Life of Felix de Andreis. Chapter 03

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoFelix de AndreisLeave a Comment

Author: Joseph Rosati, C.M. · Year of first publication: 1900.

The Right Rev. William Dubourg, Bishop of New Orleans, asks for Father De Andreis, for the Missions of that Diocese. The latter obtains leave from the Superiors of his Congregation, receives the Apostolic Blessing from Pope Pius VII., and departs from Rome in December, 1815.

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FROM the time that Father De Andreis took the firm resolution of entering the Con­gregation of St. Vincent de Paul, he was in­stinctively urged by a desire of being one day able to devote himself to those missions undertaken by the children of the Saint in infidel lands. This ardent wish increased within him, in proportion as he advanced in years and in the exercises of his institute. Nor did he feel himself justified in repress­ing it as a temptation of vain temerity. It is true, that, at times, he feared it might be an illusion, and, being yet very young, he did not dare to manifest his idea by consulting any one about it. His principal care, during his first years in the Congregation, was, to consult God by continued prayer, earnestly imploring the gift of a supernatural inspira­tion, that he might not err in a matter of so much importance. Then, as lie perceived that the proper time had not yet come to unfold his desires, he quietly labored to draw profit from the different employments which, from time to time, were allotted to him, leaving his future fate in the adorable hands of Divine Providence.

Having been ordained priest, he could no longer conceal his ardent wish and ‘hope, of being speedily sent to some foreign missiop. He wrote on this subject to Father Brunet, who, at that period, discharged the func­tions of vicar-general of the Company, be­seeching him to allow him to join a baud of missionaries then setting out for China. The reply that Father De Andreis received could not have been more satisfactory ; it was expressed in the following terms : “Be in readiness for the mission which you so earnestly desire, for you are to be one of those who will leave us for China, and you should admire in this the wonderful designs of Divine Providence, which, to attain its ends, makes use of means quite unforeseen by the mind of Man.” ‘With regard to the latter part of the preceding sentence, we must mention, that the mission intended for the empire of China was, in reality, a won­derful work, as the greater part of the ex­pense attending it was defrayed by a society of Russian ladies, who were schismatics. Father De Andreis held himself in readiness for the projected journey, giving thanks to God, who had thus appointed him a means of laboring among idolators ; but, in spite of all, his hopes were frustrated. His im­mediate superiors did not approve of his departure from Italy, so he had to be re­signed and to mortify his fervor. This he did ; but, without being dishearted, be re­doubled his prayers and austerities, beseech­ing God to give him the grace to fulfil per­fectly his most holy designs at whatever time, and in whatever manner, it pleased him. And the Lord consoled him interiorly, by bestowing upon him a great increase of the spirit of his vocation, while he infused into his mind an unmistakable light, which showed him clearly that it was not to China, but to America, that he was destined to go; and that his labors there would be so great as to consume his life. He received this special inspiration in Rome, while he was employed as professor of theology, and, not only once, but several times, indeed almost continually, so that he felt perfectly sure that his destiny would be accomplished. He spoke of it one day to a much-loved disciple of his, Rev. Joseph Martini, a mis­sionary of whom mention has already been made ; this gentleman thus bears witness to the fact :

“In 1807, and the following years, until the 27th of May, ‘Sr°, when the suppres­sion of religious houses in Rome compelled me to part from Father De Andreis, I often heard him say, lie would die in America, where, several times, it had been thought of sending him ; and, on those occasions, he always experienced an interior presenti­ment that he would eventually go, and even end his days there ; and, as I asked him how he could be so sure that this inward presentiment would be realized, he replied, that he could explain it only by reference to the past. Whenever, said he, I have ex­perienced similar presentiments, they have always been verified.”

These ideas, that Father De Andreis modestly denominated presentiments, were, in fact, supernatural lights, proceeding from Heaven, and this assertion cannot be doubted, if we consult the narrative of Bishop Rosati, who relates the same facts, accompanied by many more minute details, or the manuscripts found after the death of the devout servant of God. The Bishop of St. Louis thus writes :

“At the very time that the Church was groaning under that terrible persecution that kept the Roman Pontiff a captive at SiivOna ; when cardinals, prelates, canons, curates, and the most illustrious ecclesias­tics, were expelled from Rome, and banished to different places of the Papal States ; when the power of the tyrant seemed to shine with its utmost splendor, his throne being more firmly settled, and his son decorated with the title of King of Rome ; when, conse­quently, no human foresight could predict at what period, or how, if ever, such evils would have an end, Father De Andreis, as calm as if the furious tempest had already vanished, and the universal Church enjoyed profound peace, said to me, one day, as we were taking a walk together : — In what studies are you now engaged? I replied, that I was preparing some sermons, besides which I always devoted some portion of the day to the study of the Hebrew language. Let Hebrew alone, he immediately answered; such studies as that, are well suited to those who are destined to spend, the greater part of, their life in their cabinet, preparing learned books to explain and illustrate re­ligion; but we, missionaries, should choose other pursuits. You had better learn Eng­lish. What! English? I replied, English? — and of what use will that language ever be to me? Yes, said he, English; you ought to learn English, for that tongue will, one day, be needful to both you and me, to preach the word of God to a certain people who speak it!

“Such was my deference for his words, and the respect I bore this holy man, who had been my professor in dogmatic theology, my guide in all my studies, and my master in the composition of sermons, that I did not dare to contradict him. I, therefore, consented to learn English, and, on our re­turn home, he gave me an English and Italian grammar, telling me that he would examine me, during our walks, on my pro­gress in English, and would make me read for him. He had already learned it him­self, having been taught by an excellent Irish priest, a student of the Propaganda, who was one of his disciples in theology. Father De Andreis had also translated a little book of meditations, entitled: Think Well On It, and had bought several Eng­lish books for his own use. So I took my grammar, and, when I was alone in my room, I began to study it. I read the first chapter, striving to fix the rules of pronun­ciation in my mind, but, became so weary of their multiplicity, manifold exceptions, and the difficulty I met with in articulating the sounds of the language, that, after three or four days, I took back the grammar, saying : I shall never, never, be able to learn it; I give it up; so take back the book, and never mention the word English to me again. Very well; let it be as you please, he re­plied ; yet, you win see, one day, that you and I shall both be obliged to preach in English. He insisted no more, and took back the grammar.

“I could not understand his constant assertion, nor how we should both be sent on a mission to any country where nothing but English was spoken, Napoleon having, most rigorously, prohibited, both in Italy and France, any communication with Eng­land. But, what was then hidden from my eyes, was revealed to him by the super­natural knowledge that God gave him of his future destiny; and too truly did I ex­perience the truth of his words, since neces­sity afterwards compelled me to learn Eng­lish, in order to publish the word of God iu that language.”

That God had given Father De Andreis this knowledge of his future fate, some years before it was accomplished, may be seen by one of his manuscripts, written on the model of the Confessions of St. Augus­tine, and found after his death. Addressing himself to God, he this expresses his senti­ments of love and gratitude : “How, 0 my God ! can I ever worthily thank thee for the benefits and graces which thou hast bestowed upon me ! Thou didst call me to the Congregation, choose me for the Amer­ican mission, and make known to me, many years before, when I was yet in Rome, that such was to be my destiny; it was thou who didst reveal to me that Father Rosati would accompany me, and that a knowledge of the English language would be necessary for us both, and hence I gave him a gram­mar of that tongue.

We must now consider the way in which the designs of God with regard to Father De Andreis were admirably accomplished. He was in Rome in 1815, laboring without intermission, as we saw in the foregoing chapter, to bring souls to God, when it hap­pened that Bishop Dubourg, who, for several years, had been Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of New Orleans, came to the holy city, with the intention of obtaining, both from France and Italy, as many evan­gelical laborers as he could possibly find, to assist him in the cultivation of the vast field confided to his care. So urgent was the want of priests in his diocese, that, feeling he could not comply with his most essential obligations, without additional help, he had determined to resign his office, if he could not obtain the necessary co-operators. In this strain he spoke to Cardinal Litta, then prefect of the congregation of Propaganda Ride, to whom he first applied. His Emi­nence gave him some hopes of success, and meanwhile directed him to Monte Citorio, requesting, at the same time, the vicar-general of the Congregation of the Mission, Father Sicardi, to provide him with suitable lodging.

One evening, while Bishop Dubourg was residing at the house of the Mission, he ob­served a large assembly of persons, of all conditions, congregated in a spacious ball near the entrance of the building, where a young priest was addressing them in sono­rous tones. He paused, listened more attentively, and then, turning to a young student of the Propaganda, who was deputed to accompany him, asked, who was the priest whom he heard preaching so well. “He is a missionary of the Congregation,” was the reply; “a man remarkable for his learning and zeal ; one of the best preachers that can be found in Rome at the present day.” “0, how glad should I be,” rejoined the prelate, “if I could have some of these priests for my diocese !” “Father De An­dreis,” said the student, “desires nothing more ardently than to be employed in the foreign missions ; and, if his departure de­pended solely on himself, he would be ready this very moment ; but his superiors will take good care not to lose so excellent a subject.” “Well,” concluded the Bishop, “request him, in my name, to come to me in my room.”

The servant of God went as was desired, and Bishop Dubourg, after giving him a most cordial reception, began to speak of the motives of his journey to Rome, the de­plorable state of his diocese, deprived, as it was, of religious pastors, and the immense good that could be done, in this neglected land, by a company of missionaries, who would not only devote themselves to the duties of their sacred calling, but who might also undertake the ‘erection of a seminary. Most assuredly, Father De An­dreis did not need all that the bishop, with zealous warmth, said to him respecting the mission of New Orleans. He felt the most lively emotion at the mere mention of an undertaking which he had so long desired and prayed for. But concealing all these desires within his own heart, he replied, that he should consider himself most fortu­nate in being chosen for such an enterprise, but, being member of a congregation, to the superiors of which he had made a vow of obedience, he could not decide for him­self ; hence it was to them, and not to him, that proposals should be made.

Thus ended this first interview, after which the bishop went to lay the affair be­fore Father Sicardi, at that time vicar-general of the Congregation of the Mission. He entreated the latter to give him Father De Andreis and two or three o the Priests of the Mission, besides a few brothers, to found a house of the Congregation and a seminary in Louisiana. Bishop Dubourg backed his request by many cogent arguments, which may all be reduced to the following, namely: that, in America, there was the utmost need of good priests, while in Europe they were numerous ; that they might rely on producing the greatest good, besides which it would be a most excellent and glorious un­dertaking, entirely conformable to the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul to establish a colony of missionaries in that distant country. Father Sicardi listened with respect to all these reasons, and then replied, that great, indeed, was his regret at not being able to comply with the bishop’s request, especially in so holy a cause, it being quite impossible to dispense with the services of Father De Andreis, at a period when the Congregation, after many years of suppression, stood in need of subjects ; besides which, he added, that the duties incumbent on the house of Monte Citorio were of such a nature, that it would be impossible to fulfil them in the absence of one who was constantly employed there­in, and for whom no one could be substi­tuted. The bishop, therefore, might apply to some other community to obtain laborers for his diocese, but must completely relin­quish the thought of getting any from his Congregation.

However, things turned out quite other­wise ; for the bishop, instead of losing cour­age, on receiving so firm a refusal, only de­sired the more to have Father De Andreis, with whose eminent qualities, frequent in­tercourse made him more fully acquainted. Hence, seeing that he could gain nothing from the good old superior, he resolved to address himself directly to the Pope, and to make him a formal petition on the subject. This he did, showing forth, by energetic, but too truthful words, how much his ex­tensive diocese stood in need of mission­aries, and particularly of Father De An­dreis. He concluded in these words: Holy Father, without the help of some priests, I feel that I shall no longer have strength to bear the formidable burden of a diocese so vast that it is almost unlimited; I shall, therefore, be obliged to resign it. The Pope consoled him with the assurance, that his request should be granted, aud, shortly after, intimated to Father Sicardi, that he wished him to accede to the demand of Bishop Dubourg, by giving him Father De Andreis, and some others of his Congrega­tion.

Deeply afflicted was the heart of the vicar-general when lie received this order, and the blow seemed the more painful as he knew neither how to avoid it, nor how, without this young priest, to keep up the establishment of Monte Citorio. Having seriously reflected, he raised his eyes to Heaven, and conceived some hope that the sovereign pontiff might change his mind, were he informed of the wants of the Con­gregation, and especially of the particular need it had of Father De Andreis. Ani­mated with this hope, he went to the Qui­rinal, and, almost in tears, threw himself at the feet of the Holy Father, laid before him a full account of the state of things, and then added : “Holy Father, if I venture, here, at your feet, to make these remarks, it is not with the intention of resisting your will ; on the contrary, through obedience, I am ready to part with Father De Andreis, and any others of my subjects, for the American mission ; but, if you thus ordain it, you will place me in the utter impos­sibility of complying with your other com­mands, and those of the Cardinal Vicar, namely, that, from time to time, retreats be given to the clergy of Rome ; now, with­out Father De Andreis, I have certainly no subject capable of fulfilling that duty.”

The Pope was struck by these arguments, which were indeed most true and judicious; he had heard, from many sources, of the great talents of Father De Andreis, and of the immense benefit which the clergy of Rome and its vicinity, as well as foreigners from different countries, derived from his con­ferences and meditations. Looking, there­fore, at the matter from this point of view, it seemed to him better to prefer the actual and positive welfare of the Church at Rome, to the future and precarious advantage of that in America. He, therefore, sent word to Bishop Dubourg, that he could not let him have Father De Andreis.

The contest did not end here ; even after this declaration, which was apparently con­clusive, both parties continued to fluctuate between hope and fear ; and, in their un­certainty, both had recourse to God. No less anxious was the soul of the servant of God, who, with a tender and filial love, cherished the house of Monte Citorio, and, still more, the vicar-general. In his dis­tress, he found no comfort but in prayer and the total abandonment of himself to the divine will, leaving others to decide, as they thought proper, on his fate. It is true that his heart inclined more to leave Rome and Italy for a foreign mission, and he felt a certain confidence that such would be the conclusion of the affair ; nevertheless, he divested himself of all self-will, in order to follow whatever path God would most clearly point out. He had another thing equally at heart, and this was to lower him­self as much as possible in his own eyes ; to sink into his own nothingness, while every one else was manifesting so much esteem for his person. Where is the man, who, placed in similar circumstances, would not have felt some rising emotion of vain complacency? To behold the anxiety of one party to take him away, and that of the other to keep him in Rome, while even the sovereign pontiff, inclined first to one, then to the other, as they disputed for him in the very presence of the head of the Church ; to see all this and yet entertain no good opinion of himself, was truly extraordinary humility, and such precisely was that of Father De Andreis.

Bishop Dubourg had not yet made up his mind to receive the episcopal consecration ; he endeavored to defer it until he could be certain of obtaining a sufficient number of priests for the diocese. But, at length, yielding to the persuasions of the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda, he consented. The consecration took place in the church of “St. Louis of the French,” and was per­formed by Cardinal Joseph Doria, on the 24th of September, 1815. Father De An­dreis was one of the witnesses, and, scarcely had the solemn imposition of hands taken place, than the new bishop felt increased hope of gaining that, which, until then, he had not been able, decisively, to obtain. He spoke of it anew, most urgently, to the Holy Father, and, not satisfied with that, being aware of the esteem entertained by Pope Pius VII. for Cardinal Gonsalvi, his Secretary of State, he addressed himself to the latter, and laid before his Eminence all the motives of his request, in such a man­ner, that the Cardinal was perfectly con­vinced of their justice. He mentioned the matter to the Pope, and the American Mis­sion was finally determined upon, the Holy Father deputing Cardinal Gonsalvi to settle the whole affair with Father Sicardi, vicar-general of the Congregation.

The venerable old man yielded, with respect, to the orders of the Pope, in which he beheld a clear manifestation of the will of God. He had an interview with Cardinal Gonsalvi on the 27th of September, in which, by mutual agreement, they planned the manner in which the mission should be regulated, the number of subjects that vould be requisite, and they particularly had in view the erection of a seminary. Father De Andreis was filled with holy joy, not unmingled, however, with that salutary fear, which all Apostolic men feel, of not fulfilling worthily the duties of their sacred ministry. He remembered Father Rosati, his former disciple, to whom he had pre­dicted, several years before, that he would accompany him on a mission to the English. Father Rosati was then about forty miles from Rome. Father De Andreis wrote to ask him if he had any wish to join the projected mission, but did not, in the least, urge him to do. so. He received an answer in the affirmative, and several other priests spontaneously offered their services, as did also a student of the Propaganda.

A memorable day was that of the 14th of October, on which Bishop Dubourg, stir-rounded by his little colony of missionaries,- ­composed of the Reverend Messrs. Felix De Andreis, John-Baptist Acquaroni, and Joseph Rosati ; Mr. Joseph Pereira, postu­lant priest, Mr. Leo Deys, a student of the Propaganda, and Anthony Boboni, a postu­lant lay-brother,)went to pay their respects to the Pope, and ask his Apostolic blessing. The Holy Father received them most cordi­ally, and conversed with them for nearly an hour ; exhorting them to put entire trust in the Lord, who had called them to his holy ministry; animating them to bear cheerfully the many labors and trials which are in­separable from the Apostolic mission, and, on the part of God, predicting innumerable blessings, both for themselves and those to whom they were going to preach the divine word.

Father De Andreis, in the name of all, had drawn up a petition, in which he begged the Pope to allow them to celebrate the office of St. Vincent de Paul, with double minor rites, on the 27th of Septem­ber, on which day the affair of the American mission was concluded ; he also asked for a plenary- indulgence, to be gained in all the churches of the Congregation, on the 3rd of December, feast of St. Francis Xavier; and for any students of the Alberonian college1) who might wish to join them, a dispensa­tion from the promise which they make to remain in their own diocese. He likewise begged, for all, the faculty of confessing, during the journey, to any approved con­fessor; to make the stations with the crucifix, and erect the Via Crucis, in all places where convents of the Franciscan order did not exist. Finally, he requested the Pope, by word of mouth, to allow them to say mass in the ship which was to take them to their place of destination. Pius VII., having graciously granted all these petitions affec­tionately took leave of them.

They then went to bid farewell to Cardi­nal Litta, who also received them most kindly ; and, having long experience in such matters, as Prefect of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, he told them that he felt quite sure of the ultimate success of their mission. With regard to the seminary that was to be erected, the cardinal said that the revenues of the see of New Orleans would, when collected, abun­dantly suffice for its endowment.

At last, the day for the departure of the first band of missionaries was appointed, and they accordingly embarked for Marseil­les the night of the 21st of October, at Ripa Grande, intending to join the others at Bor­deaux, where all were to await the arrival of Bishop Dubourg. Father De Andreis had drawn up some regulations to be ob­served on the journey ; these he gave them at the moment of their departure. He him­self remained in Rome to make, under the direction of the vicar-general, the necessary arrangements concerning the mission.

He made, meanwhile, a choice collection of theological and controversial works, catechisms and sacred liturgies an ample provision of vestments and pious pictures. Several benefactors presented him with sacred vessels, chalices and pyxes ; a con­siderable sum of money was offered him by many worthy prelates ; and, in particular, one hundred ducats by the archbishop of Naples. At length, with many tears, yet with the greatest firmness, he parted from his numerous friends, his brethren of Monte Citorio, and the vicar-general, Father Sicardi, on the 15th of December, 1815. He took with him, from Rome, a priest of that city and two young men who aspired to the ecclesiastical career ; one of the latter, Mr. Dahmen, afterwards entered the Congregation. The route taken by Father De Andreis was that of Bologna. Passing through Placentia, he traversed Piedmont, and, having entered France, directed his steps towards Bordeaux.

As he went out of the Flaminian gate, his heart palpitated with holy joy, and the most lively gratitude to God for the Apos­tolic ministry, to which he was destined, in a foreign land ; for the sufferings he would meet with while laboring to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ ; and for his escape from the episcopal dignity, for which he knew he had been marked out in Rome. While he encouraged those who accom­panied him, he preserved the utmost recol­lection, constantly expressing, interiorly, to his God, the deep feelings with which he was penetrated.

  1. The ecclesiastical college in Placentia founded by Cardinal Alberoni

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