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 2 of 13)
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a good situation became vacant, the rivalry among the
ministers for it was often so great that the most bitter
animosity was engendered, and many a new sect owed
its origin to this cause.

Personal opinions and local practices separated the
Presbyterians into two great camps and several smaller
outposts. The regulars wanted ministers with some
education, while the Cumberlands licensed any good
talker who desired to preach, with no regard to edu-
cational acquirements or doctrinal soundness, and
many such exhorters were developed in the numerous
revivals then held. The former held to the Profession
of Faith, the latter held this to be of human composi-
tion, and accepted it only so far as they found it to
agree- with their own interpretation of Scripture, and
every man interpreted Scripture for himself or accep-
ted the interpretation of his favorite preacher. Fac-


tions arose, meetingjs were held, and the deposing of
ministers was gone through in form, andexcomunica-
tions were hurled as fiercely as e\^r reputed done by
a medieval Pope. Personal accusations were com-
mon, and charges of slander preferred, Tte deposed
and excommunicated ministers were not much troubled^
but set up for themselves and continued preaching
their opinions to all who would listen. From
such causes cam^e th^ Ciimberland Presbyterians.,
the New lyights, the Stoncites, the D sciples, the
Christians, the Reformers, the Campbellites, and still
"Other minor sects and factions.

The Baptists were not more united than the Pres-
byterians, and became Open and Close Communion
and Ironside Baptists, and United, Separated and
Regular Baptists. They also joined other sects and
were especially strong among the Campbellites.

Dissensions w^ere not so mark-ed among tine Me-
thodists, for they were but a loose organization which
allowed almost every liberty of belief, providing one
was a professing Christian, Then there were the dis-
c'ples of Ann Lee, who believed that the millenium
had come, who condemned marriage, li\'ed in common
and taught that the Word was communicated to the
man Jesus, and the Holy Ghost was incarnate in Anm

The consequence of such divisions, with the hatred
they cau-sed, and the pre\'alent lack of sincerity, hon-
esty and morality amt)ng the preachers, was, that
many doubted all religion and looked upon it as no-
thing but a delusion, and a disorder of the passions,"
that it arose from the temperament of the body , or ^^^as
excited b^^ passionate addresses^ physical exertion and


the like. Too many concluded that there was nothing
in it, and the only way was to make the most of life,
so vice ran rampant. This was the condition among
the older people, and it is said that the young freed
themselves from every religious restraint and rejoiced
in their liberty.

Ever>^ line of this picture is drawn from Protestant
authorit}^ and much more might be added from the
vSame source, but this is sufficient to explain the antics,
the immodest and blasphemous g>^mnastics and the
animalism of an insane fanaticism that defiled not only
Kentucky, but other states where similar conditions

The Great Revival began, when thousands "got
religion" during, what was called, this "astonishing
and precious work. ' ' The fiery campaign of the camp
meeting began, when "thousands of people might be
seen and heard at one and the same time engaged in
singing and prajdng, in exhorting and preaching, in
leaping and shouting and in conversing and dis-
puting." Some laughed, some cried and some
crawled on the ground like the old serpent, while others
stamped on them to crush their head. Others pla^-ed
marbles in the churches or rode up and down on
broomsticks to become like little children. Many got
a jerking religion, or a falling religion, or a jumping re-
ligion, or a running religion, or a climbing religion or
a barking religion. Some "treed their Saviour" and
barked like dogs at the foot of the tree, or climbed the
branches to catch him, while others did the same
thing for the devil. They groaned and pra^^ed and
confessed that they had been sinners, but gave glory
to God that they were now saved. Men and women


embraced and rolled together on the ground in open
day, and the nights were made hideou.s by orgies too
shocking to be described. The preachers were united,
soul and body, in promoting these assemblies, and
took part in every form of this so-called manifestation
of religion, encouraging by word and example the
crowds in their exhibitions of camp-meeting holiness.

This religious fever lasted for years, and a mild
form of it breaks out yet here and there where com-
mon-sense civilization has not leavened certain com-

Some actually believed that this was religion, but
thousands attended those gatherings through curiosity
and worse motives. The results were just what might
be expected, and in 1820, Kentucky had only 40,000
church members, apart from the Catholics, in a popu-
lation of 564,000. There were two hundred preachers
in the state, preaching almost as many forms of doc-
trine, but united in two things, namely :-that revivals
were the highest expressions of experimental religion,
and that the Catholic Church was the center of ignor-
ance and idolatry, the harlot of Babylon, the crucifier
of Christ and the kingdom of Satan on earth. They
never failed to unite in a love-feast when the Catholic
Church was to be served up, and they carved and dis-
membered it and stripped every particle of meat from
its skeleton, and, with sanctimonious horror, they held
it up for one last public execration tefore they buried
it fathoms deep beyond the hope of all resurrection.

If the preachers were men of any standing in their
own communities, and commanded the following that
belongs to leaders, they would have inaugurated a
public persecution of the Catholics in Kentucky long


before their bigotr}- and hatred broke out into opeit
\-ioleiice and bloodshed behind the cloak of politics.
As it was, there was a continual opposition, and an
effort made to draw the Catholics away from their faith,
and there can be no doubt that many of the isolated
families, and the younger members of other families,
yielded to the ridicule and misrepresentation, or were
led away by passion and the ease of its gratification
outside of the Church. The fewness of the shepherds
in those early years, rendered it impossible to guard all
the scattered members of the flock against the on-
slaughts of the wolves.

From all this we can judge of the position of the
priests in Kentuck}- during almost all of the first half
of the last century. That they were allowed to live
was because their enemies could find no specious pre-
text far killing them. That this is literally true, we
know from the fact that, when Father Whelan, the
frrst missionary to Kentucky, was brought into court
in a case of spite, one of the jurymen said that the}'
tried hard to have the priest hanged, and were sorr\'
they could find no law for it. What sort of men were
required to face such a condition of affairs, and where
could they be found? Well. Kentucky itself furnished
the men, and St, Thomas' vSeminary prepared them
for the work in a manner that will be developed in the
ccxirse of this sketch.

The conditions that, for years, surrounded the earh'
Catholics of Kentucky were not pleasant ones. At
first, few in numbers, they had to depend upon their
])revious deposit of faith for their own perseverance
and the instruction of their children. Their first priest
was Father Whelan, who remained with them but a





little over two years. After an interval of six months,
Father de Rohan came, and ministered to them in a
limited way until the arrival of Father Badin in 1793.
With the occasional assistance of others, one of whom
was the Rev. Anthony Salmon, whose life was evi-
dently shortened by the inhumanity of one who pro-
bably called himself a Christian, Father Badin labored
alone for twelve years, when he received a co-laborer
in the person of the Rev. Charles Nerinckx. Father
Nerinckx was one of those exiles whom an un-Christ-
ian persecution had driven to our shores. He spent
his subsequent life, and a fortune, in Kentucky, in
work that brought him onl}- the returns coveted by the
saints. For his own worth he is deeply and deserved-
ly revered, and his works live after him.

These two, for years, did the best they could for
the Catholic settlers, scattered and in colonies, from
I^exington to Breckenridge and from Louisville to the
Green River. They virtually lived in the saddle, and
atmost performed the miracle of multi-location, so
rapid were their movements. The work thej^ did was
enormous, but what they had to leave undone is al-
most beyond the power of our imagination.

Surrounded then, as the Catholics were, by a
hostile element in those who should have been their
friends and helpers in the common effort to establish
civilized and Christian homes in a far-off wilderness,
they might be excused if, at times, they almost des-
paired of perseverance, and were tempted to yield to
the allurements that were offered them in exchange
for their faith. That they did so in au}^ considerable
numbers, we have no proof, but we have abundant
proof that the vast majority of them remained true to


God and their Church, and were filled with the keen-
est joy, when the news reached them that a Bishop
was coming among them to provide more abundantly,
and permanently, for them in their spiritual neces-

The condition of the priests in those days can
hardly be realized now. Their work was continual,
and of the most wearing kind. Their food was poor
and coarse, prepared by anyone and everyone and
taken at irregular times. Companionship they had
none, and, besides the solicitude of all their missions,
they had to bear the ill-will and constant antagonism
of narrow-minded people and preachers. Nothing but
the most heroic devotion, and the strongest and purest
charity, could compel them to such labors and sacri-
fices. It was not always a matter of necessity. The
Spanish Governor offered Father Badin a residence at
Cahokia, with a cash salary of S500 a year and valu-
able perquisites, yet he chose to remain in Kentucky.
How long would one of the preachers ' 'rassle with tffe
Lord in prayer" before deciding that such was a call
from the Holy Ghost?

This birdseye view of the religious condition of
Kentucky will give a juster appreciation of the pro-
gress of the Church in Kentucky, and of the cause and
means of the preservation and spread of the faith.

Chapter III.

Better Conditions.— Bishop Flaget's Confidence.—
The Semiuarv.— Its Moves.— Its Place in History.—
First Inmates.— On the Ohio.— St. Stephen's.— The
Buildings.— Early Log Cabins.— Taking Possession.—
Sojourn at St. Stephen's.— First Steps.

The perusal of the preceding chapter might lead
us to think that the idea of a seminary in Kentucky
was wild and impracticable. Things, however,
had changed a little for the better at the time of
the arrival of Bishop Flaget. The sects, it is true,
were in the heyday of their religious activity, but the
Catholics had grown by immigration and natural in-
crease, until they numbered abotit 1,000 families.
There was no wealth among them, but they had faith
and courage, and stood united, and this forced an ex-
ternal respect from their non Catholic neighbors. The
thought of a seminary in their midst was far from
them. Such institutions were for populous centers and
cultured communities, and supposed more wealth, a
higher education and a greater refinement than exist-
ed in a newly-settled country like Kentucky. A sem-
inary was a place for the preparation of priests, and
the aspirations of Kentucky parents for their home-
bred and forest-trained sons had not soared to such
heights. But "the spirit breatheth where he will,"
and "the weak things of the world hath God chosen
that he may confound the strong," for with God
''neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that
watereth; but God who giveth the increase. ' ' Bishop
Flaget nuist have felt this when he began his work in


Kentucky with a seminary, and his confidence was
richly rewarded.

The early philosophers taught while walking about;
the early missionaries w^ere circuit riders; the early
seminary was peripatetic. It began on the Ohio river
in a flatboat, it rested for a time at St. Stephen's in
Marion county before it moved to St. Thomas' in Nel-
son county, where it remained with some slight oscil-
lations between St. Joseph's on the one hand and St.
Mary's on the other, for nearly sixty 3^ears, when it
was given the rest of an honorable old age, and its
work was taken up by fresher hands with improved
methods at Preston Park in I^ouisville.

St Thomas' was old and would now^ be considered
old-fashioned, but it did its work well, and its memory
merits to be treasured among the precious souvenirs
of Catholic Kentucky, and its history deserves to be
written near the top of the page of the book in which
are recorded the rise, the progress and the triumphs
of Kentucky's Catholicity.

The birthday of St. Thomas' Seminary was May
22, 1811. It was born on a flatboat at the Pittsburg
docks, when Bishop Flaget, Father David and several
young students went on board to proceed to their future
home in far-off Kentucky. Father David, speaking
of the foundation of the Seminary, says: "He ( Bishop
Flaget) arrived in Baltimore in July 1810, accompani-
ed by a subdeacon and two young la^anen, the ele-
ments of his seminary, wnth which I had already been
charged by Mr. Emery, the Superior-general of the
Sulpicians. ' '

According to Clarke, in his "Lives of the Deceased
Bishops," those who accompariied Bishop Flaget from


Europe where Rev. Simon G. Brute, Guy I. Chabrat,
who was in subdeacon's orders, and Messrs. Deydier,
Derigaud, Romeuf, and a young deacon whose name
is not given, but who afterwards joined the Jesuits at
Georgetown. He places their arrival in Baltimore on
August 10, 1810.

Father Brute, immediately upon his arrival at
Baltimore, was made professor of philosophy at St.
Mary's Seminary. Of Mr. Romeuf there is no further
word; he probably became a Jesuit and labored on the
Maryland missions.

Anthony Deydier is thought by some to have ac-
companied Bishop Flaget to Kentucky, and the fact that
he was for many years a priest at Evansville, Indiana,
gave color to the supposition. Such, however, was
not the case. Upon his arrival in America, he enter-
ed Mount St. Mary s College at Emmitsburg, Md.,
where he remained studying and teaching until 1834,
when he accompanied Bishop Brute to Vincennes and
was, by him, ordained a priest in 1837.

Mr. Derigaud was one of the young men who went
to Kentucky with Bishop Flaget, and Peter Schaeffer,
a Belgian, was another. The Bishop, most probably,
found Mr. Schaeffer during the previous winter at
Baltimore and induced him to volunteer for the Ken-
tucky mission. Bishop Flaget, writing in 1820, says:
"Towards the end of April, (1811,) I set out for my
diocese withyi^/^r young seminarians (two of whom were
French) and a Sulpician-my friend and confrere-who
was their snperior. " These several accounts differ in
some minor details, owing, perhaps, to slips of the
memory or of the pen, but they all agree in substance.
If there was a fourth seminarian there is no record to-


day of who he was, or of what became of him. In
fact, most of the traditions lead us to believe that the
seminary was begun with three seminarians, Chabrat,
Derigaud and Schaeffer.

A Canadian priest. Father Savine. joined them at
Pittsburg. He remained only a few months in Ken-
tucky, when he was sent to Cahokia. In 1814 Bishop
Flaget visited" him at that place and, upon entering
his cabin, found him "holding the handle of a skillet
to make an omelet. ' ' He afterwards labored in St.
lyouis under Bishop Rosati.

Another priest to join the party at Pittsburg was
Father Edward Fenwick, O. P., who was returning
to Kentucky bringing some novices for his Order,
among them, his own nephew, Nicholas Dominic
Young. Father Fenwick accompanied Bishop Flaget
on the boat, but sent the rest of his party ov^erland with
the horses.

Of their trip down the Ohio river Bishop Flaget
speaks as follows: "The boat, on which we descend-
ed the Ohio, became the cradle of the seminar}^ and of
the Church of Kentucky. Our cabin was, at the same
time, chapel, dormitory, study-room and refectory.
An altar was erected on the boxes, and ornamented so
far as circumstances would permit. The Bishop pre-
scribed a regulation which fixed all the exercises, and
in which each had a proper time. On Sunday after
prayer, every one went to confession: then the priests
said mass and the others w^ent to communion. Father
David's health was in bad condition, yet he presided
over all the spiritual exercises. After an agreeable
voyage of thirteen days we arrived at Louisville, next


at Bardstown, and finally, at the residence of the

That was a memorable voyage. A Bishop, three
priests and three 3^oung men were turning their backs
upon the blessings and comforts of civilization, and
plunging into a wilderness that thenceforward was to
be their only home on earth. Strictly speaking, it
was not martyrdom, but it was closely allied to it. It
was the breaking with a world that contained all their
natural attachments, and which really offered an ob-
ject for every worth}^ aspiration; it was the going into
the unknown, where nothing was certain but labor
and privation. And with what hopes of success? A
thousand questions must have come to them, and
all answered by a doubt. What kind of a reception
would they get from the rough dwellers of the forest?
Their seminary on the boat w^as one only by courtesy;
would they ever have a better? Would any of the
children of that rude and primitive civilization wish
to join them? and, if so, would it be possible to fit them
to become priests? The opinion is prevalent to-day in
Continental Europe that the average American is first
cousin to the savage. A worse opinion must have
prevailed at that time. Think of clerics, and clerical
training in Europe, and then think of a seminary in
the wilds of Kentucky for her native sons! W^ould it
be worth the sacrifice? Well, God sees. Forward,
then, in His name! Such thoughts were inevitable,
and it required heroism to go on and trust in God for

The party was met at Louisville by Father
Nerinckx, who w^elcomed them on the part of the
clergy. It was a small delegation, but the entire



diocesan clergy numbered only three, and one re-
mained at the episcopal city of Bardstown to greet the
Bishop upon his arrival there, and the Vicar General
must remain at home to prepare a proper reception at
the place that was to be, for the time, the official resi-
dence of the new Bishop.

The Vicar General, at whose residence they arrived,
was the Rev. Stephen Theodore Badin, ordained at

Baltimore on May 25,
1793, and the first priest
to receive ordination in
the United States. St
Stephen's, where he had
his residence, was be-
tween Pottinger's creek
and Hardin's creek, on
what was called The
Priest's Land, about four
miles from the Church
of the Holy Cross. Its
site is now occupied by
the famed Convent of
Loretto in Mar ion
county. It actually be-
longed to the Holy Cross mission, but Father Badin
had erected a private chapel there for the greater con-
venience of saying mass when he was at home, and
had dedicated it to his own patron saint — St. Stephen.
In point of lact, it had almost become a separate mis-
sion, and mass was said there on Sundays, when about
forty families attended regularly,

A description of the place has come down to us
from the pen of Father Badin, and is as follows:-"Mr.
Badin had for his own lodging but one poor log house,
and, in consequence of the expenses he had lately in-



curred in building a house for a monastery, which was
burned down ere it was completed, it was with great
difficulty that he was enabled to build and prepare for
the residence of his illustrious friend, and the ecclesi-
astics who accompanied him, two miserable log cabins
sixteen feet square. One of the missionaries was com-
pelled to sleep on a tick in the garret of this strange
episcopal palace, which was whitewashed with lime,
and contained no other furniture than a bed, six chairs,
two tables and a few planks for a library. ' '

The cabins, such as were built in those earl}- days,
were of logs cut in regular lengths, notched at the
ends and dove-tailed together one above the other,
to form the four walls. They were generally hewed
flat on the inside, and the better class of houses had
the logs hewed also on the outside. The chinks be-
tween the logs were filled with splints of wood, and
mortar, or mud, was used to stop up effectually all
crevices. In the absence of saw- mills, the roofs were
covered with long split shingles, and the floors were
made of logs split in halves, and laid close together
with the flat side upwards. These were called punch-
eons. The same material, with four stout legs at the
ends, made excellent benches, and they have not quite
gone out of use at the present day.

Bishop Flaget, with his seminarians, took posses-
sion of his new home with considerable solemnitj^
The manner of it is thus described by Father Badin:-
'* An altar had been prepared at the entrance of the
first court, under a bower composed of four small trees,
wliich overshadowed it with their foliage. Here the
Bishop put on his pontifical robes. After the vSprink-
ling of the holy water, he was conducted to the chapel


in procession with the singing of the Litany of the
Blessed Virgin, and the whole function closed with the
prayers and ceremonies for the occasion in the Roman

"In these primitive surroundings," says Father
David, *'our seminar>^ continued for five months.
The Bishop lived in a log cabin which had but one
room, and was called 'The Episcopal Palace.' The
seminarians lodged in another cabin all together, and
myself in a small addition to the principal house."

Rome, Paris, and the great capitals of the Christian
world had their seminaries, and these magnificent
halls were built to equip men to preach the Gospel of
Christ to the rich and the poor, to the learned and ig-
norant, to the civilized and the savage, and there was
nothing superfluous in them. Well, Kentucky now
had its seminary, and its work and aim was the same,
but we smile at the comparison, and in order not to
think of failure, we try to remember that St. Paul sa3^s
that God chooses the foolish things of the world.

It was Bishop Flaget's desire; it is now his hope.
The child, born at the docks of Pittsburg, and cradled
in a flatboat on the Ohio river, is now essaying its
first timid steps in the shadows of a Kentucky forest.
No mother's hand is within reach to support it if it
grows weak and totters. It is a child of no ancestry
but a father in Bishop Flaget, and a guide in Father
David, both of whom must find their own strength in
God's Providence. May God guard and guide its
course, and make it to grow in wisdom, grace and
courage, as it grows in age, for it will need them all
in a future that is ever to be marked with labor, hard-
ship and sacrifice. •

Chapter IV,

Compain' in Books. — Foplar Neck. — Tlie Howards. —
Their Property. — "Willed to the Church. — Named St.
Thomas'". — Removal of the Seminary. — ^The Build-
ings. — Sisters of Nazareth, — Robert A. Abell. — Some
Kvents of His History. — Other Students,

Knowledge is the result of indivklual effort, the
spirit of God is best sought in solitude^ and material
comfoits count but little in the training of apostles.
The three students in the huts of St. Stephen in the
wilderness had ample occasion of testing the truth
of these thiiig.s. Yet they did not lack good company.
They had Christ and his Apostles in the Scriptures,
St. Thomas and the Fathers in theology, and all the

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 2 of 13)