- Samuel Mazzuchelli: American Dominican, Journeyman, Preacher, Pastor, Teacher
Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P. (1806–1864), was a pioneer missionary priest active during the years from 1830 until 1864 in the area now comprised of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. By his imagination, energy, [End Page 294] generosity, talents, and self-effacing constancy in the service of religion, culture, and public life, he had a profound and enduring effect on life in the upper Mississippi valley during the years when the American frontier was crossing the river and moving westward.
He was born in Milan, joined the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) when 17, and studied at Santa Sabina in Rome until in 1828, then a subdeacon, he sought and received assignment to the newly founded Dominican province centered in Kentucky.
Upon ordination to the priesthood when 23 years of age by the first bishop of Cincinnati, Edward Fenwick, O.P., he was sent to the upper peninsula of the Michigan territory. During five years, while headquartered on Mackinac Island, he worked effectively among the many fur traders there and among the Indians mainly in what became the state of Wisconsin.
From then on he spent the rest of his life preoccupied with the emergent settling and civilizing of the upper Mississippi valley. He traveled widely, not only organizing new parishes but often designing and helping to build churches, often in stone. Dubuque in Iowa was created the first diocese on the Mississippi above St. Louis in 1837; but from 1835 until the delayed arrival of Bishop Mathias Loras in 1839, Mazzuchelli was the only priest working in the area.
With encouragement from his Dominican superiors, Mazzuchelli, in his later years, focused much of his attention on founding St. Thomas (Aquinas) College on the Sinsinawa mound in southwestern Wisconsin, combined with a new province for friars of the Order. His Dominican superiors suppressed the province shortly after and were in process of closing the college when Mazzuchelli died in 1864. The province was refounded at Chicago in 1939 as the Midwestern province of the Dominicans, and the studium generale was from 1951 to 1981 located in Dubuque, just across the Mississippi river from Sinsinawa. But the congregation of Dominican sisters he organized in nearby Benton, Wisconsin, later moved to Sinsinawa and has remained.
The thoroughness of the research from which this biography is written is directly due to the long-term preparation by Mary Nona McGreal and many co-workers of the exceedingly detailed protocol for submission to the Vatican congregation in Rome that recommends candidates for canonization to the pope. Father Samuel Mazzuchelli has lately been promoted from the status of "Servant of God" to "Venerable" after an appropriately exacting examination, historical, theological, and legal, to establish beyond reasonable doubt his orthodoxy and heroic virtue. After divine confirmation by a certifiable miracle, he may be promoted to "Blessed."
Two bits of useful evidence, both connected with the building of the first St. Raphael's Cathedral in Dubuque come to mind that seem to have been underused or overlooked. The first (cf. pp. 156 and 158, notes 8 and 44) is a letter of July 1833 in the St. Louis archdiocesan archives, written to Bishop Rosati by Charles van Quickenborne, S.J., and the second is the enthusiastic testimony to [End Page 295] Mazzuchelli's character, recalled in old age by Eliphalet Price, a Protestant, who had contracted to supply the dressed limestone for construction: "We never transacted business with a more honorable, pleasant, and gentlemanly person" (Iowa Historical Record, XI, 225–231).