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BELGIANS IN AMERICA:    The Catholic Missions from Belgium

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The settlers

The Catholic Missions

Le but n'est pas, ici, de reprendre l'histoire religieuse des Etats-Unis, mais beaucoup de colonies Belges ont dû leur naissance à la présence dans la région de prêtres belges qui ont attiré en Amérique leurs proches et leurs voisins de notre pays. Le rôle de la Belgique fut, dès le départ, assez important car dès l'indépendance américaine, on retrouva au sommet de la hiérarchie de l'Eglise quelques Belges et de très nombreux prêtres qui avaient reçu leur enseignement en Belgique. La pétition envoyée à Rome pour l'établissement d'une église indépendante, dès après la Révolution,  fut notamment signée par le Père Diderick, un Belge.

La création du collège catholique de Georgetown, la première école de ce genre en Amérique, fut le passage presque obligé de nombreux prêtres belges qui étaient destinés aux missions de l'Ouest. Pendant quelques années, on y trouva le noviciat des Pères Jésuites pour l'Amérique et les figures les plus connues comme le Père Jean de Smet y passèrent quelque temps.

En 1816, le père Nerinckx (Herfelingen, Brabant, 2 octobre 1761-Ste Genevieve, MO, 12 août 1824) publia un appel aux vocations pour l'Amérique dans les journaux de la future Belgique. 

Suite à cet appel de nombreux prêtres quittèrent la  Belgique pour les Etat-Unis :

en 1816

en 1817 avec le Père Nerinckx :

la même année,



en 1821, Pierre Jean De Smet, le plus célèbre de tous, arriva en Amérique :

De Smet, Peter John, missionary, was born in Termonde, Belgium, Dec. 31, 1801. He was educated at the seminary of Mechlin and determined to devote his life to missionary work among the American Indians. He accompanied Bishop Nerinx to America, sailing from Amsterdam in 1821 and landing in Philadelphia. He entered a Jesuit novitiate in Maryland where he remained two years, when the house was broken up and Bishop Dubourg induced him to accompany him to Florissant, where he completed his course and took his vows. He went to St. Louis, Mo., in 1828, helped to found the University of St. Louis, and afterward was a professor there. He established a mission on Sugar Creek, built a chapel, log houses and a schoolhouse, and was assisted by Father Verreydt and a lay brother. He converted most of the Pottawattamie tribe and in 1840 he went with the annual caravan of the American fur company to the camp at Peter Valley where he instructed the Flathead Indians, 1600 having assembled there to meet him. He translated the creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the commandments into their language and in two weeks the Indians had committed them to memory. In 1841, with two missionaries and three lay brothers, he crossed the Platte and at Fort Hall met 800 Flathead Indians who had travelled 800 miles to escort them. He established a mission village on Bitter Root river and named it St. Mary's, where they built a church and houses. De Smet, on his way to Fort Vancouver where he sought provisions, visited the several tribes and learned their dialects and afterward translated the catechism and parts of the prayer book for their use. Not finding supplies at Fort Vancouver, he crossed the wilderness to St. Louis and thence by way of New Orleans to France and Belgium to obtain help for his missions. He so far succeeded that he left Antwerp in December, 1843, with five Jesuit priests and six sisters, reaching Fort Vancouver in August, 1844, where they established a mission. He revisited Europe for help several times and became a great power among the Indians, maintaining peace and settling many serious outbreaks. He was chaplain in the Utah expedition and opened missions in the territory. He was made a knight of the order of Leopold by the King of Belgium. He published among other books: The Oregon Missions and Travels Over the Rocky Mountains; Indian Letters and Sketches; Western Missions and Missionaries; and New Indian Sketches. He died in St. Louis, Mo., in May, 1872. (The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans)

la même année, ensemble sur le Columbia, Arrivé à Philadelphie le 1 Oct.  :

Jean Antoine ELET : St-Amand-lez-Puurs, le 19 février 1802 - St-Stanislas, Mo, 1 octobre 1851
Le père J. A. Elet arriva aux Etats-Unis en 1821 : Philadelphie, Baltimore, Georgetown College, White Marsh. Il travailla également dans le Missouri à St-Louis et ailleurs. Il fut recteur du Collège St-François-Xavier à Cincinnati(1840). En 1848, il est Vice-Provincial ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )

Jean Baptiste SMEDTS  Rotselaar, 11 avril 1801 - St Louis, Mo, 19 février 1855
il arriva aux USA en 1821 avec Nerinckx. Il séjourna au noviciat de White Marsh. On le trouve ensuite dans la mission du Missouri, à St Charles avec le père Verreydt et il dessert également Portage des Sioux. Il fut attaché à l'Université de St Louis ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )

Jose Francois VAN ASSCHE St Amand-lez-Puurs, 29 mai 1800 - Florissant, Mo, 25 juin 1877
vint aux USA avec l'abbé Nerinckx. Georgetown College, White Marsh, Florissant, MO, portage des Sioux. La plus grande partie de son existence s'est passée au Missouri  ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )

Pierre J. VERHAEGEN  Haecht, 21 juin 1800 - St  Charles, Mo, 21 juillet 1868
il arriva aux USA le 23 septembre 1821 avec le père Nerinck, à Philadelphie. Il se rendit à Georgetown College et au noviciat de White Marsh. Il fut premier recteur de l'Université de St Louis en 1832. Missionnaire, vice-prvincial du Missouri, supérieur de St Charles, provincial du Maryland, recteur de St Joseph à Bardstown, Ky. Il revint, finalement à St Charles, Mo ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )

Felix VERREYDT Diest, 18 février 1798 - Cincinnati, Ohio, 1er mars 1883
arriva à Philadelphie avec Nerinckx et le père De Smedt le 23 septembre 1821. Gagna Georgetown et le noviciat de White Marsh. Séjourna à  Dardenne, Portage des Sioux et ensuite dans la mission des Kickapoos. Missionnaire chez les Potowatomies à Councill Bluffs ensuite rejoint Cincinnati, Ohio( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )

Jean VAN LOMMEL :  ? 28 mars 1803 - St Louis, MO, 15 février 1853
arriva à New-York le 9 décembre 1826 (sur le Dawn)  d'où il se rendit à Georgetown En 1831, il partit pour sa mission au Missouri

Jean Baptiste CLICTEUR : Bruges, 12 janvier 1805 - Cincinnati, 18 septembre 1829
Secrétaire de l'évêque de Cincinnati, il arriva aux U.S.A. en 1826 (sur le Dawn).  Il fut ordonné prêtre le 2 février 1829. ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )


LEFEVRE, Peter Paul, R. C. bishop, was born at Roulers, Belgium, April 30, 1804. After he had finished his studies in Paris, he removed to the United States in 1828; (arriva aux USA le 17 mai 1828 sur le Henry). Was ordained to the priesthood in St. Louis, Mo., by Bishop Rosati, in 1831, and was assigned to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, New Madrid, Mo., but in a few months was given-charge of a mission embracing northern Missouri, western Illinois, and southern Iowa, subsequently divided into four dioceses, Peoria, Alton, Davenport and part of the archdiocese of St. Louis. In 1841 he went to France to regain his health, greatly enfeebled by his ministration of so large a mission field with few means of travel save on foot or horseback, and while in Europe he was nominated Bishop of Zela in partibus, and coadjutor and administrator of Detroit. He was consecrated by Bishop F. P. Kenrick, assisted by Bishops England and Hughes in St. John's church, Philadelphia, Nov. 21, 1841. When he assumed charge of the diocese there were only two Roman Catholic churches in Detroit and twenty-five in all the diocese in which parts of the states of Wisconsin and Michigan were included. He secured the tenure of church property in the bishop of the diocese; built the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, and secured church sites and other church property in newly settled localities where the missions formed the nucleus of cities, and from which was realized in time a revenue sufficient to meet all the charitable work in the city. He established Indian missions in remote fields convenient to the tribes and founded the Redemptorist convent in Detroit and the American college of Louvain, Belgium, in which to train priests for this work. He also introduced into his diocese the various religious orders for the purpose of maintaining and conducting Roman Catholic schools, orphan asylums and insane retreats. During his administration the churches in Detroit increased from two to eleven, and those in the lower peninsula to one hundred sixty, and from eighteen priests to eighty-eight. He attended the provincial councils of Baltimore and Cincinnati, and took a prominent part in the national council of 1852. He died in Detroit, Mich., March 4, 1869.
The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume VII


Father Augustine BALLY, SJ.  was born March 8, 1808 in Merxplas, Belgium and died January 30, 1882 in Gossenhoppen (Churchville, Pennsylvania).   The town name was changed to Bally in 1883 to honor him.

Arrival in the U.S.A. in 1830.

Sources :
- the Saint Francis Academy, Bally, PA, for the info received par e-mail
- the "Reading Eagle & Reading Times, Reading, PA", of Monday August 13, 2001 - Berks County's 250th Anniversary, for the photograph



Jean BLOX : 17 janvier ou 17 juin 1810 - Philadelphie, Pa, 27 avril 1860
Arrival on St Helena, Oct. 26, 1832. Professeur à Georgetown College pendant les années 1830 ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )



Pierre Jacques ARNOUDT Moere, Flandre Occid., 17 mai 1811 - Cincinnati, Ohio, 29 juillet 1865 : Il arriva aux Etats-Unis en 1835 (on Poultney, arrival Nov. 16, 1835) entra au Noviciat de Saint-Stanislas, près de St-Louis, Mo, le 31 décembre. Enseigna dans différents collèges américains. Est l'auteur de plusieurs ouvrages sur la vie spirituelle et de livres scolaires. ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )


Charles Truyns, born in Belgium in 1813; came to America in 1837; was an officer of St. Louis University, and of St. Charles Coll., La.; a missionary to the Indians, and later in life pastor of St. Joseph's church, Bardstown, Ky. Died. at St. Louis, Mo., Dec. 14, 1868, in his 65th year; (American Biographical Notes)

Bishop de Neckere was born, 6 June, 1800, at Wevelghem, Belgium, and while a seminarian at Ghent, was accepted for the Diocese of New Orleans by Bishop Dubourg. He joined the Lazarists and was ordained in St. Louis, Missouri, 13 October, 1822. On 23 February, 1832, he convoked a synod attended by twenty-one priests. Regulations were promulgated for better discipline and steps were taken to form an association for the dissemination of good literature.

Les première missions rédemptoristes furent créées aux Etats-Unis en 1832 et dépendaient du Vicariat général de Vienne. En 1844, les fondations américaines furent rattachées à la "Province Belge", quelques années après la fondation de ces "Provinces". Le père Held, Provincial de Belgique visita ses nouvelles missions dès l'année suivante : il se rendit à Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Norwalk, New-York, Philadelphie, Detroit, Buffalo, St Mary's. 

Lors de la révolution de 1848 à Vienne, le Vicaire général de Vienne se réfugia en Belgique, mais avant de se retirer, il regroupa les provinces américaines en une vice-province. Le nouveau Provincial belge, Heilig, mit en doute la validité de ce regroupement et ce ne sera qu'au moment de la création de la Province américaine le 29 juin 1850, que les choses deviendront plus claires.

 C'est en 1849, alors que les Rédemptoristes étaient en pleine lutte interne, que Victor de Ham demanda l' aide du Père Heilig dans l'établissement belge de New Flanders. Vu la situation précaire du Père Heilig et son autorité contestée sur les missions américaines, il ne l'obtiendra pas.  

A partir de 1841 ? de nombreux Rédemptoriste d'origine Belge sont partis aux Etats-Unis. En voici une liste non exhaustive:



Father Ivo Schacht died in April 1874. He was born in Bruges in 1821, and came to America in 1842; was ordained at Nashville in 1843; pastor of the cathedral fifteen years; then missionary among the Indians in Kansas; in 1861 was appointed to St. Alphonsus Church, DaviessCounty, Kentucky, where he was instrumental in the building of two churches and two flourishing schools. Next he was appointed to Lebanon, were he built a fine church; thence to Danville, Paducah, and finally to Owensboro, where he endeared himself to the hearts of many people. - p. 369  
Source : History of Daviess County, Kentucky : together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history, portraits of prominent persons, biographies of representative citizens, and an outline history of Kentucky.
Chicago: Inter-state Pub. Co., 1883, 888  pgs.


Francois DE COEN : Ninove, 19 décembre 1811 - Sainte-Marie des Potowatomies, Leavenworth, Kansas, 17 juillet 1864
Le père De Coen, qui était le neveu de Charles Nerinckx, arriva à New-York le 21 août 1843 (Great Western, arrival August 21, 1843). Il voyagea dans le Kentucky en septembre 1843, puis se rendit à St Stanislas, Mo. Il travailla dans différentes missions du Missouri(1844), à Indépendance et de là il se rendit chez lzq Potowatomies. En août 1847, il était à St Charles, Mo, où il séjourna encore fin 1848. On le trouve à Bardstown, Ky, (1850) puis à nouveau à Saint-Charles. Il est à Louisville, Ky (janvier 1852), à St-Louis, Mo(1853), à Milwaukee, Wis. (1855-1860), à Leavenworth city, Kansas (1862-1864).
Dans sa corresponance où nous rencontrons toutes ces localités, il donne de nombreux renseignements sur desévénement vécus : ses voyages, des détailoqs relatifs à feu son oncle Nerinckx. Il décrit la vie religieuse à laquelle il a participé largement, la géographie, le climat, l'émigration, les Indiens, la Guerre Civile, etc. ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )


Edw. Van Pammell : born in Flanders, Belgium in 1828, ordained in Detroit. He served in Grand Rapids, Corunna, Ypsilanti and Detroit before going in Muskegon in 1877.
Source : The Advantages and surroundings of Muskegon, Mich. : the material interests of a progressive city. Muskegon, Mich.: Under Auspices of the Muskegon Board of Trade, 1892, 116  pgs.



DAEMS, Edouard François : Ce missionnaire vint aux U.S.A. en 1851 (on Mocambique, arrival June 18, 1851) à Détroit, Michigan, d'où il se rendit au Wisconsin par Milwaukee. A Little Chute, il aida le Père néerlandais Van den Broeck. C'est probablement en 1852 qu'il vint à Bay Settlement, WI, où il passa de longues années et d'où il rayonna dans toute la région avoisinante. Il était le curé de toute la région située au nord-est de Green-Bay. C'est ainsi qu'il pilota lui-même les premiers émigrants de Grez-Doiceau et des environs arrivés à Green Bay en 1853 (vers la fin août), jusqu'à l'endroit où se trouve actuellement Robinsonville ou Champion, Brown County. Il guida et conseilla continuellement ces premiers colons et ceux qui vinrent les rejoindre en 1854, 1855. Il revint en Europe en 1855-fin 1856 et probablement aussi en 1859 et 1866 . En 1868, lorsque green Bay devint un diocèse séparé, il en fut nommé le premier vicaire général. Il fut deux fois Administrateur de ce diocèse en 1870 et de 1873 à 1875. ( Source : A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 )


Rev. Theophilus BUYSE, a Catholic Clergyman and priest of St. John's Church, Jackson; was born at Rumbeke, in East Flanders, in the kingdom of Belgium, June 7, 1832. He is one of a family of ten children, and one of his brothers is also a priest. His fatter, Peter Buyse, who occupied, for some time, a prominent position under the Belgian Government, is deceased; but his mother, Judith Buyse, is stil living, at an advanced age. Among the many earnest, devoted, and distinguished prelate, of the Roman Catholic Church, those of Belgian descent -so far at least as they are represented in this country - are comparatively numerous; and, by their character and attainments, command the fullest confidence and respect. Whether it be that the young Belgian breathes, in the atmosphere of his little kingdom, the inspiration that commends him to the holy office, or whether it is imbibed from the mother, whose devotion is there more conspicuous, we can not say; but certain it is, that, during Mr. Buyse's childhood, his tastes inclined him to missionary and priestly work, It seemed indelibly stamped upon the mind of the boy that he must be a priest. With this end in view, he was carefully educated, at Roulers, in his native province, entering a seminary there at the age of thirteen, and remaining ten years. He here acquired that superior education and training for which the schools of the Catholic Church are so noted, including a thorough knowledge of six languages. In 1856 he left Belgium for the United States; and, after a short tine spent at Detroit, went to Cincinnati to complete his studies at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary, under the charge of Bishop Quinlan, now of Mobile. Ile remained here a year and a half, when he returned to Detroit; and, December 19, 1858, was ordained to the priesthood by the laic Bishop Lefevre, also a Belgian by birth, then in charge of that diocese. His first mission was at Ira, St. Clair County, Michigan. His field also extended into Macomb, Laperr, Sanilac, and Huron counties. His self denying labors, his devotion to his charge, and his general intelligence and popularity attracted the attention of the Bishop, and pointed him out as one adapted to a more influential position. In 1870 he was assigned to the charge of St. John's Church, at Jackson, one of the most populous parishes in the interior of Michigan, It embraces not only the Church, but a girls' school, under the charge of the Sister Servants of the immaculate heart of Mary; and a boys' school, under a lay teacher; the two comprising some three hundred and fifty pupils.
The schools are free to the students, being supported from the general income of the parish. Father Buyse has the responsible administration of the parochial affairs, in which he has the services of an assistant priest. As a cultured gentleman, he is especially popular. He has always identified himself with those local and public enterprises having for their object the moral improvement and material prosperity of the people; and has labored zealously, both in his own church and through other channels, for the alleviation of destitution and suffering among the poor. He makes it a particular care to gather and preserve standard books, especially those of a statistical and historical character; and, al the State Fair of 1876, he added greatly to the interest of the "Centennial Department" by the display of a large number of rare, antique works. Ile holds his own political views, but does not obtrude them upon others, insisting that his parishioners exercise the right of suffrage by the light of their best judgment. Words of mere encomium are alike out of place, whether addressed to the priest or the gentleman; and Father Buyse, sustaining fully the character of both, needs no eulogy.
Source :
American biographical history of eminent and self-made men : Michigan volume. Cincinnati: Western Biographical Pub. Co., 1878, 984  pgs.


GABRIELS, Henry :  Roman Catholic bishop of Ogdensburg, N. Y.; b. at Wanneghem, Belgium, Oct. 6, 1838. He studied at Audenarde (1852-57), St. Nicolas (1857-58), Ghent (1858-60), and the University of Louvain (S.T.L., 1864). He taught theology in St. Joseph's' Seminary, Troy, N. Y., 1864-92 and was president of the same institution 1871-1892, in addition to being vicar-general for Ogdensburg and Burlington, and diocesan examiner for New York and Albany. In 1892 he was consecrated bishop of Ogdensburg. He has written Quteationea Mechlinienaea in rubricas breviarii et misaalis Ro mani (New York, 1887) and Rudiments o f the He brew Grammar (a translation of the seventh edition of the Rudiments linguce Hebraicce of C. H. Vosen and F. Kaulen; St. Louis, Mo., 1891).


BRONDEL, John Baptiste, first R. C. bishop of Helena, Montana, was born in the municipality of Bruges, Belgium, in 1842. He received his preliminary education at schools in the immediate vicinity of his native place, and later continued his studies in the American college of the University of Louvain, and was elevated to the priesthood in 1864 at Mechlin.
In 1866 he volunteered for the missions in America, and went to Washington territory. The Rt. Rev. A. M. A. Blanchet was then bishop of Nesqually, and took the young priest under his charge. In 1867 he was appointed rector at Steilacoom. He remained at this post for ten years, acting as missionary for all the surrounding country.
In 1877 Father Brondel was transferred to Walla Walla, but after a year's service in this place was returned to Steilacoom. About this time there was a vacancy in the see of Vancouver Island, and Father Brondel was elected by the Pope to fill the vacancy. He was consecrated on Dec. 14, 1879, and served in this field until 1883, when he was appointed administrator of the vicariate apostolic of Montana, and in 1884 was made first bishop of Helena.
He was particularly successful with the Indians under his charge, who came to look up to him as a father. His great popularity among the different tribes was of inestimable benefit, not only to the Catholic church, but to the United States government. He established various Indian schools scattered throughout his diocese, and placed them under the care of the Jesuit fathers, the sisters of charity, and the Ursuline sisters, while the sisters of Providence and the sisters of the Good Shepherd engaged in hospital and charitable work.
Bishop Brondel placed his see in the city of Helena, and officiated at the cathedral of the Sacred Heart, where he had two assistants.
Source : The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans


MAES, Camillus Paul, R.C. bishop, was born in Conrtrai, Belgium, March 13, 1846. He was graduated from the College of Courtrai in 1864, and studied theology in the seminary at Bruges, and in the American college at Louvain. He was ordained a priest, Dec. 19, 1868, in the cathedral at Mechlin, Belgium, by Mgr. Antonio, auxiliary bishop of Mechlin, and removed to the United States in 1869. He was assigned to the diocese of Detroit, Mich., was appointed pastor of St. Peter's, Mount Clemens, 1869, of St. Mary's church, Monroe, in 1871, and pastor of St. John's church in 1873. He was secretary to Bishop Borgess, 1880-84, and was consecrated bishop of Covington, Ky., Jan. 25, 1885 in St. Mary's cathedral, Jan. 25, 1885, by Archbishop Elder assisted by Bishops McCloskey of Louisville, Ky., and Borgess of Detroit, Mich. He was a member of tim board of directors [p.219] of the Catholic University of America and was president of the Eucharistic congresses. He devoted much time to the study of the early history of the Roman Catholic church in the west; edited the Emanuel, the organ of the Eucharistic league, and contributed to Roman Catholic periodicals. He is the author of Life of Rev. Charles Nerinck (1880).
Source : The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume VI
1870 Census (Mt Clemens)


Sources :
- A. De Smet : Voyageurs Belges aux Etats-Unis du XVIIe siècle à 1900 
- archives de la Province Belge des Pères Rédemptoristes, père Jean Béco, archiviste de la congrégation( qui m'a notamment envoyé la liste des Rédemptoristes belges aux USA )
- Joseph A Griffis : The contribution of Belgium to the catholic church in America
- The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary
- The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans