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Father John Bapst: Catholicism's Defender and Promoter

Text by Evangeline Hussey

Images from John Bapst Memorial High School

During his lifetime (1815-1887), Jesuit priest John Bapst encouraged countless numbers to follow the Catholic doctrines and, in doing so, often sacrificed his own safety and comfort.

Although a dedicated cleric and accomplished scholar, he became more well-known for an incident that occurred in 1854 when, partly in response to his efforts to build a Catholic school in Ellsworth, he was tarred and feathered by Know-Nothing agitators.

Historian Richard Judd described the incident as "a particularly vicious form of anti-Catholic nativism, which was rampant throughout the eastern United States in the early 1850s," The attack by the Know-Nothings did not stop Father Bapst from continuing his mission in Maine.

After spending over a decade in the state, Father Bapst went on to become the first president of Boston College in Massachusetts, from 1863-1869. He was later appointed Superior of the New York and Canada Missions.

Although sometimes openly criticized for his efforts, Father Bapst worked to meet the needs of 19th-century Catholics and to ensure that they were free to practice their faith.

In his later years, Father Bapst’s mind became confused, and, as a result, he often relived the event in Ellsworth. He lived his final days in novitiates until his death in 1887.

In addition to John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Boston College’s Bapst Art Library and Bapst Student Art Gallery in Boston, also are named in his honor.