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Stanislaus Buteux

More forgotten missionaries:

There are so many forgotten people, men and women, who either lived in Indiana or came here from other places, who served the Church and the People of God and helped to build the Church here.

Some will never be remembered, partly because we don’t know who they were and partly because of the fact that there isn’t enough information out there, but if we are to be true to our mission as Church, then we have to occasionally look back and remember.

In 1836, Servant of God Simon Brute went back to France to recruit clergy for his nascent diocese. The group that accompanied him back to Indiana included two future bishops as well as a number of people who contributed a great deal to Catholicism in Indiana, the mid-west as well as other places.

One of these was Stanislaus Buteux

Stanislaus caught the eye of Bishop Simon Gabriel Brute, a Sulpician, who had recently been installed as the first bishop of the new diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. A missionary himself, Bishop Brute recruited Stanislaus for his new diocese. He ordained Father Stanislaus on May 28, 1836, and on the next day, Father Stanislaus offered his first Mass and said goodbye to his family in Paris as he set out with his new bishop for the Vincennes Diocese as a missionary. Buteux was a member of the Eudists, a number of whom accompanied Bishop Brute to Indiana in 1836.

Bishop Brute put young Father Stanislaus in charge of Catholics in Edgar County, IL, and Vigo County, IN. From 1837 to 1839, Father Stanislaus worked untiringly in the mission field as a circuit-riding preacher, ministering mainly to the German and Irish Catholic immigrants in the area around Terre Haute. He celebrated Mass and offered the sacraments in their homes until he was able to organize the people to build churches. In 1839, for example, he built St. Joseph’s brick church in Terre Haute and a frame church at Thralls Station, five miles from Terre Haute. That church was named Ste. Marie des Bois, well known today as St. Mary of the Woods. Father Stanislaus recruited the Sisters of Providence to come from France to teach school there. On October 22, 1840, he personally met six emigrant missionary nuns as they completed a 102-day journey from northern France by merchant ship, rail, steamboat, stagecoach, and wagon. He escorted Sister Theodore Guerin and her five companions by ferry across the Wabash River and then by wagon to a remote 27-acre wooded chapel site. He then helped them establish St. Mary of the Woods College, the nation’s oldest Catholic women’s liberal arts college. Father Stanislaus worked as a day laborer to help the sisters build their first academy, and in July 1841, he blessed the school. As a missionary priest, he well knew that education was the key to any lasting work of evangelization, and he had quickly learned the value of a good Catholic school for that purpose.

Father Buteux served as the sisters’ chaplain for four years, inspiring all of them by his courage, his simplicity of life, and his apostolic zeal. Mother Theodore Guerin, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 2006, 1 was the first superior of the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary of the Woods College in the Vincennes Diocese of Indiana, the sisters’ first establishment in America. This educational missionary who answered Father Buteux’s call praised him as follows:

“œThis zealous priest lives in a little hut which is only ten feet wide and twelve feet long. The furniture consists of the altar and a miserable pallet at the opposite side of the room; two small tables, one covered with books, the other used as a writing desk; a trunk, and an old chair. In these environments has this Parisian dwelt for four years””he who was brought up in the comfort of the most opulent city of Europe; where, now in the flower of his manhood and with his brilliant education, he might be one of the most prominent in ecclesiastical circles. The Archbishop of Paris made him the most advantageous offers to retain him there; but he refused everything to come and work and suffer for his God, and to gain souls for His heavenly kingdom. This truly apostolic man told me laughing that he had yet to learn where the trials and privations are.” 2

I’m unsure whether Fr. Buteux could claim all these accomplishments. For example, it wasn’t he who recruited the Sisters of Providence, but it was he who assisted them once they arrived in Indiana. As was the case with many of those early missionaries, the actions of the second Bishop, Celestine de la Hailandiere, caused many to rethink their commitment. If you read the stories from that time, it appears that many suffered from illnesses. I would venture to say that in some cases, their illness was either caused by the pressure exerted by Hailandiere, or it simply served as an excuse (albeit a valid excuse) for them to move on.

It has been pointed out before that the rules that tie a priest to a particular diocese were much less stringent back then. Names like Michael Shawe, August Martin and others found themselves at odds with the bishop. Saint Mother Theodore even considered a move to the Detroit diocese.

Father Robert Trisco wrote:

A few years later another French priest incardinated in the Diocese of Vincennes, Stanislaus Buteux, also endured rigorous treatment at the hands of Bishop de la Hailandifere* Because of his poor health Buteux wished to enter the Diocese of Natchez, for he knew from personal experience and medical advice that he could recover his strength only in a milder climate. Bishop Chanche was willing to accept him too, provided that De la Hailandiere would release him. Since the latter refused, however, to give him an exeat, he came to Rome in February, 1846, and presented his plea to Cardinal Fransoni. Although the Prefect assured him that his bishop could not be opposed to a change recruited bv his physical condition. De la Hailandifere still did not reply to his renewed request. Convinced that the severe bishop would never reply, Buteux, before leaving Paris later in the year, implored the Propaganda again to intervene on his behalf.” The Sacred Congregation would not arrogate to itself the bishop’s rights, but it consoled Buteux by announcing the acceptance of De la Hailandiere’s resignation and by promising to inform him as soon as possible of the successor’s appointment; then Buteux could handle the matter directly with the new bishop. “ Showing itself more helpful than it had indicated, nevertheless, the Propaganda in the very letter with which it notified John Bazin of his nomination to the See of Vincennes, advised him to reply kindly to Buteux and to grant his petition. Thus even if this well-intentioned missionary was lost to the Middle West, he was saved for another American diocese, for without the favor obtained through the Propa­ganda’s recommendation he would perhaps never have returned at all to the United States. 3

Buteux never returned to Indiana. He did, however return to the U.S. In 1847 he returned to the United States, but this time in the Diocese of Natchez, Mississippi. In 1859 he once again left the U.S. and returned to France. After another couple of years he returned to the U.S. in the Diocese of Boston, It was there that Father Stanislaus Buteux died on June 14, 1875, at the age of 66 years, 11 months.4

  1. Correction: Pope Benedict XVI Canonized her in 2006 []
  2. Life and life-work of Mother Theodore Guerin: foundress of the Sisters of Providence at St.-Mary-of-the-Woods, Vigo County, Indiana. 1904. New York: Benziger Bros. p 141-142 []
  3. Trisco, Robert Frederick. 1962. The holy see and the nascent Church in the Middle Western United States 1826-1850. pp. 175-176 []
  4. http://www.stmarybasilicaarchives.org/archives/biography/buteux.html []
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