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August Bessonies – Pioneer Priest

February 22, is the anniversary of the death of Msgr. August Bessonies in 1901

There were many heroes of the “early” days of the Catholic Church in Indiana. Men and women who came here to proclaim the Gospel and who put up with terrible conditions. Many of those heroes died young. Saint Mother Theodore, Anthony Deydier, Benjamin Petit, and of course, our beloved Servant of God, Simon Brute.

Some of those heroes, however, lived a long life and who saw the humble beginnings of the Church become something much more. One of these was August Bessonies August Bessonies He was a true pioneer priest in the Diocese of Vincennes dying at the ripe age of 86. Here is an excerpt from “Reminiscences of a Pioneer Priest in the Diocese of Vincennes” which appeared in Blanchard’s “The History of the Catholic Church in Indiana”. It was transcribed by Ann Mensch.

RT. REV. AUGUST BESSONIES, V. G., of the diocese of Vincennes, was born at Alzac, department du Lot, France, on June 17, 1815. His first studies were at the Petit seminary of Montfaucon; thence he went to the seminary of Isse, near Paris, to study the classics and natural philosophy. While there Bishop Brute, first bishop of Vincennes, paid a visit to Isse, and although August Bessonies had already been received by the Lazarists for the foreign missions, by the advice of the celebrated Father Pinault, his directory, he offered his services to Right Rev. Bishop Brute for his diocese of Vincennes. The saintly prelate was pleased, and, stretching his arms around his neck, said : “I am happy at the project of seeing a new altar raised in my dear Indiana. But,” said he, “I have no seminary at Vincennes; stay at St. Sulpice for three years, until 1839, and then I will send for you.” So he did, and August Bessonies was at Havre, ready to embark in a sailing vessel, when he received the sad news of the good bishop’s death. He arrived at Vincennes October 21, 1839. He was then a deacon, too young to be ordained, but on the 22d day of February, 1840, Bishop de la Hailandiere, successor of Bishop Brute, ordained him a priest, and sent him to the forests of Perry county, although he had expressed a desire to be sent among the Indians near the town of Logansport. He spent twelve years in his first mission in Perry county, founded the town of Leopold, of which he became postmaster under James K. Polk, and built seven churches; two of stone–one at Cannelton and one at Derby–the others of log. The Right Rev. Mgr. August Bessonies, V. G. died at Indianapolis, on February 22, 1901.

Then there is this, an article that appeared in the New York Times on February 23, 1901:

Mgr. August Bessonies
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 22. The Right Rev. Mgr. August Bessonies died to-day at the residence of Bishop Chatard of the Catholic diocese of Indiana, where he had made his home for years. He was probably the best-known Catholic clergyman In the West. Born in France, June 17, 1815, he went to Vincennes, Ind, in 1839, at the instance of the first Bishop of Vincennes, who died the same year.
Mgr. Bessonies labored among the Indians In this State for ten years, was appointed Postmaster of Leopold, Perry County, under President Polk, and came to Indianapolis in 1857. He was Vicar General of the Diocese and in 1884 Pope Leo XIII named him Roman prelate. His diamond jubilee, or the sixtieth anniversary of his elevation to the priesthood, was celebrated here one year ago to-day by prominent clergymen from all parts of the country.
Father Bessonies was the best-loved and most widely revered man in Indiana. Ex-President Harrison said of him to-day:
I had Known Father Bessonies for many years. He was the very earliest representative of the Catholic clergy in the meetings and work of the Benevolent Society, where I used very often to meet him. He was a man of a very sympathetic nature and of liberal ideas. The result of all this was that he had warm friends in all the churches and outside the churches among our good people.

Published: February 23, 1901
Copyright: The New York Times

There is even more about Bessonies on the “web”. Here is one example of a Google Search for August Bessonies.

Lastly, Msgr. Bessonies has the distinction of being buried in the “Sacred Heart Chapel” of Saint John the Evangelist Church in downtown Indianapolis.


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