The American Vincentians. 02 – I. A survey of American Vincentian History: 1815-1987 (cont 2)

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoHistory of the Congregation of the MissionLeave a Comment

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Author: The Editorial Staff of the Vincentian Studies Institute · Year of first publication: 1988 · Source: "The American Vincentians: A Popular History of the Congregation of the Mission in the United States 1815-1987". Vincentian Studies Institute. New City Pressm Brooklyn, New York, 1988..
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The American Province, 1835-1888

Just before the general assembly of 1835, John Mary Odin, representing the American mission, penned a report which he submitted to the superior general, Jean-Baptiste Nozo. Odin stressed the importance of the Vincentians’ living together in community rather than in scattered mission stations. He recom­mended the suppression of the lay college at the Barrens in order to relieve the seminarians of the burden of teaching and to prevent the mingling of clerical and non-clerical students. In place of the income from tuition and boarding fees, Bishop Rosati should pay a prorated amount for each diocesan student at the seminary. Finally, he recommended that the American mission be made an independent province and that John Timon be named the first provincial superior. In some form or another, all of these proposals were accepted by the superior general and his council. On 2 September 1835 Nozo decreed the establishment of an independent American province, the first one outside of Europe.

Not unexpectedly Rosati objected both to the calling in of the scattered Vincentians and the suppression of the college. The latter was rescinded by Nozo in 1837. The problem of mixing clerical and lay students was solved when the latter were sent to the newly opened Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1844. Rosati, in apparent exasperation over the whole matter, attempted to start his own diocesan seminary in Saint Louis in 1838 but was unable to see it to completion.

Most important of all was the fact that less than twenty years after the arrival of the first Vincentians in the United States, the mission (which had only one official Vincentian house) had become an independent province and had a native-born American at its head. It now entered one of its most dynamic periods.

John Timon was born at Conewago, Pennsylvania, on 12 February 1797. His father was a merchant who moved from place to place, until in 1819 he settled in Saint Louis. There Timon came under the influence of Felix De Andreis. He decided to study for the priesthood in the Congregation of the Mission at Saint Mary’s Seminary. He was ordained by Bishop Rosati on 23 September 1825. The early years of his priesthood were spent in teaching at the Barrens and in missionary activity with his confrere and friend, John Mary Odin. The two were involved in missions in southeast Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas. Timon received notification of his appointment as provincial on 16 November 1835. At first he was inclined to refuse the offer because the American Vincentians were burdened with heavy debts and the prospects of beginning a new province under these conditions were not encouraging. He was finally persuaded to accept the post and proved to be one of the outstanding leaders in the history of the Congregation of the Mission in the United States.

During Timon’s term as provincial (1835-1847), the American province benefited from conditions in Europe. Religious and dynastic wars in Spain, together with anticlerical legislation, caused the exile of a number of Spanish Vincentians, many of whom came to the United States. These included men of great talent, such as Thaddeus Amat, later the bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles, Michael Domenec, the future bishop of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and Mariano Maller, who avoided an American bishopric by going to Brazil. Recruits came from other countries also, including Italy, France, and Belgium. Timon enjoyed an extraordinary reputation in the American church, a reputation that extended to the province of which he was superior.

Timon believed that the primary apostolate of the American Vincentians was the work of diocesan seminaries. As will be seen in chapter II, this work had an explosive growth during his provin­cialate, when it seemed that the bishops of the United States were determined to make the Vincentians the primary agency for the formation of the their clergy. In retrospect, he probably expanded too rapidly and sometimes had to juggle personnel in different houses. Marc-Antoine Poussou, the acting superior general (1841­1843) after Nozo’s resignation, ordered him to take on no more seminaries. It was believed that the province was overextended and that there should be fewer houses with more men. Timon also encouraged missionary activity but believed that his province should not be so committed to parishes as it was. It was Timon, with his pronounced aversion to slavery, who began to phase out the peculiar institution among the American Vincentians.

Timon attempted to put the province on a sound fmancial footing. He continued to seek contributions from Europe, espe­cially from the Parisian motherhouse. Timon was apparently on very good terms with Jean-Baptiste Etienne, secretary general and later (1843-1874) superior general of the Congregation of the Mission. Etienne sent money, both in direct contributions and in mass stipends. For many of these transactions, Timon’s mediator was Ramsay Crooks, the successor to John Jacob Astor as presi­dent of the American Fur Company in New York, who as a young fur trader had married into one of the old French families of Saint Louis. Timon also invested provincial funds in the Bank of Missouri but, either on his own initiative or the recommendations of advisers, he did not put any money into the Second Bank of the United States, which collapsed during the Panic of 1837.

In light of Timon’s involvement with the work of the province, it is all the more remarkable that he contributed so greatly to the revival of the Church in Texas. He and Odin had both had experience in giving missions in Texas prior to its independence from Mexico (1836). Two years later, in 1838, Bishop Anthony Blanc of New Orleans wrote to Rosati and Timon that the Holy See wanted a reliable report on the religious situation in the new republic. As a result of this Timon went to Galveston in December 1838, together with Francis Llebaria, a member of the faculty at Assumption Seminary at Lafourche, Louisiana. After surveying the situation in Texas, he made out a full report which he sent to Blanc, who in turn forwarded it to Rome. One result of this was that Timon, who had already refused the coadjutorship of Saint Louis (September 1839) was made prefect apostolic of Texas, with faculty to confirm though without episcopal ordination (12 April 1840).

Timon dispatched his friend, John Mary Odin, to Texas as vice-prefect, together with Peter Doutreluingne. Timon returned to Texas in December 1840 and brought with him letters that were the equivalent of Rome’s recognition of the republic’s independence. He and Odin secured an act from the Texas congress that returned large amounts of property to the ownership of the Church. In 1841 Texas was made a vicariate apostolic, and Odin was named titular bishop of Claudiopolis and vicar-apostolic of Texas. In 1846 he became the first bishop of Galveston. He was consecrated in New Orleans by Bishop Blanc on 6 May 1842. He was bishop during the War with Mexico, just as later he would be archbishop of New Orleans during the occupation by Union forces.

At some unknown time during his provincialate Timon drew up an “Epitome” or summary of provincial regulations. They were illustrative of the adaptations that the American Vincentians had made to local conditions. Thus, for example, the time of rising had been changed from 4:00 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. At some later period it was changed back to 4:00 A.M., probably because of the drive for uniformity by Jean-Baptiste Etienne during his term as superior general. Somewhat more quaint were the determinations of the days when communion could be received and the discipline taken. Most surprising is the fact that more than half the document is taken up with the question of the purchase and preparation of food in the houses. Timon was adamant that superiors take proper care of the health of their personnel and the food be nutritious and fresh. In the same vein he ruled that all teachers were to have one full day off each week and added the Fourth of July to the list of approved holidays.

Between 1847 and 1857 the American province suffered losses from which it would take decades to recover. The first of these was Timon himself, when in 1847 he was appointed the first bishop of Buffalo, New York. Having refused six other bishoprics, he felt that he could not refuse the seventh without being labeled a disobedient and intractable priest. It was a serious loss to the province. In rapid succession Thaddeus Amat was named to Monterey-Los Angeles, Michael Domenec to Pittsburgh, and John Lynch to Toronto. There is a story that the Vincentian superior general, Jean-Baptiste Etienne, complained to Pope Pius IX about these appointments and was told, “you plant the garden and we will pluck the flowers.”

At the same time the restoration of political and religious peace in Spain and other parts of Europe brought about the recall of many of the Vincentians who had been working in the United States. The province was suddenly faced with a major personnel shortage. In addition, as will be seen in chapter II, disagreements with bishops caused the Vincentians to withdraw from most of the diocesan seminaries that had been accepted.

Timon was succeeded as provincial by Mariano Maller (1817­-1892), a Catalan who was one of the most highly respected priests in the United States. He had entered the Congregation of the Mission in Madrid, Spain, on 23 June 1833. The following month the Community in Spain was suppressed by the liberal government, and Maller went to Barcelona where he made his vows on 29 June 1835. Because of the turmoil caused by the First Carlist War (1835-­1839) he and a number of other Vincentian students went to Paris to take their courses in theology. In 1839, while still a deacon, he came to the United States and was assigned to Assumption Seminary in Plattenville, Louisiana, where he was ordained to the priesthood on 22 March 1840. In 1841, at the age of twenty-four, he was appointed superior of Saint Charles Seminary in Phila­delphia, a post he held for five years, for one of which he was vicar-general of the diocese. He was reluctant to accept the office of provincial but fmally did so in the spring of 1848. He was thirty years of age.

During his provincialate he negotiated the union of Mother Seton’s Sisters of Charity with the Daughters of Charity in Paris, a union fmally achieved on 25 March 1850. Saint Stephen’s parish in New Orleans was opened in 1849, and the property for Saint Vincent’s church in Germantown, Pennsylvania, was acquired. While still provincial, he was also the provincial director of the Daughters of Charity, with his residence at Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Maller continued the high level of leadership set by Timon. About the year 1849, together with Thaddeus Amat and John Lynch, he drew up a report and a set of recommendations on the American province which were sent to the superior general. The major problem, they emphasized, was personnel. “There are a good number of them but not enough to edify or uphold regularity.”1 They suggested that a number of persons who had not proved useful should be recalled to their native countries and requested at least two French-speaking and one English-speaking priests from Europe.

From the point of view of apostolates, the report recommended that the province restrict itself “more and more to the functions proper to our vocation,” including “the missions that we hope to give.” Because of the personnel shortage Maller and the others suggested the consolidation of the houses that the province wished to keep and the abandonment of the others.

Although the province was $50,000 in debt, the authors of the report did not consider this alarming. “It seems impossible to begin anything of importance in America without incurring some debts . . . . Either incur debts or remain where we are forever.” There would have been no foundations at Cape Girardeau or Saint Louis if the province had not begun “American style.” There was, in addi­tion, no immediate prospect of getting out of debt.

In 1850 Maller learned that he was one of the nominees for bishop of Monterey, California. The diocese was given to another, but since it seemed inevitable that he would eventually become a bishop, he asked to be transferred out of the country. Bishop Francis P. Kenrick of Philadelphia later told Stephen Vincent Ryan, when the latter was the American provincial, that had he known that, he would have prevented it, merely to keep Maller in the country. Maller was relieved of the office of provincial in 1851 but remained as director of the Daughters of Charity. In 1853 he was assigned to Brazil as director of the Daughters of Charity. In 1855 he was named provincial of Brazil. After he had asked to be relieved of this post, he remained as director of the college of Curaga until 1861. In that year he was appointed secretary general of the Congre­gation but in the following year returned to Spain as provincial. He was exiled by the revolution of 1868 and did not return until 1876. The following year he was sent to make a special visitation of the American province, but his commission expired in 1878 with the death of the superior general, Eugene Bore. He died at Madrid on 20 February 1892.

Maller was succeeded by Anthony Penco (1813-1875), an Italian, who was somewhat shy and reticent by nature. He was a native of Genoa, Italy, and came from a wealthy family. His father had opposed his religious vocation, but he was able to enter the Community at Genoa on 18 July 1835. He took his vows two years later. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1840 and in that same year came to the United States. After serving briefly at two parishes in Louisiana, he taught at Saint Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, Saint John’s Seminary in Rose Hill, New York, and Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He was nominated provincial on 23 September 1850 but did not accept the position until the following March.

In a circular letter of 1 November 1852, Etienne gave a rather gloomy assessment of the American Province. Looking over more than thirty years of Vincentian history in the United States, he admitted that Providence had undoubtedly called the Community there in order to render great services to the Church. Unhappily, this history “is far from presenting us with the consoling results that would have been expected.” He went on to speak of “unfortunate ups and downs, aborted projects, sterile arrangements, failed under­takings, deceived hopes that had caused so much work and sacrifice to be without fruit.” He accused the American Province of substi­tuting human wisdom for divine faith, an accusation that he defined in the following terms:

You have tried to build before having properly laid the foundations of the building; you have sought to make a ripe and abundant harvest rise up before cultivating the seed that has been entrusted to the ground; it is by reason of an unenlightened zeal that you have undertaken so much without having measured your strength before­hand, calculated your resources, and above all, without having examined whether you were following Providence or running ahead of it.2

It was a harsh evaluation but for the most part accurate. The admonition did not do any permanent good because the same problems reappeared at later dates.

Penco was faced with a serious manpower shortage and overex­tended apostolates. In 1853 he wrote to Etienne:

Without help we shall soon be hors de combat [out of the fight] because oppressed as we all are by excessive fatigue, we cannot take care of ourselves, we totally ruin our health, and as experience shows, we are old at forty.3

He added that if no help was forthcoming, he would have to retrench the province to two or three houses. Otherwise he would be ruining the health of the Vincentians and causing discontent among the bishops in whose dioceses they were working.

Because of the personnel shortage Penco withdrew the Vincen­tians from the direction of the diocesan seminary in Philadelphia. He also accepted the direction of Saint Joseph’s parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where the Vincentians continue to work to the present day. During his provincialate Assumption seminary in Lafourche, Louisiana, which the Vincentians had directed since 1838, burned to the ground and the students were moved to New Orleans. Plans were laid for building a new seminary, but by that time he had left the country.

Like Maller, Penco was considered episcopal timber, being nominated for the coadjutorships of Saint Louis and Chicago. In 1854 he returned to Italy after the death of his brother, who had squandered the family fortune. He overcame the financial crisis while at the same time acting as director of the Collegio Brignole­Sale-Negroni, a missionary seminary in Genoa. He was also rector there from 1865 until his death in 1875. Prior to his return to Italy he had appointed John Masnou, a Spaniard, as substitute provin­cial (in official language, pro-visitor).

A Catalan like Maller and Amat, Masnou was born at Manresa, Spain, on 23 September 1813. He entered the Community at Madrid in 1831, made his vows two years later, and was ordained there at an unknown date. During the First Carlist War he fled to Paris with other Spanish Vincentian students and returned to Spain sometime around 1837-1838. In 1853 he came to the United States and was assigned to teach at Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He was officially appointed acting provincial on 1 February 1855. Masnou governed the province for a little less than two years. During that time he participated in the plans for a new seminary in New Orleans and accepted Immaculate Concep­tion parish in Baltimore. During that time also, John Lynch founded the seminary of Our Lady of the Angels at Niagara Falls, New York, the ancestor of the present Niagara University. In 1856 Masnou was appointed provincial of Spain, though he did not return there until January 1857 —he succeeded another former American and Mexican missionary, Bonaventure Armengol. Masnou held that position until 1862, when he was sent to Mexico where he was provincial until 1874. In that year Bore sent him as a special commissary to Latin America. Until 1878 he served in Paris as assistant for Mexican affairs. After Bore’s death, he returned to Spain, where he died 29 January 1893.

From the end of 1856 until the following June Bartholomew Rollando was the acting provincial. On 29 June 1857 Stephen Vincent Ryan was appointed provincial (29 June 1857) and held the position for eleven years. Ryan was born at Almonte, Ontario, Canada, on 1 January 1825. While he was very young, his parents, who were Irish immigrants, moved to Pennsylvania. Ryan entered Saint Charles Borromeo seminary in Philadelphia in 1838 and there came into contact with the Vincentian Community when the prov­ince assumed direction of the seminary in 1843. He joined the Congregation in 1844 and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Peter Richard Kenrick of Saint Louis on 24 June 1849. He taught at Saint Mary’s of the Barrens from 1849 until 1851 and at Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau from 1851 until 1856. In 1856 he was appointed superior and rector and in the following year became provincial.

Ryan’s provincialate was not marked by any notable expansion of works, except in New Orleans. During his term the new diocesan seminary (commonly called the Bouligny seminary) was opened in 1858 in conjunction with Saint Stephen’s parish, which was opened in that same year. The seminary was closed for fmancial reasons in 1867, likewise during Ryan’s term. In 1858 also, the province accepted the direction of Saint Joseph’s church which had until then been under the direction of diocesan priests.

In 1862 Ryan removed the Vincentian formation program from the Barrens to Saint Louis and in 1868 from Saint Louis to Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in Niagara Falls, which had been opened the year before Ryan became provincial, was probably the most successful diocesan seminary that the Vincentians directed at that time. In 1865 the province undertook the direction of a seminary in Los Angeles, California, which, after an uncertain beginning, became Saint Vincent’s College. It lasted until 1911.

Ryan himself was very interested in the parish missions and encouraged them as much as possible. Still more, he himself was an active missionary and spent a great deal of his time and energy in that ministry, as will be seen in chapter III. His work, however, was hampered by lack of personnel.

On 8 November 1868, much against his will, Ryan was named to succeed Timon in the see of Buffalo, and the Vincentian province again lost one of its leaders to the episcopate. During his epis­copate he demonstrated considerable interest in the clergy, schools, and the care of the poor. He also gained the reputation for being a liberal and farsighted bishop. Though his health had never been good, he lived to be seventy-one years old, dying on 12 April 1896.

Ryan’s successor as provincial was John Hayden, a native of the Barrens.4 He was born there in 1831 and was baptized by Timon. After attending school at the Barrens, he entered the Community on 3 May 1849. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Kenrick in Saint Louis on 8 September 1853. He served as the first Vincentian pastor of Saint Joseph’s church in New Orleans. He also served as delegate to the sexennial assembly of 1867 in Paris.5 After the assembly he stayed on for about a year, acting as English-speaking secretary for the superior general. On 1 May 1868, when he was pastor of Saint Vincent’s church in Germantown, he was nominated provincial. He was then thirty-seven years old. He was a man of great talent and promised to be an outstanding leader. Unhappily, while making a visitation of Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, he contracted typhoid and died suddenly on 2 November 1872, at the age of forty-one.

During his provincialate the question of the division of the prov­ince, which Maller had proposed to the provincial assembly of 1844, was raised again. It was approved by the superior general and his council in 1870 but, as will be seen, it was not implemented. The most important foundation during his tragically brief term was that of Saint John the Baptist College in Brooklyn, New York, the present Saint John’s University. The demand for personnel at this new establishment caused him to cut back on the work of the parish missions. He also wanted to make Saint Mary’s of the Barrens, which since 1866 had been only a parish and working farm, once again a theological seminary. In 1870, however, he abandoned the idea and suggested selling the seminary, using the money to finance the home missions.

With Hayden’s death, the pioneer era in American Vincentian history came to an end. Within a short space of time the Community had produced a series of remarkable leaders: De Andreis, Rosati, De Neckere, Timon, Odin, Maller, Ryan, Amat, Hayden, and John Lynch. It was a level that would not again be reached in a comparable period of time. Most of these became bishops and it was clear that Vincentians were being removed from important positions in the Community for the sake of the epis­copate.

The choice for Hayden’s successor fell on Thomas J. Smith but Smith declined. The superior general then named James Rolando, an Italian, who held the position from 1873 until 1879.

Rolando was born at Armo, Italy, on 16 May 1816. He entered the Congregation of the Mission in 1833 and made his vows a little over two years later. He left for the United States in the year 1840 and in the following year was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Blanc in the church of the Ascension, Donaldsonville, Louisiana, the same church in which Joseph Rosati had been consecrated. His first assignments were in educational works: Saint Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Saint Mary’s Seminary in Perryville, Missouri. He then served as pastor of Saint Vincent’s church in Saint Louis and Saint Vincent’s church in Germantown. In 1863 he returned to Italy but after a year as vice-president of the Collegio Brignole-Sale-Negroni, he returned to the United States. Except for a brief sojourn in Paris, he was steadily engaged in parish work and was pastor of Saint Vincent’s in Saint Louis when he was named provincial. At the age of fifty-seven he was the oldest man to hold the office up to that time.

Rolando appointed the first mission band in the province and thus began the work of systematizing the Vincentian parish missions. During his term the first mission was given to blacks, in Washington, D.C. He also accepted the direction of Saint Vincent’s parish in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1877 Eugene Bore, the superior general, sent Mariano Maller, the former provincial, to make a special visitation of the American province. Maller’s commission ended with Bore’s death in 1878, but not before he had completed a comprehensive report on the status and personnel of the province. Like Etienne in 1852, he judged that the American mission had not lived up to its promise. The two great problems were factionalism and debts.

The factionalism arose from the melange of nationalities — Ita­lian, French, German, Americans, and Irish. The principal division was between the Italians and the Irish, with the Americans and other nationalities rallying behind the latter. The Irish-American group considered itself to be progressive and thought that only it could grasp the spirit of the country and turn the natural ardor of the Americans to the good of religion. The Italians, in turn, claimed that piety, simplicity, and regularity were being lost. They accused the Irish-Americans of dissipation, independence, a worldly spirit, of having too much contact with the laity and of paying them too many visits. To this list they added other manifestations of the modern spirit, such as smoking, drinking, and the loss of vocations. Maller saw two possible solutions: to turn all authority over to the Irish-American group or, as the Europeans suggested and other communities had done, import enough European Vincentians to offset the influence of the others. Though Maller was somewhat inclined toward the second solution, the first was the one adopted.

The amount of indebtedness in the province was a matter of grave concern, even fright. European Vincentians traditionally had a horror of contracting debts. The situation in the United States was quite different. Indebtedness carried no stigma and was even a means of demonstrating a good credit rating. The report that Maller, together with Lynch and Amat, had drawn up about 1849 tried to explain that point to the superiors in Paris. Even the bishops in America were in debt. Archbishop Kenrick of Saint Louis told Maller that in the United States in order to know what someone was worth, the last thing to consider was how much he owed. The danger, as Maller was careful to point out, lay in what would be called in modern terms the “domino effect.” In the complex network of creditor-debtor relationships, the failure of one could redound on all the others. The province had narrowly avoided such a catastrophe in November 1877 when Thomas Burke, the superior of Saint Vincent’s in Saint Louis, died and his creditors feared for their loans. Fortunately, his successor, Edward Hennessy, was able to calm them. The incident, however, showed the fragility of the situation. The province had a particular difficulty in that there was no provincial treasurer and the provincial had only a limited acquaintance with the finances of individual houses. Local superiors and treasurers were free to contract debts on their own.

Three houses — Brooklyn, Niagara, and Chicago — accounted for most of these. Saint John’s College in Brooklyn had a debt of about $167,657, most of which had an interest rate of 7%, which was high for those days. The Seminary of Our Lady of Angels in Niagara, which was “in the saddest state possible,” owed approx­imately $218,572, and Saint Vincent’s parish in Chicago had a debt of $50,000. Of the other houses, the house in Germantown (whose debt was not kept separate from that of the province) owed $70,000; Saint Vincent’s parish in Saint Louis owed $170,625, but most of this was interest free, and there was enough income to pay what interest there was. Saint Mary’s Seminary in Perryville, which had only nine persons in the house and a working farm, had a debt of $21,000 or $42,000, depending on whose figures were accepted. In a masterpiece of understatement Maller noted that “the books are not well kept.”6 Saint Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau owed about $62,922, Saint Stephen’s in New Orleans $40,750, and Saint Joseph’s $459. The house in La Salle, Illinois, was the only one specifically listed as debt-free. Not having visited the house in Los Angeles, Maller did not comment on it. If Maller’s figures were correct, the total indebtedness of the province passed $800,000, an astronomical sum at that time.

Maller was at pains to point out that these debts had been incurred before Rolando’s appointment as provincial, though he doubted that Rolando was the man to remedy it. The Irish-American faction in the province was very critical of the provincial, alleging his timidity, indecision, his tendency to agree with the last person he talked to, and his incompetence in matters fmancial. Maller tended to agree with this assessment and toward the end of his report advised that a new provincial would be necessary.

Maller concluded his report by giving the following summary of the American Vincentians:

If you look at the American confreres as a whole, they are not notable for behavior, decorum, the spirit of faith, mortification of the senses or external regularity. But if you get to know them better, you find them open, sincere, hardworking, flexible, and submissive, so that it is not so difficult to lead them as it may appear at first sight. But it is necessary to understand them and win them over. We must pray to God that he will give them a good provincial, for if the provincial knows how to win them, he will succeed in paying the debts and then the province of the United States could become one of the most flourishing in the Congregation.7

In 1879 Rolando resigned, ostensibly because of ill-health and became the director of novices in Germantown, a position he held until his death on 26 November 1883. He was succeeded as provin­cial by Smith, who accepted this time and who was provincial of the single American province from 1879 until the division of 1888 and after that of the Western Province until 1905. In announcing the appointment, Antoine Fiat, Bore’s successor as superior general, wrote:

We have been appalled at the knowledge of the enormous debts with which many of your houses are oppressed. There is a great necessity of applying some remedy to so great an evil. That is why we would recommend to the local superiors to contract no more new debts but by a reasonable economy tied to a wise administration to extinguish the old ones as soon as possible.8

He also urged the province “to substitute men servants for women as soon as it can be done in all our houses in which women are employed,” a problem that had been agitated since 1819. Neither of these counsels was put into practice in the American Province.

A native of County Cavan, Ireland, (the same one from which Stephen Vincent Ryan’s parents had migrated) Thomas Smith was born in 1832 and came to the United States at about the age of twenty. He entered the Community at the Barrens in 1854 and was ordained to the priesthood 26 June 1857 at the Barrens. Smith’s most energetic years were those of his direction of the single prov­ince. He personally engaged in parish missions and sometimes absented himself from provincial administration for long periods in order to do so. He appointed a second mission band and at one point had four mission bands operating simultaneously. In order to move the missions farther west, he accepted the direction of a parish in Kansas City, Missouri.

Smith was an autocratic and occasionally choleric personality who tended to keep decision making in his own hands. Typical was his decison about the construction of a chapel and student resi­dence building at Saint Mary’s Seminary in Perryville. He decreed that it would be inserted in a narrow space between two existing buildings, something that necessitated its being perpendicular to the other two. The result was that the windows of many student rooms looked out at brick walls. In later life Smith tended to become reclusive.

Under Smith the first effort was made to incorporate the prov­ince. On becoming provincial Smith discovered that the property of Saint Vincent’s church in Saint Louis was held in the name of three Vincentians. He did not trust one of these, Edward Hennessy, and so the province was formally incorporated in the state of Missouri on 30 July 1879. The precise difficulties that Smith had with Hennessy are not known but it is significant that Hennessy refused to sign the incorporation papers. There is some uncertainty about the scope of this incorporation. In 1893 Francis Nugent was once again trying to incorporate the Western Province but without success.

  1. “The State of the Mission of the United States,” undated, DRMA, Maller letters, vol. 2.
  2. Recueil des principales circulaires des Supérieurs Généraux de la Congregation de la Mission (Paris: Georges Chamerot, 1880), 3:190-91.
  3. Penco the Italian assistant general, 26 April 1853, DRMA, Penco Papers, vol. 2.
  4. Ryan was the first to mention in print the story that Hayden was the son of the widow Hayden at whose home some of the first Vmcentians stayed after their arrival at the Barrens in 1818. This was not true.
  5. Ordinary general assemblies, that is, those held on a regular basis rather than to elect a superior general, were summoned every twelve yews. Sexennial assemblies were held at the mid point between the regular assemblies to decide if an extraordi­nary general assembly was needed. If it was, the sexennial assembly became a general assembly.
  6. Etats-Unis: Visite de M. Maller 1878, GCUSA, series C, roll 1, item 192, f. 49.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Fiat to the American Vincentians, 21 February 1879, DRMA, Smith Papers.

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