October 13, 2014

St. Mary's College, Kansas: When Jesuits Ruled the Plains

Ed. note: This is just a short historical narrative, compiled from various internet sources, that was prompted by a cemetery visit, as described below. The links themselves are fascinating and quite interesting - and one could almost say "Sinful", as many hours could be taken up at a computer reading them all! The links to various historical sites, people and pages are throughout. 

St. Marys College - Old Campus

Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Saint Marys is "home" to many of the Jesuits who played an integral part in the early history of St. Marys College, as well as Northeast Kansas. A fairly mild Sunday afternoon recently called me to make good use of its bounty (and also a Spiritual Work of Mercy) and found me visiting the graves of the Jesuits who had staffed or had been a part of the College in its early history (the most recent headstone was from the mid-1960's).

There are two sections, the older one in the center:

"Fathers and Brothers Society of Jesus" (hopefully my translation is correct)

And the newer section just a few feet away across the drive: 

The Jesuits here were a cosmopolitan mix, judging by the Headstones:

which included at least one American:

A quick internet search found that two of the above priests live on (in print):

Fr. Francis Xavier De Coen - Is mentioned in the book: The Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx,  a Rootsweb article: The History Of Our Cradle Land, and a bio by Mary Gentges here, which includes mention of a 4 year old girl who saw his Soul on its way to Heaven upon his death at the Mission in July 1861, as related by her to Fr. De Coen's good friend, Fr. Maurice Gailland. 

Fr. Nicholas Schlechter - Is mentioned in Ch. 14 of the book: The Mission of Central Missouri - Jesuits

The College, the Jesuits and the Potawatomi Indian's relationship started as early as 1641, when St. Issac Jogues and Fr. Charles Raymbaut met representatives of the Potawatomi tribe at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Fr. Jacque Marquette, during his 1673 explorations of the Mississippi River, also met up with the Potawatomi. From these early beginnings, the Jesuits and Potawatomi intertwined throughout the next century, up until the Jesuit suppressions of 1773 left them with no "Black Robes" to sustain their Faith. In 1805, the ban was lifted and a new foundation was built from the remaining older Jesuits in Maryland.  Of the many young men from Belgium who answered the call for missionaries was John Felix Verreydt, one of the first Jesuit novices in Florissant, Missouri and who would later become the founder of St. Mary's, where he labored until his return to St. Louis in 1849. 

The Potawatomi Indians of Kansas were originally from the area near Twin Lakes, Indiana, but had been ordered to move to new lands west of the Mississippi River by the treaty of 1836. The leader of those who resisted the move - Chief Menominee - refused to sign the treaty that would remove him and 859 others from their ancestral home. He was forced to go, however, treated as a prisoner, as were the other tribal leaders. The Potawatomi made a forced march that started September 4, 1838 and ended with their arrival at a new reservation near Osawatomie, Kansas on November 4, 1838. Behind them lay the graves of over 40 members, who died of old age, disease and the stress of a forced march. The history of this march is known officially as The Potawatomi Trail of Death. More information on the March and other historical facts can be found here.

One of the marchers was "... their beloved Chichipe-Outipe..." or "Little Duck". Though a man of small stature, he was nevertheless much loved and was responsible for ministering to the sick by order of the military commander. Though other medical personnel were available, it was always "Little Duck" to whom the preference was given by the Potawatomi. He marched with them, lived with them and ministered to them, whether medically with sugared tea (which was about all they had to help the sick) or with the Power of his Holy Priesthood through numerous baptisms and burials along the trail. Father Benjamin Marie Petit - "Little Duck" or "Father Black Robe" - lived to see his beloved Potawatomi handed over to his confrere, Father Christian Hoecken at the then Sugar Creek Mission near Centerville, Kansas (now known as St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park.) Father Petit died shortly afterwards on February 10, 1839 in St. Louis, MO, on his journey back to Vincennes, Indiana, from complications from severe illness incurred during the march. He was buried in St. Louis, but in 1856 his body was transported back to Indiana, where it now rests under the Log Chapel at the University of Notre Dame. He is remembered in the Church as a Martyr of Charity. (More history of Fr. Petit can be found on this page and a diary of Fr. Christian Hoecken can be found here. )

Father Benjamin Marie Petit, from an oil portrait by George Winter, frontier artist, in 1838.

One tribe of the Potawatomi moved further west of Osawatomie, to St. Marys in 1848-49 and since an 1861 treaty, has been known as the Citizen Band of Potawatomi, now headquartered in Oklahoma. Locally, they have a Community Center in Rossville, Kansas, 6 miles east of St. Marys.

Click on the links below to read of the early Jesuit founding of the mission, college and their apostolate:

Early Years at St. Mary's Potawatomie Mission (31 page PDF from the Kansas Historical Society)

1827 - 1847: Early Jesuit Contacts with the Indians of Kansas

1848 - 1869: The Mission at St. Mary's: Pioneer Days

Bishop John Baptist Miége - a short biography of his life and his works in Kansas

Click the links below for more interesting history of the Jesuits, the College and North East Kansas:

1869 - 1931: St. Mary's College: A New Direction (With Pictures)

1931 - 1967: The Seminary Years

1967 - 1978: The Silent Years

The college grounds have been owned by the Society of St. Pius X since 1978, with an Academy (K-12, separate Boys and Girls Schools) and College (Associates Degree - Liberal Arts, Catholic Teacher Prep Program). In the tradition of the 1931 - 1967 Seminary Years, the Academy, College and residents of Saint Marys are still producing seminarians, having 15 currently enrolled at 2 of the 6 SSPX's Seminaries - Winona, MN and Goulburn, Australia.

Copyright 2014 David Heath - All Rights Reserved