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 4 of 13)
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pronounce the names of those apostolic men who pre-
served and spread the Faith in Kentucky, and made
possible the few modest comforts that you enjoy.
Yes, they -had the necessaries of life, and furthermore,
they thanked God for them.

It is sometimes a matter of wonder that so many
of the earh' settlers of Kentucky lived to such an ad-
vanced age, yet the reason of it is clear, and lies in
the simplicity of their manner of living. Their lamp
of life was not burned at midnight banquets : their
digestion was not paralyzed by foods killed in the


making and poisoned in the seasoning, and healthy
exercise kept their tissue strong and able to resist
almost every disease except that of old age. Their
lives were patriarchal in their simplicity, and in their
regularit}^ ; they should also be somewhat patriarchal
in their length.

Chapter VI.

Father David's Work as Teacher.— His Experience,
Writings.— Missions. — His Heahh. — His Work as
Spiritual Director. — Bishop Flaget's Presence. — His
Estimate of His Priests.— Intimate Knowledge of Good
Material.— Father David's Sanctity. — Recreations. —
Music— Father Elliott. — The Ceremonies. — First Or-

The burden of the seminary^ work fell to Father
David. This meant the greater part of the class-
work, and the spiritual training of the students. How
he made himself equal to it, and did his work so
thoroughh', God only knows. True, the older stu-
dents assisted the new recruits in their early classes,
but the advanced work was Father David's. No
doubt Bishop Flaget gave instructions on religious
subjects calculated to form his future priests to the
virtues and practices of a religious life, but such
lectures could be onh* occasional, as he had to visit
his various congregations and do missionary work,
besides the work of a bishop in a territory extending
over seven States.

It was not only in the beginning that Father David
had to labor single-handed, but for many years. The
relief that he might have received, by training others
to share the burden with him, was not granted to
him, for, as soon as each student was sufficiently pre-
pared to teach, he was sufficiently prepared for the
priesthood, and the active service of the ministry-
called him by its more urgent needs, and he was sent
out to do missionary work. It may be said that
Father David was the sole instructor and teacher until




the arrival of Dr. Keiirick in 1821. Some little help
was given him during these years by passing priests,
but it was only temporary.

The course of studies at St. Thomas' was not as
broad as in similar institutions now, but Father David
was no superficial teacher of the sacred sciences.
Deeply learned himself, he gave his pupils a deep in-
sight into Theology, Scripture, Church Law and His-
tory, and a mental training that fitted them admirably
for imparting divine truth to others, and defending it
against its enemies. All of them had urgent need of
such knowledge and training in their missionary
career, and they never failed to do honor to their

Father David was fifty years of age when he began
the work at St. Thomas', and he brought to it the
ripe experience of years of teaching both in Europe
and America. At the Sulpician Seminary at Angers,
in France, he had spent four years in teaching Phil-
osophy, Theology, Hol}^ Scripture and other branches
of ecclesiastical learning. Driven to America by the
French Revolution, his first years w^ere passed in mis-
sion work, yet in this he could not dispense with his
profession of teacher, and he initiated what has since
become a universal custom of the Church in America
— the giving of special instructions in the form of
parish retreats, or Missions. For two years he taught
again in Georgetown College, and five years at St.
Mary's, Baltimore. His work at St. Thomas' showed
him to be avaricious of time, with no personal experi-
ence of the meaning of the word, idleness. Even his
necessary moments of relaxation were not lost, for
they were given to music, which he greatly loved and


in which he was more than ordinarily skilled. In the
midst of his regular duties he still found time to write
works of controversy, books of piety, his catechism,
and a Catholic Hymn Book which he had published
in Bardstown in 1815. An additional task was the
direction of the growing Sisterhood of Nazareth.
Besides these occupations, no small amount of work
in the active ministry fell to his share. He was the
pastor of the congregation of St. Thomas', and spent
his Sundays and weekly free days in his parish duties.
Once a month he attended Bardstown, and the vaca-
tions were spent in more extended missionary work.
How his health, which was never robust, could have
borne up under the multiplicity of his labors during
all those years, is a niyster3', yet he was never seri-
ously ill, and he tells us that he warded ofi sickness
by always carrying hunger w4th him as a physician.
In their spiritual training the students were directly
under Father David. They had Bishop Flaget fre-
quently in their midst, and the knowledge of his work
gave them a good idea of what they should prepare
for. His spirit of humility and tireless devotion to
dut}' were silent teachers of lessons that they would
soon be obliged to practice. He loved to be among
them, both for their sake and his own. His ardent
dCvSire was that they should become missionaries suited
to the times, and filled with the apostolic spirit. In
his Journal he makes the following entry : "Recrea-
tion with the seminarians : I love to be in the midst
of them. I reproach mj-self with not being sufficiently
grave in their compan}-. What happiness for me, if I
could form a generation of holy missionaries !"


Yet, it was Father David who prayed with them,
and taught them how to pray and meditate. It was
he who instructed them in the essential principles' of
the spiritual life ; it was he who made them bear labor
and mortification, and even to love them, as a prepar-
ation for a future of more effective work. Dr. Spald-
ing says : " The young seminarians corresponded well
with the paternal solicitude of their good superior.
They caught his spirit, and entered heartily into all
his plans for their spiritual welfare. They united
manual labor with study. They cheerfully submitted
to lead a painful and laborious life, in order to fit
themselves for the ministry, and to prepare them-
selves for the privations theA' were destined to endure
on the missions." He kept before their minds the
object of their vocation, " I have placed you, that
\'ou may go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit
may remain," He knew the difficulties of the hard-
est mission, and his aim was to train men who would
not shrink from them. If the difficult missions could
be cared for, the easier ones would cause no trouble

That he succeeded in forming good priests, his
Bishop bore testimony in one of his reports to Rome,
where we find the following passage: *' I come now
to speak of my clergy. Oh, may God bless them. May
He bless their continual sacrifices and generous de-
votedness. But, alas ! these young priests, so zealous
and so charitable, become soon exhausted ; on them
old age and infirmity come prematurely — the e\-ident
result of their long journeys and painful missions.
Already many are enfeebled, and are left almost with-
out resource. Whither will they go after labors so
glorious? Alas, I know not, and this is what causes
mv desolation,"


Father David understood human nature and its
wants, and he had the rare and precious facuUy of
reaching them in his work. His instructions were
practical and to -the point, and the prayers that he
selected for use morning and night, were in the lan-
guage of every heart, and they who were accustomed
to them religiously clung to them during life. His
treatise on "True Piety " was published in 1824, and
went through several subsequent editions. During
his lifetime an over-zealous author thought it wise to
revise and improve Father David's book, but it was
said to have been "improved for the worse," and
Father David, with a smile, always referred to the
books as " The False True Pieties."

A strong element of success in the work of Father
David was the fact that he knew the young men who
were under him, and he knew their homes and the
circumstances in which they had been reared. He
knew also, from his own experience, the conditions
that would surround them in their ministry. He
could tell them beforehand of the life that awaited
them after leaving the Seminary, and nerve them for
their actual work. In this way he prevented the
building up in their minds of false ideas of the future,
but strengthened their humility and continued work-
ing upon the foundations of self-abnegation that he
found in their nature, giving them the expectation of
the only reward that was really to come to them — the
satisfaction of laboring for God and doing good to
their fellow-men, with a proportionate weight of glory
in Heaven as the ultimate prize.

Located in the very heart of the missions, vSt,
Thomas' was admirablv situated for carrving out such

ST. THo:\iAs' vSk:\iinary. 55

ideavS of missionary training, and, perhaps, the world
might be sought over in vain for better material to
work upon than the sons of the pioneers, whose whole
lives and experiences were in the midst of such prim-
itive surroundings. They knew no other sort of
priestly life than that of the few priests around them,
and the poverty of these, joined to their own, was a
help, in that it tended to discourage feelings of pride,
vanity and self-complacency.

There can be no doubt, however, that the personal
sanctity of Father David contributed to the success of
his work. He lived the life that produces saints, and
God blessed his efforts accordingly. His pupils mu.st
have realized that they were under the direction of a
man of God, for it must have been that holiness was
stamped upon his countenance, since a critic, when
looking at a picture of Father David thirt}^ years after
his death, could say, " His ver\' likeness betrays the
soul of a saint.

Of the amusements of the students in their recrea-
tions we know but little positively. Modern athletics
were not then in vogue, but probal)ly the axe, and the
hoe, and the sickle were sufficient substitutes for
modern appliances. Music was a rare accomplish-
ment, and our college songs were not yet written.
There was then no "Dixie's Land." no "Sweet
vSunny South," no " S nan nee River" or ^'Old Ken-
tucky Home," but there were Father David's hymns,
and Bishop Flaget said, that "their knowledge of
church music suffered no drawback." There were
some among them, too, who were tolerabh' lair musi-
cians, and Father lUliott of the later ones was more
than fair. He even composed hymns, and many of


his musical compositions were published in a hymn
book which he compiled. When manipulating the
little melodeon in St. Thomas' Church, in the sixties,
the writer used Father Elliott's book among others,
but he has tried many times since to find a copy of it
without success. Father Elliott was not ignorant of
music when he went to St. Thomas', as, in his youth-
ful days, he sang in the choir at Holy Cross to the
accompaniment of Clemmy Johnson's fiddle. Clement
Johnson was an uncle of the late Sylvester Johnson of
New Haven, K3^ , who was a special benefactor of the
orphans at St. Thomas' Asylum. In passing, it may
be remarked that, when Father Elliott died, in 1871,
his will showed two-thirds of his little property be-
queathed to the orphans and one-third to the Semin-

If their knowledge of church music suffered no
drawback, neither did their knowledge of church
ceremonies, for a young Propagandist wrote of them :
" I avow to you, sir, that if ever I was penetrated
with deep feeling, it was while assisting at the Holy
Sacrifice in the Cathedral on a Sunday. Torrents of
tears flowed from my eyes. The ceremonies, all per-
formed with the greatest propriety, according to the
Roman rite ; the chant at once grave and touching :
the attendant clergy pious and modest ; — everything
impressed me so strongly, that I almost believed my-
self in the midst of one of the finest churches of Rome,
which I had before thought could not be equalled any
where else in the world."

The first fruits of Father David's labors at St.
Thomas' were reaped when the Rev. Guy Ignatius
Chabrat was ordained to the priesthood. It is true





th?it Father Chabrat received the greater part of his
clerical training' in Europe, but the shaping of it with
a view of working on the Kentucky missions was done
at St. Thomas' Seminary, and St. Thomas' has always
claimed him as an honored son, and taken no small
pride in the fact that its first alumnus was clothed
with the purple as a Prince of God's Church.

Where Father Chabrat received deacon's orders is
not known, but it is probable that it w^as in the little
log chapel of St. Thomas. When the time came for
him to be raised to the priesthood, interest in this
event had grown to a very great extent. No such
ceremou}' had ever been celebrated in the entire
West, and the desire to witness it was general. The
little chapel of St. Thomas' would be totally inade-
quate to accommodate more than a fraction of the
people, so Bishop Flaget accepted the suggestion of
Father Wilson, the Provincial of the Dominicans at
St. Rose's to use their more commodious church for
the ceremony. Of this occasion Ben Webb writes :
" On the twenty-fifth of December, 1811, a remark-
able event took place at St. Rose. This was the
ordination of a priest. Dr. Benedict Joseph Flaget,
the newly consecrated Bishop of Bardstowm, who had
only reached his diocese the preceding spring, had
brought with him a young French cleric, Rev. Guy
Ignatius Chabrat, who was already in subdeacon's
orders. During the intervening months, the young
man had been gradually qualified to take his place in
the ranks of the working clergy by that admirable
master of the science of theology. Rev. John E. David.
With the exception of the Dominican church, there
was at the time no church in the State of sufficient


capacity to accommodate a great number of persons, —
Catholics everywhere being anxious to witness the
ceremony. Bishop Flaget gladly availed himself of
Father Wilson's suggestion that the ordination take
place at St. Rose. "

The time and place of the ordination of Father
Schaeffer are not known, but probably he was or-
dained at St. Thomas' as early as 1814. Father Deri-
gaud, the last of the trio of young men who came
with Bishop Flaget to Kentucky, was ordained on
Jan. 1, 1817. and was the first of the diocesan priests
to be ordained in the new church of St. Thomas.
Fathers Samuel and Stephen Montgomers', Domi-
nicans, were ordained there in September, 1816. Ken-
tucky began its long line of contributions to the
clergy when, on the fourteenth of August, 1818, the
Rev. Robert A. Abell, and the Re^^ Charles Coomes
were raised to the priesthood. From that time, the
ordinations became of so frequent occurence that they
cea.sed to excite comment, or to merit special record.

Chapter VIT.

Temporary Shelters.— T^ove of the vSimple.— New
Church at vSt. Thomas'. — First Brick Seminary.—
Bishop Dubourg and his Students.— Students Lodge
with Neighbors. — Fathers De Andries and Rosati.—
Famous "Group. — Old and New Vestments.— First
Stoves in Kentucky.— The New Cathedral at Bards-
town.— Dedication' — A Co-adjutor.— Father David Ap-
pointed. — Leaves vSt. Thomas',

The simple beginniiigs of St. Thomas' met the
necessities of the time and grew dear to tho.se who be-
gan their years of study in them. They were but
temporary .shelters, but, such a familiar and home-
like atmosphere surrounded them, that the men who
once occupied them, ever afterwards recalled their
memory with a .special feeling. When no longer used
for their original purpo.se, and falling to decay, their
old occupants, upon their return visits to the Seminary,
would go over them again and again, pointing out the
spot where this one sat, or that one .slept, and rehears-
ing the little incidents that .some particular object
would bring back to them. The old buildings seemed
more suggestive of pleasant memoiies than the
new ones, and to have a deeper hold upon their
affections. Time may have mellowed the view, as it
does to mo.st of us who have the plainest of homes in
the simplest of surroundings at the far-end of our

The erection of the new buildings was not con-
sidered of such moment that any detailed account of it
should be kept. We know that some time during the
year 1816, the new Church of St. Thomas was com-
pleted. This was the second brick church ever built



in Kentucky: — a small brick church at Danville alone
preceding it, but as that structure ceased to be used as
a church manj^ 3'ears ago, the Church of St. Thomas
stands to-day as the oldest of all the brick Catholic
churches in Kentucky, and, for that matter, in the
entire West. In size its exterior dimensions were
35x70. It had some pretensions towards good style,
and must have been a wonder to those who had never
seen anything better than the little log chapels of the
time. In material and workmanship it was better
than most structures of the kind at the present day,
and after nearly a century it is still used, and with
proper care, will be fit for service for many years to
come. The plan must have been Bishop Flaget's
own, and it is more than probable that his venerable
hands materially assisted in carrying it out. It was
not designed for spire or tower, but it had a neat front
that always appealed to me as "dressy", just up to the
right point. The old Church of St. Charles, built in
1832, by Father Deparcq, was on similar lines, and
there is even a suggestion of it in the body of the
former Cathedral at Bardstown.

In the same year the first brick portion of the
Seminary was built. These two buildings, Bishop
Flaget reports, cost not less than twenty five thousand
francs, It is of these two buildings that is was said,
the seminarians made the brick and mortar, and it
might be added, that they carried the hod and served
the masons. The Seminary building was thirty two
feet square outside, and consisted of a basement, two
stories and an attic. Its rooms were small, but it was
like a palace in appearance and comfoits when compar-
ed with the old quarters.



This will not conflict with Father David's de-
scription, for his were interior measurements, and
the French first story (premiere tage)is the first above
the ground floor.

The completion of the new buildings did not
mean, however, the abandonment of the old log cabins.
In that 3^ear a number of priests and students, destined
for the diocese of New Orleans, came to St.
Thomas' to await the arrival of Bishop Dubourg who
was in Europe. Among these were Fathers De
Andreis and Rosati. The priests taught in the Semi-
nary, vStudied English, and did some missionary work
as soon as they were sufficiently familiar with the
language. The students pursued their regular
ecclesiastical studies, and the study of English at the
same time. Both old and new buildings were utilized,
and even then, with all possible crowding, the
accommodations were insufficient for the increased
number, and some of the home vStudents were forced
to lodge with the neighboring Catholic families.

Just previous to the arrival of Bishop Dubourg,
Father Nerinckx visited St. Thomas', and he reported
that, — "Here I met with Very Rev. De Andreis,
Vicar-General of Bishop Dubourg, and founder of the
Congregation of the Mission in America, who, with
tw^o Eazarists, Messrs, Rosati and Acquaroni, was
waiting the arrival of the Bishop. Three Brothers
of the Christian Doctrine and four Flemish students
were staying at the seminary at the same time. The
three Italian Lazarists were already at work on the
English-speaking missions, and gave proof of great
talent. One of them, Father Rosati, who is teaching
dogmatic theology, gave a mission at Post Vincennes,
and had the happiness of baptizing an Indian chief's


What shall we say of the honor that St. Thomas'
might boast of as belonging to it just at that time? As
students in some capacity or other, besides the pio-
neers of Kentucky, there were the Very Rev. Felix
De Andreis, Superior of the Lazarists, Rev. Joseph
Rosati, future Bishop of St. Louis, Leo Raymond De
Xeckere, future Bishop of New Orleans, Ignatius A.
Reynolds, future Bishop of Charleston. As guests,
there were Bishop Dubourg of New Orleans, and the
Rev. Anthony Blanc, afterwards the first Archbishop
of the same diocese. As residents, there were Bishop
Flaget and his future Coadjutor, Father David. As
visitors, while this distinguished company was there,
no doubt came Fathers Badin, Nerinckx, and
Chabrat who became later Coadjutor to the Bishop of
Bardstown, and it is natural to suppose that, coming to
pay their respects, were the Very Rev. Father Wilson,
Provincial of the Dominicans of St. Rose, with his
confreres, Father Fenwdck and Father Miles, both of
whom afterw^ards became respectively the first Bish-
ops of Cincinnati and Nashville. Add to this that,
at the same time, among the Bardstown students,
there were Abell, And, the two Byrnes, Deparcq,
Durbin and others, and we have a view of a group,
the equal of which is seldom gathered under one roof.
In little, humble St. Thomas' the light of the Church
in the West was concentrated preparatory to its
bursting forth to illumine a world more vast than
empires of old, — a new world, where the names of
those gathered there that day w^ould be set like stars
in the firmament for the guidance and inspiration of
of oenerations to come.

re:v. jas. eivTvIott. rev. w. s. coomes.



In the general povert}- of the times the churches
had to content themselves with little in the way of
vestments and altar furniture. All these things came
from Europe, and the cost of transportation was almost
prohibitive. The missionary's store of these things
generally consisted of the necessaries formas^, carried
with him in a pair of saddle-bags, A single vest-
ment was sometimes left as the permanent furnishing
of some church, and none had more until Bishop
Flaget came and brought the necessary parapharnalia
for pontifical ceremonies. Even these were poor and
simple, and it was only in 1817, that anything rich
was Seen even at the greatest festivals. In that year
Father Nerinckx returned from Belgium and brought
a large supply of vestments, which he had gathered
by purchase and donation, and which he distributed
among all the churches and religious houses in Ken-
tuck3\ The richest set of these vestments, bought
from a collegiate church in Brussels, Father Nerinckx
donated to the future Cathedral Church of Bardstown,
and Bishop Flaget used it for the first time at Pontifical
Mass on Easter Sunday at St. Thomas'. Father
Nerinckx saw the new church of St. Thomas for the
first time after his return from Europe, and wrote to
some of his friends in Belgium, that "the chapel,
being as large and as well built as the one of the
Seminary of Mechlin, the grandest ceremonies of the
Church could easily be performed therein, the only
drawback being the substitution of an old pianoforte
in lieu of an organ." He makes mention of some
twenty other chasubles given to the Seminary, among
them a white set with dalmatics and copes, a black
vestment with cope, bought at Mechlin, and a white


set with blue columns and embroidered cope, the gift
of Mr. Peemans of Louvain, besides many albs and
other linen articles, and a small monstrance.

These would be precious mementoes if any of them
could now be found, but it is probable that nearly all
of them were worn beyond repair in actual service.
Other relics, as well as curiosities of the time, would
l^e the first stoves used in Kentucky, which were

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 4 of 13)