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Bishop Hailandiere Resigns – 1847

For as long as I can remember, the Second Bishop of Vincennes’ name always came up as the “black eye” on the history of the Church in Indiana. July 16th, is the day that this ‘black eye‘ — the guy everyone loved to hate, resigned … On this day in 1847, Celestine de la Hailandiere resigned as the second Bishop of Vincennes. Through the years he has been vilified, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. It seems to me that the further we get from the events of that time (1839-1847) the more we realize that we do not know the whole story. We seem to have applied 21st century standards on a 19th century person.

In 2011 Fr James Martin SJ wrote an article in America Magazine about Saint Mother Mary McKillop an Australian Nun who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. In 1871 she was officially excommunicated by her local bishop, on the grounds that she “‘she had incited the sisters to disobedience and defiance.”. Fr. Martin went on to use the example of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin when he said:

“The idea of a holy woman who had been at loggerheads with the hierarchy–and was even excommunicated–is not new in the annals of the saints. The most recently named American saint, Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, was once locked into a room in a rectory by her bishop, who was infuriated by her (similarly) independent spirit.” 1

This is my point — that Bishop Hailandiere was somehow a villain who tried to stop a future saint. It all sounds like some sort of intrigue and mystery. Yet, without taking anything away from Mother Theordore’s holiness and example, Celestine de la Hailandiere also led an incredible life filled with sorrow, pain, troubles and obstacles. We somehow forget that it was 1847, not 2021.

hailandiereYes, it is true the Bishop Hailandiere mistreated many of his priests and people, and especially, one of the most prominent persons in our Indiana Catholic history, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. And yet, without dismissing those facts, it is important to remember that Hailandiere, just like his predecessor, Servant of God, Simon Brute, came to this country with a lot of baggage, and that baggage did not consist of material things.

Hailandiere was a Gallican, and that is, in a nutshell, and in my humble opinion, one of the reasons why he saw his episcopal power as something that put him in control of things. The difference between Hailandiere and Brutés version of Gallicanism was that Brute used his episcopal power to gently guide those around him and Hailandiere used his power to control those around him. To paraphrase Fr. Robert Gorman, former Archivist of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Hailandiere saw his priests as “Religious subjects”. 2 That kind of sums it up.

His treatment of Saint Mother Theodore helped to show her true spirit and determination. If she had lived and died without the obstacles that she met, (and overcame), among them, the controlling nature of Bishop Hailandiere, then she may have never been recognized for her saintly character.

In reading the writings of the day, it becomes clear that there were problems. The fact that these problems were written about is important, especially in the 19th century Church. Hailandiere wanted to do everything himself. Psychologists would have to investigate the man and I don’t intend to psychoanalyze him here. Rather than demonize him, I wish to point to those things which he did that built up the Church in Indiana. Mother Theodore herself said, in a letter she wrote to French Bishop Bouvier, her sounding board and mentor. She wrote:

“I have much to suffer from my superior. He possesses a disposition calculated to make a martyr of its possessor but still more of those who must bear with him. I say nothing more about this, for he is the Bishop. He is moreover so pious, so humble, so zealous for the welfare of religion and in particular for our house that I feel it a duty for us to throw a veil of these faults which he laments before God and which to no belong to the essentials. I must say nevertheless that he is jealous of his authority and wants to do everything himself.” 3

It should be made clear that Bishop Hailaindiere loved his diocese and it was because of that love that he asked that after his death that his body was brought back to Vincennes for burial.

John F. Fink, editor emeritus of the Criterion, the official news organ of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, wrote, in 2006:

Mother Theodore’s greatest problem from 1843 to 1847, though, concerned her relationship with Bishop de la Hailandiere. Even before she left for France, it was clear that the bishop believed that he possessed total control over the Sisters of Providence, despite what the community’s rule said. Mother Theodore often had to oppose his decisions as they affected her community, always doing so as respectfully as possible.

While she was in France, Bishop de la Hailandiere took over the community. He admitted novices to vows, closed the school the sisters had established in St. Francisville, Ill., received three nuns from another community, opened a new establishment, and called for the election of a new superior, all without input from the sisters and contrary to the community’s rule. He hoped that the sisters would elect a different superior, but they re-elected Mother Theodore.

After her return, Mother Theodore’s meetings with Bishop de la Hailandiere grew more and more contentious, often lasting for hours. Sometimes the bishop berated her for her leadership of the community, and other times he insisted that he did not want to be involved in the affairs of the community.

The diocese still owned the property at St. Mary-of-the-Woods and, at times, the bishop would promise to give it to the sisters and other times would refuse to do so. He insisted on an “Act of Reparation” from the sisters because he believed that they had spoken out against him to his superiors.

The matter reached its climax on May 20, 1847. After visiting her establishments, which by then were scattered from one end of Indiana to the other, Mother Theodore went to meet with Bishop Hailandiere. During that meeting, the bishop insisted that Mother Theodore agree to everything he proposed and then left the room, locking the door as he left.

That night, when two sisters arrived to see where Mother Theodore was, Bishop Hailandiere released her, but then declared to her and the sisters that Mother Theodore was no longer the superior.

Furthermore, he said, she was no longer a Sister of Providence. He demanded that she leave his diocese and forbade her to return to St. Mary-of-the-Woods. 4

In many ways, this, time of trial, as the Sisters called it, was a grace filled period in Indiana Catholic history. In her 1933 thesis, Sister Lawrence Connor wrote:

With the change of Bishops, troubles ceased for the Community at st. Mary-of-the-Woods. Nothing that came before, nor anything that might come after, could equal the suffering caused by the difficulties with Bishop Hailandiere. Ever after the Sisters referred to this period as “the days of our trial,” but they were more than that–they were the seed time, the preparation for the growth that was to follow. 5

It wsn’t onlly Mother Theodore. Others had problems with the Bishop as well. Fr. Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame was no stranger to Hailandiere’s wrath. It has been speculated that one of the reasons the University was founded at South Bend and not at Washington Indiana or Saint Francisville Illinois was partly because Sorin wanted to be as far away from the Bishop as possible.

There seems to be an undercurrent of belief, although no evidence exists that I am aware of, that most realized that Bishop Hailandiere would not be there forever. At the same time, some, such as Father Michael Shawe, one of Bishop Bruté’s earliest recruits left the diocese. It was never stated exactly why, but one can deduce that part of the reason was the Bishop.

So, on this day, we should probably give thanks to God for the sacrifices and work of Bishop Hailandiere. At the same time, we can also give thanks to God for guiding our young diocese through those turbulent times and for giving Bishop Hailandiere the grace to make the decision to resign. For, without his resignation, who knows what would have happened to the Catholic Church in Indiana. He did not die until 1882 which means he may have remained bishop for another 30 plus years!

We also give thanks for the sacrifices of those who served under him. Not only Saint Mother Theodore and the Sisters of Providence, but also the priests, like John Corbe who was the chaplain to the Sisters during the “time of troubles“, and some of the overlooked heroes of the early Church in Indiana. Father Simon Lalumiere, first priest of the diocese and one time Vicar General. He certainly must have had an opinion on all of this. Fr. Antoine Deydier, who had come to Indiana at the urging of Bishop Brute. Did he feel like getting back on the boat and returning to France? I am sure that they all probably suffered under the leadership of Hailandiere. But they most certainly saw another side of the embattled bishop and they knew that their own work went beyond the presence of one man. I honestly believe that Hailandiere truly loved of the Church in Indiana. That is why I believe that even though he left Indiana, his wish was that his body be returned, more than 30 years later, to be buried in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier.

  1. James Martin, S.J. — July 09, 2009 America Magazine[]
  2. Robert Gorman, The History of the Catholic Church in Indiana. Unpublished manuscript – original located in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.[]
  3. [Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods p.232 A letter to Bishop Bouvier in 1842[]
  4. From the The Criterion Online September 29, 2006[]
  5. Conner, Sister Lawrence, A History of the First Fifty Years of the Sisters of Providence in the United States (1933). Master’s Theses. Paper 1933. []

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