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Bishop Hailandiere’ Resigns

For as long as I can remember, the Second Bishop of Vincennes’ name always came up as the “black eye” on the history of the Church in Indiana. Tomorrow, July 16th, is the day that this ‘black eye‘ — 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.

Fr. James Martin S.J. wrote a piece for the New York Times at the time that Mother Theodore was being canonized. He followed up with an article, five years later (2011) in America Magazine in which he said:

A few years ago I wrote a brief article for the op-ed page of The New York Times that described the incredible life of Mother Theodore Guerin, the newest American saint. Mother Guerin was born in 1798 in France, entered religious life and eventually journeyed to Indiana. There this remarkably determined woman founded the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods and started a college and several schools in the region. One might think that such zeal would have won her favor from the local bishop.

It did not. The idea of a strong, independent woman deciding where and when to open schools apparently offended the bishop of Vincennes, Ind., a man whose name sounds like that of a villain in a Victorian-era potboiler: Celestine de la Hailandiere. In 1844, when Mother Guerin was away from her convent raising money, the bishop, in a bid to eject her from the very order she founded, ordered her congregation to elect a new superior. Obediently, the sisters convened a meeting. There they re-elected Mother Guerin””unanimously. Infuriated, Bishop de la Hailandiere informed the future saint that she was forbidden to set foot in her own convent, since he, the bishop, considered himself its sole proprietor.

Three years later, Bishop de la Hailandiere demanded Mother Guerin’s resignation. When the exceedingly patient foundress refused, the bishop told her congregation that she was no longer its superior, that she was ordered to leave Indiana and that she was forbidden from communicating with her sisters. Her sisters replied that they were not willing to obey a dictator. At one point, the bishop locked Mother Guerin in his house until her sisters pleaded for her release. The situation worsened until, a few weeks later, Bishop de la Hailandiere was replaced by the Vatican. 1

This is my point — that Bishop Hailandiere was somehow a villain who tried to stop a future saint. It all sounds like some sort of intrigue and mystery. Yet, without taking anything away from Mother Theordore’s holiness and example, Celestine de la Hailandiere also led an incredible life filled with sorrow, pain, troubles and obstacles. We somehow forget that it was 1847, not 2016.

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 Bruté’s version of Gallicanism 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”. 2 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, (and overcame), 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. 3

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. 4

Others had problems with the Bishop. Fr. Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame was no stranger to Hailandiere’s wrath. It has been speculated that one of the reasons the University was founded at South Bend and not at Washington Indiana or Saint Francisville Illinois was partly because Sorin wanted to be as far away from the Bishop as possible.

There seems to be an undercurrent of belief, although no evidence exists that I am aware of, that most realized that Bishop Hailandiere would not be there forever. At teh same time, some, such as Father Michael Shawe, one of Bishop Brutés earliest recruits left the diocese. It was never stated exactly why, but one can deduce that part of the reason was the Bishop.

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 Lalumiere, 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? I am sure that they all probably suffered under the leadership of Hailandiere. But they most certainly saw another side of the embattled bishop and they knew that their own work went beyond the presence of one man. I honestly believe that Hailandiere truly loved 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.

  1. James Martin S.J. in America Magazine-November 2011 — NOTE: He was not replaced by the Vatican. He chose to resign. No one told him to do so. Sounds to me like the Holy Spirit was at work.[]
  2. Robert Gorman, The History of the Catholic Church in Indiana. Unpublished manuscript – original located in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.[]
  3. From the “Criterion” online, September 29, 2006 —[]
  4. Conner, Sister Lawrence, A History of the First Fifty Years of the Sisters of Providence in the United States (1933). Master’s Theses. Paper 1933. []

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