August 5, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Bishop Bruté arrives in Vincennes
and begins to build a diocese

On Oct. 28, 1834, the feast day of the apostles Simon and Jude, Bishop Simon Bruté was consecrated by Bishop Joseph Rosati in St. Louis. He had wanted to be consecrated on the feast of the Holy Rosary because of his devotion to the Blessed Mother, but the time was too short for preparation. Bishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati preached for the occasion. He chose for his text, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” The Gospel of the Mass was “The servant is no greater than His Master.”

The next day, Bishop Bruté issued a pastoral letter to his people. (Bishop Purcell had had it printed for him.) “Unworthy as I am of so great an honour, and of myself unequal to the charge, my only trust is in God, and therefore earnestly calling for your prayers, that I may obtain His divine assistance, I come to be your chief pastor.”

He placed his cathedral under the patronage of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, and he placed his diocese under the patronage of Our Lady “towards whom it was in all ages the spirit of the Church, that all Christians should entertain the most tender devotion.”

Bishop Bruté arrived in Vincennes a week later. He was installed immediately by his elderly friend, Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget of Bardstown, Ky.,who had been a missionary in Vincennes 46 years before.

In a letter to an Austrian charitable foundation, Bishop Bruté described his cathedral: “The Cathedral Church, a plain brick building 115 feet long and 60 broad, consisting of the four walls and roof, unplastered and not even whitewashed—no sanctuary—not even a place for preserving the vestments and sacred vessels. Only a simple altar of wood with a neatly gilded tabernacle, and a cross and six beautiful candlesticks, a gift from France, which were much in contrast with the poverty and utter destitution of the place. The house built for the missionary, and now the episcopal residence, consists of a small, comfortable room and closet, 25 feet by 12, without however a cellar under, or a garret above; a small plot for a garden lays between the church, on the other side of which is the Catholic cemetery.” Nearby was a stable “ready for the bishop’s horse, when he is able to get one.”

Bishop Bruté described in detail the circumstances of his cathedral to illustrate the poverty of his new diocese and its urgent need for help in attending to the basic necessities. He pleaded for funding in order to be able to educate “young men intended for the priesthood and building up of those institutions of charity for orphans or others, without which religion can never be firmly established.”

In the beginning, the bishop’s ministry was mostly focused on Vincennes. He wrote that the people were “mostly of French descent, poor, illiterate, but of that open lively disposition which bespeaks their origin. They retain their faith, love their priests, but are negligent in attending to their religious duties. They are very remiss also in teaching their children their prayers and the catechism, and this causes them to forget it themselves.”

The new bishop was not well-received in some quarters. A minister wrote in an article in a Protestant paper: “You are probably aware that the Pope had constituted recently all this rich neglected country into a diocese with Vincennes as its designated seat. Yea, ‘the man of sin’ has already established himself there and the ‘mystery of iniquity’ is beginning to work in a fearful manner. The newly consecrated bishop has just arrived with two priests, and taken undisputed possession of the now most important town in the state.” A man from Evansville who read about “the man of sin” arrived in Vincennes and announced that he came to see for himself.

“The Man of Sin? You mean me?” Bishop Bruté asked.

“Yes, sir, I mean you. They told me that I could see you in all your infernalia,” the man said.

“You mean paraphernalia, I suppose. Well come inside and I’ll see what I can do for you.” The bishop put on his pectoral cross, a cope and miter, and held his crosier for the man to see.

“There,” he said, “now you have seen the Man of Sin. You can go home and tell the people of Evansville about it.”

“That I will, sir. Why, it’s all nothing but paraphernalia just like you said. They told me it was infernalia.”

From this primitive setting, in five short years, the undaunted Bishop Bruté would establish his diocese on a solid footing.

(Next week: Bishop Simon Bruté looks for priests to help him spread the faith in the new Diocese of Vincennes.)


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