February 10, 1839 - Fr. Petit dies in St Louis

While this event predates the coming of Father Sorin and founding of Notre Dame, it is important to the history of the area. Father Benjamin Marie Petit was the local priest in the area now known as Notre Dame and South Bend sent by Bishop Bruté from France to the Northwest Territory in 1837. (Recall that Bishop Bruté also sent Father Sorin to preach in Indiana.) He ministered to many of the Native Americans in the area and would travel up to sixty miles at times to minister with the sick. When the US Government ordered the removal of the Potawatomi Indians in September 1838, the natives requested for their "Father Black Robe" to come with them.

The US Generals accompanied the natives on their death march for the first several days. Father Petit joined the group and morale immediately improved. The generals wished they could command a group as well as Father Petit did. The march to Kansas was described by Petit as stopping every several hours to bury the dead and then continuing on. They arrived at the Sugar Creek Mission in November and the following January Father Petit began his trip back to South Bend by horseback.

Petit reached St. Louis University and the Jesuit priests cared for the very ill traveler. He continued to grow weaker and remained in St. Louis. Twenty minutes before midnight, Father Petit passed away at the age of 27 years and 10 months. Father John A. Elet, rector of St. Louis University, placed a cross to the dying man's lips and twice he kissed it. Father Petit would be buried in the cemetery in St. Louis.

In 1856, the cemetery was being moved to another location in St. Louis. At this time, Father Sorin came and retrieved Father Petit's body and brought it back to South Bend, Indiana where his remains were buried under the Log Chapel. In Father Petit's short time in the South Bend area, he continued the much needed role of the Black Robe to the Potawatomi which helped validate the need for the church to remain in possession of the land called Ste. Marie des Lacs.

To learn more about the first fifty years of Notre Dame's history, pick up a copy of the book prepared for the Golden Jubilee: A Brief History of the University of Notre Dame du Lac, Indiana, from 1842 to 1892 (1895). More about Father Petit's ministry in the United States is available here but to read Father Petit's letters from his journey with the Potawatomi, purchase a copy of The Last Blackrobe of Indiana and the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

Keywords: father petit, father sorin, bishop brute, potawatomi indians, ste marie des lacs

Posted On: 2012-02-10 00:15:02 by IrishTrpt07
Edited On: 2012-02-10 05:33:11 by IrishTrpt07


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