August 2, 2018 // Diocese

Pilgrims trace roots of the diocese

By John Paul Lichon

Click here for more photos from the pilgrimage by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.

Click here for more photos by John Paul Lichon.

Fifty-four pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, led by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, visited the roots of Midwest Catholicism July 19-22, traveling through central Kentucky and southern Indiana on the Diocesan Heritage Pilgrimage.

The goal of the pilgrimage was to trace the history of the diocese and visit the places the earliest missionaries of the Church reached in the 1700s and 1800s. “I thought it would be good to learn about our ancestors in the faith, their faith and sacrifices to establish the Church in Indiana,” said Bishop Rhoades.

Participants came from all over the diocese, including representation from over 15 parishes.

“We attended the pilgrimage because we have a lot of history in the diocese ourselves,” said Melissa Stutsman. Melissa and her husband, Brandon, are former parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne. “We got married at St. Pius X in Granger, Brandon joined the Church through St. Vincent, and we wanted to do something every year to renew our faith.”

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in June, and although they now live in Springfield, Missouri, they still wanted to participate on the pilgrimage. “This pilgrimage was the perfect capstone,” said Melissa. “Although we moved away, our own history will always be tied with this diocese.”

Seminarian Oscar Duarte is completing a pastoral year at St. Joseph Parish in Fort Wayne. “It was a blessing to spend time with the bishop,” he said. “Although we are seminarians, we often see the bishop in formal settings. It was nice to see him more relaxed.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

The first stop was the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Kentucky. (A proto-cathedral is a cathedral that formerly served as the seat of a bishop.) In 1808, the Diocese of Baltimore, the only diocese in the United States at the time, was divided into four more: Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown. Father Benedict Joseph Flaget, a French Sulpician missionary, was named the first bishop of Bardstown.

In 1823, the proto-cathedral was completed — 15 years after Bishop Flaget’s appointment. The church features artwork sent by Pope Leo XII and King Louis-Philippe of France. Its paintings were done by famous artists such as Murillo, Van Dyke, Van Eyck and others.

“I love art,” commented Duarte. “I am visual person, and I could spend hours in any church. I wish we had more time so I could figure out each window, saint by saint.”

The pilgrims also visited two religious communities: the Benedictine monks at Saint Meinrad, and the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, home to Indiana’s first and only saint — St. Mother Theodore Guerin.

“I really liked the warmth of the place and the people,” said Gina Bodette, a parishioner at St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel, referring to the visit at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. “It was special to be at a shrine where a real saint is.”

St. Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence, was canonized in 2006 by Pope Benedict as the eighth American saint. She was known for her courage, compassion and trust in Divine Providence. Today, the Sisters of Providence continue to share her legacy through a commitment to Catholic education, mercy, justice and care for the environment.

The Sisters of Providence have deep roots in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Mother Theodore arrived in Fort Wayne in 1846, with three sisters, to start a school for girls – Saint Augustine Academy. The sisters also established schools at St. Mary and St. Patrick parishes in Fort Wayne, as well as St. Mary Parish in Huntington. During his homily at Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Bishop Rhoades reminded the sisters, “One cannot recount the history of our diocese without remembering with gratitude the presence and educational ministry of the Sisters of Providence.”

A central theme during the pilgrimage was finding inspiration from the stories of the holy men and women who were responsible for building the Church in the Midwest and in their diocese. Beyond Bishop Flaget and St. Mother Theodore, the pilgrims also learned the story of Bishop Simon Bruté, the first bishop of the former Diocese of Vincennes.

Before traveling to Bardstown to fulfill his appointment as Bishop of Bardstown, Bishop Flaget was home in France and recruited Fathr Bruté, a fellow Sulpician, to join him in missionary work in the Americas. Father Bruté agreed and spent time teaching in the seminary at Mount St. Mary’s before being named the first bishop of Vincennes in 1834. Bishop Bruté was also St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s personal confessor.

At the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, the “Old Cathedral” of Vincennes, the pilgrims prayed Evening Prayer and visited the tomb the personal hero of Bishop Rhoades.

“I was impacted the most while praying at the tomb of Bishop Bruté in the crypt of St. Francis Xavier Basilica and while praying at the tomb of St. Mother Theodore Guerin in the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence. Their holiness inspires me. I prayed through their intercession for our diocese and for my ministry.”

Throughout the journey, the pilgrims also gained inspiration from one another. Each day they prayed a rosary on the bus, celebrated Mass at one of the pilgrimage sites and shared meals together. At the end, they were encouraged to think about the ways in which God is inviting them to move forward from this experience.

“Trust in the Lord,” said Melissa Stutsman, in reference to her family’s recent move. “Trust in the Lord that everything will work out.”

In her husband, it sparked a reminder to remember others — to keep the needs of others at the forefront. “What else can we do to help out?” Brandon Stutsman asked. “Or to help someone who has lost their way?”

“I’ve been praying for the saints to look out for me at seminary,” said Duarte. “I want to ask for their companionship. The saints help to make the faith real. They make holiness real.”

The pilgrims left with renewed zeal and a sense of responsibility for moving forward in their faith to support the Church in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Bodette reflected, “I am really inspired to be more holy.”

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