St. Mary's Academy & College
The History of St. Mary's Academy &
Priests and Brothers
of St. Mary's Mission
by Mary E. Gentges, SMC ' 86
Taken from the St. Mary's Magazine
Introduction: The Historic Missionaries of St.
In the historical article of our last issue we
visited the old Jesuit cemetery on Mt. Calvary Road to to find the great stone
that marks their resting place of St. Mary's first nuns, the brave ladies of the
Returning again to that open hilltop where our
pioneers sleep the sleep of the just, we stop this time at the central obelisk
around which a double circle of simple headstones marks the graves of the early
Jesuit fathers and brothers of St. Mary's. Missionary heroes of the American
frontier, they were the first to call God down on the altars of these prairies;
they cared for His House in a raw land; they preached the true Faith to Indians
and white settlers; and they were principal agents for the pioneer organization
of the Catholic Church in Kansas. From eternity they watch over their successors
at St. Mary's, the priests of the Society of St. Pius X, who continue the work
of God in this place.
In viewing the worn headstones, each marked with
the cross and IHS, and engraved in Latin with dates of birth and death and
country of origin, one is struck by the fact that from the very beginning,
workers have come from all over the world to labor in God's vineyard at St.
Mary's. Their nationalities read like a Latin geography: Belca, Helvetus,
Gallus, Germanus, Italus, Hibernus, Anglus.
Let us meet them, the great missionaries -- those
who lie here and others who do not -- whose stories are woven into the history
of St. Mary's.
Early Jesuit Missionaries in the New World:
First Contact with the Potawatomi
The story of St. Mary's has many beginnings. One
strand reaches back to the first heroic Jesuit missionaries of North America. In
1641, when St. Isaac Jogues and Fr. Charles Raymbaut penetrated as far west as
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, they met representatives of the Potawatomi tribe,
those children of the forest who seem to have been specially marked by God to be
receptive to the Faith. Of Algonquian stock, they were related to the Ottowa and
Ojibway (or Chippewa).
Fr. Jacques Marquette also made early acquaintance
with the Potawatomi in the course of his explorations and historic voyage down
the great Mississippi in 1673.
In 1669, near the head of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Fr.
Claude Allouez founded the Mission of St. Francis Xavier for the Potawatomi and
neighboring Sauk, Foxes and Winnebago. Probably it was he who founded the most
important old mission center for the Potawatomi on the St. Joseph River near the
Indiana-Michigan line. As early as 1712 the mission was in a thriving state, and
for long decades the Jesuits labored there for the spiritual good of the
In 1773, tragedy struck when, under pressure
brought to bear upon him by the Bourbon courts of Europe, Pope Clement XIV
suppressed the Society of Jesus. It would not be solemnly re-established
throughout the Church until 1814 by Pius VII. With the suppression went the ruin
of the Jesuit establishments in the West. The natives of the forests were left
without priests, but the faith among them was not to perish altogether, for they
passed on to their descendants some rudiments of Catholic belief and a desire to
receive the "blackrobes," a desire that would lead one day to the establishment
of our own "St. Mary's Mission."
Missions in Maryland and Kentucky: Fathers White
Turning to another thread of our story, we meet Fr.
Andrew White, S.J., the "Apostle of Maryland," who arrived there in 1734. Fr.
White, and the Jesuits who followed him, labored for both the white and Indian
population of the colony until the suppression of 1773. When the ban was first
lifted in 1805, Bishop Carroll summoned the priests who had formerly been
members of the Society of Jesus, and encouraged them to begin a new Maryland
Jesuit mission and novitiate, first at Georgetown College, and later at a
country estate, White Marsh.
A diocesan priest who secured many vocations from
Belgium for the Jesuits' new Maryland Mission was the husky Belgian Fr. Charles
Nerinckx, "Apostle of Kentucky" and one of the greatest missionaries in our
history. When he arrived in 1805 to join Fr. Stephen Badin (first priest
ordained in the U.S.), Kentucky was then the western edge of the United States.
Throwing himself into the missionary circuit, Fr. Nerinckx, mounted on his mare
"Printer," travelled the rough trails in all weathers to bring the faith to the
pioneer Kentucky settlers. He built many churches and founded the order of the
Sisters of Loretto.
On trips back to Belgium Fr. Nerinckx recruited
young men to join the few aging Jesuit fathers laboring in America. Among those
who answered his call were Felix Verreydt of Diest, future founder of St.
Mary's; Peter de Smet of Termonde, who became the famous missionary of the
Northwest; and Peter Verhaegen of Haeght, who would be missionary of central
Another Belgian with a missionary vocation was Fr.
Charles Felix Van Quickenborne, S.J., from the diocese of Ghent. Arriving in
Maryland in 1817, he served scattered Catholics, attempted to convert the
Protestants, and reached out to the Indians who knew the stories of Fr. Jogues,
and were begging for "blackgowns" to teach their people. Until the end of his
life, Fr. Van Quickenborne's great yearning was to evangelize the Red Men.
The Jesuits Arrive is Missouri: Early Work of
Fathers Verreydt and Hoecken
Louis Du Bourg, a native of Santo Domingo and second Bishop of Louisiana and the
Floridas, invited the Maryland Jesuits into the Mississippi Valley. In 1823, Fr.
Van Quickenborne led a little group on the arduous journey westward over the
Cumberland Road, by boat down the great rivers, and on foot across the muddy
bottoms of the Mississippi. Having crossed to the western shore of the "Father
of Waters" at the fair-sized town of St. Louis, the young Jesuits thougtht that
they had entered another continent!
They were installed on Bishop DuBourg's land at
Florissant, where they were befriended by St. Philippine Duchesne and her Ladies
of the Sacred Heart. The impoverished Jesuit novices felled trees, built their
own cabins, and struggled through the first winter as best they could while
carving out of the wilderness a farm with which to support themselves.
From the novitiate the fathers rode a circuit among
scattered pioneer Catholic families of Missouri. Fr. Van Quickenborne and Mother
Duchesne were kindred spirits who desired nothing so much as to work among the
Indians, and already in 1824 attempted to start schools for Indian boys and
Fr. John Felix Livinus Verreydt
Among those first novices at Florissant were Peter De Smet and Felix Verreydt,
who had been admitted to the Society on his arrival in Maryland in 1821. Born in
1798, Fr. Verreydt would live into his 80's, and would be the founder and first
superior of St. Mary's Mission during his middle life. At Florissant, Mr.
Verreydt was prefect in Fr. Van Quickenborne's short-lived Indian boys' school,
which meant that he had to corral the boys, care for them, and teach them not to
be ashamed of manual labor.
Mr. Verreydt caused Fr. Van Quickenborne some
anxiety as to his fitness for the priesthood; however he mastered his faults and
as a priest was a great consolation to his superior. Fr. Verreydt was ordained
September 23, 1827, with De Smet and two others, in St. Ferdinand's Church at
Florissant. Assigned to nearby St. Charles, where the Jesuits had the first
stone church, in the diocese, he rode from there to surrounding mission
In 1835, he became the first resident pastor at
Portage des Sioux, an impoverished Creole parish in the Mississippi bottoms. In
the rotting wooden church (which he soon replaced with a brick one), Father
found a few benches, a hole in the sacristy wall that served as a confessional,
and "vestments so shabby you would not be allowed to use them in Flanders."
Next he was sent to Dardenne where the church was
so dilapidated that the holes in the floor were a real hazard. Again, he built a
Later, Fr. Verreydt was missionaire ambulant, riding circuit over the territory
opened up by Fr. Verhaegen in central Missouri upriver as far as Jefferson City.
He also traveled up the Mississippi to the Salt River District of northeastern
Missouri, then being settled by Kentucky families. Bishop Flaget of Bardstown
had advised them to locate close together so priests could more easily take care
Except in winter when the roads were impassable,
Fr. Verreydt was on the road nine months of the year, and visited each of his
little groups three times annually. He described the life of a circuit priest:
the lonely hours on horseback; the dangerous crossing of swollen streams; the
gathering of pioneer families from miles around for confession and Mass in
someone's home; the Protestants who came to hear a sermon, and were so edified
by the Catholics that they were sometimes converted; the sessions of instruction
that went on till late at night; the families who had to sleep over because they
were far from home; and the necessity that fell on the pioneer wife of feeding
all these people. The following day, it was on to the next house thirty miles
away by horseback, and all to do over again. Since Catholics wanted a decent
place for Mass, they would soon set up log chapels, and these were eventually
replaced by true churches.
Fr. Christian Hoecken
One of the greatest Indian missionaries of Kansas,
Fr. Christian Hoecken, was another Belgian who had been recruited by M. Pierre
Jean De Nef, director of St. Joseph's College, Turnhout. A generous benefactor
of the Missouri Jesuits, he was their zealous lay recruiting agent!
Already a priest, Fr. Hoecken set sail from Antwerp
on September 5, 1832, began his Jesuit noviceship in Maryland, and completed it
at Florissant. We will see much of him in the course of this narrative.
Work Among the Indians of Kansas: The Kickapoo
Despite the fact that there were never enough
priests both to care for the churches, schools, and colleges of the whites and
to evangelize the Indians, Fr. Van Quickenborne's determination to begin Indian
missions never flagged. In 1827, he first contacted the Osage in southeastern
Kansas, although it would be years later through the efforts of Fr. Verreydt
before a permanent mission could be set up among them.
In 1835, Fr. Van Quickenborne visited the Kickapoos
in northeastern Kansas near Fort Leavenworth. This tribe had come in contact
with Jesuit missionaries in America as early as 1669. In June 1836, Fr. Van
Quickenborne with Brothers Mazzella, Barry and Miles, arrived to found the
Kickapoo mission. While the Indians looked on in wonder, the first Mass was
offered up on the feast of Corpus Christi in the cabin of a French trader.
Fr. Hoecken arrived and astonished the Indians by
learning their language, for which he even composed a grammar. While Br.
Mazzella was erecting a log building, the religious lived in a rough cabin and
slept on the floor. When the Jesuits performed the spiritual exercises of the
annual eight-day retreat in the sweltering heat in the cabin, the Indians
strolled in to stare at the blackrobes in prayer, but never dared interrupt
Although only 50 years of age, Fr. Van Quickenborne
was worn out from his labors. In 1837, he was recalled to St. Louis where he
died and was buried at Florissant.
Meanwhile, despite difficulties from the very
beginning, the fathers opened a school with 20 Kickapoo pupils. Fr. Hoecken
taught English; Fr. Verreydt, music, Br. Miles, penmanship. Even though the
Indians loved Fr. Hoecken, "the Kickapoo Father," the harvest was not great;
only about 30 attended Sunday Mass regularly. The arrival of whites peddling
liquor and vice further hampered the work of the missionaries and in 1841 the
mission had to close its doors. After that, the Kickapoo were served from Sugar
Creek or other missions.
St. Joseph's Potawatomi Mission at Council Bluffs
In the summer of 1835, during one of his trips to
Indian country, Fr. Van Quickenborne had met a band of Potawatomi who begged for
a Catholic missionary.
Since there are several bands of Potawatomi in our
story, an explanation will be helpful. By the 1830's the government removal of
the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to unoccupied lands in the Indian
Territory of the west was in full operation. The pressure from westward moving
white settlers was inescapable. They brought the land under cultivation and
caused the roving Indians to lose their hunting grounds. The Indians were
cheated by the whites and corrupted by their influence. Even the Indians'
friends, the missionaries, agreed that it was better to move them away from the
corrupting influence of the whites to the west where the fathers could set up
missions for them. By continual government treaties the Indians were
dispossessed of their eastern lands and moved westward.
Over time, the Potawatomi of Michigan, Indiana, and
Illinois emigrated westward in successive bands to the new reserves in eastern
Kansas. Sometimes they intermingled, sometimes they settled only temporarily in
a spot before moving on; thus, complicating the story. The Council Bluffs
Potawatomi, also called the Prairie Band, had come primarily from Illinois, many
from the Chicago vicinity. By 1840, the Potawatomi of the Osage River district
in Kansas were divided in three bands: The St. Joseph band on Pottawatomie
Creek; the Potawatomi of the Wabash about 15 miles south at Big Sugar Creek
(named for the sugar maples along its banks); and the Prairie Potawatomi
dispersed among both groups, with some residing among the Kickapoos near
After the failure of the Kickapoo Mission, Fr.
Verhaegen set up a new mission of St. Joseph near Council Bluffs (Iowa). Fr.
Verreydt and Br. Mazzella were named for the initial staff. Fr. De Smet's name
was substituted for another priest, and thus, almost accidentally, America's
great future missionary of the Northwest entered the mission field and began his
adventures -- which make an entire history in themselves.
On May 31, 1838, two thousand Potawatomi, came to
greet the missionaries, but the "great number" of Catholics the fathers had
heard about proved to be non-existent. Only a few had been baptized or knew any
prayers. Since they changed their wives "as often as the gentlemen of St. Louis
change their coats," converting them was going to be difficult!
Col. Kearney gave the Jesuits an old block-house
which they made into the first Catholic chapel in western Iowa. One of the
fathers' first conquests was the wife of the head chief -- she became a fervent
Catholic. Baptisms of both adults and children followed; couples received
Christian marriage; and groups began gathering to recite prayers in common.
Fr. Verreydt was edified by the Indians'
politeness, for they never got out of temper or argued during conversations. The
one menace to their peace was drink. Each arrival of the steamer with its cargo
of whisky resulted in drunkenness, brawls and killings. The drink evil would be
the downfall of the mission that had been so promising. Fr. Verreydt, who had
300 Christians and 50 candidates for First Communion, wrote to the Carmelites in
Termonde, Belgium, begging prayers for his poor neophytes.
In spring the missionaries were destitute for
supplies when the steamer bearing them sank. They only saved a plough with which
they could plant corn, and wine that they might continue to offer Mass.
When Fr. De Smet went upriver to negotiate peace
with the Sioux (who kept the Potawatomi in terror), it was the beginning of his
work among the Indians of the northwest. Later, when the Flatheads from west of
the Rockies travelled all the way to St. Louis to ask for a blackrobe, Fr. De
Smet would be sent to them.
It is interesting to note that Catholicism around
the city of St. Joseph in northwestern Missouri traces to visits of Fathers Van
Quickenborne, De Smet, and Verreydt to the area in the years 1837-38. In 1838,
the first Mass was offered in the home of a settler by Fr. Eysvogels, and
records show that Fr. Christian Hoecken administered the sacraments there in the
Fr. Hoecken and the Potawatomi in Southeastern
Fr. Hoecken was not stationed continuously at
Council Bluffs. In 1838 he founded a mission for the Christian Potawatomi who
had arrived in southeastern Kansas. Due to poor health, he returned for awhile
to the Missouri novitiate. In 1840, he was back at Council Bluffs with Fr.
Verreydt ministering to the 50 families who had had the courage to resist the
drink evil. But the situation worsened, and in 1841 the fathers were obliged to
turn their efforts to the "Forest Potawatomi" of Indiana who were already at
Sugar Creek in southeastern Kansas. In August, Fathers Hoecken and Verreydt,
with Brothers Mazzella and Miles went to Sugar Creek. After this, they travelled
periodically to Council Bluffs, until 1846 when those Potawatomi also moved to
the new reserve on the Kaw under the care of the Jesuits.
We go back now in our history to the year 1837,
when a chief of the Christian Potawatomi in southeastern Kansas, Nesswawke,
communicated with Fr. Hoecken at the Kickapoo Mission, begging for a priest. In
January, 1838, Fr. Hoecken travelled to their camp to offer Mass and witness the
marriages of two of the chief's daughters.
On one of these early trips Fr. Hoecken and his
superior Fr. Verhaegen travelled together. They became lost on the prairie and
slept out at night beside a fire to keep away the wild animals. Next morning
they were consoled to find an Indian cabin; the women preparing breakfast were
delighted when Fr. Hoecken spoke to them in Potawatomi and showed the fathers
the way to the cabin of Napoleon Bourassa, an important Potawatomi leader and
devout Catholic who had been educated in a Catholic school in Kentucky and spoke
fluent English and French. In October 1838, Fr. Hoecken was directed to take up
residence among those of the tribe who were living on Pottawatomie Creek. As we
will see, he got there just in time to receive Fr. Benjamin Petit and his 650
expatriated Indians who arrived in November. Later the tribe shifted 15 miles
south to Sugar Creek.
Fathers Stephen Badin and Benjamin Petit Among
Again we must go back to see the interesting
history of those 650 expatriated Indiana Potawatomi who reached southeastern
Kansas with Fr. Petit on November 4, 1838. Their Christianization had been the
work of two great priests. In 1830, there were Potawatomi on the
Indiana/Michigan borders who were children and grandchildren of those who had
been Christianized by the Jesuits in the 1700's. At Detroit, their chief Pokegan
approached the vicar-general Fr. Richard, pleading for a priest to break the
bread of life for his famishing tribesmen, and ended with a moving recitation of
the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Credo in his own language.
In that year they were sent Fr. Stephen Badin,
formerly of Kentucky. He found that only 20 of the Indians had been baptized;
but that the memory the "holy fathers" who had instructed their grandfathers was
so precious that they came eagerly and with simplicity to receive the true
religion. In two years, 300 converted; in another year, there were 600
At Fr. Badin's death in 1837, the Potawatomi begged
for another priest. His successor was Fr. Benjamin Marie Petit. Born in Brittany
in 1811, he had come to the United States as a seminarian. Just ordained, he
possessed the passionate zeal for souls of the great saints. Fr. Petit worked
among both the white settlers and Indians in the area of South Bend, Indiana and
Meanwhile, the government had been steadily moving
the Potawatomi bands westward. On August 6, 1838, the Indiana Potawatomi were to
have vacated their old lands; because certain conditions had not been met, they
refused to go. Fearing an uprising, the government rounded up 800 Potawatomi and
sent them westward like prisoners with a military escort. Their forced
emigration has been called the "Trail of Death."
When Fr. Petit caught up with the caravan, he found
his Christians marching under a burning sun in clouds of dust. The old and the
sick were dying, the children dropping from exhaustion. Father celebrated Mass
for them, ministered to the sick, and baptized some newly-born babies who soon
found themselves in the bliss of eternity. On the long trip across the dry
prairies, the Indians offered up their trials with the generosity of the first
Christians, gathered daily for prayers, and astonished the Americans by their
piety. About 30 died on the trip, and a large number deserted, so that at
journey's end there were only about 650 left in the party when they were
received with open arms by Fr. Hoecken.
Fr. Petit was relieved to be able to consign his
Christians once again to those Jesuits who had first given them the Faith. He
had written that he desired nothing but only the glory of God and the salvation
of these Christians. His mission accomplished, the courageous young priest fell
sick with fever. For six weeks, he suffered, shivering in winter cold in the
only shelter available, a tent. Fr. Hoecken, who had some knowledge of medicine,
nursed him as best he could.
Somewhat improved in January, Fr. Petit set out for
Indiana. Although three great open sores were draining his strength, he
journeyed by horseback and wagon to St. Louis. Arriving there in a state of
exhaustion, he was taken in by the Jesuits, who were edified by his patience and
resignation. Despite extreme weakness he begged to offer Mass for the feast of
the Purification. It was his last. On the 10th of February he died a holy death
and was buried at St. Louis. Only 27 years old, he had truly given his life for
the souls of his Potawatomi. In his will made shortly after his ordination in
1837 he had written, "If it should please God to send me death I accept it in
all love and submission to His amiable Providence and hope that His mercy will
have pity on me at the last moment. I commend myself to Mary now and at the hour
of my death."
The Sugar Creek Mission
Sugar Creek was in Linn County, eastern Kansas,
near the present Centerville. The Missionaries called it "St. Mary's Creek."
Alone, Fr. Hoecken cared for a flock of over 600, and trained catechists to go
out to neighboring tribes. When his health broke in the summer of 1839, forcing
him to return to St. Louis, Fr. Herman Aelen took his place.
Fr. Aelen is credited with naming the mission after
the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. The Indians built a large chapel
which was dedicated on Christmas Day, 1840, under the title "The Immaculate
Conception of the Blessed Virgin." Over 500 Potawatomi attended the High Mass
and Solemn Vespers. Young Indian girls carried a beautiful statue of the
Immaculate Virgin in procession all over the settlement that day as a token of
the devotion of the people of Sugar Creek to the Mother of God.
Many of the flock assisted at Mass daily, received
Communion regularly, were faithful in praying the Rosary, and had a great
devotion to the Blessed Mother to whom they loved to sing hymns in their own
tongue. On the eve of the Assumption in 1841, Fr. Aelen heard confessions in
Potawatomi for 18 hours! After the disappointments of the other missions, the
response of the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek was a great consolation. As the
congregation continually outgrew their church, they built larger ones, and were
working on their fourth at the time the mission was moved to St. Mary's.
In 1840 the Jesuits opened a school for Indian boys
at Sugar Creek; along with their lessons they learned to farm. Meanwhile,
recovering his health in Missouri, Fr. Hoecken was thrilling St. Philippine
Duchesne and her nuns with stories of the Potawatomi mission. The following
summer, she and her companions came to Sugar Creek to open a girls' school. (See
their story in the Christmas, 1995 issue of ST. MARY'S MAGAZINE.)
Accommodations were primitive, but soon there were
50 girls in the school, learning their lessons in reading and writing, domestic
skills from baking to sewing, and the prayers and hymns of the Church. The
Indian mothers came also to learn the secrets of housekeeping. Truly the sisters
brought civilization to the prairies.
Elderly Mother Duchesne wrote about the 50 First
Communicants, the 70 adult converts, and the 200 who received the Brown
Scapular. They gathered for Mass and catechism, and morning and evening prayers.
In August, 1841, after the failure at Council
Bluffs, Fr. Hoecken returned to Sugar Creek with Fr. Verreydt, who was named new
superior, and Brothers Mazzella and Miles.
In 1843 there were 61 pupils in each of the
schools. The parish boasted many confraternities, and liturgical functions
included an eight-day mission preached according to the Spiritual Exercises of
St. Ignatius, May devotions, novenas, blessing of crops on St Mark's day, and
elaborate processions for Corpus Christi. When Bishop Kenrick came in 1842, the
Indians received him with tremendous pomp, and he confirmed 300. By 1847 there
were 1300 Christian Potawatomi coming to the mission, and Fr. Verreydt wrote of
the innocent and industrious lives of many, whom he compared to the early
Christians. The priests reported that there were some who lived such innocent
lives that they had probably never committed a mortal sin.
Fr. Verrydt told of one Indian, a sterling example of piety, who confided to Fr.
Hoecken that he had seen, even sometimes during Holy Communion, the visible
presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The fathers gave credit to his
words due to the holy life he led.
The church was packed every Sunday, with some of
the congregation having to hear Mass from outside the doors. Fr. Verreydt wrote,
"All listen to the word of God with admirable attention. If during the sermon a
child becomes noisy, the mother immediately removes it from the church. It is
all silence; nothing is heard except the strong voice of Fr. Hoecken who speaks
to them in their own language like an Indian himself."
Indeed, it was to Fr. Verreydt's sorrow that he
could never learn the Potawatomi language. Those who were able to master it at
all required at least two years. Already feeling the ravages of age and of
rheumatism, he despaired of ever learning it. Although superior of the mission,
Fr. Verreydt could only hear the confessions of the sisters, the brothers, and a
few other English-speaking persons. The whole burden of preaching and confessing
the Indians fell to Fr. Hoecken, who was more and more worn down by the heavy
load of work.
Despite his inability to learn the language, Fr.
Verreydt founded in 1844 the Osage Mission for the Indians who had been moved
from their ancient lands along the Osage in Missouri to southeast Kansas. This
mission, the cradle of Catholicism in southeast Kansas, had an illustrious
history under long-time superior Fr. John Schoenmakers, a Belgian, and Fr. Paul
Ponziglione, the son of a count of Turin.
For some time, the Jesuits at Sugar Creek were the
only Catholic priests for the white settlers on the Missouri-Kansas line. It
seems that Fr. Aelen gave the name of St. Francis Regis to the first Church of
Westport (Kansas City), and during the period of 1841-46, when there was no
other priest, Fr. Verreydt was virtually its pastor -- a trip of 70 miles on
horseback. He also went on trips to serve the Catholics of Independence, the
German settlement at Deepwater, and the soldiers at Fort Scott.
Fr. Verreydt begged for another missionary who
could learn the Potawatomi tongue, and remarked that he himself felt like a
little bird on a branch, meant to fly away at any time to some other assignment.
The Jesuits had also to teach the Potawatomi how to
become farmers: to split rails and put up fences, to manage a plow, to plant and
harvest, and to build permanent houses. Having been free-roaming hunters they
had no skill nor love for tilling the land. By nature, they preferred to go
hunting, or to tap the sugar maples for their excellent sweet sap.
Instructing the Indians in farming was difficult
enough, but it became truly futile if their enemy, "firewater," was not kept at
a distance. When that old demon once again lifted its head, Fr. Verreydt formed
the Indians into an anti-liquor brigade who broke the bottles of any liquor
smuggled into the village. The Potawatomi repeatedly built blockhouses as jails
for the drunkards and dealers in fire-water; repeatedly cohorts of the drunks
burned the jail to the ground. The brigade could never entirely root out the
liquor evil which began seriously to hamper the work of the missionaries.
Recalling the disasters to other missions the fathers trembled for their flock,
and when the government proposed transferring the Potawatomi to a new reserve
away from the unscrupulous liquor-trading whites, they welcomed the idea.
Beginnings at the New Saint Mary's
The new reserve, some 30 miles square and lying on
both sides of the Kaw (Kansas) River, was a little west of the present Topeka.
Reports of early explorations, mainly on the bare and hilly south side of the
river, were so negative that the whole village was "in the dumps," Even the
Sisters were discouraged. Fr. Verreydt then made a personal inspection tour and
reported that there was good and sufficient timber for building on the north
side of the river.
As the Potawatomi bands began moving to their new
lands. Fr. Hoecken and Br. Mazzella accompanied them. Fr. Verreydt scouted the
area to find a suitable mission-site from which the Jesuits could serve all the
Indians settlements on both sides of the Kaw. It had to be close enough to the
fertile bottom land and the good stands of timber near the river, but not too
close due to the danger from flooding. There were signs that the water had been
very deep in the bottom-land during spring flood. Asking the Blessed Mother to
help him find a good mission site which he would name for her, Father rode to a
high point from which he could see for miles. Early in June, 1848, he settled on
the spot which is the St. Mary's campus today.
Arrival of Fr. Gailland; the Move to St. Mary's
Assigned to Sugar Creek just as the missionaries
were preparing for the big move, Fr. Maurice Gailland, S.J., was a young Swiss
and an excellent missionary. Born in 1815, he was at this time in the peak of
his manhood. His Latin diary, packed with vivid detail, would become the chief
chronicle of the new Mission. On August 16, the party began their rigorous
90-mile journey. They slept in tents with buffalo robes for beds, and with fires
burning to keep the mosquitos away. At daylight they were enroute again, using
the sun for a compass. Fr. Gailland wrote, "The plains present a strange and
wild, but at the same time, a grand and beautiful appearance. Stretching out and
away in the distance, they seem, like the ocean, to have naught but the blue sky
for limit, where the eye loses itself in their immensity."
When they reached Fr.Hoecken's temporary dwelling
at Wakarusa Creek, Fr. Gailland hastened to meet the priest who had long been in
missionary labors. Inside the cabin he met Fr. Hoecken, dressed in surplice and
stole ready to hear confessions. His bent body, silvery hair, and thin pale face
told of his privations, sufferings and arduous labour. The younger priest
embraced him, and offered his services for the benefit of the dear Indians. Fr.
Hoecken replied, "With all my heart I accept your offer, for during many days
past I have been praying to God to send us some companions to share our labors."
Immediately Fr. Gailland applied himself to learn the Potawatomi tongue and in
time totally mastered it. Until his dying day at St. Mary's he expended himself
for the spiritual good of the Potawatomi.
On September 7, the travellers began the last stage
of their journey. The party was composed of Fathers Gailland and Verreydt, four
sisters, Brothers George Miles and Patrick Ragan, an Indian boarding student
named Charlot, and the guide and interpreter Joseph Bertrand of French and
Indian blood. High water on the river delayed them a day at Uniontown until they
could ford the river. At noon they stopped for dinner at Cross Creek
(Rossville), and at about four in the afternoon of September 9, 1848, they
arrived at the new St. Mary's.
In front of the hills that formed a backdrop to the
north, two identical log cabins had been prepared. Unfinished and uncaulked,
without windows, doors, or floors, they offered but little shelter from wind and
rain, and boasted no furniture excepting what the missionaries had brought with
them. They erected a cross on the hill overlooking the houses, and made the
cabins as habitable as possible against the cool night air and wind. They sorely
missed the handy Br. Mazzella, who had been left behind sick with fever.
Presently many of the party also fell ill and things looked gloomy indeed.
Everyone welcomed Br. Mazzella when he arrived on September 26. Although still
unwell, he commenced work on the two unfinished buildings which were ultimately
enlarged. They were parallel, located about 110 yards apart in the area of the
present Convent and Library buildings. Br. Mazzella quickly put up a temporary
chapel and a barn for the horses.
Fr. Hoecken arrived in October with a few Indians
who settled around the mission and came to hear him preach regularly in
Potawatomi. In November he left to minister to the Indians who had gone into the
country to hunt and make sugar. The rest of the company, far from civilization
and supplies, were left to face the winter alone.
The winter of 1848-49 was so extraordinarily severe
that Fr. Gailland ran out of Latin adjectives to describe in his diary the
intense cold, the leaden skies, and the deep snow-drifts that prevented any mail
being brought in. Eventually the ink froze in his pen. For eighty days the Kaw
was ice-bound and could be used as a wagon road. Due to the cold there was no
Christmas Midnight Mass, and on Christmas day each priest celebrated only one
Mass. Fr. Verreydt preached in English in the morning with either Bertrand or
John Tipton as interpreter, while at afternoon Vespers Fr. Gailland spoke in
French for the mixed-blood settlers. Food was running low; some accounts say
there was only a bag of cornmeal left. When the Indian boy Charlot went out to
hunt he bagged only two prairie hens. On New Year's day a crowd of Indians
brought a gift of venison to the mission.
In January Fr. Hoecken returned much the worse for
cold and hunger. By February the winter was moderating when news reached the
mission of the advent of an unwelcome visitor: cholera. Its coming was hastened
by the parties of westward-bound immigrants passing on the Oregon-California
trail. Many perished, their trailside graves identified by primitive markers. It
was impossible to conduct school, for the Indians had fled before the epidemic.
The three priests constantly rode out to the Indian settlements administering
remedies to body and soul, for both Fr. Hoecken and Br. Mazzella were skilled in
medicine. Finally in July the scourge abated.
During 1849, a log chapel was built beside the
Oregon Trail. Meanwhile the Fathers supervised the erection of other chapels in
villages around the reserve.
St. Mary's Mission was a school from the very
beginning: a boarding school for boys and one for girls were opened immediately,
and the Potawatomi eagerly sent their children to attend. In the first winter
there had been only a handful of pupils, but in September, 1849, there were a
total 57 boarders and 10 day students.
That autumn, Fr. Verreydt was assigned to parochial
work in St. Louis and never returned to the Indian missions. He died in 1883 at
the age of 85. It is appropriate to quote from a letter he received while
superior from the Jesuit General, Fr. John Roothaan in Rome: "Do not let
yourself be discouraged, my dear Father; this mission, I hope, will not be
ruined like the others. Establish there solidly the devotion to the Immaculate
Heart of Mary; it will be an effective preservative..."
Father John Baptist Duerinck
Succeeding Fr. Verreydt was another Belgian, Fr.
John Baptist Duerinck, who arrived on November 3, 1849, accompanied by Br.
Daniel Doneen and a lay teacher, Mr. Ryan. As a scholastic, Fr. Duerinck had
come to Florissant in 1834 from Maryland novitiate. During his priestly life he
had held posts at colleges of his order in St. Louis and Cincinnati. Prior to
his appointment at St. Mary's he had been treasurer at St. Joseph's College,
Bardstown, Kentucky. He was a distinguished botanist for whom a newly-discovered
plant had been named, Prunus Duerinckiana. Now forty years of age with excellent
health, he would give his remaining years to St. Mary's where his name still
endures on "Durink" Street.
Regarded as an island of civilization by travellers
on the Oregon Trail, the mission continued to grow and by 1850 became the
temporary seat of the newly-appointed Bishop John Miége, S.J. The little log
chapel beside the Trail was the first cathedral in the vast territory between
the Missouri border and the Rocky Mountains!
In the mind of the Jesuit superiors, St. Mary's was
an Indian mission and nothing more, but the pressure of circumstances caused the
mission to extend its beneficent hand to the white settlers as well. First,
there were the government employees on the reserve, and then the settlers who
eventually formed the little town of St. Mary's adjacent to the Mission. Much
could be written about those early settlers whose names have been given to the
streets of St. Mary's, among them the Bertrands, and Dr. Luther Palmer. Dr.
Palmer came as government physician to the Indians, later converted to the
Catholic faith, and married the widow of Amable Bertrand.The oldest stone in Mt.
Calvary marks the grave of another Bertrand, Lawrence, who died in 1849 at the
age of 34 years.
The priests at the Mission were loved by the white
settlers. It was said that the goodness of Fr. Duerinck had done a great deal
for the conversion of many a family who knew what it was to meet a kind friend
in a desert place far from family or friends. He often assisted settlers with
seeds and sold them cattle on credit.
While the Fathers encouraged the Indians to farm
and keep livestock so that they could be assured of food, the sisters' excited
the admiration of all with their work among the girls to whom they taught both
academic subjects and domestic skills. Their labors were crowned with the fruit
of religious vocations. In 1852 the sisters had over sixty boarding students.
Death of Father Hoecken
In June of 1850, Fr. Christian Hoecken set out on a
gruelling missionary trip to the Sioux country. Hardship was not alien to him
and he had written, "I wish to work, to toil, to suffer as much as I can and as
long as I live -- I hope and trust in God to give me rest and repose, not in
this side, but beyond the grave."
After his return to St. Mary's early in 1851, in
the spring he was sent to Indiana to persuade some other Potawatomi to relocate
in Kansas where the fathers could care for their spiritual good.
In the chapel of Notre Dame University, Fr. Hoecken
preached in Potawatomi with facility and rapidity, to the joy of the Indians who
had travelled long distances to hear his words flowing in their own tongue. It
was the first sermon ever preached in an Indian tongue in northern Indiana.
Unfortunately, Father's mission was not a success.
Called back to St. Louis, he was to accompany Fr.
De Smet to Ft. Laramie on the Upper Platte River for a great council of all the
Indian tribes east of the Rockies. The two boarded the steamer St. Ange bound
for Ft. Union, 1800 miles away. A few days out of St. Louis, and 500 miles
upstream, cholera broke out among the passengers. The boat became a floating
hospital. Fr. De Smet was confined to his bed with a bilious attack lasting ten
days. Fr. Hoecken wore himself out ministering to the sick and dying, and
blessing the graves of those who were buried along the river banks. As the
rigors of missionary life had worn Fr. Hoecken down, Fr. De Smet begged him to
take care of himself. When it seemed that Fr. De Smet was also coming down with
cholera, he asked Fr. Hoecken for the last rites; at that moment the father had
to attend to others who were dying, and he assured Fr. De Smet that he was in no
Some hours later, in the wee hours of the night,
Fr. De Smet heard Fr. Hoecken calling him. He dragged himself to his side and
found his friend in his last extremity from cholera! The ship's doctor
endeavored to help, but all remedies were fruitless. Fr. De Smet administered
Extreme Unction to which Fr. Hoecken responded with a self-possession and piety
that struck all the passengers. Fearing that he too might die, Fr. De Smet
begged Fr. Hoecken, then in his last agony, to hear his confession. Sick almost
to death himself, Fr. De Smet knelt, bathed in tears, beside his dying brother
priest and made his confession. Soon strength forsook Fr. Hoecken, and Fr. De
Smet began the prayers for the dying. Fr. Hoecken surrendered his soul on the
19th of June, 1851, twelve days after the departure from St. Louis, near the
mouth of the Little Sioux.
All agreed that the body of the great missionary
must be properly buried. A very thick coffin was prepared and Fr. Hoecken was
buried on the evening of his death with all the ceremonies of the Church while
all the passengers assisted. Fr. De Smet remarked on the immediate fruit of the
good missionary's death: just after the funeral, numbers of passengers who had
not been to confession for years came to Fr. De Smet's cabin to confess. A month
later on the return trip, the coffin was exhumed and Fr. Hoecken's remains were
transported back to Florissant for his final rest.
Father Duerinck Advances the Mission
Fr. Duerinck was the first to introduce the
"McCormick Virginia Reaper" to the prairies. In 1852, he ordered a McCormick
mower costing $100.00, which was shipped from St. Louis up the Kansas River to
St. Mary's Landing. The horse-drawn implement was the wonder of the countryside.
Hearing that Fr. Duerinck had cut his 60 acres of oats in 5 days, people came
from 25 miles away to see such a wonder. In 1853 the college cut over 500 tons
of hay and oats without a breakdown.
Much concerned with the obligation of teaching
agriculture to the Indians, Fr. Duerinck built up the farm as a model. The
mission also depended on the farm for its upkeep. From disabled cattle that had
been left behind by emigrants on the Oregon Trail, he developed a superior herd.
In years of crop failure, Fr. Duerinck was hard-pressed to keep the schools
open, and once travelled all the way to Washington to get the government to
raise the 50-dollar annual allotment per student to 75 dollars! By 1855, with
140 mouths to feed, and only a slender government subsidy, the school was losing
money on each student, and the more students who arrived, the worse off was the
But seeing the fruits of their work among the
Indian children and their families, the staff persevered. The boys were becoming
well-mannered, civilized, and serious about their studies; the girls were
learning homemaking as well as their lessons. The whole mission was neat and
clean and won the admiration of all who visited it.
Now, as his work was prospering, Fr. Duerinck was
to be carried off by a premature death.
Death of Father Duerinck
In the autumn of 1857, Fr. Duerinck was instructed
to return to Florissant for his tertianship, or third year of probation, in
preparation for pronouncing his final vows as a Jesuit. He wrote his superior
that he would comply at once, and left for Leavenworth, planning to travel from
there to St. Louis. But he never reached St. Louis.
On December 14, Fr. De Smet was visited at St.
Louis University by an old acquaintance, Captain Mullan, who brought sad news.
He had seen Fr. Duerinck at Bishop Miége's house in Leavenworth; from there the
priest had gone by stage to Kansas City. The river was too low at Kansas City
for the steamer; Mullan had heard that six gentlemen had taken a flatboat
downstream from Wyandotte ferry with the intention of reaching a steamer at
Liberty; one of the six was a priest. Below Independence Landing the boat struck
a snag, upset, and three were drowned, the priest among them. Fearing that the
priest was Fr. Duerinck, Fr. De Smet offered a Mass for him, and hastened to set
Fr. De Smet made a trip up the Missouri in the hope
of finding the body of Fr. Duerinck. Hearing of a steamboat captain who had
found a body washed up on a sandbar and caused it to be buried, Fr. De Smet
sought out this solitary grave near the town of Liberty;, but the occupant
proved to be not Fr. Duerinck, but probably a deckhand. The body of Fr. Duerinck
was never found, and Fr. De Smet noted that it was one time St. Anthony did not
answer his prayers.
Fr. Gailland wrote of Fr. Duerinck that he spared
no effort to keep the Mission going for the sake of his Indian children. He
never complained of his own infirmities, braving the coldest weather to take
care of their needs. Sometimes on these excursions his own limbs became as cold
and hard as stone and had to be bathed in water, when only cold water was
available. He neglected his sleep, forgot his meals, was ready for any sacrifice
for his Indians. And yet he was ever patient and kind, untroubled in
countenance, always humble, never vain, happy to do the most menial tasks, and
no trouble ever disturbed his peace of soul.
Father John Schultz, Third Rector
Fr. Duerinck's successor arrived in December, 1858.
Fr. John Schultz was born in Alsace on the upper Rhine in 1816; he had worked
previously among the Potawatomi and had learned the language. Not being a farmer
and being too much a foreigner to deal with the government as Superintendent of
an American school, he felt himself incapable of the task. "My accent is too
French or German to please native ears." However, he remained as an excellent
superior through the time when the Indians were leaving the area. He was
eventually called to the presidency of St. Xavier College, Cincinnati, and died
at St. Louis in 1887. Fr. John Diels, a Belgian, became his successor at St.
Changes Come to St. Mary's Mission
By the end of the 1860's the Indians had gradually
disappeared before the flood of white settlers coming to the prairies, or had
intermarried with them. The Jesuits realized that a new direction was necessary
for St. Mary's and the superiors decided to convert the Mission into a boys'
college. They reasoned that its location in the very center of the country along
the transcontinental railroad would make it accessible to boarding students from
across the land. Its rural situation would promote innocence in morals and
Fr. Gailland wrote prophetically: "Wherefore, Mary
Immaculate, through the medium of the college which is to be built and the
patronage of which she has undertaken, will undoubtedly through a long
succession of years be the glory of the region and the honor of the Christian
people, an issue which is the object of our prayers and hopes in God."
On May 31, 1870, under the direction of James
McGonigle, who had been contractor for the Leavenworth cathedral of Bishop Miége,,
the new College building was begun at the foot of the hill (near the present
grotto). In January, 1872, the 94 boarders at the college moved into their new
building which was solemnly blessed on February 8, with a solemn High Mass and a
procession from the old log church to the college. This magnificent building,
which marked the entry of the one-time Indian mission into the field of college
education, would be destroyed by fire on February 3, 1879, and the big academy
building of the sisters would become the college building (which it still is
The Death of Father Gailland
At the request of Fr. De Smet, Fr. Gailland
composed an English-Potawatomi dictionary; he had accomplished the almost
impossible task of rendering metaphysical ideas in Potawatomi. Unpublished, his
work remained in the archives of old St. Mary's College.
From that September day in 1848 when Fr. Gailland
arrived at St. Mary's until the moment of his death, his devotion to the
Potawatomi never knew a moment's respite, and their passing from the area was a
great sorrow to him.
With the invasion of white settlers all around the
Indian reserves, the government decided to give the Indians individual ownership
of their lands, and rights of U.S. citizenship as well. This appeared to many as
a good move, but Fr. Gailland was skeptical. When the Indians agreed to the
government treaties of 1861 and 1867, he knew that such steps were unavoidable
due to the force of events, but that they would lead to their ruin as a tribe.
He prophesied "woe to you Indians when your lands are sectionized."
Among the settlers were always the greedy, the
dishonest, and of course, the liquor-sellers. It was impossible for the
law-enforcement agents to stay ahead of them all. By 1870, the government paid
the Indians cash for their lands, but it was a sad day for those who did not
bank their funds and who were exploited by white opportunists. Fr. Gailland
wrote, "It is the gloomiest page in the story of the Potawatomi."
In his biography of Fr. Gailland, Br. De Vriendt
pictures the scenes that were daily witnessed as the helpless Indians played
into the hands of unscrupulous whites. He shows Fr. Gailland discoursing sadly
to his fellow Jesuits in the faculty recreation room, telling of land-sharks who
have cheated another family out of their farm for a low price. Fr. Gailland
suffered much to see the misfortunes of his dear flock; he wished to have the
joy of giving them each the last rites and seeing them go to heaven when they
Br. De Vriendt paints for us a picture: there is a
rap on the door; an Indian enters, "Fr. Gailland, some white man wants to buy my
claim." The priest answers, "I forbid you to sell it to these landsharks, for
you will begin to drink as soon as you get the money and you will become a bad
man and die unhappy and go to hell." The answer: "Father, I promise you I shall
not sell, but will do as you told me. Goodby, Father, and pray for me."
Then there is another rap at the door; someone
comes to tell Father that one of the families he had warned about taking the
money and going toTopeka to drink did so anyway, and on the way back the boy
fell between the train cars and was killed. Or another report of some Potawatomi
who sold their land and went to gamble and drink; they fell into a quarrel and
one was killed. And Fr. Gailland exclaims, "Oh! Devil's drink! These were two of
our best! They did well in school, were examples in the church, and good
workers, and now this money for their claim has worked their destruction. Oh! My
Indians, if you had never possessed land, how happy you would be!"
The pages of the house diary of St. Mary's on into
the '70's record the disappearance of the Indians, some of whom went south to
Indian Territory in Oklahoma. In 1876, Fr. Gailland estimated that Indians
living on their own sections in the old reserve numbered about 600, and he
wrote, "What a sad spectacle it is for a missionary to see the work of so many
years thus destroyed, and his flock devoured by merciless wolves... One thing,
however, in my bitter grief consoles me, that a certain number, small indeed,
have remained firm and that to my knowledge none of those that have forsaken the
path of virtue have lost the faith; this revives in them sooner or later
especially in times of sickness and adversity."
As long as his health permitted, Fr. Gailland
attended the spiritual wants of the Indians still clinging to their lands on the
preserve. He could not rest until he was certain that a sick Indian was not in
danger of death, and of passing out of this world without the Last Sacraments.
He would return to the mission in high spirits, "He is ripe for heaven; if he
passes out of this world now, I am satisfied."
He spent long hours in the confessional waiting for
Indian penitents. And when the confession hours were finished, he returned to
the chapel to see if some late-comer were waiting to confess. When an Indian was
loitering in the shadow of the chapel, Fr. Gailland accosted him, "Do you not
wish to go to confession? Come, come! I have time now. How do you know that you
will live till tomorrow?"
Although the whites came more and more to the
mission church, it was his Indians who were Fr. Gailland's first concern. One
Sunday, when a group of whites rose to leave before the services were ended, Fr.
Gailland berated them from the altar as being a scandal to the Indians.
One winter, Fr. Gailland received a call from a
sick Indian residing 23 miles from St. Mary's. He went promptly, but in crossing
the river he fell through the ice. He continued onward with his clothes frozen
to his body, spent the night in the Indian's hut without getting dry clothes,
and had to return thus the following day. Due to this exposure the missionary
contracted a paralysis from which he never fully recovered. Unable to ride a
horse any longer, he had to resort to a buggy to make his rounds, and was
frustrated when there was nobody free at the mission to drive him.
His last summons to the sick occurred in June,
1877, and was described by Br. De Vriendt: Rap, rap! "Fr. Gailland, an Indian is
sick near Topeka" It was a little before dinner. "Very well, I will start after
dinner with the cars (train)."
So, the good priest went, but he himself fell sick,
and brother infirmarian had to go get him. He was confined to bed for several
weeks, but improved enough to celebrate Mass on the feast of St. Ignatius
Loyola, July 31. In excellent spirits, he wished all a "happy feast." But it was
his last Mass, for he suffered a relapse, and declined rapidly, dying on August
12, 1877, at the age of 62 in full possession of his senses to the end, having
served the Potawatomi for nearly 30 years. Fr. Gailland was buried in Mount
Calvary, and with his passing four decades of the Jesuit mission to the
Potawatomi passed into history.
No history of St. Mary's could be complete without
including the life of missionary Bishop John Baptiste Miége who made this place
his see from 1850-55, and whose portrait graces the stained-glass window in our
In consequence of the revolutionary troubles of
1847-48, many German and Swiss Jesuits, had to leave Europe. John Baptist Miége,
a native of La Forêt in Savoy, had arrived in America in June, 1848, with Fr.
Behren's party of exiled Jesuits of the province of Upper Germany; he himself
was a member of the province of Turin and came to the new world in the hope of
laboring among the Indians of the Oregon Mission. His 46-day journey across the
Atlantic in the Providence under an inexperienced captain, a rough unreliable
crew, and a food shortage, was a rough one.
As it turned out he became a professor of moral
theology in the Florissant seminary because of his ability to speak German to
the refugee scholastics studying there. In 1849, Fr. Miége and Fr. Ignatius Maes
were sent out on an ill-fated mission to the Winnebago tribe who had been moved
westward from their homeland on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin to Long Prairie
Reservation in Minnesota.
Meanwhile in 1849, at the Seventh Provincial
Council of Baltimore, the "Indian Country" (that immense stretch of the Great
Plains between the western border of Missouri and the Rocky Mountains) was
organized into a vicariate-apostolic. It was an event that would bring the
little mission post of St. Mary's into importance in the ecclesiastical world!
The names of three Missouri Jesuits were proposed
for the choice of a new bishop. Jesuits did not ordinarily accept ecclesiastical
dignities, but a vicariate-apostolic and a mission among savage tribes was a
different matter from an episcopal see, and at last the Society agreed. Fr.
Miége was at St. Louis University when on October 20, 1850, he received the
brief of Pius IX appointing him Vicar-apostolic of the Indian Territory. He was
only 36 years of age, had not yet taken his final vows as a Jesuit, and felt
himself insufficient to the requirements of the episcopal office. He tried to
decline, but the Pope ordered him to accept. He was consecrated by Archbishop
Kenrick in St. Francis Xavier Church, St. Louis, on March 25, 1851.
From St. Mary's, Fr. Gailland wrote to urge Bishop
Miége to accept St. Mary's as his headquarters, explaining that the Indians were
eager to receive the "Great Black Robe." There were churches to be blessed, many
Indians to be confirmed, and at St. Mary's Fr. Gailland hoped that the humble
little log church with its beautiful altar made by Br. Mazzella would deserve to
be raised to the rank of Cathedral.
Bishop Miége was accompanied to St.Mary's by his
long-time friend, the Italian Jesuit Fr. Paul Ponziglione, who would spend more
than 30 years at work among the Osage. Leaving the riverboat at St. Joseph,
Missouri, they proceeded on horseback. With them in a wagon were Br. Sebastian
Schlienger, Br. Patrick Phelan, and lay helpers bringing a wagon with supplies
and furniture for the Mission.
Caught without shelter in one of Kansas' famous
thunderstorms, the religious were saying the Memorare when lightning struck so
close that it physically shook both them and their horses. The storm roared on,
and in the evening they found themselves in a high prairie where there was no
place to tie their animals, nor even a stick of wood with which to make a fire.
They ate bread and dry meat, standing with staffs in hand like the Israelites of
old. After a sleepless night, they greeted a clearing sky at dawn. But Bishop
Miége was suddenly nervous. He had heard a sound which he took to be the cries
of wild Indians coming to attack. When it proved to be the calls of many prairie
chickens, he took up his double-barrelled gun and returned twenty minutes later
with four fat chickens which they roasted for breakfast!
Approaching St. Mary's on the 31st of May, the
party were met by a large crowd of Potawatomi who had turned out with Frs.
Duerinck and Gailland to greet their new shepherd. Bishop Miége went to pray in
his new cathedral, and then was escorted to the little log-cabin that would be
his episcopal palace.
The next day, Sunday, June 1, all the Indians came
in procession on foot and horseback to pay honor to the Bishop and salute him
with a triple volley of musketry. After the Mass they came up one by one to kiss
the Bishop's ring. Fr. Gailland wrote, "our little church is filled with pride
and astonishment to see itself raised at a bound to the rank of a cathedral."
The Bishop reported that the Potawatomi tribe
comprised 3500 souls dispersed over the 30-square mile reserve; 1500 of them
were Catholics living in three villages, the largest being at St. Mary's where
each family had a cabin and cultivated their fields. Here also were abiding the
doctor, blacksmith, a few traders and some mixed-blood families. Most of the
600-700 Indians of St. Mary's heard Mass every day and received the sacraments
regularly. The Bishop was impressed with their piety and charity among
themselves. Two other villages were at a distance of about 20 miles from St.
Mary's, one on Soldier Creek. It was more difficult for these to remain Catholic
since there was no priest to spare to live among them.
After reaching St. Mary's, Bishop Miége rested and
waited for the ground to dry up (for it had been a wet spring) before visiting
the Osage Mission, some 160 miles to the south. No one knew the way, but Fr.
Duerinck at least had much experience with the Indians, and acted as guide to
the Bishop and Fr. Ponziglione. They travelled on horseback and reached the
Mission without trouble on July 4th. Fr. Schoenmakers was ready with all the
school children, the sisters, and the Indians who came out in procession to meet
the Bishop. A few days later, head chief George White Hair, with his braves in
best attire paid an official visit to the Bishop.
Things were not so happy a little later when a
measles epidemic carried off a number of the Osage children, whom their mothers
believed had been doomed when the missionaries poured water on their heads and
wrote their names in a big book (the baptismal registry). Only the intercession
of St. Joseph saved the missionaries from an uprising.
Bishop Miége loved the Indians and was much edified
by their piety. In his description of the 1852 Corpus Christi procession at St.
Mary's, he described the Indians who turned out in their finery at the hour
announced by the bell of the country cathedral, the discharges of musketry that
announced the beginning of the procession, the hundreds of horseman and marchers
on foot who bore their rifles in one hand and rosaries in the other, the little
girls and boys of the schools who sang as they walked along ahead of the canopy
under which the Holy Sacrament was carried, and the good Indian women at the
rear carrying their little ones on their backs. During the hour-long march there
alternated singing and prayers, all with the utmost order and reverent decorum.
The bishop concluded, "The blackrobes, on their part, cannot help experiencing a
lively emotion at the reflecting that St. Mary's is the only place in this
immense desert where anything is done in reparation of the insults offered to
our Divine Master in the Sacrament of His love."
In 1853, Bishop Miége, set out, accompanied by Fr.
De Smet, to represent the vice-province of Missouri at the Order's general
congregation held in Rome. They had a thrilling experience on the return voyage
in December, when their ship, the Humboldt, was wrecked by hidden rocks a few
miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. The captain was able to run her to shallow
water near shore before she sank, and all passengers were saved. The Jesuits
saved all but one box of treasures they were bringing from Europe, and when
Bishop Miége reached St. Mary's in March his flock was awed to see the chalices,
vestments, and relics of the saints he had brought to adorn his little
cathedral, together with many rosaries blessed by Pope Pius IX. The Indians were
amazed to hear the new organ, and all treasured another gift to the log
cathedral: a painting of its Patroness, the Immaculate Conception, reportedly by
the Italian court painter Benito. (Twenty years later this picture passed to the
new parish church of the Immaculate Conception, survived a fire, and was
installed in the present parish church built in 1882.)
During this time the Kansas-Nebraska bill threw
open the western territory to settlers, foreshadowing the end of the Indian
territory and the death sentence to the missions and diocese of Bishop Miége.
Settlers -- new souls to care for -- would pour in and civilize the country, but
it would be the end for the free-roaming Indian. In 1855 a civil war blazed
throughout Kansas over the question of slavery, but the Mission property was
left unharmed, and despite the violence, was able to continue its efforts in the
cause of education.
Bishop Miége looked toward the building of churches
in the pioneer settlements that were springing up, and bought lots for that
purpose. Everybody was begging for priests. In a letter to the Father General
the good Bishop writes that if the Jesuits do not come to his aid in this
matter, he sees nothing else to do but take his mule and gun and go hide in some
remote corner of the Rockies where no one can come to him with the wants of
Kansas and Nebraska! His five priests had to labor up and down through 14
degrees of latitude, to say nothing of longitude! The plains were now occupied
by new-born towns including Leavenworth, Atchison, Doniphan, Lawrence,
Lecompton, Topeka, St. George, Manhattan, Iola, Nemaha, Ft. Scott, and many
others. The confirmation records of the time show the varied complexion of the
population around St. Mary's: Indians of various tribes, many French names, and
a variety of English and other European names.
In 1855 it was decided to move Bishop Miége's
headquarters to Leavenworth, which was better located for visitation of
Nebraska. Mass had been offered there in a private home beginning in 1854, but
there were only seven Catholic families when the Bishop arrived. He soon built a
church in the rapidly growing town, and then another, and finally a Romanesque
The visitation of his immense vicariate led Bishop
Miége north into Nebraska Territory, and west into the present state of
Colorado. In 1860, he travelled to Denver to meet with Catholics. He crossed the
plains in his famous old carriage which he feared might not hold up for the
Historian James Defouri related a story which
occurred in 1865 when Bishop Miége was in Colorado and inspected the gold
diggings in the Pike's Peak region. Some French-speaking miners were surprised
at the arrival in their camp of a lonely bearded stranger carrying a gun over
his shoulder. He was tall and muscular, and they were a bit afraid, until he
began speaking to them in French, which they were glad to hear. He asked them
many questions and finally smiled and told them he was acquainted with their
bishop. Of course, the visitor turned out to be Bishop Miége himself! As he was
vicar-apostolic of the territory subsequently taken over by Bishop Lamy, he
figures in Willa Cather's famous novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop.
Bishop Miége never had enough priests to cover the
whole region, and often begged to be relieved of Nebraska Territory, which then
included Wyoming, the Dakotas, and the eastern part of Montana! In 1859 the
first Vicar-apostolic for Nebraska was finally consecrated. Bishop Miége never
felt himself fitted for the duties of his high position, and often asked to be
relieved of it. He had accepted it as a missionary to help the Indians, but
never considered himself fitted to administer to a territory now containing
500,000 persons. His health was breaking and he could no longer travel the 600
miles from east to west and the 300 miles from north to south in his charge.
Meanwhile, in 1868 he completed his imposing
twin-towered brick cathedral, dedicating to the Immaculate Conception on
December 8, 1868. The good bishop, who had an artistic and architectural mind,
had had it designed with a big sanctuary so the largest ceremonies could be
performed in comfort, and had embellished the church with frescoes and stained
glass windows. When Leavenworth was outstripped by Kansas City and did not
develop into the metropolis of the area, Bishop Miége was left with a crushing
debt on the cathedral. He attended Vatican Council I, and on its dissolution,
went to Latin America where he raised funds. Crossing the Andes on a mule was so
dizzying that his guide blindfolded the Bishop!
In 1871, the Benedictine, Fr. Fink, was consecrated and appointed coadjutor to
Bishop Miége. In 1874 Pius IX accepted Bishop Miége's resignation and he happily
returned to the status of a simple member of the Jesuit province of Missouri.
Located at the Jesuit seminary at Woodstock, Maryland, he was known once again
as "Father" Miége. In 1877 he became the first president of Detroit University.
In 1880 he returned to Woodstock as spiritual director, where he died in his
eightieth year, January 21, 1884.
Fr. Ponziglione described him as kind, amiable, in
all respects edifying, careful never to neglect his breviary or mental prayer.
He was always sociable to those accompanying him on his travels. When camping he
would go out with his shot-gun and bring back fresh venison. Never ostentatious,
he helped with the cooking and camp life. Bishop Miége was always charitable to
the poor, and they knew that if they knocked at his door he would not turn them
away without aid.
Father Louis Dumortier
Next to the stone of Fr. Gailland are those of
Fathers Dumortier and De Coen. Who were they? The simple inscriptions tell us
nothing of their holy lives and deaths, but after reading their stories, one
will feel drawn to pray to them.
Shortly after Bishop Miége's departure from St.
Mary's, the country along the upper Kansas, Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers
began to be settled by small knots of Catholic settlers who were to form the
nuclei of the many future parishes of central and northern Kansas. The ministry
in central Kansas may be said to have been put on an organized basis about 1859
with the arrival at St. Mary's of Fr. Louis Dumortier. He was to identify
himself with itinerant missionary service among the whites as Fr. Gailland
identified himself with service to the Indians.
Fr. Dumortier was born near Lille, France, in 1810,
entered the Society of Jesus in Belgium, and arrived late in 1839 at Florissant,
where he finished his novitiate. Due to the circumstances of frontier life and
urgent need for priests, he was a Jesuit over 22 years before being able to do
his required year of tertianship and make his final vows! Early in his priestly
life he was engaged as professor in the Jesuit colleges of Cincinnati,
Bardstown, and St. Louis, teaching physics, chemistry and mathematics. He was
cheerful, witty and companionable, but also of a nervous disposition and the
sedentary life of the classroom nearly broke him. At one time during the 1850's
it was feared he would suffer a breakdown and was sent back to France for a
On his return to America Fr. Dumortier was
appointed to St. Mary's, the perfect assignment for him. As Fr. De Smet wrote,
he had been formed for the outdoor life, the wandering but pious life of the
prairies. He was 7 years at St. Mary's and carried out a noteworthy apostolic
career. Wherever he found two or three Catholic families he formed them into a
little congregation, where he would come to offer Mass, baptize, hear their
confessions. The extent of his circuit increased until it comprised an area some
200 miles in length by 50 in width.
Fr. Gailland remarked, "As his parish increased,
the soul of the Father seemed also to grow larger. So ardently did he desire the
salvation of souls that the acutest cold or the intense heat of summer was no
impediment to his labors." The winter wind might be blasting across the plains,
and snow drifts obstructing the primitive roads, but Fr. Dumortier always
arrived on the appointed day and hour. In the area around St. Mary's he attended
Catholics at Ft. Riley, St. George, Louisville, Alma, Black Vermilion, and other
communities. Daily he covered 30-60 miles on horseback. When he arrived at the
place where he was going to offer Mass, instead of resting, he went out and
scoured the countryside to announce to the scattered settlers the next day's
services. It was a rugged and dangerous life spent in the saddle travelling all
alone, with nights spent in the open, and dangerous crossings of frozen or
swollen streams. Sometimes Father's feet and ears were frostbitten.
Due to his zeal hundreds of pioneer families kept
their faith, and the foundations of the Church in central Kansas were laid on
firm ground. He covered at least 14 counties and organized at least 25
congregations, building churches wherever possible, making him the outstanding
Catholic missionary of central Kansas.
The books of St. Mary's Mission recorded that Fr.
Dumortier baptized the future U.S. Vice-President Charles Curtis. His mother,
Helen Papin, was a Kansa mixed blood belonging to the group settled around
Soldier Creek. Curtis, born January 5, 1860, was baptized April 15 of that year
by Fr. Dumortier at "Pappan's Ferry" (now Topeka) at the Oregon Trail crossing
over the Kaw.
In the summer of 1867 Asiatic cholera made its
appearance in the western part of Kansas. It was particularly bad among the
troops at Fort Harker. Fr. Dumortier hurried to lend his services to the
stricken members of his scattered flock, hastening to reach dying Catholics and
hear their confessions. Worn with hunger and fatigue, he contracted the cholera
himself and died at the midnight of July 25-26, 1867, at Ellsworth, near Ft.
Harker. Accounts vary as to his last shelter which may have been a tent, a
workman's hut, or an abandoned water-tank by the roadside. But all accounts
agree that he met death with characteristic courage. It is stressed that he died
unattended for he made signs to warn others away lest he pass the cholera to
them. He made the supreme sacrifice, having laid down his life for his friends
in Christ, and his body was brought to rest at St. Mary's.
After Fr. DuMortier's death there was no one to
take care of some of his missions. From the Osage Mission in south-east Kansas,
the Jesuits cared for the spiritual needs of both whites and Indians in that
country. Fr. Paul Mary Ponziglione was an energetic missionary in the area (he
offered the first Mass in Wichita), who was able in 1868 to visit for the first
time Fr. Dumortier's stations in Chase County. Along the Verdigris and
Cottonwood he found organized stations and commented, "Cottonwood Falls is
perhaps the most fervent settlement I have in the West. The people were eager to
donate town lots and materials to build a church."
Father Francis Xavier de Coen
This good priest was born at Ninove in East
Flanders, Belgium, December 19, 1811; entered the Society of Jesus October 19,
1843; and was brought by circumstances to die at St. Mary's on the feast of Our
Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16, 1864, and to be laid to rest here.
Fr. De Coen was one of the Jesuit fathers who
labored among the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek. The fathers reached out to numerous
tribes on neighboring preserves and re-established contact with descendants of
Indians who had first been evangelized by Jesuits in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. These included the Ottawa, Peoria, Wea, Miami, Chippewa,
Kaskaskia, and others who have given their names to the geographical features of
Kansas. Many of these were served by Fr. De Coen who travelled regularly to
offer Mass for them, although unfortunately, the good father was never able to
master the Indian languages and had to use an interpreter. The Catholic history
of Kansas began with the mission travels of these priests.
The Indians esteemed the Fathers highly; in broken
English one of them told a traveller, "When Indian sick, priest lie on the floor
and give him bed; if he have no covering, he cover him; do anything for Indian."
In 1846, Fr. De Coen was working among the Osage,
travelling to their reserve to see the progress of a school being built, and to
baptize their infants. That year he was transferred from Sugar Creek.
In 1849, he was one of the three Missouri Jesuits
whose names were proposed to the Holy Father to head the new vicariate of the
Indian territory east of the Rockies. This shows in what high esteem he was
held. When Fr. Miége was chosen, he requested that Fr. De Coen be re-assigned to
the prairies to help him, but the need for teachers in the Colleges was so great
that Fr. De Coen was detained to work in St. Aloysius College in Louisville.
By 1855, he was working with Fr. De Smet at St.
Gall's in Milwaukee, a neglected and out-of-repair parish in an unhealthy marshy
district. Sometimes the priests were called to minister to dying Catholics over
100 miles out in the country. During Fr. De Coen's days at St. Gall's, a
flourishing parish was built up, a new rectory and brick church constructed, and
an Academy opened which was the forerunner of Marquette College.
By 1861, Fr. De Coen had at last joined Bishop
Miége in Leavenworth, but his health broke, and in 1864 he arrived in St. Mary's
for a rest. On Saturday, the 16th of July he took a ride over the reservation,
and then retired to recite his office in the parlor which was next to Fr. Diels'
room. Br. De Vriendt brought him his breviary and the Father remarked, "What a
happy day, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel!" Br. De Vriendt left him to
his prayers, only recalling later his significant words.
The next morning, Sunday, Fr. Gailland was just
coming out of the chapel after saying the 6:30 a.m. Mass when he was accosted by
an Indian woman, Mrs. Lasley, wife of a Canadian trader. "Father," she inquired,
"is there a stranger, a priest, visiting at the Mission?" Fr. Gailland replied
that there was, but why this unusual question?
Mrs. Lasley explained that the night before, her
little daughter Mary had awakened her parents by crying out in the night, "Look,
Father and Mother, the American priest at St. Mary's Mission is going up to
Struck by her words, Fr. Gailland, Br. De Vriendt
and others hurried to seek Fr. De Coen. They found him dead on the floor of the
parlor where Br. De Vriendt had left him the evening before. Fr. Diels came in
after his Mass and broke into tears, for he and Fr. De Coen had been great
Fr. Gailland went to the Lasley cabin about a
quarter mile south of the mission on the road to the river (possibly near the
present Lasley street) to examine carefully little Mary Lasley, at this time
only three or four years of age. Without agitation she answered his questions
concerning her apparent vision, and the Fathers believed that she was telling
the truth. The child's words were Fr. Gailland's one consolation.
The Potawatomi turned out in numbers for Fr. De
Coen's funeral for they had loved him dearly at Sugar Creek. When Bishop Miége
next visited St. Mary's his first request was to be shown the grave of the good
Father. And little Mary Lasley herself died a holy death at the age of only six.
They were the salvation of the priests, but there
were never enough of them to do all the work. Fr. John Diels certainly
appreciated them. A Belgian, he became fourth superior of St. Mary's in April,
1861. (Today he is remembered for having built the gazebo, also known as "Fr.
Diels old Indian Shrine.") Father had been in service at Sugar Creek in his
scholastic days and had certainly seen the brothers laboring year in and year
out for the mission. Concerning the brothers at St. Mary's, he wrote in 1862
that they were carrying a heavy load, adding, "their great readiness for labor
and prompt obedience have been no slight consolation to us." As there was no
tailor, shoemaker, baker, butcher, and scarcely a blacksmith in a radius of 20
miles, the brothers had to discharge a variety of tasks. It was the time of the
Civil War and help was hard to obtain. The brothers had to help with the farm,
do the cooking, watch over the boys, give them lessons in manual labor, and
teach them in school as well.
Brother Andrew Mazzella
He was the most remarkable of the early brothers at
St. Mary's. In the old days when the town was first laid out there was even a "Mazzella
Street." Brother arrived in the west in 1836, and worked uninterruptedly among
the Indians until his death 31 years later at St. Mary's.
He was a native of Procida, a small island in the
Mediterranean where he was born November 30, 1802. He entered the Neapolitan
province of the Society and was assigned to Maryland in 1833. Besides being a
good religious who desired to work in the missions, especially the difficult
ones, he was also an excellent Neapolitan cook who "will prepare macaroni for
you in a way you never saw before," as the Father General remarked. Originally
he was supposed to have gone on a mission in Syria, and therefore had studied
medicine and surgery -- which stood him in good stead on the American frontier.
He was sent first to help in the kitchen of the College at Georgetown, but with
the intention to get him into the missions.
His dream was realized in 1836 when he went with
Fr. Van Quickenborne to the Kickapoo mission, and he gave himself up to the work
with patience and zeal that never flagged.
Enroute to the Kickapoo mission, Fr. Van
Quickenborne wrote that by his exterior manner Br. Mazzella silently preached,
being truly edifying while he cooked, washed and mended linen, baked, and did
many other things besides. He became an excellent carpenter as well and
constructed the log buildings at the Kickapoo mission. Built of immense native
walnut logs with wooden pegs, some stood until 1920. Brother also ministered to
the sick and had the chance to baptize many dying babies.
When St. Joseph's Mission for the Potawatomi was
set up at Council Bluffs in 1838, he was transferred there. With the closing of
that mission in August 1841, he was sent to Sugar Creek, and from there to St.
Mary's, where once again his carpentry skills enabled the little founding party
to secure the rough buildings for the winter.
Fr. Gailland knew Brother at St. Mary's for 20
years and wrote his obituary. He said that in Br. Mazzella was joined a robust
body and an eager soul completely subdued by divine grace. This self-mastery had
not come easy, but only with great effort. He even used the hair shirt,
discipline, and fastings to master his natural tendencies. He was extremely
frugal in eating, and constantly abstained from that which was most delicious.
His mild manners and meekness were not the result of nature, but of years of
effort. Sometimes nature would get the better of him and he would lose his
temper; immediately he would break into tears and beg for pardon. The good
brother acquired the virtues of a holy life: patience, humility, self-sacrifice,
love of prayer, union with God.
Br. Mazzella was infirmarian to both the Indian
boys and the mission staff, and was so prudent and composed that he could do the
work of two. He nursed the sick with utmost kindness, stayed with critical cases
day and night, and his very presence alleviated their sufferings. In later life
he had infirmities of his own, but only his superiors knew of them. He could
never say "no" to any request, putting himself out in any way to help another.
Three months before his death he predicted when it would come; the day before he
died he begged another brother to watch by his bedside during the night,
insisting it would be his last. Repeatedly he asked if the clock had yet struck
three, and precisely at 3:00 a.m. of May 9, 1867, he rendered his soul to God.
Brother Peter Karleskind
He was one of those brothers commended by Fr. Diels,
the fourth superior of St. Mary's. Fr. De Smet said that the words spoken of St.
John Berchmans could be applied to this fervent brother, "He did everything
well." Gardener, baker, refectorian, sacristan, or teacher, he threw himself
into the duties assigned him. He had begun his career in St. Joseph's parish
school in St. Louis and continued at St. Mary's where he was prefect and teacher
of the Indian boys for 14 years. Fr. Gailland wrote that he did everything for
the boys: washed them, combed them, cared for them in sickness like a mother --
not avoiding the most repugnant nursing tasks. His bed was in a narrow space
between the two children's dormitories, where he often had to breathe the fetid
air. A native of Lorraine whose native tongue was German, Brother had to teach
English to the boys and was often taunted by them about his poor pronunciation.
He suffered patiently, always with a serene expression. He took all orders or
reprimands with humility, ate with extraordinary moderation, loved poverty, was
affable to all and loved by all. Asked if he would like a change of assignment,
he replied "My only desire is to live and die in the place and employment to
which it pleases holy obedience to assign me." He always loved poverty, and died
in its arms in his narrow little closet of a room in his 61st year on September
8, 1862, the birthday of Our Lady. He was laid to rest here, in her place that
he had served so well.
Brother Daniel Doneen
He was born at Munster, Ireland, December 25, 1813,
and entered the Society in 1841. Although uneducated, he had a superior
intelligence and was the efficient supervisor of the mission farm. His manners
were affable and all who made his acquaintance gave him their friendship. After
a long illness he died serenely on June 7, 1866, and was buried at St. Mary's.
Brother Sebastian Schlinger
A Swiss born in 1803, he had been in service in the
French army and under arms in defense of his beloved homeland. Entering the
Society in 1838, he brought his military promptness and unquestioning obedience.
The sound of the bell was like the trumpet calling him to battle. At St. Mary's
he was charged for years with the duty of ringing the bell for community
exercises, and was never known to have rung it even a minute late! Even in his
death agony he made the usual responses to the evening prayers, and admonished
the attending brother when it was time to sound the bell. Fr. Gailland wrote
that he lay on his deathbed, not as a man about to die, but rather as one taking
a casual rest, from which he entered into eternity on August 8, 1866, and was
Brother Louis De Vriendt
Born at Ghent, Belgium, February 24, 1820, he
entered the Society in 1840, and came to St. Mary's in the early 1850's where he
remained until his death April 8, 1883. Dedicated to St. Mary's, he wrote a
biography of Fr. Gailland, which remained in the Jesuit archives in manuscript.
His English spelling and syntax were said to be full of whimsicalities, but his
writings contain side-lights of St. Mary's colorful history, and sketches of
Indian characters, that appear in no other source, including the story of the
death of Fr. De Coen. Br. De Vriendt's stone can be found in Mt. Calvary, in the
central circle facing south, but the inscription is so weathered that little can
be read beyond his name.
Brother Edmund Barry
He worked at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown,
where Fr. Duerinck mentions him building and whitewashing stone walls. Fr. Van
Quickenborne mentions him at the beginning of the Kickapoo Mission as being a
famous hand to work, but not used to the Western country. On the steam boat the
water of the Missouri made him sick; also, the salt provisions did not agree
with him, but he bore all with courage.
Brother George Miles
He was a native of Bardstown, Kentucky, of that
sturdy Catholic stock whose faith was the result of the labors of Fr. Nerinckx.
His parents emigrated to Missouri, near St. Louis, where their farm adjoined the
Jesuit property. Br. Miles always remembered the eventful day when the first
fathers and novices arrived. From childhood, he observed their labors and was
drawn to join them. Admitted to the Society in 1827, he was a Jesuit for 58
years. He went out on the first Kickapoo mission, and arrived at the Sugar Creek
Mission August 29, 1841. When that mission was to be relocated, he was sent with
Br. Ragan to prepare buildings for Fr. Hoecken on Mission Creek (south of St.
Mary's) where the Indians first settled before the Fathers chose the site of St.
Mary's. After the St. Mary's site was chosen, Fr. Verreydt sent Br. Miles back
to Sugar Creek to prepare for the move, and he was in the first group who
arrived at the new St. Mary's on September 9, 1848.