Seghers, Charles John

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Archbishop, founder of the Alaska missions; b. Ghent, Belgium, Dec. 26, 1839; d. Nulato, Alaska, Nov. 27 or 28, 1886. His parents, Charles Francis and Pauline Seghers, died when he was still a child. Desiring a missionary career, he attended the diocesan seminary in Ghent, completed studies at the American College of the University of Louvain, Belgium, and was ordained May 31, 1863. In November 1863, he went to Vancouver Island, Canada, to work with Bp. Modeste Demers, whom he succeeded on June 29, 1873. As bishop, Seghers promoted apostolic work on Vancouver and made five journeys into the Territory (now state) of Alaska. On his second trip he covered the western Yukon River system, concentrating on the region near Nulato, and on his third he stationed John Althoff at Wrangell as first resident missionary in Alaska.

On Dec. 10, 1878, he was appointed coadjutor to Abp. Francis N. Blanchet of Oregon City, and succeeded him on Dec. 20, 1880. As archbishop, Segher traveled extensively through Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, evangelizing both settlers and Native Americans and interrupting his program only for preparatory work in Rome on the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884). In Rome, Seghers successfully petitioned Leo XIII to reappoint him to the See of Vancouver Island when Bp. John B. Brondel was transferred to the new Diocese of Helena, Mont. He returned to Vancouver in April 1885, but left later that year to explore southeastern Alaska and establish permanent missions at Juneau and Sitka. Seghers, intent upon opening the Alaskan interior, obtained help from Joseph Cataldo, Jesuit superior of the Rocky Mountain region. In midsummer 1886 Seghers left Victoria, accompanied by the Jesuits Pascal Tosi and Louis Robaut, and by a former lay employee at De Smet Mission in Idaho, Francis Fuller. The group traveled north to the confluence of the Stewart and Yukon rivers, where Seghers went ahead down the Yukon to forestall Protestant evangelizing in the area. Near Nulato, Seghers was mysteriously shot to death by Fuller, who suffered from delusions of persecution brought on by the rigors of travel and the promptings of an American trader offended at the presence of the Jesuits.

Bibliography: m. de baets, The Apostle of Alaska, tr. m. mildred (Paterson 1943). j. crimont, Sketch of the Martyrdom of Archbishop Charles John Segher (Victoria, Canada 1943). Archives, Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

[g. g. steckler]