W. J. (William J.) Howlett.

Historical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky online

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 10 of 13)
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ST. Thomas' skminarv. 139

could become as little children in thought and feeling,
and when the sweet and solemn services were over,
could, like little children, lie in wait for one another
and for their unsuspecting professors, and surprise
them with a merry "Christmas Gift !"

The men who braved the fortunes of war to study
at St. Thomas' must have been made of stern stuff,
and we should naturally expect to hear from them in
their after years. Nor are we disappointed in our ex-
pectations. Their probation at St. Thomas' in these
trying times, was a fitting prelude to the courage they
have shown, and the work they have accomplished
since going into active service. We hear from them
in Bishop Byrne, of Nashville ; Bishop Tierney, of
Hartford ; Bishop Ryan, of Alton, and Bishop Alerd-
ing, of Ft. Wayne ; in the Veiy Rev. Fathers O'Calla-
ghanand Grannan ; in the Rev. Fathers Cusack, Cull,
Fladung, Siebenfoercher, Mackey, Doyle, Crowley,
Pilcher, Doherty, Quinn, Geyer, Kennedy and Camp-
bell, of Ohio; in Fathers Sondermann, Fleischmann,
Spelman, Schnell, Gilling, Peters and McBarron, of
Indiana; in Fathers Rafter, Wheeler, McManus, Pul-
cher, Reichenbach and Schmittdiel, of Michigan; in
Fathers Stick, Winterhalter and Bennett, of Illinois ;
in Fathers R3'an, Smyth, Johannes and McGowan, of
Iowa ; in Fathers Crane, Harnist, Drur}^ Jenkins,
Daly, Plaggenborg, Dillon, Hogarty, Melody, Mc-
Connell, Haeseley, Redmond, Smith and Ben. Spald-
ing, of Kentucky, and in Fathers Ronan, Fitz-Boland,
Mclncrow, O' Donovan, Tuite, Mallon, Bennett, Daily,
Englert and Samuel Spalding, besides many others
from different States. Some of these are dead. Thev


died in honor as they had lived ; many of them are
still in life, and hold the esteem of congregations that
they have built up, served and edified. I might sin-
gle out a score of the pre-eminent ones, but their works
speak for them. Thej^ are sufficiently known, and the
reader will have no difiiculty in allotting the merited
measure of praise that I dare not openly give. It is
a galax}^ of names that stand well in the Church, and
old St. Thomas', if it were now in existence, might
take pardonable pride in remembering its war students.

Chapter XVI.

lyooking Forwar 1 and Backward. —Father Abell's
Golden Jubilee. — Visits of Bishops. —Bxaninations
and Commencements. — Fa>t Trains. — Removal to
Bardstown. — Father Russell. — Last Class at St.
Thomas'. — Deaths, Dismissals and Lapses. — "A Hole
in the Fence."

At old St. Thomas' it could hardly be said that
events hurried on thick and fast. It was just about
the same round, week after week and month after
month. The Christmas holidays came to relieve the
strain of looking for Easter, and Easter was a resting-
place of our longings for vacation. Our studies this
3'ear were but an introduction to what we would do
next year. We were j^oung, then, and the young live
in the future, the old in the past. When we become
ren iniscent we are growing old ; St. Thomas' students
are all reminiscent now.

One special event of 1868 was of no small import-
ance, although not then or since, heralded abroad as
anything remarkable. It was the Golden Jubilee of
the Patriarch of the priesthood, the first-born of Ken-
tucky's native clergy — the venerable Father Robert
A. Abell. Fifty years before he had been raised to
the priestly state in the little Church of St. Thomas,
and, on the very spot where he had received the power
of sacrifice, he vsashed to make its jubilee offering as
a thanksgiving for God's mercies to him during fifty
years of life at th:^ Altar. The time of the celebration
was fixed by Father Abell so as best to accommodate
his brother priests, and this made it necessary to an-


ticipate the actual date by some weeks. Father Abell
himself sang the Solemn High Mass, with Father Dur-
bin as deacon and Father Elliott as subdeacon. The
sermon was preached by Father Schacht, himself an
old western missionary, and it must have been equal
to the occasion, as I heard no adverse criticisms. I
still remember many of the faces as I saw them on that
occasion, for it was the first time that I had seen them.
It was a gathering that recalls the famous group of
1817. Ther^ were no bishops presen*-, but there were
those who had upheld the hands of man}^ bishops.
Father Abell was there with the merit of fifty years of
missionary labor; Father Durbin with his 500,000
miles of apostolic journey ings on horseback ; Fathers
Aud, Hutchins, Elliott and Coomeswith their burden
of pioneer toil ; Fathers Wuyts, Schacht, DeMuelder,
O'Callaghan, Viala, Eacoste, Faunt. Bachmann and
Eawler representing past and future labor. The Very
Rev. B. J. Spalding bore the honors of the diocese as its
administrator, and Father Chambige, with the faculty
of the Seminary, represented the work of St. Thomas'
through the eighteen years that it had been sending
out priests into fields of the Church in America. No
doubt, others were there, but I cannot recall them now.
It was a memorable day, and its significance is
more plain now than it was at the very time, for in
our changed conditions, we can judge by contrast what
those fifty years of priesthood meant. Flaget, David
and Badin had lived them also, mostly in the same
surroundings, and the essentials of all their histories
ran in the same channel. They, too, must have been
filled individually with the impressiveness of similar




occasions to each of themselves, yet they seemed to
have passed them over in their own quiet way, and it
is probable that this jubilee of Father Abell was the
first of the kind ever celebrated in so solemn a manner
in Kentucky.

The visit of a bishop to St. Thomas' was an event
of great moment. It was not of frequent occurrence
within my recollection, — not as frequent as we might
have wished, but as St. Thomas' was not on any of the
great thoroughfares, We did not expect it very often.
The first bishop to visit the Seminary while I was
there, was Bishop McCloskey, of Louisville. It was
shortly after his arrival in Kentucky from Rome where
he had been consecrated only a short time before. He
impressed us most favorably, as he -ooked every inch
a bishop, and his handsome face beamed with evi-
dences of a kind and fatherly heart. On the part of
the students, W. P. Hogaity made an address giving
expre sion to our feelings of gladness, welcome and
reverence, and presaging a strengthening of faith and
zeal, both in the Seminary and in the diocese, aided
by the spirit that the new bishop had imbibed at the
tomb of ,the Apostles. When the bishop answered
and told us, among other things, that in us was the
hope of the Church, and that he esteemed us of such
importance that his first official visit to any of his in-
stitutions should be made to us, we felt a graver sense
of present and future duties. Our hearts went out to
him, and his visit was the topic of conversation for
many a day. I believe it did us a lasting good.

Another bi; hop to visit us, and the only other that
I remember, was Bishop Machebeuf, of Denver. He

144 ST. Thomas' seminary.

remained over night at the Seminary and said mass
for us the next morning. In an address that he made
to the students, he spoke of his life in the Far West,
and told us of his visits to the miner's camps in Eureka
Gulch, Hardscrabble and the Frying Pan, in Fairplay
and Buckskin Joe, and of his mission trips lasting for
months at a time, when he always carried a supply
of provisions with him, and often camped on the
plains or in the mountains, preparing his own food
and sleeping wrapped in a buffalo robe with the blue
sky of heaven for his nearest roof. Some of the stu-
dents were tempted to volunteer for his missions, but
they could not free themselves from their obligations
to other dioceses, so he got no one.

The examinations at St. Thomas' were considered
serious matters, at least by the students. They were
written and oral, and covered the year's work pretty
thoroughl5^ They did not differ from those usual
tests in all colleges, but they did not allay the general
trepidation, for all knew that the}' were not merely
perfunctory affairs. Papers prepared for these exami-
nations were often read publicly in the refectory, and
as publicly discussed. Sometimes they were, made a
part of the program of the commencement exercises.

The commencements, or exhibitions as they were
called, were without display. Father Chambige al-
ways presided ; the professors were present with a num-
ber of the priests of the diocese, and the Sisters of the
domestic departments. The premiums were books on
various subjects, and many a .student preserved for
years some of those volumes with that verv peculiar
si,2^nature of Fatlier Chambige upon the fly leaf.


The exhibition was followed by an extraordinary
spread of good things for the refection of nature, and
general recreation followed, In the evening, an in-
formal open meeting of the Debating Society was held,
at which the professors, guests and brighter students
indulged in the " feast of reason and flow of soul. "
I have forgotten the subject matter of it now, but upon
one of those occasions Father Eugene Crane delivered
one of the wittiest, and at the same time, one of the
most eloquent speeches I had ever heard. There was
not much sleep that last night at the Seminary, nor
any very strenuous attempt at the preservation of order
by the prefects, and by daylight next morning all
were astir, and, after mass and an early breakfast, lost
no time in covering the three miles and more of pike
to catch the only train from Bardstown.

And, that old train ! I know of but one that equals
it, and that is its successor on the same road extended
as far as Springfield. All things, even that train, will
come to those who wait, provided they wait long
enough. It is one of the sleepiest roads in creation,
and a sleeping car would be a convenience on the
train, if the operators could learn that there are other
ways of stopping the distillery cars they take up on the
way besides letting them bump into the rest of the train.

Rumors of the closing of old St. Thomas' began to
be whispered about during the summer of 1869. No
one was disturbed by them, for all knew that better
accommodations would rCvSult from the change, and so
rather welcomed the idea. In October, the change
was made, and the students marched in on foot to
Bardstown, while the trunks were carried upon the


big wagons that formed part of the cortege. The stu-
dents numbered about sixty, and nearly one-third of
them were from Indiana. Kentuck}^ was a strong
second on the list, and little Rhode Island was third.
The remainder came from localities well scattered be-
tween Boston and San Francisco. The members of
the philosoph}^ class of the previous term at St.
Thomas' were already domiciled at St. Joseph's and
were at work on their theology, but the organization
of the house was deferred iintil the arrival of the pre-
paratory students.

M}" memory fai's to record our parting from Father
Chambige and our old professors, but I know we found
good teachers and kind fathers at St. Joseph's, and our
classes were continued much as usual with a few studies
added. Both Father Chambige and Father Russell
were assigned to duty at Nazareth, and thenceforward
we never missed our accustomed visit to Nazareth on
Christmas and Easter while they were there to bid us
welcome. Fathers Crane and Creary were given
ministerial duty in I^ouisville, and we saw them but
seldom afterwards.

One of the dearest men imaginable was Father
Russell, one of our professors at St. Thomas'. Only
a few years ago he was laid to rest, and I can speak
of him now without reserve, and surely without a
thought of contradiction from anyone who knew him.

David Russell was born at St. Charles, Marion
county, Kentucky. Through his grandmother on his
father's side, Jane Mattingly, he was descended from
Leonard Mattingly, one of the pioneers of the Hardin's
creek settlement, and thus he was, in some degree.


related to all the Mattinglys of Marion and adjoining
counties. His preparatory studies were begun at St,
Mary's College and finished at St. Thomas' in 1858.
From there he went to Louvain for the study of the-
ology, and was one of the first students to enter the
American College just established in that city under
the presidency of Monsignor John De Neve.

I have a slight leaning towards all those who studied
under Msgr. De Neve, for I knew him when he was
plain Father De Neve and first pastor of the church a:t
Niles, Michigan, The day he left to return to Belgium
was a sad day in that little church and the scene was
touching in tlie extreme. It was a week dajs but the
whole congregation assembled to hear his last mass
and bid him good-b>^ and Godspeed. There was not
a dry eye to be seen. Old men wept ; the young and
strong broke down, one and all, the women sobbed,
and tears rolled down the cheeks of the children. To
this day I have never known another priest so lo^-ed
as Father De Neve w^as loved by that little congrega-
tion. Pardon the digression, but I cannot resist the
memory — nor the tear. Father De Neve prepared me
for my first Holy Communion and Confirmation, and
I was among those from whom he was parting that
day. I saw him but once afterwards, eighteen 3^ears
later, when he was a temporary patient at the Brothers'
Sanitarium at Diest, and he was actually hungering
ior good news from those who had been his spiritual
childien in his first mission in America.

Father Russell reflected the goodness of Father De
Neve. He was one of the few who are recognized while
they live as thoroughly good. He was a genuine


Kentuckian, and an example of a gentleman from
anywhere without frills. I love to think of him as he
w^as when I first saw him before age had shown its
deeper marks. His kindly face attracted and his gen-
tleness was irresistible. His hair then was dark,
though the monk's crown was already beginning to
shape itself upon his head. A perceptible limp marred
his gait and gave him a slight stoop under fatigue.
Of a serious turn of mind, he had an unconscious dig-
nity that prevented too great familiarit}^ yet he was
so S3mipathetic that no one ever went to him in trouble
who did not receive comfort, and gain an advocate if
his case required one. He was so honest that he had
nothing to conceal, and this made him at times plain
almost to bluntness with others, I know that he car-
ried his fine qualities with him through life, for the
stone on his grave in the cemetery of Nazareth is in-
scribed ' ' To Dear Father Russell. ' '

Of the last students I should remember all the
names, but time dulls even the memory, and names as
well as faces are sometimes forgotten. The Catholic
Directory has served to fortify recollection, and yearly
does it recall them, but by an ever shortening list,
which indicates that in a few 3^ears more, they will all
have gone to join the silent majority. I see them
now as I saw them at old St. Thomas' when we called
one another by familiar names and nicknames. These
have been since changed for more reverend titles, and
I can say with truth, that all, or nearly all, of St.
Thomas' students have borne the latter with honor
and dignity.




Though seldom hearing directly from them, and
more seldom seeing them, I still recall Fathers Tierney,
Jansen, Abell, Taylor, Whelan, O' Sullivan, Fahren-
bach, Civill, Haeseley and Burke, of Kentucky ; from
Indiana, Rt. Rev. D. O'Donaghue, and Fathers O'Don-
aghue, Doyle, Pierrard, Brueggemann, Schenck,
Merckl, Curran, Kelly, Logan, Ewers, Dickmann,
Book, McCabe and Lentz ; from Providence, Fathers
Coyle, Deady, Goodwin, Murray and McGinney ; from
other localities. Fathers Galligan, Lovett, Foster,
O'Halloran, Hagan, Kempker, O'Gara, andMcGinle}^

These names come to me now because their bearers
became priests, and as such were in my nearer world ;
some few others found their vocation in other profes-
sions, but in my limited experience of the general
w^orld I have lost sight of them.

Dismissals for cause from old St. Thomas' were
very rare. A student might leave now and then during
the year, or might not return after the vacation, but
if this was done on the suggestion of the professors
they kept it to themselves. The rarity of direct ex-
pulsions speaks well for the discipline at St. Thomas'
when we consider that some who were there were
scarcely more than children.

The only student to die at St. Thomas' while I was
there was poor Tom Dinan. He was not very rugged
and when pneumonia took hold of him it did its work
quickly. A series of coincidences is attached to his
case that makes it a little remarkable. His name was
Thomas, he was taken sick on the feast of St. Thomas
the Apostle, December 21, 1868, he died on the feast
of St. Thomas of Canterbury, December 29, and was


bttried in St. Thomas' cemetery from the Church of
St. Thomas. One of the students — the present Father
Michael Ronan. of Lowell, Mass., — made a hardwood
cross which was placed over his grave, and the broken
and weather-beaten fragments may be seen there yet
with the name almost obliterated but legible.

By no means were all the students at old St. Thomas*
geniuses. In fact, there were very few such. Most
of them were but ordinary young men. and there was
sometimes one below the average. I have in my mind
now one who might almost be considered an exagger-
ated example of mediocrity. He dragged himself
along for years against diflficulties and advice, and
was eventually ordained somewhere in Canada. The
remark was generally made that he had ' ' crawled
through a hole in the fence. " Some time after his
ordination he was sent to a parish where a man of
talent had failed, when, lo ! in a short time our dullard
had the debt of the church paid, and the religious
tone of the people raised to a high standard. He died
deeply regretted by a whole diocese. Airily, some of
us smart ones may have crawled through a hole in the

Chaptki^ XVII.

Changed Conditions.— The New Life.— Contrasts.—
Vain Longings. — Father Abell and Dr. Pise.— vSylvan
vStudies.— Stirroundings of Old St. Thomas'. — Diverse
Impressions.— "The Angelus."— An Orphan Asylum.
— Buildings Unsafe and Abandoned. — Decay and Dis-
appearance of the Buildings. — St. Thomas' in 1905.

The removal of the Seminary to Bardstowii was
well meant and promised great things, but the rosy
prospects were not fulfilled. There may be other ex-
planations given for this, but to me, as one of the
.students looking back through the lap.se of time, the
ca.se appears somewhat in the following light: The
move involved more sweeping changes than we had
antici]jated, and threw us suddenly out of our accus-
tomed atmosphere. There was a change of buildings,
which was for the better ; there was a change from the
quiet freedom of the country and its simple life to the
restraints and forms that a life in town impo.sed. Then
there was a complete change in the governing faculty,
and some new ideas of government were put in force.
There was scarcely anything left to remind of old St.
Thomas' except the faces of the students, and aprofe.s-
sor who had been a student there in by-gone days.
There was also, that year, a number of new students
who had not yet imbibed the spirit of old St. Thomas',
and when all these circumstances came at once, it made
the place like a new institution that must stand on its
own merits, and make its own history wdthout regard
to any tradition.



Hardh' had we been installed, when an undefined
something began to creep into the general life of the
Seminary, and to crowed out the old simplicity, unity ^
and family feeling. Clans and coteries appeared on
the surface of our dail}- life, and congenial spirits began
to pair off in couples by themselves. lyittle plots, in
the form of practical jokes, were worked up, and thej^
were not always accepted in a pleasant spirit. The
big-hearted, paternal government of Father Chambige
was lacking, and the unbending rule of silent submis-
sion was yet new. The President, Father De Fraine,
was a good and sainth^ man, but his experience in
governing was gained with his parish and parish
sodalities. Father Viala, the disciplinarian, was so-
ciable, and even jolly, but he was a great stickler for
rule and authority, as became one accustomed to the
discipline of a secular college. The seminarians were
not used to either of these methods strictly applied,
and the authorities got some rude shocks. They, in
turn, gave the students a few shocks, and all of this
tended to destroy the general harmony. The advan-
tages that Bardstown offered were not those that might
be found in a great city, but it did furnish a number
of the distractions, and there was visible a little of the
result of closer contact with seculars, as Bishop Spald-
ing had noted it years before.

The days of old St. Thomas' then began to appeal
to memory, and the appeal gained in force until many
wished themselves back again under the old roof.
Such longings were vain, for, as a seminar^', the doors
of homel}^ old St. Thomas' had closed forever.

When possible, our recreations were taken outside
of the town in the woods along the Beech Fork, or in


the haunts of former days. A little association with
nature helped, even if we took it rather as a distraction
and a refreshment than as a teacher of serious things,
and we generally returned from such communings a
little more like our former selves. There was no lack
of nature around old St. Thomas', and to learn lessons
from it required only the easy task of getting in touch
with it.

The Rev. Dr. Charles C. Pise one day, after listen-
ing to Father Abell preaching in the Cathedral of
Baltimore, asked him what books he was in the habit
of consulting for the preparation of his sermons.
Father Abell' s answer is w^orthy of consideration.
"Books, Dr. Pise! Whj^ my dear sir, we have no
books in Kentucky, we go to nature for inspiration.
The elements are our books, and in them we are able
to trace the designs of a beneficent God. Forest and
field, hill and dale, sweeping river and purling brook,
the bearded grain bending to the zephyr's breath, the
lightning's flash and the thunder's roar, — these, and
a thousand other things upon which our ej-es rest,
teem with instruction for us and with inspiration. "

The answer w^as an exaggeration, but there is truth
at the bottom of it. The Druids went to the forest to
learn from the oak, the hyssop and the mistletoe ; Plato
gathered the inner circle of his disciples together in
his garden, and Aristotle studied in his grove at Stagira
and lectured in the wooded walks of the I^yceum.
Close communion with nature has the double advan-
tage of shutting out the distractions of the world and
of allowing more direct intercourse with God through
the medium of His own works.


Old St. Thomas' was situated in the midst of nature.
Far enough from town and highway to be beyond the
sound of the tramp of the world's parade, it offered an
opportunity for study and meditation that a St. Jerome
might have envied. The surrounding farms, studded
with groves, showed the hand of man without blotting
out nature's work, and the general view was of an un-
dulating surface gradually rising to the distant hills
whose wooded crests could be seen as far as Mul-
draugh's Hill and Rohan's Knob. To its own doors
came forests of giant beech and stately elm, of waving
oak and trembling poplar, and from many ravines
almost hidden by thicket of vine and shrub, there
flowed out rills of cr3^stal water that went babbling on
to feed the greater stream at the foot of the slope.
Skirting the grounds, concealed by trees but within
easy walk, the Beech Fork, gently laving its sloping
banks or dashing between confining cliffs, w^ound its
way to meet its sister stream, the Rolling Fork, near
Colesburg. Here and there the earth opened avenues

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 10 of 13)