Life of Felix de Andreis. Chapter 08

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

Death of Father De Andreis.—Funeral honors.—Trans­lation of his remains to The Barrens. — Testimony rendered to his merit and virtues.

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IN his letters to Rome, addressed to the Vicar General of the Congregation of the Mission, Father De Andreis frequently ex­pressed his desire of being set free from the bonds of earth, in order to rise and be united with his God, the centre of all truth, charity and eternal happiness. He spoke thus, especially in his last letter written from St. Louis to Rome, and dated Sep­tember 4th, 182o. In it he declares that he ardently longs for the day which would con­summate the total sacrifice of his life. That day came soon enough — less than forty days after the date of his letter.

The health of Father De Andreis had al­ways been weak and delicate. It was on that account that he had been sent from Placentia to Rome in 1806 ; but as he labored indefatigably, his sojourn in that city, far from ameliorating, only served to impair his condition. He concealed his infirmities, because he thirsted to suffer and labor in the vineyard of the Lord. When his departure for America was projected, his superiors evinced no little opposition to the measure, being convinced that an un­dertaking of the kind required stronger health than his. The hardships which he endured in his journey, and those no less considerable which he had to undergo during his sojourn in Upper Louisiana, joined to his continual and fatiguing labor, eventually shortened his life. He was well aware of this, but far from being grieved at the thought, one would almost have said that he awaited his last hour with im­patience. With the most perfect confidence in God he witnessed its approach. His last illness though brief, was extremely painful, but he bore it with heroic patience. He received the holy viaticum with the utmost fervor, and Bishop Dubourg, inconsolable for such a loss, shortly after gave him ex­treme unction. The few priests who stood weeping around his bed were no less afflicted, and they ceased not to offer to God fervent prayers for his last journey.

Rev. Leo R. De Neckere, C. M., then a young priest, but afterwards bishop of New Orleans, was one of those who watched near the servant of God during the closing days of his life, and knelt beside him when lie was dying. Shortly before this sad event, Father De Neckere wrote to Father Rosati as follows : “After having embraced you, in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, I must announce, with the deepest sorrow, that our dear superior seems very near his end. He is not able himself to write, and hence he has commissioned me to write for him. The bishop is, I believe, writing also and he will give you details much better than I can. Since Sunday last Father De Andreis seems greatly im­pressed with the thought of death, and he asked for the last Sacraments, though the physician and others did not think there was much danger. His sufferings and weakness have continually increased during the week, and hence the bishop yesterday administered the holy viaticum to him. Yesterday our dear patient manifested a great desire to see you. I never witnessed anything more edifying and devout than his transports of joy and overflowings of heart, when the thought of death filled him with the hope of an early union with his Creator.”

Years after his death the older inhabitants of St. Louis used to tell how Father De An­dreis, when he felt that he was dying, begged those around him to lift his emaci­ated body from the bed and place him on the bare floor of his poor abode, that as Christ died, naked ou the cross, so he might die on the naked floor, to resemble as nearly as possible in death that divine Master who had been his model during all the actions of his life.

A little before his death Bishop Dubourg proposed to him to bless all his fellow-mis­sionaries, which he did, with the same af­fection he had always evinced towards them. His last act was to appoint Father Rosati (who had always been his dearest disciple and most effectual support, ) his successor as superior of the American mis­sion ; then he expired with the calm joy of the saints, on the feast of St. Theresa, October 15th, 182o. No sooner was the sad event known to the inhabitants of St. Louis than all, even Protestants, gave marks of the deepest sorrow, considering his loss as a public calamity. Sobs and tears, far more than words, expressed the general affliction, so universally was he be­loved. During his brief illness they not only came to enquire after him, but the principal citizens of the place waited upon him, day and night, with the most devoted affection ; nor could they speak of anything else but his virtues, particularly his meek­ness and charity. Clothed in his sacerdotal robes, he was laid out in a room of the seminary, and thence carried to the church, where the funeral rites were performed with great solemnity.

There happened, at this time, certain wonderful — we might almost say miracu­lous facts,—” Which,” writes Father Rosati, afterwards Bishop of St. Louis,” we can re­late with the utmost assurance, since their occurrence was certain and undeniable.”

A very pious widow, who had long be­fore embraced the Catholic faith in the dio­cese of Boston, and who at the death of Father De Andreis was living at St. Louis as Bishop Dubourg’s housekeeper, had often felt interiorly urged during the last illness of the servant of God, to go and beg his blessing that she might be cured of a disease from which she had been suffering seven years, without being able to obtain from physicians any effectual relief. But knowing how much he disliked to receive women into his house, the pious widow could not summon sufficient courage to enter his room and recommend herself to his prayers, fearing that she might there­by cause him some displeasure. However, after his death she entered, and approaching with lively faith the feet of the vener­ated deceased, whose remains were laid out in the house, she began to offer fervent prayers to God for her cure. While so do­ing she touched the feet of the corpse, and immediately experiended an entire cessation of all her pains ; her strength was renewed, and she returned home completely cured and joyful beyond measure. She spoke of this cure to all, and as her previous suffer­ings were well known, while every one witnessed her entire recovery, no doubt was entertained of the truth of the event.

“Bishop Dubourg mentioned it to me,” adds Bishop Rosati, “at the very time it took place, as an indubitable fact, and six or seven months after when I happened to be at St. Louis, I saw the person in question, a Mrs. Hearn, and begged her to relate to me all that I had heard respecting her wonderful cure. She promptly con­sented to my request, and gave me a pre­cise account of the event, with all its cir­cumstances.”

“No less remarkable,” continues the bishop, “was another occurrence, witnessed by nearly all the inhabitants of St. Louis, and which was regarded a3 a public and striking testimony given by Heaven, of the sanctity of Father De A ndreis. On the morning of the 16th of October, precisely at nine o’clock, when the body of the ser­vant of God clothed in his sacerdotal vest­ments, was laid out in the hall for the con­solation of those who wished to see him, while the day was serene and the sun shin­ing with his usual splendor, a beautiful large star suddenly appeared in the sky, exactly over the spot where the body lay exposed. Its brilliancy was visible to every one for the space of three hours, and it dis­appeared only at the moment when the body, having been taken to the church, the funeral ceremonies around the coffin were concluded.

“All admired this prodigy, its position was considered as an evident miracle, and as it was the general opinion that Father De Andreis was a saint, every one openly declared that this beautiful star was the soul of the servant of God, already resplen­dent with celestial glory. The Rev. Father Saulnier, now assistant priest of the cathe­dral of St. Louis, and who was then a resi­dent of the place ; Mr. Bovet, a native of Canada, of exemplary piety and singular probity ; Mr. de Hodiamont — all worthy citizens and excellent Catholics—can be referred to as witnesses of the wonderful fact we have related.”

There is another event equally well authenticated, namely a miraculous cure performed by Father De Andreis during his residence in Kentucky. The man whose health was restored by means of the pray­ers of the servant of God, afterwards resided at The Barrens, a few miles from St. Mary’s Seminary, and Archbishop Odin of New Orleans heard the fact from his own lips.

Bishop Dubourg, a man of enlightened wisdom and who was highly capable of dis­cerning true and solid virtue, held the ser­vant of God in the highest esteem and would not allow his remains to be placed in the common cemetery. Remembering how much Father De Andreis had loved the Missionaries, his companions, and how much also he was beloved by them in re­turn, the bishop granted them the privilege of possessing his body. Accordingly, after having celebrated with his entire clergy the solemn obsequies in the cathedral church in St. Louis, he ordered that the venerated remains should be conveyed with suitable pomp to the seminary of The Barrens, where Father Rosati was superior.

The bishop wrote to Father Rosati as follows, on October 16, 182o : “God has deprived us of your father, and my saintly co-laborer, my dear friend. What can I say to console you for this irreparable loss, since I am myself overwhelmed with grief? Sicut Domino placuit, ita facturn est. Sit nomen Domini benediction. I send you his precious remains. They belong naturally to you, but in parting with them I assure you that I make a sacrifice for your sake. Be pleased to inform your superiors of the profound sorrow in which I am plunged. Let this holy body repose in a place where it can be easily disinterred when this may be necessary. Bring the seminarians every Sunday evening to his grave, and often call the attention of the people of the parish to the treasure they possess.”

During this removal of the body of the servant of God to The Barrens, eighty miles distant, it was escorted by the most distinguished citizens of St. Louis, who voluntarily hastened to join the funeral train. As the mournful procession pro­ceeded on its way, many Catholics of the parishes through which it passed joined the inhabitants of St. Louis. They crossed the river at Cahokia, were the coffin having been taken to the church, Mass was chanted and a funeral service celebrated, according to the customary formalities. Rev. Father Olivier, in his parish of Prairie du Rocher, performed the same charitable and religious office for the illustrious deceased. At this place the devout retinue was increased, and soon reached the parish of St. Genevieve. Here the holy priest was universally la­mented. The people remembered that they had seen him full of life among them, that he had been their zealous guide and in­defatigable missionary, and all hastened to pay him the last tribute of their respect, by assisting at the funeral service performed over his remains by their worthy pastor, Father Pratte. Many of the inhabitants joined the sorrowful train, and accompanied the body to the seminary of The Barrens. Father Rosati, being duly apprised of their arrival, with all his clergy set out to meet the procession at the entrance of the church, and solemnly received the body ac­cording to the formalities prescribed by the ritual. His prayers were frequently inter­rupted by sobs and tears, for how could he restrain his grief for one who had been both his beloved master and cherished com­panion, a father whom he, more than any one else, knew to be a truly apostolic man, and on whose aid he had so long rested all his earthly hopes? On the following day, a solemn High Mass having been chanted, after the recitation of the customary prayers, the precious remains were laid in a tomb of brick work, behind the church. Here they were left until the month of September, 1837.

Meanwhile the new and handsome church belonging to the seminary having been completed, Bishop Rosati, who had been previously raised to the episcopal see of St. Louis, of which he was the first bishop, ordered that the body of Father De Andreis should be removed to a more suitable rest­ing place. The intentions of the bishop were announced to the poeple, and they came in crowds to the old church, into which the coffin was brought. The Office for the Dead was chanted, the most holy sacrifice was offered with great solemnity, and then the devout procession moved on to the new church, were the body was laid in a stone sepulchre, constructed by order of the bishop. It was placed on the gospel side, in the chapel of St. Vincent, directly beneath the pavement. CA slab, bearing the following inscription in honor of the deceased, was inserted in the opposite wall:

Hic jacet
Felix De Andreis, Congregationis Missionis in America Primus Superior et Fundator, Atque Diocesis Neo Aurelianensis Vicarius Generalis ;
Natus Dernontii in Italia Subalpina, Prid.
Obiit Sti Ludovici Idib. Oct. MDCCCXX.
Vir apostolicis virtutibns, ingenio , eruditione
et eloquentia maxime conspicuus.
Ne mortuus a fratribus corpore abesset
qui vivus illis fuerat corde quam maxime
conjunctus, mortales ejus exuvias sancto
Ludovico exportatas et in veteri
caemeterio primum tumulatas,
Fratres ejus in Christo amantissimi,
Episcopus Sancti Ludovici
Coeterique Congregationis Missionis sacer-
dotes decentiorem hunc in locum

Bishop Dubourg announced the death of Father De Andreis to all the clergy of his diocese by the following circular :

“R. I. P.

“Jussu Revmi. Episcopi nostri mcestissimum tibi nuncium facio OBITUS REVDI. ADMODUM D. FELICIS nE ANDREIS, Vicarii-generalis, necnon Congregationis Missionis, in hac Ludo­vicensi provincia moderatoris, viri sanctitate xque ac doctrina prxstantissimi, qui Octobris die 15, 1820, post duiturni morbi molestias admira­bili mansuetudine toleratas, sacramentis munitus et calestibus jam diliciis afiluens, annos natus circiter duo et quadraginta, meliorem ad vitam evolavit. Defecit heu! Cleri nostri lumen et decus, evangelii prwco potentissimus, pauperism amator, Ludovisian.e missionis spes et columen! Pretiosam venerandi sacerdotis mortem inexple­bili luctu prosequitur Episcopus, lugent et om­nium ordinum homines. Utinam tot gemitibus motus Deus totius consolationis, aliquos in nobis excitat tantae virtutis haeredes!

“Ad obsequia paratissimus,


“Ilevmi. D. D. Episcopi Ludov., Secretaries.”

For the benefit of readers not familiar with the Latin, we will here give a trans­lation of the foregoing circular :

“By order of our Right Rev. Bishop I hereby make to you the most lamentable announcement of the death of the Very Rev. Felix De Andreis, Vicar-General of this diocese, and superior of the Congre­gation of the Mission in the province of Louisiana. He was a man most renowned for sanctity and for learning. He died on the i5th of October, 182o, after a long and painful illness borne with admirable resig­nation. Fortified by the sacraments, and seeming to taste in advance celestial joys, he passed to a better life, at about the age of forty-two years. Thus alas ! has passed away a light and ornament of our clergy, a most eloquent preacher of. the gospel, a lover of the poor, the hope and support of our Louisiana Mission. The bishop la­ments, with inexpressible grief, the pre­cious death of this venerated priest, and men of all classes mourn his loss. May the God of all consolation, moved by so many lamentations, raise up among ns many imitators of his great virtue !

Your obedient servant,

Chas. De Lacroix,

Sec’y of the Bishop of Louisiana.”

It was also thought proper that Bishop Dubourg should send speedy information to Rome of the sad event. This he did in a letter of October i9th, addressed to the Vicar-General of the Vincentians. The following is a translation from the French:

“Very Reverend Sir:

“God has just visited us with an afflic­tion which my heart feels most keenly, and which is also a terrible blow for this mission. It is the death of Father De An­dreis, which occurred on Sunday, the 15th instant, the day on which we celebrated the feast of the holy Guardian Angels, and I doubt not that the prayers said for him on that occasion were granted to their full extent : Subvenite .Angeli Dei… et jubeas earn a sanctis Angelis suscipi, et ad patriani Paradisi perdaci. This death has plunged, not only the city of St. Louis but the whole diocese, into the deepest grief, for every one considered him a saint. I trust that God will glorify him by the testi­mony of miracles, for there exists already a very general readiness to believe in them, a most beautiful star having appeared in the heavens, in the middle of the day, at the very moment of his funeral. A woman of advanced age, employed in my _service, who had been suffering for three years was immediately, and I trust effectually, cured of her disease. I enclose you the account in English ; also the Latin circular.

“This is indeed an irreparable loss. At the moment of his death, Father De An­dreis appointed Rev. Jos. Rosati as superior of the Congregation of the Mission in Ame­rica. He is the only one who can fill such a post, for all the others are too young. It is very necessary, sir, that you should send us two subjects of mature age, of talent and solid virtue, in order that the precious foundation of the company in Louisiana may be permanently secured. If Father Rosati fail us, all will go to ruin. He also will, without doubt, entreat you to do this; allow me to unite my most earnest prayer with his. Besides the seminary which I have given to the Congregation, I intend to make use of it for the establishment of another house for the missions, in one of the most populous localities of Lower Louisiana. The good that these two estab­lishments will procure is incalculable. You have been already informed, Re­verend sir, that you have here six novices, nearly all priests, of whom the greater number are remarkable for talent and virtue.

“I have the honor to remain, etc. “Louis William Dubourg, “Bishop of Louisiana. “St. Louis, Mo., U. S. of America, Oct. 19, 18zo.”‘

We will subjoin to the above letter an extract from the Missouri Gazette. It is as follows :

“ST. Louis, Mo., October 18, 1820.


“Died in this city on the 15th of the present month, after a painful illness, in the forty-second year of his age, the Rev. Felix De Andreis, Vicar-General of Loui­siana, and Superior of the Congregation of the Mission in America. This venerated priest was born in Piedmont, Italy, of a respectable and wealthy family. He em­braced the ecclesiastical career at an early period of his life. His youth was dis­tinguished by perfect innocence and con­tinual progress in virtue, thereby foretelling what he was to be in after years, a man of God, an apostle. The comforts of home and the delights of family affection were the first ties that the voice of heaven called upon him to s4ver, in order to devote him­self to the lowly and toilsome duties of the country missions, and the practice of the evangelical counsels of poverty and obedi­ence, in the truly apostolic Congregation founded by St. Vincent, about two hun­dred years ago. The different provinces of Italy were, by turns, the theatre of his zeal, and the stirring effusions of his almost divine eloquence, brought to his feet thousands of miserable sinners, who were comforted and relieved by his tender chari­ty. Being called to Rome, as the place most suited to his noble talents and exten­sive learning, he became, in a short time, the oracle of this capital of the Christian world, and excited the admiration of the most eminent prelates. But his humility was alarmed at the esteem he enjoyed, and which opened for him a path to the highest honors ; the city of Rome was too limited for his ardent zeal, and he sought a field more vast and more abandoned. He had long solicited the favor of being sent to a foreign mission. ‘ China was the first object of his desires, but Divine Providence having frustrated his hopes in that quarter, directed them towards America. He had many obstacles to surmount in order to attain his end ; his superiors, supported by the most illustrious dignitaries of Rome, strongly opposed his departure. It was re­presented to the Sovereign Pontiff that his presence in Rome was absolutely necessary, and that his removal would be a public calamity. It even appears that the Holy Father was somewhat influenced by these arguments, but he finally consented to the desires of the humble priest, and imposed silence on all who opposed his departure. The holy man, therefore, left Italy for America in 1816, being accompanied by several members of his Congregation, of whom he was, in due form, ap­pointed superior; and after residing for about a year in Kentucky, where he is still remembered with esteem and affection, he arrived in this city with our excellent bishop, who, some time before had made him his Vicar-General and the soul of his councils. The three years of his residence among us were entirely devoted to the most active and charitable offices of his sacred ministry, and were enough to immortalize his gentle memory in the hearts of all classes of our citizens.  His fervent piety, unwearied solicitude for the salvation of souls, his tender and ingenious charity to­wards the poor, will long be favorite topics; while his pathetic and frequent exhorta­tions from the pulpit will for ever remain engraved on the hearts of his hearers, to serve as a reproof to the negligent and ani­mate the good to perseverence. His last moments were those of the just man, who every day of his life studies the great lesson of dying a holy death. The announcement of his approaching dissolution not only found him resigned and contented, but it further excited him to raptures of joy. All the glory of heaven shone upon his pallid countenance. His last words were in favor of his spiritual children, whom he recom­mended to the especial care of the bishop. His death is universally lamented. Every one seems to have lost in him a true father, and the weeping crowd that accompanied his final obsequies proclaimed him the be­loved of God and man, one whose memory will be forever blessed. His mortal remains will be conveyed by pions escort to the seminary of The Barrens in Perry County, which is directed by the priests of his Con­gregation.”

The saintly Mother Duchesne, first superi­or of the Sacred Heart Nuns in America, enjoyed, for a short time preceding his death, the happiness of having Father De Andreis for her confessor and spiritual direc­tor. Until she met him, she seemed to have found no one in this country who properly understood her, or who could satisfy her in the direction of her conscience. In one of her letters she wrote: “I have no longer any consolations; my heart longs for some sup­port, and finds none but in God. In my anxiety for spiritual aid I thought of Mgr. Flaget, the bishop of Bardstown, but he never came; and then again, of the holy Father De Andreis, the provincial of the Lazarists, but he is ill. So I must remain with God alone, my soul never having been able to open itself to any one since I left France. ” ( Life of Mother Duchesne, p.198. )

The pastor of Florissant, Mo., a few miles from St. Louis, was also the chaplain of the Sacred Heart community, which Mother Du­chesne had established there. As this priest was obliged to be absent for a considerable time during 1819, Father De Andreis was sent by the bishop to take his place, to the great delight of Mother Duchesne and her companions. His short residence at Floris­sant was yet long enough to have been full of the greatest consolation and benefit to these heroic religious who, in the midst of poverty and suffering, practiced the most heroic virtues and laid, deep and strong, the first foundation of the Sacred Heart Society in the New World. Madam Duchesne was herself dangerously ill during the last sick­ness of Father De Andreis. As soon as she was able, she wrote to her superiors in France, saying: “The bishop, and we too, have suffered a great loss, that of Father De Andreis, the superior of the Lazarists and Vicar General. He was great, both in sanctity and learning, and with singular gifts for the care of souls. A malignant fever carried him off just as I was getting better. All the popu­lation of St. Louis, Protestants and Jews in­cluded, followed him to the grave, with the most sincere grief. He is supposed to have already wrought several miracles.” (Idem, p. 208.)

As Mother Duchesue is a candidate for beatification, the evidence of her holy life and heroic virtues being now under exami­nation by the Congregation of Rites in Rome, her testimony to the virtues of her holy direc­tor is of more than ordinary importance.

Till the day of her death, she kept, as a most cherished relic, a copy of the Imita­tion of Christ, which had been used by Father De Andreis.

When the news of the death of Father De Andreis was announced to his friends at a distance from St. Louis, many of them expressed by letter their great veneration for him, and their deep grief over his un­timely departure. From these letters we will give just a few selections here. Rev. Father Portier, afterwards first Bishop of Mobile, wrote from New Orleans to Father Rosati in the following terms, on Decem­ber 2d, 1820:

“We realize, my dear friend, the great loss which you, and all of us, have sus­tained in the death of our saintly Father De Andreis. It is a general affliction for all the Missionaries, but it is a very special one to me, who had hoped to find, for a long time to come, in his lights and his sanctity the direction which my conscience demands and will continue to demand. But what consoles me is, that the saint who is dead will become our protector, by his merits and his prayers, and that the memory of his holy example will long sur­vive amongst us, to reanimate us in the trials of our career. We celebrated here three solemn Masses for the repose of his soul, but I do not doubt that it found re­pose in the bosom of God, at the very in­stant when it was separated from his body.”

Bishop David, co-adjutor of the diocese of Bardstown, held Father De Andreis in the highest veneration. When the news of the death of the servant of God reached him, he wrote from the seminary of Bards­town to Father Rosati, expressing his great sorrow. His letter is dated December 12, 1820. “I share with you as far as pos­sible,” he wrote, “the great loss which has lately befallen you. I knew the merit of Father De Andreis well enough to ap­preciate him. His death is not only a loss to you, but to the diocese of Louisiana and to the entire Church. But what should console us all is the assurance we have, that if a faithful priest has been taken from us, an intercessor has been given us in heaven, who will be not less useful to us by the graces lie will obtain for us, than he would have been by the exercise of his ministry amongst us, if his life had been prolonged.”

And the saintly Bishop Flaget, who knew Father De Andreis so well and loved him so tenderly, was overcome by grief when he heard of the death of his dear friend. The admiration of these two holy men for each other was mutual. Mother Duchesne said of them : “They are both universally looked upon as saints, and God visibly blesses their ministry.” During their residence together in the seminary at Bardstown, for nearly a year, they came to know each other intimately. The letters of Father De Andreis, given in preceding pages, sufficiently testify his great esteem for the bishop, while the following words of Bishop Flaget, written to Father Rosati, November 6, 182o, are valuable evidence to the sanctity of the great priest whose life we are writing.

“I feel most deeply,” says Bishop Flaget, “the irreparable loss you have sustained by the death of the wise, the amiable, the saintly Father De Andreis. I knew and appreciated his great merits, though I was not able to imitate his virtues. Heaven grant that he may not rise up some day to condemn my laxity and lukewarmness. The Bishop Mauricastro, my co-adjutor, as well as those here who knew the virtuous Missionary, join with me in my sorrow and desire me to express to you their sincere condolence. It was the afternoon of All Saints Day, when we were about to cele­brate the second vespers of the feast and the first vespers of. All Souls, that the afflicting news reached us ; and, as we recalled the simplicity, the kindness, the piety and fer­vour of the holy priest, we were puzzled to decide whether we should invoke him as a saint or pray for the repose of his soul. But, however this may be, he will certainly see God for all eternity ; and no matter how valuable he may have been to us dur­ing this life, he will be still more so now, after his happy death.”

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