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Early Failures-Difficult Conditions

Father Robert Gorman, in his unpublished history of the diocese said:

One reason for the manifest zeal and accomplishment of the pastors whom Brute located was the fact that he chose his clerics carefully and the concept of his mission administration would lack completeness without a brief notice of the men he rejected or censured. 1

I think it is important to give the whole picture as we remember those who helped to establish the Indiana Church. Last year I posted an article describing some of the early clergy who felt it necessary to leave the diocese, mostly because of the heavy handed administration of Bishop de la Hailandiere.

This post, however, is focused on some of those early members of the clergy or “wanna-be” clergy who were either rejected or left of their own accord, probably (or mostly) because they were unable to fulfill their duties in the difficult conditions that were experienced in the missions, or, in fact, in the determination of Bishop Brute and others.

When Simon Brute arrived in Vincennes in November of 1834 he was bishop of the entire State of Indiana as well as the eastern half of the State of Illinois. He had one priest assigned to the Diocese, Simon Petit Lalumiere. He had other priests who were serving the diocese on a temporary basis. Among these was Father John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr, serving the people of Chicago, but on loan from the Diocese of St. Louis. Fr. Joseph Ferneding, a priest of the Bardstown Diocese who served the (mostly) German Catholics in and around Dearborn County. 2 In addition, Fr. Stephen Badin, who was not actually tied to any particular diocese, was serving in northern Indiana and Fr. Louis DeSeille who served the Native Americans in northern Indiana was a priest of the Detroit diocese.

So, Brute was at a loss. He needed all the help he could get, but he was also trying to be very careful about who he allowed to serve in his diocese. The “Propagation of the Faith” in Rome, which provided many resources in the early days of the the American Church, is said to have sent a seminarian, an Irishman, named “Ratigan”. He accompanied Bishops Purcell and Flaget with Brute to Saint Louis. He came back to Vincennes with Brute and on December 23, 1834, Brute ordained him to Minor Orders. Ratigan (we do not know his first name), according to Fr. Gorman’s history “… did not measure up to the bishop’s standards. He was a rather persistent young man and had studied previously in two or three seminaries.” He says that Brute was “… convinced that he lacked not only proficiency in his studies, but also prudence…” so he dismissed him. Gorman says that Ratigan was probably ordained later “… in the east, and stopped for a short time at Floyd Knobs in the fall of 1837 on his way to St. Louis” 3 If he ministered in St. Louis, I could find no record of it.

Matthew Felix Ruff, whom Brute had known in Maryland arrived on the day that Ratigan left, early in 1835. Ruff had not received any Orders and Brute ordained him to Minor Orders, including the Diaconate, in April of 1835. His reception of Minor Orders is officially entered in the “Book of Ordinations” for the Diocese of Vincennes. Ruff was sent to St. Louis for a month and Bishop Rosati, of St. Louis, ordained him to the priesthood. Ruff returned to Vincennes and was sent to Fort Wayne because of his ability to speak English, German and French. At some point, Fr. Ruff apparently became disillusioned and he probably returned to France sometime in 1837. 4

the appearance or requests of potential priests made Brute wary. One such priest was Charles Laurence Picot He had been ordained to the priesthood in 1830 and had served in Vincennes while it was still part of the Bardstown Diocese. Picot apparently ministered well throughout the area, but it was his financial dealings that led to his demise. He spent some time in jail for not paying his debts and Bishop Chabrat, the coadjutor in Bardstown suspended him. Although he never actually served in the official “Diocese of Vincennes”, he sought entry, but Brute refused him. His unfortunate fall from grace came shortly after Bishop Brute was consecrated.

Just as some in the Vincennes Diocese sought to depart during the episcopate of Bishop Hailandiere, so too, the opposite happened after the arrival of Bishop Brute. Of course, Brute made his famous sojourn back to France in 1836 where he hand-picked priests and seminarians. This of course brought enormously talented individuals to Indiana. On the other hand, Rome and the “Propaganda” in an attempt to help Bishop Brute sent him individuals that he rejected. One such person was a German priest, Fr. John Baptist Domig. Brute had originally planned to bring Domig with him on his 1836 voyage back to America, but according to Fr. Robert Trisco, “Upon good advice… the bishop decided to leave Domig at Le Havre, alleging the priest’s age of forty-six as his only justification…”. 5

Another consideration was the fact that some of these missionaries brought their own “cultural” foibles. On example would be Fr. Jean Claude Francois, of the Verdun Diocese in France. He was recommended to Bishop Brute by Rome and Brute accepted him. He was an enormous help to the struggling diocese but by 1841 he was complaining to Rome about the “opposition, persecution, calumnies and contradictions that he had suffered (and apparently also provoked by his moral rigidity) among uninstructed and uncultured backwoodsmen..” 6. By this time, Brute was dead and Bishop Hailandiere refused him permission to leave the diocese, but Francois left anyway and went to the Natchez Mississippi diocese. Bishop Hailandiere eventually relented. This is yet another example of the problems that priests had with Hailanidere, but also that Hailandiere had with some of his priests.

So, we remember all those saintly men and women who served the Church in Indiana, but we also remember those who sometimes, either through no fault of their own, or because of human failure, did not serve. Either way, we remember all of them.

  1. Gorman, Robert. History of the Catholic Church in Indiana. Unpublished manuscript. pp.496-497[]
  2. see Alerding, Herman Joseph. 1883. A history of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes. Indianapolis: Carlon & Hollenbeck. p.128-29[]
  3. ibid[]
  4. ibid, p.496[]
  5. Trisco, Robert Frederick. 1962. The Holy See and the nascent church in the Middle Western United States, 1826-1850. Roma: Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana. p.172-73[]
  6. Trisco p.174[]

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