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Anthony Deydier – Indiana Saint

Yesterday we posted a tribute to Fr. Benjamin Petit, hero of the “Trail of Death”. Today, February 11th marks the anniversary of the death of yet another Indiana Saint, Father Anthony Deydier, in 1864.

Unlike Fr. Petit, there are no known images of Fr. Deydier, yet he was, and remains, one of the unsung heroes of the earliest days of Catholic Church History in Indiana. What is even more amazing is that he was almost 50 years old before he was ordained. We’ve become accustomed, somewhat, to late vocations, but in the 1830’s ordaining a man who was 50 years old was almost unheard of. The average life expectancy at that time was not much more than 60 years. After his death, his memory faded somewhat, but recently, his legacy has been revived, particularly with the establishment of the Father Deydier House of Discernment, “a place for young men, ages 18-30, to discern God’s call in their lives” The “House” is located in Evansville, the place where Fr. Deydier ministered for the majority of his time as a priest of the Diocese of Vincennes.

Father Deydier’s history in America coincides with some of the oldest missionaries in the 19th century. He arrived in Baltimore in 1810. The article in Wikipedia states:

Deydier was born in France on April 30, 1788. He left his native country on June 10, 1810 on the same boat as Simon Brute, accompanying Benedict Flaget. After his ordination to the diaconate he refused ordination to the priesthood and he taught for four years at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, (which was where Father Brute spent most of his early years in America), eventually ending up in Albany New York as a private tutor. According to one source, he had received minor orders in France and when he arrived in the United States, he taught music in New York City. ((Cauthorn, Henry, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Vincennes Indiana, 1892)) Apparently his association with Brute at Mount St. Mary’s is what led him eventually to his priestly ordination. Brute reportedly asked him to come to Indiana. That call obviously struck a chord in Deydier because it was in the missions that he spent the remainder of his life. Bishop Brute ordained him on March 25, 1837 in the Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier in Vincennes, Indiana.

Missionary work in Indiana
After his ordination as a priest he was sent to Evansville, Indiana. He apparently did not find many Catholics. The day after his arrival, on May 4, 1837 he celebrated Mass in a tavern, at the corner of First and Locust. ((Cauthorn, Henry, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Vincennes Indiana, 1892 – p. 166)) He then returned to Vincennes, but was then sent back to Evansville in November 1838, after conducting a collection tour in September of that year. From then on he is reported to have remained in Evansville. However, it was reported that in 1841, while on a similar mission trip, Deydier was appointed temporary administrator of the new French Parish in New York City, St. Vincent DePaul, a French speaking parish, by Archbishop Hughes. ((The New York Evening World: Monday, January 23, 1888, p.2)) His pastorate there lasted less than six months and perhaps this was in return for collecting funds for his beloved Assumption parish n Evansville. Much of his time was taken up ministering to the workers on the Wabash and Erie Canal. Deydier’s life in Evansville was not one of leisure. Saint Theodora Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence, St. Mary of the Woods wrote in her journal”So extreme was his poverty and so complete his destitution, that I shall run the risk of being accused of exaggeration in describing it.” ((Mother Theodore Guerin – Journals and Letters, Sister Mary Theodosia Mug (ed.), St. Mary of the Woods, 1942; pp. 53-54 – cf. Mitchell, Penny Blaker. 1998. Mother Theodore Guerin: a woman for our time : foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the Woods, Indiana. )) He founded the parish of the Assumption in Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana. In the “History of Vanderburgh County” it was written:

It was a noticeable feature of the Catholic priesthood in the pioneer days that wherever they found a community, no matter how small or how widely scattered, wherein they could establish a mission, there the cross was erected and the protecting care of the church spread over the inhabitants. No hardship was accounted too severe and no sacrifice too great to stand in the way of the propagation of a religion which they believed to declare the voice and will of God. The first information of any Catholics residing in the vicinity of Evansville, was communicated in the fall of 1836, to the Right Rev. Gabriel Brute, first bishop of Vincennes, by Rev. Father Buteux, and the companions of his journey, who lodged on their arrival here, at the Mansion House, then kept by Francis Linck, a citizen well remembered to this day and esteemed by all the older inhabitants of the city. Mr. Linck, born in 1774, was a native of Stockheim, in Wurtemburg, and in 1836 was the only Catholic in Evansville, except perhaps the late John Walsh. In March, 1837, Very Rev. Father De la Hailandiere, vicar-general of the Rev. Bishop, accompanied by Rev. Father Shawe, visited Evansville with a view of establishing a mission, and on the 3rd day of May, following, Rev. Father Anthony Deydier was dispatched to take charge of the mission. Father Deydier was born in France, April 30, 1788, and was ordained a priest at the cathedral of Vincennes, March 25, 1837. Very few knew that he had reached the full strength of his manhood when he took upon himself holy orders, and was placed in charge of the mission in this city. While here he lived a blameless and well spent life, unobtrusive in his deportment, but with a kind word for all. After almost a year’s residence at the house of Mr. Linck, in January, 1838, he built a lodge room, 10×15 feet size, at the corner of Fifth and Chestnut streets. Here he made his abode, using his little room as a dwelling and for chapel purposes for about three years. For Sabbath day services larger rooms at the homes of Catholics were occasionally used. He labored heroically among his people, did much missionary work in the country adjacent to Evansville, and in 1838 made a successful trip to the east to raise funds for the erection of a church building. The history of Catholicism in Evansville since that time is the history of a wonderful growth. The worthy priest who stood by the church in its infancy, lived to see it become rich and powerful with a numerous priesthood within the territory where he once labored alone – lived to see a sturdy oak grown from the acorn planted by his hands. When old age and increasing infirmities had impaired his usefulness, he retired from the active ministry and, returning to Vincennes, passed the evening of his life in comparative rest, greatly beloved by all who knew him. His death occurred February 11, 1864. ((History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana: From the Earliest Times to the Present))

Deydier was obviously a very humble and simple man. Saint Mother Theodore described him thus:

Sister St. Theodore wrote. “So extreme was his poverty and so complete his destitution, that I shall run the risk of being accused of exaggeration in describing it. … The priest is about twenty-eight years of age. His exterior bespoke mildness and he seemed refined; but he was so poorly clothed that one would easily have offered him alms. He had on an old torn coat, shoes in the same condition, trousers all patched up by himself.” Delicately, Sister St. Theodore asked about his housekeeper. The priest replied that he did not have a housekeeper. He told Sister St. Theodore, “My companion and I eat only combread, which is brought to us every day by a baker. We have only a log hut for our church, house and school. At night we spread a mattress on a bench and there, wrapped in our coverings, we take a little rest. When we are away on missionary duties, and one or the other always is, we sleep on hay or straw or sometimes under a tree.” ((Mitchell, Penny Blaker. 1998. Mother Theodore Guerin: a woman for our time : foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the Woods, Indiana. Saint Mary-of-the Woods, Ind: Sisters of Providence. pp.38))

In the History of Vanderburgh County it was written:

It was a noticeable feature of the Catholic priesthood in the pioneer days that wherever they found a community, no matter how small or how widely scattered, wherein they could establish a mission, there the cross was erected and the protecting care of the church spread over the inhabitants. No hardship was accounted too severe and no sacrifice too great to stand in the way of the propagation of a religion which they believed to declare the voice and will of God. The first information of any Catholics residing in the vicinity of Evansville, was communicated in the fall of 1836, to the Right Rev. Gabriel Brute, first bishop of Vincennes, by Rev. Father Buteux, and the companions of his journey, who lodged on their arrival here, at the Mansion House, then kept by Francis Linck, a citizen well remembered to this day and esteemed by all the older inhabitants of the city. Mr. Linck, born in 1774, was a native of Stockheim, in Wurtemburg, and in 1836 was the only Catholic in Evansville, except perhaps the late John Walsh. In March, 1837, Very Rev. Father De la Hielandiere, vicar-general of the Rev. Bishop, accompanied by Rev. Father Shawe, visited Evansville with a view of establishing a mission, and on the 3rd day of May, following, Rev. Father Anthony Deydier was dispatched to take charge of the mission. Father Deydier was born in France, April 30, 1788, and was ordained a priest at the cathedral of Vincennes, March 25, 1837. Very few knew that he had reached the full strength of his manhood when he took upon himself holy orders, and was placed in charge of the mission in this city. While here he lived a blameless and well spent life, unobtrusive in his deportment, but with a kind word for all. After almost a year’s residence at the house of Mr. Linck, in January, 1838, he built a lodge room, 10×15 feet size, at the corner of Fifth and Chestnut streets. Here he made his abode, using his little room as a dwelling and for chapel purposes for about three years. For Sabbath day services larger rooms at the homes of Catholics were occasionally used. He labored heroically among his people, did much missionary work in the country adjacent to Evansville, and in 1838 made a successful trip to the east to raise funds for the erection of a church building. The history of Catholicism in Evansville since that time is the history of a wonderful growth. The worthy priest who stood by the church in its infancy, lived to see it become rich and powerful with a numerous priesthood within the territory where he once labored alone – lived to see a sturdy oak grown from the acorn planted by his hands. When old age and increasing infirmities had impaired his usefulness, he retired from the active ministry and, returning to Vincennes, passed the evening of his life in comparative rest, greatly beloved by all who knew him. His death occurred February 11, 1864. ((History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana: from the earliest times to the present))

It is appropriate that Fr. Deydier’s memory not be forgotten. The first pages of the Sacramental Record of Assumption parish (now suppressed) include a history of the parish, purported to have been written by Fr. Deydier himself. These pages have been studied and transcribed by Mr. Brian Lankford, a researcher who has chronicled the history of the Church in Evansville. You can view the original by going here. The transcription can be found here. Many thinks to Mr. Lankford for his work!

There is another web site, called “Ameri Catholic” and they too pay homage to those early missionaries, especially the French. They wrote of Fr. Deydier:

Born in France (perhaps Alsace and Lorraine where this surname is common), in 1788, he entered the Seminary of St. Sulpice, where he follows the likely course of Abbot Simon Brute de Rémur, later Bishop of Vincennes (Indiana) who taught theology since 1808. In all cases, it is with the abbots Brute Guy Chabrat Derigaud Jacques, Julian Bishop Benedict Flaget Romeuf and, while the new bishop of Bardstown (Kentucky) came to France to recruit priests and seminarians, he sailed from Bordeaux the United States June 10, 1810. Ordained deacon in 1812, he refused the priesthood and taught for four years at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg (Maryland) where the priest teaches Brute. These past four years, we find him at Albany (New York) as a tutor. But, without doubt, the discussions he had with Father Brute at Mount St. Mary’s, make him reconsider his denial of the priesthood since March 25, 1837, he was ordained priest by Bishop Brute, of Vincennes first ordinary (since 1834), in the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier in this city. Upon his ordination, this late vocation, is sent in November 1837, in Evansville (Indiana) where he stayed until 1859, except for a tour he performed in September 1838 to raise the money for the diocese, accompanied by a young Ann (Nancy) Brown the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity of Emmitsburg, and an itinerant ministry in Gibson County (Indiana) from 1838 to 1840. In 1838 he began construction of the Assumption Church, the first Catholic Church in Evansville, even to monitor the manufacture of bricks – and it was today, the Feast of the Assumption, the opportunity to report this church is that Father Deydier had built: it was razed in 1872. ((Catholic Ameri History and news of Catholicism in the United States By Daniel Hamiche))

Deydier remained in Evansville until 1859, when he retired to the”Highlands” at Vincennes. He died on February 11, 1864 and was buried in the orphanage cemetery, which is now part of the St. Vincent de Paul Parish. ((History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes, by Herman Alerding (Indianapolis: Carlon & Hollenbeck, 1883) ))

Death notice from the Indianapolis Sentinel, 15 February 1864

Death notice from the Indianapolis Sentinel, 15 February 1864

Like Petit, Deydier too, is an Indiana Saint!! Remember them on February 10th and 11th and ask for their prayers — for yourself and for the Church in Indiana.

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