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 8 of 13)
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acted as pastor and baptized as late as 1831. Father
Chambige became pastor, March 25, 1850. and the

S'r. THOMAS* SEMlNAkY. 109

successive pastors were Fathers Lavialle, Chazal,
O'Driscoll, Reed, Martin, Russell and Crear3\ These
filled the position until the removal of the Seminary,
after which Father Lacoste served for a time, when
the Rev. Nicholas Ryan received the appointment,
which he has held to the present time.

Chapter XIII.

French Missionaries. — Incident in the Life of
Bishop Flaget. — Sketch of Father Chambige. — St.
Thomas' Opened. — Domestic Arrangements.— Its First
Years. — Growing Prosperity- — Increase in Students
and Faculty. — Students from Other Dioceses. — Pros-
pectus of 1854. — New Building. — The Early Students.
— The Survivors. — K. M. Bachmann, First Prepara-

France has been as a Fairy Godmother to the Church
of America. During the 3^ears of our greatest need,
when we were unable to help ourselves, she sent us of
her best and most devoted priests to do our niissionar>^
work when priests must live like the savage, or his
immediate successor — the pioneer. Those men were
not self-seekers, and the few of them to whom digni-
ties came, accepted the honor almost invariably under
protest. As a rule they were happy to remain in hum-
ble positions, and to work for God in obscurity. When,
more than a century ago, our civilization began its
painful march westward, the French missionar}^ was
in the van helping to blaze the trails. Steadily he
went through forests and over prairies, crossing rivers
and mountains, until he met a slowly advancing tide
of semi-civilization on the plains of New Mexico and

In sending forth its messengers of salvation, no
locality in France has outdone the rugged hills of
Auvergne, whose hardy sons were ever ready to go to
the rescue of the perishing, as St. Patrick went to
Ireland when "he thought he saw all the children of
that country, from the wombs of their mothers, stretch-


ing out their hands and piteously crying to him for
help." Until a short time ago, an entire ecclesiasti-
cal province in America was known in France as
"Little Aiivergne," for its metropolitan, all its suffra-
gan bishops, and three-fourths of its priests w^ere
natives of Auvergne. The exodus of priests from that
particular part of France w^as so great that the Bishop
became alarmed lest his own diocese should come to

I remember calling, in 1877, upon Mgr. Feron, the
Bishop of Clermont in Auvergne, w^ho had governed
the diocese for over forty years as a successor of Mgr.
De Bonald, the Bishop who had conferred vSubdeacon-
ship upon Bishop Flaget. The venerable prelate was
quite disturbed b}- my visit, and began to protest that
he could spare no more priests for the mission, and he
w^as reassured only when I told him that nty call was
not for the purpose of inducing any of his priests to
leave him, but simply that I might pay him my re-
spects and kiss the hands that had conferred the Sacred
Order of the Priesthood upon my own Bishop.

It will not be out of place here to record an incident
in the life of Bishop Flaget, which has never been
published. It is related in a letter of the Rev. J. P.
Machebeuf to his father, dated "On Board the Ship
Sylvie De Grasse, August 8, 1839." After speaking
of the party, which consisted of Bishops Flaget and
Purcell, Rev. John McGill and five missionary priests
from Auvergne, among whom were himself and Rev.
John B. Lamy, the future Archbishop of Santa Fe, he
goes on to tell of those who were seasick, and adds:
"As for Bishop Flaget, it is really w^onderful. He has
not experienced the slightest indisposition, or at least,


it has been impossible for us to detect any signs of it.
He is always cheerful, always amiable. Every morn-
ing he is the first to get up and go to perform his
devotions in the little saloon on deck. I cannot tell
you how often he prays, for it seems chat he spends
the whole day in prayer or pious reading. How do
you suppose that we could have any severe storm with
such a holy man on board? He was the very last one
to whom we should expect anything to happen, yet
the good God did permit a little accident to befall him,
no doubt to give us the occasion to admire his patience
and mortification. The second Sunday of our voyage
he was walking upon deck, when suddenly a heavy
beam of timber rolled upon him, crushing and bruising
his limb, and causing him great pain. Nevertheless, he
did not lose his accustomed cheerfulness, and when
asked how he felt he would answer good-naturedly,
that he could not complain when he thought of all
that God had suffered for him. The accident has not
been followed by any very serious consequences, thanks
to the good care of the ship's doctor."

Auvergne was the home of Francis Chambige.
He was born at Billom in that province, November 11,
1807. He was a relative of the saintly Bishop Flaget,
but his modesty was such that few ever heard him
refer to the relationship. His father was a chemist of
some note, and had his own practical and experimental
laboratory. Here it was that the young Francis learned
the elements and practice of chemistry and its kindred
sciences^ — botany, geology, and mineralogy — in which
he was in after life recognized as an authority. The
perusal of some of the letters of Bishop Flaget inter-
ested him, and finally roused him to the desire of going



to America to labor as a priest in the missions that
Bishop Flaget described. He had simply caught the
missionar>^ spirit, ever intense in Auvergne, where
the desire for the glory of God was a natural legacy to
every inhabitant, since twenty -six of its Bishops in the
See of Clermont are ranked among the Saints.

Upon arriving at BardvStown, a young man of about
twenty years, he entered the Seminary of St. Joseph's,
then under the care of Bishop David and Dr. Kenrick.
He was not long at the Seminary before his special
talent was recognized and he was made teacher of a
class in the sciences in the College. His ordination
took place in 1834, after which he was officially at-
tached to the College as professor and accountant, and
at the same lime he assisted in the work of the parish.

But the missionary spirit was not to be suppressed,
and he asked for the active work of the ministr3\ He
was assigned to the arduous mission of Grayson and
Hardin counties, with stations at Rude's and Cliffey's
creeks, Bethlehem, Elizabeth town, St. Clare's, St.
Patrick's, St. John the Baptist's, and several other
places. For five j^ears in that vineyard he bore "the
burden of the day, and the burning heat," and laid up
a stock of practical experience that was of priceless
value to him when he came to prepare others for the
same kind of labor. The mission was not an inviting
one. The Rev. Charles Cissel had laid down his life
there after four years of toil and privation ; the Rev.
Edward Clark was there scarcely more than a year
when he was obliged to give it up, yet Father Cham-
bige bore up for five years under the work for a scat-
tered people, who gave him their love for his labor, for
they had little else to give. His monetary compensation
or his five years of service was eight dollars a year!


Father Chambige had some means of his own com-
ing from his family, that he could make use of for his
personal wants, and he used them, not alone for him-
self, but for man}^ of the wants of his mission. The
poor people of the missions were willir^ to help with
the products of their farms and their looms, and they
would give their work in building and supporting the
churches, but, wath the best of good will, they could
supply but few comforts to their pastors.

The experience of Father Chambige was not ex-
ceptional with the missionaries of that time. Bishop
Flaget never told the poor people that he would send
them a priest when they were able to support one in
any definite style — he sent the priest, and the priest
went without complaining, and did the best he could
for the people. The support came somehow. If the
Kentuck}^ missionaries did not originate the saying that
man wants but little here below, thej^ at least, proved
it to be a fact.

The hardships of the missions began to tell upon
the health of Father Chambige, and Bishop Flaget
called him to Bardstown, where he again taught his
favorite sciences for four 3^ears and served as treasurer
of the College. In 1844, he went to France to arrange
some family affairs, and, at the same time, he attended
to some important business for Bishop Flaget. What-
ever the business was, it was satisfactorih^ transacted,
and he returned in 1846, to take his old place at St.
Joseph's College where he remained until his appoint-
ment as Superior of St, Thomas' Seminary, March
25, 1850.

Such is a brief outline of the earlier life of Father
Chambige, and his later life was in keeping with the


first part. There was nothing wonderful or extraor-
dinary' in it ; just a plain record of a man of God doing
the work of God without ostentation, in whatever posi-
tion it was God's will to place him. The remainder
of his history will be seen interwoven in the life of the
Seminary with which he was thereafter identified.

The details of the re-opening of St. Thomas' are
sufficiently full to give us to understand that it was
re-opened, both as a preparatory and a theological
seminary, and that it was an orphanage at the same
time. The first male orphans, officially cared for by
the Diocese of lyouisville, were housed under the roof
of old St. Thomas' Seminary. There were ten of them
when Father Chambige took charge of the institution.

The Sisters of Nazareth were engaged to attend to the
domestic affairs of the Seminary, such as the kitchen,
the refectory, the wardrobe and the infirmary, and at
the same time, they assumed the immediate care of the
orphans. In a year or two the number of orphans had
increased to thirty, and a separate house was built for
them, but they remained under the care of the Sisters
until 1857, when the Brothers of the Sacred Heart
took charge of the orphanage, and left the Sisters free
to devote all their time to the Seminary. Four Sisters
came in 1850, and that number remained through all
the years of this epoch in the life of St. Thomas'.
Sister dementia Payne was their superior at the time
of their coming, and, amidst the changes and vicissi-
tudes of nineteen years, she remained superior until
the removal of the students to Bardstown in 1869.

The first class in theology under Father Chambige
was composed of John Boyle, Patrick Bambury, John
F. Reed, John M. Beyhorst, Michael Power, Joseph


Elder, Patrick Guilfoyle, Patrick Sheeran, Joseph
Roetzer, and a Mr. O'Connor, who died at St. Thomas'
before completing the course of stud}-. Shortl}^ after-
wards these were joined in their theological studies by
Edmund O'Driscoll, Eugene Daly, Wm. Bourke, E.
H. Brandts and the two subdeacons from Europe,
Joseph De Vries and Van Emstede. These were all
ordained wnthin the next few years, but now the}^ are
of the past generation — gone!

Beginners for the preparatory course were not long
in coming. In 1852, Engelbert M. Bachmann, from
St. Boniface's parish in Louisville, entered St. Thomas' ,
the first of a new line that recalled the da^-s when there
were fifteen at St. Thomas' and double that number
of vocations ready.

The year 1853 witnessed many improvements at
St. Thomas', and was really thej^ear of its fulhfledged
installation with a patronage that justified the name of
seminar}^ In 1853, Bishop Spalding returned from
Europe, bringing with him a number of young ec-
clesiastics, and this event gave to St. Thomas' what
now would be called its first great boom.

Some of these ecclesiastics had not yet completed
their studies, and they entered St. Thomas' as stu-
dents, while others of them became professors in the
same institution. This same year, the preparatory
classes were greatly strengthened by the arrival of new
students. From the diocese of Louisville came Wm.
Dunn, James Martin, John Barrett and Eugene M.
Crane, and among those from other dioceses w^ere
John M. Mackey, John B. Murray and Michael O'Don-
oghue, of Cincinnati; John Mohr, of Alton, and Edward
Bushe, of Pittsburg. The teaching faculty was consti-

REV. P. Dk FRAINE. rev. L. BAX.



tuted with Father Chambige as Superior and professor
of moral theology ; Father Lavialle, professor of dog-
matic theology and Scripture ; Father Bax, professor
of philosophy, and Father Chazal, as teacher of French.
It is not recorded what arrangements were made for
the lower classes, but a prospectus, issued at this time,
gives us an idea of how that part of the work was done.
This Prospectus also shows that St. Thomas' was losing
its character of a strictly diocesan seminary and assum-
ing that of a general preparatory seminary.


With a view to afford to such youths as feel an incli-
nation for the Ecclesiastical state an opportunity to
ascertain and pursue their vocation, a Preparatory
Seminary has been opened at St. Thomas', near

The better to forward this object, the terms have
been fixed as low as possible. They are:

Boarding, washing, mending, books and
stationery, |60.00.

The above with clothing furnishe-^ 85.00,

Payments to be made invariably half-yearly in ad-

The course of instruction embraces the branches
preparatory to the Ecclesiastical studies. There is but
one session of ten months, beginning on the first
Monday in September,

Students are received from any part of the Union,
In all cases a certificate of good character from the
pastors of the applicants is required.

For their own benefit and that of the Orphan Asy-
lum, with which the Seminary is connected, the stu-
dents will be employed one or two hours every da}',
in teaching or otherwise, in the institution. At present
there are in the Preparatory Seminary twenty-one
students, sf^ven of whom are from other dioceses.

For further particulars the public is referred to the
Rt. Rev. Bishop of Ivouisville, or to F. Chambige,


This healthy growth in St. Thomas', and the pros-
pect of a still greater increase, made it necessary- to
provide more and better accoriimodations for the stu-
dents, and the last of the large buildings was erected.
It was a brick structure, 32x68, two stories high, at-
tached to the main building, and containing a large
study hall on the first floor with class-rooms, and a
dormitory, chapel and other convenient rooms above.
The new structure added a great improvement to the
old crowded quarters, and made St. Thomas' quite a
commodious and comfortable seminary for those days,
and equivalent for all purposes until the birth of a new
and more active spirit of progress after the war.

But few of those whose names I have enumerated
are alive today. The venerable Fathers Bax and Brady
are the sole survivors of the professors, and Fathers
E. M. Crane, D. F. Crane and E. M. Bachmann are
the only living links in the chain connecting the pre-
sent clergy of Kentucky with those of the initial
classes over fifty years ago. The first preparatory
student of the new era of St. Thomas' is with us yet.
and in his life there has been that which will justify
a brief notice.

Engelbert M. Bachmann was born in 1838, in the
Black Forest of Baden, German3^ His family came
to Ivouisville in 1851, and the following year he entered
St. Thomas' Seminary where he studied for seven years.
He went to Cincinnati in 1859, for his theological
studies, and was ordained on August 15, 1862, by
Bishop Spalding in the Cathedral of Louisville, with
Rev. T. J. Disney and Rev. J. A. Barrett. His first
work was assisting Rev. F. X. Van Deutekom at St,
Mar}' 's church , on Eighth street, Louisville. Two years
later he was given charge of St. Andrew's, just outside
the citv.





ST. Thomas' seminary. 119

The most serious event in his career occurred on
August 6, 1866. On that date he was a passenger on
the steamboat, General Lj^tle, from Louisville to Cin-
cinnaii. That boat began one of its usual races with
a rival boat, the St. Charles, and at Madison, Indiana,
the boilers of the General Lytle exploded, killing and
maiming a number of those on board. Father Bach-
man n was so severely injured that for a time his life
. was despaired of, and he has ever since been a partial
invalid. The company would allow him no compen-
sation, but the U. S. Admiralty Court give him dam-
ages to the amount of $6,000, which was reduced one-
half upon appeal to the U S, Circuit Court. The
specious, but prejudiced, plea was that he was a priest,
and had no wife and children dependent upon him. It
required just five years for the court to unearth that
much wisdom.

In 1872, Father Bachmann was appointed pastor
of St. Joseph's church at Owensboro, but that position
proving too much for his strength, he was associated in
1878, with Father Lawler at St. Patrick's in Louis-
ville. Here again his strength was unequal to the
work, and he was made Chaplain to the Good Shep-
herd Con\^nt on Bank Street in 1881. He filled this
office until 1902, when he was appointed to his present
position as Chaplain to St. Anthony's HovSpital. In
his life Father Bachmannhas ever been a model of the
quiet, devoted and conscientious priest, and he never
had an enemy among the friends of God.

Chapter XIV.

First Provincial Council of Cincinnati. — Provincial
Seminaries. — Theological Seminary at Cincinnati. — ,
Preparatory at St. Thomas'. — A Vanishing Genera-
tion. — Personnel of the Faculty. — Changes. — Father
O'Driscoll. — Withdrawal of the Cincinnati Students.
— War Times. — Dangers. — Morgan's Men. — Execu-
tion of a Soldier. — The Sick Confederates at St.
Thomas'. — Sister Mary Louis. — Father Cooney. —
Other Incidents and Inconveniences.

In 1855, Archbishop Purcell called a Council of the
Bishops of the Province to meet at Cincinnati on May
13th. On the second day of the Council the question
of the education of candidates for the priesthood was
taken up and discussed. The discussion led to the
conclusion that the establishment of separate diocesan
seminaries was not advisable, as they could not be at-
tended by a sufficient number of students, nor supplied
with the teachers necessary to insure good theological
training. The country was yet too sparsely settled to
furnish the students, and the services of all the priests
was required on the missions. The plan of a general
seminary was recommended, to the support of \\hich
all the dioceses would contribute, and where all the
students would be sent. Archbishop Purcell offered
his Seminar}^ of Mount St. Mary's at Cincinnati as this-
general institution for the Province, and the Council
made it the Provincial Seminary for the teaching of
philosophy and theology.

This opened the way for Bishop Spalding, for simi-
lar reasons, to secure for his Seminary of St. Thoma.'f
the same standing in the Province as a Preparatory
Seminarv, and it was so recognized, with a reservations


by the Bishop of Vincennes of the privilege of sending
a few of his students where they would learn German,
which was necessary in parts of his diocese, owing to
the influx of German settlers into Indiana.

The work of Bishop vSpalding in securing the action
of the Provincial Council in favor of St. Thomas' , re-
sulted in an increased roll of sixty-three preparatory
students for the following term, while five of his own
theologians, who were near their ordination, remained
to complete their theological studies. The course of
studies was broadened to include German, and the
Rev. Christian Kauder was made its teacher, and Rev,
Bienvenu Fontaine was assigned to rhetoric and as-
tronomy. Eight tutors and prefects were added to the
general staff from the body of the students, and thus
constituted, the Seminary was ever afterwards con-
ducted, with only personal changes from time to time,
A change from the former rates was made, and the
tutition was raised to $85.00 and $115.00 per session
of ten months.

The next few years were years of prosperity for St,
Thomas', and the students profited well by the ad-
vantages offered to them. There were men there then
who were to stand in evidence in after times, and the}^
never showed any cause why their old Seminary should
be rated in any but the first rank. These are the years
when, in addition to the early students already men-
tioned, we meet the names of Michael Tierney, Henry
Joseph Richter, Thomas M. Lenihan, James Calla-
ghan, David Russell, Michael D. lyawler, Terence J,
Disney, Martin Flynn, James Smith, C. J. Lowrey,
Charles Bolte, James McNeirny, Michael Ryan, Adolph


Ahlers, Francis King, Dominic F. Crane, James Mc-
Namee and others of equal worth. A search for the
bearers of these names shows us that they now belong
to the vanishing generation, and occupy the middle
ground, as it were, between the living and the dead.

In 1856, Father Lavialle was promoted to the presi-
dency of St. Mary's College, and Father Bax was made
pastor of St. John's Church in Louisville. Rev. Ed-
mund O'Driscoll was given a place on the faculty and,
at the same time, he succeeded Father Chambige as
pastor of St. Thomas' Church. In 1857, the Rev.
Hugh Brady replaced Rev. B. Fontaine, and in 1859,
he himself was succeeded b^- Rev. Peter De Fraine,
and Rev. J. F. Reed was added to the teaching force.
In 1860, Father De Fraine was assigned to parish work.
From now until after the war, the Catliolic Directory*
gives no information regarding St. Thomas', but more
than one change was made during that time, and among
the professors were Fathers Barrett, Fermont and Mar-
tin, and later Fathers Russell, Crane and Creary.

Of all the professors none filled the requirements of
his position better than Father O'Driscoll. Father
Chambige absolutely relied upon him, and the students
were thoroughly devoted to him. From 1856 to 1862,
he almost controlled the internal affairs of the Semi-
nary, and his leaving was looked upon as a calamity.
He died March 28, 1884, pastor of St. Patrick's Church,
Catskill, N. Y. , and the following is a part of a tribute
tohismemor}^, written by Rev. Wm. Bourke who knew
him from his early manhood.

"Father O'Driscoll was a man of no common parts.
He was methodical, strong in mind and clear in judg-





meiit. Whilst in the Seminary he did not fail to
teach, and strongly impress on the students, the neces-
sity of solid, practical and thorough studies. A great
scholar himself, and a hard student, by example no
less than by precept, he so shaped the minds of those
with whom he came in contact, that in after dayi^
nearly all retained a taste for solid studies. Hence his
leaving was regretted by all, but by none more than the
Rev. President, Father Chambige, who, more than
once, said that Father O'DriscoU's leaving had de-
prived him of his right arm. He was beloved by the
students. * * * And so, one by one, the old
veterans have passed away. The Preparatory Semi-
nary of St. Thomas is a thing of the past, and with it
that admirable spirit that prevailed there. The men
who shaped and moulded the minds and hearts of its
young students are gone to their long homes. The
saintly Lavialle, the venerable and devoted Chambige,
and now the cultured and lovable O'DriscoU, all have
passed to their rest, — ^gone to receive the reward of
their unselfish labors, strong in the hope of receiving
that crown which is the reward of faith, hope and
charity, and which abideth forever."

None of the earlier professors are now living ex-
cept the venerable Fathers Bax and Brady, and of the
later ones, onl}^ Father Creary who labors in the min-
istry in Wisconsin, and Father E. M. Crane who
teaches still, but at St. Mary's College in Marion
county. I do not know how successful he is now, but

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) HowlettHistorical tribute to St. Thomas' Seminary at Poplar Neck, near Bardstown, Kentucky → online text (page 8 of 13)