The first bishop of the new diocese of Burlington, Vermont, arrives
On Saturday, Nov. 5, 1853 -- 170 years ago this month -- thousands of Catholics gathered at the train station in Burlington, Vermont, hoping to catch a glimpse of their new bishop, Louis de Goesbriand.
On July 29, 1853, Pope Pius IX had erected two new dioceses from territory previously held by the Diocese of Boston: Burlington and Portland. The former diocese was to encompass the state of Vermont, while the latter would cover the states of New Hampshire and Maine.
The man chosen to lead the new Diocese of Burlington, the Bishop Louis de Goesbriand, was something of a stranger to New England, having been born and educated in France, ordained for the Diocese of St. Paul, Michigan, and spent for almost the entirety of his priesthood in Ohio. Yet, in many ways, he was an ideal candidate for the job, offering both the language skills to serve Vermont's large French-Canadian Catholic population and experience managing a newly established diocese, having been the first vicar general of the Diocese of Cleveland from its establishment in 1847 until 1853.
Bishop de Goesbriand received his episcopal consecration on Oct. 30, 1853, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City from Archbishop Gaetano Bedini, with Bishops John McCloskey and Louis Rappe serving as co-consecrators. From New York, the new bishop traveled to Boston, where he was received by Bishop John B. Fitzpatrick, whom he had known from when they were schoolmates at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris in the late 1830s.
Bishop Fitzpatrick's journal notes that on Nov. 5, "the Bishops of Boston and Burlington accompanied by Rev. Mr. O'Callaghan of Vermont and Rev. Nicholas O'Brien of Boston start for Burlington in the morning where they arrive at 1/2 past 5 o'clock." Rev. O'Callaghan refers to Father Jeremiah O'Callaghan, a priest of the Diocese of Boston who became the first resident priest in Vermont in 1830. Known as the "Apostle of Vermont," Father O'Callaghan ministered throughout the state and had established Vermont's first Catholic Church, St. Mary's in Burlington, in 1832.
As the train pulled into the station, the party was greeted by the music of "a very fine band" playing "Hail to the Chief." According to the account of a special correspondent to The Boston Pilot, as they disembarked, the crowd gave a "hearty cheer," and a rifle cannon "roared forth a glorious salute of twenty-four, to bid welcome to the prelate God had sent us." Also on hand to greet the new bishop were Father Marie Mignault, the French Canadian vicar general of the Diocese of Boston who had deep ties to Vermont; Father Joseph Querillon, pastor of St. Joseph's in Burlington; and two Canadian priests identified as Revs. Crevier and Caisse from Canada.
The clergy got into a convoy of carriages bound for St. Mary's Church -- which would now serve as the diocesan cathedral -- and the Catholics from the train platform formed a procession behind them. "The joyous strains of martial music and the deep solemn bass of the cannon, that vast crowd of men, extending a half mile in length, marched through the principal streets of the town to the church," reported The Pilot. "It was soon densely crowded with men, women and children, prostrate in silent prayer before the Holy of Holies in union with their Bishop to ask of the Master who had sent him grace and blessings on his mission."
In the bishop's journal, Bishop Fitzpatrick reports that at the cathedral, he "introduces the people of Burlington to their new bishop who after a brief address gives them all a solemn benediction." Following his address, Bishop de Goesbriand immediately began his ministry among his new flock, hearing "a good number" of confessions.
The following morning at St. Mary Cathedral, the bishop continued to hear confessions, spending a reported two to three hours in the confessional before offering a Pontifical High Mass before a standing-room-only crowd of Vermont Catholics. After the Mass, the bishop confirmed about 100 of the faithful.
In the afternoon, Bishop de Goesbriand visited the French-Canadian church in Burlington, St. Joseph. From his first day in his diocese, he was careful to spend time with both the Irish and French-Canadian Catholics, so that no rumors of favoritism would develop among his flock. As The Pilot reported, "the reception of the Bishop by the French Canadians, the crowds that knelt in the street as he passed among them to receive his blessing, the delight and wrapt attention with which they hearkened to his every word, are an earnest of bright hopes for that new congregation."
The hopes of Vermont's Catholics were not disappointed. Bishop de Goesbriand dedicated the remainder of his life to the growth of his diocese. He is remembered as a church and school builder; the number of churches in the Burlington diocese swelled from 10 to 78 during his episcopacy, and he oversaw the establishment of eight academies and 16 parochial schools. He also was tireless in recruiting vocations to his diocese, inviting orders of women religious to serve in diocesan schools and institutions and increasing the ranks of his priests from just five in 1853 to 52 by 1892.
In the last 10 years, a cause for canonization has been opened for Bishop de Goesbriand, owing in large part to his tireless dedication to the Catholics of Burlington.
VIOLET HURST IS AN ARCHIVIST FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.