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Hailandiere Resigns

For any number of reasons, this anniversary of Celestine de la Hailanidere’s resignation as Bishop of Vincennes in 1847 has gained some national attention, albeit in a somewhat negative way.

I have to say that when I first heard of the bishop’s resignation and the stories of his relationship with Mother Theodore, Fr. Sorin and others, I fell into that trap of just dismissing him as another one of those power hungry members of the hierarchy who overrated themselves and expected everyone to bow down and show them respect based solely on their position.

Over the years I have come to know a different person. A person who was flawed in many ways, but also a man who sacrificed much in the history of the Catholic Church in Indiana.

Recently, Fr. Jim Martin SJ, an article about Mother Mary McKillop an Australian Nun who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. In 1871 she was officially excommunicated by her local bishop, on the grounds that she “‘she had incited the sisters to disobedience and defiance.”. Fr. Martin went on to use the example of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin when he said:

“The idea of a holy woman who had been at loggerheads with the hierarchy–and was even excommunicated–is not new in the annals of the saints. The most recently named American saint, Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, was once locked into a room in a rectory by her bishop, who was infuriated by her (similarly) independent spirit.”

Yes, it is true that Bishop Hailandiere locked Mother Theodore up in a room and yes it is true that he acted as a tyrant not only with the Sisters of Providence, but also with Fr. Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, and with his own priests.

There is no doubt that Bishop Hailandiere had many difficulties — personal and otherwise. He probably should have never become the Bishop of Vincennes, however, Bishop Brute recommended his name, among others, as coadjutor of the new diocese. As mentioned earlier, Bishop Hailaindiere had confrontations with his priests as well. This was the reason many of them left the diocese (which was not a forbidden practice back then). Many, however, stuck it out and saw it through to the end when Bishop Hailadiere chose to resign, mainly because he realized that he did not have the support of his priests or other bishops.

In reading the writings of the day, it becomes clear that there were problems. The fact that these problems were written about is important, especially in the 19th century Church. Hailandiere wanted to do everything himself. Psychologists would have to investigate the man and I don’t intend to psychoanalyze him here. Rather than demonize him, I wish to point to those things which he did that built up the Church in Indiana. Mother Theodore herself said, in a letter she wrote to French bishop Bouvier, her sounding board and mentor. She wrote:

“I have much to suffer from my superior. He possesses a disposition calculated to make a maryr of its possessor but still more of thos who must bear with him. I say nothing more about this, for he is the Bishop. He is moreover so pious, so humble, so zealous for the welfare of religion and in particular for our house that I feel it a duty for us to throw a veil of these faults which he laments before God and which to no belong to the essentials. I must say nevertheless that he is jealous of his authority and wants to do everything himself.” [Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods p.232 A letter to Bishop Bouvier in 1842]

It should be made clear that Bishop Hailaindiere loved his diocese and it was because of that love that after his death in 1882 his body was brought back to Vincennes for burial.


Categories: Postings.