The History of Our Cradle Land
by Thomas H. Kinsella

Transcribed by Sean Furniss

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A Condensation of Father Hoecken's Diary

In the year 1837 a band of Pottawatomie Indians, numbering about 150, set up their wigwams on the banks of Pottawatomie Creek in the present Miami County near where the town of Osawatomie now stands. They had migrated from Indiana and some of them had been baptized by the Reverends Stephen Badin and Deseille. This same year two Jesuit missionaries, Fathers Felix L. Verreydt and Christian Hoecken, were living among the Kickapoos, near Ft. Leavenworth. Towards the close of that same year these missionaries received an invitation from Nesfwawke, the Chief of the little body of Pottawatomies, to come and teach them religion. Father Hoecken responded to this cry from the wilderness, all the more gladly because the labors of the Fathers had proved fruitless with the Kickapoos. In January, 1838, in the middle of winter, the journey was undertaken, and, after eight days of hardship, the missionary arrived at Pottawatomie Creek. This was the first visit of Father Hoecken to the Pottawatomies, and it lasted only two weeks, but to it St. Mary's College can trace its existence. Those who might be interested in the adventures and labors of the Father in those early days are referred to his Diary, also to the life of Mother Duchesne.

In March 1839, the Pottawatomies, who had not settled definitely at Pottawatomie Creek, but had only been exploring the country for a suitable site, removed to Sugar Creek, a tributary of the Osage River. The site selected was near where Centerville now stands.* Here almost immediately the Indians built a small church, in which service were held regularly during the remainder of the holy season of Lent and until the end of 1840, when, owing to their steady increase in numbers through migration, a larger church had to be erected.

*Five and a half miles northeast, on the Michael Zimmerman farm, but about four miles in a direct line from Centerville

Sometime in 1839 a school had been erected. It was not opened until 1840, however, and was kept up only for a time. In the first part of July, 1841, the pioneer band of Religious of the Sacred Heart arrived at the Mission, and on the 15th day of July a school for girls was constructed and placed under their care. A new school for boys was built towards the end of this same year, 1841, which began to be regularly frequented from the commencement of 1842. The Jesuit Fathers more especially connected with this beginning of the St. Mary's Mission, as it was afterwards called, were, besides the missionaries mentioned above, Rev. P. J. Verhaegen, S.J., the Superior of the Jesuits in Missouri, and Father H. Aelen, S.J., the first assistant of Father Christian Hoecken. And on the 29th of August, 1841, Father Felix L. Verreydt and Brothers Andrew Mazella and George Miles were added to the number of workmen in this primitive vineyard of the Lord.

Father Verreydt organized an anti-liquor brigade, under the leadership of Bro. Van der Borght. They were instructed to keep a sharp eye on any liquor that entered the settlement, to surround the place, break the bottles, and scatter the liquor. There is a quaint little remark in Father Hoecken's Diary under 1843, somewhat amusing too, as is the whole incident, in the light of after-events in Kansas; it says: "This custom was kept up to the present day."

In 1842 we find that the United States Government assigned the sum of $300.00 yearly, for teachers and school purposes, to the Fathers and Religious at Sugar Creek, and also that annual School Reports had to be forwarded to the Government. We find that the schools were attended daily by 41 boys and 40 girls this year.

By this time things were fairly started at Sugar Creek Mission, and year by year the conversion, education, and civilization of the Indians progressed. Within the next few years, too, a number of Indian books, prayer-books, grammars, and dictionaries were printed and distributed among the Indians. These earlier Indian books were the groundwork of a much more extensive grammar and dictionary by the Rev. Maurice Gailland, S.J., assisted by the Rev. John Diels, S.J., which however were never published. This latter work, in fact, seems to have been hopelessly lost. Father De Smet, the great Indian missionary, took it along with him on his last trip to Belgium in 1871, and it seems he left it in Europe.*

*This work was found and identified in 1882 by Rev. G. J. Garraghan, S.J.


On the 17th of June, 1846, the Government signed a contract purchasing the Indian lands on Sugar Creek, and gave the Indians a reservation along the banks of the Kansas (or Kaw) River, extending westward from what is a present the city of Topeka fifty miles on both sides of the Kansas River. Meanwhile the work of evangelizing the Indians, not only the Pottawatomies, but all the various tribes that were flocking westward at the instance of the United States Government--the Miamis, the Osages, the Peorias, the Piankeshaws--was going on uninterruptedly, the Sugar Creek Mission being in a manner the center of operation for the Religious men and women who were devoting their lives to the labor.

in the early part of November, 1847, an expedition of Indians accompanied by Father Verreydt, S.J., started out to explore the land assigned them on the Kansas River, with the object of selecting a site for settlement; and not earlier than November 11, 1847, the Fathers and Religious moved to the new location.

On June 20, 1848, the north side of the Kansas River was definitely settled upon as the new site of the Mission buildings, and on September the 7th, Father Verreydt, S.J., together with the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, crossed to the new buildings on the north side of the river.

In this transfer and sale of Indian lands no provision had been made for the Fathers and the Religious by the Government. The Indians, however, contributed $1,700 and from other sources also some money had been gathered to continue the missionary work begun. On November 11th, however, the missionaries learned that an agreement had been made between the St. Louis University and the civil Government to erect a school at the St. Mary's Mission. Still the work of education had already begun, for we find that in the winter of 1848 five new boarding scholars were received at the Mission. This, then, was the beginning of what we now know as St. Mary's College at St. Marys, Kansas; and since that winter towards the end of the first half of the last century, the work of instruction has never been interrupted, the ground has ever been sacred to the cause of education.* In November, 1849, the roof was put on the first church at St. Mary's Mission, and this church was placed under the tutelage of the Immaculate Conception.

*St. Mary's College is, therefore, the oldest education institution in the State of Kansas.

On the 24th of May, 1851, the Rev., J. B. Miege, S.J., having been raised to the dignity of Vicar Apostolic over the country inhabited by the Indians lying between the Rockies and what might be called the western boundary of civilization, arrived at St. Mary's Mission in company of Father Paul Ponziglione, S.J., and a lay Brother, to make the humble mission church his Pro-Cathedral.

The Pioneer.

It seems no more than just that we should mention the fact that Father Christian Hoecken, S.J., who may justly be called the founder of St. Mary's, died in this year, a martyr to charity. He had been assigned by the Provincial of Missouri to accompany the Rev. P. De Smet, S.J., on his journey to the Rockies. A pestilential disease broke out on the steamer upon which they had embarked. Father Hoecken, who was not a little skilled in medicine, made himself all to all. He became at once nurse, doctor, and spiritual father to the sick and dying until he himself fell a victim to the disease. His body was at first buried on the deserted shore in the wilderness, but it was afterwards transferred to the little historic mound at Florissant near St. Louis, to rest among the remains of his companions in the noble work of civilizing and Christianizing the Indians of the Middle West. See full text of Father Hoecken's Diary in appendix.


By G. E. M.

In the early annals of the Catholic Church in this country, no name stands more pre-eminent than that of the Venerable Philippine Duchesne. She was one of the first, and altogether the greatest, among the spiritual daughters of the Blessed Madeline Sophie Barat, so well known as the Foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart. The pioneer of that Institute in the New World, it was in the midst of sorrow, and penury, and strenuous toil, that she cast the seed of the harvest whose plentiful sheaves are carried with joy by those who have come after her. She was a valiant co-operator in the work of the Catholic missionaries during the early part of the last century, and American Catholics can scarcely fail to be interested in her story.

She was born in Grenoble, France, August 29, 1769, the same year as Napoleon Bonaparte. Her father, Pierre Francois Duchesne, was a prosperous lawyer, practicing in the Parliament, or law court of Grenoble, the capital of the Province of Dauphiny, while her mother, Rose Perrier, belonged to a family of wealthy merchants of the same city. Pierre Francois Duchesne had adopted the false teachings of Voltaire and his school, but his wife was very pious, and carefully brought up her children in the love and fear of God. Philippine was the next to the last in a family of six. From her earliest years she was noted for her serious turn of mind. One of her chief pleasures was reading, but even this had to be of a serious kind. Roman history was an especial favorite, but what she loved most of all was the lives of the saints, particularly the martyrs. Another of her pleasures was to assist the poor. All of her pocket money, with everything else that she could dispose of went to them, and she loved to distribute her alms with her own hand. * * * * It would take too long to relate the circumstances which led to the visit of Mgr. Louis Valentine Dubourg, the newly consecrated Bishop of Louisiana, and describe the touching scene, when Mother Barat, in the presence of the humble yet ardent entreaties of her strong-souled daughter, recognized the will of God, and have the consent she implored, to let her have a share in the missionary labors of the zealous prelate in the far-off region of Louisiana.

In the hearts of God's saints, joy and sorrow are in close alliance. Mother Duchesne was overwhelmed with joy on seeing the realization of her ardent and long-cherished desires; but a midnight blackness settled upon her soul, when she found herself about to sail away from the shores of sunny France, leaving behind her all that her loving heart held so dear, and with the conviction that the parting was final, as far as this life was concerned. But her strong spirit did not flinch for an instant, and the world would never have known how keenly she felt the sacrifice, were it not for a few lines in one of her letters to Mother Barat. Her companions were Madame Octavie Berthold, a fervent convert, whose father had been secretary to Voltaire; Madame Eugenie Aude, a young lady whose grace and elegance had been admired at the court of Savoy, and two lay sisters of tried virtue. After a tedious voyage of ten weeks in a small sailing vessel, they reached New Orleans on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, May 29, 1818, and as soon as it was possible, they set out for St. Louis in one of the primitive steamboats of the time, a trip of six weeks, with numberless inconveniences and a very rough set of fellow-passengers.

First Schools in the New World

Mgr. Dubourg cordially welcomed them to his Episcopal city, but the best he could for them was to assign them a log-house, which he ad leased for their use at St. Charles, a village on the Missouri River, at a distance of thirty miles from St. Louis. Here they opened a boarding school, which at first was only very scantily attended. They also opened a school for poor children, which immediately gathered in twenty-two pupils. As the nuns could not afford to keep a servant, they themselves had to cultivate the garden which, when the arrived, was a wilderness of weeds and briars. They also had to care for their cow and milk it, to chop wood for their fires, to bake their bread, to do the cooking and washing, besides teaching the two schools. For their supply of water, they were compelled to depend upon the muddy current of the Missouri River, brought to them in small bucketfuls, for which they had to pay an exorbitant price. The summer was very hot, and the cold of winter was so intense, that the clothes, hung up to dry near the kitchen stove, froze stiff. They had to be careful in handling the tin plates, etc., which served for their meals, lest their hands should adhere to them. The white fingers of Mesdames Aude and Berthold soon became hard and grimy. As for Mother Duchesne, her hands had become rugged and horny long ago, from hard, rough work to which she had devoted herself, especially after her re-entrance into Sainte Marie d'en Haut. Indeed, it had always been her custom to reserve to herself, as much as possible, every kind of work that might be most painful or fatiguing for others.

*        *        *       *        *        *         *        *       *        *        *

Sixty years have gone by since Venerable Mother Duchesne was laid away to rest, close to the old "Rock Church" adjoining the convent of St. Charles; but she still lives in the memory of the people among whom she toiled, and prayed, and suffered.

She had personally founded six houses, three in Missouri and three in Louisiana, and also the mission among the Pottawatomies, was due in great measure to her prayers and exertions. Just at the time of this last foundation, the Society of the Sacred Heart entered upon a period of rapid expansion and when the venerable Mother died, ten years later, it already counted sixteen houses in the United States and Canada; while now, there are twenty-seven in the former country and five in the latter. But the great tree, of which Mother Duchesne was the vigorous root, spread its branches still further. For she it was who had enkindled the sacred fire of the apostolic spirit in the heart of Mother du Rousier who, in the designs of God, was to be the Pioneer of the Sacred Heart in the vast regions of South America. (Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Australia and Japan were afterwards added to the list).

The Ladies of the Sacred Heart on the Indian Mission
"Justi in perpetuum vivent,
apud Dominum est merces corum."

The Religious of the Sacred Heart were pioneers of education in the West and zealous co-laborers of the Jesuit Missionaries among the Pottawatomie Indians. Mother Philippine Duehesne, one of the first to resuscitate religious life in France in a lull of the French Revolution, joined the rising congregation established by Father Varin, in 1800, and later she became the leader and founder of the Sacred Heart in America, when, at the urgent entreaties of Bishop Dubourg to come to the help of the Indians in Missouri, she joyfully followed the call to a new conquest for the glory of the Sacred Heart, and with four of her Sisters, sundering the dearest ties of life, she quitted her native land forever and arrived at St. Louis on August 21, 1818. Madame Octavie Berthold, Madame Eugenie Aude and Sisters Catherine Lamarre and Marguerite Manteau were the other generous souls who made the same sacrifice; and they began their apostolate at St. Charles and Florissant, Mo. They had come to the new field of labor five years in advance of the Society of Jesus, which was yet confined to the Eastern States, with headquarters at Georgetown, D.C., and White Marsh, Md. On May 31, 1823, twelve Jesuits arrived at St. Louis, animated with similar zeal and destined for the same mission. They were located by Bishop Dubourg on a farm, a mile and a half to the northwest of the Sacred Heart Convent at Florissant. The place continued until recently to be called The Priests' Farm, and is has ever since been a Jesuit novitiate.

The Indian Schools

As Missouri was received into the Union in 1821, very few Indians remained around Florissant. Nevertheless, an Indian seminary was started, where the boys were taught by the young scholastics preparing for ordination, and the girls, in a different building, were cared for by the Ladies of the Sacred Heart. Madame Mathevon relates: "One evening, whilst we were saying office, the Father Rector arrived with two little frightened savages who were hiding themselves under his cloak, and he asked to see the Superior. He had sent a cart to bring them and he left them with us. So new we have begun our class for the natives. This is the work, dear Mother, for which we have been pining. Each of us is longing to be employed in it." This occurred in April, 1825. Mother Duchesne was well pleased when she wrote: "Our school for the little Indians is at last beginning. We have given the care of it to an Irish sister, Madame Mary O'Connor, who has just made her first vows. The little savages call her mamma, and run after her wherever she goes, to the stables, the poultry yard, and the garden." The Indian seminary served as a training for the teachers as much as for the children; in it they studied the characteristic traits and language of the Indians.

Although the schools had only from twenty to thirty children and were discontinued after a few years, yet it was those teachers who afterwards distinguished themselves in the patient hardships of the mission.


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