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 12 of 13)
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\vliole. The face of Father Crane was a study for a
moment, and then — well, we had no more class that

As a prefect of discipline, he kept order without
losing the good will of the students, and at no time,
during my seminary course or since, did I ever hear
anyone utter an unfriendly word against Father Eu-
gene Crane.

Father Creary came to us but a short time before
the removal to Bardstown, and we never drew up so
close to him as to the other professors. He was pastor
of the congregation and his duties kept him more away
from us. He was a great snuff-taker, but he was care-
ful to keep his clothing always immaculate. He was
a good teacher and treated his c'ass nicely, but I think
he preferred parish work.

Father Chambige loved his students, and he had
the habit, which seemed almost wilful, of giving one
of his peculiar coughs which was half a grunt, before
appearing in sight of them, as if to warn them of his
coming, and thus give them a chance to put on their
good behavior. He showed great solicitude for their
health, and the thought of his dose of pills kept many
a student from complaining too loudly. He was strict,
but not severe, although it was said that he kept a
cat- o' -nine-tails in his room. I cannot vouch for the
truth of this, but if he did, it was simply for the moral
effect upon the younger students ; he was never known
to use it. No doubt he had provocation to justify its
use, but his kindness of heart was such that I do not
think he would intentionally give pain to any creature.
The harshest word I ever heard him speak was, " My
goodness alive ! "


He cared little for appearances and less for fashion,
and when, upon the occasions of his going to Nazareth
for his official duties he put on his old-fashioned high
hat and his long linen duster, and had the old white
horses hitched to the old carriage, and when, as some-
times happened, good old Sister dementia went along
to visit her Sisters in religion at the Motherhouse,
it was a slightly remarkable spectacle, to say the
least. Even upon these occasions, there was not one
whit less of dignity about Father Chambige. It was
not he that appeared ludicrous, but the accessories, and
they were not half as remarkable as they would have
been with any other than Father Chambige.

Like every one else. Father Chambige had his
foibles, and one of them was an excessive dread of the
somewhat ostentatious, but equally harmless, display
of Irish patriotism by the students on St. Patrick's
Da^^ He was almost beside himself on one of these
occasions when, upon returning from Nazareth, he
found the green flag floating over the Seminar3^
Once, when his sacristan, either designedly or as a
matter of course, laid out green vestments for the mass
of the feast, he went on with the mass entirely uncon-
cious of the^fact. His opposition, however, was not
without a show of reason, for those were the times
when the doctrine of physical force was more talked of
in Irish politics than now.

The affections of Father Chambige were very
closely bound up with St. Thomas' and the students,
and it cost him a severe pang to separate from them
finally. This separation may have had some influ-
ence on his future actions, but, surely, no act or
advice of his was ever dictated b}- any but motives of
love of justice, and what he conceived to be the best
interests of religion.


His home thereafter was at Nazareth, and there he
died, Dec. 30, 1877, and his remains were buried in
the convent cemetery. There he lies near Bishop
David who gave to St. Thomas' its first great success,
who taught him and guided his first attempts at
teaching, and whose life he seemed to pattern after,
either naturall}^ or by studied imitation ; near Fathers
Russell, and Elder, and Disney, whose lives he had
directed in their youthful days, and formed for the
usefulness of their after years ; near his college friend,
Father Hazeltine, who preceded him in the director-
ship of the consecrated children of Nazareth, and in
the midst of these same children whose sanctification
had been his special care for seventeen 3'ears. In the
midst of all these he lies at rest after a life of labor,
sacrifice, and singleness of purpose that all committed
to his care might be formed and Uve after God's idea.
Over that grave and around it, breathes the living,
grateful and reverential love of many who remember
him but to bless him. Eternal rest be 3^ours, good,
dear old Father Chambige, you well deserved the
name of Father.

A strong lever in our educational machinery was
the Debating Societ3^ It discussed a wide range of
topics, and was an incentive to deeper research into
matters of histor}^ and other lore, as well as being a
good practical school in argument and speaking. It
was there that nearly every student appeared before
" the public," and broke down in his maiden speech.
Few ever soared into the toplofty, or " tore passion to
tatters," but many a good argument was well ex-
pressed at its sessions, and the summing-up by its
president was always full of interest and instruction.


For pastimes, we had hand-ball, and base-ball, and
foot-ball in season, and we did not disdain marbles
and munible-the-peg. The old swimming hole was
universally popular in summer time. It was our only
bathtub, but we thought more of it as a place of
amusement than as a source of health. Occasionally,
some one unable to swim would get beyond his depth,
but nothing more serious ever came from that than a
good fright, and a lesson that for safety

" Ivittle boats keep near the shore ;
Larger craft may venture more."

Students from the North took advantage of the
cold weather for skating , and there were some experts
at the sport. The Southern boys generally fought shy
of any fancy work on the ice.

The walk on recreation days was an established
institution, and was varied in season by making it an
excursion in the woods for nuts, pawpaws, persim-
mons and wild fruits. Sometimes it was made the
occasion of a search for sassafras root, which still had
a prominent place in St. Thomas' pharmacopoeia.

The food did not differ much from that .supplied
in earlier times, but we always had plenty of it.
Dodger, darbies, and rye coffee with long sweetening,
were terms of special import to the students of St,
Thomas', but they are now relegated to "the dim
vista of the past," and, — requiescant! Besides our
regular meals, we had an informal bite of something,
generally dry bread, at four o'clock in the afternoon.
This snack was called, "soup," but for what reason,
I never learned. Our food was probably the ordinary
food of Kentucky farmers, — good for the farmers, but
not so good for students in a seminary. Even as it


was, the most of us relished it, and it was only in
later years that we seemed to wake up to the fact that
we had been practicing special mortification.

Our spiritual interests were carefully watched over.
Instruction in Christian Doctrine was a part of the
curriculum, and meditation and spiritual reading were
daily exercises. Regular Confession and Communion
were the rule, and every student aspired to become a
member of the Sodality. The solemn ceremonies of
the Church were observed on the great festivals, and
during Holy Week the study-hall and class-rooms
resounded with the voices of the students preparing
their parts in the Tenebrse. The musical portion of
this seems simple enough to us now% but in those
days of stage fright it was a sore trial upon our
nerves, and it was a grim consolation to the more
timid when one of the older students and best Latin
scholars began his lesson : — "Ex Tractatu Sti. Au-
gustini super Plasmos. ' '

But we were not all saints in those days. Many
were the tricks played and the pranks perpetrated.
Pillow fights were sometimes indulged in when the
prefect was not in the dormitory, and the trapping of
a bed, so as to let the occupant sink to the floor, was
not unknown. A quiet raid on the orchard, or the
bake-house, or the milk-house, was also sometimes in
order, and a sly smoke was a luxury at times enjoyed.
These were about the average of our greater offenses
against law and order, and they were not too frequent,
nor by an}^ means general. On the whole, the stu-
dents were well-behaved, and did nothing that would
disgrace them as inmates of a religious institution.


At Christmas and Easter, greater excursions were
the order of the day, and a trip to Nazareth, or to the
Monks at Gethsemane was the consummation of a
plan long thought over. There was a more extended
trip that included I^oretto, St. Mary's College, lycb-
anon and St. Rose's Dominican Convent. For this
we used to secure horses or mules from the neighbor-
ing farmers, but as several daj^s were necessary for
this swing around the circle, it was more the privilege
of students from far away, who remained at the Sem-
inary during the summer vacation.

The negro servants about the place were the gen-
uine Southern darkies with all their simplicity, good
humor and cuteness. It is told of old fat Charity,
that one day she was wobbling past the study-hall
with a ducklike motion during the hour of spiritual
reading, just when the reader came to the quotation
from St. Paul, — " Charity is patient, is kind, charity
envieth not, etc.," and sticking her head in at the
door, she said: "What's dat you's a-sayin 'bout
me?" Another, was old Friday. He could play the
fiddle pretty well, but could scarcely spell out his own
name. Some of the students persuaded him that, as
he had been so long at the Seminary, all that he
needed was a little I^atin to become a priest. So he
procured an old rag of a Latin grammar and used to
spend hours poring over it. One day in his absence
his cabin took fire and was burned to the ground.
When Friday came home and saw the ruin he
was inconsolable. Father Russell thought to cheer
him up by telling him that the loss was not very
great, for his fiddle had been saved, and a new cabin
was easily built. Poor old Friday shook his head
and said mournfully : " I doan ky-ar nuffin 'bout dat


ol' fiddle, but I's so sorry dat I los' my Latin gram-
mar. " When the Rev. Dr. Martin came from Rome
to St. Thomas', it was old Friday who said: "I
reck'n we won't haf to have Dr. Mattin'ly come out
f m Ba'dstown no moan, cause we done got a doctah
of our own. ' '

The Sisters in charge of the domestic arrange-
ments, which meant the cooking, washing, mending,
and the care of the sick, were Sisters dementia,
Modesta, Olivia and Eusebia. Sister Irene at Naza-
reth was a special favorite with us, for she had charge
of the Priest's House where we always found a feast
prepared when we visited Nazareth, and Sister Um-
belline is remembered as one who filled our pockets
when we could eat no more. In this she was assisted
by Sisters Mary Louis, Lucilla, Guidonia, Agatha
and a few others. Their little acts of kindness have
brought them a few prayerful remembrances since then.

Life at St. Thomas' was not unpleasant. It was
not a round of penitential exercises with an accom-
panying fast thrown in. Nor was it an apprentice-
ship of the Gradgrind school. St. Thomas' was a
place where boys lived in the nature of boys, growing
naturally into men and men's ways as boys grow
under proper influence ; where boys and young men,
just such as the world is filled with, went from homes
that resembled the homes of to-day, and suffered no
violent wrenching of their nature in order to adapt
themselves to this mode of life. A course of training
at St. Thomas' required no superhuman courage in its
inception nor in its continuance, and it could inter-
weave itself so closel}^ with life, that years of sever-
ance, instead of bringing the desire of forgetfulness,
' ' made the heart grow fonder ' ' of those halcyon days
of youth.

Chapter XIX.

A Retrospect. — Changes. — Their Causes. — Pioneer
Priests and Pioneer People. — Heroic Times and He-
roes. — Learning Among the Clergy. — St. Thomas' to
the Front. — Growth of the Church — Giants and Their
Successors. — Roll of Honor. — Special Claim for Re-
membrance. — Dignity of the King. — Judge Not.

The traveler on business takes the shortest road to
his destination, and hastens on unmindful of the
country through which he passes. The traveler for
pleasure and knowledge choOvSes the more picturesque
routes, and halts here and there to view the choice
bits of scenery on his way. These scenes come to
him successively, and each is a complete picture in
itself, yet each is but a part of a larger picture and fits
into the mosaic of a grander view. To get an ade-
quate idea of the beauty of the whole, he must ascend
some eminence where the country will appear spread
out before him as a panorama.

We have now gone through the history of old vSt.
Thomas' Seminary, from scene to scene, but our ideas
will not be complete and connected unless we ascend
the hill and look upon the things that the lengthen-
ing years have spread out from the present, to the
limit of vision in the dim and rapidly disappearing past.

" This is the place. Stand still, my steed,
Let me review the scene,
And summon from the shadowy past
The forms that once have been."

The fifty- eight years that passed between the day
of the opening of St. Thomas' Seminary in November,
1811, and the day of its closing in October, 1869,


were years most fruitful of change and event, and of
powerful instruments of both. In 1811, Kentuck}^
was a child in swaddling clothes ; in 1869, it was a
giant among men, and it had a vigorous youth and a
strongly developed manhood. The civilization of
Daniel Boone had grown into that of Henry Clay,
and the successor of the little log chapel on the
Beech Fork was the stately Cathedral of Louisville.
At St. Thomas' the first little flame of learning was
kindled, and Christian schools and colleges dotted the
land. The Kentucky of 1869 was less the Kentucky
of 1811, than is the Europe of to-day the Europe of
five hundred years ago.

The causes for this were many, but all working
together brought about the wonderful change, and
not the least of these causes was old St. Thomas'
Seminary. Though dealing with matters strictly
clerical, its influence went with its priests into every
walk of life. Every family where the priest could
enter felt its influence, and that family in turn bore to
the family where he could not enter, the indirect
influence of the same priest, and of the power behind
him — St. Thomas' Seminar}-. What inestimable, and
superabundant blessings of religion and education
would have been wanting in Kentucky if St. Thomas'
Seminary had never been established ! We may
allow for all the probabilities of other institutions
coming to the rescue, but we must acknowledge that
the work of Kentucky's Seminary was far and away
in advance of anything that other institutions could
have supplied. This is especially true of Kentuck}^
where the children of St. Thomas' worked in a body,
and it is proportionately true of other localities where


they worked in smaller groups or single-handed. If
St. Thomas' did nothing more than to develop the
religious spirit, that was so rich in vocations for work
which none could do better than those to the manner
born, that alone would have been sufficient to keep its
memory in benediction for ages that only the future
can determine.

A century ago there was no organized Church in
Kentuck}'. Fathers Badin and Nerinckx had a few
scattered groups of the faithful, with no pastors, no
schools or any regular means of instruction. The
firm faith of the early settlers from Maryland and Vir-
ginia was the safety of the young, and the patriarchal
authority of the father was the safeguard of the faith
of the children. Upon this the early missionaries
builded, and there arose a generation strong in faith,
docile to authority, and reverent of holy things.
From these came forth that rugged race of pioneer
priests, who took up, spread and perpetuated the work
of their predecessors. They even did more than this,
for their predecessors did but explore and mark the
paths, and it was theirs to prepare the rough soil, to
plant, to water and reap, and half a centur>^ of this
kind of work was necessars^ before every valley could
be filled, and every mountain and hill be brought
low, and the crooked be made straight and the rough
ways plain.

The work of the first missionaries in Kentucky
was peculiar, and it differed widely from the work of
the priest there to-day. They visited the settlements
and said mass and administered the Sacraments ; they
catechised the young, not only at the stations, but
thev went to their homes and instructed them ; they


inculcated family devotions in common for all, and,
in a way, preached to every family individually. In
addition to being the pastors of their congregations,
they were in the closer relation of pastor of each
family, and the family included the very slaves of the
household and plantation, some of whom were at
times called upon to lead in family prayers. They had
little call for the exercise of oratory, but there was a
continual necessity for the teaching word, and I
imagine that they were just such men as would delight
the heart of our present Pontiff, Pius X, who insists
so strongly upon catechetical instruction. With vice
they had no patience, and dreaded its very shadow,
hence they discountenanced many of those things
that to-day are called innocent amusements. Merely
social visits were not frequent ; their calls meant an
encouragement to piety, and the people looked for
their coming and received them as ministers of God.
This condition lasted long after the early mission-
aries had passed away, and every missionary priest
coming after them must follow in their footsteps and
organize and direct his little congregation along the
same lines. It cannot be doubted that it was a good
system, for it made religion more of an e very-day
matter, and the priest more nearly held the place of
the "Soggarth Aroon " of Ireland. The memory of
those early priests is still held in reverence. Their
peculiarities may be smiled at, but their piety and
zeal are never doubted, and the good effected by them
is acknowledged by all. Those of them, whose lives
reached into the memory of the present generation, are
generally referred to as "Good old Father So and
So. ' ' There is a whole history in that expression.


Old St. Thomas' had to prepare these priests, and
to prepare them for these conditions. Those times
might be called, the heroic times. Bishop Flaget was
a heroic Bishop, and he fiill}^ understood how to form
a heroic priesthood for a heroic people, and when we
go over the list of the priests who lived and labored
with him, we must say that he succeeded admirably
in that portion of the duties of his office. He did not
have the time to make scholars of them all, and
but few of them had time amidst their mission
duties for any extensive studies after their ordination,
so they went through life in their unassuming way,
doing the w^ork that could be done onl}' by brave and
devoted priests. The^- had plenty of knowledge for
their work, and could confound an antagonist as
effectualh^ as the most learned Doctor, although in a
different way. Their opponents were generally men
of little learning in religious matters, and alw^ays of
intense prejudice, and the stj^le of the missionaries
never failed to rout them " horse, foot and dragoons. "
Their style of argument was accusation and vitupera-
tion, and their disposition is best exemplified by the
closing remark of one of them in a discussion with
Dr. Kenrick in 1827 : " If an angel, descended from
heaven, preached a doctrine similar to that of the
Irish priest, I would reject him !" Bishop Flaget
reported to Rome that, among his priests, there were
several very good controversialists, but, in the sense
that a good controversialist is one who upholds the
truth and confounds its enemie^^, every one of them
was a good controversialist.

Some of the earlier students of St. Thomas', not-
withstanding their short hours of stud}^ and long


hours of labor, became learned enough to be very
successful educators, and to make St. Joseph's Col-
lege, and St. Mary's College and Mount Merino cen-
ters of literary activity and sources of enlightenment
over Kentucky and the entire South. The first root
of the Transylvania University — the Bacon College at
Georgetown, Ky. , — was planted only in 1836, and
until that time, the old students of St. Thomas' were
the masters of all higher education in Kentucky.

A professedly literary education was not generally
given to the earlier priests, and it may be true that
few of them had the ability to contribute anything to
literature. It is equally true that few of them had
the time or the occasion for attempting anything of
this kind, but most of them wrote well, and their
letters are models of epistolary writing. I have
several such letters before me now — some of them
dating as far back as 1823, — and I would be glad to
insert them here, if I could find the least excuse in
their subject matter for connecting them with this
history. Some wrote interestingly for the early
Catholic papers, and there were those who wrote even
very good verse. Then there were men among them,
who, by their pen and their tongue, "gained glory
in their generation, and were praised in their days."
These were men who had the accidents of a superior
training, but at the bottom, they were of the same
material and cast in the same mold as their less
favored brothers. Old St. Thomas' Seminary always
furnished the men that were needed. When the
Church called for missionaries of a heroic character,
St. Thomas' furnished them ; when she needed edu-
cators, St. Thomas' furnished them ; when she needed


preachers, St. Thomas' furnished them ; when she
needed Bishops, St. Thomas' furnished its quota of
them, and when she needed good, hard- working,
zealous and self-sacrificing priests, St. Thomas' fur-
nished them, and furnished them until the end.

Men are to be judged in the times in which they
live. If the}^ keep up with ordinary times, they are
ordinary men ; if, in extraordinary times, the}- are in
the front ranks, there must be something extraordin-
ary about them. When, in remarkable times, there
are found men who are pushing their work in advance
of all other things, there must be something remark-
able about them. At the close of the first half of the
last century, civilization had grown and spread in
Kentucky to a marvelous degree ; material progress
had waxed rapid, but far in advance of all this was
the growth of the Church. From a mere nothing the
Church grew until its idea seemed to overshadow all
things else, and " the Gentiles raged, and the people
devised vain things. The kings of the earth stood up
and the princes met together against the Lord and
against his Christ," and the result was a " Bloody
Monday. ' ' To give the Church this prominence was
not the w^ork of ordinary men. A gigantic work had
been accomplished, and for its accomplishment, we
are necessarily forced to the conclusion that '* there
were giants in those days. ' ' The clergy of Kentucky
were sb remarkable, and did such noble w'ork from
the beginning, and so worthily upheld the dignity of
the priesthood, that Kentuck}^ mothers, like Irish
mothers, coveted no greater honor than to have a
priest among their sons.




Changed conditions required different methods in
the second half of the century, but not less heroic
men, and the sustained growth of the Church shows
that the}^ were there, following the lead of those who
had gone before, and doing the work ably and well.
Zeal, self-sacrifice and holiness werealwa^'S necessary,
and are necessary yet ; they were found at all times
among the clergy of Kentuck}^, and the blood of the
sturd}^ fearless and practical Catholic pioneer, that
produced the men who laid in such strength the founda-
tions of the Church of Kentucky-, and built it up in such

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 12 of 13)