Sunday, June 3, 2012

An Unexpected Path

The story of the ordination of Father Patrick M. Flannigan takes a winding path through history’s Civil War era. Based on Bishop Frederic Baraga’s own journal notes as told in the narrative of Antoine Ivan Rezek, History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, the tale weaves in and out of the chapters on specific parishes in the diocese. Sometimes, in reading the accounts, I feel as if I meet Father Flannigan coming and going! I occasionally wonder if there were two priests in this sparsely-populated region bearing the exact same name.

As we read yesterday, Bishop Frederic Baraga had a pressing need for additional priests in his growing diocese, and yet in that war era he was hampered from obtaining the proper training for those who were willing to enter the priesthood under his charge. Unexpectedly, he was now faced with the return of two young men he had recently sent away to seminary.

One of those two men, of course, was Patrick Flannigan. It will probably be helpful, in following the path of this story, to introduce you to the other young man. His name was James Sweeney, a student under the sponsorship of a local priest, Father Jacker—perhaps in a relationship similar to that of Patrick Flannigan and his instructor, Father Martin Fox.

The first mention I find in Rezek’s narrative of Patrick Flannigan after his 1860 departure for seminary is a year later during a Pontifical High Mass at the dedication of the new church at Hancock, in Houghton County, Michigan. There, we see a listing of both Patrick Flannigan and James Sweeney.
Another happy day! Amidst a great concourse of people of all creeds and nationalities, surrounded by priests and clerics, he [Bishop Baraga] dedicated the edifice to the patroness, St. Anne, Sunday, the 4th of August [1861]. At the Pontifical High mass he was assisted by Father Fox, Jacker, and Terhorst, and the clerics Flannigan and Sweeney.
Not being familiar, myself, with the stages of advancement to the priesthood in the Catholic Church, following the steps of Patrick Flannigan’s progress required some additional research on the part of this non-Catholic. I had presumed that the term “clerics” in the previous passage meant that Patrick had already been advanced to the position he sought. That was not the case. There was more to come, as I discovered. Both Patrick Flannigan and his companion, James Sweeney, had yet to have the Bishop confer upon them the tonsure, the four minor orders and the holy orders. And yet, though in the Rezek narrative the two students—Flannigan and Sweeney—are paired, their separate scholastic accomplishments were perceived quite differently by their discerning Bishop.

Flannigan seemed, again and again, to have the edge, in what turns out to be a humorous rendering of the sequence of events. In what seems to be a race to not have his student left behind, Sweeney’s mentor persistently brings his protégé to the attention of the Bishop, only to be set aside with the promise that the Bishop would take the thought “under advisement.” Noting on June 12, 1862:
In a brief interview Father Jacker urged the ordination of Mr. Sweeney. In view of his short study the Bishop took the case under advisement, and continued his journey to Ontonagon and from thence to Minnesota Mine. Father Fox was out on mission and the Bishop held all usual services the following day…. In the afternoon Father Fox came home and the two walked to Maplegrove, where they remained over night at Flannigan’s. …That same Sunday Mr. P. M. Flannigan arrived from Montreal and he became another subject for ordination. It was agreed that the young candidate for Holy Orders would meet the bishop in Hancock….
Of course, the home in “Maplegrove” (now Greenland, Michigan) where the Bishop stayed was that of James Flannigan, Patrick’s father. Why, though, Patrick Flannigan was returning in 1862 from Montreal and not from Cincinnati is a puzzle. Despite the issue with schools closing on account of the Civil War, I had found no mention that the Bishop actually had taken that alternative recourse of sending his student to Canada.

When the meeting did finally take place, it is no surprise that here, again, Father Jacker jockeys for a favorable position for his charge, James Sweeney.
Thursday, June 26th [1862], Baraga arrived in Hancock. The subject of James Sweeney’s ordination was broached again, but with still no definite result.
Despite the Bishop’s “hesitation” about Patrick Flannigan’s student companion, he was ready to move forward as planned for Patrick, himself.
On Sunday, his 65th birthday [June 29], at three o’clock in the afternoon, [Bishop Frederic] Baraga gave P. M. Flannigan the tonsure and the four minor orders.
But that’s not all:
Failing to associate his client with Mr. Flannigan, Father Jacker redoubled his efforts and won out. After a brief visit to L’Anse…the Bishop returned to St. Ana’s and on Thursday, July 3rd, conferred upon James Sweeney, before mass, the tonsure and the four minor orders.
And so, beginning this journey together as clerics, the two men both advance—at relatively the same time—to the next step in their quest for ordination to the priesthood.

Above right: Bishop Frederic Baraga in later years; from History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, page 206; in the public domain.
Left: The Reverend Martin Fox, Father Patrick Flannigan's early instructor and mentor; from History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, page 380; in the public domain. 


  1. :) Any organization that's been around for years (and in this case, a thousand and more) has built up an elaborate ritual/culture and requirement set. I too, am not conversant with the levels of the R. C. Church's clergy (and took small preverse pleasure learning a friend of mine who is a lifelong member couldn't explain them either when asked about it).

    I barely understand what "dedicated the edifice to the patroness" means...

    ...but find it most curious Patrick was in Montreal...

  2. What a tremendous challenge to set up a diocese in such a far-flung place in 1861, during war no less, and finding the young men with the proper training to fulfill their duties and requirements of the church. A fascinating tale.


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