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The Resignation and Departure of Bishop Hailandiere

In 1847, Bishop Celestine de la Hailandiere had finally been granted his request to resign as Bishop of Vincennes. Getting to this point was a difficult road, not only for the bishop, who had been waiting on word of his offer to resign, but also because his successor, Jean Stephen Bazin had already received his letter and was preparing to take over governing the young diocese. These were not events that happened all at once. Joseph M. White, wrote:

By the Spring of 1845, he (Hailandiére) intended to submit his resignation as bishop of Vincennes to the pope and to provide for succession for the see by securing an appointment of a successor. During an audience, Pope Gregory XVI declined to accept his resignation, told him to resume his duties and to submit his resignation to the consideration of the U.S. bishops at their next provincial council to take place in 1846. 1

He continues:

On January 25, 1847. the cardinals of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide convened at the Palace of the Propaganda on the Piaua di Spagna to conduct routine congregational business, That day, they voted to accept Hailandiére’s resignation as bishop of Vincennes. as the U.S. bishops recommended, and to appoint from the bishops list of candidates, John Stephen Bazin, his successor. Pope Pius IX ratified these decisions on February 7, 1847. The letter to Hailandiere informing him that his resignation was accepted either was not sent or lost in the mail. though Bazin received the documents related to his appointment. Through the spring. Hailandiére governed his diocese in the belief that he was still its ordinary while awaiting formal acceptance of his resignation. 2

As mentioned earlier, Bazin had already received his letter appointing him as the third Bishop of Vincennes. The slowness of communication as well as the seemingly disarray in which this resignation was handled was evident:

As early as March 29, 1847, Bishop Hailandiére’s resignation had been accepted and his successor appointed, but the announcement was slow in reaching Vincennes. Unofficial news was received in May and a month later a letter from Propaganda arrived. The transfer of power from the retiring bishop to the new appointee was not easily accomplished.. It was only too apparent that Hailandiére was not a little chagrined that his second request for resignation was received With no protestations from his superiors and before long he was giving vent to a kind of childish indignation, accusing the clergy as well as his successor of wishing to oust him from a position in which he had labored so faithfully for twelve long years. The letter from the Propaganda advised the Vicar-General of Mobile, Jean Stephen Bazin, of his appointment to Vincennes. This communication did not contain the official bulls, but it did include a papal permission of exeat which it was the ordinary’s right to present. Bazin was instructed to give “without delay” an exeat to the Eudist, Father Stanislaus Buteux, who had asked to leave the diocese because of ill health. This letter and the exeat became the issue of contention as to the rightful possessor of diocesan jurisdiction. Hailandiére had received no direct communication from Rome about the acceptance of his resignation and. when the word of the new appointment began to circulate, he resolutely stated that he would not relinquish his authority to anyone until he had himself received official notice. 3

So, according to this source, the official papers eventually did arrive, but not until June 1847. By that time Hailandiére had probably accepted the facts. He certainly acquiesced to resigning because he stayed in Vincennes and was a co-consecrator of Bazin. In fact, in July of 1847 he wrote a pastoral to the people of the Diocese in which he stated:

Fourteen months have elapsed, dearly beloved brethren, since we submitted to our venerable Colleagues, assembled in council, at Baltimore, the motives which led us to desire permission to lay aside the burden and dignity of Bishop of Vincennes. Yielding, although with reluctance, to our urgent and reiterated entreaties, the Fathers of the Council consented to our application; and we, encouraged by their acquiescence, ventured to lay our resignation at the feet of the Sovereign Pontiff. Since then, we have, in silence, anxiously awaited the decision of the Holy See. Now that the public prints announce the appointment of our successor, and that our relations with you will shortly terminate, permit us, for the last time, to address you. Why, dearly beloved, have we desired to withdraw? We will tell you in all simplicity. It is because the Episcopal charge, oppressive to all, and extremely so to us, on account of our weakness, has continued to be insupportable, notwithstanding every effort we have for years made, to sustain ourselves under its weight. It is, because of the responsibility which it involves, both for time and eternity–a responsibility which terrifies even saints — if even it had not sufficiently awed us in the beginning, continues to do so more and more. It is because, if we have properly comprehended the difficulties of our position, and deeply felt its thorns, the strength and energy to conquer the former and bear meritoriously the latter, have equally failed us. Again why? It is because we greatly love the diocese, and believe that any other Prelate will serve more advantageously that ourselves.

… Pastors and people, priests and faithful, you have received our last admonitions. Soon we will be gone. We bid you adieu — last farewell: it is that of a friend. The last twelve years of our life spent in your service, not without some self-sacrifice, and of which we regret not a single day, will, perhaps, prove that we have indeed loved you, and that it is impossible that the sentiment should ever be effaced. It is the adieu of a father: all his thoughts, all his wishes, all his actions were for you. Had you but known how his heart was filled With tenderness for you. But in the moment of departure, can we forget, that in spite of our good intentions, we may have given displeasure to many; that perhaps there are some whom we have wronged? No, we do not forget: the contrary, we ask pardon for it. Forgive us-

forgive our frailty. Dispense mercy in our behalf, and do not aggravate by your refusal, the great account which we shall have to render. We pardon every one with our whole heart. From the bottom of our souls we offer pardon to all who may have any reason for self-reproach m our regard. In the silence of the retreat to which we shall enter, we will not remember wrongs — we would forget them in prayer. Are there any among you who believe themselves our debtors, let them pray for us-let them beseech a merciful God to pardon the numerous faults of our administration and above all, let their prayers ascend when they shall learn that we have descended to the tomb. 2

So… he says he is sorry, but it sounds like he is saying you have to be sorry too. For him to even apologize, however, was quite a feat as well as a blessing despite his attempt to blame everyone else.

Fr. Robert Gorman, in his history, talks about the days “after” Hailandiére and the problems facing Bishop Bazin. He writes:

The most pressing and most important of these problems was that presented by the former bishop who was very reluctant to leave the diocese and who stayed on in the cathedral rectory. His motives are intelligible. There was certainly no question about his genuine attachment to the diocese of Vincennes for whose advancement he had labored hard and had given the best years of his life. He could easily foresee that the prospects were not pleasant for him in France, where his forced inactivity would allow no vent for his restless energy which could still be directed to good use and where, by this time his reputation had been severely damaged. Moreover, by remaining in Indiana, there was a possibility that he could protect what remained of it, recover some lost prestige and insist that his policy be followed. It is not improbable that he had in mind the situation in Kentucky when Flaget, Chabrat and David had all worked together. At any rate, when he offered his resignation he had stated that if his successor desired that he remain in the diocese, he would do so willingly “employing his time for the welfare of souls and with his own salvation”. He evidently was responsible for the rumor which spread among some of the clergy after Bazin’s appointment that the new bishop would have only the spiritual authority, while he retained the temporal administration. One thing seemed to verify his contentions: that was that he had recently purchased some real estate property in Indianapolis from which he hoped to receive an annuity, that he intended to purchase some in Vincennes and that on June 19, 1847 he had actually bought from Henry Wyant a tract of land known as Highland. There was enough land in this purchase to make more than one good farm, located “on the Road to Petersburg, two miles from Vincennes”.

…Bazin, however, saw the disadvantage and even the danger of such a proposal, which must have become more evident as Hailandiére stayed on at the rectory day after day and week after week. He fully realized that his own work would be impeded by the presence of the retired bishop and that difficulties would inevitably arise. It was therefore for the best interests of the diocese and the good of all that Hailandiere should go. His position was strongly approved by the best priests of the diocese who feared that Hailandiere would actually retain the temporal jurisdiction and would actually bring disaster. It was a delicate matter, however, to broach the point to the sensitive prelate. When he decided to act, Bazin wrote to Blanc December 2, 1847 asking him to advise Hailandiére to retire permanently “for the good of religion, for the peace and happiness of the diocese.” It seems, however, that Hailandiére had, for some time, determined to go to New Orleans, since on November 30, 1847 Bazin had written to Mother Theodore: “I think Bishop de la Hailandiere will leave to-morrow by stage. His effects went yesterday by steamboat.” He finally left Vincennes December 3, 1847, taking with him the papers of Bishop Brute, never to return. If he did not know it before, he certainly found out in New Orleans that Bazin was unwilling to have him remain in Vincennes. As might have been expected, he deeply resented Bazin’s attitude and vented his bitterness in a severe letter which somewhat alarmed the friends of the former Ordinary and they feared that if its contents became generally known, it would cause unpleasant comment. 4

Finally, it was 36 years before his passing and even in his exile the fact that Hailandiére asked and received permission to return to the diocese for burial is, I believe, a testament to his love for the the Diocese.

This was, in some ways, the worst of times and the best of times. Hailandiére for all his goodness was a threat to the Diocese and Bazin in all his goodness, served as the graced interim bishop who gave of himself.

  1. White, Joseph M. 2011. “Path to Sainthood and Episcopal Leadership: Mother Theodore Guérin and Bishop Célestin de la HailandieÌ€re in History and Memory”. U.S. Catholic Historian. 29 (1): 73-94.[]
  2. Ibid[][]
  3. SCHROEDER, Mary Carol. 1946. The Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes, 1847-1877. A dissertation, etc. Pp. ix. 227. Catholic University of America Press: Washington. []
  4. Gorman, Rev. Robert (n.d.). History of the Catholic Church in Indiana Unpublished manuscript. Archives, Archdiocese of Indianapolis[]

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