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

Article excerpt

American Fathers on the Frontier, French Missionaries and the Roman Catholic Priesthood in the United States, 1789-1870. By Michael Pasquier. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 295. $74.00. ISBN 978-0-19537233-5.)

With a fine command of the rich array of primary sources, Michael Pasquier has crafted a distinctive narrative of the "lived experience [s]" (p. 61) of French missionaries in the United States from the French Revolution to the Civil War. He is committed to presenting "the Private Lives of Priests" (p. 19), symbolized by the eighty-five pages of endnotes with citations of their letters and diaries.

Pasquier's chapters are organized topically with more than a nod to chronology. The Sulpicians, who arrived in Baltimore in 1791, play various roles in the narrative. They passed on the ideals of the priesthood in the practical service of the Church. Although Pasquier frequently refers to the "Sulpician Order," the Society of St. Sulpice, founded in France in 1642, is actually a community of diocesan priests on leave from their bishops to teach and form seminarians according to Sulpician ideals. In contrast to the other seminaries that appointed one spiritual director for all students, the Sulpician seminaries provided each student with his own spiritual director within the context of the sacrament of penance. This process forms a meaningful bond between director and penitent. Letters from priests of Sulpician seminaries voice a deep concern with the missionaries' commitment to a life immersed in the sufferings of Christ.

Pasquier focuses on Benoit Joseph Flaget and Jean-Bap tiste David, Sulpicians on the Kentucky frontier; Simon G. G. Brute in Emmitsburg, MD; and Louis G. B. Dubourg in New Orleans. Other prominent figures such as Bishop Jean-Baptiste Blanc of New Orleans and Jean-Marie Odin of San Antonio and later of New Orleans also are featured. Although seminaries were formative of vocations, they had not prepared these men for the harsh realities of the frontier. These French priests "often failed to maintain the integrity of their missionary ideology. . . . Hunger, sickness, fatigue, boredom, loneliness, isolation, indifference, all these physical and emotional states affected how French missionaries lived throughout the dioceses of the trans-Appalachian West" (p. 61). Few in number, they became demoralized by the scandalous behavior of other French priests, particularly in Louisiana and Texas. …


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