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 13 of 13)
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magnificent proportions, can 3^et furnish a class of
priests who will ever do honor to their race, and con-
tinue the history of their church in keeping with its
glorious past, in which old St. Thomas' was so potent
a factor.

In scanning the lists of priests w^ho made their studies,
in whole or in part at St. Thomas' , we find that certain
names stand out more prominently than others, bv
reason of some specialty in the subsequent career ot
the individuals. There are those to whom the episco-
pal dignity came, and their number is not small. It
includes Chabrat, Re3'nolds, De Xeckere, Lavialle,
Lenihan, Richter, Byrne, Ryan, Tierney, Alerding and
O'Donaghue. A special connection makes Flaget,
David, Rosati, Kenrick and Perche honorar}- members
of the list, and the two Spaldings and McGill were, at
least, grandchildren of St. Thomas', while Murray,
Mackey. and Pilcher, as Domestic Prelates, round out
a long and wide history of honor for the old alma mater.
Some stand high as educators, and in this category we
note the founders and teachers in the diocesan institu-
tions and other seminaries. It shows such names as


Byrne, Hutchins, Powell, Harnist, Crane, R3^an, the
teachers at St. Thomas', at St. Mary's in Cincinnati,
and the Very Rev. Dean Grannan, of the Catholic
University at Washington . Vicars-General , Deans and
diocesan officials are plentifully scattered through the
list, and to many names are appended the letters that
mark the owners as Jesuits, Franciscans, Redemptorists
or members of some other religious order. By far the
longest list is of pastors, preachers and workers in the
lower order of the clergy, who have supported their
leaders in the work of God, from lake to gulf and from
coast to summit over the entire country, everywhere do-
ing their part in pushing the Church to the front, as
they, almost alone, pushed it to the far front in Ken-
tucky during the life of the Seminary. They were
more widely scattered than the students from any other
similar institution in the land, but, as widely as the^^
were scattered, they never forgot the lessons of charity
and unity that welded them together into a band of
brothers at St. Thomas'.

The secret force that gave them this distinguishing
mark of the disciples of Christ, was the spirit that was
planted by Bishop Flaget and Father David ; that was
nourished by their successors, and which dear old
Father Chambige did not fail to impress upon every one
of the hundreds of students who lived under his care.
" In the multitude of the people is the dignity of the
king," and in the fidelity, devotion, apostolic zeal,
and this spirit of unity, persevering in the great body
of his students, is found the most perfect eulogy that
can be pronounced in memory of the last Superior of
Old St. Thomas' Seminary.


In the general view is there nothing to give pain,
nothing to bring a discord into the harmony of a drama
of a century? Has every actor known his lines, and
performed his part well ? Such a miracle was never
yet known, and -we should not look for it here. The
work has been done, the great actors stand out promi-
nently, the lesser ones have had their lesser parts, and
if one has seemed to fail in some things,

"Not ours to guage the more or less,
The will's defect, the blood's excess,
The earthly humors that oppress

The radiant mind.
His greatness, not his littleness,
Concerns mankind. "

Chapter XX.

Provincial Seminaries and Diocesan Seminaries.-—
Revival of St. Thomas'. — Fatal Deficiencies. — Some
Good Points. — A Modern St. Thomas'. — A Religious
Advertisement. — Sacred Ground. — A Vocation. — A
lyong Road. — Successfully Traveled. — Humble Be-
ginnings. — Signs of a Vocation. — The Poor Boy. —
Pra3'ers for the Priesthood.— The Court of theTemple.
—a' Word of Thanks— Finis.

Old St. Thomas' was the first Provincial Prepara-
tory Seminary in the countr5^ The action of the
Council that made it so, was not taken as an experi-
ment, and other Provinces soon followed the lead of
Cincinnati. The idea was to gather the greater num-
ber of students together and provide stronger teaching
faculties. This arrangement had also the advantages
of widening associations in times when people traveled
less than now, and of interchanging thoughts and ex-
periences, with the effect of preventing narrow action
and local fossilization.

The settling of the country brought in the rail-
roads with increased general travel, and the press so
spread the knowledge of all happenings, that localities
disappeared in the former sense of the word with their
hampering limitations. Thus the necessities for gen-
eral seminaries grew less, and as the dioceses became
more populous and prosperous they began to establish
diocesan seminaries, until now few of the greater
dioceses send their students to outside seminaries for
their education. The exception to the rule is found
in the laudable custom of sending a few of the more
promising students to Rome, Louvainor to some of the
greater universities for special studies, or a wader train-
ing in matters of practical utility at home.


By this plan, as carried on in our days, little or
nothing is lost of the former advantages, while there
is a decided gain in other things. It increased the num-
ber of students, by giving a home interest to the semi-
naries and making them more easily accessible. It also
fostered a spirit of unity among the students themselves,
and between the new priests going out and those
already working in the diocese. In this way it made
them a more homogeneous body than they would have
been if, living as strangers until after their ordination,
they then were associated together with only the bond
of a common ordination and a similarity of work.
This closer union was never more clearly manifested
than among the diocesan students at St. Thomas' in its
early days. It is distinctly visible yet among the sur-
vivors of the later-day students.

Cincinnati was the first diocese to return to the
diocesan system, and its students were withdrawn from
St. Thomas' Seminary. The war forced this action a
little prematurely, but Cincinnati had the support of
other dioceses similarly situated, and the success of its
venture was not uncertain. Students from other parts
still came to St. Thomas', and these, with the home
students, continued the old Seminary in a condition of
reasonable prosperity.

,With this outside patronage, and in time without
it, if necessary, St. Thomas' could have stood and con-
tinued the work of its earlier days when it made Ken-
tuck}^ lead all the other Western States in religious de-
velopment. Its closing, I believe, was a loss, not only
to Kentucky, but beyond it where that old institution,
like no other, was w^ont to " stretch forth its branches
unto the sea and its boughs unto the riyer. ' '


The question may suggest itself here: Would I
wish the revival of old St. Thomas' ?

This is not written as a plea for the resuscitation of
the old Seminary, as dear as it may have been, but as a
tribute to the good that was in it, and to those who
exemplified in their lives the apostolic lessons learned
within its walls. How^ever, as the question is a nat-
ural one, an answer is here appropriate.

The revival of old St. Thomas' is not possible, nor
is it advisable. Old St. Thomas' had many deficiencies,
and they would have been fatal to its prolonged
existence in the same circumstances. No one can
doubt that St. Thomas' did splendid work in its rough
way, and took hold of young men by the right
handle. A strong proof of this is found in the fact
that there is no record of any one, priest or layman,
who had been a student at St. Thomas' for any length
of time, who did not have a pleasant recollection of it
and a kind word for it. But its material methods are
long out of date. It was a pioneer seminary, and a
seminary for pioneers. When the pioneer stage had
passtd, it w'as time for old St. Thomas' to cease to
exist, or take on a new youth. Changes and improve-
ments had been introduced into St. Thomas', from
time to time since its establishment, and they came
none too fast. Others w^ere imperative in the rush of
progress after the war, if St. Thomas' was to keep up
its prestige and compete with other institutions, and
there was scant hope of their early coming.

There were, nevertheless, a few things about old
St. Thomas' that were worthy of perpetuation. It
was essentially a pi^eparatory seminary, and was
equipped to receive boys and young men when the


signs of a vocation appeared, whether they were ready
for the higher studies or only the Latin grammar. Its
training was with the idea of the priesthood para-
mount. It encouraged no other aspirations and
opened no other prospect. It was pleased that the
majority of its students had never been through any
secular college, where secular ideas fill the air, and
where secular aims prevail. St. Thomas' got them at
the time when their characters were in the course of
formation, and could use its mold on fresh material.
It was not obliged to put its training over an under-
lying stratum of worldly thoughts and ambitions,
which might come to the surface in eruption at an evil
moment. In this way it saved many vocations, and
made all more free from temporal considerations.

This constant forward movement of the boy
through his youth and early manhood, with the
priesthood as his aim, was a good feature of St.
Thomas', and so, also, was its adaptation to the means
of those in poorer circumstances. Its moderate charges
admitted of very few luxuries, and if any of the stu-
dents had any money for extravagance, the spirit of
the place was against such expenditure, so that, in
matters of wealth, there was no humiliating dis-
tinction between the poorest student and the one who
might have unlimited means behind him.

Its lack of luxuries was right in principle,
although the times may have forced this principle to
an extreme during the war, and its application was
always rather rigorous, but it was not more strictly
applied at St. Thomas' than we found it enforced in
our new Seminary at Bardstown. The natural and
growing tendency is to avoid privation, yet a little


practical education during seminary life in tKe condi-
tions that are to be ours in after life, cannot fail to do
us good, while the constant use in college of comforts
not usually found in parish and mission, may create a
desire for easy places, and discouragement in difficult
ones. Those used to palaces are not easily satisfied
in ordinary homes, but those used to ordinary homes
can accommodate themselves to palaces — if they must !
— with less difficulty. My thirty years of mission life
have shown me too many, even young priests, whose
first inquiry about a mission or a parish, was concern-
ing the comforts, the salary, and the perquisites.
These notions were never gotten at old St. Thomas',
so I say, there were a few ideas at St. Thomas' that
might with profit be perpetuated.

A modern St. Thomas' would, in many respects,
differ from the old, for it would have the modern
necessary conveniences, and dispense more of the
necessary comforts, such as are ordinarily found in
modern homes. With these it would have, like old
St. Thomas', the simplicity of a religious house,
where the atmosphere would be filled with the priestly
idea, and the idea of self-sacrifice. It would be
accessible to the poor young man if he had evidences
of a real vocation, and to the rich young man only on
the same conditions. In this sense, would I wish to
see St. Thomas' revived? To this I answer most
emphatically : Yes!

The houses of the Religious Orders are on this
plan, and no one can deny that they make a great
drain upon a most admirable class of young men who
would make excellent members of the diocesan clergy,
and whom the dioceses can ill afford to lose. Bishops


are sometimes known to show a greater regard for the
regular clergy, who are but temporarily located in
their dioceses, than for their own clergy who are
always with them. If there is any reasonable cause
for this reversed condition of the logical order of
things, it would disappear, were the Bishops to give
the same care to the education of their own students
as the Religious Orders give to the training of their

Here is an advertisement that is now going the
rounds of the Catholic press :


The attention of young men, desiring to study for
holy priesthood, is called to the offer, made by the
Fathers of the Order.

Twenty-five free scholarships, with living, are open
to as many worthy young men, who have fair talent
and good health, and who believe that they have a
vocation for the priesthood as members of the Order
of St

On the matchless college grounds at ,

stands St 's Hall, a school established for the

training and education of young men for our Order.
While here they will enjoy all the educational privi-
leges of College, but at the same time they

will have complete separation from the secular stu-

Each one will have the exclusive use of his own
room in the Hall, which is fitted up with all modern

It is required that those who apply for this privi-
lege will already have received a grammar school
education, and will be between the age of 14 and 20
years. They will also be required to furnish testi-
monials from competent authority, of previous good

All inquiries and communications relative to this

matter must be addressed to the Very Rev ,


The Very Rev. Provincial will have his scholar-
ships filled, and the secular priests will help him to


fill them, for they will find worthy young men with
vocations, for whom no provision can be made at
home, and they will aid them to profit by this oppor-
tunit>^ May Heaven bless the Order that makes the
offer, and may the example be contagious outside of
the Orders.

If the average active life of the priest be twenty-
five years, then a diocese must renew its clergy every
twenty-five years. It requires ten 5^ears of prepara-
tion for the priesthood. This would suppose forty
students, were all to persevere and none die, in a
diocese of one hundred priests, if that diocese is to be
self-supporting. Two-thirds of these would be in the
preparatory seminary from the select young men of
the diocese, and the less select might try their pros-
pects elsewhere. How manj^ of our dioceses are self-
supporting ?

Not only would I like to see one St. Thomas' , but
a St. Thomas' in every State of the Union. I would
especially like to see a modern St. Thomas' rise upon
the old spot that is hallowed by so many memories.

It is said that something attaches to the soil of
Ireland, sanctified as it is by her great apostle and
his martyred children, that makes her people rich in
faith and virtue. Old St. Thomas' had the blessing
of Bishop Flaget and Father David. Its soil literallj^
absorbed the sweat of their faces as they toiled to
clear it, and plant it and cultivate it for the support of
Kentucky's apostles. The touch of the saints is
sanctifying, and St. Thomas' never lost the thought
of its intimate association with the lives of labor, pri-
vation and prayer of those men whom Kentucky holds
as its holiest and best. That it was their home, built


Up by them, loved by them, and made fruitful by
them, was a strong element in its later effectiveness.
Why should it not be so again ?

In all this I speak only as one who loved old St.
Thomas' Seminary, and not in the spirit of criticism.
The experience of others is easily greater than mine,
and theirs is the action and the responsibility. Their
ideas can take form and life ; mine are but the expres-
sions of an individual on paper.

A very worthy priest of my acquaintance once told
me that, at the age of ten or eleven, he read the lives
of the Saints of Egypt. He thought them rather
peculiar saints, but the reading made it the dream of
his life to become a priest. When such an oppor-
tunity unexpectedly came to him, it found him more
than ready to begin the rough apprenticeship that
terminated at the goal upon which his desires had
settled. The present book may be read by some boy,
or young man, of like sensibilities. It is not of the
Saints of Egypt, but of men, whose lives ran parallel
to those of the Saints of Egypt, and yet did not devi-
ate much from the parallel of our own lives. The
self-sacrifice, the prayer, the mortification and labor of
the Saints of Egypt were practiced to a great degree
by the early Kentucky priests and students, yet they
were of our nature, home and kin. In youth, they
differed in nothing from us, save that we are richer in
means and opportunities. If the contemplation of the
far-off Saints of Egypt could fire a youthful heart with
the desire of a far-off imitation, the knowledge of
these closer uncanonized saints of Kentucky may well
give a thought to their closer imitation.

Again, this book may fall into the hands of some
youth who would fain turn his steps towards the sane-


tuar}' , if that goal did not appear so distant. It is a
far cry from the humble fireside to the altar of God,
and a long road separates the serving altar boy from
the celebrating priest, but surely, not longer now than
it was a hundred years ago, when the youth of that
day started out over the road that was then as rough
and untraveled as his native hills. The distance is
not greater in one sense than that which separates the
railpile, the tailor shop, the tannery, the canal boat
or the cowboy's saddle from the White House and the
President's chair, and that distance has been covered
from these various starting points.

It was Jeremias, the future prophet, who said :
" Ah, ah, ah, lyord God, behold I cannot speak, for I
am a child. ' ' David w^as the least of the sons of Isai
the Bethlehemite, and the last to be presented to
Samuel; Pius X was not of the aristocrats. All men,
wath a single exception, began life in a cradle, and
that exception made a wreck of his own and other

The signs of a vocation are innocence, frankness,
intelligence, piety, and a love for the altar and sanc-
tuary. If these germs of a vocation are felt in the
soul, the door of some friendly St. Thomas' will open
at the knock of an earnest aspirant, and God will do
again what He did so many times for those who
applied in the past. It is not too much to hope that
God will spread even more widely the holy inspira-
tion that He has given to many a good priest, whom
He has blessed with a greater abundance of the
world's goods in his riper years than he had in his
youth, to share his good fortune with one who might
become his own worthy successor. Many, in thus


acting, would only be passing to others a blessing
that came to themselves unearned.
. I write this word of encouragement for the ordi-
nary boy, and he is of the class that is generally called
poor. This is the class, " without father, without
mother, without genealogy," that the great body of
the clergy will come from, and it is best that they
should come free from the embarrassments of pedigree
and family, to labor but for one affinity, and that the
Church of God.

Such were the men of the past ; such, in general,
were the men of St. Thomas', and their spirit lives,
and must live always in the Church, for it is the
spirit of the Apostles. This spirit conquered the
world, and it can hold it in subjection, but the priests
must be filled with it, and it alone must inspire their

A few months ago our Holy Father asked the
members of the League of the Sacred Heart through
out the world to pray for the priesthood. God knows
that we need prayers, and need them at all times, but
prayers will not always work miracles and supply the
priestly spirit. That must ordinarily be planted in
early youth, and watched over that it may grow with
the growth of years and knowledge, blossom as the
days of ordination come, and the fruit will ripen, if
no canker-worm or codling moth find lodgment on the
tree. Prayers for such a priesthood are full of hope,
and such will be the priesthood if the shoot is grafted
young upon the apostolic stem that is rooted in Christ.
Where the soil is rich and deep the yield is a moral
certainty, but if the soil is poor and shallow all top-
dressing is at best only an uncertain dependence. All

196 ST.

honor to old St. Thomas', that, in its daj^ was like
the Court of the Temple, where the priests and the
levites prepared to enter the sanctuar>^ All honor to
its spirit, that still lives in ever}^ good priest ; may
there always be many nurseries of the priesthood
where it will be found working, and none from which
it will be absent. So be it !

And now there remains but a last word to the living
of the students of old St. Thomas'. My tribute has
grown in length beyond my original intention, but its
length is, in part, due to 5'ou. The encouragement
you gave me, the material assistance you furnished,
and the formal help, as necessary as it was freely
given, must be my excuse if I am prolix in narrative,
or unnecessarily talkative. From a child of the heart
one parts reluctantly, and as such I put it before you.
Be it well-done or ill-done, not an hour of irksome
labor has been spent upon it, but every moment has
been a moment of actual enjoyment. I trust that it
may be the occasion of some pleasure to you, by call-
ing up the memory of the hopeful days and simple
scenes of long ago, which never fail to appeal to the
students of old St. Thomas' with a peculiar charm.
I would fain acknowledge by personal mention the
obligations I am under to many of you, but your
modesty born of old St. Thomas' bars me, and against
your wish I cannot write your names. Many of the
facts herein related are clothed in your own language
as you gave them to me, all the comments and opin-
ions are my own , and I ask no one to accept them only
in so far as they may appeal to his own judgment.


Acknowledging your valuable help that has made
the thread of the narrative in this little book continu-
ous, I can for the present but offer thanks, and should
the future give occasion for a return of the obligation,
I may say, in the words of the Bard of Locksley Hall :

"Comrades, leave me here a Httle, while as yet 'tis early
morn :
lycave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the

taken from the Buildini

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