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Diocese of Louisville

Diocese of Louisville

Comprises that part of Kentucky west of the Kentucky River and western borders of Carroll, Owen, Franklin, Woodford, Jessamine, Garrard, Rockcastle, Laurel, and Whitley Counties, embracing an area of 22,714 square miles. Prior to the erection of the Covington Diocese (29 July, 1853), it embraced all the State of Kentucky with an area of 47,000 square miles. Originally it was called Diocese of Bardstown, and its bishop administered spiritually a territory now divided into over twenty-eight dioceses (five of which are archdioceses). The first Catholics who are known to have settled in Kentucky were William Coomes and family (Mrs. Coomes was not only the first white female settler, she was also the first school-mistress) and Dr. Hart the first resident physician. They were among the first white settlers at Harrod's fort (Spring, 1775). Catholic settlers soon followed from Maryland, and in a short time their numbers were greatly increased by an influx of Irish-born immigrants. The latter were probably more numerous at Hardin Creek station than at any other, with the sole exception of the wholly Irish settlement at Lower Cox's Creek (seven miles north of Bardstown), where the Irish language was almost exclusively spoken (see KENTUCKY). Dr. Carroll was unable to send a priest before the year 1787, and religion suffered greatly thereby. The first missionary sent (1787) was Father Whelan, an Irish Franciscan, succeeded by Fathers Badin, de Rohan, and Barri res, Fournier and Salmon. The first American-born priest assigned to Kentucky was Father Thayer, a converted Congregational minister. He remained four years, only two of which were spent in missionary duties. Father Nerinckx arrived at St. Stephen's on 18 July, 1805, and remained there with Father Badin till 1811. He was a tireless and energetic worker, and erected ten churches. He founded the Sisterhood of Loretto (see LORETTO, SISTERS OF). A colony of Trappists, under Fr. Urban Guillet, came to Kentucky in 1805, and settled on Pottinger's Creek, about one mile from Holy Cross church, and established a school for boys. Fr. Guillet, however, withdrew his monks from Kentucky in the spring of 1809. The Dominicans under Father Fenwick came to Kentucky in 1806, and settled on a farm (now St. Rose's Convent near Springfield). A brick church was immediately begun but not finished until 1808. This was the cradle of the Dominican Order in the United States. Upon the resignation of Father Fenwick, Father Wilson was appointed provincial and under him the foundation became prosperous and permanent. A novitiate opened in 1808 was soon filled with candidates from the school.


Pius VII ("Ex debito", 8 April, 1808) erected Bardstown into an episcopal seat and appointed Rev. Benedict Joseph Flaget; a Sulpician, as its first bishop. The new diocese embraced the States of Kentucky and Tennessee and its bishop was given spiritual jurisdiction, not only over his own diocese proper, but also, until other dioceses might prudently be formed, over the whole north-western territory (states and territories) of the United States lying between 35 N. latitude and the Great Northern Lakes, and between the states bordering on the Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, thus including the present States of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, about half of Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Iowa. From this mother-see of the West were formed ten dioceses (including that of Little Rock) in the life of its first sainted bishop. Though the Bulls for Flaget's consecration reached him in September, 1808, the consecration did not for several reasons take place until 4 November, 1810, when Bishop Carroll, assisted by Bishop Cheverus (Boston) and Bishop Egan (Philadelphia) consecrated him at St. Patrick's church, Fell's Point.


(1) Bishop Flaget accompanied by Fathers David and Savine, and three seminarians (one of whom, Guy I. Chabrat, was afterwards the second coadjutor to Flaget) reached Louisville from Pittsburgh on 4 May, and arrived on 9 May, 1811, at Bardstown. Until a residence and church could be built, Bishop Flaget resided at St. Stephen's. The bishop found twenty-four stations and ten churches all built of logs, except the Danville church which was built of brick upon ground donated by an Irishman named Daniel McElroy, and with monies mainly given by the Irish in the vicinity, attended by six priests. The Catholics of Kentucky then numbered about 6000 souls. Outside of Kentucky, he had one priest at Detroit, Michigan, one at Kaskaskia. The congregation at Vincennes, Indiana, had no priests, and was indifferent. Cahokia had no pastor, but was anxious for one. The bishop sent Fr. Savine. There was no priest in Ohio. He had ten priests for a territory over which before his death ten bishops wielded the crosier. Father David removed on 11 November, 1811, to the Howard house and farm and began to erect a log seminary and brick church. On Christmas Day, 1811, Bishop Flaget ordained in St. Rose's church Guy Ignatius Chabret, first priest of the seminary and first priest ordained west of the Alleghanies. With the help of the seminarians who cut wood, burned the brick, and mixed and carried the mortar, a small brick church was built in 1816. Then (1817) followed the erection of a brick seminary. The first diocesan synod in the west was held on 20 February, 1812. According to the bishop's report to Pius VII (11 April, 1815) the Catholics had increased to 10,000 souls, ministered to by 10 priests, there were 6 subdeacons (5 of them Dominicans), 6 in minor orders, and 6 tonsured clerics, 5 brick and 14 log churches; Tennessee had about 25 Catholics; Ohio 50 families without a priest; Indiana 130 families attended occasionally from Kentucky; Illinois about 120 families; and Michigan 2000 souls. The seminary from its beginning, until 1819 had given eleven diocesan priests to the missions. Vocations were numerous, but on account of the poverty of parents and bishop, almost as many were turned away as were received. Burdened with episcopal labours too heavy for one, Bishop Flaget applied for a coadjutor with right of succession, and Rev. Father David, president of the theological seminary, was appointed in the autumn of 1817, but the consecration was put off until 15 August, 1819, one week after the completion and consecration of the cathedral at Bardstown, which had been begun on 16 July, 1816.

Bishop Flaget was relieved of Ohio and North-Western Territory by the erection of Cincinnati (19 June, 1821) and the consecration of Father Fenwick as its first bishop (13 January, 1822). A community of religious women under guidance of Dominican Fathers was started (1822) near St. Rose's church. The bishop initiated (1823) a religious society called the Brotherhood of the Christian Doctrine, but it survived only three years. The year 1826 is notable for a wonderful renewal of faith as the fruit of a series of missions all through the diocese. The missions were successful. Six thousand received the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, 1216 were confirmed, and many converts were baptized. In 1828 Bishop Flaget consecrated Most Rev. James Whitfield, fourth Archbishop of Baltimore. In September, 1828, he attended the First Council of Baltimore. Soon after his return to Kentucky he consecrated Dr. Kenrick (6 June, 1830). A new church, a replica of Bardstown cathedral, was built on Fifth street by the Rev. Robert A. Abell, and consecrated in 1830. The Sisters of Charity started a school for girls near the St. Louis's church. The Jesuits, invited in 1828, arrived in 1832, and were presented with St. Mary's College by its founder and owner, Rev. Wm. Byrne. Whilst at St. Louis, Bishop Flaget received news from Rome that his resignation of the Bishopric of Bardstown had been accepted, and that his coadjutor, Father David, would be his successor.

(2) Rt. Rev. John Baptist Mary David, b. in 1761, near Nantes, France, educated and ordained there on 24 September, 1785. Having joined the Sulpicians, he taught philosophy and theology in France, and, in 1792, came to the United States. He laboured on the Maryland missions for twelve years with indefatigable zeal; and after teaching some years at Georgetown College and St-Mary's, Baltimore, in 1810 he went west with Bishop Flaget, and established the theological seminary of St. Thomas at Bardstown. He was a strict disciplinarian and an able and lucid professor. He founded the religious institute of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (November, 1812), and was their ecclesiastical superior almost to the end of his life. Appointed coadjutor to Bishop Flaget in autumn, 1817, his consecration was delayed for almost two years by reason of his reluctance to accept the dignity. After his consecration, he continued at the head of the seminary, discharging at the same time the duties of professor and pastor of the cathedral parish. The priests trained under him numbered forty-seven, of whom twenty-three were either natives of the diocese, or had been raised in it from childhood. Four of them became bishops; Chabrat (coadjutor to Bishop Flaget), Reynolds (Charleston), McGill (Richmond, Va.), Martin John Spalding (Louisville, and later Archbishop of Baltimore). Upon succeeding to the bishopric early in December, 1832, his first act was to appoint the former bishop, the Rt. Rev. B. J. Flaget, vicar-general with as ample faculties as he could, and then forward his resignation to Rome. Rome accepted the resignation (May, 1833), and reappointed Bishop Flaget to the See of Bardstown. Declining health compelled Bishop David, towards the end of 1841, to retire to Nazareth, where he died 12 July, 1841, aged 80, in the fifty-sixth year of his priesthood, and twenty-second of his episcopate.

(3) Bishop Flaget, reappointed to Bardstown, thus became its third bishop. Dr. Chabrat was named his coadjutor (29 June, 1834). After consecrating him (20 July, 1834), Flaget left to him the details of the administration. In September, of the same year, a small church and orphan asylum were erected in Covington, thus laying the foundation of the Covington Diocese. Indiana and the eastern portion of Illinois, were removed from Bishop Flaget's jurisdiction by the erection of the Diocese of Vincennes, 6 May, 1834. Bishop Flaget, in 1835, visited France, and made his episcopal visit to Rome. The first weekly Catholic paper, "The Catholic Advocate", was published in Bardstown in 1836, succeeding a monthly magazine, the "Minerva", founded and edited by the faculty of St. Joseph's College, in October, 1834. During the years 1836-7 several churches were erected and dedicated, among them one at Lexington, Fancy Farm, Lebanon, and Louisville (St. Boniface was the first erected for German Catholics). In April 1837, Dr. Chabrat attended the Third Provincial Council of Baltimore, and made known Bishop Flaget's desire to have Tennessee formed into a new diocese. Gregory XVI established the Diocese of Nashville on 25 July, 1837. Father Napoleon Joseph Perché (afterwards Archbishop of New Orleans) organized a new city parish, Our Lady's of the Port. The diocese numbered at this time forty churches, seventy stations, fifty-one priests, two ecclesiastical seminaries, and nine academies for young ladies. Bishop Flaget returned to a Bardstown in September, 1839, and new churches were erected at Taylorsville and Portland. Louisville had in 1841 a population of 21,210. Owing to its increasing population and the development of its Catholic institutions, the episcopal seat was transferred to it from Bardstown in that year, and Flaget became Bishop of Louisville and Bardstown.


La Salle, a Catholic explorer, was the first white man who visited the Falls of Ohio and the site upon which the city of Louisville is built. Thomas Bullitt and party arrived at the Falls on 8 July, 1773, and marked off the site of the city in August of the same year. Louisville was established by Act of the Legislature of Virginia on 1 May, 1780, on 1000 acres belonging to one John Connolly. Three French priests, Revs., Flaget, Levadoux, and Richard, met in Louisville and probably said Mass there for the first time in 1792. It is not certain that any professing Catholic was resident before 1791. Several Catholic families of Irish and American birth settled there between 1805 and 1825. In 1806 a large colony of Frenchmen, with their families, settled about one or two miles south of the city limits, and upon the southern bank of the Ohio, and though but very few of them were practical Catholics they aided Father Badin liberally. A church was erected on the corner of Tenth and Main streets, and opened on Christmas Day, 1811, but not finished until 1817. Father Philip Hosten attended it occasionally from Fairfield until 17 August, 1822, when he was appointed pastor of Louisville. Typhoid fever was carrying off hundreds of the population when he arrived, and he ministered night and day to the sick and dying. He fell a victim to the fever and died, 30 October. He was succeeded in 1823 by Father Robert A. Abell, who attended the Catholics in the town proper, and the villages of Shippingport and Portland, St. John's, Bullitt county, on the southern, and those of New Albany and Jeffersonville on the northern bank of the Ohio. Father Abell was succeeded by Rev. J. I. Reynolds, who had for assistants Fathers George Hayden, McGill and Clark. Father Stahlsmidt replaced Father Clark, and gathered together the Catholic Germans in the basement chapel, and thus laid the foundation of the first German congregation in the city.


(1) Rt. Rev. Benedict Joseph Flaget, on the removal of the see from Bardstown to Louisville, appointed Father Reynolds vicar-general, and Rev. Dr. Martin J. Spalding, pastor of the old cathedral at Bardstown. A colony of five sisters of the Good Shepherd, from Angers, France, arrived in Louisville in 1842, and were installed in a home on Eighth street near Walnut purchased for them by Bishop Flaget. This was the cradle of this religious community in the United States. The confraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the Conversion of Sinners was established on 21 March, 1843, by Bishop Flaget. The coadjutor bishop, Dr. Chabrat, being threatened with the loss of sight, tendered his resignation, which was at length (1847) accepted and Dr. Martin J. Spalding appointed in his place. Two Franciscan Brothers from Ireland opened the first free school in Louisville in 1847. The year previous the Jesuit Fathers, in charge of St. Mary's College for fourteen years, left the diocese. About May, 1848, negotiations between the bishop and the Jesuits of St. Louis were completed, by which the fathers took charge of St. Joseph's College, at Bardstown, and the Catholic free school founded by the Irish Franciscan Brothers. Soon after the Jesuits arrived in Louisville, they erected a spacious edifice as a college adjoining the free school. The college attendance was from 100 to 200, and that of the free school about 200 boys. Late in December, 1848, a colony of Trappists from Melleray, France, arrived at and settled on a farm of about 1600 acres formerly belonging to the Loretto Sisters, and named Gethsemani. Bishop Flaget d. on 11 February, 1850 (see FLAGET, BENEDICT JOSEPH).

Coadjutor Bishop Guy Ignatius Chabrat, b. at Chambre, France, on 28 December, 1787; d. at Mauriac, France, on 21 November, 1868. He came to Kentucky in 1809 and was ordained on 25 December, 1811. He did missionary duty at St. Michael's, Fairfield, St. Clare's, and Louisville. He had charge for a short time (1823) of St. Pius's, Scott County. Upon the death of Father Nerinckz, Father Chabrat succeeded him as superior of the Loretto sisterhood till 1846. He was consecrated (20 July, 1834) Bishop of Bolina and coadjutor of Bardstown. When Bishop Chabrat was forced to resign by reason of his approaching blindness he retired (1847) on a comfortable pension to his old home in France. He died in the thirty-fourth year of his episcopate.

(2) Rt. Rev. Martin John Spalding, b. 23 May, 1810, was one of the first pupils of Father Byrne's College, afterwards of the diocesan seminary of St. Thomas, thence he passed to Rome and was ordained on 13 August 1834, became vicar-general of the diocese in 1844, coadjutor bishop on 10 September 1848, and bishop on the death of Dr. Flaget, 11 February 1850. Upon the death of Dr. Kendrick, Bishop Spalding was elevated, 11 June, 1864, to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He appointed his brother, Rev. Dr. Benedict Joseph Spalding, administrator of the diocese. In 1848 Bishop Spalding found 30,000 souls in the whole state, cared for by 40 priests, and at his departure there were 70,000 souls with 51 diocesan and 24 religious priests in the Diocese of Louisville. There were but 43 Catholic churches in the state in 1848; in 1864 there were 80 in the Diocese of Louisville. During the administration of Dr. B.J. Spalding the Jesuit Fathers of St. Joseph's College left the diocese (see SPALDING, MARTIN JOHN).

(3) Rt. Rev. Peter Joseph Lavialle, b. in 1820 at Lavialle near Mauriac, in Auvergne, France, made his preparatory studies in France, and came to Kentucky with his relative Bishop Chabrat, in 1841; he was ordained priest in 1844, and assigned to work at the cathedral. In the year 1849 he was appointed professor of St. Thomas's Seminary where he remained until Bishop Spalding, in 1856, made him president of St. Mary's College, which office he held until he was consecrated Bishop of Louisville on 24 September, 1865. He invited the Dominican Fathers to locate in the episcopal city in December, 1865. The following year St. Joseph's and St. Michael's churches, Louisville, were dedicated, and a temporary frame church (St. Louis Bertrand's) built and the convent of the Dominican Fathers commenced. Though exhausted from continued labours and mortifications, he attended the Second Council of Baltimore in October, 1866, and on his return resumed the diocesan visitation, but had to retire to St. Joseph's Infirmary, and thence to Nazareth Academy where he died on 11 May, 1867. He was buried in the crypt of Louisville cathedral. Very Rev. B.J. Spalding was again appointed administrator of the diocese, but he soon died (4 August, 1868). Archbishop Purcell then appointed Very Rev. Hugh I. Brady administrator sede vacante.

(4) Rt. Rev. William George McCloskey; b. on 10 November, 1823, in Brooklyn, N. Y. He studied law in New York City, but abandoning his worldly career he was ordained priest by Archbishop Hughes on 4 October, 1852. After acting as assistant for one year to his brother, Rev. John McCloskey, pastor of the Nativity church, New York, he was appointed professor of Latin and afterwards of holy Scripture and moral theology at St. Mary's College, Maryland, and in 1857 was chosen as director of Mount St. Mary's Seminary, which office he held until he was appointed (8 December, 1859) by Pius IX first rector of the recently established American College at Rome. Upon the death of Bishop Lavialle the Pope named Dr. McCloskey to the vacant see, and he was consecrated bishop by Cardinal Reisach in the American College on 24 May, 1868. Bishop McCloskey ruled the diocese for forty-one years and died at Preston Park Seminary on 17 September, 1909. Very Rev. James P. Cronin, former vicar-general, was appointed administrator of the diocese by Archbishop Moeller of Cincinnati. The Right Rev. Denis O'Donaghue, Titular Bishop of Pomario (25 April, 1900) and Bishop Auxiliary of Indianapolis, was chosen as the new Bishop of Louisville and took possession of his see on 29 March, 1910.


Priests 204 (142 diocesan, 62 regular); churches 163; seminary 1; colleges 3, pupils 718; academies 16, pupils 1621; parochial schools 70, pupils 11,225; kindergartens 3, pupils 145; industrial and reform schools 4, inmates 225; orphan asylums 3, orphans 272; hospitals 4; homes for aged poor 4; inmates 301; Catholic population 135,421. The coloured Catholics number 4251, and have 4 churches and 7 schools with 365 pupils.

Religious Communities

(Men) Benedectines 2; Dominicans 17 (14 priests); Franciscan Friars Minor, professed 24, clergy 18; Minor Conventual, professed 6 priests; Passionists in community 24; Fathers of the Resurrection, professed 5, total 12; Reformed Cistercian, professed 32, total 87; Brothers of Mary 7; Xaverian Brothers 20 professed.

(Women); Sisters of Charity; mother-house at Nazareth, Ky., 22 houses in the diocese and establishments in States of Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts; total religious 800. Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross: mother-house at Nerinckx, Nelson Co., Ky., 700 members, conducting 23 academies and 42 parochial schools in the Dioceses of Louisville, Covington, Cleveland, Columbus, Mobile, Belleville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Lincoln, Denver, Dallas, Tucson, and Santa Fé. Sisters of Third Order of St. Dominic: mother-house, St. Catherine near Springfield, Ky., professed sisters, 64, total number, 79. Good Shepherd Sisters: 2 convents, professed choir sisters 24, 18 lay, 9 out-door sisters having in charge 55 professed magdalenes, 39 penitents, 170 in reformatory class, and 170 children from 5 to 12 years of age in St. Philomena's Industrial School. Ursuline nuns: mother-house in Louisville, local houses, 7, academies, 3, 20 parochial schools, and 1 orphan asylum, and establishments in Maryland and Indiana, total subject to mother-house, 247. Sisters of Mercy: mother-house at Louisville, academy house and parochial school, professed 60. Franciscan Sisters: St. Anthony's hospital, 23 sisters. Little Sisters of the Poor: home for the aged, 18 sisters in charge of 225 aged poor.

M. J. SPALDING, Life, Times and Character of Benedict Joseph Flaget (Louisville, 1852); IDEM, Sketches of the Early Catholic Missions in Kentucky, 1787-1827 (Louisville, 1846); SHEA, History of Catholic Church in the United States (New York, 1886-93); J. L. SPALDING, Life of Archbishop Spalding (New York, 1873); WEBB, Century of Catholicity in Kentucky (Louisville, 1884); DEPPEN, Louisville Guide (Louisville, 1887); Catholic Orphan's Souvenir (Louisville, 1901); files of Catholic Advocate, Catholic Guardian and Catholic Record.


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