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Joseph Cretin

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Cretin, JOSEPH, first Bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., b., at Montluel, department of Ain, France, December 19, 1799; d. at St. Paul, Minnesota, February 22, 1857. He made his preparatory studies in the petits seminaires of Meximieux (Ain) and L’Argentiere (Rhone), his studies of philosophy at Alix (Rhone), and of theology in the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, Paris. He was ordained priest December 20, 1823, and soon afterwards was appointed vicar in the parish of Ferney, once the home of Voltaire, and eventually became its parish priest. He built there a new and beautiful church with funds largely gathered by himself on a tour through France, founded a college for boys, and revived the Catholic Faith among his parishioners, many of whom had become indifferent towards it, owing to the surviving influence of “the philosopher” and the close proximity of the Protestant cantons of Switzerland. But Cretin longed for a larger field of activity; at one time he thought earnestly of going as a missionary to China. His perplexities in that regard were solved by the advent of Bishop Loras, first Bishop of Dubuque, Iowa, who arrived in France in 1838 in quest of priests for his Western diocese. Cretin was one of the few who volunteered, and on August 16, 1838, he secretly left his parish, embarked at Le Havre with Bishop Loras, and landed in New York in October of the same year. The winter of 1838-39 was spent in St. Louis, Missouri, and on his arrival at Dubuque, April 18, 1839, he was at once appointed vicar-general of the new diocese. For over eleven years he exercised his priestly ministry in these new and unopened regions, dividing his time chiefly between Dubuque, Iowa, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and the Winnebago Indians in the neighborhood of Fort Atkinson, Winneshiek Co., Iowa. Only once, in 1847, did he absent himself, when he made a journey to Europe in the interest of his missions. In 1850, St. Paul, Minnesota, became the seat of a new diocese. Cretin was appointed its first bishop, and went to France, to be consecrated, January 26, 1851, at Belley by Bishop Devie, who had ordained him to the priesthood.

After having obtained some donations and several ecclesiastics for his new diocese, he returned to America and arrived in St. Paul July 2, 1851. The same evening he made his first appearance in the log chapel of St. Paul, his first cathedral, and gave the first episcopal blessing to his flock. Within less than five months a large brick building was completed, which served as a school, a residence, and a second cathedral. Another structure, begun in 1855, was finished after his death, and serves as the cathedral of St. Paul. In 1853 a hospital was built; during the same year, and again in 1856, he bought land for cemetery purposes. For the instruction of the children he introduced, in 1851, a community of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and in 1855 the Brothers of the Holy Family. He also planned the erection of a seminary, and always eagerly fostered vocations for the priesthood, keeping at his residence seminarians in their last period of preparation. He supported likewise the cause of temperance not only by personal example, but also by organizing in January, 1852, the Catholic Temperance Society of St. Paul, the first of its kind in Minnesota. Another work to which he applied himself was that of Catholic colonization. With an eye to the future he endeavored to provide for the growth of his diocese by bringing Catholic immigrants from European countries to the fertile plains of Minnesota. Withal he did not neglect his ministerial and pastoral office. He was often alone in St. Paul without the help of a priest, and at times travelled through the vast extent of his diocese bestowing on his people the consolations of religion. Bishop Cretin’s memory is held in esteem and veneration, especially by the old settlers of St. Paul.


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