Flaget, Benedict Joseph
FLAGET, BENEDICT JOSEPH
First bishop of Bardstown, Ky., diocese (now Louisville archdiocese); b. Contournat, France, Nov. 7, 1763;d. Louisville, Feb. 11, 1850. Orphaned at the age of two, Flaget with his brothers was left to the care first of an aunt, then of an uncle, Canon Benoît Flaget at Billom. At 17 he enrolled at the Sulpician university at Clermont, then a seminary, and in 1783 entered the Society of Priests of St. Sulpice. After his ordination at Issy c. 1788, he taught theology at Nantes until the French Revolution forced him back to Billom. In 1792 he joined the Sulpicians at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Md., with his colleague John Baptist David and seminarian Stephen T. Badin. Enrollment was so limited at the seminary that Bp. John Carroll was forced to use the Sulpicians in the missions, and Flaget was sent to the French settlement of Fort Vincennes, Ind., where, in the two years before he was recalled by his superiors, he transformed the spiritual and material life of the townsmen. His short assignment as professor at Georgetown College, Washington, D.C., was followed by an abortive attempt to found a college in Havana, Cuba. He returned to Baltimore where he taught at the seminary for eight years.
Flaget's nomination to the newly created see of Bardstown, Ky., in 1808 came as a distasteful shock to him, and he journeyed to France to enlist the aid of the Sulpicians in protest. When he realized that Rome would take no refusal, he gathered recruits for his new diocese, among them Simon brutÉ, who accompanied him to Baltimore. Flaget was consecrated by Bishop Carroll in St. Patrick's church, Baltimore, on Nov. 4, 1810; his installation in Bardstown took place in Badin's cabin on June 9, 1811.
Carroll's prophecy that in Flaget all factions would be united was soon realized. Before many months had passed, he had visited every Catholic settlement in Kentucky. On Dec. 21, 1811, he ordained Guy Chabrat, the first priest to be ordained in Kentucky. During that winter he established St. Thomas Seminary, and in the summer
confirmed almost 1,300 people in three states. By 1812 the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth had been founded by the missionaries Charles Nerinckx and John David respectively. In his report to Rome in 1815 Flaget could claim that Kentucky counted 10,000 Catholics with 10 priests, 19 churches or chapels, one monastery, and two convents. On Aug. 8, 1819, the cathedral at Bardstown was consecrated, and two days later Flaget consecrated David as his first coadjutor.
The next 13 years were spent as a missionary covering territory that ultimately embraced more than 35 dioceses in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the region between the Great Lakes on the north and the 35th degree of north latitude on the south, from the Alleghenies in the east to the Mississippi River in the west. Flaget also made visitations to St. Louis, Detroit, Vincennes, Cincinnati, and Knoxville. He called the first synod of Bardstown, 1812; consecrated Bp. George Whitfield and attended the first provincial council of Baltimore in 1829; and consecrated Bp. Francis Kenrick for Philadelphia in 1830. In 1832 he resigned the bishopric and David was appointed in his place. However, the uproar that ensued led Rome to reverse the action, and in 1834 Chabrat was consecrated as his second coadjutor. In 1835 when Flaget made his first ad limina visit to Rome, he petitioned for the removal of the see from Bardstown to Louisville. At the request of Pope Gregory XVI he spent two years visiting every diocese in France in the interest of the Propagation of the Faith, and by the time of his departure for his diocese in 1839, all France regarded him as a saint capable of working miracles.
When Martin J. Spalding, his third coadjutor, was consecrated in 1848, Flaget retired to spend his remaining two years in prayer. He witnessed the laying of the cornerstone of the new cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. Six months later he was laid to rest in its crypts where his remains are still entombed. His 40 years as bishop spanned one of the most vital periods in American Catholic history; his was one of the most influential voices in the councils, and in the creation and staffing of new dioceses. In his own jurisdiction he proved to be an expert administrator, a man not of words but of deeds.
Bibliography: j. h. schauinger, Cathedrals in the Wilderness (Milwaukee 1952); Stephen T. Badin: Priest in the Wilderness (Milwaukee 1956). m. j. spalding, Sketches of the Life, Times and Character of the Rt. Rev. Benedict Joseph Flaget (Louisville 1852). r. j. purcell, Dictionary of American Biography, ed. a. johnson and d. malone, 20 v. (New York 1928–36; index 1937; 1st suppl. 1944; 2d suppl. 1958) 6:445–447. c. lemariÉ, A Biography of Msgr. Benedict Joseph Flaget, 3 v. (Bardstown 1992).
[j. h. schauinger]