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Matthew Felix Ruff

On April 4th, in the year 1835, Bishop Simon Brute had his first ‘ordination’ as Bishop of Vincennes. It was not an ordination to priesthood, but rather to the Sub-Diaconate. The ordinand was Matthias Ruff. He was from the Alsace region and therefore he spoke French as well as German. Here is what Herman Alerding, in his “History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes” quotes Bishop Brute as saying:

At Fort Wayne they had finished one, 60×30 feet, and the congregation numbered 150 Catholic families. I was happy to send them the Rev. M. Ruff from Metz, in France, recently ordained and speaking the three languages, French, English and German. Of the latter there are a good many living there and in the environments. I had ordained Rev. M. Ruff subdeacon and deacon before my journey to Chicago, and had sent him to the Seminary of St. Louis (St. Mary of the Barrens), to make his retreat, and there he was ordained priest by that excellent prelate. Doctor Rosati.” 1

Ruff had come to Vincennes from Cincinnati apparently. In those days there was little any bishop could do to keep a priest or anyone from ‘moving on’ so to speak. In fact, Ruff left the Diocese of Vincennes about 1837, although Blanchard lists him in his work, History of the Catholic Church in Indiana in the 1837 directory. It says he was caring for Peru, Miamiport, Wabashtown, Salomic, and Gros. He reportedly returned to France, perhaps weary of the frontier. Gorman simply says “Ruff had taken French leave”. In their necrology, Frs. William Stineman and Jack Porter speculate that Fr. Ruff returned to France and that he died and was buried there. His name is missing from the 1839 Catholic Directory, which is the oldest “Official” Catholic directory that I’ve been able to find.

Father Gorman wrote the following in his history:

Felix Matthew Ruff. Ruff was a native of Metz, Lorraine, who had come to America before receiving any orders. he was a capable linguist, speaking French English and German, but with a “difficult and querulous character. Brute had known him previously in the Maryland seminary. Curiously, he arrived in Vincennes on the day that Ratigan departed, probably in January, 1835 and offered his services for the diocese. He accompanied the bishop on his trip to Edgar County in February, 1835. During the first week in April, 1835 Brute gave him minor orders and subdeaconship and on April 9, 1835 ordained him deacon. At first he planned to ordain him to the priesthood on Easter Tuesday but, instead, sent him to the seminary at the Barrens for a month. Rosati ordained him and when he returned to the diocese, Brute sent him to Fort Wayne where the church had been completed and the need for a resident pastor was the greatest. 2

The image above is a copy of the original Liber Ordinationum, or the official book of ordinations. It shows the Sub-Diaconate ordination of Ruff as the first entry. 3

Also, on April 8th, we celebrate the birth of Benjamin Marie Petit, the missionary to the Pottawatomi who died on his return from the “Trail of Death”. He was born on April 8, 1811 in Rennes, France. He was graduated from the University of Rennes in 1829 and attended law school, from which he graduated in 1832. In 1835 he entered the seminary of St. Sulpice 4

  1. Alerding, A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes, Indianapolis, 1883[]
  2. Fr. Robert Gorman, Unpublished manuscript[]
  3. Courtesy of the Archives, Archdiocese of Indianapolis[]
  4. McKee – Trail of Death, p26[]

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