June is traditionally the month when most ordinations to the priesthood take place. For that reason, for this month “McNamara’s Blog” will be highlighting the history of the priesthood in the United States by looking at ordinations, seminaries, and historic “firsts,” such as the following:
The first Catholic priest ordained within the limits of the original thirteen States of the Union, pioneer missionary of Kentucky, b. at Orléans, France, 17 July, 1768; d. at Cincinnati, Ohio, 21 April, 1853. Educated at Montaigu College, Paris, he entered the Sulpician Seminary of his native city in 1789. He was subdeacon when the seminary was closed by the revolutionary government, in 1791, and sailed from Bordeaux for the American mission in November of the same year, with the Revs. B.J. Flaget and J.B. David, both destined in God’s providence to wear the mitre in Kentucky.
They arrived in Philadelphia on the 26th of March, 1792, and were welcomed at Baltimore by Bishop Carroll on the 28th. Stephen T. Badin pursued his theological studies with the Sulpicians and was ordained a priest by Bishop Carroll, 25 May, 1793. His was the first ordination in the United States. After a few months spent at Georgetown to perfect himself in English, Father Badin was appointed to the Mission of Kentucky. He left for that scene of his apostolic labours with Father Barrières, 3 September, 1793, travelled on foot as far as Pittsburgh, and by flat boat down the Ohio, landing at Limestone (Maysville), Ky., where they found twenty Catholic families. They walked sixty-five miles to Lexington, and on the first Sunday of Advent, 1793, Father Badin said his first Mass in Kentucky at the house of Denis McCarthy.
He settled at White Sulphur, Scott County, sixteen miles from Lexington, and for about eighteen months attended this church and neighbouring missions. In April, 1794, his companion, who resided in Bardstown, left for New Orleans, and Father Badin was now alone in the Kentucky mission. For fourteen years he attended to the spiritual wants of the various Catholic settlements, scattered over an extent of more than 120 miles, forming new congregations, building churches, never missing an appointment. To visit his missions regularly he had to live in the saddle, and it is estimated that he rode more than 100,000 miles during his ministry in Kentucky.
For many years he was unaided and alone; it was only in July, 1806, that he received permanent help, when the Rev. Charles Nerinckx came to take the larger part of the burden from his shoulders. They lived together at St. Stephen’s, on Pottingers Creek, which was still their headquarters on the arrival, in 1811, of Bishop Flaget, whom Father Badin had suggested and urged as first Bishop of Bardstown. Difficulties about the holding of church property soon arose between the bishop and Father Badin, without, however, interfering with the reverence of the latter for the bishop and the bishop’s friendship for him. Together they went to Baltimore in 1812 to submit the controversy to Archbishop Carroll. It was not settled.
They returned to Kentucky in April, 1813, and Father Badin resumed his missionary duties and accompanied his bishop on many pastoral journeys, until 1819. The Rev. J. B. David had been appointed coadjutor in 1817, but persistently refused to accept the honour. Father Badin, believing that this selection would put an end to the controversy about church property, and be for the good of the diocese of which he was the founder, left for France in the spring of 1819. The consecration of Bishop David in September of that year, and unjust suspicions about his disposition of church properties caused him to remain abroad. In 1820 he accepted the parish of Millaney and Marreilly-en-Gault, about forty miles from Orléans. He continued, however, to take the greatest interest in the Kentucky missions, insisted on his loyalty to Bishop Flaget, and helped constantly and generously to secure gifts in money and valuable church-furniture for the missionaries. In 1822 he published in Paris, a “Statement of the Missions in Kentucky”, with the same purpose in view.
Having returned to Cincinnati in that year, he wrote for the “Catholic Telegraph” a series of controversial “Letters to an Episcopalian Friend”. In 1837 he went to Bardstown, Ky., was appointed vicar-general, and continued to visit the various missions. In 1841 he removed to Louisville with the bishop’s household. In that year he conveyed a great deal of church property (notably that of Portland, near Louisville) to the bishop, and a farm to the Very Rev. E. Sorin of Notre Dame, Indiana.
On the 25th of May, 1843, Father Badin celebrated the golden jubilee of his priesthood, at Lexington, where he had offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the first time in Kentucky. In September, 1846, he accepted from Bishop Quarter of Chicago the pastorship of the French settlement at Bourbonnais Grove, Kankakee County, Illinois. In the winter of 1848 he was again in Kentucky, and Bishop-Coadjutor Spalding welcomed him to the episcopal household. About two years later he became the guest of Archbishop Purcell at Cincinnati, and eventually died at the archbishop’s residence. His body lay undisturbed in the cathedral crypt for over fifty years. In 1904 Archbishop Elder permitted its removal to the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Father Badin’s writings are: “Etat des missions du Kentucky” (Paris, 1822), tr. in the “U.S. Cath. Miscellany” for December, 1824, and in the “Catholic World”, September, 1875; “Carmen Sacrum”, a Latin poem composed on the arrival of Bishop Flaget in Kentucky, June, 1811, translated into English by Colonel Theodore O’Hara of Frankfort, Ky., author of the “Bivouac of the Dead”; “Epicedium”, Latin poem composed on the occasion of the death of Col. Joe Davis at the Battle of Tippecanoe, 7 November, 1811, translated by Doctor Michell of New York (Louisville, 1844); “Sanctissimæ Trinitatis Laudes et Invocatio” (Louisville, 1843), also the original text and tr. in Webb’s “The Centenary of Catholicity in Kentucky” (Louisville, 1844); “Letters to an Episcopalian Friend”—three controversial articles on the Church and the Eucharist (published in the “Catholic Telegraph” of Cincinnati, 1836).
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)