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

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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 8 of 30)
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altar was erected, on which, each morning when the sea was not
too rough, mass was said. In fact, the missionary quarter of the


vessel was "a convent at sea." Meditations were made in
common each morning, and conferences held. Classes for
instruction were also instituted, Visitor Timon acting as teacher of
English for all. Each Sunday too, after mass in the chapel, the
Visitor preached on deck for the crew as well as the commu-
nity ; whilst at night, on the poop of the vessel, the missionaries
would sing some sacred melody or hymn to the Virgin, as the
Protestant portion of the crew and passengers gathered around
them, evidently feeling the influence of Catholic devotion. The
reader may readily infer the happiness that dwelt in the midst
of that little community, hourly winging its eager way towards
scenes in the Kew World, of which their minds, inexperienced
in missionary life of the New "World, could only draw a picture.
The journey over the ocean, besides being pleasant, was also a con-
tinual mission. Carolo Testa, a sailor, whose brother, Casari
Testa, lived in Alexandria, Piedmont, had long neglected his
religion. The Visitor began to instruct him, for he was sickly,
and though obliged each day to work, he seemed as if he might
at any moment be called to his account. On the 14th, the Visitor
was called up at midnight for the poor man. He did what he
could for him and then left him, apparently as well as usual.
In the morning, at 7 A. M., he said mass, which he had scarcely
finished, when he was called again, and found that the poor man
had been struck with death after he had eaten about one-half of
his breakfast. There was hardly time to repeat the absolution
and give Extreme Unction, when he expired. Towards evening,
the missionaries saw, for the first time in their lives, the sad sight
of a " burial at sea, " though made more consoling by all the
sacred rites of the Church. The body was enclosed in a coarse
sack, the opening of which was sewed together, and the whole
placed upon a large plank. This plank was then mournfully
raised by the sailor crew, carried to the side of the vessel, and as
it was raised from a horizontal to an inclined position, with the
feet foremost, down went the body into the depths of the ocean.
In an instant, all traces of the grave were obliterated, and poor
Carolo Testa consigned to his watery tomb. After a voyage of


forty-five days the vessel, at length, touched at New Orleans,
where the missionaries disembarked on tlie 17th January, 1842.
Bishop Blanc received most kindly the little colony, whom he
subsequently distributed in dififerent houses of the congregation,
where they continued with zeal and fervor the hard and merito-
rious penance of learning English.

It is now the year 1842, and as we gradually draw near the
period when, by the disposition of Providence, Mr. Timon was
called to the Episcopate of Buffiilo, we find few prominent facts
to record, with the exception, perhaps, of his regular official
visits to the diiferent houses of the mission, and the discharge of
such other missionary labor as we have had frequently occasion
to recite in his various visits and travels through the States of
Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi,
and particularly Texas. The same zeal, rendered more vigilant
by service in the cause of Christ, ever manifested itself in his
conduct. Nor were his personal pious devotions less austere
than the interest he evinced in his public missionary life. As a
communicant of the congregation to which he belonged, and
even over which he had been for such a length of time its Visitor,
he was a strict disciplinarian and true Churchman. When he
entered the congregation, we have seen how scattered, how dis- •»
contented, nay, almost disbanded were its communicants, without
property and loaded with heavy debts. When he left them,
their numbers were increased, and possessed a large amount of
property quite unencumbered, and less in debt than at its com-
mencement. When he assumed the control of the afiairs of the
community, and for several years prior to that time, there had
been no repetition on Sunday, no ofiice of little hours on any day,
and no lecture for brothers on Sundays and holidays. There
were neither any "humiliations," no asking to be warmed in
chapter, no missions and no cases of conscience. But how like
magic were all these omissions and neglects corrected, and how
wonderful the change. The record of his life, thus far, will speak
for itself.


But in the interim, between the years 1842 and 1847, it seems
that the Bishops of Cincinnati, Louisville, Philadelphia, of New
York of that time, urged the Visitor to take charge of their
respective seminaries, to which, by advice of his council, he
complied. These 'seminaries continued under the charge of the
Lazarists for a few years, with happy results to the students.

But circumstances of various kinds necessitated changes, and
thus the seminary of l^ew York was discontinued under the form
it had assumed as a seminary separate from the college, and
again re-united to the college. That of Bardstown, Ky., was sup-
pressed. The Superior General ordered the priests away from
Cincinnati, because they were not duly furnished. That of Phil-
adelphia was given up by the Lazarists, when its Superior, Rev.
T. Amat, was named Bishop of Monterey, in California. The
Bishops of Philadelphia and Cincinnati were greatly grieved at
the departure of the missionaries. The seminary of Yincennes
as well as others was afterwards offered to the Lazarists, but
they declined to take it. During these years, the Visitor and
others of his congregation bad given many missions in Philadel-
phia and in other cities, and in many country places, and also
many retreats for the clergy and for religious houses in dijfferent

At length, on the 5th of September, 1847, Mr. John Timon,
Visitor of the Congregation of Missions and Prefect Apostolic of
Texas, received his bulls as Bishop of the new Diocese of Buffalo,
Erie County, N. Y. The nomination somewhat surprised him,
as thus far no one thought of a See for that part of the
country. At first, his humility forbade him to accept the prof-
fered honor, and consequently he refused to take the bulls from
the Archbishop of St. Louis. But, after consulting with his coun-
selors and other clergymen, who advised him to overcome his
pious scruples, he reluctantly consented to take the crook and
mitre. We say reluctantly, but by this remark we would not
have the reader infer that we mean reluctance for commencino;
another field of missionary labor, but a reluctance based upon
unwillingness to be invested with titles and position, damaging


to his humility and saintly character. Another motive, too,
which, at the time, the Visitor kept in his own bosom, added
strength to the influence of his counselors and clergymen. For
some time he had been soliciting to be relieved from office.
Several members, almost all of whom have since left the congre-
gation, had greatly misrepresented affairs to the mother house,
the consequences of which were that the priests of the congrega-
tion were ordered from the seminary of Cincinnati against his
wishes, whilst he, however, had to keep silent and bear with the
reproaches of his former friend, the Bishop of that diocese, (Cin-
cinnati.) It seemed, therefore, that a change was needed, and
since it could not be done in the way he wished, it was well to
let it be done in the way that Providence decreed.

After his retreat, the Visitor took several days in making
deeds and conveyances of property held in his name, and after
he had completed all his arrangements and settled all his affairs,
he found himself upon the world, perhaps the poorest priest in the
Church, without one dollar in money, and with a small trunk not
half full of clothes, and these indeed were not enough to keep
him warm. These were all his possessions in the world. He
applied to the Bishop of St. Louis for a loan of money, enough to
bring him to his destination. This was readily promised for the
next day. But in the interim some friends learned of his deep
poverty, and in the course of the day, they handed him a
purse of two thousand francs and a trunk well filled with cloth-
ing. These he accepted with thanks, and started on his journey,
rejoicing in the holy Providence that provides for the poor of










The Diocese of Buffalo.— Troubles of St. Louis Church.— Their Origin and

*"Tke Divinely constituted Hierarchy of the Church, com-
pleted in each district by the consecration of a Bishop, with the
appointment and approbation of the successor of -St. Peter,
always brings special blessings of progress in the spiritual, often,
too, in the temporal order.

" This has been exemplified in Buffalo, and in the wide district
of which Buffalo then became the centre. The diocese was
established on the 22d of April, 1847, by our Yenerable and
Saintly Pope Pius IX, with the following limits : All that part of
the State of l^ew York which lies west of the eastern limits of
Cayuga, Tompkins, and Tioga counties. The Very Bev. John
Timon, then Yisitor of the Congregation of the Missions in this
country, was named first Bishop. It was known that his nomi-
nation was before the Holy See for other Bishoprics ; but neither
had he nor the public ever guessed that he would be appointed
to Buffalo. He was consecrated on the 17th of October, 1847,
(Sunday,) in the Cathedral in New York, by Bishop Hughes,
assisted by Dr. "Walsh, .Bishop of Halifax, and Dr. McCloskey,
Bishop of Albany. Dr. F. P. Kenrick, Bishop of Baltimore,
preached the consecration sermon."

* " Missions of Western New York," by tlie Bishop of Buffalo.


We are approaching an eventful period in the life of Bishop
Timon. It was a period fraught with marvelous results for the
spread of Catholic faith, for the advancement of morality and
education, and for the amelioration of the human race, in the
many institutions dedicated to the sick, the orphan, the aban-
doned, and old age. But it was likewise fraught with troubles
and anxieties, both in a temporal and spiritual point of view. It
was a period the most important and interesting of his whole life,
and during which were developed those noble energies of mind
and heart with which nature had endowed him. The difficulties
that arose during his administration of the diocese, some of which
had already been impregnated in the soil under the Episcopal
authority of Bishop Hughes, were great embarrassments to his
zeal and to his sense of christian duty as well as Church disci-
pline. But he surmounted all of them by his indomitable will,
although always ready to extend a charitable and helping hand
to a truly repentant sinner.

It will be obvious to the reader that, to consign the memory of
Bishop Timon to history merely in outline, by simply giving a
general narration of the prominent circumstances during his
administration, would not be doing justice to a great and distin-
guished prelate. Opinion upon many an administrative act of
the good Bishop has been greatly diversified, and whilst we are
no apologist for the seeming defects of his many administrative
acts, which, in our humble estimation, may be characterized
as having been the result either of misinterj)reted zeal or mis-
placed confidence in those whom he had chosen as counselors
and friends, we will still endeavor to depict, in proper light, the
events that have made his life so prominent. For this purpose,
our first attention will be called to the difficulties and troubles
with the trustees of St. Louis church. Since Bishop Timon, on
being named Bishop of Buffalo, inherited, as it were, the opposi-
tion to Church discipline and Episcopal authority upon the part
of that congregation through its trustees, who had, prior to his
consecration, and have ever since, been impressed with the dread
that the Bishop aimed to dispossess them of their church property.


their title to which will presently be shown to be fabulous, as well
as their idle fears of being deprived of their rights ; and since
his desiorns and charitable motives in regard to St. Louis church
have not only been misrepresented, whether tlirough ignorance
or malice, but even exaggerated, it is high time, in writing his
biography, to correct these errors ; and for this purpose we pro-
pose not only to deal with facts, but also to go back to the very
beginning of the difficulty and, step by step, unveil its true

We write from no partisan motives, nor from personal high
esteem of Bishop Timon merely, whose character we always
admired and loved, but we write from a disinterested standpoint
of view, excepting only so far as the requirements of justice
and truth are concerned. Not only will our assertions be based
upon written records and papers, gathered from various sources,
but also upon the testimony of eye witnesses, who, as early as
1842, were members of St. Louis church.

Prior to 1843, during which year Bishop Hughes issued his
pastoral letter in contbrmity to the statutes of the diocese, the
congregation of St. Louis church was an order-loving, pious,
christian people, and although history must record a conduct that
impeaches this reputation for piety and religion to a certain
degree, still the majority of the congregation, even to the present
day, continues to deserve the encomium which, in a letter written
to a gentleman* once a member of this church. Archbishop
Hughes so deservingly expresses :

"Of course, I always knew that there were a great many true
and faithful Catholics in the congregation of St. Louis, in Buffalo.
Indeed, on my visitation of the diocese that congregation was, by
its piety^ my joy and consolation. It was my pride and my
boast, on my^ return to New York."

" They say the congregation supported them (the trustees,) in
their proceedings. If this be so, which I ca/nnot believe, unless
they deceived the congregation hy false statements, then so he itP

* George A. Deuther.


'Not was this opinion of the good Archbishop misplaced. There
are those still living who were communicants of St. Louis church
at that time, who corroborate this writing of the Bishop, and
who further state on personal knowledge that the people of St.
Louis church fullj conducted themselves as true Catholics, in
doing precisely that which the pastoral letter required of them
and other congregations, under the authority of Bishop Hughes.
They did notliing without consulting with their pastor, whether it
was to make improvements in their church, or concerned the
employment of secular help, such as teachers, organist or singers
for the choir. The greatest harmony prevailed between the priest
and the people. Only a few "ambitious, designing, intriguing,
and irreligious minds" ventured indirectly to murmur and to
oj)pose ; but this was all. Hence, in issuing his pastoral letter for
that year, the Bishop by no means intended it particularly for
St. Louis church. It was issued for the purpose of regulating the
conduct of other congregations throughout the diocese, who, un-
fortunately, had deviated from the requirements of Church
discipline. But as it was a pastoral letter, it was read from the
pulpit of every Catholic congregation, as was required by the
statutes of the diocese. The Bishop never intended, directly or
indirectly, to dispossess the people of St. Louis church of their
title to their church property. Tlieir fears on this point were ,
entirely groundless, and, in our humble judgment, but for a mis-
calculated as well as unfortunate circumstance, these fears might
never have been awakened.

We are disposed to deal charitably with this subject, and by
no means desire to revive the unpleasant memories of the past. \
"We deal with facts, and facts only, albeit facts some times are
stubborn things.

However, before entering into the consideration of these stub-
born things, it will be necessary to go back to an earlier period in
the history of the diocese. On the 29th of August, 1841, Bishop
Hughes convoked the first synod ever held in the diocese. After
a week spent in spiritual exercises at St. John's College, the
clergy assembled at the Cathedral in JSTew York, and in the ;


synod, which lasted three days, several important regulations,
proposed by the Bishop for the purpose of *" assimilating the
discipline and custom of the Church to the decrees of the Coun-
cil of Trent," were enacted. The Bishop frankly told his
brethern of the clergy " that these statutes were such as it was
competent for the Bishop to enact by his own sacred office, from
which, in fact, their force was exclusively derived ;" but he felt
bound "to avail himself of their experience and knowledge of
the different congregations over which they were placed, before
he should enact any disciplinary statutes, that might be in violent
conflict with those circumstances, or might be premature and too
difficult to be executed. "

Among the many statutes enacted by the synod, was that
which related to the trustee system, and which in substance was
as follows :

f " That thenceforward no body of lay trustees should appoint,
retain or dismiss any person connected with the church,, such as
sexton, organist, singers, teachers, &c., against the will of the
pastor ; that the money necessary for the maintenance of the
pastors and the support of religion, should in no case be withheld,
if the congregation were able to afford them ; that no board of
trustees or other lay persons should use the church, chapel, base-
ment, or other portion of grounds or edifices consecrated to
religion, for any meeting having a secular, or even an ecclesias-
tical object, without the approval of the pastor; that no board of
trustees should vote, or expend, or appropriate for contracts any
portion of the property they were appointed to adrainister,
(except the ordinary current expenses,) without the approval of
the pastor ; nor, in case the sums to be thus expended should
exceed one hundred dollars in any one year, without the approval
of the Bishop also. The clergy were required to keep an inventory
of church property, and to exhibit annually to the Bishop a syn-
opsis of the financial condition of the church. For this purpose
they were to have access whenever necessary to the books of the

*Life of Archbishop Hughes Hazard,
■j- Life of Archbishop Hughes Hazard.



treasurer and the minutes of all official proceedings of the board
of trustees. Should any board of trustees refuse to comply with
these statutes, the Bishop declared that he 'should adopt such
measures as the circumstances of the case might require, ' but in
no event should he ' tolerate the presence of a clergyman in any
church or congregation in which such refusal should be per-
severed in.' " '

These statutes were jDublished in a pastoral letter, dated Sep-
tember 8th, 1841, and were hailed with joy by all true Catholics
at large ; nay, the trustees of several churches offered to surrender
their trust into the Bishop's hands, if he wished them to do so, a
proposition which he declined ; but the secular press assailed the
Bishop severely, and waxed warm with indignation at what they
deemed a violation of the rights of the Catholic laity, who them-
selves were unconscious of their injuries, and by no means
grateful to their self-chosen champions, the secular press.

All the boards of trustees in the diocese acquiesced, except
that of St. Louis church, in Buffalo.

On page 219 of the "Missions of Western New York," we
read :

"In Buffalo, the very small number who, perhaps uncon-
sciously, tried to sow discord in St. Louis church, had been
frustrated in their first attempt. Yet they only awaited a more
favorable time ; and in the year 1838, some of them having gone
through the legal forms, incorporated under the above named
general law of 1784, which Protestants rejected. The Bishop
was grieved, for in sending the Rev. Mr. Pax, he said : 'The
usurpations of the trustees are not to be feared, for the ground
belongs to me. ' The residuary heir of the donor, P. A. Lecou-
teulx, Esq., a man of great honor and probity, also declares that
his father never wished such an incorporation. This was an
event productive of evil to the pious members of the congrega-
tion, of annoyance and grief to ecclesiastical superiors ; and,
until lately, of almost incessant discord and embarrassments to
the church. The Rev. J. N. Mertz, their pastor, left that church
and removed to Eden. The Rev. Alex. Pax, by the wish of the


Eight Eev. Bishop Dubois, undertook pastoral charge. This
■worthy clergyman, finding the church too small, and being
assured by the Bishop that, as the ground belonged to him, no
annoyance was to be dreaded from trustees, began to build the '
present spacious edifice, with the hearty cooperation of the
people. "

One Sunday, in the year 1843, Father Pax read from
the pulpit of St. Louis church the pastoral letter of Bishop
Hughes. An eye-witness says that, "in reading the pastoral
letter. Father Pax did so without much comment, taking it for
granted that the people already knew their duty full well, rely-
ing upon their well-known piety and Catholic faith to accept it. "
But the unfortiuiate circumstance already alluded to, occurred
just at this time. Father Pax concluded his remarks by say-
ing, that the sum and substance of the pastoral letter was " that
the Bishop desired to obtain the Verwaltung* of the church,"
meaning that the discharge of the temporal afi^airs of the church,
and the discipline that should govern it, would be under the sur-
veillance and coojDeration of the pastor with the congregation,
through its trustees. As to the fears awakened among the
people of St. Louis church, that the Bishop aimed at depriving
them of their church property, these were entirely unfounded,
both in act and in the spirit of the pastoral letter; since, so far as
the title and right to the property were concerned, it is necessary
merely to inform the reader, that a copy of the deed of St. Louis
church property, given by Louis Stephen Lecouteulx de Chamont,
Esq., f to Bishop Dubois and his successors, is recorded in the
county clerk's office, and can be seen there at any time.

But had Father Pax expressly stated that Bishop Hughes, in
obedience to the statutes of the diocese, desired merely to com-

» Administration.

fin 1829, when deeds of trust were valid, Louis Lecouteulx executed one to Bishop Dubois,
for the property of the St. Louis church, in -vcords as follows: "This indenture, made this
fifth day of January, 1829, between Louis Lecouteulx, &c., oi, the one part, and the Right Rev.
Father in God, John Dubois, Roman Catholic Bishop of New York, of the other part, witness-
eth, — That for and in consideration of their love of God and the veneration of the said Louis,
for the Holy Catholic Religion, have given, granted, aliened, enfeoffed and confirmed, and by
these presents do give, grant, alien, enfeotf and confirm unto the said party of the second part
and his successors in the holy otfice of Bishop, (.in trust for the uses and purposes hereinafter


municate the information that the discipline and custom of the
congregation of St. Louis church, which thus far governed them
under their beloved pastor, with regard to the discharge of the
temporal affairs of the church, had been enacted in the form of
diocesan laws, and that no m7iovation of their rights^ which thej
so much feared, was at all contemplated, perhaps, in the provi-
dence of God, the scandal of a congregation refusing to obey its
Bishop, might have been spared from the pages of this work.

Still, though we cannot depart from truth and justice in the
relation of these unpleasant facts, there is one circumstance in
extenuation of the conduct of a great many of the people of St.
Louis church, which may perhajjs serve to soften the rigor of
opinion that the reader may entertain in perusing this history.
The people of St. Louis church, considered collectively, and
composed of French and Germans, were a class of people simple-

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 8 of 30)