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HISTORY OF EARLY CATHOLICS IN THE USA – A TRIP TO KENTUCKY

By Sr. Juliana Wuur

Sisters of the Precious Blood


On the 18th of February, the ICCN novices and directors took a journey to Kentucky to visit the historical places where the early missionaries arrived in the “west” (at that time just west of the Allegheny mountains).

We arrived at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. Sister Nancy, one of our directors, who is from there, knows the area very well. She took us on a tour of the inside of the church and the adoration chapel. It was a beautiful cathedral. The Cathedral of the Assumption is a mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville and one of the most famous churches in the city. It was built on the grounds of the former Saint Louis Church, being a larger version thereof, and was dedicated in 1852.

From the church, she took us around Mohammed Ali area in Louisville, it was in the middle of the town. I got to learn the history of Muhammad Ali, who was a professional boxer. Muhammad Ali whose original name Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., (born January 17, 1942, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. - died June 3, 2010, Scottsdale, Arizona), is an American professional boxer and social activist. Ali was the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions; he successfully defended this title 19 times.

We later on went to visit Sister Nancy's community in Louisville. That’s where we had supper. Then we continued to Nazareth, the motherhouse of the sisters of Charity of Nazareth. We passed the night there on the 19th. We began our day with mass at Saint Monica’s Church. After mass, we went straight to Saint Thomas Bardstown, one of the first places the Catholics settled. St. Thomas Catholic Church in rural Nelson County, Kentucky, is centrally located in the county, which is south of Bardstown off US 31E.

In about 1787 Edward and Thomas Howard settled on the Poplar Neck of Beech Fork River. Thomas and his wife, Ann constructed a log house here in 1795. Members of the Catholic faith in the area gathered in their home for worship services. In 1810, Thomas Howard willed his farm to the Catholic church and St. Thomas parish was established in 1812. The Congregation of the sisters of Charity of Nazareth is a Roman Catholic order of sisters. It was founded in 1812 near Bardstown, Kentucky when three young women responded to Bishop John Baptist Mary David's call for assistance in ministering to the needs of the people of the area. Mother Catherine Spalding, along with Bishop John Baptist Mary David, are honored together and remembered as co-founders of the sisters of Charity of Nazareth.

In 1812, in the newly formed diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, Bishop Benedict Flaget

was overwhelmed by the responsibility of providing religious education for the children of Catholic families who had migrated to Kentucky from Maryland after the Revolutionary War. In response to this need, Father John Baptist David, who had recently established St. Thomas Seminary, called for young women willing to devote their lives to the service of the Church. From among a group of six women that responded to the call, nineteen-year-old Catherine Spalding, originally from Maryland, was elected first superior of the Congregation. Mother Catherine guided the young Congregation off and on for forty-five years.

The new community followed the rule of St. Vincent de Paul and their dwelling was named Nazareth. The symbol of the congregation is the pelican feeding its young from its own body. The Sisters' spiritual formation and service to their neighbors steadily expanded on the Kentucky frontier and beyond.

After, Saint Thomas, we visited the Jim Beam Distillery, 1760-1834. The success story of Jim Beam began when the founder, Jacob Beam, son of a German immigrant, started selling the corn-whiskey recipe created by his father. He sold his first barrel of Old Jake Beam in 1795. Bardstown is the bourbon capital of the world, selling 95% of the bourbon distributed world-wide.

The last thing we did on Sunday the 19th, was we went for adoration and compline with the monks in Gethsemane. On 20th February, we continued our visit to the Abbey of Gethsemane where Brother Luke took us around the property. We started from inside the chapel and went to the meeting room, singing room, and the whole component, including the cemetery and visited Thomas Merton's grave. Thomas Merton, OCSO (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist and scholar of comparative religion. On May 26, 1949, he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood and given the name "Father Louis". He was a member of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane, near Bardstown, Kentucky, living there from 1941 to his death.

From the Abbey, we went to the Loretto Sisters. On our arrival, all the sisters there

including those in the nursing home were waiting for us in the Chapel. It was a joyful day. They were so happy to see us and they wanted us to stay with them. Established in 1812 in Hardin's Creek, Kentucky, the sisters of Loretto were the first religious order in the United States that had no foreign affiliation. Under the direction of Father Charles Nerinx, the sisters of Loretto were the first religious order to bring Catholic Education into the American West.

The last place to visit was the Dominican Sisters of Peace. They were also very excited to see us. I was touched by the words of one of the sisters who said “she felt encouraged about the future of religious life, and we have given her new hope and a new future”. The Kentucky Dominicans was the first congregation of Dominican Sisters in the United States, founded in Springfield, Kentucky in 1822.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace were founded in 2009 as a union of seven congregations of Dominican Women Religious: The Kentucky Dominicans, the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs; the Congregation of St. Mary; Missionaries of St. Dominic; the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, Kansas; the sisters of St. Dominic of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Congregation of St. Rose of Lima. We ended our tour on the 20th of February. Everything was so wonderful and very successful. All the people we met were wonderful people. They put a smile on our faces and they give us hope. They also made us understand that they care and pray for us.

I say Bravo to our two directors who did a wonderful job of organizing for us to meet this goal. I am so grateful for this opportunity and the experience going through all these historical places. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.



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