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Hailandiere Resigns (1847)

Today is the day that the guy everyone loved to hate, resigned … On this day in 1847, Celestine de la Hailandiere resigned as the second Bishop of Vincennes. Through the years he has been vilified, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. It seems to me that the further we get from the events of that time (1839-1847) the more we realize that we do not know the whole story. We seem to have applied 21st century standards on a 19th century person.

hailandiereYes, it is true the Bishop Hailandiere mistreated many of his priests and people, and especially, the most prominent person in our Indiana Catholic history, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. And yet, without dismissing those facts, it is important to remember that Hailandiere, just like his predecessor, Servant of God, Simon Brute, came to this country with a lot of baggage, and that baggage did not consist of material things.

Hailandiere was a Gallican, and that is, in a nutshell, and in my humble opinion, one of the reasons why he saw his episcopal power as something that put him in control of things. The difference between Hailandiere and Brutés version of Gallicanism, again, in my opinion, was that Brute used his episcopal power to gently guide those around him and Hailandiere used his power to control those around him. To paraphrase Fr. Robert Gorman, Hailandiere saw his priests as “Religious subjects”. ((Robert Gorman, The History of the Catholic Church in Indiana. Unpublished manuscript – original located in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)) That kind of sums it up.

His treatment of Saint Mother Theodore helped to show her true spirit and determination. If she had lived and died without the obstacles that she met, among them, the controlling nature of Bishop Hailandiere, then she may have never been recognized for her saintly character.

John F. Fink, editor emeritus of the Criterion, the official news organ of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, wrote, in 2006:

Mother Theodore’s greatest problem from 1843 to 1847, though, concerned her relationship with Bishop de la Hailandiere. Even before she left for France, it was clear that the bishop believed that he possessed total control over the Sisters of Providence, despite what the community’s rule said. Mother Theodore often had to oppose his decisions as they affected her community, always doing so as respectfully as possible.

While she was in France, Bishop de la Hailandiere took over the community. He admitted novices to vows, closed the school the sisters had established in St. Francis-ville, Ill., received three nuns from another community, opened a new establishment, and called for the election of a new superior””all without input from the sisters and contrary to the community’s rule. He hoped that the sisters would elect a different superior, but they re-elected Mother Theodore.

After her return, Mother Theodore’s meetings with Bishop de la Hailandiere grew more and more contentious, often lasting for hours. Sometimes the bishop berated her for her leadership of the community, and other times he insisted that he did not want to be involved in the affairs of the community.

The diocese still owned the property at St. Mary-of-the-Woods and, at times, the bishop would promise to give it to the sisters and other times would refuse to do so. He insisted on an”Act of Reparation” from the sisters because he believed that they had spoken out against him to his superiors.

The matter reached its climax on May 20, 1847. After visiting her establishments, which by then were scattered from one end of Indiana to the other, Mother Theodore went to meet with Bishop Hailandiere. During that meeting, the bishop insisted that Mother Theodore agree to everything he proposed and then left the room, locking the door as he left.

That night, when two sisters arrived to see where Mother Theodore was, Bishop Hailandiere released her, but then declared to her and the sisters that Mother Theodore was no longer the superior.

Furthermore, he said, she was no longer a Sister of Providence. He demanded that she leave his diocese and forbade her to return to St. Mary-of-the-Woods. ((From the “Criterion” online, September 29, 2006 — https://www.archindy.org/criterion/local/2006/09-29/fink.htm))

In many ways, this time of trial, as the Sisters called it, was a grace filled period in Indiana Catholic history. In her 1933 thesis, Sister Lawrence Connor wrote:

With the change of Bishops, troubles ceased for the Community at st. Mary-of-the-Woods. Nothing that came before, nor anything that might come after, could equal the suffering caused by the difficulties with Bishop Hailandiere. Ever after the Sisters referred to this period as “the days of our trial,” but they were more than that–they were the seed time, the preparation for the growth that was to follow. ((Gonner , Lawrence, “A History of the First Fifty Years of the Sisters of Providence in the United States” (1933). Master’s Theses . Paper 193. http://ecommons.lucedu/luc_theses/19))

So, on this day, we should probably give thanks to God for the sacrifices and work of Bishop Hailandiere. At the same time, we can also give thanks to God for guiding our young diocese through those turbulent times and for giving Bishop Hailandiere the grace to make the decision to resign. For, without his resignation, who knows what would have happened to the Catholic Church in Indiana. We also give thanks for the sacrifices of those who served under him. Not only Saint Mother Theodore and the Sisters of Providence, but also the priests, like John Corbe and some of the overlooked heroes of the early Church in Indiana. Father Simon Lalumieré, first priest of the diocese and Vicar General. He certainly must have had an opinion on all of this. Father Anthony Deydier, who had come to Indiana at the urging of Bishop Brute. Did he feel like getting back on the boat and returning to France? They too probably suffered under the leadership of Hailandiere. But they most certainly saw another side of the embattled bishop. One that showed his true love of the Church in Indiana. That is why I believe that even though he left Indiana, his wish was that his body be returned, more than 30 years later, to be buried in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier.

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