By Brother XAVIER WERNETH, SC
Louis Stanislaus Marie Buteux was born in Paris, July 2, 1808, into a well established Catholic family. The Buteux family of France had given a martyr to the Church in the 17th century. Father Jacques Buteux, a Jesuit missionary priest working among the Attikamegues Indians in Canada, was put to death by the hostile Iroquois on May 10, 1652. Inspired to become a priest, young Stanislaus entered the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris where he proved himself to be a brilliant student. With the Sulpicians, Stanislaus received a solid theological education and pastoral training with a strong emphasis on spiritual formation. As the top student in his novitiate class, Stanislaus caught the eye of Bishop Simon Gabriel Bruté, a Sulpician, who had recently been installed as the first bishop of the new diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. A missionary himself, Bishop Bruté recruited Stanislaus for his new diocese. He ordained Father Stanislaus on May 28, 1836, and on the next day, Father Stanislaus offered his first Mass and said goodbye to his family in Paris as he set out with his new bishop for the Vincennes Diocese as a missionary.
Bishop Bruté put young Father Stanislaus in charge of Catholics in Edgar County, IL, and Vigo County, IN. From 1837 to 1839, Father Stanislaus worked untiringly in the mission field as a circuit-riding preacher, ministering mainly to the German and Irish Catholic immigrants in the area around Terre Haute. He celebrated Mass and offered the sacraments in their homes until he was able to organize the people to build churches. In 1839, for example, he built St. Joseph’s brick church in Terre Haute and a frame church at Thralls Station, five miles from Terre Haute. That church was named Ste. Marie des Bois, well known today as St. Mary of the Woods. Father Stanislaus recruited the Sisters of Providence to come from France to teach school there. On October 22, 1840, he personally met six emigrant missionary nuns as they completed a 102-day journey from northern France by merchant ship, rail, steamboat, stagecoach, and wagon. He escorted Sister Theodore Guerin and her five companions by ferry across the Wabash River and then by wagon to a remote 27-acre wooded chapel site. He then helped them establish St. Mary of the Woods College, the nation’s oldest Catholic women’s liberal arts college. Father Stanislaus worked as a day laborer to help the sisters build their first academy, and in July 1841, he blessed the school. As a missionary priest, he well knew that education was the key to any lasting work of evangelization, and he had quickly learned the value of a good Catholic school for that purpose.
Father Buteux served as the sisters’ chaplain for four years, inspiring all of them by his courage, his simplicity of life, and his apostolic zeal. Mother Theodore Guerin, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 2006, was the first superior of the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary of the Woods College in the Vincennes Diocese of Indiana, the sisters’ first establishment in America. This educational missionary who answered Father Buteux’s call praised him as follows:
“This zealous priest lives in a little hut which is only ten feet wide and twelve feet long. The furniture consists of the altar and a miserable pallet at the opposite side of the room; two small tables, one covered with books, the other used as a writing desk; a trunk, and an old chair. In these environments has this Parisian dwelt for four years—he who was brought up in the comfort of the most opulent city of Europe; where, now in the flower of his manhood and with his brilliant education, he might be one of the most prominent in ecclesiastical circles. The Archbishop of Paris made him the most advantageous offers to retain him there; but he refused everything to come and work and suffer for his God, and to gain souls for His heavenly kingdom. This truly apostolic man told me laughing that he had yet to learn where the trials and privations are.”
Life of Mother Theodore Guerin, 1904, p 141-142
Not only was Father Stanislaus a deeply spiritual man, he was also an excellent businessman capable of getting churches built. Bishop Bruté recognized what a great asset he was. In a letter in 1839 to Father Vabret, Superior of the Eudist priests in the United States and president of Vincennes College, he wrote that Father Buteux was “always so zealous and successful.” At the time, Father Stanislaus had associated himself with the Eudist religious congregation. In another letter from Bishop Bruté to Bishop Anthony Blanc in New Orleans, he mentioned Father Buteux's efforts to get Bishop Michael Portier of Mobile to pay $200 which he had promised Father Stanislaus to help build a church in Vincennes. Later that same year in 1839, other letters to Bishop Blanc noted that all in Vincennes were “well except Father Stanislaus Buteux.” Then on October 16, 1839, Bishop Blanc received a letter stating “that Father Stanislaus Buteux, CJM, was dying.” (CJM were the initials of the Eudists, the Congregation of Jesus and Mary.) Father Stanislaus did not die. He recovered and continued to work as hard as ever until he again fell sick.
Completely broken in health after nine years of strenuous missionary work, Father Stanislaus left Indiana in 1845 and returned to France for a much needed extended rest. While in France, Father Buteux never forgot his missionary work. Bishop Fahey in his history of Bay St. Louis in 1942 related a story illustrating this holy man’s influence:
“The Vicar General of Metz, Msgr. Chalandon, while riding in a street car in Paris, saw a man whose garb indicated that he was a Protestant minister. The Vicar General engaged him in a conversation, and found, to his surprise, the stranger was a Catholic priest from the missions in Indiana. Father Buteux was his name. The mistake on the part of the Msgr. can be explained by the fact that the early missionaries did not wear the present ecclesiastical garb. Instead, they wore a black suit, the coat of which reached to the knees; a civilian collar and tie. Being intensely interested in missionary work, the Msgr. listened attentively as the missionary described his work and its hardships. Father Buteux explained that his church was so poor that he could not buy a pyx for sick calls on the mission. Let us listen to part of the conversation:
“Oh Father,” the Vicar General then explained, “how hard is your life, how worthy of compassion it appears to me.”
“Do not pity me, I beg of you,” said Father Buteux, “for truly I am the happiest of men. That is surprising? You will soon understand my motive for speaking thus. While I was in Rome, the Sovereign Pontiff, in the interest of my mission, took into consideration the distance which separates our pious Catholics. Not wishing that they would be deprived of Holy Viaticum at the hour of death, he, therefore, authorized me to constantly carry the Blessed Sacrament. Now I always have Our Lord with me. Is there a happiness equal to that of continually having the Good God with one? I do not know if there be two priests throughout Christendom who enjoy this privilege. Oh far from complaining, my lot is worthy of envy.”
Impressed by Father Buteux, the monsignor gave him a donation, but more importantly ten years later he was instrumental in helping to obtain the services of the Sisters of St. Joseph to work in Bay St. Louis where Father Buteux had been assigned. Father Buteux’s missionary work was not yet complete, and his work on the Gulf Coast is another chapter in his ministry. In 1847 Father Buteux, who by that time had left the Eudists, offered his services to Bishop John Chanche, another French Sulpician, who was bishop of the Diocese of Natchez. When Father Stanislaus was assigned to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, he wrote in his diary for Saturday, July 31, 1847, the feast of St. Ignatius: “Bishop Chanche told me at Natchez that he confides to me, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Pearl River, Jourdan River, and Wolf River, as far as 20 to 25 miles to the north.” In 1847 when Father Buteux settled in Bay St. Louis, MS,—officially known as Shieldsboro at the time—he became the first priest ever to be stationed there. There was no church or rectory, so he took up residence in a hotel until Mr. John B. Toulme invited him into his home. He offered Mass in a room in the old dilapidated courthouse until he was able to organize the Catholics in Bay St. Louis to build a church. In March of 1848 he held a celebration to lay the cornerstone for Our Lady of the Gulf Church which was completed within two years. It was one of the very largest churches in the Diocese of Natchez. He also oversaw the construction of St. Paul’s church in Pass Christian.
In 1852 Father Stanislaus started a small school behind the church and invited the Christian Brothers who were already established at Pass Christian to teach there. They accepted, and in September of 1852 four De LaSalle Christian Brothers started a community in Bay St. Louis to teach the boys of Bay St. Louis and a few boarders. There were many misunderstandings between the brothers and the priest. In just one year, three different brothers directed the school which obviously struggled due to frequent turn over of the staff. In the summer of 1853 after a yellow fever epidemic broke out, the boarders were sent home and the school closed. Father Buteux wanted to reopen the school in November, but the brother director refused and took up residence with his community at Pass Christian. Disappointed that the brothers honored only one year of a three-year arrangement for which he had expended a large sum of money, Father Buteux appealed to the Bishop and to the brothers' major superior, but without success. Hard pressed for personnel willing to go to Bay St. Louis, the Christian Brothers' major superior, Brother Facile, FSC, allowed his brothers remain in Pass Christian, negating their three-year agreement with Father Buteux. Three of the several Christian Brothers who had taught at Our Lady of the Gulf had died of yellow fever, and another one left the community in 1853.
Disappointed, but undaunted, Fr. Buteux was determined not to give up on his school. He arranged for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart who were recently established in Mobile, Alabama, to come to Bay St. Louis in June of 1854. (In some Church documents it is easy to confuse a Brother of the Sacred Heart with a Christian Brother. Until 1874 the Brothers of the Sacred Heart were legally and officially known as Brothers of Christian Instruction of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, also with the same post-nominal initials in some Church documents as the De LaSalle brothers--F.S.C. from the Latin Fratres Scholarum Christianarum for the De LaSalle Brothers and Fratres Sacris Cordis for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.) Actually Father Buteux did much more than simply invite this relatively new congregation into his parish. He went to France in 1854 and met personally with Brother Polycarp Gondre, the superior general. He returned from France not only with four brothers for whom he paid their passage so that he might have more brothers in Bay St. Louis, but he had also struck a deal with Brother Polycarp agreeing that if the Brothers of the Sacred Heart would build their own boarding school he would pay half of the price for the property.
In 1855 Father Buteux helped the brothers buy their first piece of property in Bay St. Louis for a sum of $4,000, the core of what is now the St. Stanislaus College campus, a parcel of beach front land 140 feet wide between Union and Bookter streets and stretching back for almost a mile and a half. Father Buteux was close friends with the Clannon family in New Orleans and made the arrangements for Robert Clannon to sell the property to the brothers. He also loaned the brothers $4,000 at 6% interest to build their first school and helped them negotiate good contracts and purchase materials. They named the new school which opened in January of 1856 St. Stanislaus Academy, after the patron of youth and the patron of their beloved pastor, Father Stanislaus Buteux. Brother Athanasius Faugier, the school’s the first president and later provincial superior of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, wrote in his journal:
“Rev. Stanislaus Buteux deserves to be ranked the most prominent benefactor of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in the United States. It is owing to his great zeal, disinterestedness, and truly apostolic spirit that the Brothers were established in Bay St. Louis, and thereby were endowed with their most flourishing school in the States. Had it not been for his activity in conducting negotiations, his generosity in giving and advancing funds, his hopes in the future, his supreme trust in Divine Providence, the foundation would not have been made. To him we owe a debt of everlasting gratitude.”
It was also Father Buteux who arranged for the first Sisters of St. Joseph to come to Bay St. Louis, their first of many establishments in America. On December 30, 1854, he met three sisters from Bourg, France, dockside in New Orleans after an ocean voyage of 41 days. On January 6, 1854, they arrived in Bay St. Louis where they realized the challenges that faced them. With the help of Father Buteux, they established a boarding school for girls in 1855, and St. Joseph Academy was very successful for more than 100 years until it closed in 1967. Four years later, the Sisters of Mercy and dedicated lay people re-opened the day school for high school girls in 1971 under the title Our Lady Academy.
After 13 years of much strenuous labor in Bay St. Louis as well as throughout Hancock and Harrison counties, Fr. Buteux was again worn down and in need of a rest. He had petitioned the bishop for a replacement several times, but told him that he would continue until someone could be found. Finally he resigned in November 1859 when Bishop William Henry Elder was able to find a replacement for him, Fr. Henry LeDuc. During his years in Bay St. Louis, Father Buteux left a lasting mark. In 1903 a friend of his, Mary W. Oliver, published a tribute of gratitude and appreciation in The Sea Coast Echo. In the article which was accompanied by a picture of Father Stanislaus, Oliver noted that Father Buteux was renowned in Bay St. Louis “not only for his depth of learning, clearness of judgment, and literary acumen, but for his profound piety and tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose aid he always invoked before entering upon any important undertaking.” Mrs. Oliver went on to relate an incident which showed Father Stanislaus’s devotion to Mary:
“The Rev. Father Buteux was returning from France having on shipboard among other passengers the nurse and grandchild of John B. Toulme. A violent storm arose, and the vessel sprung a leak, threatening destruction to all. In the midst of the confusion and dismay the Reverend priest bowed humbly upon his knees and invoked the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, promising to erect a shrine in her honor if their lives should be spared. His prayer was granted, and lo! how faithfully his vow was fulfilled, for in the rear of St. Joseph’s Convent stands “Our Lady of the Woods,” a sacred memorial to Father Buteux’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin and grateful remembrance of his benefactor.”
Bishop Leo F. Fahey, a native of Bay St. Louis and a graduate of St. Stanislaus College and a member of its Hall of Fame, also wrote of Rev. Buteux’s zeal in carrying out his ministry in Bay St. Louis:
“In addition to the quality of being an excellent businessman, the good pastor seemed to have a penchant for pious societies and elaborate ceremonies. On November 29, 1847, he began a Novena in honor of the Immaculate Conception; this was seven years before its declaration. He immediately started catechism classes when he realized the spiritual ignorance of the people. He established the Scapular Confraternity with 39 members, the Altar Society, and the Association for the Conversion of Sinners in which he enrolled over 300 members. He offered mid-night Mass on Christmas, conducted Forty Hours devotions, and carried out the Holy Week ceremonies in their entirety, the very year of his arrival.”
On leaving Bay St. Louis after 13 years of ministry there, Father Buteux returned to France and stayed with his family to recuperate. He also went to Rome and the Holy Land several times, leading pilgrimages. Restored to health and enthusiasm, he returned to America in 1864 to begin a third and final missionary tour of service. At 56 years old, he had much less energy than when he first began missionary work at age 27, but his zeal had not diminished. He offered his services to the Diocese of Boston, and Bishop John Joseph Williams appointed him Chaplain of the Carney Hospital, which was operated by the Sisters of Charity. Father Buteux’s former bishop, Bishop Elder of Natchez, noted that “after years of fruitful labor and other years of patient suffering,” Father Stanislaus was “still occupied with the service of souls.” An article in The Boston Pilot commented on Father Buteux’s ministry in that city:
He had no settled parish, but his labors were among the poor in the various institutions. He was particularly fond of children, and was a constant attendant at the St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, House of the Angel Guardian and Home for Destitute Children. The old as well as the young received his fatherly attention. The old people at the Little Sisters of the Poor will never forget him.”
Father Stanislaus Buteux died in Boston June 14, 1875, at the age of 66 years, 11 months. As would be expected, there were many clergymen who attended his funeral, but there were also a large number of Sisters and many of the orphans that he had cared for during his 11 years in Boston. Father Stanislaus was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in south Boston, in the old mortuary chapel of St. Augustine. There he rests in a brick vault along with 20 other priests “influential in promoting the growth of Catholicity in the Archdiocese of Boston,” according to the tomb’s inscription. His obituary in The Boston Pilot noted that “the Catholics of Boston will long mourn his loss . . . . The diocese of Boston has consigned many a good and holy priest to the grave, but none more saintly than our dear friend Father Buteux."
During its sesquicentennial celebrations in 2004, St. Stanislaus College inducted Rev. Stanislaus Buteux into the school's Hall of Fame. For the occasion, the college presented the pastor of Our Lady of the Gulf with a large portrait of Rev. Buteux painted by a local artist to match the portraits of the other pastors that already hung in the parish hall. The painting was based on the only known picture of Rev. Buteux to exist, the one published in the 1903 Sea Coast Echo.
M. W. Oliver, “First Catholic Priest of Bay St. Louis,” The Sea Coast Echo, Bay St. Louis, MS, 12:43, November 13, 1903. The article includes a photo of an earlier portrait.
Archdiocese of Boston, Archives, excerpt from The Boston Pilot, June 26, 1875, Obituary
Catholic Directory of 1876, excerpt in the necrology about Rev. Stanislaus Buteux
Notre Dame University Archives, 607 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN: Archdiocese of New Orleans, LA, correspondence of Bishop Jean Marie Odin, 1861-1870
Rev. Leo F. Fahey, “History of Bay St. Louis,” Golden Jubilee Edition of The Sea Coast Echo
Diocese of Indianapolis Archives, 1400 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, IN: excerpts from A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes by Rev. Herman Alerding, 1884: p 185, 264-65, 445, 453, 457
Recently painted portrait now in Our Lady of the Gulf parish hall