Vermont, Catholic Church in
VERMONT, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The history of Catholicism in Vermont began in July of 1609 with the arrival of Samuel de Champlain, who named the land for its green mountains (" Voilà les monts verts! "). The Church developed slowly through three phases. The early period of evangelization and missionary activity planted the seed and set down roots. Catholicism in Vermont came of age with the establishment of the Diocese of Burlington in 1853. The third, contemporary phase began after about 1965 with efforts to implement the renewal of the Second Vatican Council.
Evangelization and Missionary Activity. The year before champlain arrived in Vermont, the explorer had engaged the Society of Jesus to evangelize the Native Americans in the new lands, but the Jesuits did not arrive until the year after his death. One of them was St. Isaac Jogues (1607–46) who passed through Vermont on at least four journeys between New York and Quebec in the years before his martyrdom. Among his stops as a captive was the little island on Lake Champlain where he was tortured and where later Jesuit missionaries offered Mass.
In fact, before Sieur de La Motte constructed a fort on the island that bears his name, Jesuits Simon Le Moyne crossed through Vermont on a diplomatic journey between Quebec and New York in September of 1654 and Pierre Raffeix stopped at the Shrine of St. Anne on the Isle La Motte, in May of 1666. Later Charles Albanel joined Raffeix there in September of that year in hearing confessions and saying Mass. And, in the summer of 1667, Jesuits Jacques Bruyas, Jacques Frémin, and Jean Pierron ministered to some three hundred soldiers on the island near the feast of St. Anne. Of these, Jacques Frémin (1628–91), famous for converting 10,000 Native Americans, was among the founders of the Isle La Motte.
At the time, Vermont came under the jurisdiction of Blessed François de Montmorency Laval (1623–1708), Vicar Apostolic to New France, who arrived in North America in the summer of 1659. In 1668, before he became the Bishop of Quebec in 1674, Laval became the first prelate to visit the Shrine of St. Anne. As for the apostolate among the Native Americans in his diocese, Laval left this to the Jesuits.
A letter of Jesuit Jean Pierron, on Oct. 10, 1682, is evidence that Jesuits cared for the Abnakis at their various missions. They crisscrossed Vermont to help the Native Americans before the fall of Quebec in 1763 and until the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773. The association of the Jesuits with the Abenakis was known to New Englanders who raided their mission site on the Connecticut River. On Sept. 26, 1992, the Order of Alhambra, a Catholic fraternal organization with caravans at Rutland in 1912 and at Burlington in 1946 and devoted to marking historical sites, dedicated a plaque at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bradford commemorating the old mission at Koes. This was located near what is now Newbury before it was destroyed early in the 18th century.
Thereafter, missionary activities centered at what is now Swanton where the Jesuits had constructed their first church in Vermont. When the state celebrated its tercentenary, the people of Swanton dedicated a large granite shaft commemorating the site of that church on Missisquoi Bay. Peter Kalm, a Swiss naturalist, provided further evidence when, just before mid-18th century, he found the Jesuits in areas now known as Alburg, Chimney Point, and Ferrisburg. Through such contacts, the Jesuits taught the Abenakis the essentials of religion and of European culture.
When John Carroll (1736–1815), who had already visited Vermont in 1776, became the first American bishop in 1789, a Catholic community of French Canadians was flourishing. Vermont, not unlike other states in New England in discriminating against Catholics, repealed these measures in 1793. Although it was the only state in New England which he did not visit as its bishop, Carroll was influential in placing it in the new Diocese of Boston established in 1808.
Jean Lefebvre de Cheverus (1768–1836), First Bishop of Boston, who visited Vermont only on a trip to Montreal in 1821, left the care of Vermonters to the Bishop of Quebec. When Quebec was elevated to an archiepiscopal see in 1815, Joseph-Octave Plessis (1763–1825), the great grandson of Thomas French, a deacon of the Congregational Church in colonial Deerfield, Massachusetts, was instrumental in having Father François-Antoine Matignon (1753–1818), a Boston priest, set up a mission in Burlington with its hundred Catholics in 1815. In 1816, after the desecration of the Jesuit church on the St. Francis River in Canada by Rogers Rangers in 1759, a farmer in West Charleston discovered its candelabra. Before 1838, another Vermonter recovered, near the mouth of Lake Magog, a gilded image taken from that same church.
Some remarkable converts to Catholicism emerged during the 19th century. In 1807, Frances (Fanny) Margaret Allen (1784–1819), daughter of hero Ethan Allen became a Catholic and later the first woman of Vermont to become a nun. In 1818, Daniel Barber (1756–1834), an Episcopal minister who served Vermont from the border area of Claremont, New Hampshire, was accepted into the Catholic church by Cheverus. Later, Barber's sson, Virgil (1782–1847) who had converted in 1816 and was ordained a Jesuit priest on Dec. 3, 1822, established the first Catholic church and school near the site of his father's former church. One of its students was William B. Tyler (1806–49), a native of Derby, who became the First Catholic Bishop of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1844.
Benedict Joseph Fenwick (1782–1846), to whom Virgil Barber had brought his reservations about his faith, become the Bishop of Boston in 1825. On Barber's suggestion, the bishop climbed Mount Ascutney on June 5, 1826, in search of an appropriate site for a college, but Fenwick did not find it suitable. Though Barber won converts, the English-speaking Catholics of Vermont had no resident priest when he left Claremont in 1828. The faithful had to depend on James Fitton (1805–81), renowned in New England, until Fenwick sent Jeremiah O'Callaghan (d. 1861), a priest from County Kerry in Ireland, to Burlington as its first resident priest in 1830. With Bennington and Middlebury, Burlington, which numbered about a thousand Catholics, was one of three largest Catholic cities in the state.
Under O'Callaghan, "The Apostle of Vermont," the church grew for 25 years. When Fenwick dedicated St. Mary's in Burlington, on Sept. 9, 1832, it was the city's first Catholic church and was built on land donated by Colonel Archibald W. Hyde (1786–1847), a Protestant who eventually became a Catholic. Meanwhile, O'Callaghan had expanded the church into other areas like Vergennes, where the home of Mrs. Daniel Nichols (Mary Ann Booth) was the center of Catholic worship and where both Fenwick and O'Callaghan offered Mass. St. Peter's, the church later constructed in that town, did not open until 1854. Not unlike other Catholic priests in New England, O'Callaghan had to put up with anti-Catholics who destroyed St. Mary's in Burlington by fire on May 9, 1838. Still, the church continued when, on Oct. 31, 1841, Fenwick dedicated a new church, St. Peter's, on the corner of Cherry and St. Paul streets so that, before two more years passed, Catholics in Vermont numbered close to 5,000, of which the district covering Swanton, St. Albans, and Fairfield had a total of about 2,000 Catholics when Fenwick went there for confirmations with his brother, George, on Oct. 5, 1841. In Swanton, a brick church constructed on land donated by James McNally was completed in 1847. And, Catholicism, due to O'Callaghan, expanded even into Bennington, Montpelier, Rutland, and Shelburne. In addition to O'Callaghan, there was John B. Daly (d. 1870), a Franciscan, who became famous as the president of the Catholic Total Abstinence Society in Vermont. In 1837, Daly was appointed resident priest in the area of Rutland and Middlebury to lighten O'Callaghan's burdens in the lower half of the state. Though Fitton had visited the Castleton area in 1828, Fenwick did not open a church there until 1836, in what became the parish of St. John the Baptist with about 150 Catholics. Then, Daly opened one in Middlebury in 1840, later Assumption Parish.
Perhaps the most famous convert in Vermont's history was Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803–76), a native of Stockbridge. Moving from one set of beliefs to another, he had also served for as a Universalist minister in Rutland, Windsor, and Windham. It was to John B. Fitzpatrick (1812–66), his coadjutor, that Bishop Fenwick entrusted Brownson for instructions in the Catholic faith. This intellectual ended his religious wanderings by becoming a Catholic on Oct. 20, 1844.
At Bellows Falls, Fitzpatrick, a faithful successor to Fenwick, ran into hostility against Catholics when they were refused the use of the Methodist church. Nevertheless, accompanied by Jesuits George Fenwick and Samuel A. Mulledy, the bishop had to settle for a pine grove on the west side of town where he conducted a confirmation ceremony, on Sept. 4, 1846, with a thousand people, including some Protestants who witnessed the episcopal visitation.
During Fitzpatrick's time, the first Mass was offered in Brattleboro, on Aug. 15, 1848. This took place when Father Joseph Coolidge Shaw (1821–51), a Jesuit priest who came from a prominent Boston family, was spending time in the area taking the water cure for his troubled leg. While the medicinal baths were producing their healing effects, Shaw offered Mass in a place called "the Wood farm" where Catholics later built a shed for Sunday Mass.
Under Fitzpatrick, two parishes were established in Vermont: Immaculate Conception in St. Albans in 1847 and St. Augustine's in Montpelier in 1850. With respect to the latter, General Dewitt Clinton Clarke (1812–70), a convert and a state legislator left the senate to attend Mass and his letter of Nov. 3, 1850 is the first record of Mass there. In Fitzpatrick's first year as Bishop of Boston, William Henry Hoyt (1813–83), an Episcopal minister, converted to Catholicism and eventually became a Catholic priest. Around this time, Francis P. Kenrick (1797–1863), Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, was vindicating the Catholic faith against Vermont's Episcopal Bishop John Henry Hopkins, Sr. (1792–1868).
Given the proximity of French-speaking Catholics in Vermont to Canada, Fenwick had entrusted them to the care of Abbé Pierre-Marie Mignault (1784–1868). This abbé, who was memorialized in the old parish of Notre Dame des Victoires in St. Johnsbury, came from Chambly, Canada, and cared for that flock from the early 1820s until a new see was established at Burlington on July 29, 1853.
Establishment of the Diocese of Burlington. Catholicism in Vermont had come of age with the appointment of Louis De Goesbriand (1816–99) as the First Bishop of Burlington. A native of Saint-Urbain, France, he had been the vicar general in the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, and began his new diocese with about 20,000 Catholics, ten churches, and five priests. Following De Goesbriand's installation, priests from Ireland and France were accepted into the diocese so that there were at least 50 priests by the end of his episcopate. These helped to expand his diocese with at least 30 new parishes as Catholics continued to come into the state to build its public works, construct its railroads, excavate its quarries, produce its farm lands, and operate its factories.
In 1890, the Catholic population numbered 45,000, of which at least 33,000 were of French-Canadian background. Some of the increase was due to conversions like those, before the Civil War, of the three daughters (Helen, Debbie, and Anna) of Bradley Barlow (1814–89), one of the most prominent citizens in St. Albans. Yet, the growth was due more to the foreign-speaking Catholics for whom De Goesbriand, not unlike other Catholic bishops, opened up more national parishes, in addition to St. Joseph's in Burlington, which dates back to 1850 and is today the oldest Franco-American parish in New England.
When Bishop De Goesbriand died on Nov. 23, 1899, he was the oldest American bishop and had participated in the councils of Baltimore and in the First Vatican Council. With his retirement in 1893 to the orphanage which the Sisters of Charity had opened in 1854, his diocese came under John Stephen Michaud (1843–1908). A native of Vermont and of Canadian and Irish ancestry, he reflected the ethnic composition of the majority of the Catholics population and became the first Catholic bishop to receive an honorary degree from the University Vermont.
The diocese had grown to almost a hundred parishes and missions under Michaud with an equal number of priests, diocesan and religious. In 1898, the Knights of Columbus founded their first council in the state with Bennington Council, No. 307, and, in 1899, Michaud welcomed into Vermont the Society of St. Edmund which opened St. Michael's College in Winooski in 1904. Of his achievements, the establishment of Fanny Allen Hospital at Winooski Park was important in showing the strength of Catholic social action in Vermont.
Beyond Native Americans, Canadian Americans, and Irish Americans, Catholicism grew because of those other immigrants who came into Vermont near the turn of the century. If they did not come to work on the railroads or on the farm lands, they were in the quarries and or the woolen mills of the state. The Italians, coming in the last decade of the 19th century were concentrated around Barre where carvers and stonecutters helped to increase the granite and marble industry while the Poles, coming at the start of the 20th century, settled around West Rutland. Here, for example, Polish immigrants, drawn to the quarries, started in November of 1904 the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka under the leadership of Father Valentin Michulka (d. 1969), their pastor for more than a half century.
Joseph J. Rice (1871–1938), a native of Leicester, Massachusetts, was ordained as the Third Bishop of Burlington, on April 14, 1910. While caring for the diocese, he was responsible for De Goesbriand Memorial Hospital which Rice placed under the Religious Hospitalers of St. Joseph in 1923. Rice showed himself a leader in education by opening up three high schools and by welcoming the Sisters of Mercy who opened Trinity College in 1925. During those days, bigotry manifested itself in Montpelier when, on Nov. 21, 1925, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the steps of St. Augustine's Church.
Rice's successor in 1938 was Matthew F. Brady (1893–1959), a native of Waterbury, Connecticut, who strengthened the substructure of the diocese in various ways. Very much interested in the young people, he organized branches of the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Youth. His tenure also saw the construction of about a dozen new churches, at least half in towns like Fairfax, Gilman, North Troy, Orleans, and South Burlington which never had such parishes.
With Bishop Brady's transfer to Manchester in 1944, Edward F. Ryan (1879–1956), a native of Lynn, Massachusetts, became Burlington's fifth Catholic bishop in 1945, having served as a chaplain in the Second World War. Noteworthy in his tenure was the establishment of the first Carthusian monastery in the United States in the area of Whitingham (later at Arlington) in 1951, of the Benedictine Priory at Weston in 1953, and of the College of St. Joseph the Provider by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Rutland in 1954. Responsible for almost two dozen new churches, Ryan also raised the people's consciousness of the importance of the Catholic press, especially by giving the diocese its own weekly, the Vermont Catholic Tribune in 1956. And, he showed the Church's ongoing concern for the welfare of the youth by providing a camp and a school for boys in Burlington area. Ryan also established Blessed Sacrament Church in Stowe. A native son Joseph Dutton (1843–1931) who, having converted to Catholicism in 1883 after serving in the Civil War, spent the rest of his life as a Sacred Hearts Brother carrying on the work of Father Damien (1840–89), "Apostle of Molokai." More famous, certainly, was Maria von Trapp (1905–87) whose life inspired, "The Sound of Music" in 1959, and who made Stowe a tourist attraction with the 800-acre farm which the Trapp Family purchased as music camp in 1942.
Renewal and Reaction to the Second Vatican Council. Robert F. Joyce (1896–1990), a native of Proctor, who succeeded Ryan in 1957, directed the renewal of the Catholic church in an era inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council in 1962. A model for him in handling the reforms was Bernard J. Flanagan (1908–98), also a native of Proctor, and the Second Bishop of Worcester (1959–83) in Massachusetts. In 1958, Bishop Joyce completed, Rice Memorial High School, begun by his predecessor and, in the next year, set up Our Lady of Fatima in Wilmington, a parish that serves the ski area of Mount Snow. By sponsoring the Papal Volunteers for Latin America and reorganizing services for teaching religion and for children with disabilities, the Catholic Church was reaching out under Joyce. Indicative of the maturity of Catholicism was the elevation of Walter H. Cleary of Newport as the state's Chief Justice in 1958.
John A. Marshall (1928–94), a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, was the state's seventh Catholic bishop, from 1971 to 1991, before he was transferred to Spring-field, Massachusetts. Coming to grips with new problems that confronted bishops after the Second Vatican Council, the church was forced to undergo retrenchment with a loss of vocations and the decline in church attendance. Consequently, the only parish founded was that of Our Lady of the Mountains in Shelburne in 1979. Paradoxically, the public face of Catholicism became more evident during Marshall's tenure. Thomas P. Salmon as the first Catholic to be elected governor of Vermont in 1972 and, two years later, Patrick Leahy was the first Catholic elected a U.S. senator. But, this coming of age of Catholics was not without its problems as a more active laity dealt with moral issues, as in the concern raised by Catholics for a Free Choice, chartered in 1989, with their first issue of a newsletter, Pro Conscience, published in Middlebury. On Nov. 9, 1992, Bishop Kenneth A. Angell (b.1930), a native of Providence, Rhode Island, was installed as the Burlington's eighth bishop. Having served for almost 20 years as an auxiliary bishop in Providence, he was familiar with the workings of a diocese and encountered challenges not unlike other American bishops in the lack of priests and the decline of attendance. These forced a consolidation of parishes like Sacred Heart and St. Francis de Sales in Bennington as well as St. Cecilia and St. Frances Cabrini in Washington, and closed Our Lady of the Lake in St. Albans. In the case of St. Francis de Sales, which began in 1830 and had a Gothic church constructed from the stone of Vermont's native quarries dating to 1889, the change was not easy. While his problems concerning the relation of the political order to the moral order were no different than most of the bishops in New England, Bishop Angell was the first to cope with a civil unions law that took effect in his diocese in July of 2000 legitimizing same-sex marriages.
By the start of the third millennium, the Diocese of Burlington was serving about 150,000 Catholics out of total population of almost 600,000. It had almost 90 active priests, more than 40 permanent deacons, and 225 sisters covering almost 80 parishes. At the same time, the diocese included 15 elementary schools, two high schools, and three colleges, not to mention a catechetical system with at least 240 lay teachers instructing almost 20,000 students. Given its special centers for social services and homes for the aged, it was assisting almost 9,000 people. Thus, while it reflected a church caring for the needs of its members on the intellectual, pastoral, and social levels of existence, the Diocese of Vermont was also engaged in eliminating debts, raising funds, and slashing budgets as it tried to consolidate its parishes and schools and cope with its retired clergy and religious.
Bibliography: j. n. couture, "The Catholic Clergy of Vermont" (Typewritten Manuscript; St. Michael's College, Winooski, 1964). v. a. lapomarda, The Jesuit Heritage in New England (Worcester 1977). w. l. lucey, "The Diocese of Burlington, Vermont," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, LXIV, No. 3 (September 1953) 123–54, and No. 4 (December 1953), 213–35. v. b. maloney and j. k. durick eds., 1853–1953: One Hundred Years of Achievement by the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont (Burlington 1953). j. s. michaud, "The Diocese of Burlington," in w. byrne and others, History of the Catholic Church in the New England States, 2v. (Boston 1899), II, pp. 465–587. m. neill, Fiery Crosses in the Green Mountains (Randolph Center 1989). f. x. talbot, Saint among Savages (New York 1935).
[v. a. lapomarda]