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Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet performs the first Catholic ordination in the future state of Washington at Fort Walla Walla on January 2, 1848.
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On January 2, 1848, Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet (1797-1887) ordains Oblate Missionaries Eugene Casimir Chirouse (1821-1892) and Charles M. Pandosy (1824-1891) as Catholic priests in a hastily arranged ceremony at Fort Walla Walla. It is the first Catholic ordination in what will become the state of Washington. (Note: Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet should not be confused with his brother, Bishop Francois Norbert Blanchet [1795-1883].)
The Journey West
Pandosy and Chirouse departed their native France for Oregon Territory on February 4, 1847, on a 150-foot sailing ship called the Zuric, along with fellow Oblates Father Pascal Ricard, Clestin Verney, and George Blanchet (no relation to Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet or his brother, Bishop F. N. Blanchet). Only Father Ricard was an ordained priest permitted to celebrate Mass. Pandosy and Chirouse were Oblate scholastics. They had taken their final vows but had not been ordained to the priesthood.
The Oblates traveled to North America at the behest of Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet, newly consecrated Bishop of Walla Walla. Bishop A. M. A. Blanchet was charged with overseeing the newly created Walla Walla Diocese in what was then Oregon Territory.
The missionaries’ sea journey was arduous. Brother George Blanchet later remembered the Zuric’s captain crying out in the midst of one of the furious storms the ship encountered, “For 30 years I have sailed the Atlantic, and never seen the like! Every devil in hell is out against us this trip!” (quoted in Kowrach, p. 11). Nevertheless, the Oblates docked safely in New York on April 2, 1847.
On to Walla Walla
Two weeks later, they met up with Bishop A. M. A Blanchet, Father J. B. A. Brouillet, Deacon Louis Rousseau, and subDeacon William Leclair in St. Louis. The party outfitted itself with wagons, provisions, horses, and oxen, then took a steamboat up the Missouri River to Kansas City. In early May 1847 they joined a 50-wagon train and set off overland toward Oregon Territory. The leaders of the wagon-train decided to exempt the missionaries from keeping watch because of their high status within the group. Pandosy and Chirouse entertained their fellow travelers in the evenings by singing and playing the hand accordion. Many on the wagon train considered the Catholic missionaries a talisman against Indian attack. The missionaries arrived at Fort Walla Walla on October 4, 1847.
Fort Walla Walla
Fort Walla Walla, sometimes called the Gibralter of the Columbia, was built on the Columbia River between the Snake and Walla Walla rivers. It was established in 1818 by the North West Company as Fort Nez Perce and became known as Fort Walla Walla about 1825. The original fort burned down in 1842 and was rebuilt with adobe brick. The rebuilt fort measured 114 square feet, with walls 20 feet high and 18 to 22 inches thick.
The Oblates quickly established their first mission, Saint Rose, near the junction of the Yakima and Columbia rivers, and Father Brouillet established the Saint Anne Mission near present-day Pendleton, Oregon.
The Whitman Massacre
A few weeks later, on November 29, 1847, Cayuse tribal members distraught over a measles epidemic that was decimating their village killed Presbyterian missionaries Marcus (1802-1847) and Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847) and 12 others at Waiilatpu Mission. Waiilatpu was 25 miles northeast of Saint Anne Mission. Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet was staying at Saint Anne Mission at the time of the massacre, and was instrumental in securing the safe release of women and children captured by the Cayuse on Decmber 29, 1847.
In the midst of this drama, Father Ricard asked Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet to raise Brother George Blanchet, Pandosy, and Chirouse to the order of the priesthood. Ricard had fallen ill and was planning to leave Fort Walla Walla to seek treatment. In his absence there would be no priests to celebrate Mass. Pandosy and Chirouse began readying themselves, but Brother Blanchet refused to be ordained. He considered himself unworthy to celebrate Mass because he had shot off part of a finger in a recent hunting accident. On December 26, 1847, Pandosy and Chirouse were raised to the order of subdeacon and on January 2, 1848, Bishop Augustin Magloire Blanchet ordained them into the priesthood.
The ordination was solemn but improvised. Pandosy’s biographer, Edward J. Kowrach, quotes Father Ricard’s memoirs:
“We did not have albs for the assistants of the bishop and for the ordinandi. [An alb is a full-length white linen vestment, tied with a rope, used at Mass.] Do you know how an alb was provided for Father Chirouse? Eh, Bien! We altered a quite simple dress of Madam McBean, and the ceremony went forward, you may guess, with all the solemnity that circumstances permitted” (p. 31).
Other accounts describe the improvised alb as a long nightshirt belonging to Mr. McBean. William McBean was the chief clerk at Fort Walla Walla. The McBeans were Catholic and were especially helpful to missionaries.
Five hours after the ceremony, Bishop Blanchet, Father Ricard, and Deacon Rousseau boarded one of the three boats carrying the released Whitman Mission hostages to Fort Vancouver. Father Pandosy and Father Chirouse returned to their work among the Yakama.
Ronald Wayne Young, O.M.I., “The Mission of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to the Oregon Territory (1847-1860)” (Ph.D. diss., Pontifica Universitas Gregoriana, Romae, 2000); Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J., A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest, 1743-1983 (Washington, D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1987); Edward J. Kowrach, Mie, Charles Pandosy, O.M.I.: A Missionary Of The Northwest (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1992); New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, "Augustun Magloire Blanchet" and "Francious Norbert Blanchet," http://www.newadvent.org/ (accessed November 14, 2005).
Note: This essay was corrected on November 19, 2005, March 24, 2006, October 22, 2008, and August 20, 2009.
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