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 6 of 13)
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zeal, the fortitude and the many virtues of Father
Derigaud will long be remembered in Kentuckj^,
where his memory is deservedly cherished. ' '

The second priest to be buried at St. Thomas' was
the venerable Father William De Rohan, who came
to Kentucky in 1790, and in that year built on Pottin-
ger's creek a log chapel, which he dedicated to the
Holy Cross. This temporar}^ hut was covered with
clapboards, and was unprovided w4th glass in the
windows, while a slab of wood roughly hewed ser^^ed
for an altar. Such was the first Catholic church ever
built in Kentucky. Father De Rohan made his home
for many years near this church at the foot of that
remarkable mound which, since that time, has been
known as Rohan's Knob. The last few 3^ears of his


life were spent piously at vSt. Thomas', where he died
in the 3'ear 1832, or thereabouts. Father Joseph"
Rogers died at St. Thomas' in September, 1846, and
was buried there also. Father Rogers was born in
Nelson county and studied at St. Thomas' under
Father Derigaud. These were the only priests who
were interred in the old cemetery of St. Thomas.

Speaking of Father De Rohan reminds me of the
peculiar title by which the property of Holy Cross was
passed over to the representatives of the Church. The
deed is from Basil Ha^^den to William Bald and others
for the Roman Catholic Church, dated. May 1, 1798,
and for the sum of five pounds, conve3^s the chapel,
and two acres of ground describes as follows: — "Be-
ginning at a hickory standing forty five degrees west,
twelve and a half poles from said chapel, running
thence due east eighteen poles to a white oak sapling:
thence due south eighteen poles to a white oak and
hickory; thence due west eighteen poles to a dogwood;
thence due north eighteen poles to the beginning. ' '

Unbusinesslike as this may seem, it was better
then in the case of the first brick church, built at
Danville, Ky. , in 1807, where there was only a verb-
al promise of a deed that was never reduced to
writing, and, when the owner, who gave the ground
to the Church as a donation, had the misfortune to
fail in business, the church, as well as all his other
property, w^as seized by his creditors and sold. The
congregation never recovered the building, and it was
converted into a dwelling and became lost to the
Church. The loss of this church left the church of
St. Thomas as the oldest brick church in the West, —


a distinction it would now have in any case, for the
little church of Danville would have given way to a
better one long before the present time.

The departure of Father Derigaud and the Brothers
was a severe blow to St. Thomas'. It is even said
that the Seminary was closed, but it is difficult to be-
lieve this. Bishop Flaget was not a man to allow
things to go to waste, and he would hardly permit
the buildings to stand idle after the great efforts and
expense attendant on their erection. It was about
this time that Bishop Flaget reported there were two
priests, five teachers and fifteen seminarians at St.
Thomas', with thirty boys who paid a part of their
tuition, and buildings valued at $11,400. It is most
probable that the boys' school w^as kept up, and the
students of Latin were received and continued as
teachers at St. Thomas', although other features be-
came prominent and obscured its title as a preparatory
seminary. Many of the priests, who were ordained a
few years later, were studying Latin at this time, and
it is known that some of them did not go to the Sem-
inary at Bardstown until ready to take up their ad-
vanced studies. It is probable that the Brothers re-
turned to St. Thomas' after the death of Father
Derigaud and resumed work there. Their conference
for an election of a Director to succeed Father
Derigaud was held at Nazereth, and we hear no more
of their Casey county establishment. There is a
record of the Brothers being at St. Thomas' in the
early thirties, conducting the school upon the plan of
a college, but their organization did not survive many
years. The times and circumstances were not
propitious to the perpetuation of their Order, and the


Brothers dispersed; —some of them returning to the
secular world, and some of them entering other
Religious Orders. One of them, said Bishop Spald-
ing in 1852, "entered the Dominican Order, and is
now Provincial in America."

Bishop Flaget's plan for his Brotherhood was,
perhaps, a little too far-reaching, and contained too
many widely different objects. The combination of a
teaching order, and an industrial order, and a business
order, with the necessary laborers without trades, w^as
too great an undertaking for that early date, The
sources of supply were not sufficiently adundant to
insure its continuance. The plan was ideal, and in
accordance with the customs of the times, when the
different kinds of work had not grown into exclusive
specialties, and even professional men were not above
turning their hand to things outside of their pro-
fession. If the idea had been realized permanentl}^
we can see the immense good that would have been
done; how th'^ orphans would have been accustomed
to labor and taught useful trades; how unruly boys
would have homes that were not prisons, and how
parish schools could have been multiplied in country-
places, where a few acres of ground would make them
almost self-supporting. The old farm of St. Thomas'
was well located for the central house of such an
Order, and, with a more restricted aim, such a
Brotherhood might yet be po>sible and successful.
The mind of Bishop Flaget took in every want of his
people, and his great heart went out in efforts to
provide for them. If abundant means had blessed
him, the title of Benefactor of the West w^ould stand
above that of Patriarch of the West, which has been
jusf y accorded to him by a grateful people.

"Chapter X,

The Theologians at Bardstown. — Bishop Flaget Asks
for Help. — The Rev. Dr. Kenrick Comes. — Cardinal
Litta's Complaint. — The Rector's Answer. — Dr. Ken-
rick Working in Kentucky, — Appointed Bishop. —
Some of His Students. — St. Thomas' Seminary Unique
in History. — Its Work. — Vocations. — Good Mission-
aries, — Native Clergy, — English Without the Idioms,

When the theologians left. vSt. Thomas' for the
new Seminary at Bardstown, they continued under
Bishop David almost as before but with less out-door
work, 3'et they assisted in laying out the grounds, and
in planting the gardens and parks of the new institu-
tion. Bishop David superintended their studies and
was their principal instructor for several years, although
his other work was constantly ^growing heavier.
In addition to his duties as Coadjutor Bishop, he was
pastor of the new Cathedral and had charge of the
organ and the choir. As Superior of the Sisters of
Nazareth he visited them frequently, and took a
special interest in everything at St. Thomas'. As
pastor of the parish he had to guard the faith of his
flock, and, in an oral discussion, refuted Dr. Hall, the
windy Presbyterian minister at Bardstown, whose
longest and loudest sermons were against the Catholic
Church. To silence him, however, Bishop David
wrote two pamphlets, aggregating 170 pages, on the
use and veneration of images, and vindicated the
Catholic Church from all charges of idolatry.

Age was creeping on Bishop David and, lest he
should break down under the weight of so many
labors, Bishop Flaget wrote to the Rector of the Pro-


paganda at Rome, begging that official to send him
some 3^oung priest endowed with zeal, piety and learn-
ing to aid in the missions of the State, but more
especially for one who could fill the chair of a pro-
fessor in his Theological Seminar>\

In answer to his appeal, the Rev. Francis Patrick
Kenrick, although one of the 3'oungest in the Propa-
ganda College, and only recently ordained, w^as se-
lected by the Rector for this arduous and important
mission. Father Kenrick set out from Rome without
delay and arrived at Bardstown on the 25th of Sep-
tember, 1821, where he began his career of usefulness
which lasted until July 8, 1863, when he died as
Archbishop of Baltimore.

He left Rome at an opportune moment, for, if his
departure had been delayed but a short time, it is prob-
able that another would have been sent in his stead.
Cardinal Litta just then received the appointment as
Prefect of the Propaganda. In his own life he was a
model of the virtues that should accompany the high
calling of the priest, and justly did he judge that,
above all other priests, the missionary needed strength
of character and solid virtue. His work is the most
laborious, his position the most trying, and he has
less outside help than any other to cheer and encour-
age him, and assist him to keep up the sustaining
force of practical faith. Dr. Kenrick was a strong
character, but he was young, and, in the eyes of the
Cardinal, his virtue did not compensate for his lack of
years. The Prefect declared that it was a mistake to
send young Kenrick to a mission that required ripe
experience and tried endurance. If he had been Pre-
fect at the time, he would never have consented that


one so young should be selected for such difficult work
as would be found in Kentuck}^ The Rector of the
College, who knew Dr. Kenrick, endeavored to show
the Cardinal the wisdom of the choice and spoke most
highly of the merits of Dr. Kenrick. But in vain ;
the Cardinal would not listen, and the Rector aston-
ished the Cardinal and ended the discussion by say-
ing : " Well, then, your Eminence, it was the Provi-
dence of God that prevented your earlier appointment,
for you would have deprived America of an apostle."
Dr. Kenrick 's w^ork at the Seminary is w^ell known,
and he did not long lack in experience, for he traveled
over the State in lecturing and preaching, and doing
the hardest of missionary work. He took a special
interest also in old vSt. Thomas', for it was as yet the
principal feeder of the Bardstown Seminary where he
was a teacher, and its past work was too important not
to attract his admiration.

Dr. Kenrick was remarkably successful as a pro-
fessor, but equally so as a preacher. He exhibited
marked ability in preaching the Jubilee of 1826-7,
Avhen, with Bishop Flaget, he visited ever>^ mission
in the diocese, stirring up the piety of the Catholics
and refuting the false accusations of the sectarian
preachers. The results of these labors were 50 con-
verts, 1216 confirmations and about 6000 communions.

Bishop Flaget was so well pleased with Dr. Ken-
rick that he desired to resign the diocese into his
hands, but the Holy See had different plans for
Father Kenrick, and in 1830, appointed him Coad-
jutor Bishop of Philadelphia. He was consecrated in
the Cathedral in Bardstown on June 6, of that year by
Bishop Flaget. in the presence of Bishops Conwell,

86 ST. THo:\rAs' sk:\iixarv.

David, England and Fenwick, but the sad consolation
of conferring the episcopal dignity on his dear friend
did not soften the pain he felt at lo ing him forever.

During the time that Dr. Kenrick was a professor
at St. Joseph's, he had under him such men as Martin
John and Benedict Joseph Spalding, James M. Lan-
caster. Edward Clark, Charles I. Coomes, Charles J.
Cissel, Joseph Rogers. John C. Wathen, James Elliott,
Daniel Kelh% Edward McMahon, Walter S. Coomes,
Joseph Hazeltine, Francis Chambige, Elisha J. Dur-
bin, Joseph Ferneding and others, most of whom he
prepared for the priesthood and introduced into the
sanctuaiy. Nearly all of these had been students at
St. Thomas'. With such masters in divine science as
Kenrick and David they should a' most necessarily be
learned and pious.

Some few of the select students of Kentucky were
sent to Baltimore, such as George M. Elder, Ignatius
Reynolds and John McGill : some to Rome, as Martin
John and Benedict Spalding, and Jas. M. Lancaster,
On account of their superior advantages, these became
prominent in the diocese, and some of them in later
life rose to eminent positions in the Church.

In the entire history of the Church, there is not a
single institution whose record parallels that of old St.
Thomas' Seminary, The early Christians lived in
common, and from this common family, no doubt,
came many of the co-laborers and successors of the
Apostles, but they had treasures to turn into the com-
mon fund, and it is not said that the}' were forced to
labor for the necessaries of life. In the early monas-
teries the rule of study and labor obtained, but the
clerics were generally exempted from its severest exac-


tions, and their labor was a discipline rather than a
necessity. No modern seminary was ever established
under similar conditions, yet none ever did better

In 1820 Bishop Flaget wrote, " Our Seminar}- has
already given us seven priests. At present there are
twelve students in the higher Seminary, and twenty-
five in the preparatory courses. " Fort}'- four candi-
dates for the priesthood in less than ten years was not
a bad showing for Kentucky. With few exceptions,
every priest ordained before 1830, was, in whole or in
part, educated at St. Thomas'. In 1811, Bishop
Flaget found three missionary' priests in the whole of
Kentucky ; twenty years later, there was not a mission
able to support a priest, which did not have a resident
pastor. The ten churches had increased and multi-
plied ; schools and academies were growing up on all
sides, and two colleges w^ere supplying the needs of
higher education. To what must we attribute all
this? Surel}', to the zeal of the clergy, and to the
providential institution that begot them — to St.
Thomas' Seminary, Only a few years before, the
people were stretching out their hands to the Bishop
of Baltimore, asking him to send them some one to
break to them the Bread of Life ; now it was offered
in abundance to the very least child, and Catholics
were being attracted to Kentuck}-, because they would
find better opportunities there than in other localities
for the practice of their religion.

In 1817, Father Nerinckx was in Europe in the
interests of the Diocese of Bardstown, and he wrote,
*' The American youth is too little prepared to think
of a religious vocation, and the Seminary too devoid


of means of support to be useful to the desired extent ;
besides, our Catholics are too few in number and too
poor to supply the necessary means. ' '

When Father Nerinckx wrote this he was asking"
assistance from his countrymen in Belgium for the
missions of Kentucky, and it was natural that he
would wish to make his appeal as strong as possible.
His own experience in Kentucky was of a nature to jus-
tiiy all of his statements then, and some of them for a
long time afterwards. His knowledge, however, could
not relate to facts later than in 1815, when he started
for Europe, and about this time the American youth
must have begun to think very rapidly of a religious
vocation, for upon his return there were fifteen in the
vSeminary and "the number might have been doubled
if tile means of the Bishop had allowed him to receive
all who applied for admission." That lack of means
alone prevented the doubling of the number of stu-
dents speaks well for the religious vocations of the
American youth of that day, and that these vocations
were of a high and heroic character, no one, at all
familiar with the history of the men and the times, can
have any doubt. We of to-day know practically very
little of real missionary life as it existed throughout
Kentucky in the early times, but we do know that all
of the priests were then missionaries, and the results
of their work are still strong visible evidences to prove
that they were good missionaries. With such eminent
authorit}^ as Cardinal Litta on the requirements of a
good missionary, the work of Father David stands out
brilliantly in the lives and labors of Kentucky's mis-
sionary clergy. Xo further argument is necessary to
convince us that this first period in the life of St.

vST. Thomas' .skminarv. 89

Thomas' Seniinan- was inexpressibly rich, both in the
quantity and qualits^ of the fruit that it bore to the
Church of God. Good old St. Thomas' ! Good old
Father David ! If both of you could have lived on,
and worked on indefinitely, the Church of Kentucky
could have sent her missionaries to do for the entire
West what they did for their own Kentucky' Home.

St. Thomas' opened necessarily with students from
abroad, but, once in operation, it developed a native
clergy and took the apparent force from the Know-
Nothing accusation of a " Foreign Church," so gener-
ally, and often with effect, used to frighten timid
Americans. The few foreigners among the priests but
accentuated the character of the body of the clergy as
native, and the Church as universal. Nor did their
ignorance of idiomatic English seriously interfere with
their efficiency in the ministry, although it would
sometimes provoke a smile. It did not matter if one
of them could say, in announcing his appo"ntments —
" To-morrow, I will say mass at Richard Coomes'; on
Tuesda}^ at Dickey Clark's ; on Wednesday, at Molly
Drury's ; on Thursday, I will be in Clear Creek, and
on Friday, I will be yiowhere.'' Neither did the self-
sacrificing missionary lose any of the high esteem in
which he was held if, after a tour among his poor
people, he could take from his saddlebags a piece of
jeans, the gift of some good soul, and sa^' : '' Sister,
here be some jane, — and here be some thread to sew
her with."

Chapter XI.

Less interest in St. Thomas'. — Defection of Father
Charles Coomes. — St. Thomas' as a College. — Again a
Seminar3^ — Its Possible Closing — Peter J. Lavialle. —
Death or Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds. — Death of Bishop
David. — Teachers at St. Joseph's.— Classics at the
Colleges. — Vocations Growing Scarce. — Priests of the
Period. — Series of Vocations m Families. — Eloquence
of the Clergy. — Quartet of Kentucky's Distinguished

The departure of Bishop Kenrick from Bardstown
was a distinct loss for the Church of Kentucky. His
goiog was particularly felt b}^ the Seminaries, for
there was no one who could take his place and carry
on the work with the same energy and effectiveness.
Bishop Flaget could give but little time to them, and
the weight of 3^ears was telling upon Bishop David,
His duties as Coadjutor Bishop required all his waning
strength, and the affairs of both Seminaries had to be
placed in other, and less experienced hands. Father
D.rigaud, the immediate successor of Father David at
St. Thomas', was dead. His assistant. Father Charles
Coomes, was taken from St. Thomas' and assigned to
the missions, where he failed to persevere, but his fall
brought into clearer light the staunch faith and strong
virtue of the faithful missionaries around him. To his
credit, however, it must be said that he never opposed
his former brethren of the clergy. He lived a life
that the world would call honest, and died many years
later, presumabh^ repentant. He and Father Abell
were ordained, side b^^ side, in 1818, and for six years
they labored in the same field. *'Then shall two be
in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other shall



be left. Watch ye, therefore. " This Father Coomes
miLst not be confounded with the venerable Father
Charles I, Coomes, who died in 1878, after forty years
of zealous labor on the most difficult missions of Ken-

The Brothers, with the Rev. Linus O. Coomes at
their head, continued to hold St. Thomas' open as a
seminary as well as a college, and Rev. Walter S.
Coomes was associated with his brother, Father I^inus,
in the work. During several years, the collegiate de-
partment showed a steady growth, and assumed such
importance that, in 1833, the following prospectus was
issued. It shows the changed destiny of old St.


This House of Education, the first that was estab-
lished by the Right Rev. Bishop of Bardstovv^n, in
the year 1811, is situated about four miles south of
Bardstown, half a mile from the Nashville Road, in a
pleasant and healthy situation, and provided with
extensive and commodious buildings.

The conductors of the Institution profess the Cath-
olic religion. However, students of every denomina-
tion are admitted upon the sole condition of conform-
ing to the general rules of the house.

This College, being considered as an appendage to
St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, is conducted on
similar principles. It is under the superintendence
of the Right Rev. Bishop and his Coadjutor, who will
occasionally examine the pupils, and encourage their
progress in the various branches of literature. The
diet is plain but wholesome and abundant. The sick,
if left in the house, are attended with the greatest
punctuality and tender care, without any expense to
the parents except for medicine and the physician's at-

In this College are taught, Reading, Writing and
Arithmetic, English Grammar, Geography, with the
use of Maps and Globes ; Book-keeping, Surveying,
and the most essential branches of Mathematics. The
Latin, Greek and French Languages.



Board, including washing and mend-
ing, with the tuition of the three branches
first specified 172 Specie.

Tuition of the other branches 16

None are received as boarders unless they pay their
first quarter in advance, and a want of punctuality in
paying the other quarter in advance will create the
painful necessity of sending back the pupils to their
parents or guardians ; experience having proved that
a contrary practice is ruinous to the Institution.

The boarders will find themselves in bed and bed-
ding, hand towels, a silver or tin goblet, decent
clothing, books and stationery. A charge of |4 for
bed and bedding, and $i for stationery per annum,
will be made when furnished by the Institution.

No pupil will be admitted for a shorter term than a
quarter. No deduction will be made for the time of
absence, unless occasioned by sickness, nor for the
time of vacation.

Parents or guardians, who live at a considerable
distance, are requested to have a correspondent in
Bardstown or Louisville, to whom application may
be made for the usual remittances.

All communications respecting the Institution, ad-
dressed (free of postage; to St. Thomas' College,
near Bardstown, will be pu actually attended to.

In the same year also, there is a notice of "The
Seminary of the Brothers of the Mission", with
Father Linus Coomes in char2:e, and Father Walter
Coomes as his assistant. Thus old St. Thomas' be-
came, for the time, an ordinary secular college, with
the ecclesiastical department relegated into the back-

As ^ college, St. Thomas' did not continue long.
The dissolution of the Brotherhood followed, and in
1836, the Rev. James M. Lancaster, wdio had ju.st re-
turned from Rome, and Rev. Edward Clark were .sent
to St. Thomas', which was made again exclusively a
preparatory seminary. In 1838, there were twenty


Students, and a reorganization of the teaching faculty
took place with Rev. Walter S. Coomes as president,
and Fathers Napoleon J. Perche, John Quinn and
Charles Blanc as professors.

This arrangement lasted but for one year, when
the seminarians were transferred to St. Mary's in
Marion county. Both Father Coomes and Father
Quinn were sent to assist Father McGill at the Church
of St. Louis in Louisville. Father Blanc w-as given
charge of St. Boniface's Church in Louisville, and
Father Perche was authorized to organize the Church
of Our Lady at Portland, now a part of Louisville.
Father Perche remained about two years at Portland,
when he went to Louisiana, where he labored so satis-
factorily that in 1870, he was raised to the dignity of
Archbishop of New Orleans and ruled that See with
honor for thirteen years.

The next few years do not show that much cleri-
cal work was done at St. Thomas'. The Seminary
was not absolutely closed, for it is said that Peter J.
Lavialle, afterwards Bishop of Louisville, was there
from 1841, until his ordination in 1844. Father Aud
did pastoral duty at St. Thomas' during this time, as
also did Father Bruyere, wdio w^as somewhat noted as
an educator. He probably had other students under

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 6 of 13)