Passionist Missions and Missionaries in the Far West: 1877-78

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by Fr. John Philip Baudinelli, C.P.

In the fall of 1877, Rt. Rev. Eugene O’Connell (see Catholic Directory Diocese of Sacramento), Bishop of Grass Valley, California, had asked the Provincial of our Congregation in this country to send thither two or three of our Fathers for the purpose of evangelizing his small and very much scattered flock in the two states of California and Nevada over which his jurisdiction extends. The same Prelate had asked a special favor—that Rev. John Philip Baudinelli should be one of the Fathers, as he knew him personally and had had him in his diocese working for his people twice before. Very Rev. Thomas Stefanini, Provincial, acquiesced to the Rt. Rev. Bishop’s demands; and, appointing Rev. Fr. Philip of this retreat near Baltimore superior of the expedition, gave him as co-laborers Rev. Timothy Pacitti 1, Vicar of St. Michael’s Retreat in Hoboken, and Rev. Benedict Murnane 2 of the Retreat of the Holy Cross, Cincinnati.

They started for the far West on the 12th of September 1877, by rail, and after six days journey they arrived safely at Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. Arrangements had been previously made by Rev. Fr. Philip with Rev. Lawrence Scanlan to give two little missions in the districts of which he is the zealous pastor. On the Twenty-third of September, accordingly, a mission opened in Ogden, the terminus of the Great Union Pacific Railroad and the beginning of the Central Pacific. The few Catholics of Ogden attended the mission and profited by it. A great many Mormons also, and Mormon Bishops and Elders attended the services, but only as a matter of curiosity. Four days were spent in that place after which the Fathers gave another little mission of four days in Salt Lake City for the benefit of the few Catholics residing there.

Salt Lake City is the center of Mormonism, or as that sect styles itself “The Latter Day Saints.” The city is called by the Mormons “The Garden of Eden”and “The Terrestrial Paradise.” Materially considered, it is doubtless a beautiful city built in a lovely valley, it is surrounded by hills and mountains that present a very picturesque appearance. The streets are very wide, trees of all kinds on every side of the streets with rivulets constantly running to irrigate them. The climate too, is very healthy and altogether it is a nice place to live in. But when you look at it in a religious and moral point of view you must necessarily feel utterly disgusted. The so called Mormon religion was invented by a miserable scamp named Joseph Smith in 1833. He pretended that an angel appeared to him while caring for his flock in the mountain and had handed to him the “Book of Mormon.” He succeeded by lie, shrewdness and ambition to get a few followers of the new doctrine, and started his work in two or three different states of the Union. He was driven away with his followers, and he succeeded in establishing the new sect in a rather permanent footing in Utah Territory near a great lake of extra-salty water—from which the City has had its name. Joseph Smith was succeeded by another more shrewd and fanatical man in the person of Brigham Young (who died last August in Salt Lake City at the age of 72). This great scoundrel gave great impulse to the work commenced by Joseph Smith, and succeeded beyond the expectation of all to get a great moral control over the people. He made them believe that he was the Prophet of the Lord, and that everything he spoke to them was to be taken as law. The teachings of this false prophet are the abridgment of all the ancient and modern errors that have been taught by the many heresiarchs that have existed from century to century since the beginning of Christianity. They believe in a corporeal God, they deny the Trinity of persons in God, they declare that Christ is a mere man, they believe in the millennium. They maintain that the plurality of wives is a most holy thing in as much as it propagates the Kingdom of God on earth.

Hence Brigham Young himself had 19 wives in Salt Lake City alone, and any number in the other villages and towns of his jurisdiction. No man knows the number of bastards he has scattered all over the territory of Utah. He gave to his followers leave to marry as many wives as they pleased. The corruption in this regard is simply shocking—no respect is paid to relationship or kindred—a man will marry a mother and her daughters, brothers marry their sisters—a father will marry his own daughter, and so on. The consequence is that the offspring of such unions is stupid, deformed and in every way disgusting to the beholder. The moral and intellectual degradation of such people make an indelible impression upon the travelers that visit Salt Lake City, and attend their Sunday Service at 2 o’clock PM, where in the spacious tabernacle the beholder has a chance to look around and see an ocean of faces exhibiting ignorance, stupidity, voluptuousness and blind superstition. Our American rulers ought to be ashamed of themselves to permit the existing and spreading of a society which is calculated to simply degrade human nature below the condition of the brute. The American flag that floats over the city on the foothills of the near lofty mountains is constantly disgraced by a people who disregard so shamefully the laws of the country. The three Fathers felt as if they were living in Sodom and Gomorrah whilst they remained; their services were highly appreciated by the good, learned, and zealous Pastor, L. Scanlan, and his very good worthy assistants Frs. D. Riely and Becholgar. The memory of these good priests will ever be a pleasure to the Fathers, and their names will be in benediction for generations.

The two small missions being over the Fathers started out again for the far West and on the 3rd of October took the Central Pacific Railroad; on the eve of the 5th they arrived in Marysville, Cal. and were received very kindly by Bishop O’Connell and his Priests. On the following Sunday, the 7th of October, Rosary Sunday, the first mission in this diocese began. Solemn High Mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr. Timothy C.P., the Bishop assisting in the throne. The whole week was devoted by the three Fathers to the usual work of the platform and the confessional. The Sisters of Notre Dame, who have a noble Academy right in front of the Cathedral, shared to some extent in the blessings of the mission, as one of the trio preached to them also and heard their confessions. The Bishop and clergy as well as the people of the city were well pleased at the result of the work. Though the city was greatly decreased during the last three years, on account of a flood that spread desolation all around; yet the number of Communions was larger than other missionaries had there three years before. It is worth noticing that the city of Marysville was evangelized in early times by our V. Rev. Fr. Peter Magagnotto, C.P. He was one of the first priests that administered there. He built a small wooden church as early as 1852, and subsequently was Vicar General of San Francisco during the space of five years—it was then that he started to erect the present large brick church, and finished it. He also founded the academy of the Sisters of Notre Dame. His name is, up to this day, in benediction in that city and surroundings. After this mission Fathers Timothy and Benedict gave another in a small town named Colusa 30 miles west of Marysville and Fr. J. Philip devoted a few days to the spiritual wants of a number of French Canadians in a place called Willows. Some of them could not speak a word of English, and felt very happy of the opportunity which was offered to them of a Priest that spoke the French language. They all went to confession and communion.

In this city of Colusa the Fathers were obliged to separate: three missionaries were too many for the greater number of the parishes of the diocese of Marysville. Accordingly Fr. Timothy took the North of Marysville to evangelize, whilst Fathers J. Philip and Benedict directed their steps towards the South, and the East. The former gave missions in Callahan’s Ranch, Fort Jones, Shasta, Oroville, Ohio, Cherokee flat, Wheatland, etc.—the latter evangelized Red Bluff, Nevada City, Smartsville and four more adjoining little towns.

By Christmas they met together again in Grass Valley at the hospitable house of V. Rev. T. Dalton, V. G., whose kindness to the Fathers was very remarkable. After New Year they went to Colpax in which place a new church was dedicated on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Fr. Timothy performed the ceremony and Fr. J. Philip preached the sermon. By the request of the Bishop it was called the church of “St. Paul of the Cross.” Fathers Timothy and Benedict meanwhile evangelized alone the following places: Gold Run, Dutch Flat, Forest Hill, Iowa Hill and Colpax, whilst Fr. J. Philip was arranging other missions in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The Nevada portion of the diocese of Marysville could not now be taken in by the labors of the Fathers, because the cold was most intense, and the work would have proved a failure if undertaken at that time. Work was now found for two months in the San Francisco diocese. A beautiful mission was given in Sacramento City, which is the capital of the State of California. All three Fathers took part in it and worked hard—the result was very gratifying to the Pastor, Rev. P. Scanlan. There were given five hundred communions more than before by other Fathers from the East.

In the beginning of February another large mission was given in Oakland Cal. east of San Francisco, divided from it by a beautiful bay. Oakland, so named on account of the great number of oak trees, is the garden spot of California, for its climate, flowers, fruits and vegetables. The mission lasted two weeks and a half—it was attended remarkably well despite the incessant rains that fell during the whole time. Here too the labors of the Fathers were crowned with far greater success than former laborer’s work had been, since they had a far larger number of confessions and communions during that mission. Fr. John Philip gave a four days retreat to the Young Ladies of the Academy of the Sacred Heart to his very great satisfaction and that of the inmates. The fervor of those pupils and the real earnestness manifested is seldom seen in places like this.

Santa Rosa and Healdsburgh were the field of the laborers for the following week. Fathers J. Philip and Benedict preached a very successful little mission in the former place, while Fr. Timothy was doing the same in the latter place.

It was now the end of March and the Fathers were enabled to go back to the diocese of Marysville again; the season of extreme cold having passed away. Fathers J. Philip and Benedict gave a very nice mission in Carson City the capital of the state of Nevada—it lasted one week—during which Fr. Timothy evangelized an old wicked little city called Genoa. He succeeded beyond the expectation of the Pastor. After a few days rest the Fathers went up to the great mountain town which is called Virginia City.

Virginia City is the largest place in the whole diocese of Grass Valley and the most populous city of the state of Nevada. It is situated upon an elevation of 6,000 feet above the level of the sea, very near the top of the great Mount Davidson. The air is very light, owing to its height, hence it is susceptible of extreme heats and colds. There are in it people of every nation under the sun, attracted hither by the great thirst after gold. It was first inhabited in 1860 when gold was discovered, and though it has been totally destroyed by fire yet it has been rebuilt always larger and better than it was. The greater part of the people are adventurers bold, daring and reckless. They love the continual excitement of losing and gaining—making money by any means whatever seems to be the object of the greater part. Bacchus, Venus and gold are the gods of the majority of the inhabitants of Virginia City. There you can never recognize the Sunday or holy days—the work in the mines goes on all the year around without the least interruption. The Fathers opened the mission in that place on Passion Sunday and closed it on Easter Sunday. It is estimated that the Catholic population of Virginia City is some five thousand souls. The result was 2,500 communions, and five or six hundred confessions of children who had not made their first communion. The church, which contains about one thousand, was literally packed at all the services, especially at night. In the judgment of the Pastor, Very Rev. Father P. Manogue, V.G. and other old members of the parish this mission was the most successful they ever had and it is worth noticing that three years ago when a mission was given there by other Fathers they had only 1500 communions, though there were more Catholics in it than at the time of our giving our mission. The Pastor above mentioned, acted towards the Fathers 1ike a perfect gentleman and a true man of God. His kindness and noble dealings with them will never be forgotten.

Virginia City Nevada, is the place where Fr. Peter Magagnotto built a church and a house for our Order in the fall of 1863. The writer of this, Rev. John Philip Baudinelli, C.P., was one of the eight priests sent from Rome to that mission. He also was the only one who for two years remained thru and fought to the last against all manners of wars that were waged against the Passionists by the devil, bad men, and good men meaning well. At last in the end of 1865 the place was abandoned with great regret of the majority of the people and with scandal to some—for people there gave up the faith in consequence of bad feelings against the Powers that were. Providence has however, disposed that the Passionists should once more go there to preach the Gospel of peace and reconciliation to men; and people that had not been inside of a Catholic church since 1865 went now and were converted to God. All the ill-feelings that might have existed between the Bishop and Priests against the Passionists have been entirely annihilated, and true friendship established between them, which will never be broken.

On the day of the close of this mission Rev. Timothy Pacitti, Vicar of West Hoboken took the train at 6 o’clock PM for the East, whither he had been called by the Provincial. He traveled the distance of 2,000 miles without interruption, and on the following Sunday, Low Sunday 1878, arrived at St. Michael’s Monastery, West Hoboken, NJ.

The two other fathers remained at V. Rev. Fr. Manogue’s three days longer, during which time they heard a large number of confessions of people who had not been able to go during the mission. On the following Sunday, 28th of April, they opened another mission in Gold Hill, Nevada; a large town adjoining Virginia City. It was remarkably well attended, and considered to have been very successful.

After a few days of rest the Fathers repaired to Reno, Nevada, where they gave the last mission. This also was blessed with success, though it had not been properly announced by the Pastor. Several other missions had been partially engaged, but owing to Fr. Timothy’s departure, to the season which was already hot, and to the fact principally that the Fathers had been going from place to place for eight long months they concluded to break all other engagements. In fact they were too weary of the long campaign, and were very anxious for rest and home. They accordingly started for San Francisco there to make their preparations for the 1ong journey to the East. At the end of May they left California and on their way they stopped two days in Salt Lake City—after which they returned to their respective retreats which they reached about the middle of June.

Altogether during that missionary tour of eight months Thirty one Missions were given and two retreats. Fr. John Philip took part in thirteen of them and gave one retreat. The Bishop of Marysville was very kind to them and felt very grateful for the work done in his diocese—so much so that he insisted very much on the Passionists to settle in his diocese. Most Rev. Archbishop Alemany of San Francisco proved also very friendly to the Fathers. All the Priests, without exception, whose congregations the Fathers evangelized, showed great courtesy, good will and gentlemanliness. The Fathers are happy to state that there has not been a word of dissension or quarrel with any of the clergy with whom they came in contact. Every mission that was conducted there seems to have been blessed by Almighty God. A great many Catholics who had almost lost the faith came back—a few Protestants were received into the Church, and some given over to the Pastors for instruction. Confessions were heard besides the English language, in German, French, Spanish, and Italian. As far as the Fathers could see they felt confident that the way of our giving missions, and the utter disinterestedness of their work produced a wonderful effect in many Priests, who were under the impression (on account of past experience) that the giving of missions is a money-making concern. The writer of this has no doubt that in the course of a few years the Passionists will be called to evangelize the whole coast of the Pacific. One of the most prominent men of the Archdiocese has already foretold this and no doubt is entertained of the fact that they will be received very cordially. May God be praised forever for having shown His mercy to the California missionaries, and may the souls benefited by their ministrations persevere in the faith and love of Christ. —Amen.

1 Pacitti would become the colleague and companion of Fr. Fidelis Kent Stone in Argentina, 1881.

2 Murnane would become the 6th Provincial but die during his second term in office.

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