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Band of Missionaries — Part-1 – Vincent Bacquelin

    I want to begin to highlight what I call the “Band of Missionaries“, those people that Servant of God, Simon Brute brought back to Indiana after his trip to Europe in 1835-36. The arrival of these men was a defining moment in the history of the Catholic Church in the state of Indiana as well as the middle west.

Their arrival, of course, is only one part of the story. Religious women, especially the Sisters of Providence and others are also part of the story as well as the so-called “laity” who retained and maintained the faith when there were virtually no priests or religious to be seen.

At the time of Simon Brutés arrival in 1834 there was only one priest who had been “assigned” to the infant diocese. That was Simon Petit Lalumieré. Brute had the assistance of two other priests, Fr. Joseph Ferneding who was on loan from Bardstown and later Cincinnati and Fr. St. Cyr, on loan from St. Louis.

So it was that when Brute went to Europe in 1835-36, he returned with about 18 men, 1 some of whom were already ordained. I suppose this could be equated with winning the lottery. Robert Gorman, in his unpublished “History of the Catholic Church in Indiana” wrote:

“When Brute landed in New York he had twenty missionaries of whom he wrote: “All the individuals appear to be very apt because I chose them from a large number who presented themselves, only those who had the very best recommendations.” …The number and status of those coming to Vincennes present some difficulty becasue the accounts of the bishop himself are hard to reconcile. 2

One of the 18 was a man named Vincent Bacquelin. He was born in an area of France known as Clermont-Ferrand . Bacquelin was already ordained a deacon. It is unclear exactly how he met Bishop Brute, but Brute visited Lyon France which, although about 100 miles from Clermont-Ferrand, is still fairly close compared to Paris which is almost 400 miles away. Bacquelin

After their arrival in the United States in July of 1836, Bacquelin and approximately four others were sent to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland to finish their studies and to probably learn English. Gorman says that Bacquelin and Julian Benoit were also sent to St. Mary’s in Baltimore for a time.

Bacquelin was ordained at Mount St. Mary’s on April 25, 1837 by Bishop Brute. In August of 1837, Brute sent him to minister to what basically consisted of central and south central Indiana. Based at St. Vincent’s in Shelby County, Bacquelin visited Rush, Shelby, Bartholomew and Marion County. He formed the first true community at Indianapolis. He also worked as far as Cambridge City and Richmond. Of course, Indianapolis was and is the capital city but in the earliest days of the diocese, the Catholic population was very small. That meant that there was no resident priest. The early missionaries to Indiana had to deal with many hardships. Cities and towns that are now small in comparison to the big cities, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Lafayette etc. were the backbone of the early diocese of Vincennes. We have seen that the early bishops wanted to move their see to a number of different places — Madison, Lafayette etc. River traffic dictated many of those places being considered.

In addition to all his other duties, Fr. Bacquelin also gave the annual retreat to the Sisters at Saint Mary of the Woods, including (Saint) Mother Theodore. Sister Mary Borromeo Brown describes it in her history 3

“The annual retreat was approaching, this year as all during the early years to be preached by one of the good French priests of the diocese, Father Vincent Bacquelin. This pious, devoted and zealous young priest had come to America with Bishop Brutés colony in 1836.

September 2nd will mark the anniversary of the death of Fr. Bacquelin in 1846. It seemed that many of the early missionaries, especially those who seemed to be so zealous, died before their time. While on a sick call in Rush County, Fr. Bacquelin was thrown from his horse against a tree and was killed instantly. He was buried at St. Vincent’s Shelby County.

The United States Catholic Magazine in 1846 posted the following obituary:

On the 18th September, Rev. Vincent Bacquelin, of the diocess of Vincennes, aged thirty five years.

We learn this afflicting news from a letter from the Rt. Rev. Bishop of Vincennes, who says : “He was a regular, zealous, and pious priest, whose deportment had ever been most edifying. Only six days ago I had left him full of health, and quite rejoiced at the prospect of seeing soon accomplished the desire of his heart, as measures were in progress for commencing the erection of a large and beautiful church at Indianapolis. The congregations which he served are filled with sorrow by his death. The priests of the diocess, who were all his friends, lament him with tears, as does his bishop. The Rev. Mr. Baquelin was a native of the diocess of Clermont, in France, and was educated in the seminary of that diocess, where he acquired much distinction by his proficiency in the various branches of ecclesiastical learning. He came to America with the late venerable Bishop Brute, and was ordained priest at Baltimore. He has been nearly ten years laboring in the missions of Indiana, and when thus summoned to give an account of his stewardship, and receive the reward of his sacrifices and labors, he was only in the thirty-fifth year of his age.” The faithful, in their charity and piety, are requested to remember him in their prayers. 4

To quote once more… The faithful, in their charity and piety, are requested to remember him in their prayers.

No better way to end this story…

If you ever get to Shelby County, get off I-74 at exit-119 and visit the grave of this missionary who gave his life for his people.

  1. The passenger list of the Francis Depau lists 20 men, including Brute. Albert Ledoux, in his dissertation, “Ledoux, Albert Henri. 2005. The life and thought of Simon Bruté, seminary professor and frontier bishop.” says that there were 11 priests, 2 deacons, 2 sub-deacons, 3 in minor orders and 2 ‘other’ solid candidates[]
  2. Fr. Robert Gorman, “History of the Catholic Church in Indiana“. Unpublished manuscript, Archives, Archdiocese of Indianapolis, n.d.[]
  3. History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods, New York: Benziger Brothers, 1949[]
  4. The United States Catholic Magazine and Monthly Review. 1846. [Baltimore, Md.]: [J. Murphy].[]

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