Charles George Deuther.

The life and times of the Rt. Rev. John Timon, D. D. : first Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo online

. (page 5 of 30)
Online LibraryCharles George DeutherThe life and times of the Rt. Rev. John Timon, D. D. : first Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo → online text (page 5 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the six ministers present, or their Bishop, to produce a single text
from the Bible that would disprove his argument, and that would
be as strong and conclusive as anv one of the fourteen he had

In their turn the opposing ministers rose to respond, not, how-
ever, confining themselves to the subject in question, and quoting
the texts called for ; but, as invariably is the case with many, by
showing that Catholics worshiped the Virgin Mary and adored
images. This was the sum and substance of their remarks.
When the ministers had finished their argument, Father Timon
again arose, and turning to the attentive crowd, asked if they
could believe that the God of truth would, on so important a sub-
ject, leave fourteen texts in the Bible to say clearly and strongly
a damnable falsehood, and yet without a single one to say plainly
the truth. For half an hour he continued to review the subject,
supporting his position from the Bible, from writings of men who
have handed down their testimonies, age after age, on the doctrine
of Transubstantiation, and by appealing to the standard of intelli-
gence with wliich man then was wont to accept the truth, if
consistently presented. His appeal was irresistible, for he won
the sympathies of his audience, and won their minds as well as
their hearts. Before such eloquence and logic the ministers
could not stay, and in their confusion they left the groimds
abashed and confounded.

The indefatigable missionary continued to address the crowd,
and to exhort them to profit by this evidence of truth, which


God in his mercy had vouchsafed to give them, and to return
to the Church where alone truth in its holy fulhiess is taught.
This splendid triumph of Father Timon had its desired effect.
After this controversy the preachers, by degrees, avoided the
neighborhood of the seminary. Little by little, the inhabitants
renounced their prejudices and errors, and became Catholics.

The recital of the missionary adventures which thus far have
been the principal points of interest in this biography, is nothing
more or less than the history of Father Timon, and curious or
strange as they may appear to the reader, still no better indices
could be given to point out as clearly the true character of the
distinguished missionary and prelate. To enter into an analysis
of his character, his disposition and his religious opinions, would
form a subject of elaborate length. This we will avoid as far as
it will be possible, preferring to reserve for the closing chapter of
this book, a careful analysis of his character and spirit.

In 1831, Father Timon, returning late one evening from Cape
Girardeau to the Barrens, was told that a man was under sen-
tence of death for murder, and would be hung the following day.
Thus far he had refused all spiritual aid and succor. Father
Timon immediately went to the dungeon of the hardened crimi-
nal to see him, and by his zeal and interest in the poor man's
fate, gradually softened his heart before the truth. He ordered
the liquor, which had been allowed him, to be removed, and
besides exacting a promise from the prisoner not to drink any
more, stationed friends near the prison door, to prevent any
access on his part to the fatal draught. Early in the morning,
the prisoner ate a good breakfast, and recommenced his instruc-
tion. About ten o'clock A. M., the culprit was baptif^ed, his
tears during the ceremony proving how deeply his heart had
been touched. In a few hours afterwards the condemned man
was launched into eternity.

A number of zealous and talented priests had in the interim
joined the congregation, and made their vows, eminent among
whom were Mr. Boullier, Mr. Paquin, Mr. "Vergani and others,
who, alas, for the perpetuation and progress of the Church


militant, have already passed to their reward. Others still labor
zealously in the different missions. In September 1833, Mr.
Odin, who had labored so much, and who was generally so
venerated and beloved, started for France.


Father Timox named Visitor.— His Refusal.— Discouraging Circusistances.— His
Humility. — He Accepts.M^onvocation op Priests. — Remonstrance against' the
Suppression of the College.— Debts, Mortgage, and Discontented Feelings
PREVAIL — Improvements made.— Father Timon goes to New Orleans, La. — Goes
to Cape Girardeau. — Returns to the Barrens. — Father Timon and the Bishop
OF St. Louis.— The Visitor goes to Paris, France.— His Arrival there.— Results.
— His Return. — Nearly Loses a large Sum op Money. — Reaches the Barrens
m Safety.

The age of the venerated Mr. Tornatori not permitting him to
learn English, it was decreed at a general assembly of the con-
gregation, held at Paris, at which Mr. Odin assisted, that Father
Timon should be made Visitor, thus, for the first time, establishing
the American mission into a province. Whilst the decrees
appointing Father Timon were on their M^ay to the Barrens, Mr.
Tornatori and Timon were traveling together to view the state of
the mission and property at Cape Girardeau. On the 16th of
November, 1835, they returned to the seminary, and on their
arrival, letters were handed to them, appointing Father Timon as
Yisitor of the congregation of missions, and ordaining the sup-
pression of the college, and the expulsion of one of the priests,
besides requiring as a condition, sine qua non^ that the Bishop
should pay six hundred francs annually for each seminarian.
Father Timon at first determined on refusing to accept the ofiice
of Yisitor^ as he foresaw difiiculties of every kind in the way,
and, in his humility, thought he was not capable of undertaking
such a charge, particularly under the circumstances. He there-
fore requested Father Tornatori to keep the contents of the letters
secret, at least until a meeting of the priests of the mission could


be convened. To this proi)osition, however, Father Tornatori
would not acquiesce, but assembled the entire community, and
informed them of the change that had been made. Althouo-h
the announcement ot this news was entirely satisfactory, still
Father Timon persisted in refusing to accei^t the position. He
accordingly paid a visit to St. Genevieve to see his friends, Mr.
Dahmen and Borgna, and to the " Old Mines," to confer with his
confrere, Mr.<Boullier. Even these united to condemn his un-
willingness to don the robe of office, and finally, in obedience to
the unanimous wish of the community and friends, he bowed
his humble head, and accepted to discharge the obligations
for which he felt himself incapacitated. His first step was to
convoke a meeting of the priests, who unanimously requested
the new Yisitor to suspend all action on the college until the
Superior General had been informed of the almost impossi-
bility of its suppression then, as well as the apparent or real
necessity of continuing the college for years, perhaps for time
to come. Father Odin, who had returned from France, was
one of the most firm in protesting against the suppression of
the college. Letters breathing this spirit on the subject were
written to Paris, and consultations held, at which it w^as found
that the congregation owed about sixty thousand francs, whilst
it possessed nothing excepting the newly acquired property at
the Cape. Even this estate was mortgaged for the purchase
money. Great and general discontent at the unfavorable state
of things prevailed to a greater or less degree in the commu-
nity. Mr. Eaho had left for Louisiana, without asking for
permission, whilst Mr. Eosti and others already there were
unwilling to return.

The prospects indeed were gloomy before the new Yisitor.
No wonder, then, that it was with feelings of reluctance, owing
to a diffidence in his own ability, that Father Timon hesitated
to comply with the wishes of his Superior and the community.
But when he once had accepted, it was no longer for him a
subject of regret. He applied himself zealously and diligently to
the work before him. He dissipated, by the native resources of


liis intellect and energy of purpose, the gradual discontent that
had been gathering, like a cloud on the horizon, among the mem-
bers of the community. He traveled far and wide, infusing into
others the spirit of sacrifice and piety that animated him ; rescued
the college from annihilation, lessened the burdens of debt and
expense ; brought new hands into the vineyard of the Lord, to
labor and improve ; and proved by his zeal, his piety, and above
all, by his charity, that he had been the chosen of God, and had
been called to his true vocation for the time being. Finally, after
nearly two months' labor at and around the Barrens, Visitor
Timon went to iTew Orleans. Here God blessed his efforts, for
he succeeded in inducing Mr. Eaho, Mr. Rosti, and others, to
return to community life at the Barrens. In the meantime,
letters from the Superior General had been received, permitting
the college to continue. Gradually this institution, over which
tlie unexecuted sentence of suppression had so long hung sus-
pended, was relieved from its dilemma, and lost its character for
sickliness, which a few years of epidemic and several deaths had
acquired for it. Payments became more regular, and the mort-
gages on the old property were consequently joaid, whilst new
property, since very valuable, was acquired in the city of St Louis.
Whilst Yisitor Timon was at !New Orleans, however, preparing
for his return to the Barrens, an interesting incident occurred,
that will be worth the while relating. He was called upon by a
Rev. Mr. Kendalon, to aid in converting a young man, connected
with one of the first families of the city, who was under sentence
of death for murder. This young man was to be executed in ten
days, and thus far had refused to see any clergyman of the
different denominations in the city. Much to the surprise of
many, however, he at once consented to admit Father Timon and
Kendalon, who found him to be a highly educated young man,
and who listened with eager avidity to all that his reverend
friends had to impart. Each day the priests continued, one after
the other, to instruct and prepare him. Finally he consented to
be baptized, and once, when both of his reverend friends were
present together, he told the following history of his life :


" In my early youth, in company with several other Protestant
boys, I was sent to an excellent Catholic college. Whilst there
I made rapid progress in my studies, and soon became a general
favorite among my college mates. On my part I venerated the
Catholic priests, who were my teachers also, and very soon per-
ceived in the conduct of the Catholic boys something which I
judged to be an almost unearthly firmness in virtue, so that
I began to wish I was a Catholic. My parents heard of this
tendency of mine, and being very much prejudiced against the
Catholic religion, immediately removed me from the college. I
was next placed under the care of a Baptist minister, who
became my tutor and teacher. But what I learned from him,
and what I observed in his house, only served to make me an
infidel. At times the bright dream of my youth in that Catholic
college would rise before me, and for the moment check the
reckless, life that I had commenced to lead. As soon, however,
as the memory of that vision would leave me, I again plunged
more deeply into my former wild habits until, at last, 1 soon
succeeded in checking its too frequent return. Oh! how vividly
the recollection of tliose hours I spent under tlie roof of that
Catholic institution, once more passes in bright review before me,
which, alas, by contrast with the life that I have since led, seems
like a dream of happiness I shall never more realize.

" I lost all restraint over my passions ; I followed one career
of crime to another ; I could do any thing, so blunted and indif-
ferent had my sense of modesty and conscience become, until,
finally, I now find myself here in this dungeon, a victim for the
scaffold. IS^ow, must / expiate by a shameful death the bigotry
that tore me from the influence of the only religion that could«
have restrained my passions, and have saved me."

Here the prisoner ceased speaking, overcome by the violence
of his grief and emotions, and bursting into tears, he buried his
head between the palms of his hands, and gave way to his
sorrowful feelings.

In the meantime the priests liad determined on the day before
• his execution for his baptism, arid for administering tlie holy


Sacrament of the Altar. But a few days prior to the one on
which he was to have been baptized, some of his friends called
on him, and said :

"Our efibrts have been useless. The Governor refuses a
pardon, and the alternative for you is death. Here," thej con-
tinued, " is a weapon. Take it, and with it save your family the
disgrace of having one of their number hung."

The culprit, however, answered : "A few days ago, had you
called on me, I might have accepted the remedy you propose,
but lately I have seen a Catholic priest, who has given me quite
different views of duty and of the life beyond the grave. I
therefore cannot now, consistently with my deep conviction of
what is right and proper, lay hands on my own life."

This conversation, and the determination of the prisoner to
continue in the change of life he had begun, were soon noised
through the city, and all rejoiced in the evidence of a sincere

But on the morning of the day fixed for baptism, both priests
were with the prisoner in his cell. The poor man seemed in the
best of dispositions. About 11 o'clock, the jailor came to request
the priests to withdraw, as the mother and sisters of the prisoner
wished to take their last farewell of their son and brother. Father
Timon and Kendalon, of course, retired, and went to the Epis-
copal residence, at that time only a short distance from the jail.
They had been gone perhaps an hour, when they noticed, from
the windows of the room in which they were, a great commotion
in the street below. Father Timon hurriedly went out to ascer-
tain the cause, and to his great sorrow was told that the prisoner
had killed himself. He hastened to the prison, and although
access was forbidden to the crowd, the jailor readily admitted
him within the prison door. Here, he found in the cell the body
of the young man, still warm but lifeless. The jailor averred
that, prior to the arrival of his relatives, the young man had had
no weapon about him, as he had been carefully searched when
they first placed him in the jail. But at his side was found a
costly dagger, with which the sad deed had been committed. All


surmised, liowever, when and by whom the dagger had been
given ; the sad circumstance forming another sad chapter on the
consequence of anti- Catholic bigotry.

On the 24th of March, 1836, Visitor Timon returned to the
Barrens, and on the 9th of April following, started with Rev.
Mr. Odin, Robert, and servants, to begin a permanent establish-
ment at Cape Girardeau. Heavy rains, however, had made the
creeks so high as to render swimming necessary. It was attended
with much difficulty. Visitor Timon, on horseback, swam the
river, examined for a more fordable place, then recrossed and
brought over Mr. Odin and the rest of the comjDany. Then all
had to remain over night at Jackson, ten leagues from the semi-
nary. Early in the morning, Visitor Timon started to say mass,
according to appointment, at Cape Girardeau. The others, who
were much fatigued, remained at Jackson to take breakfast.
They reached the Cape, however, twelve miles distant, at 11
A. M., just as Father Timon was saying mass. After mass,
Visitor Timon introduced Mr. Odin to the congregation, as their
future pastor, and alluded, as far as the well-known humility of
Mr. Odin permitted, to the virtues, learning and zeal of the pas-
tor whom God then gave them, and to the great services he had
already rendered to religion, with the hope that Providence
prepared for Cape Girardeau, through him, still greater blessings.

After this, Visitor Timon returned to the Barrens. On Sun-
day, April 17th, he preached on the zeal for building God's
Temple, and took his text from I Parali. xxixth chapter, and
read of the zeal with which, In olden time, God's people had con-
tributed towards building a Temple to the Lord. He exhorted
his audience to come forward and contribute generously, so that
their new church, beautiful even in its unfinished state, might be
prepared more decently for celebrating Divine worship. To their
credit be it said, the congregation replied liberally to his appeal ;
a large collection was made, and more money promised. Under
such encouragement, the work of finishing the church soon


Although Yisitor Timon had a special affection and venera-
tion for the Bishop of St. Louis, and although the Bishop also
esteemed the Yisitor much, still there transpired some painful
and trying scenes between the two, on account of an order which
the Bishop tried to execute, to restore to community life priests
who were then living apart as mere parish priests. A large and
painful correspondence was kept up regarding Rev. Mr. Douter-
lounge, then stationed at Cahokias, near St. Louis. It required
some years to enable the Yisitor to effect an understanding and
final settlement. On the 11th May, 1836, the Bishop of St.
Louis wrote to the Yisitor to remonstrate again against the depart-
ure of Mr. Douterlounge from the parish of Cahokias. The
letter said :

" I must observe to you to do every thing secundum ordmem;
hence, with regard to the parishes, or missions entrusted to the
priests of the congregation of the missions, the Superior has not
only to make choice of the subject of the congregation of the mis-
sions, who is ^to perform the functions of pastor of the parish or
mission, but he must apprise the Bishop of it, and propose to him
the successor. However, when no change is made, the mission-
ary may leave his parish for a time, for instance to go and make
his retreat, and the Superior may send in his place some priest to
attend to the congregation dm-ing his temporary absence. This
being well understood and exactly observed, there will be no
occasion for any misunderstanding."

Against some details of the above rule, however, the Yisitor
felt himself impelled to protest, and consequently refused several
parishes, which the good Bishop pressed him to accept. Finally, '
he did consent to take a few of them under a rule which left him
more free to act. Yisitor Timon continued to develop the mis-
sions on every hand, and make such improvements in his
undertakings that were necessary, among other things raising
and completing the columns required for the gallery of the new
church and house at the Barrens, thereby making them more
comfortable, and giving them a much better appearance.


At this time, too, several seminarians were raised to the tonsure,
subdeacon, and deaconship by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Rosatti, who
had been invited to the seminary for the purpose.

In the meantime, tlie Visitor deemed it necessary to pay a
visit to the mother house at Paris, and therefore, with the advice
of his brother priests of the mission, he started for Europe. On
his way from the Barrens to Baltimore, he made the acquaint-
ance of several persons, afterwards valuable to the congregation.
At Baltimore, Md., Archbishop Eccleson offered him the Col-
lege of Emmittsburg, Mount St. Mary, and the care of the
Sisters of Charity in America. Without, however, accepting this
offer, the Visitor promised to present this request to the Superior
General at Paris for considei-ation, but wliich subsequently was
not accepted. On his way to New York, he sto])ped at Philadel-
phia, where he was requested by the Rev. Rich. P. Kenrick, now
Archbishop of St. Louis, to give a retreat to the seminarians, which
he did, and then started for the city of ISTew York, Mdience he
sailed for France on the 24:th August, 1837. ISTothing of special
mention transpired during the voyage, excepting that he edified
all on board by his engaging manner and his pious deportment,
and after a favorable voyage of twenty-three days, reached the
mother house in Paris, on the 16th September, 1837, where he
was received most kindly by Mr. Aladel, Superior Oeneral, and
where, before the blessed Sacrament and the sacred shrine of St,
Vincent, the missionary, a native of the ISTew World, poured out
his heart in indescribable feelings of gratitude and oblation.

This visit to Paris by the Visitor, proved to be of great benefit
to the congregation. The Superior General allowed ten thousand
francs to the congregation, to aid in paying ofi^ the debt on tlie
seminary. Several indefatigable and zealous priests accompanied
tlie Visitor on his return to America, among M-hom were Rev.
Mr. Armangal, Alabou, Domenec, Brother Sticca, and other
brothers. TJiey sailed from Havre, France, in the ship Georgia,
for New Orleans, on the 15th October, 1837, thereby rendering
the stay of the Visitor at Paris, comparatively speaking, not
very long. The voyage was a long and stormy one, but not


altosetber useless, nor without consolation. The missionaries
busied themselves on board the ship in a variety of useful
ways. Visitor Timon, who was the centre of the zeal and
devotion, was a continual pattern for all. In a part of the ship
occupied by them they built an altar, on which, when the sea
was calm, the holy sacrifice of the mass was said. Each morn-
ing they made their meditations together, as well as the
exercises of the community, nearly as regular as if they had
been in a convent. Besides these pious practices, the Visitor
busied himself in giving lessons in the English language to
the Spanish priests, who were accompanying him to the ]S[ew
World. At length, after a long and tedious voyage, they
reached ISTew Orleans in safety, late in the month of Decem-
ber, having been nearly ten weeks on their voyage from France
to America.

Prior to leaving France, religious charitable communities,
through the Superior General, had requested Visitor Timon to
invest about two hundred thousand francs in stock of the
United States Bank. Accordingly, from Paris the Visitor sent
a portion of this money to a trusty friend in the city of I^ew
York, whose acquaintance he had formed on his outward voy-
age. The balance of the entrusted sum the Visitor took with
-liim in letters of credit. Consequently, when he arrived in
New Orleans, he applied to a very rich and intelligent friend to
invest this fund he had with him in United States Bank stock,
which, at this time, was selling at twenty per cent, above par.
In the most confidential earnestness, the friend thus applied
to besought the Visitor not to take this stock, as the bank was
rotten. In a frame of mind not quite decided what to do,
tlie Visitor, for the present, deferred any further action in the
matter, but hastened to the city of St. Louis, anxious to return to
his beloved retreat at the Barrens, and to meet with his dear
priests and friends. On his arrival in St. Louis, he found there
several letters, among which was one from his friend m ]^ew
York, to whom he had sent ten thousand francs to be invested in
United States stock. In the letter the kind friend advised him



that lie would invest as directed, if again coramandea to do so,
but, at the same time, he requested the Visitor not to touch the
stock of this bank ; for, although its credit was very high, and the
stock above par, still the "knowing ones" considered it danger-
ous. Accordingly, acting under the precautions of his friends, he
determined to abandon the idea of risking his means to the care
of the United States Bank, although the appearances were
so very attractive and apparently lucrative. He, therefore,
invested all his funds in the State Bank of Missouri, of whose
solvency he had the surest guarantees. In less than a year
afterwards, the Visitor had occasion to thank the foresight and
precautionary judgment of his friends, for the United States
Bank failed ; its stock became worth nothing, and has remained
so ever since. The failure of this bank entailed ruin on almost all
the banks of the Union. All suspended specie payment, except

Online LibraryCharles George DeutherThe life and times of the Rt. Rev. John Timon, D. D. : first Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo → online text (page 5 of 30)