August 29, 2003

Archbishop Buechlein wishes to see
diocese’s first bishop canonized

By Brandon A. Evans

VINCENNES, Ind.—It is not often that an archbishop has the honor of seeking to canonize one of his predecessors.

Yet that is exactly what Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein wishes to do someday—and in desiring to proclaim to the world the saintly virtue of the first bishop of Vincennes, he has revealed a man whose wisdom is still relevant today.

Simon Guillaume Gabriel Bruté de Rémur was born in Rennes, France, in 1779.

He crossed paths with Napoleon Bonaparte, risked his life as a child delivering Holy Communion to condemned priests, and was the top student in a class of 1,100 in medical school. He was even the spiritual director of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

He lived an extraordinary life—a life that has been found worthy in the eyes of many people, including Archbishop Buechlein.

“My dream is someday to find the resources to pursue the process of his canonization,” the archbishop said. This process, though, is costly and not a luxury that the archdiocese can afford as yet.

Because of Bishop Bruté’s dedication to priestly vocations and dedicated ways of finding them, the archbishop said that he would “encourage people to ask for Bishop Bruté to intercede for vocations
for the archdiocese” and to “pray for his cause.”

It was a frontier diocese with few resources that Bishop Bruté arrived in, with only three priests to help him. Anti-Catholic sectarians chattered with stories of popery, while all around him the bishop was distressed by the damage that a lack of priests was causing to the souls of Catholics.

He even had the chance, twice in his first year, to incardinate two priests, but refused because of their questionable character.

Burdened by these crosses, more were heaped on his shoulders. Bishop Bruté was growing old in years, and had since lost all his teeth. Despite his academic brilliance, he struggled with English.

From all sides, it looked as though he was doomed to be a mere “lamp in a sepulchre,” as a peer had prophesied. That same peer, Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick of Philadelpia lamented that
Bruté was “an old man with the most strange eccentricities of mind, sent in the decline of a life spent in Collegiate exercises to be an apostle of a new diocese.”

Thus it was that in the wilderness of America in 1834, God had chosen such a man, with seemingly nothing but his books, to do the impossible. But with God, all things are possible.

In the midst of all this, the humble Bishop Bruté wrote to the bishop of St. Louis, “Generally my troubles are more on the surface and there is peace in the depth of my heart where dwells a pure
and simple abandonment to God alone.”

As Archbishop Buechlein acknowledges, such a simple life lived in virtue is sometimes all you need—and what is still needed today.

“Goodness breeds goodness, holiness attracts holiness,” the archbishop said.

Though Bishop Bruté was poor, and though he lacked priests, and though he seemingly had not a thing in the world going for him, his faith and the grace of God gave birth to what we now know as
the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, as well as the other dioceses in Indiana and Illinois.

As for his “old books,” they formed the core of what became one of the largest libraries in the United States at the time, and survive still today at the Old Cathedral Library—housing over 10,000
rare and antique books.

It is this man, this scholar, this bishop, that Archbishop Buechlein wants to show to the world as a model of virtue—a task he began by presenting him to the archdiocesan seminarians during a pilgrimage to Vincennes on Aug. 13.

During a Mass that day at the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, the Old Cathedral of our diocese, the archbishop spoke of his holy predecessor to the men. He wanted to introduce “Bishop Bruté
as a model for holiness as a priest and a very rounded kind of model because of his intelligence, his education [and] his respect for the larger Church.

“Because of his simplicity, here in the United States he was referred to as the silent power—the silent power of the Church in its infancy in our country,” the archbishop said.

He has prayed to Bishop Bruté for vocations—and in doing so bridged the gap of time to find a man who can relate to the troubles of our day. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun.

Comparing him to Pope John Paul II, the archbishop said that Bishop Bruté carried on despite old age and other difficulties.

Like Catholic students of secular schools today, a young Bruté found that many of his professors in college were hostile to religion, and even used their position to advance “the boldest atheism
and materialism,” writes Benedictine Sister Mary Salesia Godecker in Simon Bruté de Rémur: First Bishop of Vincennes.

Despite all this, he banded together with other faithful students and together they persevered.

And the vocations crisis that he faced—the need for priests weighed on him during the 29 years that he was in America—makes any such crisis today pale in comparison.

That was something that particularly struck Jude Mulindwa, a seminarian studying at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

Eric Hodde, a seminarian studying at Marian College in Indianapolis, said that our problems are simple compared to those faced by the pioneers of the Church in America.

“It does create a very strong sense of hope that things will be okay, and that there really is nothing to worry about for the future,” Hodde said, “because, you know, by the grace of God, he’ll take care
of us.”

That was precisely the archbishop’s message to them on the pilgrimage.

“The life and ministry of our first bishop is a vivid reminder that, always, God’s grace is enough in good times and in bad,” he said.

“It’s recorded,” the archbishop told his seminarians, “that one bitter winter night, Bishop Bruté was called to attend to a dying man who lived several miles from [Vincennes]. After walking a short distance through deep snow, the bishop’s guide began to complain and then he refused to go any farther because his feet were freezing. At the time, Bishop Bruté was praying the rosary. He topped and said to the man, ‘Walk in my footsteps.’ So the man did, and all went well.”

The archbishop told the seminarians to“follow the footsteps of Bishop Bruté,” and to note that the bishop was praying the rosary on that blustery winter night. His devotion to prayer—to the Liturgy
of the Hours, to the rosary, and to eucharistic adoration—show that he depended on prayer for everything.

When he assumed responsibility of the diocese, Bishop Bruté wrote to all the faithful in a pastoral letter, begging the people for their prayers.

“Unworthy as I am of so great an honor, 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 wrote. “I come to be a first link in the succession of those who, for ages to come, we do so trust in God, are destined to attend, with their cooperators in a divinely instituted ministry, to your spiritual wants and those of your future progeny.”

As the 11th “link” in that Episcopal succession, Archbishop Buechlein said that he tries to imitate Bishop Bruté’s life.

With the eyes of faith, it is possible to look at that life and see more than a man, more than a scholar, even more than a bishop.

It is possible, without much effort, to see a saint. †


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