Life of Felix de Andreis. Chapter 07

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoFelix de AndreisLeave a Comment

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

St. Mary's Seminary of The Barrens. — First House of the Congregation of the Mission in the United States. —Father Rosati its first Superior.—Opening of the Novitiate in St. Louis. — Father De Andreis as Master of Novices.


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IN the early days of the nineteenth cen­tury a colony of Catholics settled at Perry­ville in Perry County, Mo., about eighty miles south of St. Louis. Nearly all the land in this county was covered with tim­ber, but a few spots of prairie were found, here and there, in the woods. These spots, barren of trees, but rich in productive soil, received among the pioneer settlers the name of “barrens.” The term was soon employed to designate the entire neighbor­hood, which became known throughout the surrounding country as “The Barrens.” Here was located St. Mary’s Seminary, the oldest institution of higher education west of the Mississippi River. Por half a cen­tury St. Mary’s shone like a beacon-light of learning in the West, and gave celebrity, which would never else have been accorded, to the name of “The Barrens.”

The early settlers of The Barrens were Anglo-Americans and came originally from Maryland. During the persecutions against Catholics, which were raised in that state, they sought refuge in this part of Missouri. At St. Genevieve, eighteen miles distant, there was a resident priest who attended, for a while, to their spiritual wants. But, at the time of which we write, a Trappist Monk, Father Joseph Dunaud, who lived at Florissant, a hundred miles above, vis­ited The Barrens whenever he could.

The people had built a small log church, with a sacristy adjoining. Here the holy mysteries were celebrated whenever their pastor or any other priest came among them. These good people were devotedly attached to their faith, and they lived to­gether in the most perfect harmony and the most exact observance of the law of God and the precepts of the Church. Their most ardent desire was to have a pastor re­siding among them, to instruct and direct them in the ways of eternal life. When they heard that Bishop Dubourg, accom­panied by several priests, had arrived in St. Louis, where he was going to fix his residence, they began to hope for the speedy fulfillment of their wishes.

The principal inhabitants held a meeting and determined to make an extraordinary effort to secure the presence among them of one or more of the newly arrived priests. They succeeded beyond their hightest an­ticipations. They bought, and partly paid for, a tract of land which they determined to offer to the bishop, as an inducement for him to send them a resident pastor. A delegation was sent to St. Louis to wait on Bishop Dubourg and to make known to him the desires of the settlers, and the steps they had taken ; and that they were disposed to make still further sacrifices as soon as circumstances and the poverty of the neighborhood would allow them to do so.

The Prelate was moved very deeply on receiving these offers ; he admired the gen­erosity of their hearts, their simplicity, and the ardor of the faith which animated them. Not only did he receive these good men with the utmost cordiality, expressing his willingness to accede to their pious de­sires, but he further promised that he would himself go to visit them, the better to settle, on the spot, everything requisite for the execution of their design. He went there eventually, and found that they were an industrious upright people. They greeted him as their true father and pastor ; he examined the quality of the ground which was offered him, and found it of easy cul­tivation ; the climate also was healthy, and, having well considered the matter, he no longer doubted that Divine Providence had sent him this excellent location, as much for the spiritual advantage of the colony, as for the erection of a house of the Con­gregation of the Mission. Father De An­dreis, to whom on his return to St. Louis the bishop gave a full account of the state of the place, immediately gave his entire approval to the plan ; he desired nothing more ardently than to behold a house of the Congregation established in these distant regions, and now, to his astonishment, much sooner than any one could have an­ticipated, he beheld the arrival of the happy time when the children of St. Vin­cent were to be permanently established amidst the woods and wilds of the New World. He rejoiced in God, but sank lower still into the depths of his humility. seeing that the Almighty had blessed his desires and his manifold sufferings. With delight he would have gone to clear away the land with his own hands, instruct the poor and honest people, plan the proposed building, and arrange all the most arduous work that had to be done in the place, but the bishop would never let him leave his post ; so he had to make up his mind to remain at St. Louis, whence he had despatched suitable aid for the work.

His first and principal care was to recall from Bardstown Father Rosati and his other Missionaries whom he immediately sent to The Barrens, for the double purpose of tak­ing spiritual charge of the colonists, and of superintending and aiding by their personal labor, the building of the new house. They went there as directed, and Father Rosati rendered from the beginning to the end so much assistance to the work, that he deserved to be chosen its first head, director, and superior. Bishop Dubourg, on his part, sent there several other priests, one of whom, Father de Lacroix, was skilled in architecture, and drew the plan of the church and house. The work was begun without delay and prosecuted with vigor, notwithstanding the difficulties of the un­dertaking, the scarcity of means, and the limited number of laborers. This happy beginning was made with religious solem­nity in the spring of 1818. The inhabitants of The Barrens were enthusiastic, and most generous with their time and labor. Some cut down trees and cleared away the brush­wood, others leveled the ground and dug the foundations, while otherS again em­ployed themselves in sawing the timber or planing the boards. A great many brought materials, lumber, lime, etc. Even the women were no less indefatigable than the men, considering every burden light that was to help to build the house of God or that of his servants. Among these fervent souls, Mrs. Hayden deserves particular mention. She was the most wealthy of the inhabitants and a generous-hearted woman, who gave her own house as a lodging for the Missionaries and for the worship of God. The desires of all were
soon fulfilled, for, in 182o part of the house was habitable, and divine service could be performed in the church. The latter was blessed by Father Rosati, (in virtue of the honorable charge conferred on him by the bishop, ) assisted by Fathers Bogna, Ac­quaroni and Dahmen. Meanwhile Father De Andreis rejoiced, at St. Louis, over the success of their labors, and by his continual prayers implored the blessing of Heaven upon their undertaking. God had ap­pointed him a special work, that of forming the spiritual edifice, while others at The Barrens were erecting the material one. To give a correct idea of his labors, we must mention that many of the priests whom Bishop Dubourg had brought with him from Europe wished, very soon after their arrival, to enter the Congregation of St. Vincent. They obtained the consent of the bishop, and then earnestly entreated the servant of Cod to receive them. Their vocation was, most assuredly, inspired by Heaven, since Father De Andreis and Father Rosati, both equally faithful to the injuntions of their holy Founder, had never attempted to induce any subject to join their community, no matter what good they might hope to do among the people by his instrumentality. They were very much opposed to those crafty suggestions which, in some measure, prevent or hinder the inspirations of God, and which proceed more from self-love than from any senti­ment of humility. Therefore, no matter how much affection for their own institute might prompt them to act otherwise, the Missionaries never moved one step, either to gain proselytes or foundations. They did not refuse, however, to receive them when Divine Providence disposed things in their favor. In accordance with these wise maxims, ecclesiastics who desired to enter the family of St. Vincent, were admitted only after mature trial of their vocation. Bishop Dubourg gave up part of his house for a seminary, and the novitiate being opened, Father De Andreis proceeded to train, instruct, and edify them as well as would have been done in the most regular house of the Mission in Europe.

The name and country of these candi­dates, their wonderful progress in virtue, as well as the erection of the seminary at The Barrens are amply described in a letter written by Father De Andreis to his superior, the Vicar-General, i11 Rome, the Very Rev. Charles Sicardi, ,C. M. This letter is dated December 7th, 1818; we will here insert a portion of it :

“At length Father Rosati, with all our seminary, has removed from Bardstown in Kentucky, to a place about eighty miles hence, called The Barrens. There our house is in process of erection. Sufficient land has been secured for the support of the house, besides the tribute that these good people voluntarily impose upon them­selves. They are the best Catholics in the diocese, all Anglo-Americans, and honest industrious people. I have not enjoyed the consolation of seeing Father Rosati for more than a year, nor have I any prospect of being soon able to do so ; for the ties that bind us both to our respective duties are so close, that they will not allow us to absent ourselves under any pretext. I have just celebrated funeral rites, with great so­lemnity, over the remains of one of our companions who came from Europe with us, a virtuous and able priest, about twenty-eight years of age; he was a canon of Porto Maurizio, and his name was Joseph Carretti. I attended him in his long illness, which was consumption, and he frequently men­tioned to me his desire of joining our Mis­sionaries. He died on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, our great protector, at the very moment that I left his bedside to re­ceive into the novitiate his worthy com­panion, a priest named Andrew Ferrari, who was likewise from Porto Maurizio1. At the same time two others were received, Rev. Francis Xavier Dahmen, a deacon, and Rev. Joseph Tichitoli, a sub-deacon. Fathers Ferrari and Tichitoli were about z6 years of age; Father Dahmen was twenty nine. They were all excellent subjects, had postulated for more than a year, and after the customary spiritual retreat were admitted into our novitiate and seminary, on the same memorable day, December 3rd. On the eve of the Epiphany, in the following year, we were joined by Rev. F. Cellini, a priest yet in the novitiate, and two students, Mr. F. Borgna and another. All came from Italy.

“According to the custom of the Ameri­can missionaries, who give scripture names to all holy places, we have named our novitiate or seminary “Gethsemane,” which in Hebrew signifies oil press; for we hope that neither the press of tribula­tion, nor the oil of grace will ever be want­ing to us ; rand as Gethsemane was for our Lord the prelude of his passion, thus we, etc……….

“This novitiate consists of a room about fifteen feet long by twelve wide ; it stands alone and is built of brick. Within it is a smaller apartment, two cupboards, a small altar, a pretty good little library, three beds, separated one from the other by blue curtains, similar to those used for the no­vices in Rome. Each novice has a little table, chair, crucifix, Rodriguez, Bible, Roman Catechism, and Kempis, besides a Compendium of the rules of the seminary, which I have translated into French, and which contains all that is most essential.

“There are many other excellent subjects from various countries who desire admis­sion among us, but our lodging is incon­venient even for three, and for the present I see no possibility of having any other. Poverty is its only ornament, and fervor reigns therein to such an extent that it both confounds and delights me.

“We observe, even to the least point, all the regulations that are customary in Rome and elsewhere ; such as rising at four o’clock, meditation, reading, visits, chapter, colloquial conferences, asking for penan­ces, communications, strict silence, genu­flexions on coming in and going out, office in common, bodily exercise, etc. Every­thing, including the reading at table, is according to the same form as in Italy. I have less need of the bridle than the spur ; and like a blind guard, I tell every one to be vigilant, fearing that the tree by being transplanted, may lose something of its vigor ; for in this soil we must count doubly on the excellence of the plant. However, St. Vincent is already beginning to make himself known and much good is done.”

Such were the holy ideas in which Father De Andreis trained his novices, and their excellence was seen by the success which attended his efforts. They became truly apostolic men, who, following the maxims and example of their director, were enabled to form other worthy missionaries, and found houses with the same good order, thus propagating everywhere the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.

  1. The compiler of this life remembers Fathers Carretti and Ferrari, when in 1815, prompted by the ardor of faith they left Porto Maurizio to accompany Bishop Dubourg to America. They both belonged to very respectable families, and deservedly enjoyed, in their native place, the highest reputation. Their relations opposed their departure with tears, while their friends suggested to the former that his weak constitution would not be able to undergo the fatigue of the journey, and to the latter that he could do much more good in his own country. But no arguments, however powerful, could change their determination. Father Ferrari, having be­come a Missionary of St. Vincent, was truly an apostolic man; he ended his life, a victim of charity, in assisting those who were attacked by the yellow fever.

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