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 5 of 13)
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brought in upon Father Nerinckx's order in 1814.
They w^ere shipped dowm the Ohio from Pittsburg,
and cost $100 apiece besides the freight charges. We,
who class a modern range among the necessaries of
life, may find it interesting to speculate upon how^ the
cooking was done before that time for a houseful of

The first 3-ears of St. Thomas, were successful be-
yond reasonable expectation. There had been no
lack of students; its name and fame has gone through-
out the entire West, and its means had not only kept
it up, but allowed many improvements. Its future,
then, might be considered secure, and in this feeling.
Bishop Flaget turned his attention to the work of
building his Cathedral in Bardstown. St. Thomas'
had been his official home since 1812, and his real
nome when he was not on his official journe3'S, which,
however, took up a great part of his time. He began
early to prepare his plans. If his plans ever comtem-
plated a removal of the See from Bardstown it is not
known, but they adjusted themselves admirably to
future events, and when the transfer to Louisville
w^as made, they left a most perfectly arranged parish
church at Bardstown.


The corner stone of the Cathedral was laid on Juh'
16, 1816. The plans called for no elaborate or ex~
travagant edifice, yet the work proceeded so slowly
that more than three years passed before the building
was ready for service. These were among the years
of the greatest i&nancial stringency caused by the
many bank failures, and the raising oi money for any
purpose was a difficult task. It was not then com-
pleted as we find it to-day, either exteriorly or in-
teriorly, but it was in such a condition that it could
be used, and the further work on it would not inter-
fere with regular service. Its opening took place on
August 8, 1819, when Bishop Flaget dedicated it to
God with the assistance of all the clergy of Kentucky,
and in the presence of the largest concourse of people
ever gathered together in Bardstowii. The dedicatory
sermon was preached by the Rev, Robert A, Abell, a
native Kentuckian, who was ordained at St Thomas'
Seminary not quite a year before. The sermon was a
masterful effort and evoked the most favorable crit-
icism from all, and especially from the members of
the bar of Bardstown, which at that time included
many of the brightest minds of the countn-. Fifty
years later saw the rare event of the same preacher at
the semi-centennial commemoration of the dedication.
On this occasion the venerable speaker did not
attempt any style of oratory, but his simple words, as
he recounted the glories of the past and told of the
faithful lives of the first worshipers in that temple,
called up the tecderest emotions, and his own tears
but mingled with those of his entire audience.

The work of Bishop Flaget was such that alone he
found himself unequal to the ta.sk. He, therefore.


asked for a Coadjutor, and recommended to Rome the
selection of Father David for the position. The
humility of Father David did not avail in enabling
him to escape the honor, and reluctantl}^ he accepted,
notwithstanding the additional work that it would
bring him. His consecration as Bishop of Mauri-
castro and Coadjutor to the Bishop of Bardstown, took
place in the new Cathedral on August 15, 1819.
Bishop Flaget was the only prelate present, and he
was assisted in the consecration ceremonies by Father
Nerinckx and Father Wilson of St. Rose.

Bishop David's work as Coadjutor did not call him
outside of Kentucky. Bishop Flaget still assumed
the burden of the remote visitations and left to Bishop
David the direction of home affairs and diocesan
duties. These, and the establishment of the theolog-
ical seminary in connection with the new Cathedral,
made it necessary for Bishop David to reside at
Bardstown, and thus St. Thomas' lost the main
support of its early struggles and its greatest guar-
antee of continued prosperity. Under him it had
given at least six priests to the missions, and a score
of others were almost ready for ordination. Nearly
as many more were in the preparatory^ classes, and
distant New Orleans and St. Louis were already reap-
ing the benefit of its instruction. It was an extremely
creditable record for an eight-year-old foundation
whose corner stone, figuratively speaking, was laid
upon a flatboat.

The event of the removal of the two Bishops to
Bardstown was a double bereavement for St. Thomas'.
For eight years it had enjoyed the prestige and
prominence of a Pro-Cathedral and a Bishop's home.


That part of its life would henceforth l^e a sweet
memory full of reverence and inspiration. Asa Semi-
nary it had lost Father David, whose hand had gnid-
ed it^ wliose head had enlightened it and whose Iteart
"had gauged its own life's pulsations. As actual
possessions these things w^ere appreciated, but the
Ml importance of th«m could be seen only when they
were gone. Ever afterwards the students looked
back to those days with a sort of holy envy, and they
gave to St. Thomas' a consecration that made, and
not in vain, a practical appeal to every seminarian.

Chapter V'lll.

Thoughts of New Seminary. — Circumstances of Its
Realization. — Death of Hottenroth. — His Nuncupa-
tive Will. — Theologians Go to Bardstown.— vSt.
Thomas' a Preparatory Seminary. — Boys' School. —
Ivist of Priests,-St. Joseph's and St. Mary's Colleges. -

As long as Bishop Flaget and Father David re-
mained at St, Thomas' the seminarians formed but a
single body with them at its head. When Bishop
Flaget foresaw his owni change of residence to Bards-
towm, and also that of Father David, he longed for
some feasible plan by which he might have his more
advanced students near him, where their presence
and assistance would minister to the dignity and
solemnit}^ of the ceremonies of the Church, and where
they would continue to be under the direction of that
master of the spiritual life — Bishop David. The
realization of such a plan w^as among the vaguest of
his hopes, w^hen a strange fatality made it an im-
mediate possibilit}'. A relation of this chain of circum-
stances I give here as I have gleaned it from accounts
written shortl}^ after the events therein described took
place. The name of the unfortunate man was
Hottenroth, and he was much thought of by Bishop
Flaget on account of his singular piet}^ and the zeal he
displa3'ed in every w^ork undertaken for the good of

When the Trappists returned to Europe in 1813,
a number of those who had attached themselves to the
Order in America, but had not bound themselves by
any vows, remained in Kentucky. One of these, who
had learned the trade of a clock-maker with the



monks, settled in Bardstown, where he opened a
shop and applied himself very successfully to the
exercise of his craft. His savings increased each
year, and, as he had no near living relatives, he ex-
pressed his intention of leaving all that he possessed
at death to Bishop Flaget for the Church. After the
church at St. Thomas' was built it was his custom to
ridq out there to hear mass, as there was no priest yet
located in Bardstown. On one of these occasions a
violent rainstorm occurred, and, although pressed by
Bishop Flaget to remain at St. Thomas', he, and one
of his workmen who accompanied him on foot,
persisted in returning to Bardstown. Arriving at the
ford of the Beech Fork about a mile from Bardstown,
they found the stream greatl}^ swollen, and miscalcu-
lating its fury, they both mounted the same horse and
entered the water. In mid-stream the current swept
the horse off his feet, and both riders were plunged
into the raging torrent. Unfortunately no help could
be given them, and both were lost. The question of
his property was taken up by the courts, and the
declaration of the clock-maker, that Bishop Flaget
should inherit his money, was pronounced a true
nuncupative will, and about $2,200 were given to the
Bishop, who bought five acres of land adjoining the
Cathedral property for 3500 francs, and began the
erection of a brick building suitable for himself and
his advanced seminarians. It had two stories upon
a serviceable basement, and its rooms, though small,
were well arranged and made a comfortable home for
the first students of vSt. Joseph's Seminary at Bards-
town. The same building, with slight alterations,
was later made into an elegant home for the pastor of

70 ST. THOr^lAS^ vSE^riNARV.

the parrisli, and still stands as a reminder of the
povert}^ and riches^ and the glories and trials of the
early ages of faith in the West.

Of the removal of the Seminar}^ to Bardstown^
Bishop Spalding, in his Sketches, sa3^sr — "In the
3'ear, 1818, Father David removed to Bardstown with
a portion of the seminarians, of whom he was Super-
ior. Many reasons induced this change of location.
Bishop Flaget wished to reside in the place which was
his Episcopal See, and he was desirous of being
surrounded by his young seminarians, as a father by
his children. The new Cathedral of St. Joseph was
then in progress of erection, and the establishment of
a college was contemplated: The services of the
seminarians would be needed in the college during
the week, and in the Cathedral on Sunda3\s and
Festivals. Such were some of the principal reasons
for the remcrval of the Seminary from St. Thomas' to
Bardstown." In a later work — Life of Bishop
Flaget — , the same writer modifies this statement,
saying: — ' On the 7th. of August, 1819, the Bishop
removed to Bardstown with his Coadjutor-elect. He
left St. Thomas' with regret, and he often visited the
place afterwards to bur\^ himself in deeper solitude.
On the 21st. of September, the Seminary was removed
from St. Thomas' to Bardstown, now the residence of
the two Bishops. These occupied apartments in the
same building with the seminarians, and, for man}^
years, ate at the same table, and as far as possible,
performed all the spiritual exercises with them. It
was a well organized family, in which the fathers
lived in the midst of their children." This latter
account is the one now srenerallv received.


Only those students who were studying theology
went to live at Bardstown, and of these there were
sixteen to enter the new Seminary, while nineteen
were left in the preparatory classes at St. Thomas'.

The immediate direction of St. Thomas' as a pre-
parator}' Seminary, was now entrusted to Father
Derigaud, who had been ordained there in 1817. Al-
though only a few years in the ministry, Father
Derigaud was not a young man. He was somewhat
advanced in age when he began his studies for the
priesthood, and at this time he was about forty years
old. As co-worker with him, and treasurer of the
Seminary, the Rev. Charles Coomes was assigned to
St. Thomas', and these two, with the assistance of
some of the advanced students, kept the institution in
active operation. Naturally, it did not continue with
the same prosperity of former da3's before the division
of its strength, and its subsequent existence was
uneven and precarious until a new Father David was
raised up by Providence to revive and continue the
work of that master-teacher of apostolic life. This
did not take place until 1850, when a most worthy
successor to Father David Avas found in the person of
the Very Rev. Francis Chambige. It is true that St.
Thomas' was running, and doing good work at inter-
vals during that time, but its great periods were those
when its direction and destinies were under Father
David and Father Chambige.

The zeal of Bishop Flaget was not bounded by tlie
limits of the present. He looked into the future and
felt that much of its security depended upon a proper
education of the young. But his people were poor,
and in his poverty he knew how to sympathize with

T2 ST. Thomas' vSEi\iii^^\R\',

theiii. If schools could be established he would lead
the way^ and go farther than others were required to
follow, St. Thomas' was not now filled to its capac-
ity, and he might uti ize a part of it for his cherished
idea. With his clerical students, then, he opened a
free school for boys at St. Thomas', and the success
of this first venture gave him no little pleasure, and
raised up hopes for the future. Of this school he
wrote in February, 1820: "We have made a trial
effort in opening a free school for poor Catholic boys
who have not made their first communion.* The half
of their time will be employed in work on the farm,
to defray the expense of their board, and the other
half in learning to read and write and being instructed
in the catechism. Although it is in operation only
three months, many have had the happiness of receiv-
ing holy communion with the greatest devotion, and
one of them has entered the preparatory seminary
with the intention of becoming a priest. With fifty
schools like this we could renew the face of the whole
diocese. ' '

Others came also to begin their studies at St,
Thomas', and their number reached twenty-five before
the close of the year, 1820. They were of the same
self-sacrificing class as the earlier students, and carried
out the same rule of alternate work and study. Oi
them Bishop Flaget wrote, almost in the words of the
early chroniclers of the first years of the existence o£
the Seminary : " At present there are twelve students
in the higher seminary, some studying logic, others-
theology ; and twenty-five in the preparatory' courses
at their humanities. We have not only to educate
these poor children gratis, but we must furnish them


with all the necessary books, etc., and board and
clothe them. Nothing is more frugal than their table,
and nothing is poorer than their every-day clothes.
Yet, in spite of this rigorous econijmy, it would be
absolutely impossible for us to care for so large a
number if they did not lessen our expenses by manual

At this time the diocesan clergy in Kentucky, be-
sides the two Bishops, consisted .of Fathers Badin and
Nerinckx of the old missionaries, and Fathers Chab-
rat, Derigaud, Abell, Coomes, Ganiltz, Byrne and
Elder, all of whom except Father Elder, had studied
at St. Thomas' Seminary. Father Peter Schaeffer,
the first ordained in the chapel of St. Thomas, was no
longer in Kentucky. " His health failed under the
hard work of the missions, and he returned home to
Belgium towards the end of the year, 1817. He lived
for a few years longer but he never came back to

Rev. Anthony Ganiltz was a Frenchman, ordained
at St. Thomas' in 1817. He was on the Kentucky
missions until 1822, w^hen he w^ent with Bishop Fen-
wick to Ohio He returned to Kentuck}^ in 1838,
and a few years later went to spend his remaining
days in his native France.

If they, who accuse the Church of fostering ignor-
ance, would honestly note the course of the Bishops
in their efforts for education, they could not fail to see
that the Catholic Church has ever\'where been its
greatest friend and most earnest promoter. Bishop
Flaget was but a fair exponent of the univer.«^al policy
of the Church, yet, next to his zeal for the teaching
of the Gospel, we must rank his desire for the educa-


tion of his people. He brought an educational insti-
tution for priests along with him when he came to
Kentuck}'. Among his first acts was the establish-
ment of two orders of women to attend to the educa-
tion of the young of both sexes and the higher
education of the girls. He threw open St.
Thomas' for poor boys, and in the basement of his
Seminary at Bardstown, he opened a school for the
boys of that village. So far nothing had been
done in the whole State of Kentucky for the
higher education of bo^'s, although the progenitors
of the present self-styled champions of education
had been in possession of the ground for forty years.
There was no college for young men anywhere
in the West, and those in the East were too far
away to benefit the youth of Kentucky.

Bishop Flaget and his priests felt this want, and to
supply it, a special building was put up in 1820, and
the scope of the Bardstown school so enlarged that
regular boarders were received for the academic
courses. This was the beginning of St. Joseph's
College, and that first building is now the old south
wing of the College. Father G.o. A. M. Elder was
placed at the head of it, and it flourished from the day
of its opening.

Another priest. Rev. Wm. Byrne, in 1821, made
an effort to promote higher education for young men
living farther in the interior of the State, and a one
and unaided, he established and successfully operated
St. Mary's College, near the church of vSt. Charles,
where he was temporarily located. Both of the e
institutions became too well known to need any fur-
ther mention here, only as they may affect the story
of St. Thomas'.

Chaptkr IX.

Wider Possibilities for Learning — Narrower Pros-
pects for St. Thomas' as a Seminary. — Some Early
Students at the Colleges. — Boys' School Flourishes.
— Brothers of the Mission. — Manual Training. — New
Building.— Death of Father Derigaud.— Father De
Rohan. — Rohan's Knob. — Priests Buried
at St. Thomas'. — Peculiar Titles. — Partial Closing of
St. Thomas. — Dispersion of the Brothers, — Their
Prospective Work.

The establishment of the new colleges at different
points, gave to the young men of Kentucky greater
facilities for learning, and stimulated their desire for a
better education than was possible in the ordinary'
schools. As a course of ancient classics was made a
part of the studies, it was possible for Catholic young
men, who might feel an inclination to become priests,
to go to these colleges and yet follow the studies pre-
liminary to an ecclesiastical training. Thus greater
possibilities were opened for increasing the number of
the clergy, but, at the same time, the prospects for St.
Thomas' were lessened.

From the first, such young men were found among
those who entered these institutions. It was not that
they were unwilling to associate with those at St.
Thomas', or to live their life of poverty and labor, btit
that their parents would not load the Bishop with
burdens that they felt they themselves could, and
should carry. At the colleges, also, they would be
able to give their whole time to study and thus
acquire an education along broader lines than were
laid down at St. Thomas' at that time. At St. Mary's
were Martin John vSpalding, his brother Benedict


76 ST. Thomas' semixarv.

Joseph, and James Madison Lancaster, a famil3^ eon=
nection of the Spaldings although not a blood rela-
tion. A sister of young Lancaster was married at the
time to an elder brother of the Spaldings. These
Lancasters come of exceptionally good stock, for their
grandmother, Elinor Bradford, was a first cousin to
Abp. Carroll of Baltimore. This sister became the
mother of John Lancaster Spalding, the present illus-
trious Bishop of Peoria, and of the late Rev. B. J.
Spalding of the same city. At St. Joseph's we find
John McGill, who became Bishop of Richmond, Fran-
cis Chambige and others. I would also mention
among the first students of St. Joseph's, Ben. J.
Webb, who, although he did not become a priest,
merited the ven^ highest place among the laity, and
showed himself throughout his long life a fearless
champion of the Church. A monument in bronze
from the Catholics of Kentucky would be no more
than a fitting and well-deserved tribute to his memory
for his priceless work in the cause of religion.

As the students at St. Thomas' became ready for
their .higher studies they entered the Seminary at
Bardstown, and their places at St. Thomas' were not
filled as rapidly as they were made vacant. This
resulted in a falling off in the number of the students
until, in 1825, there were but fifteen, and it might
seem but a question of time when St. Thomas' could
no longer be profitably CDuducted as an ecclesiastical
seminary. The school for boys was flourishing, and
some of the pupils began to pay a portion of their
expenses. Thirty of them are said to have paid an
annual tuition of $35, mostly in produce.


Under these circumstances Bishop Flaget thought
he saw a propitious moment when he could put into
effect a plan that he had conceived many years before.
It would help his school on, keep St. Thomas' open
as a seminary, and provide a teaching and working
order of men. As early as July 4, 1813, he made
this entry in his Journal : " To-da}^ while saying
mass, a distraction, — perhaps a good thought, —
came into my mind ; which was, that perhaps,
we could unite together several artisans of
different trades, who could consecrate themselves
to God by religious vows and live in community.
Each might receive apprentices, and all who
could work together in common without inter-
fering with one another might do so. The rest might
work in a separate place, but always in the same
enclosure. There would be regular hours set apart,
at which all would assemble for prayer, spiritual read-
ing, etc."

Pious young men in sufficient numbers were not
lacking to form the beginning of an Order which,
Bishop Flaget hoped, would be modeled after the
Christian Brothers, and of which the members, " be-
sides aspiring to Christian perfection by the observ-
ance of the three simple vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience, might also aid the missionaries as cate-
chists and teachers of elementary schools, and in the
management of temporal affairs." Ten such young
men were gathered together, and their institute was
begun in 1826. Most of them were skilled in some
trade, and under their direction a department was
added to the school upon a plan similar to that now
followed by our modern Manual Training Schools.


Father Derigaud was appointed Director of this new
Brotherhood, the members of which bound themselves
by vows for three years as a first test of their vocation.
To provide suitable and ample accommodations lor
the various departments of this new community an
extension seventy-two feet long w^as added to the
original building. In this they must have begun with
good prospects of success, for Bishop Flaget was
elated with his new foundation and made the follow-
ing entry in his Journal : *' I was a hundred times
more happy in the midst of these good Brothers, than
I could have been, seated at the table of kings. How
many beautiful fancies vStarted from my old imagina-
tion on seeing these Brothers seated at the same table
with me, and who represented vSo well the
Apostles, simple men like them, seated at the table
with their Divine Master. I saw already in full oper-
ation a pious association of various trades ; shops
erected for completing a building ; children sent to
them from all parts to learn different trades, to acquire
an ordinary education, and, above all, to be instructed
in their religion, and to learn to practice its duties. I
saw erected a beautiful and vast chapel, in which
divine services would be performed with much gravity,
majesty and fervor, I saw one wing of this mona.stery
entirely consecrated to those men, who, tired of the
world, might wish to end their days in holy and rigor-
ous penance. In another wing I located apartments
for the Bishop and such priests of his as would be
happy to recollect themselves for a few days and purify
their hearts. Ah, good God, what did I not see?"
The vision of the good Bishop was not to be realized


in his time, but God grants to His saints a farther
view into the future than to ordinary mortals, and all
this may yet come to pass.

For some reason, now unknown, the Brothers left
St. Thomas' in 1827, and removed to a farm in Casey
county. Here they built a monastery, to which they
gave the name of Mount Casino after the famous
Benedictine Abbey in Italy. A short time aiter wards,
they met with their first great misfortune, when, on
October 29, 1827, their wise and pious Director,
Father Derigaud, was called from them by death.
They reverently carried his remains back to his be-
loved St. Thomas', and there buried them in the little
graveyard of the parish and Seminar}'. Father Deri-
gaud was the first priest to be buried at St. Thomas'.
Of him Bishop Flaget said that he had given him
great satisfaction with no admixture of bitterness, and
Bishop Spalding wrote: "The piety, the laborious

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 5 of 13)