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 7 of 13)
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him besides Mr. Lavialle. It is also pretty certain
that a number of poor boys were housed and educated
there during these years, but no one now living has
any distinct recollection of this, and there are no posi-
tive records to confirm the vague tradition.

In August, 1840, an event, touching in its sad-
ness, took place at St. Thomas'. The parents of the
Very Rev. Dr. Reynolds, Bishop Flaget's Vicar-Gen-


eral, and later Bishop of Charleston, were at this time
living in a portion of the Seminary building. Mrs.
Reynolds was, suddenly and without premonition,
stricken with death, and the blow so prostrated her
aged husband that, two weeks later, he died and was
laid beside her in the graveyard of St. Thomas.

In 1841, another event saddened St. Thomas',
and the whole Diocese of Bardstown. This was the
death, at Nazareth, of the saintly Bishop David, the
founder of the Seminars^ and the father and model of
the priests. Bishop Flaget was at Bardstown at the
time, and, on July 12, wrote to a member of his family
in France a letter in which he said: "God wishes me
to prepare for death, for He takes awa^^ from me per-
sons who have been attached to me for more than
sixty 3^ears; the good Father Bonnet, then my brother,
and now my old Coadjutor, who is at this moment
struggling with death, and who, in three or four days,
will be no longer of this world. ' ' Bishop Flaget was
not aware that the end had come for his old friend a
few hours before.

This uncertain and precarious period for St.
Thomas' lasted until 1848, when the Jesuits took
charge of St. Joseph's College at Bardstown. Up to
that time the Ecclesiastical Seminary had been con-
ducted in connection with the College, but this 3'ear it
was ofificiall}^ transferred to St. Mary's. St. Joseph's,
as a college, had grown and prospered under such
prominent directors and teachers as Fathers George
M. Elder, Ignatius A. Reynolds, Martin J. Spalding,
James M. Lancaster, Francis Chambige, John B.
Hutchins, Edward McMahon and John Bruyere.


At St. Mary's College there were a few ecclesi-
astical students at times, but more especially while
that institution was in the hands of the Jesuits up to
1846, when they left Kentucky to found their greater
institution at Fordham, N. Y. Upon the transfer of
the seminarians from Bardstown to St. Mary's, that
institution was given in charge to the diocesan clerg}^
and Rev. P. J. Lavialle was appointed superior, with
Rev. Wm. E. Clark as his assistant. The students of
theology numbered about five, and it is not known
how many w^ere in the classical or commercial courses.
Upon the whole, the arrangements for ecclesiastical
studies for a number of years past were not satisfac-
tor}'. The establishment of classical courses at the
colleges gave to the aspirants to the priesthood a
choice of location, but this division of the resources of
the diocese prevented an}- marked success for any one
of them. For some reason also, new vocations did
not seem to be sought out, and encouraged and
directed as formerly, when there wa^ but one center,
and Father David and St. Thomas' were that center.

In the early days it was easy for a young man of
the right sort to make a test of his vocation, and his
poverty w^as not a bar to his aspirations. Now, with
pay schools, the poor boy was at a disadvantage, es-
pecially when the colleges began to receive in con-
siderable numbers the sons of w^ealth}^ southern plan-
ters. With his Kentucky pride he did not care to
court the risk of humiliations, and he held back when
he would have not have hesitated if anything like the
old-time condition had been preserved. The result
of this was, that Kentucky was no longer suppl3dng
priests in sufficient numbers to meet the demands of


the growing missions, and, at the same time, to fill
the places of those who had fought the good fight and
gone to receive their crown. Those remaining of the
early priests were growing old and less able for the
strenuous life of a missionary, and new subjects were
being ordained only at the rate of about one a year.
Something must be done, or the splendid work, inaug-
urated and carried on b}^ the rapidly passing genera-
tion of the clergy, would come to a standstill. Bishop
Spalding realized this, and one of his first acts after
his consecration was to arrange for the re-opening of
old St, Thomas' Seminary.

Bishop Spalding knew that he could not depend
on the colleges for his priests, for he had observed
their influence on young men and could write of it
this rather remarkable passage: "For twenty-eight
years the secular clergy had charge of St. Joseph's
College, and during a great part of that time, the
theological seminary was placed near the college, the
seminarians teaching, or performing duties therein,
a few hours per day. The Bishops, for many years,
lived in the Seminar}^ and ate at the same table with
the young candidates for the ministry. This con-
nection of the two institutions had its advantages, as
well as its inconveniences. Experience, however,
showed that many of the seminarians had their voca-
tions shaken by being thrown so much in contact with
the youth of the world; while scarcely a candidate for
the ministry was obtained among those who received
their education at the college."

Most of the priests ordained during this period
had the advantage of a training under Bi.shop David,
and they did not differ much from the earlier ones.


The old spirit of sacrifice and singleness of purpose
persevered, and it was necessary, for the same condi-
tions of hardship and constant work confronted the
priest on every mission of the State. Their names fit
naturally and gracefully beside those of their prede-
cessors. This will be seen when w^e recall such names
as the Spaldings, Lancaster, McGill, Lavialle, Cham-
bige, Degauquier, Hazeltine, Hutchins, Aud, Powell,
Coomes, Elliott, and the rest almost to a man.

It is interesting, also, to note how the Spirit of the
Lord worked in another way among the Catholics of
Kentucky and seemed to rest on certain families of
the pioneers and continue in their generation, so that
many of the younger clerg}^ claimed kinship with
their older brethren in the ministry. The Abell, the
Spalding, the Elder, the Montgomery, and the Hill
families were examples of this, but a notable instance
is that of the venerable Francis Coomes, one of the
early Cox's Creek settlers. Father Charles I. Coomes
was his grandson; so also were Fathers Wathen and
Aud. The race is not dead yet, for Archbishop Mont-
gomery of San Francisco, and the Fathers Edwin
Drury, Celestine Brey, Lucien Clements and Louis H.
Spalding, all of the diocese of Louisville, claim him
as their direct ancestor. The same spirit persevered
among their female descendants, but the record is not
so patent, as they buried their identity when they put
off their family name and asked the world to recognize
them only by the name of Sister.

Before leaving this portion of the history of old
St. Thomas', and sajdng good-bye to the warriors of
the first great battle for the church of Kentucky, I
would fain say a few w^ords on their powers as preachers
of the Word of God,


When thinking of the pioneer priests of Kentuck}-,
we are apt to lay too much stress on their simplicity, and
regard them as plain men, removed from the ranks of
the common people principally by their Sacred Orders,
by their better knowledge of religious truths, and by
their zealous labors in wild and unorganized districts.
If we look among them for culture, eloquence and
learning, our minds turn to Bishop Spalding, as the one
conspicuous representative of these attainments, among
all of the early clergy of Kentucky. The Hon. Ben
J. Webb, who, for more than seventy years, had the
most exceptional opportunities of observing the priests
of Kentucky, from the first one ordained down to those
of the present time, is somewhat broader than we are
in considering this subject. His greater knowledge
makes him the better judge, and he, while giving full
credit to the body of the clergy, singles out by name
four, as deserving of the highest praise. These are:
the Rev. Robert A. Abell and the Rev. Ignatius A.
Reynolds, both representing St. Thomas' Seminary,
the Rev. Martin John Spalding, a graduate of St.
Mary's College, and the Rev. John McGill, an alum-
nus of St. Joseph's College. Of these he says: "Father
Abell was magnetic, rich in fancy and wit, his mind
filled with poetic images, with grand thoughts, with
apt illustrations. Of magnanimous heart and gigantic
intellect, a student of nature and a profound thinker,
he was fitted for any emergency', and swayed men's
minds as does the gentle wind the bladed grass. Dr.
Reynolds, as early as 1824, had acquired a reputation
for eloquence that was only second in the entire
diocese, to that of Father Abell, who was ten years
his senior. Ten 3'ears later, another eloquent Ken-


tuckian took his place in the ranks of the clergy of
the State, in the person of Rev. Martin J. Spalding,
who became in time still more widely known for his
ability as a speaker, and still another came in the per-
son of John McGill, a 5'oung cleric of extraordinary
mental gifts and acquirements, who soon proved him-
self the equal of the others in his ability to attract
popular attention. The histor}' of local churches in
the United States has scarcely furnished a more ex-
traordinary array of native talent than is presented in
the names of these cotemporary Kentucky priests.
They attached to men who, in their day and genera-
tion, ranked deservedly with the most noted ecclesi-
astics of the countr3^ Intellectually, they were all
highly endowed, and to all of them had been given
grace to use their gifts for the glory of God and the
exaltation of His Holy Church. ' ' These four formed
a famous advance line for the Church of Kentucky,
behind whom the rest of the clergy closed up in ser-
ried ranks; an honor to St. Mary's, an honor to St.
Joseph's, a double honor to St. Thomas'. Their worth
was seen and appreciated, and it was the reason why,
friends as they were during life, they were destined to
be separated in death. The gentle Reynolds went first,
and they laid him to rest beside the murmuring sea
in his adopted Southland; the fiery McGill struggled
on, preaching the peace of God amidst the warring
elements of humanity, and dead, they laid him in
peace among those he loved as his children, and who
loved him as a father, in the once Capital of the lost
Confederacy. Spalding, the light upon the mountain
top, followed him only a few weeks later, and sleeps
beside the Father of the American Church in beauti-




ful Baltimore, while Abell, the intrepid, the first and
last of the four, lingered yet a while, a link to hold
the glory of the past a little longer before us, and alone
rests in his native soil among those for whom he lived
and labored for three score 3'ears. Their spirits rest
united in the bosom of God.

Chapter XII.

Reasons for the Decline of St. Thomas'.— Debt.—
Loss of Dr. Kenrick.— Absence of Bishop Flaget.—
Lack of Harmony.— Affliction of Bishcp Chabrat,—
Plans of Bishop Spalding.— Father Hutchins in
Charge.— Debt Cleared Off.— Father Lavialle.— Ap-
pointment of Father Chambige.— Noble Band of
.Priests from Europe.— Last Call for Outside Help.—
Pastors of St. Thomas' Church.

The decline of old St. Thomas' was to be expected
after the removal of the theologians, but its almost
complete failure was the effect of a long series of
causes. The cost of the buildings was considerable,
and the later improvements had been made with bor-
rowed money. The failure of the Brothers as a per-
manent body took away from Bishop Flaget all hope
of assistance from that quarter, and left the burden of
the entire debt upon his unaided shoulders. Th^-
small number of students did not admit of any exten-
sive teaching faculty, and anything beyond the sim-
plest management would but increase the debt.

Worried by these and other things, Bishop Flaget
was trying to resign from the charge of the diocese.
He was old, and his Coadjutor, Bishop David, was
still older. If Dr. Kenrick would be appointed Bishop
of Bardstown, as Bishop Flaget fondly hoped, then
things would right themselves under his firm and
aggressive management. But that hope was doomed
when it became known that Dr. Kenrick 's appoint-
ment was for Philadelphia. Not only was Bardstown
to lose him as a Bishop, but the Seminary was to lose
him as a director.



The long-looked-for relief seemed to have come
when Father Chabrat was made his Coadjutor, and
Bishop Fiaget turned over the administration' of the
diocese into younger hands and went to Europe with
the hope of spending the rest of his life there in peace.
In this he was disappointed, as the Holy Father, while
granting him permission to remain in Europe for an
indefinite time, refused to allow him to resign the care
of the Church of Kentucky. This left Bishop Chabrat
in a position of only relative authority, 3^et, during
the four years of Bishop Flaget's absence, he attempted
something towards the reviving of St. Thomas' as a
seminary. Just then lines of disagreement began to
show between Bishop Chabrat and the clergy, and
lack of harmony produced its inevitable results. The
prudence of a number of the prominent and influential
priests prevented any disorder in the affairs of the
diocese, but the Seminary suffered for want of an
earnest and whole-hearted union in its support.
Shortly after Bishop Flaget's return to Bardstown the
See was removed to Eouisville, far from the immediate
vicinity of the Seminary, and new cares grew out of the
removal. Atthistini:;, also, Bishop Chabrat 's eyesight
began to fail him, and he eventually became incapac-
itated for work and resigned his office. Then the
Jesuits came and took charge of St. Joseph's at Bards-
town, and this was an end to that institution as a
theological seminary. Altogether the outlook for the
Seminar}^ was not very bright when Bishop Spalding
was consecrated, on Sept. 10, 1848, and took up the
administration of the affairs of the diocese.

Bishop Spalding was not a s* ranger to the condi-
tions, and, being a man of affairs, in the full vigor of




life, wonderfully endowed, and possessing the confi-
dence and affection of every priest in the diocese, his
appointment was hailed with universal satisfaction.
He felt the necessity for a ^eminary, and he was not
long in forming his plans for a rehabilitation of the old
institution that had been the prolific nursery of the
early clergy.

First, the financial stress should be relieved and the
Seminary placed in easier circumstances. Then, an
annual collection should be made in all the churches,
and a diocesan fund thus created for the support of
the Seminary. This w^ould give more stability and
permanency to St. Thomas' as an ecclesiastical insti-
tution directly connected with the diocese. It would
also give the clergy an active interest in it, and make
even the laity, in a sense, patrons of it. The old order
of manual labor and stud}- should go, and a fixed sum
should be charged, sufficient to cover the cost of simple
living. The improved condition of the people w^ould
permit this, while the diocesan fund would assist worthy
young men w^ho had no patrimony.

As a first step in these plans, Bishop Spalding ap-
pointed the Rev. John B. Hutchins to take charge of
the entire establishment at St. Thomas', including
farm, school, and what there may have been of a Sem-

Father Hutchins had already shown his fitness for
this position. Shortly after his ordination in 1838, in
conjunction with the Rev. Wm. E. Powell, he had
established the flourishing school of Mount Merino in
Breckenridge county. After the death of Father Pow^ell
in 1840, he had as his co-laborer, the Rev. Ben. J.
Spalding, the brother of him who now placed him


where his special talent could be employed with profit.
Although successful in his first work, the range
of his experience was wider than Mount Merino. When
St. Joseph's College was in financial straits, in 1844,
Father Hutchins was entrusted with the task of extri-
cating it from its difficulties, and he soon vsucceeded in
freeing it from its most pressing embarrassments.

His success at St. Thomas' is best told by himself.
"The debts of the institution had become quite formid-
able, and I w^astold to go to work and try to pay them
off. How I did it, the Lord knows, but two years later
I had every obligation of the institution paid off, and
the cancelled notes laid away in mj^ desk. In addition
to these evidences of former debt, I had a small sum
of money and a few notes in favor of the institution in
the same receptacle. One day I got a note from the
Bishop, who w^as then at Nazareth, directing me to
come to him prepared to make an exhibit of the condi-
tion of the institution. I lost no time in doing so, and
his first question was to ask for my books. My reply,
that I had no books, seemed to astonish and displease
him, but his displeasure passed away when I told him
that, as fast as money came into my hands, I had used
it to pay off the debts, and when they were all liqui-
dated I had saved the surplus, which, then and there,
I placed in his hands. When he was made to under-
stand that the Seminary was out of debt and had money
on hand, he was the most .surprised man I ever .saw.
One thing is certain, he never afterwards complained
to me that I was loose in my book-keeping."

From this it would appear that Father Hutchins
practiced the idea that the best system of book-keep-
ing was to keep no books. The system is followed to


a considerable extent still among the clergy, but, un-
fortunately, we are not all Hutchinses, and the end
generally shows the opposite of a surplus. Bishop
Spalding must have had great confidence in Father
Hutchins, notwithstanding his manner of keeping ac-
counts, for he afterwards sent him to lighten the burden
of debt on St. Mary's College, which he did in 1851,
^nd again in 1856, when he succeeded in putting that
institution upon a sound financial basis.

Father Hutchins was not a specially learned man,
and was more at home in the material management of
an institution than among its books, yet he was not
deficient in education, and was very successful as a
teacher at Mount Merino and at St. Joseph's. He was
an earnest and hard worker, and what he did was done
with all his strength. He had a horror of debt, and
practiced every economy in order to keep out of it. In
after years when he visited the Seminary, he would
lament that so much ground was devoted by Father
Chambige to the culture of flovv^ers, and remark how
much more profitable it would be if planted with po-
tatoes and cabbages.

Financially, the administration of Father Hutchins
was a success, and as a preparation for the new era of
St. Thomas' , it was not a failure. It made possible the
bringing together of all the ecclesiastical students un-
der one roof, and converted Into a blessing the apparent
misfortune of the closing of St. Joseph's to students of
theology. The division of the students for the past
thirty years had been a benefit to the colleges where
they were called upon to teach, but it was well-nigh
fatal to the recruitment of the diocesan clergy. The
way was now opened for ne^\ students in the prepara-


tory courses, and under the lead of Bishop Spalding,
the priests again became earnest in seeking for voca-
tions among the young men of their congregations.
St. Thomas' was thus brought prominently forward as
the one place in the diocese for special clerical train-

. The new arrangements, however, left it possible for
a few worthy young men, who preferred a certain in-
dependence in their povett}', to labor in the fields in
payment of their education, and, it is my impres.^ion,
that opportunities of this kind were offered and ac-
cepted, up to the time of the final closing of St.
Th( mas'.

There is some uncertainty in regard to the presence
of any reminarians at St. Thomas' during the time
when Father Hutchins had charge of it. A rumor
places Father Lavialle there with a few students, but
I consider more reliable the account, as given in the
foregoing chapter, that Father I^avialle was at St.
Mary's at the head of the theological school. Father
Hutchins probably had some students under him, and
Father Daniel Kelly assisted them in their studies and
in teaching a number of orphan boys who were just
then being gathered at St. Thomas'.

Father I^avialle was a relative of Bishop Chabrat,
and had come to Kentucky at his invitation in 1841.
The intervening years between his ordination at St.
Thomas' and his appointment as professor, were spent
in Louisville as assistant at the Cathedral. The rest
of his life, until he was made Bishop of Louisville, was
spent in teaching at St. Thomas', and as president of
St. Mary's College.


Although the good work of Father Hutchins made
the plans of Bishop Spalding eaiser of application,
their inauguration was not the work of a day, and years
would pass before any considerable fruits could be
gathered from them. They might even fail altogether,
unless the right kind of men were found to whom they
could be entrusted. The good judgment of Bishop
Spalding showed itself here when he appointed the
Rev. Francis Chambige as superior at St. Thomas' , and
gave him the Rev. Peter J. Lavialle as his assistant.
This was not a large teaching faculty, but is was
larger than St. Thomas' had at its beginning, and this
might be called its second beginning. At first, the
students were few in number and many teachers were
not necessary. The theologians assisted with the
lower classes, as was the case with the older students
in early times, and in this waj' they managed for
several years, forming new classes for the fresh arrivals
and giving instruction to the orphans.

Having arranged things so happily for the Semi-
nary, Bishop Spalding turned his attention to other
pressing wants of his diocese. He was in need of
priests, and to supply this need he went to Europe to
make a personal appeal to the missionar}^ spirit that
never failed to respond to similar calls. Taking with
him Father Deparcq, he first visited France, and there
received and accepted the offer of two deacons, — the
Rev. Michael Bouchet and the Rev. Martin Chazal.
Going thence to Belgium, they, for some reason, got
no help from there at that time, but Holland came to
the fore with the priests, Rev. John H. Bekkers, Rev.
John Van Luytelaar, Rev. Francis Wuyts, and Rev.
Lawrence Bax; the deacons, Rev. Francis X. Van


Deutekom and Rev. Nicholas W. Van Enistede, and
the subdeacon, Rev. Joseph De Vries. Fathers Van
Luytelaar and Van Enistede later joined the Redemp-
toiist Order, and of the others it is not necessary to
speak further than to say that their works will be their
eulogy for a long time. They deserved an abundant
reward, which they have all gone to receive, except
the venerable Father Bax, who is still the loved pastor
of St John's church in Louisville, which he took
charge of fifty years ago.

Til is was the last special call for outside help for
the diocese of Louisville as long as St. Thomas' ex-
isted as a Seminary.

The Church of St. Thomas' was generally served
by priests connected with the Seminary, and a li.st of
these early pastors would .show them in the following
order arranged from the early accounts, from the
Catholic Directory and from the baptismal records of
the Church.

Rev. John B. David 1811 to 1819.

" James Derigflud, 1819 to 1826,

•' Edward McMahou, 1826 to 1829.

" Daniel Kelly, 1829 to 1830.

" Linus O. Coomes 1830 to 1831.

'• Walter S. Coomes, .1831 to 1835.

" Edward Clark, 1835 to 1836.

" A. A. And, . . 1836 to 1842.

" John Bruyere, 1842 to 1844.

" P. Chandy 1844 to 1846.

•' Daniel Kelly, 1846 to 1849.

•' John B. Hutchins 1849 to 1850.

During short vacancies Fathers Cissel, Evremond,
Abell and Rogers officiated, and even Bishop Flaget

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 7 of 13)