August 26, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The Church experiences phenomenal growth
under Bishop Bruté

In 1834, seven Catholic churches were served in the expansive Diocese of Vincennes by Bishop Simon Bruté and three other priests. Mass in several other venues was occasional. By the time the bishop died in June of 1839—only five years later—the sacraments were being celebrated in 27 parish churches; four more were being built. Masses were also celebrated at 30 other “stations.” There were 25 priests and 20 seminarians. Two religious communities had been founded; there was a “college” for young men and an academy for young women. Ele­mentary schools enrolled 130 students.

The phenomenal development under the leadership of our founding bishop testifies to the power of God’s grace working through a holy missionary. Bishop Bruté had written to his brother Augustine, “My health is failing fast. My days are vanishing, but every day my heart experiences great joy at the unremitting progress of the Church. Although I should like to remain a little longer I am resigned to the Master’s will.”

Father John McCaffrey, president of Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., and a friend of Bishop Bruté, left a splendid testimony about the nobility of the bishop’s last days. “Difficulties that would have disheartened almost any one else, only served to increase his zeal and charity. Having commenced a journey of four hundred miles in such a state of bodily suffering that he could not sit upright on his horse, he nevertheless completed it without the intermission of a single day. Shortly before his death, he left Vincennes to visit a distant mission … and though so weak and extenuated that he could scarcely support his tottering frame, in the absence of the pastor, he attended to three distant sick-calls, on the same day, and almost dying, administered the consolations of religion to those, who appeared no nearer mortal dissolution than himself.

“Death, which could be no unwelcome visitor to one whose thoughts, hope and affections all centered in a better world, found him full-handed of good works, and longing only to be dissolved and to be with Christ. Invincibly patient and resigned under the severest suffering, full of tender piety, calm, collected and brightly exhibiting his characteristic virtues to the last, he set a beautiful example of the manner in which a Christian should prepare himself to run his final race and to win the glorious immortality. As his strength diminished, his devotion increased. He sought no alleviation for his sufferings: on the contrary he was eager still to labor and endure, in the twofold view of doing good to others and resembling more his crucified Savior. When unable to walk or stand, he would at least sit up, and write to any whom he could hope to benefit by his correspondence; and to those around him he would speak on pious subjects, such as the love of God, conformity to His holy will, or devotion to the Blessed Virgin, with the unction of a saint, and the ardour of a seraph.

“These last precious days of his life were thus entirely taken up in the works of charity, in instructing, edifying and consoling those who were with him, and in intimate and affectionate communion with his God, whom he hoped soon to see face to face, and love and enjoy forever. He preferred often to be left alone, that he might the more freely indulge his pious feelings, and for this end he would allow no one to watch by him by night, until his mortal agony had begun … . ‘The will of God be done’ was the constant language of his lips, as it was the abiding sentiment of his heart.

“After having received the last sacrament, he directed the departing prayers to be recited, which he answered devoutly and fervently until the last, and then on the morning of the 26th of June, at half past one o’clock he calmly and sweetly ­surrendered his soul into the hands of his Creator.

Bishop Bruté’s last words were those of Christ, “Sitio” or “I thirst.”

As we reflect on the last days of our founding bishop in the year 2005, we cannot help but think of the last days of our recently deceased Pope John Paul II. The similarities are striking. Their witness of charity and humility is touching—infirm pastors dedicated to their people to the very end.

As for the late Holy Father, so for our first bishop, all, with one accord, mourned for the scholar, the philanthropist and the saint. Crowds of persons of every rank, and of all denominations, visited his corpse and assisted at the ceremonies of his burial. It is said that the whole population poured forth to accompany, in solemn silence, the honored remains of the holy and unlikely bishop to his last resting place.

(Next week: The archdiocese is proceeding with efforts to promote the cause for canonization of Bishop Simon Bruté.)


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