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More Forgotten Missionaries-Fr. JHB Seepe

In July of last year I posted about what I termed ““Forgotten Missionaires”. That was a post about Fr. John Claude Francois and it followed a post about Fr. Stanislaus Buteaux.

In this post I want to continue to introduce many of those forgotten missionaries — some from the earliest days of the diocese and some from later times. This is one of those — a young German immigrant named John Bernard Henry Seepe, a priest of the Diocese of Vincennes, ordained in 1859. His last assignment was as pastor of St. Mary’s in Madison Indiana.

Fr. Robert Gorman, writing about the hardships that the people of the diocese had experienced in those early days makes the deprivations that we are experiencing during this pandemic seem a little less severe.

Fr. Gorman wrote:

Most of the immigrants were young men and women. In the case of the Irish there was a preponderance of single men. It was not unusual, however, for whole German families to emigrate. The voyage often lasted from three to six months and ship agents often sold tickets for a certain ship and for a voyage six months before it sailed. In consequence, a number of citizens were born on shipboard. A typical story of such a migration is told in the biography of Father John B.H. Seepe:

John Bernard Henry Seepe was born in Loechtenburg, a farm house, one and one-half miles from Bersenbruck, in the Protestant parish of Gerde, Hanover, Germany, August 4, 1820. The femi1y came to America in 1836. They started from Bersenbruck in company of about twenty or twenty-five souls on August 15, 1836 (Monday) and reached Bremen at noon on the 16th. They went sightseeing in the afternoon, at which the six year old boy got lost. Before he became aware that he was lost his father found him looking and wondering at “The big St. Christopher” (a twenty foot stone statue) at the entrance to the Bremen Rathskeller. On Wednesday, August 17, their ship sailed, and sailed nine weeks, stopping only one dark night on the French coast in the Channel to take on some fifty more passengers than the law al1owed the ship to carry. For this reas on food was rationed out from the start. Especially the a1lcwance of drinking, water towards the last grew so small that those who were not very careful with it suffered greatly.

During the last half of the journey, young Bernerd’s little sister was born and his mother suffered much from thirst. The 1ittle lad hunted up a small tin can, tied a string to it and when no one watching he would fish water for his mother through the bunghole of the water casks.

They landed in Baltimore on Wednesday, A.M. October 19, 1836, and started for Wheeling on the 20th A.M. all walking except the small children and a few infirm women, who were perched on top of the baggage wagons. It was just: in the time of ripe apples and the seventeen days tramp to Whee1ing was all one great feast for Bernard. Saturday, November 5, P.M. the,I reached Whee1ing. They started down the Ohio for Cincinnati on a steamboat Sunday morning, November 6. The state of the water in the river was very low, as usual that time of the year and the boat was aground on a bar nearly at every bend in the river. Pushing off and on again ever so many times they reached Broadway Wharf, Cincinnati, about 8 A.M. on St. Martin’s day (November 11) 1836. About the first thing that happened in Cincinnati was that little Gertrude, born at sea, went to heaven. The family lived on Sherry Alley (between Second and Third near Vine) till the spring of 1842. During these six years Bernard got a good very good Catholic school training in the Holy Trinity school, and his sister Elizabeth age 17 – 23 and his fatther, a strong man, earned and saved the means of purchasing and fitting up a farm of “eighty acres of Congress land two miles north of Enochsburg, in Decatur County, Indiana. At Enochsburg he cleared and planted and harvested about five years. What he liked most was patrolling the corn field with a gun in the fall to keep the squirrels off.

… The life and work of the immigrant settlers, especially the earlier ones, was no different from that of the Kentucky pioneers and they made the same adaptations tc their environment. Many of them, however, escaped the most rugged conditions by purchasing land already improved by the frontiersmen or by settling in neighborhoods. Food, shelter and clothing were largely the same but one or other peculiarity, such as the wearing of wooden shoes, was noticeable in some sections. They suffered from the same diseases but, in addition, the dread cholera which struck at intervals. Possibly the epidemics of erysipelas and influenza which occurred in the early forties are to be associated with them.

Charles Blanchard’s History of the Catholic Church in Indiana lists Fr. Seepe’s assignments:

Rev J. B. H. SEEPE, present pastor of St. Mary’s German church at Madison, Jefferson county, Ind., was appointed by Bishop Chatard April 22, 1881, and took charge on May 5. He was born at Bersenbruch, Hanover, August 4, 1830, and emigrated to this country August 15, 1836. He was ordained by Bishop de St. Palais at Vincennes as follows: Tonsure, April 15,1858; minor orders, November 21; subdeacon, November 30; deacon, December 3; priest, December 8, 1859. His missions were: Richmond, where he built St. Andrew’s church and school, 1859 to 1868; St. James, Gibson county, 1868 to 1875 St. Nicholas, Ripley county, 1875 to 1876; and Connersville, 1876 to 1881, when he was appointed to St. Mary’s.


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