Father Mazzuchelli and the New Evangelization article in the Madison Catholic Herald

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I have written an article which appears in this week’s Madison Catholic Herald. The Herald has had quite a few articles recently about Father Mazzuchelli, surrounding the 150th anniversary of his death which was honored with the annual memorial Mass at St Patrick’s Church in Benton, with about a dozen priests in attendance this year. I found reporter Kevin Wondrash’s photos worth looking at. I teach catechism at 9 am Sundays at the Cathedral Parish (and I don’t drive) so I could not be present for the 150th anniversary Mass–though as noted in my article below we observed the occasion at the Cathedral Parish with a reading group that discussed his Memoirs.


Father Mazzuchelli and the New Evangelization: frontier missionary priest’s memoirs provide inspiration for us today

Guest column
Written by Elizabeth Durack
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 — 12:00 AM


Anyone who has read with interest the recent articles in these pages on the life of Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P. would do no better than to read his fascinating and edifying Memoirs.

Several readers have met at the Cathedral Parish in Madison weekly to discuss what inspiration we find for the New Evangelization from Father Mazzuchelli’s writing. I share these gleanings.

A frontier adventure

This 1844 book is a frontier adventure with bears and wolves which, like every account of the life of a saint, is also high adventure in the Faith.

The Christian life is always a hero’s mission. Semper et ubique (always and everywhere) the odds seem wildly against our hero (Jesus, His priest, or any of His faithful disciples); something is wrong if parish life becomes simply routine.

From the time he arrived at his first assignment on Mackinac Island as a new priest, aged 22, the missionary Father Mazzuchelli countered anti-Catholic teaching by engaging in public disputation good-naturedly and with compelling presentation of truths of the Faith.

Winning converts

It won Catholics back and made converts. Kind, genuine, and ready to lend a hand, the priest also formed warm ecumenical friendships that lessened prejudices about Catholicism.

He had a Dominican confidence in the power of [the] Holy Preaching and was adamant about not dumbing down the Faith he proposed.

Writing in the third person, Father Mazzuchelli says: “[W]ithout reference to [the Indians’] ignorance or their knowledge he only announces the spotless, unalterable Faith in which he himself has been instructed and which all the Catholics of the world have believed from Apostolic times.”

He didn’t make it overly difficult to convert: “the Catholic method” required “only the giving up of vices and the will to believe in those doctrines which independently of mere reason, are learned without arguments or disputations, and even without books, but simply by hearing, as says Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, X, 17, ‘the Faith cometh by hearing.’”

Father Mazzuchelli tells many moving stories of pioneer folk and Indian converts as edifying Christian examples and witnesses to the Mercy of God in the sacraments.

Sacrament of Confession

He writes, “Guided by the dictates of conscience, the Indians recognize Confession as the most natural effect of a true repentance.”

Back then it was universally understood that confession of all grave sins precedes reception of Holy Communion. The beneficial promotion of frequent Communion since 1903 couldn’t change the fact that we objectively need to be in a state of grace to benefit from the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but at some point people’s understanding and practice radically broke down and much has been lost as a result. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is key for saving souls, then and now.

Evangelizing among the poor

Evangelical poverty was essential to his personal credibility as well as his easily-contented adaptability to rough conditions among those to whom he ministered, who were almost all very poor.

“There is no doubt,” he wrote, “that the Christian religion was propagated primarily in the midst of poverty . . . rarely were the rich among the first to submit to the doctrine of a God-made-man for us, born in a lowly manger.”

My friendships with Madison’s homeless suggest this has not changed, but how well are we evangelizing the poor?

Prognosis for the future

The great Dominican’s diagnosis of the religious problems he witnessed included a sadly accurate prognosis for the future.

In the religiously pluralistic frontier environment, hostilities could only be avoided by “the indifferentism which is a culpable abandonment of every Christian truth.”

This increasing religious indifferentism was accompanied also by a rising skepticism which he saw as dangerous to religious freedom: “Woe to that country if the mass of its people shall ever become unbelievers! Then will it lose that protection which makes it now so free to act, and enslaved by general corruption, its ruin and disintegration, humanly speaking, will be irreparable.”

On the other hand, says the indomitable missionary, “where unbelief reigns, there assuredly has he a motive to extend the Kingdom of God.”

Memoirs re-published

Read for yourself: I re-published the 1915 translation of Father Mazzuchelli’s book last year under the title Memoirs of a Frontier Missionary Priest. My goal was to make it inexpensive (I don’t make a penny) and help it find new readers. It’s available on Amazon.com for around $6.50.

Elizabeth Durack is a member of the Cathedral Parish in Madison. She blogs at www.laetificatmadison.com