August 15, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Father Samuel Mazzuchelli

John F. Fink(Twelfth in a series of columns)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Frederic Baraga and his work among the Indians. This column about Dominican Father and Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli will seem quite similar.

Like Father Baraga, Father Mazzuchelli answered the call for missionaries in the Diocese of Cincinnati, which then included the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Father Mazzuchelli left Rome in 1828 while he was still a Dominican seminarian. He completed his theological studies in Somerset, Ohio, and Bishop Edward Fenwick ordained him a priest in 1830. The bishop sent him to Mackinac Island, the first priest to minister in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 60 years. Father Baraga joined him there about a year later.

Irish settlers, and even the French Bishop Mathias Loras, called Father Mazzuchelli “Matthew Kelly.” He worked among the Menominee, Winnebago and Chippewa Indians as well as French-Canadian fur traders. Like Father Baraga, he traveled all over the vast territory on foot, horseback, canoe and snowshoes. He founded numerous parishes and built three churches, including the first church in Wisconsin in Green Bay.

As more priests arrived in Michigan, Father Mazzuchelli moved southwest to the region where Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa meet, and there he remained from 1835 until his death. He made his principal residence in Sinsinawa, Wis. He is credited with founding about 30 parishes and building 14 churches. He founded St. Thomas Aquinas College and St. Clara Academy. The college closed after his death. The academy became Dominican University at River Forest, Ill.

The Diocese of Dubuque was founded in 1837, with Mathias Loras (who called Father Mazzuchelli “Matthew Kelly”) as its first bishop. The bishop appointed “Father Matthew Kelly” the vicar general.

Father Mazzuchelli suffered a severe illness in 1843 and returned to Milan, Italy, where his family lived, for a year. While there, he wrote his Memorie to acquaint Italians with his work in the United States and to recruit other missionaries.

Before his return to America in 1844, the Dominican Order appointed him a Missionary Apostolic, giving him authority “to establish the Dominican Order on the banks of the Upper Mississippi.”

With that authority, he established a novitiate and Sinsinawa Mound College as a school for boys. Both, however, proved to be unsuccessful and ceased to exist.

He was more successful when he founded the sisters’ community of Sinsinawa Dominicans of the Most Holy Rosary. It continues to exist, but he transferred it to Benton, Wis., where he served as pastor the last 15 years of his life.

Besides building churches, Father Mazzuchelli also designed civic buildings, including the state capitol in Iowa City, the courthouses in Galena, Ill., and Fort Madison, Iowa, and the Market House in Galena.

Throughout his ministry, Father Mazzuchelli was an advocate for the Indians, writing on their behalf to the governor, president and members of the U.S. Congress.

He contracted pneumonia on Feb. 23, 1864, after traveling on a bitterly cold morning to anoint two parishioners. He died that evening at age 57. †

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