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6 French Missionary Priests and Borderlands Catholicism in the Diocese of Bardstown during the Early Nineteenth Century MiChael PasqUier In April 1808, Pope Pius VII issued a papal brief announcing the elevation of Baltimore to an archdiocese and the erection of four new suffragan sees, in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and a little-known frontier outpost in Bardstown, Kentucky. Stephen Theodore Badin, having migrated to the trans-Appalachian West in 1793, would later describe the new diocese as “very much larger than France and Spain combined.” Fewer than ten missionary priests would join Badin in the western missionary territory before the formation of the Diocese of Bardstown. But three soon died, two left promptly, and those who remained rarely saw one another on account of the great distances between posts scattered throughout the states and territories of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee , Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Iowa. As Belgian priest Charles Nerinckx remembered, the missionnaires étrangères faced a difficult situation, because“before the Cathedral was put up [in 1816], Bardstown was much like a pleasure garden to the Presbyterians and Baptists,” an observation that invariably applied to much of Kentucky during a period known for its evangelical Protestant activity. Comprised mostly of first- and secondgenerationmigrantsfromMaryland ,theCatholiccommunityof Bardstown + 144 · Michael Pasquier and surrounding Nelson County commended Badin and Nerinckx for their commitment to the evangelization of Kentucky, especially since “we are surrounded by Protestants [who] laugh at our weakness and reproach our church.” In places like Indiana, however, Badin complained that “the heretical ministers are introduced, and an infinite number of scandals that would be too long to describe are often manifested to the loss of the true religion.”He also reported that“there is so much ignorance and carelessness about religion that [the parishioners of Vincennes,Indiana,] constituted an artful newcomer to do the functions of priests in the absence of a priest.”1 In November 1810, Archbishop John Carroll consecrated Benoît Joseph Flaget as the first bishop of the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky. Six months later, Flaget left Baltimore with his friend Jean-Baptiste David and embarked on a month-long journey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. Flaget and David had fled France together in 1792 and joined a growing number of Sulpician émigré priests committed to the establishment of Catholic seminaries in Maryland and the education of the first generation of an American-born clergy. Now, eighteen years later, the two Frenchmen “followed cut-up, muddy, bumpy, steep, horrible roads” from Gettysburg to Pittsburgh, bringing with them feelings of “dryness, desolation , [and] temptations.” They then boarded a “comfortable ark” at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and made their way down the Ohio River accompanied by Edward Fenwick, a Dominican missionary who was born in Maryland and who would become the first bishop of Cincinnati.As the three-man crew and three“servants”handled the fiftyone -foot ship, the three priests proceeded to follow the rule of St. Sulpice, the religious society to which Flaget and David belonged. They woke up at four o’clock in the morning, recited prayers and meditations, celebrated mass at their makeshift altar, ate a breakfast of coffee, chocolate, eggs, and milk, and finished the morning with a recitation of chants. In the evening, they sang vespers and said the rosary,engaged in“spiritual reading,”ate supper , read their prayers at eight-thirty, and went to bed. Yet no matter“how delightful” their floating “abode,” they still could not help but feel “frightened , downcast, [and] discouraged” about“how vast a field lies before us.”2 Badin, also an amateur poet, welcomed Flaget to Bardstown in June 1811 with a poem: French Missionary Priests and Borderlands Catholicism in Bardstown · 145 Bishop of Barda! May high heaven shed Its choicest blessings on thy reverend head; And may thy flock and clergy ever share In all thy joys, as objects of thy care. Thou shalt be blessed; and may thy Diocese In equal blessings hold an equal place. Be this thy crown of glory and reward That he who in the name of our dread Lord Doth come, shall blessed be. Flaget and David, along with four other seminarians, took residence at Badin ’s log cabin, jokingly referred to as the“episcopal palace”and nestled on a plantation adjoining the quarters of housekeepers,servants,and slaves.David counted at least twenty-five congregations needing chapels and resident pastors within a one-hundred-mile radius of Bardstown. “Twenty good missionaries would find...


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