Discord in Bishop Cheverus' absence

In the papers of Bishop Jean Cheverus, there exists a letter from Father Philip Lariscy, OSA, dated June 24, 1821, one of several exchanged between the two during that month.

Father Lariscy, a 34-year-old Augustinian and native of Ireland, had spent the three years at St. John's, Newfoundland, and more recently seven months in Halifax prior to his May 1818 arrival in Boston. He was permitted to minister within the diocese, and shortly after his arrival Bishop Cheverus characterized him as being "strong and robust, zealous and pious," and furthermore "a humble man (who) asks nothing except work" and "intends to stay here at least during the summer."

It is believed Father Lariscy was initially sent to Salem but returned to Boston by November. Father Francis Matignon died in September, and Father Lariscy raised money for the purchase of what is now St. Augustine Cemetery in South Boston, the first Catholic burial ground in the city, and to acknowledge his contribution was dedicated to the patron saint of his religious order. Subsequently, Bishop Cheverus became concerned about how the increased strain of operating without his beloved friend and colleague might affect his own health, and to mitigate the impact, began to place responsibility in the hands of Father Lariscy, eventually appointing him diocesan administrator.

Though based in Boston, it is also known that Father Lariscy visited the southern portion of the diocese, most notably New Bedford, where in March 1821, he purchased land on which a small church was built over the following months. The new church was due to be dedicated on Sunday, July 29, 1821, but the event was postponed following the sudden dismissal of Father Lariscy from the diocese during the preceding week.

Father Lariscy's sudden dismissal was precipitated by the arrival of Father William Taylor on April 18, 1821. With an extra priest to help serve Boston's Catholics, Bishop Cheverus took the opportunity for a long overdue vacation and left for visits to Baltimore and Montreal. In the bishop's absence, Fathers Lariscy and Taylor were left in charge, but soon demonstrated they were incompatible with each other.

Bishop Cheverus and Father Lariscy exchanged letters during the former's time away from Boston, one of which is that of June 24, 1821, held by the archive.

He starts the letter indicating that he is writing in response to Bishop Cheverus' letter of June 20. There are many references to the bishop's concern about his health, and Father Lariscy encourages him to "enjoy and make yourself happy," and to "not be least uneasy, make yourself happy, and do not return until next August if it serves your health." And, finally, to "remain away . . . As long as it will be good for your health."

Father Lariscy states he is personally well, as are the bishop's friends, and he has not been called upon to visit any sick persons. He is currently preparing the boys and girls of the congregation for first Communion and advises, "do not be uneasy about your dear flock, for they are all well and we are all praying for you." Everything continues to go well as if the bishop himself were present.

In other events, a good friend of the bishop and patron of the church, Mr. Samuel May, urges him to visit Quebec before concluding his travels. And, interestingly, a gentleman from Martinique sent Bishop Cheverus a turtle which Father Lariscy gave to "Mrs. Davice" with the bishop's compliments.

In retrospect, the fact that Father Lariscy makes no mention of Father Taylor, and discusses how idyllic things are in Boston, is conspicuous. It is perhaps an attempt to show his capability as an administrator, running things as if the bishop were present while failing to acknowledge any contribution by his fellow priest.

Father Cheverus returned to Boston in July rather than August and determined that both could no longer work together in the diocese. It was decided that Father Lariscy should depart, and the bishop provided him with an "exeat," allowing him to join another diocese, a gift of $100, and the proceeds of a special collection taken from the congregation for his benefit.

Letters written by Bishop Cheverus indicate Father Lariscy possessed a violent temper that he had forgiven in the past, but a scathing letter he received from the priest while away and another incident upon his return made it clear that his presence was no longer tolerable. Following the priest's departure, with an air of relief, Bishop Cheverus would write how peace had finally been restored in his household.

After departing Boston, Father Lariscy would serve in the Dioceses of New York and Philadelphia and died in the latter on April 6, 1824.

Father Taylor proved to be an asset to the diocese. In March 1822, he was named vicar general, and when Bishop Cheverus returned to France in 1823, both he and the Boston congregation expressed their desire for Father Taylor to be named his successor. Though this would not come to fruition, he remained as administrator of the diocese until the arrival of Bishop Benedict J. Fenwick in November 1825, and later reunited with Bishop Cheverus in France. For more on Father Taylor, please see the Dec. 8, 2017, edition of this column, available at TheBostonPilot.com.

- Father Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Boston.