Part the First
from 1849 to 1859
by Brother Kieran Mullany
Part the first in which is mentioned the time, place and persons by whom the Monastery was established, the names of the Fathers and Brothers present on that occasion, also the names of the Superiors who governed the Monastery during the first ten years—namely from July 1849 to July 1859.
New Melleray Monastery was founded by the Rt. Rev. Father Bruno Fizpatrick, Abbot of Mount Melleray Abbey County, Waterford, Ireland, on the feast of Saint Stephen, third Abbot of the Cistercian Order, the 16th of July 1849. The Monastery is located 12 miles South West of Dubuque City in Vernon township.
There was present on that occasion Father James O’Gorman who was nominated by the Abbot first Superior of the New Monastery, Father Clement Smyth, Brother Ambrose, Brother Timothy, Brother Joseph and Brother Barnaby. Father Bernard McCafferey was then in Gethsemane Abbey, Kentucky and so could not be present, but came here the following September.
On the 4th of April 1848, Father Bruno was elected Abbot of Mount Melleray. Soon after his election the Abbot resolved to establish a house of the Order in the United States of America. He had several good reasons for doing so. The crowded state of Mt. Melleray was one of them. The disturbed state of Ireland by the Young Ireland party was another reason and also the necessity of renting a farm some 20 miles off in the County of Tipperary at Shanballyard to supply grain and vegetables to his community. Father James O’Gorman and four lay Brothers were on that farm from March 1847 to the 29th of April 1848 when all were called home to Mount Melleray.
There were then 27 professed Choir Monks and 74 professed lay-Brothers in Mount Melleray. The Abbot anxious to do the will of God put his project of a filiation to America to a vote of the whole community, 22 of the Choir, and 67 of the lay Brothers voted for it, only 5 of the Choir and 7 of the lay Brothers were against it. He was now sure of succeeding and resolved at once not to delay. On the 25th of July 1848 Father Bruno and Brother Anthony (Choir novice) were sent from Mount Melleray in search of a proper location for a Cistercian Monastery in America. They failed in their attempt and Bro. Anthony returned home, while Fr. Bernard was so discouraged by the opposition of Rt. Rev. John Hughes, Bishop of New York that he was engaging a passage on board a ship in N. Y. to go home also when he received a letter from Father Hayden, Pastor of Bedford in the State of Pennsylvania, saying he would give him land to build on and invited him to come a see it. He did go and wrote a long letter to the Abbot both for and against the location. When the Abbot read Fr. Bernard’s letter for us in Chapter, he declared his mission a failure and so resolved this time to send the Prior Father Clement Smyth and Bro. Ambrose.
They departed on Jan. 18th 1849, embarked on board the Saragh-Sands Steamer in Liverpool paying thirty-six pounds for their passage to New York where they arrived towards the end of Feb. They proceeded at once to Bedford and having found Fr. Bernard there with Brother Macarius who was sent out here in 1845 by Abbot Vincent Ryan to collect for Mount Melleray. This Brother had a promise of a large tract of land from Bishop Phelan of Kingston Canada, and wanted Fr. Clement and Bro. Ambrose to go and see the place. They did not go but went from Bedford to Boston where Fr. Clement got seriously sick. From there he wrote to the Abbot a discouraging letter saying “had I been back once more to Mount Melleray I would not be so easily dislodged as I was.” When the Abbot read that letter for us, he declared the person that used these words was unfit to be Superior of the new Filiation.
Brother Ambrose before leaving Bedford told Father Bernard in the presence of Bro. Macarius, that he had instructions from the Abbot to proceed to Dubuque, Iowa and see the place offered by Bishop Loras when he was in Mount Melleray in October 1848. As this was putting Brother Macarius’ Canadian project aside altogether, he declared then and there that he would go at once to Mount Melleray and caution the Abbot. Having plenty money to go where he pleased, he set out at once and reached there about April 20th 1849.
After Father Clement & Bro. Ambrose leaving for Boston, Father Bernard went to Gethsemani Abbey and remained there six months — or until the following Sept. when he came to New Melleray. Here was a state of things which the Abbot did not expect. It was failure on every side. But the Abbot was equal to the emergency — he resolved to go himself and do the work.
Before the departure of the Abbot and his companions to America, mention must be made of the visit of the Right Rev. Bishop Loras of Dubuque Iowa to Mount Melleray. where the good Bishop heard of the Abbot’s intention to establish a Monastery of the Order in America is not known, but it is certain he was told of it, and being then on his way to France, he called at the Monastery towards the end of October 1848. He was led by the Abbot into the Chapter Room where he spoke piously and feelingly to the community. He said nothing on earth would give him greater pleasure than to have a community of Cistercians in his Diocese. He told us he was then eleven years Bishop of Dubuque and had the whole State of Iowa as his Diocese with only seven priests in all of it. He said he had plenty of prairie and timber lands that he would give if the Abbot would send some of his Priests and Brothers out there. The good Bishop was told that if a proper place for a Monastery could not be found in the Eastern States, his kind offer would be accepted. Iowa at that time was considered an out of the way place altogether and inhabited by tribes of Indians. Yet it was well for the Abbot that he had this offer made him as the sequel will show. On the 8th of May, 1849 the Abbot, Father James O’Gorman, Bro. Timothy, Bro. Joseph, Bro. Barnaby and Bro. Macarius, left Mount Melleray for America. It would be well for the Abbot had he left B. Macarius at home. He would be spared many a sore pang by doing so. Twice he was very near losing his life on the Br’s account. Before leaving, the Abbot appointed Father Francis Walsh Prior of Mt. Melleray, and nominated him Superior of the New Monastery when it would be established. But he was to remain at home until the Abbot’s return from America, thus Father Clement was removed from the Office which he was intended for.
Here it is proper to state the journey Bro. Ambrose made from Boston to Dubuque. Having left F. Clement sick in Boston, he started for Iowa a very long journey when railroads were so few. He made part of the way by the stage or mail car, the rest as far as Chicago by Steamboats through the Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Michigan. The combined area of the four lakes is almost 70,000 square miles. The distance from Chicago to Dubuque is 200 miles. There was 40 miles of that by railroad to Elgin, the remainder by the stage car to the Mississippi River at Dubuque. He reached his destination about the 15th of May. As the Bishop has not returned, Bro. Ambrose made inquiry of his Vicar General the Very Rev. Joseph Cretin, who gave him all the particulars of the Bishop’s lands, telling him at the same time to ride out to the 12-mile house and Mr. Litton would show him the place. Both of them rode over through the tall prairie grass and did not stop until they came to where New Melleray Abbey is now built. Then Mr. Litton told him that there were other prairie lands yet unclaimed and lying close to the Bishop’s which he could have for one dollar and 25 cents per acre. This was a piece of news that pleased Brother Ambrose well, and he profited by it. Then both of them rode on to the timber lands which were some few miles distant. With what he saw Bro. Ambrose was right well pleased. Mr. Litton returned to his 12-mile house, and Bro. Ambrose went to Dubuque where he wrote a glowing account of the prairie and woodlands of Iowa to the Abbot but as he was then on his way to America, the Prior read the letter in Chapter for us, and all present seemed now pleased with the prospect.
The Abbot and his companions set sail from Queenstown on board a Steamer bound for Halifax Nova Scotia, and arrived there about the 23rd of May. As Bro. Macarius was acquainted with the Bishop (then the Rt. Rev. William Walsh), he insisted on introducing the Abbot and Brothers to him. It was a sad visit, because when they returned, the Steamer with all their goods aboard of her was a mile out on the ocean on her way to Boston. No other vessel was to leave there that week, so they were obliged to hire a carriage to take them to Digby, a distance of 120 miles, then go aboard an open boat with one sail on to waft them across the Bay of Fundy, some 70 miles wide. A squall came on which was very near lodging them in the bottom of the sea. They were compelled to keep emptying the sea water out of the boat or else sink in the deep. They got safe at last and landed in Eastport in the State of Maine, here they found a ship ready to sail to Boston. Having arrived there they found their Steamer in the harbor with their goods safe aboard her.
Father Clement was then in Boston but they did not see him. Some were of opinion that Bro. Macarius prevented their meeting as he knew Fr. Clement had a leaning towards the offer made by Bishop Loras of Dubuque. So they went on to Kingston and were overtaken there by Father Clement. All of them were cordially received by Bishop Phelan. Without delay, they proceeded to the land designed by the Bishop and Br. Macarius for the New Monastery. It was exceedingly hot at that season in Canada being the first week in June. The place was all covered over with heavy timber. It was marshy too, with swarms of mochettoes (or blood suckers); in a word, the place was so unhealthy that the Abbot got seriously sick there, so much so that fears were entertained for his life. Br. Joseph rode as fast as he could to Kingston to inform the Bishop of it. He at once sent out his carriage to bring back the Abbot. After a few days, he got well in Kingston, but went no more to see that place.
Then Br. Macarius there separated not only from the Abbott but from the Order saying he would have no more to do with him. He died in Kingston in 1851. By the accounts that reached here, he died penitent.
They at once proceeded to Dubuque by the same way Brother Ambrose took —namely, the four great Lakes until they arrived in Chicago where they separated, the Abbot, F. James, F. Clement and Br. Barnaby taking the railroad as far as Elgin, and the rest of the journey to Dubuque by the stage car. Br Joseph and Br. Timothy rode with a farmer from Chicago to Rock Island opposite Davenport Iowa. Here they took the steamboat on the Mississippi River to Dubuque. The Abbot with his company was in Dubuque a few days before them. All of them were greeted cordially by the Ven. Bishop and his Vicar General, being then the only two Priests in the city.
They made but a short stay in the city. The first day after they arrived there, they set out for the prairies. This was about the 10th of July. Very fortunately, it was not the 10th of Jan. else their impressions regarding Iowa would be different. All of them were well pleased with the location. The wild uncultivated prairies at that hot season presented a delightful appearance, one vast weaving sheet of green grass with no cattle to eat it, growing only to be devoured by fire in the fall. A prairie fire is an awful sight rolling and roaring for miles in length. This continued so for some years after our arrival here, but soon roads, fences, and corn fields put a stop to it. The Bishop had two small frame houses on these lands then. One of them is where the pine grove is now at the west end of the barn. He resided in this occasionally. When the Abbot came it was occupied by Con Duggan and his family. They left it and went to live with Jerry Healy who resided in the Bishop’s other house. It was where the creek bends in what is now known as “The Bishop’s field.” The first of these houses, 10 x 14 feet, was the residence of the Abbot and Brothers until a portion of the new house was sufficiently covered in for their reception. This was in Nov. following. Bro. Ambrose took care to have the “shantee” furnished on their arrival. So began what was known for years afterward as New Melleray Monastery. A yankee named Ned Allstart handled the first load of lumber from Dubuque that was used in its formation. Ned had two yoke of cattle (or oxen) and often boasted of his work.
There was no imposing ceremony in laying the corner stone of the new Monastery, because it was not a stone, but an oak sill squared in the woods, the Abbot pointing with his cane to the location of it, and Br. Joseph, Br. Timothy and a carpenter doing the work. The house was to be 60 feet in length by 20 ft. in width. To this was added a linny or shed on the north side 10 x 12 ft. This was the first Church of our Order in Iowa.
On the 8th of Sept., the Prior of Mt. Melleray received a letter from the Abbot telling him to send on directly fourteen members, three Choir and eleven lay Brothers, all of whom were named by the Abbot as follows — Father Patrick, Br. Benedict and Br. M. Bernard, Lay Brothers — Michael, Francis, Peter 2nd, Stephen, Ignatius, Kieran, Mark, Athanatius, Philip, Edmund, and John Evangelist. To this list the Prior added two more —namely, Br. Victor and Br. Patrick. In these thirteen Brothers almost every trade had a representative. Some were proficient in more trades than one. On Monday, the 10th of Sept., we were ordered to move from our Monastery to the United States of America, having got but one day to prepare for a journey of over 7,000 miles. Some of the emigrants walked from the Abbey to Cappoquin. More were carried here. All of us went aboard the little Star Steamer owned by Mr. John Daly. We sailed down the Blackwater to Yuoghall. Bro. Columban Foley came so far with us and the Prior came with us to Liverpool. In Youghall, we went on board a steamer the Arab of Glasgow to take us to Liverpool. But she did not do so, being badly broken by a storm. We were landed in Hollyhead, Wales. Br. Patrick remained on board in charge of our luggage. While the vessel was repairing, we were going by railroad the remainder of the journey in three days afterwards the Brothers. And boxes were safe in Liverpool. Here we remained six days waiting for a sailing vessel to take us to New Orleans. At last one was found, the “Carnatic of Boston” with Capt. Deverent, to sail on Tuesday, Sept. 18th. Father Francis was paying our passage fare just Â£2.5 per head for 16 steerage passengers. It was in all 36 pounds, or what F. Clement & Br. Ambrose paid for their fare on a Steamer.
At 10 o’clock a.m. on Sept. 18th, we set sail 276 passengers, and at 10 o’clock a.m. on Nov. 6th, the 276 were landed in New Orleans, seven weeks exactly that ship took us down close to the coast of South America through the Caribbean Sea — the West India Islands, Domingo, Jamaica and Cuba then across the Gulf of Mexico and so entered the Mississippi River, 104 miles below New Orleans. Fortunately, most of our fellow passengers were our own countrymen. At 8 o’clock p.m., the 7th of Nov., we got on board the steamboat Constitution over 400 feet in length and more than 400 persons on board of her, bound for Saint Louis Missouri, 1,200 miles distant, the scenery on both sides of the Father of Waters, as the Mississippi, is called was grand in the extreme. There were the beautiful villas, the sugar plantations and refining houses with the poor slaves as busy as bees packing the sugar casks, but above all the orchards of oranges with their yellow fruits weaving in the odoriferous tropical breeze of southern Louisiana. We were shown the residence of Zachary Taylor who was then President of the United States.
Very soon instead of scenery, we had sorrow in abundance, being shipped from New Orleans to St. Louis as deck passengers. Our fare did not amount to five cents per 100 miles, ($2.50 per head). This was cheap, but our loss was the lives of six of our Brothers. We reached Vicksburg at 10 o’clock p.m. on the 9th of Nov. Br. M. Bernard, Br. Kieran and Br. John Evan went into a bread shop to procure something for breakfast. When the hour for taking it came Bro. John Evan. was dead of cholera. Father Patrick had no holy oils, and so the six Brothers died without being anointed. He heard their confessions and gave them absolution. We put his religious habit on him (B. J. Evan), put the body into a square box and buried him at Walnut Point Warren County State of Mississippi, about 25 miles north of Vicksburg. Before sunset that same day (Nov. 10th), two more of our Brothers were dead — Br. Stephen & Br. Patrick. We buried them in one grave at Miller’s wood-yard, Bolivar Co. St. of Mississippi, and next day we had one more dead — Br. Edmund. We buried him at Ash-grove Obion Co., Tennessee.
An incident worth relating happened at Br. Edmund’s death. It is this, Br. St. Bernard was reading the Litany for the dying and another Br. responding to the prayers (this was at one o’clock at night), when the door was opened and the barber of the boat entered. He was told a Brother was dying of cholera. His reply was “I am not afraid of cholera, it would seem so far that cholera is afraid of me”. He took off his hat, knelt down and answered the prayers. We did not ask him what religion he believed in. It is to be understood that we were no longer deck passengers, when our liberal procurator Br. M. Bernard saw us down and dying of cholera, he paid Captain Caleb for the use of the Ladies cabin (as no such were aboard) the rest of our journey to Saint Louis. Here it is right to name those who showed in their care of the sick and dying real heroism. First, there were Br. M. Bernard, then Br. Mark, Br. Athanatius and Br. Francis. So little did they care about their lives in that awful plague that their memories cannot be forgotten. One Br. was a little timid and did not make over free in his attention to the sick but another Br. who will not be named. Well, the boat though 400 feet in length was hardly long enough for him to keep away from his dying companions. Yet it is a matter for thanksgiving that cowardice in this crisis was exceptional. The next victim was Br. Ignatius. He died a few minutes after two o’clock in the morning, Nov. 11th. We buried him at Donaldsville, New Madrid Co., State of Missouri. In the same grave, we laid the body of a German Catholic child, who died of cholera. About an hour before the death of the last named Br., he called the writer of these pages to his bedside and said, “When I am dead write for me to Father M. J. in Mt. Melleray, and say I am sincerely sorry for having spoken ill of him.” His dying declaration of repentance was complied with as soon as we reached Cairo, State of Illinois.
The next, and last of the cholera victims, was Br. Victor. He was about 60 years of age, was professed in Melleray Abbey, France in the year 1827. Being aware of the death of the other five Brothers, he was heard to say a little before he died, “Oh my, oh my, will any of us live to reach Dubuque?” Some were in doubt if he had cholera, others asserted that he died of fright. At all events, he had not much of the symptoms of that plague. He died the evening of Nov. 12th. We buried him a few miles below Cape Girardeau City in the State of Missouri. Other persons died on that steamboat before we reached Saint Louis. The whole number of deaths on the boat was twenty-six, but its first victim was Br. John Evangelist. Two of the Brothers who assisted in carrying Br. John’s body to the grave (Bros. Patrick & Stephen) were the next to be buried themselves. On our return to the boat after the interment, Br. Patrick said to another, “I have the cholera since morning, why don’t you go to the Captain and get some remedy?” says the Bro. next to him. “It’s no use,” he replied, “I know I am to die”. He spoke the truth. That night he died.
One instance more worth relating, Br. Francis obtained leave of Father Francis Prior of Mt. Melleray to part with us at Cairo and go up the Ohio river to see two brothers of his who lived up in that direction. But as poor old Bro. Victor was still struggling in agonies of death, Br. Francis said he would not leave us to go see any brother of his, while death was doing its work in our midst. Yes, it is by noble deeds alone that noble souls are known.
When we landed in St. Louis early in the morning of Nov. 15th, of the 400 passengers taken on board in New Orleans, we had not 60 left. They fled in crowds from the plague in all directions. We had to remain in St. Louis three days as no boat was leaving for Dubuque. Fear of being caught in the ice of the upper Mississippi was the reason why they would not venture. At last one old stern wheeler was found to run the risk. We left there the 18th, the housekeeper paying the agent of the boat $70, as cabin passage fare for the ten who escaped from the plague.
We landed in Dubuque at night, the 26th of Nov, seventy-seven days after leaving Mount Melleray. Bro. Ambrose was in town to meet us. He was astonished when told of our loss on the river Mississippi. He said neither Father James O’Gorman nor any of the brothers at the Monastery heard a word of our disaster. Although written to on the subject, but the letter did not reach its destination.
On our arrival in Dubuque, Br. Ambrose led us to the city hotel where Mr. Dennis Mahoney and General Warner Lewis came to welcome us to Iowa. The next day we proceeded to our new home, which when contrasted with the home we left in Ireland was a sad affair. The country at that season had a desolate appearance, at least some miles out from town, hilly, rugged and bare snow-covered and chilly with but very few people as its wild uncultivated appearance indicated. After passing the woods, we came in view of a vast sheet of undulating prairie land, bare surely because the fire had gone over it lately.
Br. Ambrose hired a conveyance in town into which Father Patrick and the rest of us crammed ourselves, while the hired man (Jerry Healy) with his two yokes of cattle hauled part of our baggage–but forgot the essential part–namely our bed-clothes. We slept that night in a heap of straw in the new shed. The sheeting sufficed to keep out the snow but let in the frozen breeze. This was our first night lodging in New Melleray. It was about the 18th of Aug. that the Abbot wrote for us. He said in his letter to the Prior that he would leave in a few days to attend the General Chapter. Before leaving, he was requested by the Bishop to preach in the Cathedral, Dubuque. He did preach a most eloquent sermon. He left here about the 28th of August. Had we on our arrival time to burrow into the earth and like many of our neighbors live in “dug-outs”, we would be much more comfortable in our first winter in Iowa. No, the frost set in so severe on the 4th of December as to prevent any more burrows being made that winter. Our live stock then was very limited with a pair of horses and one old cow. The same cow was made a present of to the Brothers by the Sisters of Saint Joseph convent residing three miles east of here. It is difficult indeed to tell all the acts of kindness these good Sisters with their Father and founder the Very Rev. Terrence Joseph O’Donahue have done for our little community in its infancy, for instance, their generous and liberal donations, the baking of bread for us during the years 1849 & 1850 — yes, and part of the year 1851 when we made an oven of our own.
Truly, as long as New Melleray exists, the liberality of these kind-hearted Sisters should be remembered, during three years they made and mended our stockings. and it can never be forgotten what they done at the time when we had but four horses. Br. Barnaby drove a pair of them to the convent to bring home a batch of bread. This was in July 1851. They were not more than twenty minutes in the flat-roofed shed when the lightning hit it, killing the horses in an instant. Three of the Sisters had a narrow escape. They were milking cows in the shed, and had gone out of it only a few minutes, when it was knocked down by the lightning.
But our loss was very soon made all right by Father O’Donahue in sending over to our Superior the price of a pair of horses. And what did the good Sisters ask of us for their many generous deeds? Simply, our prayers, and when their aged Pastor was unable to celebrate Mass for them, a Priest from the Monastery may go over and officiate for them. Yes, and on one or two occasions, they requested of Father James O’Gorman to go to the convent and preside at the reception or profession of some converts who were admitted into their community. Their request was complied with so for the record of the good Sisters generosity.
Cistercians in long gone-by ages have their Monasteries founded by Lords and Earls. As no such persons were here, the Right Rev. Mathias Loras, first Bishop of Dubuque, may well be considered the founder of this Monastery by his donations of land, both prairie & wood land, which he bestowed on the Abbot. He gave over seven hundred acres, only requiring that a Monastery be built. This was his sole condition, and the 160 acres of timber which he added to the above, he merely asked for it what it cost himself. He had done more, as he had yet 480 acres of wood land. He sent us word to cut thereon as many large trees as we may need for making sheds and fences. Well he may be called founder & benefactor.
Then the saintly and venerable Bishop Loras deserves special mention in the record of New Melleray. As a Missionary Priest in the Diocese of Mobile, State of Alabama, then under the jurisdiction of its first Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Portier, very little can be written, as documents relating to his mission in Mobile are not at hand. He must be some years in that Diocese when selected in 1837 to be the first Bishop of Dubuque. When he came to his new diocese there was not one Priest in it except some Jesuit Fathers in the western part of the Territory among the Potawatomi and Sioux Indians. There was a Priest at Sinsinawa Mound since 1832, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli of the Order of Saint Dominic. He attended to the spiritual wants of the few Catholics who then lived in Dubuque previous to the arrival of Dr. Loras. A more fervent pious and exemplary Bishop than the venerable Dr. Loras did not exist. He was so full of true piety and ardent zeal for the glory of God and with all such Christian simplicity, to see and hear him in his little old Cathedral at the end of Vespers on every Sunday asking the prayers of his small flock for such a number of intentions. “Let us now say five Paters & Aves for the conversion of Podestants”–such was his French pronunciation. He secured to the Catholic Church an immense landed property, and city lots also. In Davenport, Iowa City, and in other towns he had property, all of which he left to his Successors the future Bishops of Dubuque. Many a time the good Bishop was seen floating on a lumber raft down the river making a visitation to the villages of his Diocese in that direction. And again he would be seen coming out to his farm at Table Mound sitting on bags in an ox-cart to carry home some potatoes. Such were the mode of conveyance in those early days of Iowa. He had a college built at Table Mound in 1852. Here some of his first Priests studied, Father Lynch of Cascade, F. Tracy and F. Kinsella of Garryowen and F. Louis DeCally (the Bishop’s nephew) at present Pastor of Fort Madison Iowa, with a few others whose names are not remembered had their training at Table Mound.
One of Bishop Loras’ first missionary Priests in Iowa is living in the Diocese of St. Paul, Minn., the Ven. and Very Rev. Father Anthony Ravoux, for many years past Vicar General of St. Paul. The good Bishop died the death of the just on the 19th of Feb., 1858. Many years after his death when removing the remains into the new Cathedral, the lid was taken off the coffin and to the astonishment of all present the body was found incorrupt, so were the vestments in which he was buried. This assertion is made here on the testimony of persons who were then present.
To resume — Father Francis Walsh left Mount Melleray early in Feb. 1850 having four professed Choir Monks, fourteen professed lay Brothers, four Novices and one Postulant, in all twenty-four. One of the Choir (Br. Francis) died at sea and was laid to rest in the deep Atlantic. One of the Novices no sooner touched American soil in New Orleans when he put out for parts unknown. So twenty-two of them reached here on the 12th of April, 1850. That same day F. Francis became Prior of New Melleray and F. James O’Gorman was named SubPrior. In less than three days after their arrival here, the three Novices and Postulant left in the same manner as the Novice in N. Orleans. Before two years was over four of his professed lay Bros. were gone too. Of those who remained three were over 60 years old and some five or six over 50 years of age. So Father Francis and the party he paid well for over the Atlantic Ocean were not of much benefit to our new Monastery.
He was not three months in office when he sold to William Murphy 120 acres of our land. And while Prior, he made no purchase of land. With all he was a mild, charitable and gentlemanly sort of a man, well liked by all neighbors, having done nothing remarkable during his term of his office save the removing of Br. M. Bernard from being housekeeper and putting Br. Ligouri in his place, who kept it a very short time. Then in the fall of 1853 a petition was got up signed by the community and sent to the Abbot requesting of him to remove F. Francis from office. When the reply reached here from Mount Melleray, Fr. Francis resigned. So before our new Monastery was four years in existence, two Superiors were out of office. Early in 1854 an election was made in the small Chapter room of the old building and resulted in the choice of Father Clement Smyth as Superior. His first address to the community is well remembered by some who were present. Father Francis resigned office on Dec. 6th, 1852 & F. Clement took his place.
One sentence of his, being delivered in true eloquence was remarkable. It was this. “For the good government of this Monastery I have taken council of men as wise, as learned, and as judicious as there are today in the Cistercian Order.” The Choir then were F. James, F. Bernard, F. Francis, F. Patrick and F. Paladius, with Brothers Jules, John Baptist Ligouri, Benedict and M. Bernard. One thing in regards of Fr. Clement’s office as Superior is certain, and that is, he governed well and wisely, be his councilors whom they may. While in office he added some five or six hundred acres of land to our farm. He bought land of Jerry Healy, Tim Duggan, the Casey family, Patrick Walsh and others. He bought the Sandpit (now in Dan Mahoney’s field) of John Pine for a term of 21 years. In a word, it was Father Clement that made the farm on which our Monastery is built reach up to be one thousand eight hundred and forty acres of land, or ten and a half miles of a walk all round it. He named Father James as SubPrior and Father Paladius Father Master of Lay Brothers. Father Paladius was professed in Melleray Abbey (France) and was prior many years under Father Vincent Ryan, first Abbot of Mount Melleray. He came here in 1851 and died in July 1864. Father Bernard, F. Francis (both were ordained Priests on Dec. 21st, 1839) and Father Patrick attended to the secular Church alternately. Father James also went to it occasionally being the best preacher of them all, yes, and of all in the Diocese. Yet F. Bernard was considered from the commencement the Parish Priest. Many a time he made journeys of over fifty miles and much farther sometimes. Priests being then so scarce in Iowa west of Garryowen Church where Father Lewis Perodin was Pastor, there was not a single Priest in 1849.
Father Clement was a very vigilant Superior especially where the financial affairs of the Monastery were concerned. He kept a close watch on our housekeeper, which if another Superior who came after him had done, things would be different here today from what they are. On one occasion we were near two thousand dollars in debt to Emerson & Shields of Dubuque. The Prior’s impression was that we would never get over it. Such was his horror of being in debt. At this period there was no burying ground for seculars at or near our Monastery. Bishop Loras desired that all the Catholics who died in this neighborhood should be interred in the Catholic Cemetery. He established one on the hill west of the Cathedral in Dubuque. One of our near neighbors John McLaughlin died. His funeral proceeded on to Father Bernard’s little Church to bury him near it. They were met by F. Clement who told them in a menacing manner that he would not permit the interment on any part of the Monastery lands. There was much excitement. Finally they turned into the prairie where our cattle-yard is now, the land belonged to John Quinn. There they made a grave and buried John McLaughlin, about 150 yards from the Church. Mrs. Logan was buried before this near the Church. So the Bishop had to yield, and at last consented to a burying place at the Monastery. The first body laid to rest in the new burying ground was that of Patrick McCarthy in August 1854.
In January 1851 the Very Rev. Joseph Creitin, Vicar General of the Diocese of Dubuque, was made first Bishop of St. Paul. On that occasion Father Donohue, Pastor of St. Joseph’s Convent was made Vicar General at the beginning of 1855. It was surmised from the many visits to our Monastery by the new Vicar General that something of importance to our house would soon occur. This became more evident as the Venerable Bishop Loras was becoming more feeble with age and overwork. It was clear and well known to all that he needed an Assistant. Father Donohue from the commencement was known to inform the Bishop that Father Clement would be the best selection he could make for a Coadjutor. Reports to this effect went the rounds before anything definite on the subject was made known.
Yet two years had to pass before this project was realized, Rome being slow to move in matters of this nature. The affair was communicated to the Abbot of Mt. Melleray as early as Jan. 1856. That same month F. Alberic now our Prior joined us. He prepared at once for his second journey to America, this being a matter of importance. A humble Monk of a newly founded Monastery to be made Coadjutor Bishop was a dignity not expected.
The Abbot arrived here on March 19, 1856, feast of St. Joseph. He presided that same evening in our little Chapter Room at the lecture before Compline. He made no allusion as to the object of his visit because so far there was no certainty of the Bishopric affair. No, nor for thirteen months after his arrival here. He expressed himself well pleased with the improvements done, but saw at once our great need for a suitable Church. Having consulted with the Prior, the Abbot selected a proper site, and that summer a frame Church was built 80 feet in length by 22 feet wide with stalls and benches both for the Choir and the Lay Brothers.
Here may be laid aside for a time the Bishop business and say something of our near neighbors when we first settled here. Preference must be given to the few Irish Catholics, then delineate the smart Yankees round here at that period. A few of the Irish Catholics are still living here, namely, James O’Hagen, Dan Callaghan, Patrick M. Walsh (this good neighbor sold to Father James O’Gorman almost two hundred acres of his land. Eighty acres of his land lay within 20 yards of our Monastery. Mr. Walsh sold in the fall of 1849, 45 acres of this 80 to F. James for 90 dollars. For the remainder of that same 80, we paid him in 1873 fifty-five dollars per acre), Patrick Clark, William. Powers & Sons, John M. O’Sullivan of Bare-heaven Co. Cork, Jerry & Thomas Lynch, Cornelius & Timothy Duggan, William Potts, James Corbet, and a few others. Mostly all of these were then living in log huts through the timber, two or three families who kept on prairie in pits or what was known as “dug-outs”. Not a frame house was to be seen turn what way you may. These then formed F. Bernard’s Catholic congregation. A very small Church sufficed for them. But we had other neighbors, the “Yankees”. To begin, the best man of them was Lemuel Litton who kept the 12 mile house. He was an Honorable honest specimen of a true American. He was also a real friend of ours from the commencement. We had others, a lot of Indiana Hoosiers. A glance at their names will tell you what sort of beings they were, poor, as was possible for them to be. It is a lazy famished gang of wretched creatures with no religion but the “Dollar”. No home but the Dug-out and at all times ready to sell out, put themselves and effects into an ox wagon and so move “West”. To this class belongs Yont, Evingham, Sloan, Snodgrass, Sharp, Spark, Alstart, Champanoi, with a few others not deserving mention, and they did sell out. Their lands now belong to good Irish Catholics.
To resume then, as the Abbot meant to stay with us the summer of 1856 or until something definite was known respecting the Coadjutor Bishopric, he suggested many improvements to the Prior who at once had everything done to the Abbot’s satisfaction. At this time we were comparatively in a fair way of doing well. There was harmony, concord and a spirit of industry in our little community, in a word, a rivalry to thoroughly work our fertile fields to the best advantage. We had neither debts nor doubts of our future progress. We had several teams of mules and horses with some eight or ten yokes of working oxen. Truly this summer found us in a far different position when contrasted with some of our first summers in Iowa. Along with the building of our new Church we put up several other small buildings this year such as workshops, bakery, wash house, tailor’s room, carpenter’s shop, and a small library room.
The documents from Rome nominating our Prior Coadjutor Bishop to Dr. Loras reached here the first week in April 1857. They were brought to the monastery by the Very Rev. Father O’Donohue, Vicar General. On Monday, the 20th of April, Father Clement took leave of us and of New Melleray. He was accompanied to Dubuque by the Rt. Rev. Father Abbot, and the Very Rev. Father Donohue, V. G. from there they proceeded to Saint Louis, the venerable and saintly Bishop Loras as their companion.
On Sunday, May 3, 1857, Archbishop Kenrick consecrated the Right Rev. James Duggan as his Coadjutor, and the Rt. Rev. Clement Smyth as Coadjutor Bishop of Dubuque Diocese. There were two more Bishops present, on this solemn occasion, namely, Bishop Alegie of Leavenworth and Bishop Juncker of Alton.
The Abbot returned very soon from Dubuque after the consecration of Bishop Smyth. He was making ready to go home to Mount Melleray when an event occurred to detain him here a while longer. It was this: the Rev. Thomas Hore, a parish Priest from the county Wexford left Ireland with the consent of his Bishop, and took with him to America several of his parishioners. They settled in Alamakee Co. Iowa in 1852 or 1853, securing a large tract of land on which they made their homes. F. Hore selected a farm of his own, which with a good dwelling house and frame Church, was valuable property. After a residence of four or five years here, the good old Priest found his health fast declining and was anxious to resign his mission and go back to Ireland. He consulted the Bishops in Dubuque, obtained their approbation, then came here, made an offer to the Abbot of all the lands and houses he owned in Alamakee Co. on condition that a Priest with some Brothers were to be sent there. The Priest was to take charge of the Parish, while the Brothers were to work the farm for the benefit of the community. These terms were accepted both by the Abbot and Prior. They agreed that it was best to send Father Francis and five lay Brothers, namely Br. Timothy, Br. John Joseph, Br. Barnaby, Br. James and Br. M. Joseph. But somehow the project fell through. All were back again to the abbey in less than one year and six months. Our housekeeper, Br. M. Bernard, was sent up by the Prior to make sale of the land to the neighboring farmers. This was done to the benefit of our Monastery and so the Alamakee mission ended.
Soon after the Brothers returned in the summer of 1858, Father Francis Walsh parted with New Melleray Monastery and with the Cistercian Order. The Bishop made him Pastor of Saint Patrick’s parish in Dubuque, which position he held some five or six years. He was subsequently removed to Mount Pleasant Henry Co. Iowa, and is at this writing (1887) Chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy, Davenport in this State. He joined our Order in 1831. He was ordained in 1839, sent as Chaplain to the Nuns of Stapehill in August 1844. He returned to Mt. Melleray after the death of Abbot Vincent Ryan in December 1845. Father Francis was duly dispensed from his religious obligations by the Pope.
Father James O’Gorman, during the second term of office, followed closely in the foot steps of his predecessor. There were no debts, no waste of any kind, but strict close accounts well kept of all out-lays and income. He kept a vigilant watch, especially over the movements of our housekeeper who even at this period manifested a tendency to run risks which eventually resulted most disastrously for our Community. It is hard to excuse good intention when untold calamity is the consequence. This state of things did not surely occur during the administration of Father James. It was reserved for his successors to accomplish so doleful an event.
Good, generous, kind-hearted and with all so extraordinary talented that having received a classical education in Trinity College, Dublin through the influence of his Uncle Major General Sir Edward Miles, it was very little to be wondered at, that F. James should rise to the dignity of a Bishop in the Catholic Church. His piety, talents and other eminent qualifications became known to the Venerable Archbishop of Saint Louis. It was evident long before the affair was realized that Father James would soon be removed from New Melleray to a more exalted position in the Catholic Church. During the remainder of the year 1857 and all of 1858, affairs went smoothly on, yes and very prosperous also. Debts and difficulties seemed as if such things were never to exist. We were now living nine years and three months here and during that time no member of our Community died in this Monastery. Though many were aged men, there was a seeming exemption from that final end of man. Very soon we were convinced that it was but “seeming”. Our number was sixty and the first Brother called on to go (to heaven I hope) was but 27 years of age. He was over three years professed, was known as Brother Stanislaus (Patrick Mullany). He was brother of the Architect who designed our new building. He died on the 3rd of Sept., 1858. That fell disease consumption has done its work effectually on the youngest member of our Community, and so we lost in him an excellent carpenter, yet when heaven gains, earth cannot lose.
Before closing this first decade of our Institution, it may be stated that one member of our Order was ordained Priest in our new Church by Bishop Smyth. This was Br. John Baptist Hogan, a native of Clonmel Co., Tipperary. He joined us in Mount Melleray on Aug. 29th, 1842, being then 26 years of age. He was ordained Priest on Aug. 21st, 1858 and died on July 30th, 1880.
Having now come to the beginning of 1859, nothing very remarkable occurred during the first or second month of that year. And although the Abbot was well aware of what was going on here regarding the other Bishopric, he did not come. Very likely he feared being detained some fourteen or more months as was the case previously. But no, now there was little delay as the Archbishop of Saint Louis had this whole affair in his own hands. It was evident from the commencement, and the influence used, that Father James O’Gorman would not be left long in this Monastery.
The documents from Rome appointing our Prior, Bishop of Raphanea (i.p.i.) and Vicar Apostolic of Nebraska, then 580,000 square miles in extent, or 18 times the size of Ireland. Since then it has been subdivided into several Bishoprics. About the 15th of April, the papers from Rome reached here, yet our Superior said he would not leave until after Low Sunday, as Easter Sunday that year fell on the 24th of April. Low Sunday was the first of May. Then on Monday, May 2nd he bade his good bye, and was consecrated Bishop in Saint Louis Cathedral on Sunday, May 8th, 1859.
In two years our two titular Priors–Father Clement Smyth and Father James O’Gorman, were made Bishops. It was a thing very unusual in the Cistercian Order, but not so in the Benedictine Order who now has one Bishop and seven Abbots in the United States. This year (1859) another religious man, the Very Rev. Thomas Lewis Grace of the Order of Saint Dominic and Prior of Saint Peter’s Monastery, Memphis, Tennessee, was chosen second Bishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota. But he refused the dignity twice. Then he was then compelled to accept it. And after faithfully doing his duty as a good Bishop during fifteen years, he then resigned the dignity to his Coadjutor, Dr. Ireland. He has now become an assistant to that Prelate retaining only the title of Bishop of Mennith (i.p.i.). Bishop Grace was nephew of our late Br. Barnaby.
Father Bernard as SubPrior now steps into the position of Superior (pro tempore) as he never was Titular Prior. He is now merely holding office till the Abbot appoints a successor to Bishop O’Gorman, our late Prior. As this was not done until the fall of the following year, it brings the first ten years of New Melleray Monastery to a close. So our Superiors ranged in the following order: Father James from July 16th, 1849 to April 12th, 1850. Then Father Francis on to Jan., 1854. Father Clement until April 16th, 1857. Father James was again superior till the 2nd of May, 1859. Then with Father Bernard in office still on the 16th of July 1859.