An early Hancock pioneer
When the census of all of Hancock County numbered only about 350 names and land was being sold by the federal government for $1.25 per acre, a solitary Catholic priest followed the order of his superiors and came down from Indiana to Shieldsborough. His duties were to attend to the spiritual needs of the area residents, thus making him a missionary in every sense of the word. There is evidence that his responsibility extended from Pearl River to Wolf River, including the area around Jourdan River.
He was to minister to the long established settlers, as well as those many settlers traveling here. There were also the Choctaws who had not yet been sent to Indian territory, many hiding out is the swamps of Bayou LaCroix.
The year was 1847. There was no church in Shieldsborough, and Fr. Buteux took up temporary quarters as the house guest of John B. Toulme, using an old county building for services.
Not a great deal is known about Fr. Buteux’s early history, and indeed, one must wonder at the abilities of a man sent to such responsibilities.
We know that he was born in Paris in 1808 and took priestly vows in 1836. He was from a pious family from which his brother also took a calling to ministry, in this case to become a Jesuit. He was martyred by Iroquois in Canada.
It must not have been long before Fr, Buteux was sent to missionary work, as he was to be found near Terre Haute, Indiana in March 1840. At that time, he was mentioned in a letter from Bishop Celestin of Indiana to Bishop Blancq of New Orleans. The letter indicates that Buteux was to send Bishop Porter’s note for $200, and that Buteux had borrowed that amount from another source. The problem seems to have been connected with the mention of Buteux’s church at Thralls having just burned.
Later, in October 1840, documents described Buteux as he accompanied six nuns by stagecoach “through thick forests on a nonexistent road” to Indiana. The nuns, who did not speak English, had come from France by way of Brooklyn and Philadelphia and Evansville. When they arrived in Vincennes, they were met by Fr. Buteux who had been assigned as their chaplain.
The nun in charge became the founder of the Sisters of Providence, which now ministers in twenty states. Her name was Mother Theodore Guerin. She was canonized as St. Thedora in 2006.
These limited accounts of rather insignificant history do not suggest the potential of an extraordinary individual, but what follows shows that the choice made By Buteux’s superiors was well justified.
The next evidence about Buteux is the appointment as pastor in our area in 1847. He must have gone right to work, as the next year, he laid the cornerstone for a new church. Thus was created Our Lady of the Gulf.
The Hancock County census of 1850 lists a Catholic priest as occupying house #44-47, although the name appears to be written “Buleaux.”
In 1852, he opened a boys school, calling upon the Christian Bothers order to staff it. The yellow fever epidemic of 1853, one of the worst in history, forced a closing of the first school, but it was followed in 1854 with the opening of St. Stanislaus College for young men. This school has had an outstanding record of developing young men for well over one and a half centuries.
Buteux returned to France on several occasions, in one case to secure additional Christian Brothers for his school. Later, he sailed again to France and appealed for help to open a girls school. He returned with three nuns, who in 1855 opened St. Joseph Academy, which became a highly respected institution for the education of young ladies.
There is mention in one document that both of these developments were being carved out of a wilderness area.
A fascinating part of this history is the shrine built by Buteux in what was once a wilderness. It was in fulfillment of a vow made on a voyage returning from France, when the shop was in danger of sinking. The shrine is located on the rear of the property of the academy, in a grove of cedars and ancient oaks. Though picturesque, it is simple and not immediately apparent to anyone walking by. Over the years, it has been in the midst of many hurricanes, and in spite of its age and the fact that it is made simply of plaster of Paris, it remains relatively undamaged.
Fr. Buteux served as pastor of Our Lady of the Gulf for 13 years, being succeeded by Fr. Henry Leduc. Buteux spent his last years in Boston, where he died in 1875. He is interred in St. Mary’s Cemetery, south Boston.