Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Brothers gave leadership in formative years of Northwest Catholicism
by Rosemary O'Donnell, Inland Register staff
(From the March 1, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
Although it is likely that many people in the Northwest have heard of Bishop Blanchet, is it Francis or Augustine that they are thinking of?
The less recognized but equally important Francis became the bishop of Walla Walla on Sept. 27, 1846, upon the recommendation of his younger brother, Augustine — then that diocese’s bishop, who had been appointed to move to the Diocese of Nesqually. Both men’s history is intertwined with that of the Church in the Northwest.
Before they were bishops, they were brothers. Francis Norbert Blanchet and his brother Augustine Magloire were born in French Quebec on Sept. 30, 1795 and August 22, 1797, respectively. Francis was the stubborn one. Each was sent in 1810 to pursue classical and theological studies at the Petit Seminaire of Quebec. Francis was ordained after three years in the Major Seminary.
Francis and another missionary priest, Father Modeste Demers, journeyed nearly six months across Canada before getting to Fort Vancouver Nov. 24, 1838. It might also be noted that it took their group nine days to cross the Rockies.
The priests devised “the Catholic Ladder” while on the Cowlitz River in Oregon during Easter time in April of 1839.
The Ladder was an early catechetical and teaching device. The face of the wooden stick displayed a series of images depicting events in salvation history, beginning with Creation and moving on through the sacraments and other precepts of the Church.
The next month a 30-day mission was begun at St. Paul Mission on the Willamette River in Oregon using the ladder. Because it was “found very useful in imparting instruction to both Indians and whites,” other missionaries soon adapted the teaching device to chart form and used it throughout the Northwest.
In May of 1840 Francis used the Catholic Ladder to teach 400 Indians on Whidby Island. He offered Mass and baptized 122 children on May 31. Eight years later he arrived at Fort Walla Walla to begin his tenure as bishop. The Catholic Ladder was copyrighted in 1859.
Francis’ brother, Augustine, was ordained to the priesthood on June 3, 1821. After serving as an assistant pastor he left Montreal’s cathedral to answer an appeal from Acadia for a French-speaking priest.
He was sent as a missionary to the Isles de Madeleine near Cape Breton, just north of Nova Scotia. He spent seven harsh years at this mission in New Brunswick before being transferred to Cedars, near Montreal on the St. Lawrence River in the spring of 1827, where he worked for 11 years.
While in Canada he was imprisoned on trumped up charges of high treason during the battle of Saint Charles in 1837 and taken prisoner by the British there. Ever after he displayed a tendency to perhaps overreact to adversities such as devastating fires.
Augustine finally established himself at St. Anne of the Cayuse Mission in the fall of 1847. He was on his way further east with the Columbia mission of the Hudson’s Bay Company when he was denied passage on the Columbia River, so Augustine settled at The Dalles in June of 1848.
The Diocese of Walla Walla was transferred to Nesqually in 1850 and Augustine once again moved, to Fort Vancouver in October of that year.
In July of 1845 Francis was consecrated bishop of Oregon Country, but Pope Gregory XVI quickly elevated him to archbishop of Oregon City. He had been instrumental in guiding the formation of the Bureau of Catholic Indian missions under President U.S. Grant’s Peace Policy. The plan called for Catholic missions to oversee just three Indian reservations south of the Columbia River — the Grande Ronde, Umatilla and Warm Springs. The Yakimas were very upset to be put under Protestant “jurisdiction” — they preferred the Jesuits.
The new archbishop soon recommended his brother, Augustine, for the bishopric of Walla Walla. (The diocese of Walla Walla was suppressed again in 1853.) Father DeSmet, another Jesuit missionary, received a letter at St. Mary Mission in the Rocky Mountains from Augustine in the winter of 1841.
In it, the bishop requested a priest and lay brother as missionaries to “go forth in all directions to supply the distant stations....” Father DeSmet could surely spare two of the six men he had at St. Mary’s Mission, couldn’t he?
Father DeSmet responded favorably to the Indians’ repeated request for Blackrobes in the Pacific Northwest. Augustine and other French missionaries were now able to establish St. Rose Mission on the Yakima Reservation between two valleys where the Yakima and Columbia Rivers meet.
In 1852 Francis requested that St. Anne Mission on the Umatilla Reservation be built up again. It had been closed after being burned twice — once in the Cayuse War and then seven years after in November of 1855.
The Whitman Massacre occurred on Nov. 29, 1847. Catholic missionaries were wrongly blamed for the deaths of 13 in the Whitman Massacre. Yet, a Blackrobe buried all the unfortunates — Catholic and Methodist alike. Augustine was among those who negotiated the release of captives taken in that raid.
After being convinced that the metropolis of Oregon Territory would be a bit north of Oregon City, the archbishop moved to Portland Aug. 16, 1862. Four years later he bought a city block of Roseburg, Ore., for $400 for a church.
Augustine, by now a ‘testy old prelate,’ had let his stubbornness turn into ceaseless bickering with other priests. He had contracted malaria earlier in his life. The recurrence of the illness probably caused at least some of his testiness. He was, nonetheless, able to dedicate St. John the Baptist mission church on the Puyallup reservation Aug. 26, 1875. At age 88 he followed the construction of the new cathedral at Vancouver. He died two years later.
Blanchet High School in Seattle was dedicated in its second year of operation to Bishop Augustine Magloire Blanchet on Nov. 8, 1955.
Francis retired to St. Joseph Hospital in Portland in January of 1881 only after Rome’s approval was received. The Holy See appointed a coadjutor bishop to serve Portland until the archbishop’s death on June 18, 1883.
(Sources used for research on this piece were Jesuit Father Wilfred P. Schoenberg’s History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest: 1743-1983, his Paths to the Northwest: A Jesuit History of the Oregon Province, Jesuits and the Indian Wars by Robert Ignatius Burns SJ, the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, The Catholic Ladder and Missionary Activity in the Pacific Northwest by Philip Hanley and Journal of a Catholic Priest on the Oregon Trail, edited by Father Edward J. Kowrach.)
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