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Chapter VI.

CHURCHES-CATHOLIC.

T

O THE CATHOLICS belong the honor of doing the first Christian missionary work in Indiana, at

the Piankeshaw village, the site of the city of Vincennes, and the erection of the first house of worship dedicated to God.

It has been said that a Jesuit missionary Father visited the Indian village Che-pe-ko-ke, on the Wabash river, as early as 1702, but it has been shown in discussing the early settlement of this place that this statement is incorrect, and the mistake arose from an inaccuracy of some of the earlier explorers of the Mississippi Valley. For a long time the Ohio and Wabash rivers were confounded, they believing the former emptied into the latter, hence the name Ouabache was used for the Ohio. It is not probable that a mission was established here very much earlier than the advent of Morgan de Vincennes in 1731 or 1732. From that time on a priest was here occasionally until a church organization was effected and a house of worship erected, about the year 1749, the resident priest being the Reverend Louis Meurin. The first entry in the church records is dated April 21, 1749,* and embraces the following marriage certificate: "Julian Trotier, of Montreal, Canada, and Josie Marie, the daughter of a Frenchman and Indian woman.” His last record was made in 1756.

* Law's Hist. Vincennes, p. 145. W. H. Smith's Hist. Ind., p. 255.

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FIRST ST. FRANCIS XAVIER CHURCH, ERECTED ABOUT 1749,

"In a memorial on the affairs of Louisiana by M. Le Bailey Messager, dated December 17, 1749, a proposition was made to establish a ‘central power on the Wabash.' In the early part of the same year, 1749, a mission or church was established at Post Vincennes by the missionary Sebast. Lud. Meurin.”* On quitting the Post he left one Phillibert, a notary public, in charge, to keep the records and to administer baptism to laymen privately during the absence of a priest. The records of the Catholic church here make no mention of the missionaries until the year 1749, when Father Meurin came here. For more than half a century this was the only church in Indiana.t From the departure of Reverend Louis L. Mefirin there seems to have been no priest at Vincennes until the arrival of Reverend Pierre Gibault, who, upon his ordination in Canada, had been sent to the "Illinois Country,” his objective point being Kaskaskia, as Vicar-General, by the Bishop of Quebec. In the line of his duty Reverend Gibault visited Vincennes first, in February, 1770. “In March he returned to Kaskaskia, the usual place of his residence, but for several years continued to pay occasional visits to the Post. He was for a time the only priest in Indiana. We find from the records of the church that in July, 1778, he was in Vincennes, exerting himself successfully in inducing the French inhabitants to declare in favor of the United States against Great Britain.”+ His mission here at this time was, in some degree, as ambassador of Colonel George Rogers Clark, who had won over the Father to the American cause, after his capture of Kaskaskia. His services were invaluable, and he should be held in grateful remembrance by all American citizens.

*“In 1749 a church or mission was established under the charge of Missionary Meurin at Piankeshaw village, which stood at the site of Vincennes."- Dillon Hist., p. 403.

† W. H. Smith's Hist. Ind., p. 255. Law's Hist. Vincennes, p. 146,

The English Government being in full possession of the Northwest Territory at that time, with the exception of Kaskaskia and Cahokia, Father Gibault, in showing sympathy with and giving active aid to Colonel Clark's army, showed rare patriotism to the cause of liberty in thus exposing himself to the risk of capture and trial for treason by the English. His good services prepared the way for Clark's successful attack and capture of the town and fort at Vincennes, February 25, 1779. “In July, 1779, Father Gibault again visited Vincennes, then in the possession of the Americans. He remained three weeks, discharging the duties of his office. Five years elapsed, after this, without a visit from a priest, when Gibault reappeared in 1784, accompanied by the Reverend M. Payet. In May, 1785, he established himself at the Post as the resident pastor. He remained here until October, 1789, when he finally left and settled at Cahokia, and afterwards at New Madrid, Missouri, where he died in 1804. A layman, Pierre Mallet, acted as guardian of the church, having been thus appointed by M. Gibault, until the arrival of M. Flaget, in 1792."* It is said by the same author that he remained at this post two years.

As to the location and character of the first church building, I will quote from the history of the late Honorable John Law, a very intelligent gentleman, who came to Vincennes in the year 1817, and who had access to the church library and was well qualified to make a true statement on the subject. The first building was doubtless erected during the pastorate of Father Louis L. Meurin about the year 1749, as before stated, as the records of the church then begin to be kept. Law says: “It is not beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the Postindeed, it is within the recollection of all who dwelt here forty years since—that fronting on Water street, running back to Church street, toward the present cathedral, there was a plain building with a rough exterior, built of upright posts, "chuncked and daubed', to use an architectural expression purely western, with a rough coat of cement on the outside; in width about twenty feet; in length about sixty feet; one story high, with a small belfry, and an equally small bell, now used at the more elegant and symmetrical building * * *

* Law's Hist. Vincennes, p. 147.

The building I have described -placed in the cemetery, where the various mortuary memorials, which piety and affection had dedicated to those who had gone before, headed with the symbol of their faith, and for the most part of wood, the inscriptions, from moss and time almost illegible-was the ancient church of St. Francis Xavier *

and was without doubt the only church used here for Catholic worship until the foundations of the new edifice which has superseded it was laid and the building prepared for worship."*

The History of Knox County, p. 289, has this to say: “Father Gibault says, in 1784, a new church had been built, 90x42 feet.This statement is not borne out by the facts, and it is presumed that the Father has been misrepresented. If such a building had been erected upon the Father's advent the last time he came, in May, 1785, where

* Law's Hist. Vincennes, p. 141.

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