Frontier missionary, founder of the Sisters of Loretto; b. Herffelingen, Belgium, Oct. 2, 1761; d. Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, Aug. 12, 1824. The son of Sebastian, a successful physician, and Petronilla (Langendries) Nerinckx, Nerinckx was the eldest of seven sons and seven daughters, many of whom entered religious orders. He studied philosophy at the University of Louvain, Belgium, and was ordained Nov. 1, 1785. After a decade as parish priest in Mechlin and Meerbeek, he spent ten years administering the Sacraments from various hiding places, notwithstanding the rigors of the French Revolution.
In September 1803, through Princess Amalia gallitzin, he offered his services to Bp. John Carroll, arriving in Baltimore in November of 1804. He was sent to Georgetown College (now University), Washington, D.C. to study, then to Kentucky to join Stephen T. badin, until that time the only priest in that vast mission field. Nerinckx arrived at Bardstown, Kentucky in July of 1805; he worked for the next seven years with Badin, then alone in various parishes. During his 19 years in the state he built 14 churches. In 1809 he organized the first Holy Name Society in Kentucky, and in 1812, with two young women, founded the Sisters of loretto, the first native American community.
Nerinckx made two trips to Europe, returning with valuable paintings and religious supplies. He also brought over the first Jesuits to work in the West, among them Pierre Jean de smet. Disagreement with Bp. Guy Chabrat over the rule of the Sisters of Loretto prompted him to withdraw to Missouri in 1824, where death overtook him before he could realize his hope of working with the Indians. In 1833 his remains were returned to the motherhouse he had established at Loretto, Kentucky.
Nerinckx was noted for his great strength and his devotion to duty. Because it took six weeks to cover his mission stations, he spent his days in the saddle and his nights in the woods, often in physical danger. Although regarded as stern, he was gentle when instructing children and slaves. His uncompromising stand against the evil practices of the frontier caused friction, and later critics mistakenly accused him of being prone to Jansenistic tendencies. Several Latin manuscripts indicative of his scholarship and hundreds of his letters have been discovered in the Mechlin diocesan archives; many other letters are preserved in the Baltimore archdiocesan archives.
Bibliography: w. j. howlett, Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx (Techny, Ill. 1915). c. p. maes, Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx (Cincinnati 1880). h. magaret, Giant in the Wilderness (Milwaukee 1952). j. h. schauinger, Stephen T. Badin (Milwaukee 1956). r. j. purcell, Dictionary of American Biography, ed. a. johnson and d. malone. (New York 1926–36) 13:428–429. m. j. spalding, Sketches of the Early Catholic Missions of Kentucky, 1787–1827 (Louisville 1844). a. c. minogue, Loretto Annals of the Century (New York 1912).
[j. h. schauinger]