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November 1, 2012 – All Saints

Happy Feast of All Saints!!

First, this month marks the 249th anniversary of an item that I have not found too many references to. It was in November of 1763, the same year that the British and French ended the French-Indian wars, that the kidnapping, in the nighttime, of Fr. Julien Devernier SJ, (Devernai, Duvernay), then pastor of St. Francis Xavier, Vincennes, by an armed force from Louisiana. The church property and all records were carried off to New Orleans. 1. This was connected with the suppression of the Jesuits in Louisiana. Jacob Piatt Dunn, in his book, Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood “Indiana and Indianans” wrote:

The Jesuits who served at Vincennes after Father Meurin were Father Peter du Jaunay in 1752, Father Louis Vivier in 1753, and Father Julian Devernai in 1756. After the suppression of the Jesuits in France, on June 9, 1763, the Superior Council of Louisiana issued a decree suppressing the Jesuits of the Province, forbidding their performance of religious functions, ordering all their property except the personal clothing and books of the priests to be seized and sold at auction, and the priests themselves to be expelled from the Province. This was a high-handed proceeding as to the country north of the Ohio, which had been ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763, but the British had not taken possession, and the order was enforced to the letter. Father Devernai was dispossessed at Vincennes and shipped down the river with the Illinois Jesuits. All of the mission property was sold at auction. 2

In his unpublished history, Father Robert Gorman wrote:

On June 29, 1763 M. d’Abbadie and M. de la Freniere (?) arrived in New Orleans; the former, appointed Controller of Louisiana to succeed the last governor Kerlerec and to conduct the affairs regarding the cession to the Spanish and English authorities; the latter was procurator-general of the Superior Council of the colony. Under de la Freniere’s influence, the Jesuits were cited before the Council and condemned, the Council after examining the Institut, issuing on July 9, 1763, a decree for their suppression. This decree, similar to the decree of the Parliament of Paris required that all the property of the Jesuits with few exceptions, should be seized and sold at auction; that in the Illinois their chapels were to be demolished and their chapel ornaments and sacred vessels given to the royal procurator for the region; and that the members of the Society should return to France. There is some doubt regarding the legality of this decree as technically French jurisdiction had ceased with the Treaty of Paris some months before and as if, has been asserted, the decree extended to the Jesuits in Michigan, it is doubly doubtful as the Louisiana jurisdiction had never been extended to the Northwest. The decree was executed promptly against the Jesuits in New Orleans and a. courier was sent to carry it to the Illinois Country.

On the night of September 23, 1763 the courier arrived at Fort de Chartres and steps were taken immediately to execute the decree. On November 6, 1763 their property at Kaskaskia was sold. In the meanwhile Father Forget du Verger in charge of the parish of the Seminary Priests in Cahokia, had become panic stricken, witnessing the spoliation of the Jesuits and, obsessed with the thought that the holdings of the Seminary of Foreign Missions would be forfeited to the British government, he determined to salvage what he could and return to France with the Jesuits. The sale of this property occurred about the same time. The decree of banishment likewise reached Vincennes where Father Duvernai, though he had been ill with fever for six months, was still at his post. He had signed his last parochial record October 17,1763. Cauthorn writes that the emissaries kidnapped him late at night and were prevented from destroying the church for fear of arousing the people, but Father Watrin. in his record of the event, Simply states:

It was at that time that the Jesuits of Illinois saw their associate. Father de Vernay, arrive; he came from the post of St. Ange seventy or eighty leagues distant. The order to carry out the decree had been sent there also; this order was so exactly followed that from the seizure and sale of his possessions they did not except a little supply of hazelnuts which was found in his house. Meanwhile. Father de Vernay had had the fever for six months; it remained with him until his arrival in France, six months later. This was no reason for deferring’ his departure; the order to leave had been given, and how could he have remained in a house stripped of furniture and possessions? He set out on his way; it was then the month of November; he had to travel across very wet woods and prairies; exposed to the cold and rain.

Thus ended the Jesuit regime at Vincennes. At neither Vincennes nor Kaskaskia were the chapels destroyed f1nd the church lands in Vincennes were not alienated. A pious layman, Philibert, assumed the guardianship of the church property there. De Vernay joined the band consisting of the Superior Watrin, Aubert. Cure of Kaskaskia and Meurin, with the refugees, Salleneuve and de la Morinie and the Sulpician Du Verger. They embarked on the Mississippi November 24, 1763, arrived at New Orleans shortly before Christmas and on February 6, 1764 sailed for France. In the Illinois there were only three priests: the brothers, Hippolyte and Luc Collet, Recollects at Fort Chartres and Abbe Gagnon at Cahokia. With these may be mentioned the Jesuit, Father Pierre Potier who stayed on at Detroit. The Jesuits had been interested primarily in the Indian missions from the days of Allouez to those of Watrin. Many Indians, of course, remained in the Illinois and Wabash countries but the race was declining in power and numbers. In 1763 the West presented the picture of desolation, of ruined, sullen tribes and deserted missions which were never fully reconstructed. The banishment of the Jesuits had ended an heroic epoch in the history of the West. 3

You can also read another account of this story including the kidnapping of Fr. Julien Devernier SJ online from the Illinois Historical Society. 4

The second item has to do with the “Old Cathedral” and the building of the first church on the present site in 1702. This also comes from Henry Cauthorn’s book, the “History of the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier”. However, there isn’t much in the way of proof that this actually happened since the earliest parish records “only” go back to about 1749.

The last item with regard to the “Old Cathedral” has to do with Servant of God, Simon Brute who, on November 5, 1834, at 5:00 P.M. took possession of the Cathedral of Vincennes as the new bishop of the new diocese. He celebrated pontifically for the first time on the following Sunday, November 9, 1834. [Cauthorn p. 228]. Brute had just recently been consecrated as the new Bishop of Vincennes in St. Louis, on October 28, 1834.

  1. Henry S. Cauthorn, Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral, Vincennes Indiana, p.228[]
  2. Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood By Jacob Piatt Dunn, George William Harrison Kemper Published by The American historical society, 1919 p.132[]
  3. Robert Gorman: History of the Catholic Church in Indiana, Unpublished manuscript[]
  4. Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the year – Volume 6 (Google eBook) — By authority of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, 1906[]

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