The Congregation of the Mission was founded in France by Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) in 1625, the year in which the new company received its first legal recognition. Its informal beginning dated back to 1617 when a providential event gave momentum to the introduction of what was later to be known as the Mission. The Congregation, known in France as Lazarists and in English-speaking countries as the Vincentians, arose as a response to the deplorable condition of the Church and clergy in early seventeenth century France.
The France of that century was still experiencing the effects of the Protestant reform and the religious wars which had followed it. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) had attempted to counteract the conditions in the church that had led to the Reformation, but the decrees of the council were not promulgated in France until 1615 — and even after that there was lingering, nationalistic hostility to them. Tom by conflict between Catholics and Huguenots (French Calvinists) and struggling within its own ranks with the. question of Gallicanism (the tendency toward an autonomous French church), France did not experience the wholesome effects of Trent until the early seventeenth century.
In January 1617, Vincent de Paul was parish priest of Clichy-laGarenne, a village outside of Paris, and tutor and chaplain in the house of the wealthy and powerful Gondi family. During a visit to the estates of his patrons, he was called to the village of Games to the bedside of a man gravely ill who wished to relieve his conscience which had been torturing him for some time. Later the man related his story to Madame de Gondi, saying, “I would have been damned had I not made a general confession to Monsieur Vincent.” Madame de Gondi and her husband were both devout persons. Deeply moved by this statement they asked Monsieur Vincent to conduct missions among these poor people who had been deprived of the consolations of religion for many years. He welcomed the opportunity and on 25 January, in the church of the village of Folleville, spoke on the need for general confession. So overwhelming was the response that in order to hear the confessions of all who came he had to call in outside help. This touching incident was responsible for Vincent de Paul’s dedication of his entire life to “preaching the gospel to the poor, especially the poor country people.”1
In order to give the missions permanence and organization, Vincent de Paul, with the financial support of the Gondis, organized a group of priests who were to evangelize the Gondi estates (1625). This group, which eventually received approbation from the archbishop of Paris, the French government, and the papacy, grew into the Congregation of the Mission. Vincent followed up the work of the missions with others, such as the Tuesday Conferences (a special association of ecclesiastical leaders) and retreats for ordinande. Out of the latter came the Vincentiandirected seminaries that helped to raise the standards of the French clergy.
As the years progressed, his work took on an enduring form and in 1658, when he gave his Community the rules by which it was to be governed, he stated its purpose in this way:
The end of the Congregation is: 1° to strive for one’s own perfection by exerting every effort to practice the virtues which the Sovereign Master has been pleased to teach us both by word and example; 2° to preach the gospel to the poor, especially the country people; 30 to help ecclesiastics in acquiring the knowledge and virtues necessary for their state.2
What was Saint Vincent de Paul’s vision of this new Community? Foremost was the fact that it was apostolic. Providence had brought it together to meet a major need in the Church’s task of evangelization. At the same time he saw it as occupying a lower rank in the Church. He called it the “Little Company” and told his followers that they were gleaners who followed after the older, more prestigious communities. Vincent was an profound student of human nature and realized instinctively that an individual who was personally humble and selfless could easily sublimate his pride into a large organization. He demanded of his confreres that they be humble not only about themselves but about their Community. As a result he stressed the importance of day-today work and dedication to the ordinary, unromantic tasks of the apostolate. He wanted his followers to be workers rather than innovators. His attitude is perhaps best summarized in his oft-quoted exhortation “let us love God, my brothers, let us love God, but let it be at the expense of our arms and in the sweat of our brow.”3
The Community founded by Saint Vincent (he was canonized in 1737) spread rapidly. At the time of his death (27 September 1660) it extended to almost every province in France and numbered twenty-five houses that included mission centers, seminaries, and parishes. It had opened foundations in Poland, had undertaken missionary work in Madagascar, Ireland, and Scotland, and had opened a house in Rome.
By the time of the French Revolution (1789) the Congregation in France numbered more than 500 priests and about 260 brothers. It was to be found in Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Palatinate, the islands of Mauritius and Bourbon, Russian Lithuania, the partitioned areas of Poland, the Ottoman Empire (including modern Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon), Algeria, and China.
The Vincentians came to the United States as a mission of the province of Rome. Saint Vincent had first sent his priests to the Eternal City as a way of having direct communications with the Holy See (1631). It was only in 1659, however, that the Vincentians were able to fmd a permanent residence, the former townhouse of a local cardinal in the Monte Citorio district of Rome. This was to be the starting point of the American Vincentian mission.
The Roman foundation brought difficulties as well as blessings. By the end of the seventeenth century a strong spirit of nationalistic rivalry had grown up between the French and non-French Vincentians, the latter led by the Italians. So bitter did feelings become that an attempt was made to divide the Community into French and non-French governmental units. The attempt failed but the feelings remained.
They burst out again at the time of the French Revolution. In 1792 the Congregation of the Mission was suppressed in France and the superior general, Felix Cayla de la Garde, and his council were forced to flee the country. The superior general was eventually able to settle in Rome but died there in 1800 and after a brief period of confusion, Father Francois Brunet assumed government of the Community as vicar general.
In 1804 Napoleon decreed the restoration of the Congregation in France, but in such ambiguous wording that Vincentians outside of France refused to accept it. The result was that from 1804 to 1807, the government of the Community was divided between French and Italian vicars general. In 1807 unified government was restored but the schism was renewed in 1809 when Napoleon suppressed the Congregation of the Mission. There followed a long, confused period of conflicting claims until 1827 when the pope ended the division by appointing a superior general.
It was against this background that the Vincentian mission to the United States was undertaken. This mission was an offshoot of the Roman Province, an area that despite the buffetings of the Napoleonic wars had not suffered a serious interruption of Vincentian life. The American mission was to inherit the strong ultramontane (or pro-papal) orientation of the Roman Province rather than the more Gallican leanings of the French.
The Call of Louisiana
In 1815, Louis William Valentine Dubourg, a Sulpician priest who had been named apostolic administrator of Louisiana, went to Rome to recruit priests. On his arrival in Rome Propaganda erected Louisiana into a diocese and appointed Dubourg its first bishop. He resolved, however, not to accept the government of the sprawling diocese, which had come under American rule in 1803, unless he could obtain sufficient priests. During his stay in Rome, Dubourg lodged with the Vincentians at Monte Citorio. At that time the students from the college of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (commonly called Propaganda) lodged at Monte Citorio. The operation of the college had been suspended from 1798 until 1815 because of political difficulties, and the Vincentian house had been serving as a replacement. One evening, on returning to Monte Citorio, Dubourg heard one of the young Vincentians giving a spiritual conference to a group of clerics. So deeply impressed was the bishop-elect that he resolved to have this priest, and perhaps more of his Community, for his sparsely settled diocese. The young priest’s name was Felix De Andreis.
De Andreis was born on 13 December 1778 in the village of Demonte, in Piedmont in northern Italy. In 1797 he joined the Congregation of the Mission as a member of the Turin province. He pursued his seminary studies under great difficulties, most of them caused by the Napoleonic invasions of Italy. These studies were interrupted in 1799 when the French-dominated provisional government of Piedmont suppressed all the Vincentian houses in its jurisdiction. De Andreis returned to his home but was able to resume his studies at Turin toward the end of that same year. He made his vows on 21 September 1800. Three months later the house at Turin was also suppressed, and he moved to the Collegio Alberoni, the Vincentian-directed seminary at Piacenza. It was there that he was ordained to the priesthood in 1801 and in the following year completed his theological studies.
His first years of ministry were dedicated to giving parish missions around Piacenza where, because of the political disturbances, the faithful were all but forgotten. He also worked to support the local clergy at a time of foreign domination and anticlericalism. Between missions he assisted or substituted for professors at the Collegio Alberoni. From Piacenza he was sent to Rome. There his duties focused on the formation of seminarians of the Congregation of the Mission at Monte Citorio and the students from Propaganda. In addition he worked at the ongoing formation of the Roman clergy, especially by giving them spiritual conferences.
It was on the occasion of one of these conferences that Dubourg first encountered De Andreis. “How happy I would be,” the bishop-elect remarked to a student standing next to him, “if I could have some of these priests for my diocese !”4 When the student informed him that De Andreis had long wanted to serve on the foreign missions, especially China, Dubourg spoke to the young priest and asked him to accompany him to the United States, primarily to establish a seminary in Louisiana. De Andreis was enthusiastic but agreed only on condition that his Vincentian superiors would give their approval. The Italian vicar-general, Father Carlo Domenico Sicardi, vigorously opposed the idea of losing one of his best priests and claimed that it would do extensive harm to the work of the seminary and the formation of the Roman clergy. Undeterred, Dubourg went directly to the pope, Pius VII (1800-1823), who, after an audience with Father Sicardi, turned the matter over to two cardinals who consulted with the parties involved. Sicardi pleaded De Andreis’s poor health, but the reason collapsed when De Andreis’s physician approved his going. Sicardi then pointed out to Pius VII that it was the pope himself who had wanted the Vincentians to give missions in the Papal States and to work with the ordinands and that the removal of De Andreis would hurt this. Also, though the matter is far from clear, there had apparently been some anonymous denunciations of De Andreis’s orthodoxy.
Dubourg had determined to put off his consecration until the matter was settled but changed his mind. He was made a bishop on 24 September 1815 in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, the French church in Rome. Two days later he had an audience with the pope at Castelgandolfo and received fmal approval for De Andreis and five or more other Vincentians to go to Louisiana. The matter was turned over to Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, the all-powerful Secretary of State, whose skill in diplomacy had been a match for Napoleon. He informed Sicardi of the pope’s wishes and the basic articles of the contract were formulated on 27 September, the feast of the death of Saint Vincent de Paul, though the contract was not signed until November.5
De Andreis set about finding co-workers for the mission. One of the first persons he turned to was his former student and close friend, Father Joseph Rosati. Rosati was born at Sora, in the kingdom of Naples, on 12 January 1789, and came from a noble family. Convinced of his priestly vocation from his earliest years, he began his ecclesiastical studies at the seminary at Sora in December 1804. Feeling a call to the religious life, he was admitted as a novice in the Congregation of the Mission on 23 June 1807. The novitiate was located at San Andrea al Quirinale in Rome and hence felt the impact of the French invasions. Because of this, Rosati received a dispensation to pronounce his vows on 1 April 1808. In September of that year he began his theological studies at Monte Citorio where he came under De Andreis’s direction. He was ordained to the priesthood on 10 February 1811.
During their days together at Monte Citorio, De Andreis and Rosati had often discussed their desires to go on the foreign missions. One day De Andreis asked Rosati what studies he was engaged in. Rosati replied that among other things he devoted a certain amount of time each day to the study of Hebrew. De Andreis told him, “Leave Hebrew aside. It is not what you need. Learn English.” When Rosati asked why, De Andreis replied, “that language will be necessary for us, for you and me, in order to preach the word of God to the peoples who speak it.” De Andreis, who had already learned some English from an Irish priest at Propaganda, gave Rosati a grammar and promised to help him with the new language. A few days later, baffled and frustrated by the chaotic rules of pronunciation, Rosati returned the book and asked his mentor never to mention the word English again. De Andreis took back the grammar but forewarned him “nevertheless you will need it.”6
Rosati’s first priestly work consisted of parish missions in the towns and villages near Rome. Political disturbances, however, forced him to return to Sora (June 1812). After the situation had calmed, he returned to Monte Citorio where he gave conferences to ordinands, preached to the inmates of a Roman prison, and gave missions in various parts of the Papal States. It was while he was preaching a mission at La Scarpa that he received a letter from De Andreis, telling him about the new mission venture in North America. Though Rosati had already been selected for the mission, De Andreis assured him that there was still time to reconsider. He had only to answer yes or no (con un bel si o con un bel no).7. Not unexpectedly, the answer was un be! si.
On 17 November the contract, authorizing and delineating the new mission, was signed by Dubourg, De Andreis, and Sicardi. It defined in clear terms that the Vincentians who were going to Louisiana were still under the government of their superiors, both local and Roman. The “essential condition” on which the contract was based was that
the missionaries will go out with him [Dubourgj as subjects of the Congregation of the Mission, to form an establishment in his diocese, discharge the different functions appertaining to their institute, and especially to found a seminary as early as possible, by means of certain funds which have been promised them, together with the savings of the missionaries.8
To protect the Vincentian identity of the missionaries, they were to live in community as much as possible. None could accept a parish in his own name but only in that of the Congregation. Those who did otherwise were to be expelled from the Community. Revenues from these parishes were to go to the local superiors, after sufficient sums had been deducted for the support of the priest in the parish. Novices were to remain “stationary at the principal residence (which will be considered as the motherhouse and central point for all and where, in due time, the seminary is to be erected).” The superior, however, was authorized to dispense from the two full years of novitiate. Superiors were to be free “to appoint, recall, replace and dispose of their subjects, as of so many vice-curates, as is done in all places where the missionaries have the care of souls.”
After their arrival in America, the missionaries were to be given a month, not so much for rest as for an opportunity to survey the local scene and discern its needs. In the case of parishes, Vincentian participation in them should be inaugurated with a mission.
And as, through ignorance and vice, the state of these people cannot be otherwise than deplorable, since neglectis urenda filix innascitur agris [“in neglected fields there springs up the coarse fern which must be burned”9‘), before settling in any place, the missionaries should begin by a mission…in order to make a good beginning and promote the solid and permanent welfare of these poor souls; the effects of these missions being such that they produce a complete change in a place and render it easy to preserve and continue the good thus begun.
It was also foreseen that they would “carry out, as soon as possible, the erection of a seminary which, aided by the modest pension required of the seminarists, need not, it is presumed, be delayed for very long.”
There is some uncertainty about who and how many constituted the first group of missioners. The original band consisted of three Vincentian priests: De Andreis, Rosati, and Joseph Acquaroni; two Vincentian postulant brothers, Anthony Bobone and Francis Boranvaski (the latter name is spelled in a variety of ways); and a young Belgian seminarian from Propaganda, Leo Deys. There was also a Father Pereira (a Portuguese name) who later left the group and about whom little is known.
Before their departure the small band had a lengthy audience with Pius VII who spoke to them in a friendly and familiar way. He also granted a number of privileges, among which was that any student from the Collegio Alberoni in Piacenza could join them in spite of any promise to his diocese.
It was decided that the missionaries would depart in two groups, one of which would travel by sea, the other by land, until they would eventually meet in Toulouse. Since the anticipated seminary was to be founded in lower Louisiana, the study of French was necessary. The first group, consisting of Rosati, Acquaroni, Spezioli, Deys, and Boranvaski left from Civitavecchia on 21 October 1815. The journey by sea was slow and marked by many interruptions. Not all of these were misfortunes, for during an enforced stay in Genoa word of their mission reached two diocesan priests at Porto Maurizio, Joseph Carretti (a canon of the collegiate church there) and Andrew Ferrari. Both joined the group in Bordeaux. Ferrari later joined the Congregation of the Mission while Carretti, on his deathbed, indicated his desire to do so. After a journey of more than two months, the missionaries arrived at Toulouse on 19 January 1816.
In the meantime De Andreis and Dubourg made preparations for the departure of the second group. This included recruiting new members, soliciting funds from various royal and noble sources (including the emperor of Austria), and collecting books for the library of the projected seminary. On 15 December 1815 De Andreis left Rome together with a Father Marliani, a diocesan priest of Rome, and two seminarians from Propaganda, Casto Gonzalez, a Spaniard, and Francis Dahmen, a native of Diiren in the Prussian Rhineland, who had served as a cavalryman under Napoleon. He later joined the Congregation of the Mission. They were joined by a Father Buzieres, a French priest who came to Rome from Viterbo for that purpose.
At Piacenza De Andreis was disappointed in his hope that some seminarians might join the mission. There was, however, a very important recruit in Brother Martin Blanka, a Vincentian who later rendered invaluable services during a long career in the American mission. From Piacenza the small band went to France by way of the Alps, a perilous journey in the depth of winter. They joined their fellow missionaries at Toulouse on 25 January 1816. Shortly thereafter they again divided into two groups and met at Bordeaux in early February.
The band now consisted of De Andreis, Rosati, Acquaroni, Spezioli, Buzieres, Carretti, Ferrari, Deys, Dahmen, Gonzalez, Bobone, Boranvaski, and Blanka. There were, however, some losses. Pereira, whose involvement in the whole enterprise is obscure, apparently left some time before this. Buzieres and Brother Bobone left the group at Bordeaux.
The stay in Bordeaux lasted almost four months, during which everyone studied French, the priests ministered and preached in the local parishes, and the seminarians carried on a regular program of study. On 24 April 1816 they were stunned by a letter from Dubourg that informed them of two important changes. The first was that he would not be journeying to America with them. The second was that the site of the proposed seminary had been changed from lower to upper Louisiana.
The impulsive bishop had administered a major shock to the small band. His original intention had been to found the seminary in connection with the Assumption parish church at Lafourche (now Plattenville), Louisiana, so as to be near his see city of New Orleans. Circumstances in the latter city, especially the opposition of the Capuchin Antonio de Sedella, the famous Pere Antoine and leader of the trustees of the cathedral, had caused Dubourg to change his see to Saint Louis. English now became as important as French, and the missionaries would have to undertake the study of a new and complex language. Fathers Spezioli and Marliani gave up in despair at the project and abandoned the group. Two new recruits, however, came forward. These were Medard de Lattre and John Flegifont, who asked to be admitted as brothers. Both made it as far as Baltimore but left the Community shortly afterward.
Dubourg reached Bordeaux on 22 May accompanied by Joseph Tichitoli, a young seminarian from Como, Italy, who wanted to join the mission and who later entered the Vincentian Community. Arrangements were made to sail on an American brig called The Ranger, which weighed anchor at midnight on 12/13 June 1816. On board were thirteen missionaries: De Andreis, Rosati, Acquaroni, Carretti, Ferrari, Deys, Dahmen, Gonzalez, Tichitoli, Blanka, Flegifont, Boranvaski, and de Lattre. Before boarding the ship, they made one last break with their pasts: they laid aside their cassocks and donned the black suits, ties, and round hats that were characteristic of the American clergy.
The group quickly turned the ship into a floating seminary. All spiritual exercises were held with regularity, and classes were given in both theology and English. All, however, was not entirely religious as the group learned on 19 July, at that time the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. As De Andreis described it in his journal:
A negro slave, for relapse into theft and drunkenness was to undergo the punishment that was customary in such cases — namely, to be thrown into the sea attached to a rope which passed under the ship. When it was drawn up on the otherside, the poor wretch was obliged to pass under the vessel, once or several times, at the imminent risk of losing his life in the process.10 We told the captain that it was a great festival for us and begged him to pardon the unhappy delinquent for the sake of our saint. We had the happiness to succeed in obtaining our request.11
Sea voyages in that age were dangerous and uncomfortable, and this one was no exception. Some were afflicted by sea sickness. They encountered at least one serious storm. When after forty days at sea they were becalmed 300 miles east of Baltimore, the missionaries wrote out a vow to make a novena to Saint Vincent de Paul and to fast on 26 September, the vigil of the feast of his death. Their prayers were answered, and on 26 July they arrived safely at Baltimore. De Andreis wrote, “Our first impulse on landing was to kneel and kiss the ground but the place where we disembarked was so crowded that we deferred doing that.”12
The band had landed in a foreign country, with a limited command of the local language, and eighty pieces of baggage. They were quickly welcomed and helped by the Sulpicians of Saint Mary’s Seminary, whose superior, Simon Brute de Remur, would later become the first bishop of Vincennes, Indiana Some lodged at the seminary while others were given hospitality in two local parishes. Following instructions he had received from Dubourg, De Andreis immediately wrote to Benedict Joseph Flaget, also a Sulpician and the bishop of Bardstown, Kentucky. Flaget quickly replied, urging the group to come to Kentucky before the onset of winter.
The Sulpicians at Saint Mary’s took up a collection in the city to help with the expenses of the journey and donated some books for the proposed seminary. The Jesuit superior at Georgetown also contributed funds. De Andreis made preparations for departure. The band was again divided into two groups. The first, under the leadership of Brother Blanka, was to go on foot to Pittsburgh together with the wagons carrying the baggage. They departed on 3 September 1816. The second group, led by De Andreis, left by stagecoach a week later.
The journey, as described by De Andreis, was harrowing. The roads were primitive and dangerous. At one point Acquaroni and two companions became lost. At another a landslide almost killed them all. The climax came when the stagedriver decided that he could not cross the flooded Juniata River and left his passengers at an inn. They eventually crossed by canoe and caught another stage on the other side. For the last segment of their trip they were compelled to abandon the stagecoach altogether, put their possessions in a wagon, and walk to Pittsburgh. It had taken them nine days to cover 240 miles. It is small wonder that De Andreis admitted to feelings of melancholy as he recalled the beauty and warmth of Rome.
Though they were well received and lodged by both Catholics and non-Catholics in Pittsburgh, they were delayed still further because Brother Blanka had not arrived with the baggage. When he did, the Ohio River was too low to permit them to take a flatboat. It was not until 26 October that the river had risen sufficiently to permit their departure. The flatboat was immediately converted into another floating seminary, with a fixed schedule of spiritual exercises and classes. Still, the missioners had time to enjoy the beauties of the new country and to stroll along the riverbanks during stopovers. Rosati admired the color and variety of American birds, though he considered their song inferior to those of Europe. De Andreis, on the other hand, was more concerned about his first sight of rattlesnakes, which he described in detail in letters to Europe.
They reached Louisville on 19 November and were immediately invited by Flaget to come to the seminary of Saint Thomas, a few miles south of Bardstown, where he had his residence. The original intention had been to leave the clerics there while the rest of the expedition went to Saint Louis. Because of oncoming winter and the lack of accommodations in Saint Louis, it was decided that all would spend the winter at Saint Thomas. As it turned out, they spent almost two years there. Those years were occupied with the study of theology, French, and English and, for the priests, with ministering to Catholics scattered through Kentucky and Indiana.
Bishop Dubourg was initially displeased with the decision to stay at Bardstown, but after his arrival in Baltimore with new recruits for the mission (September 1817) he asked De Andreis, Rosati, Blanka, and Flaget to go to Saint Louis to prepare for his arrival there. When they arrived there in October they found a town of 2000 persons, wooden buildings, unpaved streets, and no resident priest. They were also disappointed to discover that the local Catholics were totally apathetic about the arrival of their bishop.
While Flaget was trying to ignite some enthusiasm for Dubourg’s coming, a delegation arrived from the Barrens Settlement, about eighty miles south of the city. They represented a small colony of Catholics of English descent who had migrated from Maryland by way of Kentucky early in the century and who were eager to have the services of a resident priest. Up to that time the settlement had been visited monthly by Father Joseph Dunand, a Trappist at Florissant, Missouri, who was the survivor of an ill-fated attempt to found a Trappist monastery at Cahokia, Illinois. The delegates made a preliminary offer of a tract of land for the proposed seminary in return for which they would have the ministrations of the seminary priests.
Flaget took the offer under consideration and returned with Rosati to Bardstown, which they reached on 6 November. De Andreis, who was in delicate health, stayed at Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, together with Brother Blanka, both to rest and to fill in for the pastor. On 1 December Bishop Dubourg arrived at Saint Thomas, accompanied by five priests, one deacon, two subdeacons, nine seminarians, three Christian Brothers, and five Flemish laymen who intended to form a community of brothers. One of the seminarians was Leo De Neckere, who later joined the Congregation of the Mission.
Dubourg was determined to go immediately to his new see city in spite of the inclemencies of winter. He left on 12 December, together with Flaget, Father Stephen Badin (the first priest ordained in the United States), and a seminarian. On 31 December they reached Sainte Genevieve and were welcomed by De Andreis. When Dubourg and De Andreis arrived in Saint Louis on 6 January 1818, another deputation from the Barrens, consisting of the trustees of the parish church, awaited them to discuss the offer of land. Dubourg put them off until he had an opportunity to visit the site personally. He did so in April and satisfied himself both with regard to the land and the dispositions of the people. The offer was accepted, and the seminary was to be established at the Barrens Settlement, now Perryville, Missouri.
The original offer was of 640 acres of land (the standard size of both American and Spanish land grants) that the trustees of the Barrens parish church purchased from Ignatius Layton for $900. The title to this land was given to Dubourg in a contract dated 18 June 1819. The parishioners subscribed $1500 to be paid in five yearly installments for the construction of “a seminary of learning” on the land.13 Dubourg, on his part, bound himself to pay $3000 to the trustees, who in their turn voided the obligation to pay so long as the land was used for the purposes specified. It was a donation, but it carried an implicit price tag.
During this time De Andreis remained in Saint Louis where he acted as Dubourg’s vicar-general and rector of the pro-cathedral, the equivalent of being the only parish priest in the city. In the midst of his many occupations there, two things stood out. One was his interest in helping and evangelizing the blacks, both slave and free. It caused some surprise among the local population that a man of culture and gentility would do such work. Equally notable was his concern for the Indians. De Andreis was fascinated by the possibility of being a missionary to the Indians and apparently achieved some mastery of the local dialect. He translated the Our Father and intended to begin a catechism, but he never had sufficient time.
On 3 December 1818 De Andreis opened the first American novitiate of the Congregation of the Mission in Saint Louis, using a small house on church property next to the bishop’s house. The first novices were a priest, Father Ferrari, and two deacons, Dahmen and Tichitoli. Father Carretti died before he could enter the Community. De Andreis called the novitiate Gethsemane and considered it the one thing closest to his heart. At about the same time he began teaching theology in a boys school founded by Bishop Dubourg, the predecessor of the present Saint Louis University.
The move of the faculty and seminarians from Bardstown to the Barrens was delayed for over a year. One obstacle was the slow pace of construction of the new seminary. The proposed building — sixty by thirty-six feet, two and a half stories, with a basement, plastered within and without — was beyond the capacities of the local people. Dubourg sent a man from Saint Louis to be the supervisor and a diocesan priest, Charles de la Croix, from Bardstown to be the architect. The latter was accompanied by the Flemish brothers who worked together with the local population.
It was not until August 1818 that Dubourg gave the signal for the move to the Barrens. On 15 September, twenty-five priests, brothers, and seminarians left Saint Thomas, going by boat to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi and from there by land to the Barrens arriving 2 October. The buildings were not ready for them, and they had to lodge with some of the local people. At the site of the seminary itself there were only three log cabins, one of which served as a kitchen and refectory, the other two as lodgings for the Flemish brothers and Father de la Croix. The seminary of Saint Mary’s of the Barrens had begun its long and eventful history.
Life was far from easy. The lodgings of some of the priests were four miles from the log cabin seminary buildings. The climate was more extreme than the Europeans were accustomed to, and it was often necessary for them to work with the local people on the construction of the seminary buildings. In the the spring of 1819 some additional cabins were built at the seminary site, and the entire community moved into them. Rosati described one Easter Sunday meal that consisted of beans, an omelet, and hazelnuts, and spoke of the tears that overcame some of the community on that occasion.
The seminary grew rapidly, receiving reinforcements from Europe, particularly Italy, and even some local vocations. In addition, at the insistence of the local people, a lay college was opened in conjunction with the seminary. The tuition paid by the students helped to support the seminary. Other means of support were farming activities. Brother Blanka rendered special services in that regard, and Father Francis Cellini, a physician as well as a priest, planted both vegetable plots and fruit orchards. In 1819 Dubourg sent some slaves to help at the seminary and within the next few years the seminary would purchase many of its own.
In Saint Louis De Andreis had lost all his novices. Tichitoli was sent to Louisiana for his health, and Ferrari and Dahmen went to Vincennes, Indiana. The greatest loss, however, was that of De Andreis himself, who died on 15 October 1820. He had been in delicate health for some time, but his death was a serious blow to the mission, so serious that some believed that it might not survive. Before his death, however, De Andreis had appointed Rosati as his successor. Rosati, who was already the superior of Saint Mary’s Seminary, took over as superior of the American mission, with powers equivalent to those of a provincial. De Andreis was buried at the Barrens, a place that he had never visited.14.
- This story was related by Saint Vincent to the priests of the mission in an undated conference. See Saint Vincent de Paul: correspondance, entretiens, documents, 14 vols. Ed. by Pierre Coste, C.M. (Paris, 1920-1925), 11:4. On another occasion (25 January 1655) he gave a different version, relating it to Madame de Gondi’s difficulty with a confessor who did not know the words of absolution (11:170-71).
- Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, Chapter 1, no. 1.
- Pierre Coste, Saint Vincent de Paul: correspondence, entretiens, documents, 14 vols. (Paris, 1920-1925), 11:40.
- Life of the Vey Rev. Felix De Andreis, C.M., First Superior of the Congregation of the Mission in the United States and Vicar General of Upper Louisiana. Chiefly from Sketches written by The Right Rev. Joseph Rosati, C.M., First Bishop of St. Louis, Mo., (Saint Louis, 1900), 60.
- See text in Appendix I
- Joseph Rosati, “Recollections of the Establishment of the Congregation of the Mission in the United States of America,” translated and annotated by Stafford Poole, C.M. Vincentian Heritage, I-V (1980-1984), 1:93. Another version of the story with different details but also from Rosati’s hand can be found in the De Andreis Life, 54-56.
- Rosati, “Recollections,” 72.
- A copy of the contract can be found in AGC, Etats-Unis.
- Horace, Satires, I, 3:37. It is interesting that the only citation in the contract is of a Roman poet.
- De Andreis is describing the punishment known as keelhauling.
- Life, 98
- Life, 106
- Contract between Dubourg and the Trustees of the parish of Saint Mary’s church, the Barrens, 18 June 1818, DRMA, Il-C (MO)-9-B1, land grants and deeds.
- De Andreis’s death was hastened by his ignorant but well-meaning doctor who dosed him with calomel, a derivative of mercury, during his last illness. See Vincentian Heritage, IV (1983), no. 2, 136, n. 14.