A fleur-de-lis – symbol of France – appears prominently on the crest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The first four bishops of the Diocese of Vincennes (now the Archdiocese of Indaianpolis) were born in France. Two of the major religious and educational institutions in Indiana – the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College – were founded by religious orders that were founded in France. The only canonized Saint who lived and ministered in Indiana – St. Theodora Guerin – was born and raised in France. The first Catholics in the state of Indiana were French. Only later came Germans and Irish and Italians and so many others. The heritage of the Catholic Church in Indiana is primarily French.
And even more remarkably, the three most prominent Catholic pioneers of Indiana were not only all French – but they were all from a small region of northwestern France, and all were formed in the years during and immediately following the French Revolution. Bishop Simon Brute, first Bishop of Vincennes, was from Rennes in Brittany. St. Theodora Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, was born in Etables-sur-Mer, just 70 miles north of Rennes in Brittany, and she spent several years teaching and the superior of a school in Rennes, Bishop Brute’s hometown. About a hundred miles east of Rennes is Le Mans, where Blessed Basil Moreau founded the Congregation of Holy Cross and sent a group of priests and brothers, included Fr. Edward Sorin, who had been born half-way between Rennes and Le Mans, to Indiana, where they founded the University of Notre Dame. And all of this happened in more-or-less a fifty year period after the French Revolution, from 1800-1850.
This Sunday, I depart with two other priests from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to explore our French Catholic roots. We plan to visit Rennes, Le Mans, Etables-sur-Mer, and other places in between where these faithful and courageous men and women were formed in the faith and were sent forth to evangelize in the wilds of Indiana, laying the foundation for the Catholic Church in this state, which we are now called to serve. We are particularly interested in seeing what we can discover about this particular small corner of France in that particular generation after the French Revolution that raised up such a strong missionary spirit and ardent faith. And we hope that what we learn about our roots can inform our own ministry in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis today, so that the seeds planted by Bishop Brute, Mother Theodore Guerin, the Congregation of Holy Cross, and so many others, will continue to bear fruit.
I ask your prayers for safe journeys and insightful explorations. And watch this blog for updates along the way.