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More Forgotten Missionaries

In my last post I spoke of the story of Fr. Stanislaus Buteaux. I termed him a “Forgotten Missionary”. By that I mean that these were people who had the desire to serve the Church in Indiana, but for one reason or another they did not stay. With Buteaux it appears that he ran into the authoritarian rule of the second bishop, Celestine de la Haiandieré

I’ve written about John Claude Francois previously His desire to serve in the American missions and his, perhaps, rude awakening once he was faced with reality. Francois came up against the will of Haiandieré as well, but in his case he was ready to leave while Bishop Brute was still alive.

More beneficial to the Church in Vincennes, at least for a few years, was the offer of his priestly services made by John Claude Francois of the Diocese of Verdun in France. Mindful of the need of sacred ministers in Indiana, the Propaganda recommended him to Bishop Brute and paid the expenses of his passage. Six years later, in 1841, however, Frangois complained to the Propaganda of the opposition, persecution, calumnies and contradictions that he had suffered (and apparently also provoked by his moral rigidity) among uninstructed and uncultured backwoodsmen; he asked to be sent to another mission less well furnished with priests, particularly because he eagerly desired to work among the savages, who had been forced to depart from Indiana. Leaving the actual decision to the Propaganda, he suggested either the country across the Mississippi or the state of Mississippi as more congenial places for his labors. He made this request also in the name of a fellow-priest, Julien Delaune, who wished to accompany him. Assuming the purity of their motives, the Cardinal Prefect praised and approved their proposal, but he reminded them that they still needed the consent of the bishops of both Vincennes and Natchez in order to effect the transfer. Brute s successor, however, Bishop de la Hailandiere, viewed the matter differently and denied them permission to quit the diocese, because in his opinion granting it would have meant condoning their insubordination, disedifying their confreres and depriving the diocese of their useful service.T Not only did De la Hailandiere withhold his consent, but when he learned that Francois was about to appeal again to the Propaganda, he also refused him money for his food and clothing which was not supplied him by his poor parish. Then upon the advice of his fellow-priests Francois in desperation simply fled to Natchez, where Bishop Chanche gave him shelter but no faculties; soon the Bishop of Vincennes, resigning himself to the fait accompli, granted him the desired exeat on the express condition that he should narrate the whole affair to the Propaganda. This he did gladly and frankly. 1

Before Francois left Indiana he had served the diocese very well, in the town of Logansport and Fort Wayne and other areas. He is also believed to be the first priest to celebrate Mass in Indianapolis. Herman Alerding writes:

It can be set down as a fact testified to by several old residents yet living that the holy sacrifice of the mass was offered in the city of Indianapolis as early as the year 1835. It took place in “Power’s Tavern,” located on West Washington street. Among those present in the room of the tavern were: James Ferriter, a well known contractor. Douglas O’Reilly, who served at the altar, and Thomas K. Barrett, from whose communication to a city paper some of these items are gleaned. Drs. Stipp and Richmond, non-Catholics, were also present. The priest offering the mass was the Rev. Claude Francois, who was living and laboring among the Indians near Logansport, this State. He was a native of France, and one of the first priests that accompanied Bishop Brute to Vincennes. From this field of labor he went to the Diocese of Natchez, and afterwards joined the congregation of the mission. He died at Lafourche, La., on July 20. 1849, aged about 45 years. His character was that of the good priest and laborious missionary. 2

Another missionary to Indiana, but no longer forgotten. According to the Archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, He served at the Cathedral of Natchez, until he became the second pastor of St. Elizabeth’s Church, Paincourtville. He died at Assumption Seminary of cholera on this day, July 20, 1849. +R.I.P.+

  1. Trisco, Robert Frederick. 1962. The Holy See and the nascent church in the Middle Western United States, 1826-1850. Roma: Gregorian University Press. pp.174-75[]
  2. Alerding, Herman Joseph, and Francis Silas Chatard. 1883. History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes. [Indianapolis]: [Printed for the author by Carlon & Hollenbeck]. p.140[]

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