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Father John Bapst: Catholicism's Defender and Promoter

This Exhibit Contains 7 Items
1
John Bapst, Bangor, ca. 1860

John Bapst, Bangor, ca. 1860

Item 35333 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

The son of prosperous farmers, John Bapst was born on December 7, 1815, at La Roche, a village of the canton of Fribourg, Switzerland.

A pious and studious young man, by the age of 12 he was attending St. Michael's College in Fribourg. He later enrolled in the Sons of St. Ignatius, entering the Society of Jesus at 19.

On December 31, 1846, Father John Bapst, S.J was ordained into the priesthood. He completed his third year of probation at Notre Dame D'Ay in France, and in May 1848, upon the expulsion of the Jesuits from Switzerland, he was sent to America.

Father Bapst’s first assignment in America included the Indian Mission of Old Town, where he lived from 1848-1851.

He arrived there as a stranger, ignorant of the native language and traditions. Ten of his predecessors had been murdered, and for 20 years the mission had been without the services of a Catholic priest.

His immediate predecessor, Father Raslo, also of the Society of Jesus, had been murdered 20 years before at the foot of a cross that he had erected on the mission grounds.

When Father Bapst arrived on Indian Island, he was given a warm welcome, as the inhabitants were eager to have a priest in their midst once again. After three months of study, Father Bapst reportedly was able to preach to the Indians in their own tongue.


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Crucifix belonging to Father John Bapst, ca. 1850

Crucifix belonging to Father John Bapst, ca. 1850

Item 35390 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

During his three years at Old Town, he served the Indians and Catholic families in mission stations as far west as Waterville and Skowhegan.

During a cholera epidemic in which many of his parishioners died, he managed to give last rites to all but one victim.

In some huts, he reportedly found as many as 15 stricken people lying in heaps upon the floor, even dead bodies piled among the living.

After leaving the Indian Island mission, Father Bapst and two assistants served the spiritual needs of 9,000 Catholics scattered over an area of 200 square miles, a region from Eastport to Rockland.

In January 1853, Father Bapst established a residence in Ellsworth. He soon built a larger church for the growing population and quickly became known for his kindly disposition, his charity, and his scholarly ways.

Father Bapst's religious ardor as well as his plan to build a Catholic school in Ellsworth resulted in the attack by members of the Know-Nothing Party.


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St. John's Church, Bangor, ca. 1930

St. John's Church, Bangor, ca. 1930

Item 35485 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

The Know-Nothing or American Party was active throughout the country in the 1840s and 1850s, opposing immigrants and Catholics, who, the party believed, were loyal to the Pope, not the U.S.

In a 1941 speech, Brother Samuel, C.F.X., noted that, "In the dead of night the bigots assembled, marched to the humble schoolhouse, planted a keg of dynamite under the building and blasted it into the sky."

The next morning, Father Bapst made available the gallery of his new Church for classroom purposes, further angering the Know-Nothings.

Amory Otis, a Protestant, stopped them from burning the church that night. The mob returned to the church later and broke all the windows in the rectory and the church.

On October 14, 1854, Father Bapst was abducted from the home of his host in Ellsworth. The abductors took Father Bapst into the forest and bound him to a tree. Their initial intent to burn him at the stake was thwarted by damp weather; their matches would not light. Instead, they stripped, tarred, and feathered him and then stole his wallet and silver watch.

When rescued, Father Bapst was taken to Bangor to recover.

He became the pastor of St. Michael's Church and later led the successful construction efforts to build St. John's Church on York Street, one of the five churches he eventually helped establish in Maine.


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St. Mary's Catholic Church, Bangor, ca. 1930

St. Mary's Catholic Church, Bangor, ca. 1930

Item 35486 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

The Know-Nothings continued their assault against Bapst and the Catholics, threatening to burn the church there. Penobscot Indians and parishioners held them off.

Father Bapst became determined that local Catholics needed a larger building to show that the Catholics could not be scared away. The larger church also was necessary because of the growth of the Catholic population in Bangor and the surrounding area.

Despite two enlargements, St. Michael's Church was so crowded that worshipers often had to kneel outside on the green.

His first choice for a location brought objections from Protestants, so he bought property on York Street, where he led efforts to build a new structure.

The cornerstone for St. John's was laid on Dec. 8, 1854. To commemorate Bapst's fight against the Know-Nothings, a piece of tarred, feathered, and bloodstained cassock was placed under the stone.

Parishioners guarded the unfinished structure at night.

The first mass was in 1855, but the building was not completed until shortly before Christmas 1856.


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First Communion Souvenir, St. John's Church, Bangor, 1859

First Communion Souvenir, St. John's Church, Bangor, 1859

Item 35332 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

Parishioners helped to guard the unfinished structure and helped to construct the building.

Father Bapst had promised that the basement would be closed in and that he would say mass there before snow fell in 1855. The first mass was on Christmas Eve and snow fell during the service.



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John Bapst transfer of cemetery lot ownership, Bangor, 1856

John Bapst transfer of cemetery lot ownership, Bangor, 1856

Item 35365 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

Father Bapst was later named the first president of Boston College, a position he held from 1863-1869. He was then appointed Superior of the New York and Canada Missions.

In his later years, Father Bapst's mind became confused, and he often relived his horrific experiences in Ellsworth. He eventually retired to a novitiate where he resided until his death in 1887.


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John Bapst High School Postcard, Bangor, ca. 1930

John Bapst High School Postcard, Bangor, ca. 1930

Item 35482 info
John Bapst Memorial High School

In 1928, the Catholic Diocese of Maine named John Bapst High School in Bangor as a testament to the learned and devout missionary. The school, located in Bangor's Broadway Historic District, now offers a non-sectarian, independent, college-preparatory program for grades 9-12.


This Exhibit Contains 7 Items