May devotions, novenas, blessing of crops on St Mark's day, and elaborate processions for Corpus Christi. When Bishop Kenrick came in 1842, the Indians received him with tremendous pomp, and he confirmed 300. By 1847 there were 1300 Christian Potawatomi coming to the mission, and Fr. Verreydt wrote of the innocent and industrious lives of many, whom he compared to the early Christians. The priests reported that there were some who lived such innocent lives that they had probably never committed a mortal sin.
Fr. Verrydt told of one Indian, a sterling example of piety, who confided to Fr. Hoecken that he had seen, even sometimes during Holy Communion, the visible presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The fathers gave credit to his words due to the holy life he led.
The church was packed every Sunday, with some of the congregation having to hear Mass from outside the doors. Fr. Verreydt wrote, "All listen to the word of God with admirable attention. If during the sermon a child becomes noisy, the mother immediately removes it from the church. It is all silence; nothing is heard except the strong voice of Fr. Hoecken who speaks to them in their own language like an Indian himself."
Indeed, it was to Fr. Verreydt's sorrow that he could never learn the Potawatomi language. Those who were able to master it at all required at least two years. Already feeling the ravages of age and of rheumatism, he despaired of ever learning it. Although superior of the mission, Fr. Verreydt could only hear the confessions of the sisters, the brothers, and a few other English-speaking persons. The whole burden of preaching and confessing the Indians fell to Fr. Hoecken, who was more and more worn down by the heavy load of work.
Despite his inability to learn the language, Fr. Verreydt founded in 1844 the Osage Mission for the Indians who had been moved from their ancient lands along the Osage in Missouri to southeast Kansas. This mission, the cradle of Catholicism in southeast Kansas, had an illustrious history under long-time superior Fr. John Schoenmakers, a Belgian, and Fr. Paul Ponziglione, the son of a count of Turin.
For some time, the Jesuits at Sugar Creek were the only Catholic priests for the white settlers on the Missouri-Kansas line. It seems that Fr. Aelen gave the name of St. Francis Regis to the first Church of Westport (Kansas City), and during the period of 1841-46, when there was no other priest, Fr. Verreydt was virtually its pastor -- a trip of 70 miles on horseback. He also went on trips to serve the Catholics of Independence, the German settlement at Deepwater, and the soldiers at Fort Scott.
Fr. Verreydt begged for another missionary who could learn the Potawatomi tongue, and remarked that he himself felt like a little bird on a branch, meant to fly away at any time to some other assignment.
The Jesuits had also to teach the Potawatomi how to become farmers: to split rails and put up fences, to manage a plow, to plant and harvest, and to build permanent houses. Having been free-roaming hunters they had no skill nor love for tilling the land. By nature, they preferred to go hunting, or to tap the sugar maples for their excellent sweet sap.
Instructing the Indians in farming was difficult enough, but it became truly futile if their enemy, "firewater," was not kept at a distance. When that old demon once again lifted its head, Fr. Verreydt formed the Indians into an anti-liquor brigade who broke the bottles of any liquor smuggled into the village. The Potawatomi repeatedly built blockhouses as jails for the drunkards and dealers in fire-water; repeatedly cohorts of the drunks burned the jail to the ground. The brigade could never entirely root out the liquor evil which began seriously to hamper the work of the missionaries. Recalling the disasters to other missions the fathers trembled for their flock, and when the government proposed transferring the Potawatomi to a new reserve away from the unscrupulous liquor-trading whites, they welcomed the idea.
Beginnings at the New Saint Mary's
The new reserve, some 30 miles square and lying on both sides of the Kaw (Kansas) River, was a little west of the present Topeka. Reports of early explorations, mainly on the bare and hilly south side of the river, were so negative that the whole village was "in the dumps," Even the Sisters were discouraged. Fr. Verreydt then made a personal inspection tour and reported that there was good and sufficient timber for building on the north side of the river.
As the Potawatomi bands began moving to their new lands. Fr. Hoecken and Br. Mazzella accompanied them. Fr. Verreydt scouted the area to find a suitable mission-site from which the Jesuits could serve all the Indians settlements on both sides of the Kaw. It had to be close enough to the fertile bottom land and the good stands of timber near the river, but not too close due to the danger from flooding. There were signs that the water had been very deep in the bottom-land during spring flood. Asking the Blessed Mother to help him find a good mission site which he would name for her, Father rode to a high point from which he could see for miles. Early in June, 1848, he settled on the spot which is the St. Mary's campus today.
Arrival of Fr. Gailland; the Move to St. Mary's
Assigned to Sugar Creek just as the missionaries were preparing for the big move, Fr. Maurice Gailland, S.J., was a young Swiss and an excellent missionary. Born in 1815, he was at this time in the peak of his manhood. His Latin diary, packed with vivid detail, would become the chief chronicle of the new Mission. On August 16, the party began their rigorous 90-mile journey. They slept in tents with buffalo robes for beds, and with fires burning to keep the mosquitos away. At daylight they were enroute again, using the sun for a compass. Fr. Gailland wrote, "The plains present a strange and wild, but at the same time, a grand and beautiful appearance. Stretching out and away in the distance, they seem, like the ocean, to have naught but the blue sky for limit, where the eye loses itself in their immensity."
When they reached Fr.Hoecken's temporary dwelling at Wakarusa Creek, Fr. Gailland hastened to meet the priest who had long been in missionary labors. Inside the cabin he met Fr. Hoecken, dressed in surplice and stole ready to hear confessions. His bent body, silvery hair, and thin pale face told of his privations, sufferings and arduous labour. The younger priest embraced him, and offered his services for the benefit of the dear Indians. Fr. Hoecken replied, "With all my heart I accept your offer, for during many days past I have been praying to God to send us some companions to share our labors." Immediately Fr. Gailland applied himself to learn the Potawatomi tongue and in time totally mastered it. Until his dying day at St. Mary's he expended himself for the spiritual good of the Potawatomi.
On September 7, the travellers began the last stage of their journey. The party was composed of Fathers Gailland and Verreydt, four sisters, Brothers George Miles and Patrick Ragan, an Indian boarding student named Charlot, and the guide and interpreter Joseph Bertrand of French and Indian blood. High water on the river delayed them a day at Uniontown until they could ford the river. At noon they stopped for dinner at Cross Creek (Rossville), and at about four in the afternoon of September 9, 1848, they arrived at the new St. Mary's.
In front of the hills that formed a backdrop to the north, two identical log cabins had been prepared. Unfinished and uncaulked, without windows, doors, or floors, they offered but little shelter from wind and rain, and boasted no furniture excepting what the missionaries had brought with them. They erected a cross on the hill overlooking the houses, and made the cabins as habitable as possible against the cool night air and wind. They sorely missed the handy Br. Mazzella, who had been left behind sick with fever. Presently many of the party also fell ill and things looked gloomy indeed.
Everyone welcomed Br. Mazzella when he arrived on September 26. Although still unwell, he commenced work on the two unfinished buildings which were ultimately enlarged. They were parallel, located about 110 yards apart in the area of the present Convent and Library buildings. Br. Mazzella quickly put up a temporary chapel and a barn for the horses.
Fr. Hoecken arrived in October with a few Indians who settled around the mission and came to hear him preach regularly in Potawatomi. In November he left to minister to the Indians who had gone into the country to hunt and make sugar. The rest of the company, far from civilization and supplies, were left to face the winter alone.
The winter of 1848-49 was so extraordinarily severe that Fr. Gailland ran out of Latin adjectives to describe in his diary the intense cold, the leaden skies, and the deep snow-drifts that prevented any mail being brought in. Eventually the ink froze in his pen. For eighty days the Kaw was ice-bound and could be used as a wagon road. Due to the cold there was no Christmas Midnight Mass, and on Christmas day each priest celebrated only one Mass. Fr. Verreydt preached in English in the morning with either Bertrand or John Tipton as interpreter, while at afternoon Vespers Fr. Gailland spoke in French for the mixed-blood settlers. Food was running low; some accounts say there was only a bag of cornmeal left. When the Indian boy Charlot went out to hunt he bagged only two prairie hens. On New Year's day a crowd of Indians brought a gift of venison to the mission.
In January Fr. Hoecken returned much the worse for cold and hunger. By February the winter was moderating when news reached the mission of the advent of an unwelcome visitor: cholera. Its coming was hastened by the parties of westward-bound immigrants passing on the Oregon-California trail. Many perished, their trailside graves identified by primitive markers. It was impossible to conduct school, for the Indians had fled before the epidemic. The three priests constantly rode out to the Indian settlements administering remedies to body and soul, for both Fr. Hoecken and Br. Mazzella were skilled in medicine. Finally in July the scourge abated.
During 1849, a log chapel was built beside the Oregon Trail. Meanwhile the Fathers supervised the erection of other chapels in villages around the reserve.
St. Mary's Mission was a school from the very beginning: a boarding school for boys and one for girls were opened immediately, and the Potawatomi eagerly sent their children to attend. In the first winter there had been only a handful of pupils, but in September, 1849, there were a total 57 boarders and 10 day students.
That autumn, Fr. Verreydt was assigned to parochial work in St. Louis and never returned to the Indian missions. He died in 1883 at the age of 85. It is appropriate to quote from a letter he received while superior from the Jesuit General, Fr. John Roothaan in Rome: "Do not let yourself be discouraged, my dear Father; this mission, I hope, will not be ruined like the others. Establish there solidly the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; it will be an effective preservative..."
Father John Baptist Duerinck
Succeeding Fr. Verreydt was another Belgian, Fr. John Baptist Duerinck, who arrived on November 3, 1849, accompanied by Br. Daniel Doneen and a lay teacher, Mr. Ryan. As a scholastic, Fr. Duerinck had come to Florissant in 1834 from Maryland novitiate. During his priestly life he had held posts at colleges of his order in St. Louis and Cincinnati. Prior to his appointment at St. Mary's he had been treasurer at St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, Kentucky. He was a distinguished botanist for whom a newly-discovered plant had been named, Prunus Duerinckiana. Now forty years of age with excellent health, he would give his remaining years to St. Mary's where his name still endures on "Durink" Street.
Regarded as an island of civilization by travellers on the Oregon Trail, the mission continued to grow and by 1850 became the temporary seat of the newly-appointed Bishop John Miége, S.J. The little log chapel beside the Trail was the first cathedral in the vast territory between the Missouri border and the Rocky Mountains!
In the mind of the Jesuit superiors, St. Mary's was an Indian mission and nothing more, but the pressure of circumstances caused the mission to extend its beneficent hand to the white settlers as well. First, there were the government employees on the reserve, and then the settlers who eventually formed the little town of St. Mary's adjacent to the Mission. Much could be written about those early settlers whose names have been given to the streets of St. Mary's, among them the Bertrands, and Dr. Luther Palmer. Dr. Palmer came as government physician to the Indians, later converted to the Catholic faith, and married the widow of Amable Bertrand.The oldest stone in Mt. Calvary marks the grave of another Bertrand, Lawrence, who died in 1849 at the age of 34 years.
The priests at the Mission were loved by the white settlers. It was said that the goodness of Fr. Duerinck had done a great deal for the conversion of many a family who knew what it was to meet a kind friend in a desert place far from family or friends. He often assisted settlers with seeds and sold them cattle on credit.
While the Fathers encouraged the Indians to farm and keep livestock so that they could be assured of food, the sisters' excited the admiration of all with their work among the girls to whom they taught both academic subjects and domestic skills. Their labors were crowned with the fruit of religious vocations. In 1852 the sisters had over sixty boarding students.
Death of Father Hoecken
In June of 1850, Fr. Christian Hoecken set out on a gruelling missionary trip to the Sioux country. Hardship was not alien to him and he had written, "I wish to work, to toil, to suffer as much as I can and as long as I live -- I hope and trust in God to give me rest and repose, not in this side, but beyond the grave."
After his return to St. Mary's early in 1851, in the spring he was sent to Indiana to persuade some other Potawatomi to relocate in Kansas where the fathers could care for their spiritual good.
In the chapel of Notre Dame University, Fr. Hoecken preached in Potawatomi with facility and rapidity, to the joy of the Indians who had travelled long distances to hear his words flowing in their own tongue. It was the first sermon ever preached in an Indian tongue in northern Indiana. Unfortunately, Father's mission was not a success.
Called back to St. Louis, he was to accompany Fr. De Smet to Ft. Laramie on the Upper Platte River for a great council of all the Indian tribes east of the Rockies. The two boarded the steamer St. Ange bound for Ft. Union, 1800 miles away. A few days out of St. Louis, and 500 miles upstream, cholera broke out among the passengers. The boat became a floating hospital. Fr. De Smet was confined to his bed with a bilious attack lasting ten days. Fr. Hoecken wore himself out ministering to the sick and dying, and blessing the graves of those who were buried along the river banks. As the rigors of missionary life had worn Fr. Hoecken down, Fr. De Smet begged him to take care of himself. When it seemed that Fr. De Smet was also coming down with cholera, he asked Fr. Hoecken for the last rites; at that moment the father had to attend to others who were dying, and he assured Fr. De Smet that he was in no immediate danger.
Some hours later, in the wee hours of the night, Fr. De Smet heard Fr. Hoecken calling him. He dragged himself to his side and found his friend in his last extremity from cholera! The ship's doctor endeavored to help, but all remedies were fruitless. Fr. De Smet administered Extreme Unction to which Fr. Hoecken responded with a self-possession and piety that struck all the passengers. Fearing that he too might die, Fr. De Smet begged Fr. Hoecken, then in his last agony, to hear his confession. Sick almost to death himself, Fr. De Smet knelt, bathed in tears, beside his dying brother priest and made his confession. Soon strength forsook Fr. Hoecken, and Fr. De Smet began the prayers for the dying. Fr. Hoecken surrendered his soul on the 19th of June, 1851, twelve days after the departure from St. Louis, near the mouth of the Little Sioux.
All agreed that the body of the great missionary must be properly buried. A very thick coffin was prepared and Fr. Hoecken was buried on the evening of his death with all the ceremonies of the Church while all the passengers assisted. Fr. De Smet remarked on the immediate fruit of the good missionary's death: just after the funeral, numbers of passengers who had not been to confession for years came to Fr. De Smet's cabin to confess. A month later on the return trip, the coffin was exhumed and Fr. Hoecken's remains were transported back to Florissant for his final rest.
Father Duerinck Advances the Mission
Fr. Duerinck was the first to introduce the "McCormick Virginia Reaper" to the prairies. In 1852, he ordered a McCormick mower costing $100.00, which was shipped from St. Louis up the Kansas River to St. Mary's Landing. The horse-drawn implement was the wonder of the countryside. Hearing that Fr. Duerinck had cut his 60 acres of oats in 5 days, people came from 25 miles away to see such a wonder. In 1853 the college cut over 500 tons of hay and oats without a breakdown.
Much concerned with the obligation of teaching agriculture to the Indians, Fr. Duerinck built up the farm as a model. The mission also depended on the farm for its upkeep. From disabled cattle that had been left behind by emigrants on the Oregon Trail, he developed a superior herd. In years of crop failure, Fr. Duerinck was hard-pressed to keep the schools open, and once travelled all the way to Washington to get the government to raise the 50-dollar annual allotment per student to 75 dollars! By 1855, with 140 mouths to feed, and only a slender government subsidy, the school was losing money on each student, and the more students who arrived, the worse off was the school!
But seeing the fruits of their work among the Indian children and their families, the staff persevered. The boys were becoming well-mannered, civilized, and serious about their studies; the girls were learning homemaking as well as their lessons. The whole mission was neat and clean and won the admiration of all who visited it.
Now, as his work was prospering, Fr. Duerinck was to be carried off by a premature death.
Death of Father Duerinck
In the autumn of 1857, Fr. Duerinck was instructed to return to Florissant for his tertianship, or third year of probation, in preparation for pronouncing his final vows as a Jesuit. He wrote his superior that he would comply at once, and left for Leavenworth, planning to travel from there to St. Louis. But he never reached St. Louis.
On December 14, Fr. De Smet was visited at St. Louis University by an old acquaintance, Captain Mullan, who brought sad news. He had seen Fr. Duerinck at Bishop Miége's house in Leavenworth; from there the priest had gone by stage to Kansas City. The river was too low at Kansas City for the steamer; Mullan had heard that six gentlemen had taken a flatboat downstream from Wyandotte ferry with the intention of reaching a steamer at Liberty; one of the six was a priest. Below Independence Landing the boat struck a snag, upset, and three were drowned, the priest among them. Fearing that the priest was Fr. Duerinck, Fr. De Smet offered a Mass for him, and hastened to set inquiries afoot.
Fr. De Smet made a trip up the Missouri in the hope of finding the body of Fr. Duerinck. Hearing of a steamboat captain who had found a body washed up on a sandbar and caused it to be buried, Fr. De Smet sought out this solitary grave near the town of Liberty;, but the occupant proved to be not Fr. Duerinck, but probably a deckhand. The body of Fr. Duerinck was never found, and Fr. De Smet noted that it was one time St. Anthony did not answer his prayers.
Fr. Gailland wrote of Fr. Duerinck that he spared no effort to keep the Mission going for the sake of his Indian children. He never complained of his own infirmities, braving the coldest weather to take care of their needs. Sometimes on these excursions his own limbs became as cold and hard as stone and had to be bathed in water, when only cold water was available. He neglected his sleep, forgot his meals, was ready for any sacrifice for his Indians. And yet he was ever patient and kind, untroubled in countenance, always humble, never vain, happy to do the most menial tasks, and no trouble ever disturbed his peace of soul.
Father John Schultz, Third Rector
Fr. Duerinck's successor arrived in December, 1858. Fr. John Schultz was born in Alsace on the upper Rhine in 1816; he had worked previously among the Potawatomi and had learned the language. Not being a farmer and being too much a foreigner to deal with the government as Superintendent of an American school, he felt himself incapable of the task. "My accent is too French or German to please native ears." However, he remained as an excellent superior through the time when the Indians were leaving the area. He was eventually called to the presidency of St. Xavier College, Cincinnati, and died at St. Louis in 1887. Fr. John Diels, a Belgian, became his successor at St. Mary's.
Changes Come to St. Mary's Mission
By the end of the 1860's the Indians had gradually disappeared before the flood of white settlers coming to the prairies, or had intermarried with them. The Jesuits realized that a new direction was necessary for St. Mary's and the superiors decided to convert the Mission into a boys' college. They reasoned that its location in the very center of the country along the transcontinental railroad would make it accessible to boarding students from across the land. Its rural situation would promote innocence in morals and religious vocations.
Fr. Gailland wrote prophetically: "Wherefore, Mary Immaculate, through the medium of the college which is to be built and the patronage of which she has undertaken, will undoubtedly through a long succession of years be the glory of the region and the honor of the Christian people, an issue which is the object of our prayers and hopes in God."
On May 31, 1870, under the direction of James McGonigle, who had been contractor for the Leavenworth cathedral of Bishop Miége,, the new College building was begun at the foot of the hill (near the present grotto). In January, 1872, the 94 boarders at the college moved into their new building which was solemnly blessed on February 8, with a solemn High Mass and a procession from the old log church to the college. This magnificent building, which marked the entry of the one-time Indian mission into the field of college education, would be destroyed by fire on February 3, 1879, and the big academy building of the sisters would become the college building (which it still is today).
The Death of Father Gailland
At the request of Fr. De Smet, Fr. Gailland composed an English-Potawatomi dictionary; he had accomplished the almost impossible task of rendering metaphysical ideas in Potawatomi. Unpublished, his work remained in the archives of old St. Mary's College.
From that September day in 1848 when Fr. Gailland arrived at St. Mary's until the moment of his death, his devotion to the Potawatomi never knew a moment's respite, and their passing from the area was a great sorrow to him.
With the invasion of white settlers all around the Indian reserves, the government decided to give the Indians individual ownership of their lands, and rights of U.S. citizenship as well. This appeared to many as a good move, but Fr. Gailland was skeptical. When the Indians agreed to the government treaties of 1861 and 1867, he knew that such steps were unavoidable due to the force of events, but that they would lead to their ruin as a tribe. He prophesied "woe to you Indians when your lands are sectionized."
Among the settlers were always the greedy, the dishonest, and of course, the liquor-sellers. It was impossible for the law-enforcement agents to stay ahead of them all. By 1870, the government paid the Indians cash for their lands, but it was a sad day for those who did not bank their funds and who were exploited by white opportunists. Fr. Gailland wrote, "It is the gloomiest page in the story of the Potawatomi."
In his biography of Fr. Gailland, Br. De Vriendt pictures the scenes that were daily witnessed as the helpless Indians played into the hands of unscrupulous whites. He shows Fr. Gailland discoursing sadly to his fellow Jesuits in the faculty recreation room, telling of land-sharks who have cheated another family out of their farm for a low price. Fr. Gailland suffered much to see the misfortunes of his dear flock; he wished to have the joy of giving them each the last rites and seeing them go to heaven when they died.
Br. De Vriendt paints for us a picture: there is a rap on the door; an Indian enters, "Fr. Gailland, some white man wants to buy my claim." The priest answers, "I forbid you to sell it to these landsharks, for you will begin to drink as soon as you get the money and you will become a bad man and die unhappy and go to hell." The answer: "Father, I promise you I shall not sell, but will do as you told me. Goodby, Father, and pray for me."
Then there is another rap at the door; someone comes to tell Father that one of the families he had warned about taking the money and going toTopeka to drink did so anyway, and on the way back the boy fell between the train cars and was killed. Or another report of some Potawatomi who sold their land and went to gamble and drink; they fell into a quarrel and one was killed. And Fr. Gailland exclaims, "Oh! Devil's drink! These were two of our best! They did well in school, were examples in the church, and good workers, and now this money for their claim has worked their destruction. Oh! My Indians, if you had never possessed land, how happy you would be!"
The pages of the house diary of St. Mary's on into the '70's record the disappearance of the Indians, some of whom went south to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. In 1876, Fr. Gailland estimated that Indians living on their own sections in the old reserve numbered about 600, and he wrote, "What a sad spectacle it is for a missionary to see the work of so many years thus destroyed, and his flock devoured by merciless wolves... One thing, however, in my bitter grief consoles me, that a certain number, small indeed, have remained firm and that to my knowledge none of those that have forsaken the path of virtue have lost the faith; this revives in them sooner or later especially in times of sickness and adversity."
As long as his health permitted, Fr. Gailland attended the spiritual wants of the Indians still clinging to their lands on the preserve. He could not rest until he was certain that a sick Indian was not in danger of death, and of passing out of this world without the Last Sacraments. He would return to the mission in high spirits, "He is ripe for heaven; if he passes out of this world now, I am satisfied."
He spent long hours in the confessional waiting for Indian penitents. And when the confession hours were finished, he returned to the chapel to see if some late-comer were waiting to confess. When an Indian was loitering in the shadow of the chapel, Fr. Gailland accosted him, "Do you not wish to go to confession? Come, come! I have time now. How do you know that you will live till tomorrow?"
Although the whites came more and more to the mission church, it was his Indians who were Fr. Gailland's first concern. One Sunday, when a group of whites rose to leave before the services were ended, Fr. Gailland berated them from the altar as being a scandal to the Indians.
One winter, Fr. Gailland received a call from a sick Indian residing 23 miles from St. Mary's. He went promptly, but in crossing the river he fell through the ice. He continued onward with his clothes frozen to his body, spent the night in the Indian's hut without getting dry clothes, and had to return thus the following day. Due to this exposure the missionary contracted a paralysis from which he never fully recovered. Unable to ride a horse any longer, he had to resort to a buggy to make his rounds, and was frustrated when there was nobody free at the mission to drive him.
His last summons to the sick occurred in June, 1877, and was described by Br. De Vriendt: Rap, rap! "Fr. Gailland, an Indian is sick near Topeka" It was a little before dinner. "Very well, I will start after dinner with the cars (train)."
So, the good priest went, but he himself fell sick, and brother infirmarian had to go get him. He was confined to bed for several weeks, but improved enough to celebrate Mass on the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, July 31. In excellent spirits, he wished all a "happy feast." But it was his last Mass, for he suffered a relapse, and declined rapidly, dying on August 12, 1877, at the age of 62 in full possession of his senses to the end, having served the Potawatomi for nearly 30 years. Fr. Gailland was buried in Mount Calvary, and with his passing four decades of the Jesuit mission to the Potawatomi passed into history.
No history of St. Mary's could be complete without including the life of missionary Bishop John Baptiste Miége who made this place his see from 1850-55, and whose portrait graces the stained-glass window in our baptistry.
In consequence of the revolutionary troubles of 1847-48, many German and Swiss Jesuits, had to leave Europe. John Baptist Miége, a native of La Forêt in Savoy, had arrived in America in June, 1848, with Fr. Behren's party of exiled Jesuits of the province of Upper Germany; he himself was a member of the province of Turin and came to the new world in the hope of laboring among the Indians of the Oregon Mission. His 46-day journey across the Atlantic in the Providence under an inexperienced captain, a rough unreliable crew, and a food shortage, was a rough one.
As it turned out he became a professor of moral theology in the Florissant seminary because of his ability to speak German to the refugee scholastics studying there. In 1849, Fr. Miége and Fr. Ignatius Maes were sent out on an ill-fated mission to the Winnebago tribe who had been moved westward from their homeland on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin to Long Prairie Reservation in Minnesota.
Meanwhile in 1849, at the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore, the "Indian Country" (that immense stretch of the Great Plains between the western border of Missouri and the Rocky Mountains) was organized into a vicariate-apostolic. It was an event that would bring the little mission post of St. Mary's into importance in the ecclesiastical world!
The names of three Missouri Jesuits were proposed for the choice of a new bishop. Jesuits did not ordinarily accept ecclesiastical dignities, but a vicariate-apostolic and a mission among savage tribes was a different matter from an episcopal see, and at last the Society agreed. Fr. Miége was at St. Louis University when on October 20, 1850, he received the brief of Pius IX appointing him Vicar-apostolic of the Indian Territory. He was only 36 years of age, had not yet taken his final vows as a Jesuit, and felt himself insufficient to the requirements of the episcopal office. He tried to decline, but the Pope ordered him to accept. He was consecrated by Archbishop Kenrick in St. Francis Xavier Church, St. Louis, on March 25, 1851.
From St. Mary's, Fr. Gailland wrote to urge Bishop Miége to accept St. Mary's as his headquarters, explaining that the Indians were eager to receive the "Great Black Robe." There were churches to be blessed, many Indians to be confirmed, and at St. Mary's Fr. Gailland hoped that the humble little log church with its beautiful altar made by Br. Mazzella would deserve to be raised to the rank of Cathedral.
Bishop Miége was accompanied to St.Mary's by his long-time friend, the Italian Jesuit Fr. Paul Ponziglione, who would spend more than 30 years at work among the Osage. Leaving the riverboat at St. Joseph, Missouri, they proceeded on horseback. With them in a wagon were Br. Sebastian Schlienger, Br. Patrick Phelan, and lay helpers bringing a wagon with supplies and furniture for the Mission.
Caught without shelter in one of Kansas' famous thunderstorms, the religious were saying the Memorare when lightning struck so close that it physically shook both them and their horses. The storm roared on, and in the evening they found themselves in a high prairie where there was no place to tie their animals, nor even a stick of wood with which to make a fire. They ate bread and dry meat, standing with staffs in hand like the Israelites of old. After a sleepless night, they greeted a clearing sky at dawn. But Bishop Miége was suddenly nervous. He had heard a sound which he took to be the cries of wild Indians coming to attack. When it proved to be the calls of many prairie chickens, he took up his double-barrelled gun and returned twenty minutes later with four fat chickens which they roasted for breakfast!
Approaching St. Mary's on the 31st of May, the party were met by a large crowd of Potawatomi who had turned out with Frs. Duerinck and Gailland to greet their new shepherd. Bishop Miége went to pray in his new cathedral, and then was escorted to the little log-cabin that would be his episcopal palace.
The next day, Sunday, June 1, all the Indians came in procession on foot and horseback to pay honor to the Bishop and salute him with a triple volley of musketry. After the Mass they came up one by one to kiss the Bishop's ring. Fr. Gailland wrote, "our little church is filled with pride and astonishment to see itself raised at a bound to the rank of a cathedral."
The Bishop reported that the Potawatomi tribe comprised 3500 souls dispersed over the 30-square mile reserve; 1500 of them were Catholics living in three villages, the largest being at St. Mary's where each family had a cabin and cultivated their fields. Here also were abiding the doctor, blacksmith, a few traders and some mixed-blood families. Most of the 600-700 Indians of St. Mary's heard Mass every day and received the sacraments regularly. The Bishop was impressed with their piety and charity among themselves. Two other villages were at a distance of about 20 miles from St. Mary's, one on Soldier Creek. It was more difficult for these to remain Catholic since there was no priest to spare to live among them.
After reaching St. Mary's, Bishop Miége rested and waited for the ground to dry up (for it had been a wet spring) before visiting the Osage Mission, some 160 miles to the south. No one knew the way, but Fr. Duerinck at least had much experience with the Indians, and acted as guide to the Bishop and Fr. Ponziglione. They travelled on horseback and reached the Mission without trouble on July 4th. Fr. Schoenmakers was ready with all the school children, the sisters, and the Indians who came out in procession to meet the Bishop. A few days later, head chief George White Hair, with his braves in best attire paid an official visit to the Bishop.
Things were not so happy a little later when a measles epidemic carried off a number of the Osage children, whom their mothers believed had been doomed when the missionaries poured water on their heads and wrote their names in a big book (the baptismal registry). Only the intercession of St. Joseph saved the missionaries from an uprising.
Bishop Miége loved the Indians and was much edified by their piety. In his description of the 1852 Corpus Christi procession at St. Mary's, he described the Indians who turned out in their finery at the hour announced by the bell of the country cathedral, the discharges of musketry that announced the beginning of the procession, the hundreds of horseman and marchers on foot who bore their rifles in one hand and rosaries in the other, the little girls and boys of the schools who sang as they walked along ahead of the canopy under which the Holy Sacrament was carried, and the good Indian women at the rear carrying their little ones on their backs. During the hour-long march there alternated singing and prayers, all with the utmost order and reverent decorum. The bishop concluded, "The blackrobes, on their part, cannot help experiencing a lively emotion at the reflecting that St. Mary's is the only place in this immense desert where anything is done in reparation of the insults offered to our Divine Master in the Sacrament of His love."
In 1853, Bishop Miége, set out, accompanied by Fr. De Smet, to represent the vice-province of Missouri at the Order's general congregation held in Rome. They had a thrilling experience on the return voyage in December, when their ship, the Humboldt, was wrecked by hidden rocks a few miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. The captain was able to run her to shallow water near shore before she sank, and all passengers were saved. The Jesuits saved all but one box of treasures they were bringing from Europe, and when Bishop Miége reached St. Mary's in March his flock was awed to see the chalices, vestments, and relics of the saints he had brought to adorn his little cathedral, together with many rosaries blessed by Pope Pius IX. The Indians were amazed to hear the new organ, and all treasured another gift to the log cathedral: a painting of its Patroness, the Immaculate Conception, reportedly by the Italian court painter Benito. (Twenty years later this picture passed to the new parish church of the Immaculate Conception, survived a fire, and was installed in the present parish church built in 1882.)
During this time the Kansas-Nebraska bill threw open the western territory to settlers, foreshadowing the end of the Indian territory and the death sentence to the missions and diocese of Bishop Miége. Settlers -- new souls to care for -- would pour in and civilize the country, but it would be the end for the free-roaming Indian. In 1855 a civil war blazed throughout Kansas over the question of slavery, but the Mission property was left unharmed, and despite the violence, was able to continue its efforts in the cause of education.
Bishop Miége looked toward the building of churches in the pioneer settlements that were springing up, and bought lots for that purpose. Everybody was begging for priests. In a letter to the Father General the good Bishop writes that if the Jesuits do not come to his aid in this matter, he sees nothing else to do but take his mule and gun and go hide in some remote corner of the Rockies where no one can come to him with the wants of Kansas and Nebraska! His five priests had to labor up and down through 14 degrees of latitude, to say nothing of longitude! The plains were now occupied by new-born towns including Leavenworth, Atchison, Doniphan, Lawrence, Lecompton, Topeka, St. George, Manhattan, Iola, Nemaha, Ft. Scott, and many others. The confirmation records of the time show the varied complexion of the population around St. Mary's: Indians of various tribes, many French names, and a variety of English and other European names.
In 1855 it was decided to move Bishop Miége's headquarters to Leavenworth, which was better located for visitation of Nebraska. Mass had been offered there in a private home beginning in 1854, but there were only seven Catholic families when the Bishop arrived. He soon built a church in the rapidly growing town, and then another, and finally a Romanesque cathedral.
The visitation of his immense vicariate led Bishop Miége north into Nebraska Territory, and west into the present state of Colorado. In 1860, he travelled to Denver to meet with Catholics. He crossed the plains in his famous old carriage which he feared might not hold up for the return trip.
Historian James Defouri related a story which occurred in 1865 when Bishop Miége was in Colorado and inspected the gold diggings in the Pike's Peak region. Some French-speaking miners were surprised at the arrival in their camp of a lonely bearded stranger carrying a gun over his shoulder. He was tall and muscular, and they were a bit afraid, until he began speaking to them in French, which they were glad to hear. He asked them many questions and finally smiled and told them he was acquainted with their bishop. Of course, the visitor turned out to be Bishop Miége himself! As he was vicar-apostolic of the territory subsequently taken over by Bishop Lamy, he figures in Willa Cather's famous novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop.
Bishop Miége never had enough priests to cover the whole region, and often begged to be relieved of Nebraska Territory, which then included Wyoming, the Dakotas, and the eastern part of Montana! In 1859 the first Vicar-apostolic for Nebraska was finally consecrated. Bishop Miége never felt himself fitted for the duties of his high position, and often asked to be relieved of it. He had accepted it as a missionary to help the Indians, but never considered himself fitted to administer to a territory now containing 500,000 persons. His health was breaking and he could no longer travel the 600 miles from east to west and the 300 miles from north to south in his charge.
Meanwhile, in 1868 he completed his imposing twin-towered brick cathedral, dedicating to the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1868. The good bishop, who had an artistic and architectural mind, had had it designed with a big sanctuary so the largest ceremonies could be performed in comfort, and had embellished the church with frescoes and stained glass windows. When Leavenworth was outstripped by Kansas City and did not develop into the metropolis of the area, Bishop Miége was left with a crushing debt on the cathedral. He attended Vatican Council I, and on its dissolution, went to Latin America where he raised funds. Crossing the Andes on a mule was so dizzying that his guide blindfolded the Bishop!
In 1871, the Benedictine, Fr. Fink, was consecrated and appointed coadjutor to Bishop Miége. In 1874 Pius IX accepted Bishop Miége's resignation and he happily returned to the status of a simple member of the Jesuit province of Missouri. Located at the Jesuit seminary at Woodstock, Maryland, he was known once again as "Father" Miége. In 1877 he became the first president of Detroit University. In 1880 he returned to Woodstock as spiritual director, where he died in his eightieth year, January 21, 1884.
Fr. Ponziglione described him as kind, amiable, in all respects edifying, careful never to neglect his breviary or mental prayer. He was always sociable to those accompanying him on his travels. When camping he would go out with his shot-gun and bring back fresh venison. Never ostentatious, he helped with the cooking and camp life. Bishop Miége was always charitable to the poor, and they knew that if they knocked at his door he would not turn them away without aid.
Father Louis Dumortier
Next to the stone of Fr. Gailland are those of Fathers Dumortier and De Coen. Who were they? The simple inscriptions tell us nothing of their holy lives and deaths, but after reading their stories, one will feel drawn to pray to them.
Shortly after Bishop Miége's departure from St. Mary's, the country along the upper Kansas, Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers began to be settled by small knots of Catholic settlers who were to form the nuclei of the many future parishes of central and northern Kansas. The ministry in central Kansas may be said to have been put on an organized basis about 1859 with the arrival at St. Mary's of Fr. Louis Dumortier. He was to identify himself with itinerant missionary service among the whites as Fr. Gailland identified himself with service to the Indians.
Fr. Dumortier was born near Lille, France, in 1810, entered the Society of Jesus in Belgium, and arrived late in 1839 at Florissant, where he finished his novitiate. Due to the circumstances of frontier life and urgent need for priests, he was a Jesuit over 22 years before being able to do his required year of tertianship and make his final vows! Early in his priestly life he was engaged as professor in the Jesuit colleges of Cincinnati, Bardstown, and St. Louis, teaching physics, chemistry and mathematics. He was cheerful, witty and companionable, but also of a nervous disposition and the sedentary life of the classroom nearly broke him. At one time during the 1850's it was feared he would suffer a breakdown and was sent back to France for a rest.
On his return to America Fr. Dumortier was appointed to St. Mary's, the perfect assignment for him. As Fr. De Smet wrote, he had been formed for the outdoor life, the wandering but pious life of the prairies. He was 7 years at St. Mary's and carried out a noteworthy apostolic career. Wherever he found two or three Catholic families he formed them into a little congregation, where he would come to offer Mass, baptize, hear their confessions. The extent of his circuit increased until it comprised an area some 200 miles in length by 50 in width.
Fr. Gailland remarked, "As his parish increased, the soul of the Father seemed also to grow larger. So ardently did he desire the salvation of souls that the acutest cold or the intense heat of summer was no impediment to his labors." The winter wind might be blasting across the plains, and snow drifts obstructing the primitive roads, but Fr. Dumortier always arrived on the appointed day and hour. In the area around St. Mary's he attended Catholics at Ft. Riley, St. George, Louisville, Alma, Black Vermilion, and other communities. Daily he covered 30-60 miles on horseback. When he arrived at the place where he was going to offer Mass, instead of resting, he went out and scoured the countryside to announce to the scattered settlers the next day's services. It was a rugged and dangerous life spent in the saddle travelling all alone, with nights spent in the open, and dangerous crossings of frozen or swollen streams. Sometimes Father's feet and ears were frostbitten.
Due to his zeal hundreds of pioneer families kept their faith, and the foundations of the Church in central Kansas were laid on firm ground. He covered at least 14 counties and organized at least 25 congregations, building churches wherever possible, making him the outstanding Catholic missionary of central Kansas.
The books of St. Mary's Mission recorded that Fr. Dumortier baptized the future U.S. Vice-President Charles Curtis. His mother, Helen Papin, was a Kansa mixed blood belonging to the group settled around Soldier Creek. Curtis, born January 5, 1860, was baptized April 15 of that year by Fr. Dumortier at "Pappan's Ferry" (now Topeka) at the Oregon Trail crossing over the Kaw.
In the summer of 1867 Asiatic cholera made its appearance in the western part of Kansas. It was particularly bad among the troops at Fort Harker. Fr. Dumortier hurried to lend his services to the stricken members of his scattered flock, hastening to reach dying Catholics and hear their confessions. Worn with hunger and fatigue, he contracted the cholera himself and died at the midnight of July 25-26, 1867, at Ellsworth, near Ft. Harker. Accounts vary as to his last shelter which may have been a tent, a workman's hut, or an abandoned water-tank by the roadside. But all accounts agree that he met death with characteristic courage. It is stressed that he died unattended for he made signs to warn others away lest he pass the cholera to them. He made the supreme sacrifice, having laid down his life for his friends in Christ, and his body was brought to rest at St. Mary's.
After Fr. DuMortier's death there was no one to take care of some of his missions. From the Osage Mission in south-east Kansas, the Jesuits cared for the spiritual needs of both whites and Indians in that country. Fr. Paul Mary Ponziglione was an energetic missionary in the area (he offered the first Mass in Wichita), who was able in 1868 to visit for the first time Fr. Dumortier's stations in Chase County. Along the Verdigris and Cottonwood he found organized stations and commented, "Cottonwood Falls is perhaps the most fervent settlement I have in the West. The people were eager to donate town lots and materials to build a church."
Father Francis Xavier de Coen
This good priest was born at Ninove in East Flanders, Belgium, December 19, 1811; entered the Society of Jesus October 19, 1843; and was brought by circumstances to die at St. Mary's on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16, 1864, and to be laid to rest here.
Fr. De Coen was one of the Jesuit fathers who labored among the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek. The fathers reached out to numerous tribes on neighboring preserves and re-established contact with descendants of Indians who had first been evangelized by Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These included the Ottawa, Peoria, Wea, Miami, Chippewa, Kaskaskia, and others who have given their names to the geographical features of Kansas. Many of these were served by Fr. De Coen who travelled regularly to offer Mass for them, although unfortunately, the good father was never able to master the Indian languages and had to use an interpreter. The Catholic history of Kansas began with the mission travels of these priests.
The Indians esteemed the Fathers highly; in broken English one of them told a traveller, "When Indian sick, priest lie on the floor and give him bed; if he have no covering, he cover him; do anything for Indian."
In 1846, Fr. De Coen was working among the Osage, travelling to their reserve to see the progress of a school being built, and to baptize their infants. That year he was transferred from Sugar Creek.
In 1849, he was one of the three Missouri Jesuits whose names were proposed to the Holy Father to head the new vicariate of the Indian territory east of the Rockies. This shows in what high esteem he was held. When Fr. Miége was chosen, he requested that Fr. De Coen be re-assigned to the prairies to help him, but the need for teachers in the Colleges was so great that Fr. De Coen was detained to work in St. Aloysius College in Louisville.
By 1855, he was working with Fr. De Smet at St. Gall's in Milwaukee, a neglected and out-of-repair parish in an unhealthy marshy district. Sometimes the priests were called to minister to dying Catholics over 100 miles out in the country. During Fr. De Coen's days at St. Gall's, a flourishing parish was built up, a new rectory and brick church constructed, and an Academy opened which was the forerunner of Marquette College.
By 1861, Fr. De Coen had at last joined Bishop Miége in Leavenworth, but his health broke, and in 1864 he arrived in St. Mary's for a rest. On Saturday, the 16th of July he took a ride over the reservation, and then retired to recite his office in the parlor which was next to Fr. Diels' room. Br. De Vriendt brought him his breviary and the Father remarked, "What a happy day, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel!" Br. De Vriendt left him to his prayers, only recalling later his significant words.
The next morning, Sunday, Fr. Gailland was just coming out of the chapel after saying the 6:30 a.m. Mass when he was accosted by an Indian woman, Mrs. Lasley, wife of a Canadian trader. "Father," she inquired, "is there a stranger, a priest, visiting at the Mission?" Fr. Gailland replied that there was, but why this unusual question?
Mrs. Lasley explained that the night before, her little daughter Mary had awakened her parents by crying out in the night, "Look, Father and Mother, the American priest at St. Mary's Mission is going up to heaven!"
Struck by her words, Fr. Gailland, Br. De Vriendt and others hurried to seek Fr. De Coen. They found him dead on the floor of the parlor where Br. De Vriendt had left him the evening before. Fr. Diels came in after his Mass and broke into tears, for he and Fr. De Coen had been great friends.
Fr. Gailland went to the Lasley cabin about a quarter mile south of the mission on the road to the river (possibly near the present Lasley street) to examine carefully little Mary Lasley, at this time only three or four years of age. Without agitation she answered his questions concerning her apparent vision, and the Fathers believed that she was telling the truth. The child's words were Fr. Gailland's one consolation.
The Potawatomi turned out in numbers for Fr. De Coen's funeral for they had loved him dearly at Sugar Creek. When Bishop Miége next visited St. Mary's his first request was to be shown the grave of the good Father. And little Mary Lasley herself died a holy death at the age of only six.
They were the salvation of the priests, but there were never enough of them to do all the work. Fr. John Diels certainly appreciated them. A Belgian, he became fourth superior of St. Mary's in April, 1861. (Today he is remembered for having built the gazebo, also known as "Fr. Diels old Indian Shrine.") Father had been in service at Sugar Creek in his scholastic days and had certainly seen the brothers laboring year in and year out for the mission. Concerning the brothers at St. Mary's, he wrote in 1862 that they were carrying a heavy load, adding, "their great readiness for labor and prompt obedience have been no slight consolation to us." As there was no tailor, shoemaker, baker, butcher, and scarcely a blacksmith in a radius of 20 miles, the brothers had to discharge a variety of tasks. It was the time of the Civil War and help was hard to obtain. The brothers had to help with the farm, do the cooking, watch over the boys, give them lessons in manual labor, and teach them in school as well.
Brother Andrew Mazzella
He was the most remarkable of the early brothers at St. Mary's. In the old days when the town was first laid out there was even a "Mazzella Street." Brother arrived in the west in 1836, and worked uninterruptedly among the Indians until his death 31 years later at St. Mary's.
He was a native of Procida, a small island in the Mediterranean where he was born November 30, 1802. He entered the Neapolitan province of the Society and was assigned to Maryland in 1833. Besides being a good religious who desired to work in the missions, especially the difficult ones, he was also an excellent Neapolitan cook who "will prepare macaroni for you in a way you never saw before," as the Father General remarked. Originally he was supposed to have gone on a mission in Syria, and therefore had studied medicine and surgery -- which stood him in good stead on the American frontier. He was sent first to help in the kitchen of the College at Georgetown, but with the intention to get him into the missions.
His dream was realized in 1836 when he went with Fr. Van Quickenborne to the Kickapoo mission, and he gave himself up to the work with patience and zeal that never flagged.
Enroute to the Kickapoo mission, Fr. Van Quickenborne wrote that by his exterior manner Br. Mazzella silently preached, being truly edifying while he cooked, washed and mended linen, baked, and did many other things besides. He became an excellent carpenter as well and constructed the log buildings at the Kickapoo mission. Built of immense native walnut logs with wooden pegs, some stood until 1920. Brother also ministered to the sick and had the chance to baptize many dying babies.
When St. Joseph's Mission for the Potawatomi was set up at Council Bluffs in 1838, he was transferred there. With the closing of that mission in August 1841, he was sent to Sugar Creek, and from there to St. Mary's, where once again his carpentry skills enabled the little founding party to secure the rough buildings for the winter.
Fr. Gailland knew Brother at St. Mary's for 20 years and wrote his obituary. He said that in Br. Mazzella was joined a robust body and an eager soul completely subdued by divine grace. This self-mastery had not come easy, but only with great effort. He even used the hair shirt, discipline, and fastings to master his natural tendencies. He was extremely frugal in eating, and constantly abstained from that which was most delicious. His mild manners and meekness were not the result of nature, but of years of effort. Sometimes nature would get the better of him and he would lose his temper; immediately he would break into tears and beg for pardon. The good brother acquired the virtues of a holy life: patience, humility, self-sacrifice, love of prayer, union with God.
Br. Mazzella was infirmarian to both the Indian boys and the mission staff, and was so prudent and composed that he could do the work of two. He nursed the sick with utmost kindness, stayed with critical cases day and night, and his very presence alleviated their sufferings. In later life he had infirmities of his own, but only his superiors knew of them. He could never say "no" to any request, putting himself out in any way to help another.
Three months before his death he predicted when it would come; the day before he died he begged another brother to watch by his bedside during the night, insisting it would be his last. Repeatedly he asked if the clock had yet struck three, and precisely at 3:00 a.m. of May 9, 1867, he rendered his soul to God.
Brother Peter Karleskind
He was one of those brothers commended by Fr. Diels, the fourth superior of St. Mary's. Fr. De Smet said that the words spoken of St. John Berchmans could be applied to this fervent brother, "He did everything well." Gardener, baker, refectorian, sacristan, or teacher, he threw himself into the duties assigned him. He had begun his career in St. Joseph's parish school in St. Louis and continued at St. Mary's where he was prefect and teacher of the Indian boys for 14 years. Fr. Gailland wrote that he did everything for the boys: washed them, combed them, cared for them in sickness like a mother -- not avoiding the most repugnant nursing tasks. His bed was in a narrow space between the two children's dormitories, where he often had to breathe the fetid air. A native of Lorraine whose native tongue was German, Brother had to teach English to the boys and was often taunted by them about his poor pronunciation. He suffered patiently, always with a serene expression. He took all orders or reprimands with humility, ate with extraordinary moderation, loved poverty, was affable to all and loved by all. Asked if he would like a change of assignment, he replied "My only desire is to live and die in the place and employment to which it pleases holy obedience to assign me." He always loved poverty, and died in its arms in his narrow little closet of a room in his 61st year on September 8, 1862, the birthday of Our Lady. He was laid to rest here, in her place that he had served so well.
Brother Daniel Doneen
He was born at Munster, Ireland, December 25, 1813, and entered the Society in 1841. Although uneducated, he had a superior intelligence and was the efficient supervisor of the mission farm. His manners were affable and all who made his acquaintance gave him their friendship. After a long illness he died serenely on June 7, 1866, and was buried at St. Mary's.
Brother Sebastian Schlinger
A Swiss born in 1803, he had been in service in the French army and under arms in defense of his beloved homeland. Entering the Society in 1838, he brought his military promptness and unquestioning obedience. The sound of the bell was like the trumpet calling him to battle. At St. Mary's he was charged for years with the duty of ringing the bell for community exercises, and was never known to have rung it even a minute late! Even in his death agony he made the usual responses to the evening prayers, and admonished the attending brother when it was time to sound the bell. Fr. Gailland wrote that he lay on his deathbed, not as a man about to die, but rather as one taking a casual rest, from which he entered into eternity on August 8, 1866, and was buried here.
Brother Louis De Vriendt
Born at Ghent, Belgium, February 24, 1820, he entered the Society in 1840, and came to St. Mary's in the early 1850's where he remained until his death April 8, 1883. Dedicated to St. Mary's, he wrote a biography of Fr. Gailland, which remained in the Jesuit archives in manuscript. His English spelling and syntax were said to be full of whimsicalities, but his writings contain side-lights of St. Mary's colorful history, and sketches of Indian characters, that appear in no other source, including the story of the death of Fr. De Coen. Br. De Vriendt's stone can be found in Mt. Calvary, in the central circle facing south, but the inscription is so weathered that little can be read beyond his name.
Brother Edmund Barry
He worked at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, where Fr. Duerinck mentions him building and whitewashing stone walls. Fr. Van Quickenborne mentions him at the beginning of the Kickapoo Mission as being a famous hand to work, but not used to the Western country. On the steam boat the water of the Missouri made him sick; also, the salt provisions did not agree with him, but he bore all with courage.
Brother George Miles
He was a native of Bardstown, Kentucky, of that sturdy Catholic stock whose faith was the result of the labors of Fr. Nerinckx. His parents emigrated to Missouri, near St. Louis, where their farm adjoined the Jesuit property. Br. Miles always remembered the eventful day when the first fathers and novices arrived. From childhood, he observed their labors and was drawn to join them. Admitted to the Society in 1827, he was a Jesuit for 58 years. He went out on the first Kickapoo mission, and arrived at the Sugar Creek Mission August 29, 1841. When that mission was to be relocated, he was sent with Br. Ragan to prepare buildings for Fr. Hoecken on Mission Creek (south of St. Mary's) where the Indians first settled before the Fathers chose the site of St. Mary's. After the St. Mary's site was chosen, Fr. Verreydt sent Br. Miles back to Sugar Creek to prepare for the move, and he was in the first group who arrived at the new St. Mary's on September 9, 1848.