of a Pioneer Priest in the Diocese of Vincennes [Indiana]
by The Very Rev. August Bessonies, V. G. (born in France in 1815)
by Ann Mensch, from A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of
Vincennes, in Four Parts, I. Tradition and History, II. The Bishops of
Vincennes, III. The Priests and Congregations, Iv. Institutions of the
Diocese, by Rev. H. Alerding Indianapolis, Indiana: Carlon &
Hollenbeck. 1883, (pp. 485-504).
When Bishop Bruté visited France, in 1836, he inspired the greatest veneration
in all that came in contact with him. In fact, he was looked upon as a
saint. It was currently reported that he had performed many miracles,
but his profound humility made him deny all such reports. He traveled
through France, and experienced no difficulty in procuring laborers for his
new diocese. He had secured many already when he came to the seminary
of Issy, a preparatory school for the renowned seminary of St. Sulpice.
The writer of this was then twenty-one years of age and was studying philosophy.
He had resolved to join the Lazarists, or priests of the missions, and had
been promised admission by the Superior - General, Father Nozot.
But when he saw Bishop Bruté he was so strongly affected by the appearance of
the saintly man that he experienced a strong desire to accompany him to
America. He took the advice of his spiritual director, the learned and
good Father Pinault, and, following his wise counsel, watched the opportunity
to offer his services to Monseigneur Bruté. One fine day (1836) when
the missionary Bishop was coming out of the chapel of Loretto, the young
student, who was custodian, and lodged in the chapel building, approached him
with a heart palpitating with conflicting emotions, and feelings that he
could not express. He simply said: "Monseigneur, I wish to
go with you to America. I may not suit for a missionary, but I can be
your coachman." Scarcely had these words escaped his lips when he
felt the hands of the saintly Bishop around his neck, and heard these words,
that he shall never forget: "My child, I feel happy that there is
a prospect to see a new altar raised in my dear Indiana. But I must
tell you that you will have a hard life in my diocese. You may
sometimes be lost and have to spend all night in the forests."
"That is what I like," was the prompt answer. "Well,
then," said he, "you are the man for me. But I have no
seminary at Vincennes, and you must remain to study theology at St. Sulpice,
and in three years (in 1839) I will send my Vicar-General, Monsieur L'abbé de
la Hailandiére after you and some others. In the meantime I will obtain
your exeat from the Bishop of
Cahors." And so it was done. The young seminarian prepared
for the missions, and in due time was sent for, according to promise.
He was ordained deacon at Christmas, 1838, by his grace, Hyacinthe de Quelen,
Archbishop of Paris, in the chapel of the Carmelites, where many noble
priests suffered martyrdom in 1793, and where their blood can yet plainly be
Early in the spring Monsieur L'abbé de la
Hailandiére, Vicar-General of Bishop Bruté, arrived in France, according to
promise, to gather recruits for the Diocese of Vincennes. The young
deacon was ready and impatient to go. He was too young to be ordained
priest, but the V. G. of Vincennes offered to write to Rome for a
dispensation of age, and told him to pass his examination and make his
retreat with the other seminarians to be ordained at the Trinity
ordinations. It was so done, and during the retreat the answer came from
Rome, directed to himself. The dispension of age was refused, but it
was stated that Very Rev. Celestine G. de la Hailandiére had been appointed
coadjutor to Bishop Bruté. The day of departure for America had been
set, and the colony was to sail from Havre on the 2d of August, 1839, on the
Republican. The new coadjutor, wishing to be consecrated Bishop in
France, delayed his departure and appointed Abbé Martin to have charge of the
new recruits. This Abbé Martin is the same who died Bishop of Natchitoches
in 1875. The deacon made a flying visit to his aged and widowed mother
in the south of France. What a trial for him to announce to his dear
mother the news of his departure for America. But it was done, and the
reply was : "My son, why go to America to die in a short time from
yellow fever? Is there not enough work for you here?"
"The will of God must be done," said the son, "and I am
convinced I have a vocation for the missions of America."
The next night, at midnight, he was leaving the
paternal roof without saying a word to any member of the family, but was
overheard by his uncle, who declared to him he should not go without bidding
farewell to his mother. A new and hard sacrifice had to be made.
He implored God's assistance, entered his mother's room, awoke her and
said: "I am going, mother; I come to bid you farewell."
Her arms clasped his neck and she sobbed and cried. But the son begged
for her last blessing, and whilst she raised her arm to give it, the young
missionary ran away sobbing. That night can never be forgotten.
A few days more and Havre was reached. On the
eve of the day of sailing, after prayers, Abbé Martin said: "We
will now pray for Bishop Bruté, whose death we have just learned."
Oh! what a new trial! The saintly Bishop is no more! But every
one remained true to his resolution, and on the next day all bade farewell to
France. It may not be amiss to give here the names of those that
composed the colony. We had two priests, Rev. Aug. Martin and Rev.
Ducoudray; two deacons, Hippolite Dupontavice and Aug. Bessonies; one
subdeacon, Roman Weizoepfel; three in the minor orders, John Guéguen, Francis
Fisher and Hamion; Ernst Audran, only sixteen years of age, and nephew to
Bishop de la Hailandiére; also, Alphonsus Munschina, who soon entered the
seminary, was ordained first. We had also Mr. Martin Stahl, who became
a priest, and did not live long. I should not forget Mademoiselle
Josephine Pardeithou, afterwards a Sister of Providence under the name of Sister
Josephine, and Jeanne and Angelique, the faithful servants of Bishop de la
Hailandiére and de St. Palais. We had also a brother of the Rev. E.
Faller, under the care of his aunt, Mademoiselle Mercion, who proved herself
an angel of charity by nursing the sick, but especially the writer of these
lines, whose illness continued during the whole journey. He was told
once by Abbé Martin to prepare for eternity, for he shouldn't see land
again. He now regrets that the worthy leader of the missionary colony
did not prove a prophet, for he never was nor likely ever will be as well
prepared for the journey from time to eternity. The idea of being eaten
by fishes did not frighten him in the least, and he kept up his courage until
nearly exhausted. After a journey of forty-four days, he and his
companions arrived in the Bay of New York on the 11th of September, 1839, and
landed the next morning.
After spending a few days in New York the colony
reached Philadelphia, where they spent two weeks, and left for Vincennes,
where the advance guard arrived by stage October 21, 1839, and the others on
foot from Louisville a few days afterward. They were very kindly
received by that worthy missionary the Very Rev. Simon Petit Lalumiére, who
was administrator of the Diocese since the death of Bishop Bruté, in the
absence of the newly appointed Bishop. Father Lalumiére, although
administrator was still pastor of St. Simon's Church, Washington, Daviess
county, and resided in that place, where the writer spent a few weeks with him.
The pastor of the cathedral of Vincennes was then
Rev. Anthony Parret, who came to the Diocese in 1836 with Bishop Bruté, and
who soon afterwards left to become a Jesuit, and died after a few years in
the South. The cathedral was unfinished, not being plastered, and the
rain poured down in the sanctuary through a small dilapidated dome over it,
and it was still so, as I knew it by experience on the 22d of February, 1842,
the day of my ordination to the priesthood.
At that time the late lamented Bishop de St. Palais
was pastor of St. Mary's, Daviess county, a place called to this day Box's
Creek, and Rev. John Corbe, afterwards vicar-general, and, in the absence of
the Bishop, administrator of the Diocese, was then pastor of St. Francisville.
I well remember how the newly-arrived missionaries went one day to pay him a
visit, and as the family with whom he boarded was absent, all he could give
them was some persimmons, growing near the little frame church; so that on
our return to Vincennes on foot we had good appetites.
About this time, in November, 1839, Bishop de la
Hailandiére arrived from France. He was received cordially by clergy
and laity, and set to work in earnest to put things in order. The few
seminarians were placed under the care of Rev. Aug. Martin, who taught
theology and scripture, and three, studying philosophy, were under the care
of Rev. Aug. Bessonies. Rev. H. Dupontavice was the first ordained
priest, and in December, 1839, was appointed pastor of Joliet, Ill. He left
Vincennes for his new mission in a spring wagon covered with canvas, drawn by
two horses, having for his companion the Rev. Maurice de St. Palais, who had
been appointed pastor of Chicago, a town then of three thousand inhabitants,
and a part of the Diocese of Vincennes. At that time Rev. Vincent
Bacquelin, then pastor of St. Vincent's, near Shelbyville, Shelby county, and
who visited form time to time Indianapolis, came to Vincennes, on horseback,
of course, and I heard him say to Bishop Hailandiére :
"Monseigneur, it is time for us to have a foothold in the capital of the
State. We must buy a lot and build a church."
"Well," said his Lordship, "how much will a lot cost in
Indianapolis?" "Three hundred dollars," was the reply,
and the Bishop put his hand in his pocket, handed Father Bacquelin one
hundred and fifty dollars, and told him to get his people there to pay the
balance and buy a lot at once. So that until the end of December, 1839,
or January, 1840, the Catholic Church did not possess a foot of ground in
About one month before the arrival of the colony
entrusted to Rev. Father Martin another colony had arrived, about which a
word may not be out of place and without interest. I mean the Eudist
colony, composed of such men as the Rev. Fathers Vabret, Bellier, Chassé and
others, who were to take charge of St. Gabriel's College, of Vincennes.
Under the presidency of Rev. Father Bellier the college flourished for some
time, but, trough some misunderstanding between the Eudists and the
ordinary--which, from what I heard from both parties, might be chiefly
attributed to the Superior-General of the Eudists--St. Gabriel's College
ceased to exist, and was bought afterwards for a Catholic orphan asylum.
In the year 1840 the Rt. Rev. Bishop de la
Hailandiére laid the foundation of the convent of St. Mary's of the Woods, by
obtaining Sisters of Providence from France. The work so nobly begun by
Mother Theodore is still going on gloriously. Had Bishop de la Hailandiére
no other claim to the gratitude of the Diocese of Vincennes, the debt could
not well be paid.
But just now, as I am writing these lines, comes a
telegram announcing the death of the good Bishop de la Hailandiére, on the
1st inst., at the age of 84, and I must stop to say a de profundis for the
rest of his soul. Poor dear Bishop! He used to call me his second
son, and since the death of Very Rev. H. Dupontavice I was his first son
living. In a letter written to me less than a year ago he was telling
me : You are my oldest son out of over 800 ordained by me. May
all of those 800 in hearing of his death offer up the holy sacrifice in his
behalf. But let us now resume the reminiscences.
Ordained priest on the 22d day of February, 1840, I
was asked by the Bishop, who is now no more, where I wished to go.
"Wherever you wish to send me, Monseigneur," was by answer.
"But," says he, "have you no choice?"
"Yes," was my answer, "I would like to go with Rev. Father
Francois, among the Indians near Logansport."
"Oh!" Said he, "all of you want to go among the Indians;
I can not send you there. You will go to Rome; not to Rome, Italy, but
to Rome, Perry county, Indiana. You will take the place of Rev. J.
Benoit, whom I am going to send to Fort Wayne. You will find him
somewhere in the forests of Perry county, some 15 miles from Rome. I
can not tell you the name of the place, for it has no name, but his
postoffice is Safford. Go first to Jasper, and there Rev. Joseph
Kundeck will give you further directions." The kind Bishop
presented me with an Indian pony, and off I went; but, unfortunately, the
pony was very devout, and went frequently on his knees, exposing me often to
be thrown over his head. The great trouble with me was that I could
scarcely speak a word of English. Before parting with Bishop de la
Hailandiére I asked him, "What shall I say in English to inquire about
my route?" "You may say, how far to such a place; or, how
many miles to such a place?" I thought then I was all right, but I
forgot my lesson, and my inquiry was, "How miles to such a
place?" People laughed at me, and said something I did not
understand. I kept on my way, trusting to Providence, and at last
arrived at Jasper, to learn there that Father Benoit had left that morning
for Vincennes. What was I to do? Await the return of Father
Benoit? He may not return at all. I got Father Kundeck to make me
a little map or itinerary from Jasper to the little frame chapel built by
Father Benoit in the woods of Perry county; and, map in hand, I left Dubois
for Perry. The thirty-mile ride seemed to me a hundred, and I arrived
towards evening at a place where I inquired, "How far to the
chapel?" I received for answer, so far as I could understand,
"Five miles." But I rode some distance and inquired again,
and the answer was, seven miles. I knew then that I had gone
astray. I happened to think of a Catholic settlement some six miles
from the chapel. I then inquired, "How far to Cassidy's, and, the
answer being, two miles, I felt relieved of the strong fear of having to pass
the night, as we say in French, a la belle étoile--under a beautiful
star. The direction being pointed out to me, I soon arrived at
The old gentleman, John Cassidy, and his family received
me very kindly, and promised to see me safe next morning to the chapel, where
a son and daughter of the old man were residing with Father Benoit. To
give a specimen of my English I will state that, at supper, which consisted
of corn bread and fat bacon, after I got through with the first piece of corn
bread I wanted another, and called for it by saying, "More corn,
plase." They smiled, but my want was supplied at once. Next
morning Mr. Cassidy started with me for the chapel, 6 miles distant, and did
not cease to talk all the way; but I did not understand a single sentence,
although I would once in a while say, Yes. At last we arrived at the
chapel. It was a frame building, 20 by 30 feet, two stories high, the
first story divided into two rooms--one for the priest, the other for the
cook and her brother--and the upper story, not ceiled, but only roughly
weatherboarded, was the church or chapel, with a stair outside to climb into
it. The stairs was so steep that it was almost an impossibility during
the winter for women to reach the chapel. Many rolled down the stairs
before they reached the top. Near this building was a kitchen about 12
by 10 feet, and at about 50 yards a stable for the horse. Although a
few large trees had been cut around the house, not a foot of ground had been
cultivated. A rail fence had been put up about the house, but no gate
to it; and as this was my first experience in fence jumping, I fared badly,
for the first thing I knew I was flat on the ground on the opposite side.
My appearance at the chapel denoted a change of pastor, and the tears of the
housekeeper and her brother gave me to understand that I was not welcome.
The Rev. Father Benoit arrived next Sunday to pack
up before starting to Fort Wayne, and my tongue was loose again, for I had
occasion to speak French. He had compassion on me, and told me :
" I will get the Bishop to buy my horse for you, so that when you have
sick calls, he can, by giving him free bridle, take you back home."
This was done; but before I could go to Vincennes for his horse, I got lost
one evening as I was returning from a visit from Jackson's Settlement, and I
had to stay all night in the woods. It was in the middle of March, and
a cold rain commenced falling. It was as dark as Egypt, and my Canadian
pony refused to go any further. I tied the horse to a little bush, took
off the saddle and laid it at the foot of a tree, sat on it, and spread my
saddle bags over my shoulders to serve the purpose of an umbrella, and then I
said my prayers as devoutly as possible, for I expected the unwelcome visit
of some panther, which had lately been seen in that neighborhood.
During the night, the puffing of a steamboat on the Ohio revealed to me the
fact that I was five or six miles from the chapel, my new home. By
day-break, I heard geese saluting the return of day, got up, and started in
that direction. I soon arrived at the log cabin of Jack Alvey, woke up
the family by hard raps at the door, and inquired for the Catholic chapel.
The old gentleman pointed out the direction to take, and told me the distance
was six miles. It was then about 6 o'clock. I rode through the
woods, up and down the hills, unable to find any house until 9 o'clock, and I
was seriously thinking that I might have to pass another night in the woods,
when, to my great delight, I arrived at the log cabin of Thomas Alvey.
My first inquiry was for the chapel, and I learned that I was six miles from
it. I then inquired for Jack Alvey's place, and was informed that it
was not half a mile. "What!" says I, "have I been riding
three hours and a half since I left here this morning, and have I only made
half a mile?" But such was the fact. Thomas Alvey was a
Catholic, and a gentleman, gave me my breakfast, fed my horse, and sent his
boy to take me home.
I began then to realize that Bishop Bruté had told
me the truth when I offered to him my services near the chapel of Loretto, at
A few days afterwards, duty called me to Ferdinand,
seventeen miles from the chapel, and I had to cross Little Blue river.
I arrived there safely; but, returning home, I found that the backwater of
the Ohio had swollen the Little Blue river prodigiously. Go, I
must. So I made my Canadian pony plunge into the river. The first
thing I knew I was off my horse's back, and the pony was getting ashore,
while I tried to reach some logs and save my life. I succeeded, but I
was minus my cloak and my hat, and my horse was gone. I was as wet as a
rat, and cold, and took my journey on foot. Fortunately, about a mile
off was a farm, and there my horse had been caught and I got my dinner.
I felt all right once more, and tied a red handkerchief around my head,
instead of my lost hat, and although I caused some merriment to those I passed
by on my way home, I was thankful for my safe but narrow escape.
I spent about a month at the chapel, when I started
for Vincennes to get Father Benoit's horse, and I surprised everybody by the
progress I had made in the English language. I spoke it badly, as I do
now, but fluently. Whilst at Vincennes, I packed my baggage and sent it
to the chapel by the way of Evansville. After waiting three months for
it, I had to go to Evansville by water to get it. Here I wish to say,
that at that time, June, 1840, there was no church at Evansville, but Rev.
Father Deydier was superintending the making of brick to commence one.
Meanwhile mass was said in a garret. I then obtained four bottles of
wine from Bishop de la Hailandiére, enough to do me four months, for as we
had no one to attend mass we were allowed to say it only twice a week alone,
and some stipends for mass at twenty cents, and in good spirits returned to
Perry county. I dispensed, for want of means, with the housekeeper and
her brother, and boarded at the house nearest to the chapel, one mile and a
quarter, at the moderate rate of $1.50 per week; and that was enough for fat
bacon and half-baked corn bread. No coffee could be got. I
learned to do without it, and have not drank any since. I cleared some
ground, planted some corn, and found it very useful; for when Bishop de la
Hailandiére, accompanied by Father Shawe, came in the fall for confirmation,
they felt too tired to go to the boarding-house, and we put the kettle on the
fire and boiled ears of corn for our supper. Father Shawe did not eat
less than half a dozen. The Bishop never forgot that supper, and often
spoke about it.
This state of things could not last. It was
too hard for the priest to go so far for his meals, and too lonesome to be
always alone in the woods. As Father Kundeck had laid out the town of
Ferdinand in the woods of Dubois, and made the wilderness flourish, I thought
I might do the same in Perry. Bishop de la Hailandiére had bought one
hundred and sixty acres of congress land around the chapel, and I got him to
give me forty acres for a town. As a few Belgians had commenced
settling around the chapel, I called the town Leopold, for three reasons:
1st, after King Leopold, of Belgium; 2d, after the Leopoldine Association of
Germany; 3d, after my brother Leopold. I sold some lots, built a large
log church, a log schoolhouse, and soon I had a store, blacksmith shop and
postoffice, being myself appointed first postmaster of Leopold by James K.
Polk, through the recommendation of Robert Dale, then a member of Congress
from that district. This was already a great change for the better, for
since Safford postoffice had been discontinued I had to go to Fredonia, 17
miles distant, for my mail. I did not make money from the office; quite
the contrary; for I thought I would put on some style and ordered a carpenter
to make pigeon holes for the postoffice, and when I sent the bill of fourteen
dollars to Washington City, the answer was, "Your postoffice is too
small for such a luxury; pay the bill yourself." I had one
advantage, however, the franking privilege. Another benefit was that I
could board in town and save a distance of seven or eight miles that I had to
walk or ride every day to get my meals. Besides, I was the first man of
the town, and Caesar used to say, that he would rather be the first man in a
village than the second in Rome. Before that I was neither first nor
second, because I was alone.
Leopold was not the only church I had to
attend. I had also a little log church at Derby, at the mouth of Oil
creek, on the Ohio river, about six miles from Leopold. This little
church was built there by Father Durbin in 1824, and was, likely, the second
church built in the Diocese of Vincennes. In 1825, the year of the
Universal Jubilee, Fathers Abel and Durbin preached there the Jubilee with
wonderful success, and greatly astonished the natives. At the time of
the high waters, 1847, that church, about to go into the river, was sold out
and a new stone church built on the top of the hill. It commands a
beautiful view of the Ohio river for miles up and down, and there is not the
least danger of its being disturbed by the high water. This stone
church reflects great credit on the few families who helped to build it;
especially so on the family of Arnold Elder, the chief contributor. The
stone was got on the spot, and I doubt if ever a cheaper stone church was
built in Indiana. I often said the first mass at Leopold and the second
at St. Mary's, and vice versa. Although the distance was called only
six miles, the road was so bad that often in the winter it took me two hours
or two and a half to ride it. It is now a pleasant souvenir for me that
I never disappointed my people during thirteen years of pastorship.
I built another log church on Anderson Creek at
Cassidy's Settlement, and called it St. John Baptist's; and yet another on
Little Oil, and called it St. Francis'. About the same time, the 16th
of August, 1848, I said mass for the first time at the house of Judge
Huntington, two miles below Cannelton, where Tell City is now locate. I
had at that time only five Catholics to attend mass. They were the
Judge's wife, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke, both converts to the church, and Mr. and
Mrs. Lyons. There must be now between two and three thousand.
Cannelton began to grow, and I built there a stone church, visiting that
place once a month. Troy was also provided with a brick church, built
by Father Kundeck, and I had then six Catholic churches in Perry county.
The greater portion of my life was spent on
horseback, and one time during the absence of Father Kundeck, I said mass on
Sunday at Derby, Perry county; on Monday at Leavenworth, Floyd county; on
Tuesday at Corydon, Harrison county; on Wednesday at Newton Stewart, Orange
county; on Thursday at Jasper, Dubois county; on Friday at Taylorsville,
Warrick county; on Saturday at Rockport, Spencer county, and at home again at
Leopold, the following Sunday. This was pretty hard on the priest, and
worse still on the horse, for the roads were very bad. But this hard
work was not without its consolation, for the number of converts to our holy
religion was great, and for me there was no place like Leopold.
When Bishop de la Hailandiére resigned in 1847, and
Bishop Bazin succeeded him, I received a letter from the new Bishop to pack
up and report at Vincennes. I did not pack up, but went to Vincennes,
and Bishop Bazin told me: "The Very Rev. H. Dupontavice has
positively declined to be Superior of the seminary any longer, and being a
stranger here I did not know whom to appoint in his place, but upon the
advice of two of the oldest priests of the Diocese, the Reverend Fathers
Deydier and Kundeck, I have come to the conclusion to appoint
you." I commenced shedding tears, and told the good Bishop that I
could not possibly accept. He then told me I should be Vicar-General
and his confessor. I simply told him I was not the man for such a
position. "But," said he, "what shall I do; I will go on
my knees if you will consent." I told him I could not allow
that. But by accepting I would do an injustice to the people who had
bought lots in Leopold, believing I would stay there, and the town would grow
and become a county seat, and I was convinced the village would go down if I
were removed. "But what can I do?" he repeated. "I
will tell you, Bishop," said I; "send for Rev. Father M. de St.
Palais, pastor of Madison; he is the very man who will suit you."
"But whom shall I send to Madison?" "Send Rev. Father
Dupontavice, who has a very small parish at Washington." "But
whom can I send to Washington?" "Send Father Chassé, from
Highland." The programme was accepted, provided Father de St.
Palais would consent. I was kept at Vincennes, until upon a telegraphic
summons, Father de St. Palais arrived, and reluctantly agreed to accept the
position. I went home to my people as happy as a king, believing that I
had rendered a great service to the Diocese by suggesting that arrangement.
Although Rt. Rev. Bishop de la Hailandiére had
resigned of his own accord, when the time came to leave the diocese for which
he had worked so hard, and which he loved so much, his courage failed, and he
was very anxious to remain at Highland, and form there a house of missionary
priests, to give missions in the Diocese and elsewhere. But, Bishop
Bazin fearing some misunderstanding in the future, refused to accede to that
request, and Bishop de la Hailandiére's feelings were severely hurt by that
refusal. He was offered such a place in another Diocese, but did not
accept. Six months elapsed, and Bishop Bazin died, having already
endeared himself to his clergy and people. The Rt. Rev. Richard
Kenrick, then Bishop of St. Louis, performed the last rites, and, by the
choice of Bishop Bazin, the Very Rev. M. de St. Palais, his Vicar-General and
Superior of the seminary, became Administrator of the diocese. After
the funeral service a meeting of the clergy took place, and the
newly-appointed Administrator appeared, by almost the unanimous viva voce
vote of the priests, to be the desired successor to Bishop Bazin. The
writer of this article voted for the present Archbishop of New Orleans, Most
Rev. Napoleon Perché; but objection being made to bringing here another
Southerner, who would die in a few months, the vote of the clergy was made
unanimous for the Administrator to be appointed Bishop, and a committee was
appointed to confer with Bishop Kenrick on the subject. The committee
was very kindly received by his Lordship, who promised to do what he could to
second their choice; and Very Rev. M. de St. Palais was nominated fourth
Bishop of Vincennes, to the great satisfaction of the clergy.
I will now conclude these memoirs by saying that,
after remaining at Leopold until 1852, I took a trip to France and Italy, and
on my return was sent to Fort Wayne, where I was pastor of St. Augustine's
for about one year, succeeding, as I did, at the chapel in Perry county, the
Rev. J. Benoit, who had left for New Orleans, and by whom I was succeeded at
his return from the South. Although my stay at Fort Wayne was brief, I
made many friends, and left it with deep regret. I was then sent to
Jeffersonville and the Knobs, March, 1854, and remained there until November
the 25h, 1857, when I was appointed pastor of St. John's, Indianapolis.
All I desire written on my tomb is: "Aug. Bessonies, Pastor of St.
John's from 1857 till---."
Biography of Rev. August
Bessonies, V. G.
of the above "Reminiscences of a Pioneer Priest in the Diocese of
Photograph scanned, by Ann Mensch, from Charles Blanchard's,
A History of the Catholic Church in Indiana, Volumes 1 and 2.
Logansport, Indiana: A. W. Bowen & Co., 1898. (pp.
44-47). Biographical information gleaned primarily from Rev. August
Bessonies "Reminiscences of a Pioneer Priest in the Diocese of Vincennes",
Blanchard's history and The Diocese of Fort Wayne, 1857--September
22--1907, A Book of Historical Reference, 1669-1907, By the Rt.
Rev. H. J. Alerding. Fort Wayne: The Archer Printing Co. 1907.
RT. REV. AUGUST BESSONIES, V. G., of the diocese
of Vincennes, was born at Alzac, department du Lot, France, on June 17,
1815. His first studies were at the Petit seminary of Montfaucon;
thence he went to the seminary of Isse, near Paris, to study the classics and
natural philosophy. While there Bishop Bruté, first bishop of
Vincennes, paid a visit to Isse, and although August Bessonies had already
been received by the Lazarists for the foreign missions, by the advice of the
celebrated Father Pinault, his directory, he offered his services to Right
Rev. Bishop Bruté for his diocese of Vincennes. The saintly prelate was
pleased, and, stretching his arms around his neck, said: "I am
happy at the project of seeing a new altar raised in my dear Indiana.
But," said he, "I have no seminary at Vincennes; stay at St.
Sulpice for three years, until 1839, and then I will send for
you." So he did, and August Bessonies was at Havre, ready to
embark in a sailing vessel, when he received the sad news of the good
bishop's death. He arrived at Vincennes October 21, 1839. He was
then a deacon, too young to be ordained, but on the 22d day of February,
1840, Bishop de la Hailandiere, successor of Bishop Bruté, ordained him a
priest, and sent him to the forests of Perry county, although he had
expressed a desire to be sent among the Indians near the town of
Logansport. He spent twelve years in his first mission in Perry county,
founded the town of Leopold, of which he became postmaster under James K.
Polk, and built seven churches; two of stone--one at Cannelton and one at
Derby--the others of log.
When Bishop de la Hailandiére resigned, and Bishop
Bazin was appointed, he refused to be vicar-general. After six months,
Bishop Bazin died and M. de St. Palais succeeded him. He went to France
in 1852, and at his return he was sent to Fort Wayne, where he remained only
about a year, Father Benoit, former pastor, returning from New Orleans.
He was then sent to Jeffersonville and given charge of the church at the
Knobs, and a number of other missions. After four years spent there, he
was sent by Bishop de St. Palais to Indianapolis, where he arrived on the 5th
day of November, 1857. His first work was to build a house for the
Sisters of Providence, who came soon to open a school. There was then only
a small brick church in the city, used by the Irish at eight o'clock, by the
Germans at nine o'clock, and again by the Irish at ten o'clock. The
next thing was to build a pastor's residence; when that was completed a
school-house was erected for the boys, and after many efforts he obtained the
Brothers of the Sacred Heart to take charge of it. St. Mary's German
church had been built, and opened for services August 15, 1858. The new
St. John's was commenced in 1866, and opened in 1871. There was yet a
debt of $6,000 on the boys' school, and the right reverend bishop wanted a
church costing $200,000. He subscribed himself $10,000, but the pastor,
Rev. August Bessonies, objected, and said that he could not risk more than
$60,000. The bishop agreed, and the church was commenced, but plans
were changed, and the sum raised to $100,000. The pastor objected, and
Rev. J. Qu. Fitzpatrick was given charge of the building, but he collected
only about $6,000 and left to build St. Patrick's church, to replace St. Peter's
church, already built by August Bessonies, who had to take charge of the new
building of St. John's church, which cost over $100,000. Money had to
be borrowed, some at eight percent. When the Very Rev. D. O'Donaghue
took charge, there was a debt of $31,000, including interest, and it had been
reduced to about $7,000, when the Rev. Father Gavisk completed the church,
now one of the finest in the state.
In 1873, August Bessonies succeeded in procuring the
Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and also the Little Sisters of the Poor.
They commenced in poverty, and it required a great effort to keep them up,
especially the Sisters of the Poor Shepherd, but, thanks be to God, they are
now doing well, the Sisters of the Poor having 100 inmates and the Sisters of
the Good Shepherd over 500. In 1872 Very Rev. Father Corby,
vicar-general and chaplain of the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary's of the
Woods, died, and August Bessonies was appointed vicar-general by Right Rev.
Maurice de St. Palais. At the death of Bishop de St. Palais, June 28,
1877, August Bessonies was appointed administrator by Most Rev. J. B.
Purcell, archbishop of Cincinnati, and when the new bishop, F. S. Chatard, D.
D., was appointed bishop of Vincennes, in 1878, the administrator was
The new bishop asked the pope, Leo XIII, to appoint
August Bessonies as Roman prelate, and this was done on the 22d day of
January, 1884. In that quality he was invited to assist at the council
of Baltimore. Although advanced in age, he remained pastor of St. John
until Right Rev. F. S. Chatard, D. D., started the new parish of SS. Peter
and Paul's, and in 1892 took him with him to the new parish, in which he is
still working, all he can, at the age of eighty-three years and a few months.
At the time of his golden jubilee, in 1890, the people of Indianapolis,
Catholics and Protestants, offered him a purse of over $3,000, and Archbishop
Elder did him the honor to attend. He had crossed the ocean fifteen
times, and says that, if God spares him so long, he may cross it again in
1900, with many of his friends of Indianapolis, to visit the W\world's
exposition at Paris, and his numerous nephews, grandnephews and
great-grandnephews, to the number of over fifty.
+ The Right Rev. Mgr. August Bessonies, V. G. died at Indianapolis, on
February 22, 1901.