Dominican Saints and Dominican Souls: A Letter on the Occasion of Bishop Fenwick’s Death

November 7, 2014

Dominicans like to do things in pairs. When singing the litany of the saints, for instance, Dominicans repeat the name “Holy Father Dominic,” raising the pitch on the repetition of the name of our founder. In the month of November, Dominicans do not rest content with a single feast of All Saints or commemoration of All Souls Day, but instead double these liturgical celebrations by celebrating the feast of All Dominican Saints on November 7 and All Dominican Souls on November 8. The first of these occasions gives Dominicans the opportunity to honor all many Dominican saints and blesseds whose individual feast days may not be observed throughout the year, in addition to calling to mind the countless Dominican saints whose names are known to God alone. On All Dominican Souls Day, on the other hand, Dominicans pray especially for all the Dominican friars, sisters and members of lay and clerical fraternities who have gone before us and who might still need the intercession of their brothers and sisters on earth. On the occasion of these commemorations, we present below a newly edited document concerning the death of the founder of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, Edward Dominic Fenwick. This letter has been transcribed and edited by Fr. Luke Tancrell, O.P., who previously edited Edward Dominic Fenwick Papers 1803—1832: Founding American Dominican Friar and Bishop, (New York: Dominican Publications, 2005). Post Mortem Letter on Bishop Fenwick’s Death From John Martin Henni, Pastor of St. John the Baptist, Canton, Ohio to Frederic Résé, Vicar General of the Diocese of Cincinnati, Ohio 27 September 1832 Wooster, Ohio Dearest Friend, As I understand, Miss [Eliza Rose] Powell had informed all here by letter of the serious condition of the Bishop [Edward Dominic Fenwick]. The sequel, the sad sequel of this story, ends with the death of our Bishop. He is no more. I did not see him again, for he died on Wednesday [September 26] at about twelve o’clock and was buried the same evening. I saw only the mound that enclosed his mortal remains because I was informed of his death only today [September 27] at ten o’clock in Canton. I set out immediately for Wooster with the anxious foreboding of not finding Miss Powell, as I was so informed at Massillon. However, I found her and cheerful, as much as such circumstances would permit. Had I been told in time, so that I could have reached here twenty-four hours sooner, which must be blamed on the carelessness of the postillion, I should have had the body buried in that plot of ground which we had some time ago […acquired?] through the excellent aid of Gallagher and Chrisma. I send you this information because Miss Powell who will depart in the morning [September 28] for Cincinnati by the same coach may not feel equal to it on account of attending circumstances. The expenses for the Bishop, as is clear from the bills which I have seen, amount to $23.30 of which $18.00 were paid from his own money found in his pocketbook, etc., as Miss Powell asserts, for I did not deem it necessary to make any investigation. The latter can be made better and with more propriety on her arrival. Since Miss Powell will certainly get to Cincinnati, I find it expedient to send the Bishop’s effects with her, although, as I remarked before, some things have been found that ought to be sent to Somerset. I regret not to have come to this place with the Bishop, as I went with him to Steubenville and Pittsburgh. I thought indeed of coming and would have done as intended, but the following incident happened. In the Plains, 5 miles from Canton, three persons died last week in a hovel. A married woman went to the funeral of her husband and three year old child. At the grave, she was taken sick herself, went home and at five o’clock that evening died after receiving all the sacraments from me [by reason of] the people by whom I had been called to another woman in another hovel. Soon there were two more corpses with the above mentioned, [one being] mother of four children, of whom the oldest was twelve years. What was to be done? I had the children taken to Canton the same evening, washed them, and so they are safe. For these children I am responsible to the Court – to appear for the purpose of having an administrator appointed for them, and […three words illegible]. The Court did not convene till the day before yesterday. Not to let the matter drop I stayed on with the approval of the Bishop himself. Monday I was called to Massillon, succored and strengthened a woman, an immigrant, who soon thereafter died of the cholera. In this environment [I] need help especially from On High – pray that I may get it – in these three so evident visitations of Providence. Your most obedient, Fr. Henni P.S. As a necessary report and in further amplification, I wish to say on closer search I found more than $18.00; viz., the sum of $275.00 consisting of 5 fifty dollar bills Bank of Pittsburgh; item, 2 ten dollar bills United States; also another bill […illegible] Bank, worth $5.00 which I have turned over to Miss Powell in addition to the $18.00 paid from the Bishop’s money. See above. Thus much was in the Bishop’s pocketbook. This sum – $23.00 subtracted – I shall hold for safekeeping – also the Cross, the Ring, and Watch – which because of their great value, I do not consider safe to send to Cincinnati with Miss Powell. Likewise I shall distribute his old clothes to the poor.  NOTES FOR THE POST MORTEM LETTER Permission to post this letter on the website of St. Joseph’s Province was granted 13 October 2014 by Wm Kevin Cawley, Ph.D., Senior Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts, Archives of the University of Notre Dame. The original letter in German and its English translation are both under file number II-4-e A.L.S. supp. 8v0. Father John Martin Henni (1805-1881), German-Swiss by birth, was ordained to the priesthood in 1829 and soon assigned to the pastorate of St. John the Baptist Church in Canton, Ohio, where he served as an itinerant to the German Catholics in the area. Canton is about 35 miles from Wooster, Ohio, where Fenwick died. Henni lived on to become the first Bishop of the Diocese of Milwaukee in 1843, much devoted to building up a strong German Catholic community. Fenwick’s return to Ohio in 1832 from his visitation in the northern reaches of his Diocese (where he found cholera rampant) brought him to Canton in August where he insisted on traveling to Steubenville for Confirmations and then on to Pittsburgh for negotiations with a Community of Poor Clares and then back to Canton for more Confirmations on 23 September. So it was that Henni had time to speak with his Bishop, although unable to be present for his death. (In the thirteen weeks before his death Bishop Fenwick had traveled by horse and stage and boat more than two thousand miles.) Frederic Résé (1791-1871), born in Germany, a graduate of the College of the Propaganda in Rome, first met Bishop Fenwick in Rome in 1824 while still young in the priesthood. At Fenwick’s invitation he accompanied him in Europe as his aide while on a begging tour for his diocese and subsequently became his Vicar General in Cincinnati. After Fenwick’s death, he was named in 1833 first Bishop of Detroit but returned in 1837 to Rome and then Germany broken in spirit and health. (The pectoral cross and episcopal ring and pocket watch which belonged to Fenwick as mentioned in the letter of Henni to Résé seem to be lost.) Eliza Rose Powell (1801-1872), born near Midway, Kentucky, was received in 1817 into the Catholic church by Edward Dominic Fenwick, then a traveling missionary in Kentucky. He subsequently fostered her education and when he became the first Bishop of Cincinnati invited her to teach in his Diocese. She was teaching in Canton at the time of Bishop Fenwick’s 1832 visitation there, and aware of his precarious health due to the cholera contagion, provided him aid in loyalty as he continued his journey back to Cincinnati. In Wooster they stopped as Fenwick’s condition worsened and she found lodging for him and sent for doctors and a priest. After his death, she returned to her hometown in Kentucky, continued in her works of mercy for others, a beautiful woman who never married, whose life was honored in Cincinnati’s diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Telegraph, 9 January 1879.

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