The Eloquent Indian & The Archbishop

In August 1861, SI appointed its first prefect of discipline in the form of Fr. James Vanzina, SJ, “who received from Superiors the task of mastering the difficulties of the character of the American boy … while he, at the same time, sought to master those, even greater, of the English idiom.”49 That same month also saw the arrival of the most famous Jesuit preacher of his time, Fr. James Chrysostom Bouchard, SJ. Bouchard was the son of Marie Elizabeth Bucheur (or Beshard) who had immigrated to the U.S. from France with her parents. When members of the Comanche tribe killed her parents during a raid, she was adopted by the Lenni-Lenappi tribe, an offshoot of the Delawares, and later married the tribe’s chief, Kistalwa. They had two children, the younger being Swift-Foot, the future priest. “It is said that even from infancy he showed a remarkably religious spirit and would gather his little companions around him and tell them what he had learned from his mother about the Great Spirit.”50 When he turned 12, his father died when the tribe attacked the Sioux. A Presbyterian minister took him to study at Marietta College in Ohio, and he eventually became a minister. While visiting St. Louis, he heard Fr. Damen preach to children. Riordan writes that “he listened, was impressed by what he heard, sought more light and was received into the Church in January 1846.”

After entering the Society of Jesus in 1848, he gathered large crowds wherever he preached. Upon his arrival in California, he used SI as his base of mission operations — maintaining a room there for 30 years — while preaching to throngs at St. Ignatius Church and throughout the western states in cities, towns and mining camps.

Bouchard’s popularity, while a boon to St. Ignatius Church, caused a problem for Alemany who was besieged by the complaints of many of his parish priests, already heavily in debt, who were losing parishioners to the Jesuits. Alemany, himself, was also losing patience with the Jesuits, especially with their autonomy in relation to St. Ignatius Church and parishes. The problem came to a head in the 1860s with SI’s plan to build a new school next to its first Market Street site.

In an 1862 letter to Archbishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati, Alemany mentioned some of his frustrations with SI, noting that he had invited the Jesuits to open a school “with a view to have the Catholic boys of this city taught almost gratuitously.” Now they “charged rather too much.” Further, “until recently they had but a small school…. Now they have placed a large number of Fathers in their establishments here, some of whom preach with much satisfaction to the people; they carry on an immense building to be used principally for church and their residence; they seem to spare no means to attract all, and, by means of confraternities, they seem to obtain large numbers from other parishes to their church. This naturally has excited most of the secular priests…. This puts me in a fix; for while I should like the good will of the Fathers…. I should not let the flocks be diverted from their pastors….”51

In 1862, Alemany sent Fr. Nicolas Congiato, SJ, then president of St. Ignatius College, a letter making a surprising request for evidence: “To comply with what I consider my duty, I must inquire of you whether you have permission from the Holy See for the erection of your college or institution of St. Ignatius in this city — and, if so, what is the date of this permission? I must also ask of you a list of the Fathers and Brothers attached to St. Ignatius with their respective ages, and whether they be professed or simple novices. I fear that there is not prudence enough used by all under your care. The love of God demands that we should be prudent.”52

Congiato forwarded this letter to his superior in Rome along with this commentary: “Here is another of those sweet and consoling letters which have been emanating from His Grace the Archbishop for the last few months … I am at a loss to understand what the Archbishop means by what he asks and says of us. As far as I know, no imprudence in any way has been committed by any under my care here in San Francisco of late. The poor Archbishop is led by the nose and believes whatever is told about us by those who surround him.”53

Those who led Alemany “by the nose,” according to Congiato and other SI Jesuits, were the dozen parish priests on his diocesan council. In 1863, Alemany asked these priests to comment on the “harmful” activities of the San Francisco Jesuits. Their replies were lengthy and vociferous, accusing the Jesuits of luring away parishioners by encouraging membership in the sodalities and by the “lavish distribution of the St. Ignatius Water … a beverage, in fact superceding the Napa Soda Water and the various ‘nostrums’ guaranteed for the infallible cure of all the maladies of human nature.”54

Alemany responded to his priests’ concerns by writing to Fr. Congiato reiterating his demand for the deed to St. Ignatius Church or face the consequence “that if this was not done … I should declare your Church here to be no longer a Parish Church.” Losing status as a parish would mean losing revenue that came from weddings, funerals and baptisms — crucial funds that supported the school. (The archbishop tended to look the other way when Jesuits performed last rites, as he felt it did the parishes no harm and served the common good.) Without those monies, SI would sink further into debt. However, the Jesuits chose not to surrender title to their beloved Church. Thus, on October 2, 1863, Alemany sent a letter to Maraschi, who served then as pastor of St. Ignatius, announcing that the church would lose its parish status. The neighboring parishes of St. Patrick’s, St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s gobbled up the St. Ignatius Church parish territory, and the Jesuits announced this sad news to their former parishioners at Mass.55

Accolti tried to make peace between the Jesuits and Alemany with lengthy letters to both parties urging patience; those letters helped, but did not change anyone’s mind. Alemany still believed the Jesuits were intentionally luring away parishioners, while many Jesuits believed that San Franciscans came to them simply because they were the better preachers.

Foremost among these better preachers was Fr. Bouchard, the “Eloquent Indian,” who remained one of the focuses of the tensions between the Jesuits and the Archbishop. At times, Fr. Congiato found it prudent to “remove him from San Francisco from time to time so as not to make his presence obnoxious to Archbishop Alemany.” Alemany did not approve of, and, in fact, sought to dismantle, the two sodalities of St. Ignatius Church that Bouchard helped to establish, as he worried that the fund-raising by these groups hurt the fund-raising efforts of his own parish priests.56

He had another problem with Fr. Bouchard, one that dealt with his rather lengthy beard that he started growing shortly after his arrival to California. Alemany wrote to Fr. John Ponte, SJ, the Jesuit superior, that he preferred for Bouchard to “cut the hair short with the scissors, as practiced by St. Alphonsus, and have the neck protected with something warm, which, I feel confident, would have the desired effect….” Despite an order from Archbishop Charles Seghers of Portland to Bouchard to “shave off your beard as soon as the present ‘cold spell’ ceases,” Bouchard never did. He let it “grow and prosper until it became quite a distinctive and personal trademark … in his journeyings throughout the Far West. With it he lived and with it he died!”57

Difficulties between the Jesuits and Alemany flared again when the Jesuits sought permission to move from Market Street to Van Ness and Hayes — a site far too close to the proposed cathedral to suit Alemany. (This controversy will be discussed in the next chapter.)

Fortunately, Alemany and the Jesuits made peace toward the end of his term as archbishop. As Fr. Parmisano writes in Mission West, “on the 19th of May, 1885, Father Sasia, in company with Fathers Kenna and Congiato, waited on the Archbishop to wish him Godspeed and, five days later, he departed. Whatever differences had existed between him and the Fathers had long since been healed — differences, in fact, which were rather due to external influences which had been brought to bear upon the pious prelate than to anything spontaneous on his own part. An ornament to his noble Order and to the Archdiocese, he left behind him no sincerer admirers of his many virtues than the Fathers of St. Ignatius.”

The question of St. Ignatius Church regaining its parish arose again in 1885 when Alemany’s successor, Archbishop Riordan, asked the superior of the Society of Jesus for permission to reinstate that status. Ironically, the SI Jesuits declined that request, as they sought to keep their college church free from the burden of parish duties. St. Ignatius Church would not regain its status as a parish until 1994 with the reorganization of the San Francisco Archdiocese undertaken by Archbishop John Quinn.