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Portier, Michael


Bishop; b. Montbrison, France, Sept. 7, 1795; d. Mobile, Ala., May 14, 1859. As a seminarian at Lyons, France, he volunteered for service in Louisiana when Bp. Louis Dubourg appealed for helpers in 1817. Upon arriving at Baltimore, Md., in September, he received the diaconate and proceeded to New Orleans, La., as a catechist. After being ordained in St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 29, 1818, he returned to New Orleans where he served as priest and educator. He was named to the new Vicariate Apostolic of Alabama and the Floridas in 1825, and was consecrated by Bp. Joseph rosati, CM, at St. Louis, Nov. 5, 1826. His vicariate had some 6,000 Catholics centered at Mobile, Ala.; and Pensacola and St. Augustine, Fla.; it was totally without clergy. In June 1828, he went to seek laborers and funds in Europe. Jean Mathias Pierre loras and others offered to join him, and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at Lyons promised liberal assistance. While Portier was in Rome (May 1829), Pius VIII established the Diocese of mobile. Lack of clergy remained a chronic problem for Portier, who seldom had more than a dozen diocesan priests at his disposal. Nevertheless, Spring Hill College, Mobile, the oldest institution of its kind in Alabama, was founded in 1830, and conditions improved after 1847 when the Society of Jesus undertook to run the college. In the same year the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened an orphanage and school for boys, while as early as 1832 four Visitandines arrived from Georgetown, Washington, D.C., to begin an academy for girls. The Sisters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Md., entered the diocese in 1841, and in spite of nativist opposition during the 1850s expanded their work to include education, two hospitals, and a girls' orphan asylum. Under Portier, Catholicism in Florida enjoyed a marked growth at Pensacola, and churches were built at Apalachicola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and Isle Key West. In Alabama he opened new parishes and missions in the vicinity of Mobile, and supplied pastors for Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. In 1850 at Mobile he consecrated the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Bibliography: m. t. a. carroll, A Catholic History of Alabama and the Floridas (New York 1908). r. h. clarke, Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the U.S., 4 v. (New York 188789) v.1.

[o. h. lipscomb]

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