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  St. Mary's Academy & College

The History of St. Mary's Academy & College

 

Timeline: 1848 - 1869

1848

Early June - Asking the Blessed Mother to help find a good mission site which he will name for her, Fr. Verreydt rides to a high point from which he can see for miles, and settles on the spot which is the St. Mary's Campus today.

 

August 16 - The first party sets out from Sugar Creek on the move to the new St. Mary's. With them is the newly-arrived young Swiss, Fr. Maurice Gailland, S.J., whose Latin diary will be the chief chronicles of the new Mission. He describes the vast plains and the limitless sky as they make the rigorous 90-mile journey over the prairies using the sun for a compass. They sleep on buffalo robes in tents with fires burning to keep the mosquitoes away. When they reach Fr. Hoecken's temporary dwelling on Wakarusa Creek, young Fr. Gailland hurries forward to meet the thin, white-haired missionary who has been praying that God will send them some assistants in their labors.

 

September 7 - The travelers begin the last stage of their journey. The party is composed of Fathers Verreydt and Gailland, four Ladies of the Sacred Heart (Mother Lucille Mathevon, Mother O'Connor, Sr. Mary, and Sr. Louise), 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 delays them a day at Uniontown (just upstream from present Willard) until they can ford the river.

 

September 9 - Proceeding through the tall grass, the party makes a noonday stop at Cross Creek (Rossville). They arrive at the new mission site at about four o'clock in the afternoon. Two rough log buildings stand ready to receive them, one east of the present Library building and one where the Convent is now located. Fr. Verreydt is considered St. Mary's founder and Fr. Gailland its first chronicler. He will quickly master the Potawatomi language and remain at St. Mary's in the service of the Indians until his dying day. This date, September 9, 1848, is the anniversary of the founding of St. Mary's.

 

September 14 - Several of the founding party had become ill and things were looking gloomy indeed until this day when Br. Mazzella, who had been left behind sick with fever, arrives and is greeted with open arms. Although still unwell, he commences work on the two buildings, ultimately enlarging them, and quickly puts up a temporary chapel and a barn for the horses. Schools were started immediately, but there were only a handful of pupils this first winter. [See Stories of Old St. Mary's for a description of the 'accommodations' for the founding missionary party.]

 

October - Fr. Hoecken arrives with a few Indians who settle around the new Mission. He preaches regularly in Potawatomi, then leaves in November to minister to the Indians who have gone into the country to hunt and to make sugar. The rest of the company are left to face the winter alone.

1848-1849

The winter is so extraordinarily severe that Fr. Gailland runs out of Latin adjectives to describe it; his ink freezes in his pen. The snowdrifts are so deep that mail cannot be brought in; for 80 days the Kaw is ice-bound and can be used as a wagon road. There is no Christmas Midnight Mass; on Christmas Day each priest celebrates only one Mass. Fr. Verreydt preaches in English in the morning with either Bertrand or John Tipton as interpreter; while at Vespers Fr. Gailland speaks in French for the mixed-blood settlers. Food is running low (some accounts say there was only a bag of cornmeal left), and Charlot manages to bag only two prairie hens.

1849

New Year's Day - A crowd of Indians bring a welcome gift of venison to the Mission.

 

January - Fr. Hoecken returns much the worse for cold and hunger

 

February - News reaches the mission of the advent of an unwelcome visitor: cholera carried by the parties of immigrants passing on the Oregon Trail. The Indians flee; it is impossible to conduct school; the three priests are busy riding out to administer spiritual and physical remedies to the sick.

 

Spring - Building of the log mission church, the future temporary cathedral. [Today, a maker on the front lawn by the Sacred Heart statue indicates the location of this first chapel.]

 

The "49ers" pass St. Mary's on the Oregon Trail [now US 24 which borders the front of the College property]. Some 300,000 westward-bound settlers will pass this way, and St. Mary's will become a well-known stop, a last bastion of civilization, on the Trail. Travelers will comment upon the little chapel beside the trail; at the mission they could find rest for their weary souls and bodies, and needed changes of horses and oxen before starting across the vast prairies.

 

At the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore, the "Indian Country," that immense stretch of Great Plains from the western borders of Missouri to the Rockies and extending north into the Dakotas, is organized into a "Vicariate-Apostolic." The names of three Missouri Province Jesuits are proposed for the choice of new missionary bishop.

 

September - After one year, the mission school now numbers 57 boarding and 10 day scholars in the boys' school and 45 girls studying with the Sisters. Soon, not only Indians, but also children of white settlers will be attending the school.

 

Autumn - Fr. Verreydt is assigned to parochial work in St. Louis and never returns to the Indian Mission. (He will die at the age of 85 in 1883.) While still Superior at St. Mary's, he had been worried that the work of this mission would be destroyed as others had been. The Jesuit General, Fr. John Roothaan in Rome, encouraged him, "Establish there solidly the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; it will be an effective preservative."

 

November 3 - St. Mary's second Superior arrives: another Belgian, Fr. John Baptist Duerinck, accompanied by Br. Daniel Doneen (who ended his days at St. Mary's) and lay teacher Mr. Ryan.

 

Fr. Duerinck had come to Florissant from Maryland in 1834; he had held teaching posts in Jesuit colleges in St. Louis and Cincinnati, and had lately been treasurer of St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, Kentucky. He was a distinguished botanist for whom Prunus Duerinckiana had been named. Now 40 years old and in excellent health, he would give the rest of his days to St. Mary's where his name endures on Durink Street.

 

November - The roof is put on the log church; it is finished and called Church of the Immaculate Conception, while the Mission as a whole is called St. Mary's.

1850

October 20 - In Missouri, 36-year-old Fr. John Baptiste Miége, S.J., a native of Savory, who has been teaching moral theology at the Florissant Seminary, receives the brief of Pius IX appointing him Vicar-apostolic of the Indian Territory.

1851

May 31 - Having been consecrated by Bishop Kenrick in St. Louis on March 25, the new Bishop Miége arrives at St. Mary's and makes it his headquarters. The humble log mission church becomes his pro-Cathedral, the first west of the Missouri River and east of the Rockies. Fr. De Smet, who is now Procurator General of Missouri and Assistant to the Vice-Provincial, is asked by Bishop Miége to accompany him and introduce him to his immense new diocese - which western territory Fr. De Smet knows so well from his missionary journeys. Fr. De Smet always kept his interest in the work of the missionaries in St. Mary's, helping them from his office in St. Louis with money, goods, and advice in dealing with Indians, U.S. Government agents, and the problems caused by the Protestant missionaries - in all of which he had had vast experience. [Bishop Miége's  portrait,  flanked by two Indians, can be seen in the stained glass window of the baptistry of the present Assumption Chapel.]

 

Spring - Fr. Christian Hoecken is sent to Indiana on some Indian affairs, where he preaches in Potawatomi in the chapel of Notre Dame University to the joy of Indians who had traveled long distances to hear him speak fluently in their native tongue. Called back to St. Louis, Fr. Hoecken is assigned to accompany Fr. De Smet to Fr. Laramie on the Upper Platte River for a great council of the tribes. They travel up the Missouri on the steamer St. Ange.

 

June 19 - Death of Fr. Hoecken. A few days out of St. Louis and 500 miles upstream, cholera breaks out among the passengers on the St. Ange. Fr. De Smet is very ill with an attack of fever; Fr. Hoecken, while nursing cholera victims, contracts the dread disease himself. Fr. De Smet hears his confession and gives him Extreme Unction. Then, sick almost to death himself and with tears streaming down his face, Fr. De Smet confesses his sins to his dying friend. A thick coffin is prepared and Fr. De Smet conducts the burial of his fellow missionary with the passengers assisting. Numbers of them, who had not been to confession for years, come to Fr. De Smet to confess - immediate fruit of the good missionary's death. On Fr. De Smet's return trip a month later, the coffin was exhumed and transported back to Florissant, where Fr. Hoecken was laid to rest.

 

Autumn - Fr. De Smet visits St. Mary's and sees the great work being done among the Indians. He notes their piety at High Mass. A great banquet is given in honor of Fr. De Smet and the Indian deputation traveling with him en route to Washington, D.C.

1852

The mission farm has 170 fenced acres, 95 under cultivation, growing potatoes, corn, oats, turnips, hemp, and buckwheat, and grazing a great many cattle. At a cost of $100.00, Fr. Duerinck orders the first "McCormick Virginia Reaper" introduced into the prairies. It is shipped by water from St. Louis and up the Kaw to St. Mary's Landing. People come from 25 miles around to see a machine that can cut 60 acres of oats in 5 days! Much concerned with the obligation to teach the Potawatomi how to farm, Fr. Duerinck builds up the College farm as a model, using disabled cattle left behind by Oregon Trail immigrants and developing a superior herd. In 1853, the College cuts over 500 tons of hay and oats without a breakdown.

 

A military company stops at the mission - they are seeking a site near the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers for a new military post - the future Fort Riley, about 35 miles west of St. Mary's.

 

October 21 - An important meeting is held at the mission settlement to elect a delegate to Congress to urge the establishment of regular territorial government for the growing "Nebraska Territory."

1853

December - Bishop Miége and Fr. De Smet are returning to America from representing the Missouri Province at their Order's general council in Rome. With them on the Humboldt  are 13 young men Fr. De Smet has recruited for the Jesuit apostolate. Off the coast of Nova Scotia the boat is wrecked on hidden rocks. The two missionaries remain calm, and heaven comes to their aid: the boat runs aground in shallow water and all are saved, as well as most of their baggage.

1854

March - Bishop Miége brings home treasures from his European trip to adorn the prairie cathedral: chalices, vestments, relics of saints, an organ, and a painting of the Immaculate Conception reportedly by the Italian court painter Benito [belonging today to the parish Church of the Immaculate Conception in town].

 

December 24 - The Kansas-Nebraska Bill is passed. It makes Kansas a U.S. Territory. The Act repeals the Missouri Compromise and makes slavery illegal in the territories. The slavery question is to be determined by the residents of the Kansas and Nebraska territories, depending upon which constitution they choose. From 1854 to 1861, "Bleeding Kansas" is a battleground between free-state advocates and pro-slavery forces.

1855

August - Bishop Miége moves his headquarters to Leavenworth, better for visitation of the Nebraska Territory which is part of his immense vicariate. The little log chapel is a prairie Cathedral no more.

1857

Autumn - Fr. Duerinck departs on a trip back to Florissant; he never reaches St. Louis. It was December 14 before Fr. De Smet learned that Fr. Duerinck was last seen at Bishop Miége's house in Leavenworth. At Kansas City the river was too low for the steamer; a flatboat carrying six gentlemen set out for Liberty to catch the steamer. It struck a snag and upset, drowning three men, including the priest. Fr. De Smet immediately offered a Mass for Fr. Duerinck, then set out up the Missouri in hopes of finding Fr. Duerinck's body. All leads proved to be false, and Fr. Duerinck's body was never found. Fr. De Smet noted that it was one time St. Anthony did not answer his prayers.
Fr. Gailland had written of Fr. Duerinck that to keep the Mission going he had spared no effort, neglecting his sleep, forgetting his meals, and sacrificing himself entirely for the Indians. He braved the coldest weather for their needs, so that his limbs became as cold and hard as stone and had to be bathed in water - when only cold water was available. And yet he was always patient, kind, and humble, and no trouble disturbed his serene countenance or peace of soul.

1858

December - Arrival of St. Mary's third Rector, Fr. John Schultz, born 1816 in Alsace on the upper Rhine. He had worked previously among the Potawatomi and knew the language. However, not being a farmer, and feeling himself too much of a "foreigner" to deal with the government as head of an American school, he thought himself incapable. "My accent is too French or German to please the native ears." However, he was an excellent superior through the time when the Indians were leaving the area. He was eventually called to the presidency of Xavier College, Cincinnati, and died at St. Louis in 1887.

1860

April 15 - At Pappan's Ferry (Topeka) on the Kaw, Fr. Dumortier of St. Mary's Mission baptizes baby Charles Curtis, future U.S. Vice-President, born January 5. His mother, Helen Papin, was a Kansa mixed-blood.

1861

January 29 - Kansas is admitted to the Union. More bloody times are ahead with the outbreak of the Civil War and almost four years of guerilla raids in Kansas.

1862

Erection of the stone "Agency Building" ["Indian Pay Station," which still stands as a museum near the railroad on the west bank of College Creek, just west of the campus]. Surplus Indian land is sold to the railroad at $1.25 per acre and the funds allotted to the Potawatomi. Final payment is made in October, 1870.

1862-1869

Fr. John F. Diels, a Belgian, is fourth Rector of St. Mary's. Sometime during this period he constructed a shrine - the Gazebo located "up the hill" near Loyola Hall - which was known in the old College days as "Fr. Diels Old Indian Shrine," perhaps to commemorate the legend, faithfully passed down among the Potawatomi, of the apparition of Our Lady on the property. [See "The Legend of Our Lady and the Indians."]

1866

The railroad reaches St. Mary's, bringing more white settlers to the little town that has sprung up next to the Indian Mission. The year 1870 will see the town incorporated.

Prologue: Early Threads in the History of St. Mary's
Time Line: 1827 - 1847
Time Line: 1848 - 1869
Time Line: 1869 - 1931
Time Line: 1931 - 1967
Time Line: 1967 - 1978

 

 

 
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