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Chatard – A Bishop of Vincennes in Indianapolis

This is a mash-up of some previous posts regarding the naming of Francis Silas Marean Chatard as Bishop of Vincennes, but who lived in Indianapolis. It is lengthly, but I hope it will enlighten the subject. I wrote about this, originally, in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Things get lost in the 500+ posts we’ve written here, but with that in mind, here is some old and some new material.

On August 11, 1878, Francis Silas Marean Chatard was installed as the fifth Bishop of Vincennes. Within days, he had moved his episcopal residence to Indianapolis, but it would be another 20 years before the name of the diocese and its official location would change. One has to wonder. Obviously Chatard had secured permission to ‘live’ in Indianapolis while retaining the name Bishop of ‘Vincennes’. Certainly the people of Vincennes had to wonder how long the bishop would continue to be the Bishop of Vincennes without living in their city. The Diocese of Bardstown, from which Vincennes was formed, now found itself as the Diocese of Louisville. Perhaps it was just a matter of time. Read more about this at the end of the article.

I wonder too, just how long Chatard expected to remain bishop. All during his episcopate there were murmurs of his impending transfer to another diocese, including the rumor of him becoming Archbishop of Philadelphia. We have a Roman trained, Roman bred bishop, who now found himself in the middle of the country, in a suffragan see. His early life and his decision to enter priesthood took place in the Mother diocese of Baltimore. Things had certainly changed and Indiana was no longer the mission territory of Servant of God, Simon Brute, but it is still difficult to think of Chatard as a “Hoosier”.

All of this, plus the fact that Chatard, who was supposedly a favorite of Pope Pius IX, was named bishop by his successor, Leo XIII. Church politics? Reward?

Here is how the New York Times described the Installation of Chatard:

Installation of Bishop Chatard
Special dispatch to the New York Times.

VINCENNES, Aug. 11. Today, Dr. Chatard, the newly-appointed Bishop of Vincennes, was formally installed by Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati, at the Cathedral of St. Xavier. The weather was pleasant and the city, was crowded with visitors from all the surrounding cities. At 10 o’clock a procession of priests passed from the cathedral to the episcopal residence and escorted Dr. Chatard and Archbishop Purcell to the cathedral The edifice was densely crowded and had been from before 9 o’clock, and hundreds of people wore gathered on the sidewalks near the entrance to the cathedral. Upon entering the church the Bishop knelt for a short time in prayer, and was received by Rev. Mr. Guegen, of the cathedral, who presented him, with the crozier and other symbols of his new authority. The Bishop then proceeded to the sanctuary and the celebration of solemn high mass took place, with Rev. Dr. Chatard as celebrant, Rev. Messrs. Bessonies and Guegen. assistants; Fathers Klein and Audran, attendants on the Archbishop, and Revs. P. McDermott and Duddenbausen as chaplains. During the services Archbishop Purcell, in a few well-chosen remarks, introduced Dr. Chatard, who delivered a short address to the people and gave them his blessing. In the afternoon at 2 o’clock a large procession, consisting of the Catholic societies of this city and others from abroad, formed, and escorting the Bishop through the principal streets, returned to the cathedral, when Dr. Chatard conducted the solemn pontifical vespers and gave the Papal benediction. The episcopal residence, the cathedral, and the surrounding grounds I were handsomely decorated with flowers, mottoes, evergreens, and by the Papal and American flags. The diocese over which Bishop Chatard is called to officiate comprises over half the State of Indiana, and contains a Catholic population of 90,000, 150 churches, 120 priests, 20 colleges and academies, two orphan asylums, one theological seminary, and 200 parochial schools. Bishop Chatard, 43 years ago, was educated at Mount St. Mary’s College, Emmittsburg, Md. Having graduated, he studied medicine in Baltimore, and afterward, in the year 1857, finding the priesthood his vocation, went to Rome to pursue the requisite studies. On the appointment of Dr. McCloskey to the Bishopric of Louisville, Dr. Chatard was placed in charge of the American College at Rome, from whence he was called to his present position. He is the fifth Bishop appointed over this diocese, the first Bishop having been appointed in 1834.

The New York Times
Published: August 12, 1878
Copyright – The New York Times

Henry Cauthorn, in his book St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Vincennes Indiana wrote of the time when the people of Vincennes were unsure of the future of the diocese in their city.

Soon after his consecration, as Bishop Brute the first Bishop had done, before he had come and taken possession of his diocese, he issued a pastoral letter to the clergy and laity of his flock from the, city of his consecration. This pastoral letter of the Bishop was worthy of his reputation as a classical scholar and Christian minister, and was very favorably noticed and commented upon by the periodical press of this country.

The news of his appointment as Bishop reached Vincennes early on a Sunday morning in early summer. There had been, for some time, a feeling of uneasiness on the part of the members of the cathedral congregation lest the succeeding Bishop would change his place of residence. Therefore, hearing a successor had been appointed, and hoping to ascertain something definite concerning his residence, the morning service in the cathedral was largely attended. But nothing was said that threw any light on the subject. But during the services a bird of jet black plumage noiselessly flew into the church and deliberately perched upon the canopy over the Bishop’s chair. From his lofty station he carefully and serenely surveyed the walls, ceiling, altar, congregation and all his surroundings in the sacred edifice. The bird gave no sign of uneasiness during his stay, but calmly and quietly made his observations, uttered no note, made no noise, and, as if dissatisfied with the result of his inspection, flew out of the church as noiselessly as he had entered and through the same aperture. After church the congregation gathered in groups in front, and gave expression to their sentiments on the subject of the unexpected entrance of his birdship, and with almost entire unanimity expressed the opinion that it was an omen that the newly appointed Bishop would not reside in Vincennes; but would simply come here and be installed in the cathedral, and then leave as quietly and quickly as the bird had come and left the church. I do not myself believe in omens, and attached no consequence to the incident. I had read the famous story of Romulus and Remus and their wonderful bird performance, but never could give it credence. I tried to subdue my rebellious judgment into accepting the story for its romantic features, but never succeeded.

In order to obtain some certain information on the subject, a complimentary dispatch soon after was sent to the Bishop by members of the congregation, in the hope his reply would indicate his intentions in the matter of residence. His reply soon came, but threw no light on the subject. Matters remained in this uncertain condition until the arrival of the Bishop, when all doubt was removed, and it was announced he would reside at Indianapolis. Of course the cathedral congregation was disappointed, and grieved over the loss of the Bishop as a resident of this city. Many censured him in consequence of it. But this was decidedly wrong and wholly uncalled for. This action was right, and should have been commended and approved. Indianapolis is the political center of the State, and should also be the ecclesiastical center of the diocese in which it is situated. Its facilities for intercommunication with all parts of the diocese demanded the change for the convenience of the Bishop and clergy, as well as all persons in the diocese desiring to see him. Such a step had been contemplated by several of his predecessors, and was in fact delayed too long. While the local pride of the citizens of Vincennes would naturally be wounded in consequence, yet every local or selfish influence, in the minds of the faithful at least, should surrender at discretion to secure the ultimate good of the church.

There is one thing that ought to afford us consolation, and that is, the name of the diocese is not changed, and in my judgment never will be, as the Catholic church loves and venerates ancient things, and rarely changes their order, except for urgent and sufficient reasons. Rome moves slowly is a familiar expression, and the Holy Father, who alone can change the name of a diocese, prides himself too much upon the antiquities that give glory and awaken faith concerning all matters connected, with the church to wantonly change the name of an old diocese to another without being induced to do so by some absolute necessity and for a valid reason. Therefore, it may be safely affirmed that the name Vincennes will always attach to the diocese in which it is situated, and St. Francis Xavier will ever remain the cathedral church of the diocese, 1 and all its Bishops must come here to be installed within her venerable and sacred walls, and the church where the Bishop may happen to reside and worship will simply be known and designated as the pro-cathedral.

But supposing that the worst should happen, and that the name of the diocese, at some time in the future, be changed, still there is left this consolation that Vincennes must and ever will be holy ground and be remembered and cherished as the cradle of Catholicity in the State of Indiana, and St. Francis Xavier church must ever be acknowledged as the fruitful mother of all the Catholic churches in the State. This glory is beyond the reach of loss or improvement, and will ever remain our glorious heritage as permanent and enduring as the decrees of fate. And as such our venerable church will ever be remembered and visited by all who love to muse alone on ancient mountain brows; Or muse on battlefields where valor fought in other days; or muse on ruins gray With years, or drink from old and fabulous wells.

The new Bishop on his arrival at Vincennes was received by a large number of the citizens, and welcomed to his diocese with distinguished marks of respect. The Mayor of the city and civil authorities and many citizens in carriages and on foot met him at the railroad station, and in procession escorted him to the episcopal residence. He arrived in Vincennes on Saturday the 10th day of August 1878, and, on the following Sunday, in St. Francis Xavier cathedral, was installed by Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati, who was also present in 1834, when Bishop Brute was installed as Bishop forty-four years before. 0n that Sunday, the Bishop for the first time solemnized pontifically in St. Francis Xavier’s. Thus it will be observed that all the Bishops of the diocese of Vincennes have been installed, and have entered upon their episcopal duties, and that two of them were also consecrated within the venerable and sacred walls of St. Francis Xavier.

Although the reception Bishop Chatard received at Vincennes from the people at large was hearty and enthusiastic, it could not compare with the reception he afterward received at St. Mary’s on the 15th, and Indianapolis on the 17th of August 1878. But this was not in consequence of any lack of interest on the part of the citizens of Vincennes. They did the very best they could on the occasion. It was plainly on account of their want of facilities and ability to equal his receptions at the latter places. St. Mary’s being the home of the Sisters of Providence they knew how to conduct such exercises in proper taste and style. At the capital of the state, with a large population, and all rejoiced that the Bishop was to reside in that city, the citizens turned out in large numbers to welcome him to his future home. The Governor and state officers, the Mayor and city officers all took part in the reception proceedings; and joined the clergy and societies connected with the Catholic churches in escorting him in procession from the railroad station to his episcopal residence, where appropriate reception addresses were delivered, to which the Bishop responded in a dignified and becoming manner. On the following Sunday, August 18th 1878, the Bishop solemnized pontifical high mass for the first time in St. John’s church at Indianapolis.

With regard to his moving to Indianapolis, this was nothing new. As stated above, Chatard, had permission from Rome to move. In fact the second Bishop, Celestine de la Hailandiere was the first to seek permission to move. Fr. Robert Trisco, Catholic History Professor at the Catholic University of America wrote this in his 1962 dissertation.

Another city chosen as an episcopal see more because of its early Catholic population than because of its future expectations was Vincennes. In 1845 Bishop de la Hailandiere, acting on his own conviction and on the advice of many other bishops, explained to the Propaganda the necessity of moving his see to a better suited place. Vincennes was a little town situated at one end of the diocese and inhabited by barely 2,500 people; it offered neither support for the bishop nor brighter hopes for the time to come. Presuming the Holy See’s consent, De la Hailandiere then proposed two cities of about equal size but with different advantages “”- Indianapolis and Madison “”- for the honor. Without indicating its choice, the Holy See accorded the bishop the desired permission. Before De la Hailandiere could execute his project, however, he resigned the see. The bishop ‘…set to work to secure property in Indianapolis, waiting, however, to move his See there for further signs of its growth and more certain indications of future prosperity. But Indianapolis itself then would not grow; it was hardly as large as Vincennes, and the number of its Catholic inhabitants was so very small that a priest living in Shelby county visited it only once in three months to say Mass and administer the Sacraments to little more than half a dozen Catholic families, chiefly Germans, who met in a poor little frame building… He determined to remain in Vincennes.’ At the end of 1848 the next bishop, Maurice de St. Palais, inquired whether he could make use of the privilege granted to De la Hailandiere; of the two cities proposed he preferred Madison. Though the Holy See renewed the rescript for the change, the bishop encountered insuperable opposition to his project. It was not until 1898 that the see was officially transferred to Indianapolis, where the fifth bishop had fixed his residence as early as 1878. 2

So, Hailandiere, the second bishop had decided early on to move the see from Vincennes to either Indianapolis or Madison (Sr. Mary Carol Schroeder’s 1946 dissertation also included Lafayette Indiana.) This was partly due to the rapid growth in the State, but as Trisco explained above, Indianapolis did not grow as fast as expected and, of course, Hailandiere resigned in 1847. His successor, John Bazin, has precious little time to do much of anything before he died.

The next Bishop, Maurice de St.Palais also decided he wanted to move, but for a number of different reasons. Sister Mary Carol Schroeder OSF wrote:

As pastor of St. Michael’s, (in Madison Indiana), Father de St. Palais was very well liked. Through his missionary experience he had learned to identify himself with his people, adopting their ways and language. If he spoke the English language as well as he wrote it, he was the equal of the best educated native Americans. It was with sincere regret that he left Madison in December, 1847, to take up the duties of vicar-general at Vincennes. The hope of returning to St. Michael’s persisted even after his elevation to the episcupacy. Dissatisfied with the state of affairs, spiritual and material, at Vincennes, St. Palais seriously contemplated transferring the episcopal see to a more progressive town, preferably Madison. In truth, Vincennes had little more than the influence of tradition to justify its retaining the title of see city. Bishop Hailandiere had realized that and had successfully petitioned Rome for the right to establish his residence at Indianapolis, Lafayette, or Madison,”œ towns far more advantageously located than Vincennes. This same privilege was accorded to St. Palais. The Protestants of Evansville were desirous of having the new bishop locate in their city and tried to induce him to establish his residence among them but St. Palais had his heart set on Madison. He had already purchased an excellent lot there, suitable for the erection of a cathedral, but until such a building could be put up, St. Michael Church would serve as the cathedral. With this purpose in mind he asked that the congregation make two improvements: construct an addition to the church and build an episcopal residence. Furthermore, he suggested to Mother Theodore that the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence be moved to Madison. A final proposal was made, probably with the interest of St. Gabriel College in mind, to turn over St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and all the other buildings and property ot the church in Vincennes to the Jesuits of St. Louis. In selecting Madison as the probable new see, St. Palais did not display the discerning foresight that Hailandiere did when he singled out Indianapolis as the coming city in the state. The latter, being centrally located, was accessible from all parts of the state. Although in 1849 Indianapolis did not rival Madison in business, yet it was far more progressive than the river town which was already nearing the apex of its prosperity. Madison, on the other hand, had this advantage, that its Catholic population was older, better organized, and more capable oi providing a worthy residence and cathedral for the bishop. At Indianapolis Father John Guéguen found it extremely difficult to get sufficient money to build a plain little church. Another consideration in favor of Madison was St. Palais special predilection for the town and its inhabitants. While at St. Michael he had enjoyed the esteem and affection of the parishioners and on the occasion of his consecration they presented him with a massive gold pectoral cross and chain. It was far more desirable to live there among such a devoted flock than to go among strangers at the capital city, or to remain at Vincennes where the Creoles seemed indifferent to their bishop.

Although affection for Madison strongly influenced St. Palais in his choice, it was by no means the sole determinant. In Father Audran’s opinion it was the first and foremost reason; he assigned as additional reasons, the difficulty he has in maintaining himself at Vincennes: what he received from the Propagation of the Faith is almost nothing, and the properties of the Church are a burden to him rather than a source of profit. . . . On the other hand, he cannot count on the perquisite revenues of the congregation for his maintenance. The third reason is that he does not know what to do with the college which puts a 10,000 dollar burden upon him. With his affections, then, at Madison and finding there in the revenues of the congregation a sum almost sufficient already for his living [expenses] and counting especially upon the truly liberal spirit of the town, he would leave Vincennes which to him is a stranger, a degenerate people having no faith, no affection, and insolent. He would leave all, the college and congregation to the Jesuits. The Creole people of Vincennes are really so depraved, so bad that it is a shame for the bishop to have his see there among them. In spite of this undesirable situation, the news of the probable change aroused cries of protest. Father Du Pontavice, vicar-general and pastor at Madison, vigorously objected to the change; he had no desire to see Madison, his stronghold, transferred into episcopal hands. Father Corbe, several other priests, and Mother Theodore, too, put forth every effort to dissuade the bishop from leaving Vincennes.” It so happened that the opposition won out, and Vincennes, as retarded in economic life as it was apathetic in spiritual life, retained the title of episcopal see. The question of transfer was set aside, probably after the failure to procure the Jesuits, and attention was focused on the immediate problems of the hour, the care of the cholera stricken and of orphaned children. Americans had been aware of the fact that the cholera had been raging in Europe for some time, and it was with deep misgivings that they noted its spread. It was almost inevitable that America would eventually be affected through the immigration vessels carrying so many of Europe’s poor to these shores. Among the thousands who were leaving Europe for America it was very likely that there should be some among them who were infected. By the latter part of 1848 and early January, 1849, the port cities reported the disease. It spread rapidly from seaport to river town, carried thither on the boats plying their trade from the big cities to the inland towns.’ Mother Theodore Guérin observed that it was these steamboats,”carriers of destruction,” that brought the cholera to Indiana.” As previously mentioned, the epidemic was very severe in New Orleans at the time of St. Palais’ consecration. Within a month the disease had spread to Indiana. The bishop announced that the Sisters of Providence would take care of those in Vincennes who should be affected by the epidemic. Mother Theodore instructed her sisters in all the missions to nurse the stricken.”œ The cholera had broken out in Madison in February, but fortunately, the attack was not serious in the toll of lives. Among the Catholic victims, only three died.” But when the warm weather came, the epidemic appeared in a more virulent form. In less than two weeks thirteen members of St. Michael congregation died.” Day and night Father Du Pontavice attended the sick and prepared them for death. The sisters had closed the school and were tending the cholera sufferers in their homes. There was some talk of converting the sisters’ residence into a temporary hospital. 3

In 1995 the Vatican created a “Titular Diocese” of Vincennes 4 It is currently filled by Bishop Gerald Eugene Wilkerson, a retired Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

  1. Of course, in 1898, the See was formally transferred to Indianapolis and re-named[]
  2. Robert Frederick Trisco, “The Holy See and the nascent church in the Middle Western United States, 1826-1850” Roma : Gregorian University Press, 1962. Analecta Gregoriana, v. 125.; Analecta Gregoriana., Sectio B. ;, Series Facultatis Historiae Ecclesiasticae., n. 21.[]
  3. The Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes, 1847-1877, Sister Mary Carol Schroeder OSF: Washington, Catholic University of America Press, 1946[]
  4. A titular see in various churches is an episcopal see of a former diocese that no longer functions.[]

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