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 9 of 30)
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minded in their views, honestly disposed to do what was right
with regard to every obligation in life, religious or secular, but
at the same time not endowed with that educated intelligence
and knowledge of Church custom and discipline, which from time
immemorial has governed the Church of Christ.

It is true, they loved their religion. They were frequent and
pious partakers of the sacrament. They supported their pastor
generously, and contributed, according to their means freely, for
beautifying and improving their church. I^ay, their liberality
in this regard is, even to this day, their distinguishing character-
istic. With reference to the temporal affairs of the church, they
enjoyed the exercise of an opinion and a voice through their
trustees. As has been already stated, nothing was done witlj-
out lirst agreeing and consulting with Father Pax ; apparently
every thing seemed peaceful, all was quiet.

named,) all that certain piece or parcel of land, Ac, for the sole and only use and purposes of a
Roman Catholic church and cemetery, and to the iuteut that a house of worship for that denom-
ination of christians may hereafter be erected thereon, together with all and singular the
hereditaments and appurtenances and revisions, rents, issues and protits, and all the estate,
right, title, interest, claim and demand whatsoever, either in land or equity, to have and to
hold, &c., unto the said party of the second part and to his successors in said office forever.




But suddenly, as if a bombshell had been thrown in their
midst, their serenity was disturbed, and the expression, Yerioal-
tung^ not sufficiently explained by Father Pax, suggested ideas
to their simple minds that seemed dangerous to them as a con-
gregation, and threatened a serious inroad upon rights and
titles ta which they had no legal claim, and which, fostered and
encouraged by designing irreligious men among them, and in
whom they unwisely placed too much credence and trust, led
them into the unfortunate belief that they were to be deprived of
their church and their property. Revolve the matter in their
minds, as they might, "it seemed," says an eye-witness, "as if
they were so intoxicated with this idea, that no argument, however
potent, no assurance, however sincerely given or endorsed, could
dislodge it. And this idea remains in the heads of many of the
congregation even to the present day.

This fear of being deprived of their title and riglit to their
church property, (a title whicli we have said was fabulous,) was
fostered b}'^ the board of trustees and one man, through whose
persistent spirit and course of opposition against lawfid church
authority, the trouble assumed greater and more gigantic propor-
tions, then perhaps it otherwise might have done, until it finally
burst into open rebellion. We have said that to the trustees
was mainly due the vehemence of the trouble, and it is consistent
to say fiu-ther, that their spirit of opposition derived its origin
from the restrictions placed upon their conduct and government
of the temporal affairs of the church, by the discipline and
requirements of canon law, then for the first time promulgated as
diocesan laws. They desired to be rid of this incumbrance upon
their actions, and to be considered as svne qua non in their offi-
cial capacity. They even presumpuously declared their conduct
to express the will of a majority of the congregation. We insert
the following from the files of the Buftalo Daily Gazette^ Thurs-
day A. M., October 19th, 1843 :

' ' St. Louis Church, Buffalo. — An election of trustees for this

church was held on Sunday last. Mr. and Mr. were

elected. These gentlemen are understood to be decidedly in


favor of the course adopted by the former board of trustees, in
retaining in their own hands the management of the temporal
affairs of their own church.

" A candidate of opposite opinion was run, who received four
votes against two hundred and ninety-two, the lowest on the
ticket elected. A hundred more ^otes were polled than ever
before, notwithstanding the weather was very boisterous.

"This decisive action on the part of the congregation of St.
Louis, should admonish the clergy, that the unusual measures to
which they have resorted for the purpose of constraining the
trustees into an acquiescence in their recent pretensions, may pro-
duce consequences the very opposite of those that they were
intended to effect. The line dividing temporal from spiritual
power is, we are glad to see, clearly distinguished by the congre-
gation ; and in the firm position they have taken in defending
it, they have shown that they merit the privileges of American
citizens, because they understand one of the first principles of
American liberty."

This article was intended to express the will as well as the
sentiments of the majority of the congregation. But W. B.
Lecouteulx, in an article published in the Daily Gazette, April
7th, 1843, relates :

" It is perfectly well known to every one here, that the congrega-
tion of St. Louis church consists of German and French population,
amounting to several thousands, many of whom reside several
miles from the city, and that it would be utterly impossible for
St. Patrick's church to contain them."

Now, out of this immense congregation, numbering thousands,
only two hundred and ninety-two votes were cast for the election
of trustees of the church, according to the article above quoted,
and which, as the reader will observe, was either Avritten or
caused to be written by the trustees themselves. We leave to
the reader the inference as to whether or not this was an expres-
sion of the will of a majority of the congregation.

Page 221, " Missions of "Western New York, " we read :


" Scarcely had the new church of St. Louis been built by the
Rgv. Alex. Pax, when the trustees of the congregation broke out
in opposition to Church discipline, by refusing to comply with
the statutes of the diocese, and the faction so harrassed their cler-
gyman that his health became impaired, and he was obliged to
return to his native country, to endeavor to recover it.

" TTis letter at this period to Bishop Hughes, breathes of noth-
ing but grief and despondency. In that of December 26th,
184:2, he says : ' This time I write to you with a broken heart.

* * * I read your pastoral letter; that part of it which treats
of the administration of ecclesiastical property, occupied me two
Sundays, because I was obliged to correct the most malicious
interpretations spread among the people. "W. B. Lecouteulx is
the head of the opposition party. Misrepresentations of the
worst kind, and lies of every description, were resorted to. This
continued agitation produced a frightful excitement.' &c."

A meeting of the congregation was called by some of the
trustees of St. Louis church, prominent among whom was W.
B. Lecouteulx, son of Louis Lecouteulx, the donor of the pro-
perty to the church. This gentleman was chairman of the
meeting, and in common with a few others, had drawn up a
lengthy sot of resolutions in the English language, in which a
decided opposition was expressed against w^hat was styled the
" usiu-pations " of Bishop Huglies. In these resolutions was set
forth a determination to resist all the requirements of the pas-
toral letter, promulgated purely for Church discipline, but
erroneously interpreted through the press, and otherwise, to
threaten their rights and title to the property.

" These resolutions," relates a gentleman who was present at
the meeting, " were subscribed to and signed by a committee of
forty names, of wKom six^ at the utmost, understood^ and, ^vith
the exception of one^ none could kead English, the language in
which they were drawn up." Comment is unnecessary. In the
meantime the impression made upon the minds of the people of
St. Louis congregation, to the effect that their interests and rights


were threatened, took deep root, and accordingly they were
influenced to support their trustees " resolved " to oppose the
imagined inroad upon their rights.

Many ineffectual efforts were made to induce the trustees to
submit to the discipline of tlie Church, until finally the j)ersistent
spirit of rebellion, j)articularly upon the part of the trustees,
obliged Bishop Hughes to interpose his authority to save the
Church laws, by interdicting St. Louis church.

The trustees had "respectfully declined" to submit to the
proposed change, and " most sincerely regretted not to be able to
comply with the Bishop's request.''''

Bishop Hughes, in reply, said : " I read your letter with sur-
prise. My pastoral letter was an intimation of an ecclesiastical
law which is to be general throughout the diocese. It is not yet
in force ; but, when it will be, I trust it will be of the greatest
advantage to the peace of the congregation. * * * Should
it prove otherwise, however, in your judgment, you will have it
in your power to resist its execution ; and when you do, it will
be time enough for me to ascertain what shall be my duty in the
case. Should you determine that your church shall not be gov-
erned by the general law of the diocese, then we shall claim the
privilege of retiring from its walls in peace, and leave you to
govern it as you will. Indeed, we must keep peace, peace at all
events, and charity also."

On j)age 221, " Missions in Western ]^ew York," we read

" It IS well known that on weak minds, whilst reading history,
a deep impression will be made that almost all in life is evil,
there being so much said of war ; whilst what regards peace and
prosperity may be discussed in a few brief lines. But the atten-
tive reader knows that many years of peace, with all its blessings,
may be sufficiently expressed in the two words of the cheering
cry, ' All 's well ;' whilst, to render history what it should be, a
lesson of experience and wisdom, pages must be employed to
point out the causes, the actions, and the consequences of a
month's war ; so also must be this history, whilst briefly narrating


the onward struggle of God's Church militant, in this diocese.
But we ^vill now saj, once for all, that, generally, the pastors
and the flocks, amidst dangers and difficulties, of which extreme
poverty was not the least, displayed deep piety, disinterested
zeal, a generous spirit of self sacrifice, the christian virtues which
always accompany it, and, even in poverty, charity like that of
the poor widow, whom the Saviour praised for casting her last
mite into the treasury of God's house. Even the strife, which
history to be useful must record, was, in every instance, caused
by some twenty or thirty (often fewer,) leading men. These
men, too, were generally good men, but men deceived in their
estimate both of the importance of Church discipline, of the
extent of their powers, and of the propriety of pushing to their
utmost meaning the words of a church incorporation law, which
almost all Protestants refused to use. A very few of the leaders.
Catholics but in name, were men who never approached the
sacraments ; men to whom the words of Bishop Hughes might
well apply : ' In such cases, only let one enlightened, talented,
intriguing and irreligious mind get among them, and then, what-
ever he concocts in his infidel mind, he induces them, under
specious pretexts, to adopt ; and then he gives it out as the act
of the board ; and this again as the act of the congregation. ' —
Letter of Bishop Hughes, in the Commercial^ of New York, April
4th, 1845.

" After many useless efforts to induce the trustees to submit to
'the discipline of the Church, the Right Rev. Bishop Hughes was
obliged to interpose his authority, to save the Church laws, by
interdictinor the church of St. Louis.

" Men who never approached the sacraments exclaimed against
the cruelty of depriving the congregation of holy sacramental
helps. W. B. Lecouteulx, Esq., who seems to have been the
master-spirit in opposition to Bishop Hughes, wrote several let-
ters to his Bishop, assuredly in no Catholic spirit. In one, dated
August 4th, 1841, he says to the Bishop : ' In case that, con-
trary to our expectations, you should have given your consent
to the above propositions, I feel bound to inform you that it would


be a derogation to tlie clauses specified in his (his father's) act of
donation, and would therefore put me under the obligation to
claim the property back again. ' It is a sacred duty to say the
truth in giving this history to the public, but to say it in such a
manner as to give the least possible pain to the living, or. to the
friends of the dead. The subject of St. Louis church would have
been passed over, truthfully, yet only in general, hasty views ; but
this mode of treating it can now no longer be just to the worthy
dead, to the living, or to posterity. The worldly-wise and vdfy
cunning sometimes overact their part ; thus the enemies of the
Catholic Church have already forced into history false and
injurious statements on this subject. In the ISTew York Gazetteer
for 1860, published by J. H. French, page 287, we read : 'There
are fourteen Roman Catholic churches in the city of Buffalo. *

* * The Roman Catholic church of St. Louis, in that city,
has been prominently before the public, from the refusal of its
trustees to convey their church property to the Bishop, and the
extraordinary but ineffectual efforts made by the Roman Pontiff
to induce obedience to this order. In 1853, Cardinal Bedini
visited America, having this as a prominent object of his mission ;
but the trustees were inflexible, and still continue the owners of
the property. ' !N"o priest or Bishop ever asked the trustees to
convey the lot to them, nor has there ever been a dispute about
the deed; the dispute, from first to last, was solely about Church

" On the 5th of January, 1829, nearly ten years before any
trustees' church existed, the deed of that property was made to
the Bishop, and he holds it still. On the 3d of August, 1850,
when Bishop Timon forgave the first series of resistance to
Church discipline under his administration, the trustees, pledg-
ing themselves to abide for the future by the discipline of the
Church, said : ' On our part we acknowledge that, according to
the laws of the State, the titles of the temporalities of the Church
are vested in the Bishop and his successors in office, in trust for
the sole use and only purpose of the congregation. ' With
Bishop Hughes and Bishop Timon. the sole contest has been


about the discipline of the Church. Bishop Hughes, no doubt,
has said in substance to the trustees what Bishop Timon often
did, that no pay thej could give would induce him to accept
the administration of their revenues. On seeking reconciliation,
the trustees granted all that Bishops Hughes or Timon ever asked.
Bishop Timon wished to have the revenues administered, and
church affairs conducted, according to law and discipline ; the
people heartily agreed to this. As matters of history, it is now
a duty simply to state facts and justify the vast majority, who
ffiways were deeply and sincerely Catholic, while the chief
agent in discord was a member of a secret society, who never
aj)proached the sacraments. His example drew some after him,
and they were his best helpers. Immediately after the publica-
tion of the interdict, some of the most respectable Germans sent
a petition, through George A. Deuther, Esq. Bishop Hughes
answered it as follows :

« ' ISTew York, April 5, 1843.

" ' Mr. George A. Deuther,

" ' Dear Sir: I have received your petition and letter yester-
day, and lose no time in forwarding my reply. 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 my consolation. It was my pride and my boast on
ray return to N^ew York.

" ' But when a congregation, through its officers, allows its pas-
tors to be thwarted in doing good, to be harrassed, and be made
miserable, then I cannot expect that any priest will stay with
them. The trustees of a congregation are only its servants, and
when these servants undertake to reject ecclesiastical laws of the
diocese, and to make laws themselves, as if they were Bishops
in God's Church, then it is time for those who are Bishops and
priests to withdraw in peace, and leave them also in peace, to
govern those who are satisfied to be governed by them. They


say the congregation supported them in their proceedings ; if this
be so, which I cannot believe, unless they deceived the congrega-
tion by false statements, then so he it.

" ' Much as I feel for the good, pious people, I cannot allow any
priest to officiate in the church of St. Louis, until I am assured
that the congregation, in its trustees as well as in its members,
are Catholics^ true Catholics.^ in their soul^ as well as by their
outward profession. If they choose to have it otherwise, I shall
not quarrel with them. But, in the meantime, I have no priest
to send them ; and if I had, I should not expose him in such a
situation. Our priests are for Catholic congregations, and no
other. Now there are many other good German congregations
without a pastor, and until I have German priests enough for
them all, it will be my duty to provide for those congregations
who make it their pride to be governed by their pastors, instead
of attempting to govern them.

" ' When I had written thus far, one of our city papers was
brought to me containing an article from the Buffalo Gazette^
which is false in almost every particular, and which I have
answered here. I hope the editor of the Buffiilo Gazette will pub-
lish my answer, in order that the good and pious people of the
congregation, may see how much they have been imposed upon
by means of falsehood.

" ' The people must ohlige their trustees to do right^ or else they
must be prejjared to suffer for what their trustees do, in their
name, wrongfully. I shall have no dispute with any congrega-
tion, but whenever a congregation allows its trustees to behave
so badly that the pastor must leave, I will allow them no other.

" ' With the same kind feeling towards all, as your true friend
and father in Christ, I remain, sincerely,

" '4- JOHN, Bislx(yp, New York.'

" The trustee party made other false statements, through the
public prints. Bishop Hughes answered in the following letter
to the New York Commercial Advertiser., of April 4th, 1843,
which was copied from it into the Buffalo Gazette:


" ''Messi's. Editors: In your Commercial of Monday you pub-
lished from the Buffalo Gazette an article purporting to be a
statement of the difference between the congregation of St. Louig
church and myself It stated that I claimed to have ' the pro-
perty of the church vested in my hands, and that the claim was
resisted by the congregation.' This is entirely untrue. I never
advanced such a claim, and of course it could not be refused. It
is stated that in consequence of this refusal I ' called away the
Rev. Alexander Pax and left the congregation destitute.' This
is equally untrue. On the contrary, nothing but my persuasion
was able to prevail on him to stay for the last eighteen months
or two vears, under the iU treatment of a few worthless men who
call themselves the congregation. It is stated that the congre-
gation of St. Patrick's, in Buffalo, have ' complied with my
requisition.' This again is untrue. The trustees and congrega-
tion of St. Patrick's* will bear me witness that I never made any
such requisition. I advised them, as a means of putting an end
to quarrels among themselves, to dispense with trustees, and to
avoid the rock on which St. Louis is now splitting. These are
the principal statements ; and the honorable confidence of the
editor of the Buffalo Gazette has been sadly abused by those
who have employed his authority for statements which they
knew to be unfounded in truth. He should demand proof of
them, and if they cannot furnish it, to which I challenge them,
he should publish their names, and vindicate his own. He has
been deceived. I attach no blame to him. If his deceivers can
furnish no proof that I ever made such a demand, I can furnish
proof, in their own writing, that I never did.

"'It is surmised,' says the statement, 'that the Bishop has gone
so far as to forbid any priest from performing Divine service in
St. Louis church until its ' congregation shall fully comply with
his demands.' I forbade only one clergyman, whose inexperi-
ence might have been taken advantage of by the same artifice
which trifled so foully with the good faith of the editor of -the
'Gazette. And secondly, what are called my ' demands, ' in the
statement, never had any existence in reality.

* Corner of Batayia and Ellicott streets.


" ' Surely, the editors of the Buifalo Gazette will feel a glow of
virtuous indignation when they discover how nmch they have
been imposed on.

'"The only difference between the congregation of St. Louis and
myself is, that its trustees have thought proper not to be gov-
erned by the ecclesiastical discipline of the diocese, and expect
nie to supply them with priests who shall be governed by a
different discipline, of which they shall be the authors. The
congregation of that church are pious and exemplary Catholics,
to whom their holy faith is dearer than life. Even this may be
said of a large number of the trustees.

"'But it sometimes happens that our trustees may be honest
and upright in their intentions, and yet men of simple under-
standing, and without education. In such cases, only let an
enlightened, talented, intriguing and irreligious mind get among
them, and then, whatever he concocts in his infidel mind, he
induces them, under specious pretences, to adopt ; and then he
gives out the depraved purposes of his own heart as the act of
the board, and this again as the act of the congregation ! From
the moment this arrives, wo to the flock, and wo to the pastor,
who are at once divided from each other, and yet kept together
by such a link of iniquity.

"'The pious and amiable Mr. Pax was not called away by me,
but I left him at liberty to leave whenever he felt that he could
stand it no longer. It aj^pears to me that the time has arrived.
I have no German pastor to send in his place. But if I had, it
would be with instructions to rent a barn, get up an altar in it,
and administer the sacraments of religion with that freedom
from restraint and guidance of unauthorized laymen with which
God made the ministers of His Church free, but which is not to
be enjoyed, it appears, in the church of St. Louis.

" ' The neighboring clergymen could not officiate in it without
neglecting their own congregations, which have the first claim
on their ministry. Besides, I deem it my duty now to forbid all
clergymen of this diocese to officiate in that church, until it shall
be determined whether it is to be governed by the ecclesiastical


regulations of the diocese, or by ' the resolves ' of its trustees. I
trust, Messrs. Editors, that you will publish the above in your
valuable paper, as an act of reparation which I may claim on
the score of justice. I ask an insertion in the Buffalo Gazette^
which, I am sure, the editor will not refuse. I appeal to the
honor of such other editors as may have copied the false and
injurious statement first published in the Buffalo Gazette^ for a
similar favor.

"'-4-JOHN HUGHES, Bishop of New York.

" ' New York, April 4th, 1843.'

'•"The pious portion of the German Catholics now met for
worship in the basement of St. Patrick's* church, having a
Redemptorist, Father Allick, for their pastor. Bishop Hughes
gave the order f a deed for a lot on Batavia street, where they at
once erected a temporary church, residence and school house.

"The interdict on St. Louis church, in Buffalo, continued
from .4th April, 1843, to 10th August, 1844. During that
epoch, many of the peace-loving, pious Catholics of St. Louis
church, had attached themselves to the rising congregation of
St. Mary's. The trustees became alarmed, asked forgiveness
of the Bishop, and published, in English, in the Commercial

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 9 of 30)