July 11, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Felix De Andreis

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

Felix De Andreis, born in 1778 in northern Italy, joined the Vincentians (formally, Congregation of the Mission) that St. Vincent de Paul founded in 1625, and was ordained a priest in 1802.

He spent the first four years of his priesthood preaching parish missions in northern Italy before being transferred to Rome, where he taught seminarians while continuing to give missions and preach retreats for both priests and laity.

While he was preaching a retreat for priests, Bishop Louis DuBourg of Louisiana heard him. The bishop was in Europe recruiting priests. He asked Father De Andreis if he was interesting in going to the New World, and he answered enthusiastically.

His Vincentian superior, though, didn’t want to let him go. Bishop DuBourg went to the pope, who assigned two cardinals to decide. They sided with Bishop DuBourg and Father De Andreis was permitted to go.

But first, Bishop DuBourg, Father De Andreis and the Vincentian superior signed a contract that stipulated that Father De Andreis would have to recruit five or more Vincentians to go with him, that they would live a common life and maintain the Vincentian style of missions, and that the bishop would erect a seminary for them.

Father De Andreis recruited 13 volunteers—priests, brothers and seminarians. The first recruit was Father Joseph Rosati, whom Father De Andreis had taught in the seminary. He was later to become Bishop of St. Louis and administrator of New Orleans.

The recruits left Italy in two groups and met in Bordeaux, where they planned to study French in preparation for going to New Orleans. While they were studying, though, a letter arrived from Bishop DuBourg changing their assignment to St. Louis. So they studied English during their six-week voyage from Bordeaux to Baltimore.

Their next stop was Bardstown, Ky. They went overland from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, then down the Ohio River to Louisville then 30 miles to St. Thomas Seminary in Bardstown. Father De Andreis stayed there a year, teaching theology and studying English.

In 1817, he went to St. Louis with Father Rosati and Bishop Benedict Flaget of Bardstown. A journey that began in Rome in October of 1815 finally ended in St. Louis in October of 1817. Almost immediately, Bishop DuBourg named Father De Andreis vicar general of Upper Louisiana. While filling those duties, he erected a seminary at Perryville, Mo., and began the first novitiate of the Vincentians in the United States.

He also found time to evangelize African-Americans, both slave and free, and the Indians. He learned the local Indian dialect enough to translate the Our Father. He planned to write a catechism in the Indian language, but he ran out of time.

He died only four years after he arrived in the United States. He had never had robust health, and his stomach ailments continued to worsen. He died on Oct. 15, 1820, at age 42. He has been declared Venerable, but has never been beatified. †

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