Fathers on the Frontier: French Missionaries and the Roman Catholic Priesthood in the United States, 1789-1870

By Michael Pasquier | Go to book overview

1
Missionary Formation and
French Catholicism

“As I gather up my scattered remembrances,” Simon Guillaume Gabriel Bruté de Rémur wrote in 1818 from Maryland, “the whole comes back to me very vividly, and I may be said to feel as I did then.” Bruté—member of the Order of St. Sulpice and future bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana—was referring to his memories and feelings associated with the French Revolution, an event that began in 1789 when he was a ten-year-old boy growing up in Rennes. Almost thirty years later, Bruté recalled the “profane and systematic attempts to root out the Christian Religion from the hearts of the people and make them infidels.” The persecution of the French clergy played an important part in Bruté’s account of the French Revolution, as well as his attempt to lionize those priests who died or went into exile because of their refusal to abide by the articles contained in the 1790 Civil Constitution of the Clergy. He believed that “it was natural that one so devoted to his religion and king should sympathize with the reaction produced by the revolutionary cruelties,” even if it meant that a priest be “seen with those who had taken up arms to resist the Revolution.” He tacitly approved of laypeople avenging the deaths of priests by sending those who transgressed against the clergy “to meet their holy victim before the Judgment seat.” And he remembered “how sad, how desolate everything seemed without that living presence” of a priest able to administer the sacraments and celebrate mass on a regular basis. In sum, Bruté thanked God for an end to the days when “insult

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