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Moving the Bishop’s Chair…

In the last post, which was a re-run from 2012, we talked about how Bishop Francis Silas Chatard came to Vincennes to be consecrated in the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier, but then, within days, he moved to Indianapolis. He remained the Bishop of Vincennes for 20 years more, but he lived and worked in the capital city of Indianapolis, using Saint John the Evangelist Church as his cathedral.

Chatard, of course, had permission from Rome to move. In fact the second Bishop, Celestine de la Hailandiere was the first to seek permission to move. Fr. Robert Trisco, Catholic History Professor at the Catholic University of America wrote this in his 1962 dissertation.

Another city chosen as an episcopal see more because of its early Catholic population than because of its future expectations was Vincennes. In 1845 Bishop de la Hailandiere, acting on his own conviction and on the advice of many other bishops, explained to the Propaganda the necessity of moving his see to a better suited place. Vincennes was a little town situated at one end of the diocese and inhabited by barely 2,500 people; it offered neither support for the bishop nor brighter hopes for the time to come. Presuming the Holy See’s consent, De la Hailandiere then proposed two cities of about equal size but with different advantages “”- Indianapolis and Madison “”- for the honor. Without indicating its choice, the Holy See accorded the bishop the desired permission. Before De la Hailandiere could execute his project, however, he resigned the see. The bishop ‘…set to work to secure property in Indianapolis, waiting, however, to move his See there for further signs of its growth and more certain indications of future prosperity. But Indianapolis itself then would not grow; it was hardly as large as Vincennes, and the number of its Catholic inhabitants was so very small that a priest living in Shelby county visited it only once in three months to say Mass and administer the Sacraments to little more than half a dozen Catholic families, chiefly Germans, who met in a poor little frame building… He determined to remain in Vincennes.’ At the end of 1848 the next bishop, Maurice de St. Palais, inquired whether he could make use of the privilege granted to De la Hailandiere; of the two cities proposed he preferred Madison. Though the Holy See renewed the rescript for the change, the bishop encountered insuperable opposition to his project. It was not until 1898 that the see was officially transferred to Indianapolis, where the fifth bishop had fixed his residence as early as 1878. 1

So, Hailandiere, the second bishop had decided early on to move the see from Vincennes to either Indianapolis or Madison (Sr. Mary Carol Schroeder’s 1946 dissertation also included Lafayette Indiana.) This was partly due to the rapid growth in the State, but as Trisco explained above, Indianapolis did not grow as fast as expected and, of course, Hailandiere resigned in 1847. His successor, John Bazin, has precious little time to do much of anything before he died.

The next Bishop, Maurice de St.Palais also decided he wanted to move, but for a number of different reasons. Sister Mary Carol Schroeder OSF wrote:

As pastor of St. Michael’s, (in Madison Indiana), Father de St. Palais was very well liked. Through his missionary experience he had learned to identify himself with his people, adopting their ways and language. If he spoke the English language as well as he wrote it, he was the equal of the best educated native Americans. It was with sincere regret that he left Madison in December, 1847, to take up the duties of vicar-general at Vincennes. The hope of returning to St. Michael’s persisted even after his elevation to the episcupacy. Dissatisfied with the state of affairs, spiritual and material, at Vincennes, St. Palais seriously contemplated transferring the episcopal see to a more progressive town, preferably Madison. In truth, Vincennes had little more than the influence of tradition to justify its retaining the title of see city. Bishop Hailandiere had realized that and had successfully petitioned Rome for the right to establish his residence at Indianapolis, Lafayette, or Madison,”œ towns far more advantageously located than Vincennes. This same privilege was accorded to St. Palais. The Protestants of Evansville were desirous of having the new bishop locate in their city and tried to induce him to establish his residence among them but St. Palais had his heart set on Madison. He had already purchased an excellent lot there, suitable for the erection of a cathedral, but until such a building could be put up, St. Michael Church would serve as the cathedral. With this purpose in mind he asked that the congregation make two improvements: construct an addition to the church and build an episcopal residence. Furthermore, he suggested to Mother Theodore that the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence be moved to Madison. A final proposal was made, probably with the interest of St. Gabriel College in mind, to turn over St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and all the other buildings and property ot the church in Vincennes to the Jesuits of St. Louis. In selecting Madison as the probable new see, St. Palais did not display the discerning foresight that Hailandiere did when he singled out Indianapolis as the coming city in the state. The latter, being centrally located, was accessible from all parts of the state. Although in 1849 Indianapolis did not rival Madison in business, yet it was far more progressive than the river town which was already nearing the apex of its prosperity. Madison, on the other hand, had this advantage, that its Catholic population was older, better organized, and more capable oi providing a worthy residence and cathedral for the bishop. At Indianapolis Father John Guéguen found it extremely difficult to get sufficient money to build a plain little church. Another consideration in favor of Madison was St. Palais special predilection for the town and its inhabitants. While at St. Michael he had enjoyed the esteem and affection of the parishioners and on the occasion of his consecration they presented him with a massive gold pectoral cross and chain. It was far more desirable to live there among such a devoted flock than to go among strangers at the capital city, or to remain at Vincennes where the Creoles seemed indifferent to their bishop.
Although affection for Madison strongly influenced St. Palais in his choice, it was by no means the sole determinant. In Father Audran’s opinion it was the first and foremost reason; he assigned as additional reasons, the difficulty he has in maintaining himself at Vincennes: what he received from the Propagation of the Faith is almost nothing, and the properties of the Church are a burden to him rather than a source of profit. . . . On the other hand, he cannot count on the perquisite revenues of the congregation for his maintenance. The third reason is that he does not know what to do with the college which puts a 10,000 dollar burden upon him. With his affections, then, at Madison and finding there in the revenues of the congregation a sum almost sufficient already for his living [expenses] and counting especially upon the truly liberal spirit of the town, he would leave Vincennes which to him is a stranger, a degenerate people having no faith, no affection, and insolent. He would leave all, the college and congregation to the Jesuits. The Creole people of Vincennes are really so depraved, so bad that it is a shame for the bishop to have his see there among them. In spite of this undesirable situation, the news of the probable change aroused cries of protest. Father Du Pontavice, vicar-general and pastor at Madison, vigorously objected to the change; he had no desire to see Madison, his stronghold, transferred into episcopal hands. Father Corbe, several other priests, and Mother Theodore, too, put forth every effort to dissuade the bishop from leaving Vincennes.” It so happened that the opposition won out, and Vincennes, as retarded in economic life as it was apathetic in spiritual life, retained the title of episcopal see. The question of transfer was set aside, probably after the failure to procure the Jesuits, and attention was focused on the immediate problems of the hour, the care of the cholera stricken and of orphaned children. Americans had been aware of the fact that the cholera had been raging in Europe for some time, and it was with deep misgivings that they noted its spread. It was almost inevitable that America would eventually be affected through the immigration vessels carrying so many of Europe’s poor to these shores. Among the thousands who were leaving Europe for America it was very likely that there should be some among them who were infected. By the latter part oi 1848 and early January, 1849, the port cities reported the disease. It spread rapidly from seaport to river town, carried thither on the boats plying their trade from the big cities to the inland towns.’ Mother Theodore Guérin observed that it was these steamboats,”carriers of destruction,” that brought the cholera to Indiana.” As previously mentioned, the epidemic was very severe in New Orleans at the time of St. Palais’ consecration. Within a month the disease had spread to Indiana. The bishop announced that the Sisters of Providence would take care of those in Vincennes who should be affected by the epidemic. Mother Theodore instructed her sisters in all the missions to nurse the stricken.”œ The cholera had broken out in Madison in February, but fortunately, the attack was not serious in the toll of lives. Among the Catholic victims, only three died.” But when the warm weather came, the epidemic appeared in a more virulent form. In less than two weeks thirteen members of St. Michael congregation died.” Day and night Father Du Pontavice attended the sick and prepared them for death. The sisters had closed the school and were tending the cholera sufferers in their homes. There was some talk of converting the sisters’ residence into a temporary hospital. 2

  1. Robert Frederick Trisco, “The Holy See and the nascent church in the Middle Western United States, 1826-1850” Roma : Gregorian University Press, 1962. Analecta Gregoriana, v. 125.; Analecta Gregoriana., Sectio B. ;, Series Facultatis Historiae Ecclesiasticae., n. 21.[]
  2. The Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes, 1847-1877, Sister Mary Carol Schroeder OSF: Washington, Catholic University of America Press, 1946[]

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