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Bishop Brutés Report to Rome in 1836

This is a reprint of an article that appeared in the Catholic Historical Review, Volume 29, (1943-1944), by Thomas T. McAcoy CSC.


The value of contemporary observations as historical documents depends upon two important items: the competence of the observer and his intention to give the benefit of his knowledge. Both of these items are generally present in the reports of bishops to the Holy See. In the case of Bishop Simon Brutés Report to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda on the occasion of his visit to Rome in 1836, the Report has special value because his experience as superior at St. Mary’s College in Baltimore and Mt. St. Mary’s College at Emmitsburg over so many years, coupled with his detailed visit to the frontiers of his vast diocese, had given him unusual opportunities to observe the condition of the Catholic Church in the United States. He could combine the theoretical ideas of the teacher with the practice of a missionary bishop. His Report has an additional value because he did not confine himself to statistics, which could be obtained from other sources, but gave to his ecclesiastical superiors his personal opinions on the general condition of the Church in the United States, as well as a report on his own diocese.

The Report consists of two parts, one in Latin and the other in French. The Latin section contains the usual episcopal report on the condition of bis diocese, Vincennes, together with some itemized suggestions on episcopal appointments which were imminent at the time of his visit. The French account, which is really a, separate document but apparently submitted with the Latin letter, gives a brief account of the Diocese of Vincennes then a more extensive statement on the condition of the Church in United States. Undoubtedly the latter part of this document is the important for the church historian because in it he discusses the of church growth, about which there has been some controversy, and a detailed estimate of the condition of contemporary American ism. He enumerates the sects and their relative importance, and the of conversion to Catholicism. As a kind of postscript to this account, discusses the civil status of the Church under the Constitution.

The style of Bishop Brute, as any one who has read several of his numerous letters knows, is irregular. At times he writes simply, but without warning he turns to ejaculations or goes off on a tangent, even the same sentence. For this reason it was judged proper to give the original text for the benefit of those historians who might question any translation which would betray similar faults. In the translation the text has been followed wherever possible, but doubtful phraseology has eliminated where the apparent intentions of the bishop were other sources. Only those notes have been added which were necessary for an elucidation of the text.

University of Notre Dame


The Diocese of Vincennes in the United States of North America consists of the whole State of Indiana and a third part of the State of Illinois (eastern Illinois), over 50,000 square miles in surface (there are only 154,000m France).

The population for Indiana alone was 4,800 in 1800, 24,000 in 1810, 141,-000 in 1820, 347,000 in 1830. Now it has over 500,000to which if you add 100,000 for Illinois, it has about 600,000. The number of Catholics, I think, is 50,000, who are widely dispersed.

The town of Vincennes [has] about 2,000 citizens. Half of these are Catholics. Most of the others are Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutheransbut a great part belong to no sect but are always called Protestant in a more general sense, although they are not yet baptized.

Indianapolis, the capital of the State, has about 1,500 citizens. Chicago and 2 or 3 other towns have 3,000 or 4,000. The Wabash River navigable for 300 miles, flows into the Ohio. The diocese is about 300 miles in length and is about the same in width.

Priests: 1) at Vincennes, Mr. Lalumiere2 and Mr. Francois,3 and the also for St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s; 2) at [Fort] Wayne, Mr. Ruff 4; 3) at Chicago, Mr. St. Cyr; 5 4) at St. Martin near Cincinnati, Mr. Femeding6 5) but Mr. St. Cyr belongs to Monseigneur Rosati.7

The report of Simon, the bishop of Vincennes, to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide from Nov. 5, 1834, the date on which he was installed in his see, after he had been consecrated in St. Louis by the Illustrious Monseigneur Flaget,8 with the Illustrious Monseigneur Rosati, bishop of that place and Monseigneur Purcell9 of Cincinnati assisting, to July 16, 1835, when he began his journey to Europe. For eight months he had been in charge of the administration of the newly created diocese as follows:

I. In and about Vincennes he had to care for about 1,500 impoverished Catholics, primitive and illiterate, souls long neglected, amiably, however, and reverently enough disposed, but struggling under a decline of piety and religious instruction. [Having] no companion priest with me, I lived alone entirely.
I gave two instructions every Sunday and feast day, one in French the language of the greater number, the other in English.

During Advent and Lent I catechized the younger [people], six and some eighteen and even twenty years old, who had not received Communion. I received 20 at Christmas and 60 at Easter at First Communion, later 90 at Confirmation.

I had sick [persons] to visit, often at a great distance, of whom I at- tended 23 to the grave… Only 10 marriages, 68 baptisms,indeed, some of adults and of Protestants 4 or 5; others of children of Protestants.

As a new guest in this place, received humanely even by Protestants, I have had to visit many and to win them to myself, I have had to inquire of ministers of sects ([there were] 6 [sects] there) and of the newspapers of the sects for our Catholics; and much also had to be written very accurately, that is, for submitting to the press.10

From other sources my exchange of letters was great, both in the region and with other dioceses,either to Europe even or from there. (For 25 years past this exchange had been constant) or more frequently, as happens on so many occasions, this exchange [was] with friends and pupils from the Seminary whence I had come to Vincennes. Thus in the begin- ning of my new condition in a higher state [this] correspondence was extensive and even oppressive to a bishop living alone, without a secretary or companion.

To this must be added the arrangement and collection of registers and papers and the fresh charge, as something new, to get acquainted with the church, the surrounding lands, the caretaker and the magistrates of the place; yet I am little competent, as I am sorry to confess, in temporal mat- ters. I found in Vincennes, for example, a new church erected a few years ago, from wall to wall of the building 115 feet long,11 60 feet wide, entirely bare, decorated with not even one picture of any kindthe cost of the building not yet paid. The church lands I mentioned above are some acres of land situated near the town which originally had been in the mis- sion of the Jesuit Fathers but had been for many years left to the care- that is the neglectof the guardians; nor, because I was alone, has it acquired any value by my solicitude up to now, although the first of the things undertaken by me.

The 160 acres, which constituted the greatest and most useful part, from its nearness to the town, I have offered to the General of the Society12 by letter for the erection of a collegebut there were certainly many tilings to be desired from other circumstances, if he were to subscribe immediately to my plan or the desire on my part. Such a worthy society is called to other things and things more probable, or at least nearer fruition, from many regions, than that I should now obtain their consent to a college at Vincennes.

I made some first attempts at a school with the aid of a Canadian schoolmaster with very great solicitude since the difficulty of such a beginning is quite great. Quite great also [is the difficulty] as I have found out in the small city, and indeed my see, Vincennes, has a population of scarcely 2,000 citizens; the Catholics there are scarcely half and mostly of the more humble and poorer condition. Many live scattered through the neighboring farmland.

For the girls I have sought the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who profess their own rule from their own particular house at Nazareth in Kentucky. It is only after six months that I have obtained four and I have begun with what means I have. I have attempted, with some misgivings, to prepare them for this work and was attempting to foster it with some earlier success when I left… Before them I employed the zeal of a good and young widow from Cincinnati, recommended to me by the bishop for her piety and aptitude for teaching, to begin some kind of school. I have let her go as a candidate to the convent of the Salesian Visitandines in Kaskaskia under the care of the Illustrious Monseigneur Rosati.

To cultivate the youth, even the non-Catholic part, constitutes our spe-cial hope in all our dioceses. In order particularly that I might thus estab-lish a school13 for boys that from there for at least the following years I can have pupils for the clerical state, when I return to Vincennes, with such a plan in mind I shall with care devote my energy and pay the expenses from such money (not to be collected in any sufficient quantity in that region) as I shall obtain.

In the meantime, because of my great need of clerics, I’had accepted for training under my roof in his corner, a certain pious student,14 but one not as I was to learn, sufficiently endowed with prudence or proficiency in study although he had not exhausted his desire to become a missionary in two or three seminaries. Nevertheless, I accepted him because of his good records elsewhere; [but] I have had to send him away. With the same idea in mind I have accepted another15 with better hope, as I had previously known him in our Maryland seminary, who came to me of his own will; and as he was a theologian and respectable, I made him sub-deacon and deacon and sent him to the seminary of the Illustrious Monseigneur Rosati for a month. Then, after he had been promoted to the priesthood by him and when he had returned, I sent him to the parish, or as they say, the congregation of Wayne in northern Indianascarcely, however, with the desired result, as he was of a difficult and querulous character. Even whether he has remained or has already gone elsewhere, I do not know. Behold the difficulties on all sides of me that I do not have or do not receive missionaries, nor any to promote to orders myself, of a character to help and console.

II. Thus I was pastor in Vincennes.In the diocese I accomplished what I could. In the vicinity I was pastor likewise at places 3, 4, 5 leagues distant in Lawrenceville, Cheese, Au Chat, &c. I was likewise pastor far- ther away in Terre Haute & Paris (for I have villages by the name of Paris, Rome, Carthage, &c.) in so far as to celebrate mass in them, ad- minister the sacraments to many on several occasions, &c. And in the form of visitations I was often in the parishes of Mr. Lalumiere, which are 6 or 7 leagues (25 and 28 Italian miles) distant. Also I have blessed (the first by me) a kind of church built of rough logs in the name of St. Mary the Mother of God. This is near St. Peter’s.

Then, before I left for Europe I decided to visit the places further distant, from 80 to more than 100 leaguesFirst, Chicago (225 miles on a direct line but more indeed by way of the missions) where I administered confirmation to some and consoled the fine young priest,18 who for several months is not able to see a fellow priest. Then I went to Pokagon,17 a village in the diocese of Monseigneur Rese18 but inhabited by many of my subjects also, savages or men of the forests. Also I visited another within the limits of my own diocese, the village of Chicakos, the residence of other savagesI administered confirmation to 16 of themBut the missionary Mr. Deseille19 from Belgium who has lived among them for a long time had prepared more than 50 of the best of them for baptism and prepared 30 for first communion; thus increasing his flock of forest men (or savages) which already consisted of more than 600 in Pokagon and 200 in Chicakos.

Meanwhile, after traveling 600 miles or 200 French leagues on horse-.back for 23 days, passing through many towns where I found a few Catholic families and, as occasion offered, ministering by words or by sacraments, I returned to Vincennes, my see. There, concerning the journey to be made to Europe in order that I might obtain more missionaries and help fpr necessities of all kinds, I took counsel with Mr. Lalumiere, whom I re-called from his mission at St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s and appointed Vicar General pro tempore in my absence. Advised by my friends, also by the neighboring bishops, and through letters which I had already received from France, I decided that it was best for me, though unwilling, to make the journey. Wherefore, enjoying the presence and the special benediction of our Supreme Pontiff and best Father face to faceat the same time enjoying the advice, commands and aids of the Sacred CongregationI hope in-deed, that these things will be for the greater increase in the newly created diocese of Vincennes: these insignificant things which should be humbly offered and submitted in a correspondingly brief form, that prelate has prepared in imperfect style and order, who is the humble and devoted ser-vant in Christ of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith and of the Eminent Cardinal20 who has been placed over the Congregation by our most Holy Father Gregory XVI,

Simon (Brute) Bishop
of Vincennes (so named in his notification)

Addition. The Catholics are 1, Americans; 2, Irish; 3, Germans; 4, French; 5, savages. By far the greater part use the English language. Outside of these the most numerous are the Germans, then the French. Nearly all speak English.


1. This document is from the Archives of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, Scritt. Rifer. Amer. cent.. Vol. 11, fol. 623 to 639 verso. A photo-static copy of the original manuscript is in the Archives of the University of Notre Dame. It includes two maps drawn by Bishop Brut^ which are here reproduced. One map gives the details of his midwestern diocese, and the other gives the general location of the thirteen dioceses existing when he made hia report. For those who may not be fully acquainted with Bishop Simon Gabriel Brute it may be well to note that he was bom in Rennes, France, March 20, 1779. He studied medicine first but later decided to become ft priest. He was ordained June 10, 1808, and came to America in 1810 as a Sulpician missionary. He was president of St. Mary’s College, Baltimore (1815-1818) and superior of the Seminary at Mt. St. Mary’s, Emmitsburg, Maryland (1818-1834). He was bishop of Vincennes from 1834 until his death In 1839. When this Report was made, he had been bishop for over a year and h&d made an extensive visitation of his diocese.

2 Simon Lalumiere (1822-1895). To approximate Brutés usage we shall use the title Mr. for priests and Monseigneur for bishops.

3 John Claude Francois later served in the Diocese of Natchez.

4 Felix M. Ruff.

5 Irenaeus St. Cyr (1803-1883).

6Joseph Ferneding (1802-1872).

7 Joseph Rosati, C.M. (1789-1843), first bishop of St. Louis.

8 Benedict Joseph Flaget (1763-1850), first bishop of Bardstown, Kentucky.

9 John Baptist Purcell (1800-1883), second bishop and first archbishop of Cincinnati.

10 These articles appeared chiefly in the Cincinnati Catholic Telegraph and the Vincennes Western, Sun.

11 Thomas T. McAvoy, The Catholic Church in Indiana, 1789-1834, pp. 157- ,, 162, tells of its construction.

12 Gilbert J. Garraghan, The Jesuits of the Middle United States (New York, 1938), III, 112-113, gives an account of this offer and its refusal.

13 Brute uses the word ” gymnasium “.

14 Apparently, a Mr. Ratigan. The “corner” is apparently all the bishop could give him.

15 Michael Felix Ruff, who did not remain long in the diocese.

16 This was Irenaeus St. Cyr, who had been loaned by Bishop Rosati.

17 “The headquarters of a Potawatomi chief of the same name near the Indiana-Michigan state line on the St. Joseph River. Cf. Cecelia Barn Buechner Pokagons (Indianapolis, 1933).

18 Frederick Rese (1781-1871), first bishop of Detroit.


Categories: Postings.