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Verhaegen, Peter J.


First president of st. louis university, St. Louis, Mo.; b. Haeght, Belgium, June 21, 1800; d. Grand Coteau, La., July 21, 1868. While a lay teacher at the minor seminary in Mechlin, Belgium, he was recruited by Rev. Charles Nerinckx for the American missions and entered the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland in 1821. Two years later he migrated with the Jesuit band that established a novitiate at Florissant, Mo. Before and after ordination (March 11, 1826), he instructed his companions in theology and Scripture.

Assigned first to the missions of St. Charles, Portage des Sioux, and three attached stations, in 1829 he was appointed head of St. Louis College (founded 1818), then newly placed under Jesuit supervision by Bp. Joseph Rosati. In 1832 he obtained a university charter, thus establishing the first university west of the Mississippi River. He remained its president until 1836 when he was appointed superior of the Jesuit Missouri mission. When the mission became a vice province, he was named vice provincial (1839). He established missions among the Potawatomi and Kickapoo tribes and assigned Pierre Jean de Smet to the Rocky Mountain and Oregon missions. He also filled the posts of vicar-general and administrator of the diocese while Bishop Rosati attended the Fourth Provincial Council of Baltimore (1840) and made his ad limina visit to Rome.

Under Verhaegen's leadership the Jesuits assumed control of St. Charles College, Grand Coteau, La., and St. Xavier College (now Xavier University), Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1845 he was appointed provincial of the Maryland province, and following this duty became the first president of St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, Ky. In 1851 he returned to St. Charles, leaving only for a brief interval to teach theology at the School of Divinity, St. Louis University.

Bibliography: Archives, Jesuit Province of Missouri. g. j. garraghan, Jesuits in the Middle United States, 3 v. (New York 1938).

[m. f. hasting]

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