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Easter Sunday 1848

As we celebrate Easter this Sunday, it is good to look back at the Church in Indiana – Easter Sunday in the year 1848. In that year, Easter Sunday fell on April 23rd. It was a sad day, rather that a joyous one because it was on that day that Bishop Bazin died.

Bishop John Bazin

Bishop Jean Etienne Bazin, (pronounced “Bay-zon“) or his English name, John Stephen Bazin, was the third Bishop of Vincennes. He came to Indiana from the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama. He was named as Bishop of Vincennes after the resignation of Celestine de la Hailandiere. The time of Hailandiere had been a very difficult time for the diocese with a number of priests leaving the diocese, among them Fr. Michael Shawe and a number of others. Perhaps the worst thing that happened under Hailandiere involved Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods.

If you don’t know the story of Bishop Hailandiere and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, suffice it to say that she almost became a saint from Michigan. No need to go into all of that here.

Bishop Bazin brought reconciliation to the diocese and his arrival was a great relief to the clergy, religious and the people as well. Bazin had been consecrated Bishop of Vincennes in October 1847. He immediately began the process of healing. According to Fr. Robert Gorman:

Bazin planned an episcopal visitation of the diocese in the spring, beginning at Easter at St. Mary-of-the-Woods but in the meanwhile, during the Lent of 1848, he zealously devoted himself to pastoral duties at the cathedral. He, (Fr. Maurice de)St. Palais and (Fr. John)Chasse arranged to preach the Lenten sermons and when (Fr. Ernest) Audran fell ill, the bishop substituted for the pastor. The result was that he was in the pulpit two or three times a week. In addition to this, he spent long hours in the confessional which was thronged by penitents and “through his influence and kindness, many came who had not approached the sacraments for years.” It was extremely difficult for him to keep this schedule because of his declining health. In spite of this he regularly practiced all the penances prescribed. In addition to this, having so recently come from the South and not yet inured to the northern climate he had contracted a cold during the winter which was in no way alleviated by his long sessions in the damp and frigid confessional. On the morning of April 15, 1848, the day before Palm Sunday, he noticed among those receiving Communion at the Mass he celebrated, Mother Theodore who had arrived by steamboat the preceding night to begin the visitation of her establishments. Greetings were exchanged after his thanksgiving which, as usual, lasted half an hour and later in the day the Superior called on him to discuss a small point of disagreement. At two a ‘clook that afternoon the bishop went to the confessional, leaving it at eight o’clock after six oonsecutive hours. He was immediately attacked by a violent fever whioh obliged him to go to bed. The next morning, Palm Sunday, Doctor Baty was summoned. He announced that Bazin’s condition was serious; pneumonia had developed; and, though he exerted all possible effort, the patient’s condition did not improve. Bazin bore his sufferings with exemplary patience and humility, manifesting a constant interest and charity toward the welfare of those about him and the crisis came on the night of Holy Saturday, April 22-23. At five o’clock Saturday afternoon, Mother Theodore was summoned to bleed the patient. He asked for St. Palais and Audran with whom he was engaged for about an hour making a settlement of the temporal affairs of the diocese. The doctor was also summoned. At seven, he received the last sacraments – a rite which was administered with as much solemnity as possible in the presence of the group of priests which now included Chasse and of eight Sisters. The bishop gave a pious exhortation and, at the request of St.Palais, gave his last Pontifical benediction. He had already expressed the kindest sentiments toward Mother Theodore’s community, and it must have been about this time that he named St. Palais Adiministrator during the vacancy of the See, and gave him publicly marks of the greatest esteem and affection. At sometime during this final illness and probably during that night Bazin signed the deed by which the community of St. Mary’s was given possession of the property, promised by Hailandiere, thus ending one of the last difficulties remaining from the former regime. St. Palais remained with him throughout the night, at times alone, and at 6:20am on Easter morning the prelate expired in the presence of the Vicar General, Chasse, Mother Theodore, Sister Joachim and Doctor Thomas.

There was much real grief among clergy and laity, Catholics and Protestanta, when the death of Bazin, with its tragic suddenness, was announced. His ardent zeal and sanctity had aroused the most sanguine expectations about the good which his administration would bring to the diocese. During the short span allowed him he had faithfully followed the principles and had gone far to attain the ideals expressed in his pastoral. Certainly he had shared in the burdens of the ministry and was ambitious of no distinction. By his amiable characteristics he had endured himself to all. A mortuary chapel at the altar of which several priests celebrated Mass was set up in the parlor of the cathedral, where the body lay in state, while the news of the death was broadcast. A large number of priests were able to assemble for the funeral which was conducted by Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis on Thursday, April 27 and the remains were interred in the crypt of the cathedral where Brute had been buried. Thus, in six months’ time Bazin’s work was ended. The task he performed was chiefly that of averting the danger that had threatened the diocese in 1847. He had ravelled up the loose ends of administration, had made a final settlement of the affairs of the religious congregations, had reintroduced a spirit of unity and harmony and had laid the basis for the future institutions of the seminary and the orphanage. 1

Bazin represented, I believe, the boundary between the missionary Church in Indiana, and the establishment and large growth of the mid 1800’s. + R.I.P +

  1. Fr. Robert Gorman, Unpublished “History of the Catholic Church in Indiana” pp. 825-826[]

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