Brother Anselm

Prologue

Br Anselm

It is said that the most tragic misfortune endured by any of the six original Brothers was that of Brother Anselm. He was the second-youngest of the group, leaving home at the age of fourteen to follow a new life as a Brother of St. Joseph. He must have impressed Father Moreau because he was selected to be one of the seven men in the First Colony going to America. Anselm had an aptitude for learning languages.


Teaching in Vincennes

Map Inbound To VincennesBrother Anselm was a member of the original colony of C.S.C. from France. He traveled with Fr. Sorin and The Brothers on the very first journey to America.

When the colony reached St. Peter’s, a missionary station in Daviess county Indiana about twenty-seven miles east of Vincennes, Anselm was assigned by Bishop Hailandiere to join Brother Vincent and teach at the Cathedral grade school in Vincennes.

Young Anselm must have had the gift of long-suffering because after just one year on the job, Brother Vincent joined the final group of Brothers who traveled north to found Notre Dame while Anselm was left by himself to continue teaching 40 students at the Cathedral school.

Letters

From the twenty letters extant from Brother Anselm, we know that his time with Hailandiere was difficult. The bishop seemed to harass Anselm, giving him, for example, questionable housing. One of his accommodations was so damp that mold would regularly grow on his books and shoes. The room was without heat and so dark that he could barely see to read or write. Although he lived in the bishop's house, he had to walk some distance to the seminary for his meals. The bishop also accused him on various occasions of stealing a kitchen brush, not teaching properly, and giving too much vacation time to his students. While his situation was probably no worse than other frontier experiences, Anselm still felt exploited. His frustration grew to the point that in one letter he told his superior at Notre Dame "the vow of obedience that I made does not oblige me to kill myself, or to make myself sick to obey the bishop."

Book Adapted To The Lake KlawitterAdapted to the Lake, by Br. George Klawitter, includes letters by the Brother Founders of Notre Dame, 1841-1849

Serious sickness was another one of his burdens. In August of 1844, he came down with a debilitating fever that left him bedridden for two and a half days. To add insult to injury, no one from the cathedral bothered to look in on him. It is believed that he had malaria, which was common on the frontier. Feeling disconsolate from the harassment, Anselm sought help from Hailandiere's vicar, Rev. August Martin. Initially, Martin was somewhat sympathetic and even began tutoring him in natural history. Soon however, he seemed to turn against Anselm. Martin apparently ceased talking to Anselm and stopped visiting his class and humiliated him one time when Anselm showed up late for a meal. Finally, Martin apparently labeled Anselm "proud" in a letter to Notre Dame; and no one at Notre Dame seemed to offer consolation to Anselm.

Longing for Notre Dame

Anselm longed to be with his compatriots in South Bend. He looked forward to the annual retreat of his community each summer. His July 26, 1843, letter remarks "I need to know when retreat will begin and if it's necessary to bring my things to South Bend or leave them here." Later on he says,"after wearing myself out teaching for a year and having the Community's interests in everything I did, it seemed to me that you'd not hold back six or seven dollars to let me enjoy the benefit of the retreat with my confreres." And, again, "Be assured that I'll do everything possible to go." It appears that Notre Dame seemed indifferent not only to this desire, but also to Anselm's plight in Vincennes. In one letter, Anselm tells his religious superior, " I beg you in the name of Mary to get me out of here soon", and in yet another he says, "please call me away from here for my own good, because I'll perhaps lose my vocation here."

Wild FlowersWild Flowers Growing in Indiana

At one point, Anselm apparently tried to finesse his way out of Vincennes. He developed a painting skill. He wrote to Sorin saying: “Since I’ve been here, I’ve sold almost all the flower paintings I’ve made. The men and women who bought them have framed them as masterpieces. Although I’ve had only a single painting lesson, which Brother Vincent gave me, I have gained a reputation as a painter here.” He wrote to Moreau "a good teacher of drawing and painting is necessary at the College of Notre Dame du Lac.", and also noted that "if he (Moreau) wished to let me go spend a fortnight or more with a good master of oriental painting, I'd consent to teach English at Notre Dame of Holy Cross." Moreau, however, would not bite and referred the request to Sorin.

Move to Madison, Indiana

Early Men Of HC Book CoverFurther Reading: "Early Men of Holy Cross" by George Klawitter, CSC; pages 168-185

On November 17, 1844, Anselm finally left Vincennes for his new assignment in Madison, changing places with Brother Mary Joseph, who was sent to Vincennes. It seems unbelievable that Sorin would send Anselm off by himself again to run a school hundreds of miles from the community in Notre Dame for Madison is in the southeast corner of Indiana.

Fortunately the situation in Madison was salubrious for Anselm. The pastor Father Delaune was kind and Anselm was far away from Bishop Hailandiere. While sickness continued to dog him, Madison turned out to be a breath of fresh air. Even though his working conditions were still a challenge, he appeared to enjoy his assignment. The work was heavy as he was the only teacher for sixty boys of all levels of education. But he thrived. He had a small room that served as his bedroom, and he probably took meals with Father Delaune across the street in the rectory. In spite of the overwhelming work, one can sense his relief to be away from Vincennes. Anselm reported he was “delighted to be where he is.” The exuberance continues in a letter, “ he had been to Cincinnati on St. Joseph’s Day and met the bishop.”

Anselm’s final letter is dated July 10, two days before his death. The letter is full of excitement about the coming retreat at Notre Dame. He was so totally happy in Madison that he wanted to know what date he could tell Father Delaune to expect his return. He brags a bit about his successes: “I had a great dinner here on the 4th. More than 100 children were admitted to it and behaved very well. The most respectable ladies of Madison helped me to serve at table and before the dinner they sent me pies, cakes, and crackers of every kind.”

The obvious affection he felt for the parents and students was reflected in their cooperation at the dinner. That affection would be repeated, sadly enough, a few days later when his body was recovered from the Ohio river.

Tragedy

The details of Anselm’s death are found in a touching letter that Father Delaune of Madison, Indiana sent to Father Moreau:

Grotto Candle

"I have sad news for you. Sudden death has taken Brother Anselm away from us. He came to see me Saturday afternoon, July 12, to tell me he was going swimming. After hesitating a bit, I agreed to accompany him. He went into the water about seven or eight hundred feet away from me in a place which did not seem dangerous. I was in water about three or four feet deep. All of a sudden, I noticed an expression of suffering on his face. He went down, but I thought he did it on purpose. He came up while uttering a cry for help, he went down again. What a moment for me! I was more than 300 feet away from him and cannot swim. I hastened to give him absolution, which he probably received that morning.

I ran to a cabin and an old man pointed out where the Brother disappeared is a drop-off at least twenty feet deep with a very swift current. I went home and got some good swimmers and boats. It was ten o’clock in the evening before he was found. We brought his body and he was laid out in the basement chapel. At four the next afternoon we brought him to the church. Protestants and Catholic alike gathered, as many as a thousand. The school children kissed his forehead. I had a verse written on a black banner which was carried in a procession after the service to the cemetery. It said: “Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time.


Finding Brother Anselm

A research paper presented at the 2004 annual conference of the Holy Cross History Association described the fascinating discovery of Brother Anselm’s grave by Robert and Janet Newland of Indianapolis, Indiana. Bob graduated from Cathedral High School in 1967. He was fascinated by the history of the Holy Cross Brothers because his father used to live in Washington, Indiana, a few miles from St. Peter’s Church, the original Holy Cross colony in 1841. Bob got in touch with Brother George Klawitter, a new faculty member at Cathedral High, who furnished him with more items of early Holy Cross history at St. Peter’s and Vincennes.

Springdale Cemetery

Br Anselm Grave InscriptionThe Search for Brother Anselm, a member of the C.S.C.'s first colony from France.

Brother George suggested to Bob and Janet that they search for Brother Anselm’s grave in Madison. They visited Madison a few months later and learned there were three cemeteries in the city, the oldest was at Springdale. The Ohio River had flooded the area in the 1880s. They visited the caretaker who was happy to help Bob and Janet in their search. But, the cemetery records had been destroyed by a fire in 1888. Bob was able to find a list of cemetery inhabitants compiled by the D.A.R., which identified Brother Anselm’s name, but not his location in the cemetery.

The caretaker knew the oldest graves were normally reserved for the poor on a hill. Given the severe poverty in which the Brothers lived at that time, they figured the hill was the place to start. They spent about two hours searching, but to no avail. The caretaker suggested that the next time they come, they should search the empty field at the foot of the hill since it was the oldest part of the cemetery with a number of graves from the 1840s.

Historical Records and Success

Bob NewlandBob Newland

The caretaker suggested they try and find out what inscription was on the tombstone, not knowing whether it would have Brother Anselm’s name or his birth name, Pierre Caillot. Bob contacted Brother George who had located a post card in the Brothers’ archives with the inscription: “Brother Anselm of the Society of St. Joseph, born in France, died in Madison, July 12, 1845.” They also read all of Anselm’s letters contained in the book which George had published. Bob and Janet were unable to visit Madison for a few months.

They returned on December 2, 2001, to the area suggested by the caretaker. Janet started at the hill again while Bob decided to search the field which appeared to be pockmarked with small clumps of leaves filling in the depression where tombstones were faintly outlined. The first two stones Bob found had dates in the 1850s. Using a trowel to uncover grass on the next stone and a few inches of soil, Bob saw the date “1845” and the word “France.” He immediately stood up and screamed at the top of his lungs, scaring not only his wife but numerous birds! They uncovered the rest of the stone (66 in x 17.5 in) and said a short prayer and took pictures. Bob contacted Brother George to relay the good news. “The inscription on the stone is pretty much as you wrote with two exceptions: the name is spelled “Anselme” and at the very bottom is written all in capital letters “PRAY FOR HIM.”


Anselm's New Stone

Br Anselm New Tombstone 2004

The theme of the 2004 Annual Conference of the Holy Cross History Association was “Pilgrimage to the Past.” The meeting was held in Evansville, Indiana. It included visits to original Holy Cross facilities and sites, St. Peter’s Church in Washington, Indiana, Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville. Special prayer services were conducted, especially one entitled “Litany of Remembrance” to honor the Seven Members of the original colony who came from France to America. Eight research papers were presented including the featured one given by Robert Newland, “Finding Brother Anselm.” The Conference’s major event was a tour bus trip to Madison, Indiana, where in a fitting ceremony a new and magnificent tombstone was unveiled and blessed to honor Brother Anselm (Pierre) Caillot, C.S.C., in Springdale Cemetery.


References

  • Godecker. Sister Mary Salesia. Simon Brute de Remur. St. Meinrad: The Abby Press, 1931.
  • Hoggatt, Ruth. Springdale Cemetery. Madison, IN: Jefferson County Historical Society, 2000.
  • Klawitter, Brother George. Adapted to the Lake. New York: Peter Lang, 1993.
  • Klawitter, Brother George. After Holy Cross. Only Notre Dame. New York: iUniverse, 2003.
  • O'Connell, Marvin. Edward Sorin. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2001.
  • William Shover, and James Obergfell. Cathedral: Seventy-Five Years. Indianapolis: Guild, 1993.