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

By Michael Pasquier | Go to book overview

2
Missionary Experience and
Frontier Catholicism

In November of 1810, Archbishop John Carroll consecrated Benoît Joseph Flaget as bishop of the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky. Six months later, Flaget left Baltimore with his friend Jean-Baptiste David and embarked upon a month-long journey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. According to David, they “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” and made their way down the Ohio River accompanied by Edward Fenwick, a native of Maryland and Dominican missionary who would become the first bishop of Cincinnati. As the crew handled the fifty-one-foot ship, the three priests proceeded to follow an improvised version of the rule of St. Sulpice. They woke up at four o’clock in the morning, recited prayers and meditations, celebrated mass at their makeshift altar, ate breakfast at eight o’clock, sang “the Little Hours in choir” at nine o’clock, and ate a meal of coffee, chocolate, eggs, and milk for lunch. In the evening, they sang vespers and recited the rosary, contemplated “spiritual reading[s],” ate supper, read their prayers at eightthirty, and went to bed. Yet no matter “how delightful” was their floating “abode,” David and his confrères still could not help but feel “frightened, cast down, [and] discouraged” about “how vast a field lies before us.”1

Thirty years later, as Jean-Marie Odin extended the reach of Catholic missions from Missouri to Texas, the state of the

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