|Bishop Augustin Verot|
Le Puy, France
|Died||June 10, 1876
St. Augustine, Florida USA
He studied at St-Sulpice, Paris, was ordained priest by Archbishop de Quelenon, September 20, 1828, subsequently joined the Society of Saint-Sulpice, and in 1830 came to Baltimore. Fr. Verot taught science, philosophy, and theology at St. Mary's College and the seminary until 1853, when, being appointed pastor at Ellicott's Mills, he started four years as a missionary. Nominated Vicar Apostolic of Florida, December 11, 1857, he was consecrated Titular Bishop of Danabe, on April 25, 1858, by Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick in the cathedral of Baltimore.
Religious conditions in Florida were disheartening, with both civil and ecclesiastical instability. The new vicarate had only three priests, so the new bishop Verot sailed for France in 1859. Returning to his native country for the first time in nearly three decades, he recruited seven additional priests for his newly Americanized diocese. The new bishop also secured funds to repair churches at St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Key West. He erected new churches at Tampa, Fernandina, Palatka, Mandarin, and Tallahassee, and staffed them with resident pastors. Bishop Verot also built Catholic schools and introduced religious communities to staff them. Five sisters from the Order of Mercy in the Diocese of Hartford (itself barely a decade old) opened a girls' academy, and three Christian Brothers from Canada opened a boys' school in St. Augustine. In July, 1861, Bishop Verot was translated to the larger See of Savannah, but kept vicaral powers over Florida.
Bishop Verot continued throughout the social upheaval caused by the American Civil War and Reconstruction. He drew particular attention for his response to President James Buchanan's proclamation of Friday, January 4, 1861 as a day for fasting and prayer. The bishop delivered a sermon defending Southern rights and slavery's legal basis as well as condemning the "false and unjust principles of Abolitionism" and the Know-Nothing movement which persecuted Catholics. His sermon was published and distributed throughout the South as a Confederate tract. However, Southern sympathizers did not draw attention to the sermon's second half, which started with a condemnation of the slave trade (consistent with Pope Gregory XVI's decree of 1839, and called for legal revisions to protect the rights of free Negroes, allow slaves freedom to choose marriage partners (and marry), and require masters to treat their slaves with justice, fairness and morality and particularly to provide them adequate food, clothing and shelter and the means to know and practice their religion. During the war, the bishop also condemned Union troops which looted the church at Amelia Island, and managed to evacuate personally several Sisters of Mercy from Jacksonville to Savannah through both opposing armies. After the war, Verot published a pastoral letter urging his people to "put away all prejudice ...against their former servants", advocated a national coordinator for evangelization among blacks, and brought in French sisters from LePuy to work with them (while acknowledging the resulting language problems).
Bishop Verot's courage and energy inspired his parishioners with patience and resolution in repairing the great losses they sustained in their religious and material interests. The Florida vicarate was elevated into a diocese in March, 1870. Bishop Verot thus became the first Bishop of St. Augustine, where he could concentrate on the work begun fourteen years previously.
Bishop Verot's initiative helped Florida materially as well as religiously. He was amongst the first to advocate it as a health resort, as well as culture of products which have since become valuable. He made an annual visitation of the whole diocese, establishing churches and schools at advantageous points, and aiming to lay a broad and solid foundation on which his successors might build. He loved to revive the memory of Florida's early martyrs, Spanish as well as French. His numerous contributions on religious and historical themes in contemporary periodicals possess permanent value; his best-known writings are his Pastoral on Slavery and his Catechism. He took a prominent part in the Plenary Council of Baltimore and the First Vatican Council.
- Michael V. Gannon, The Cross in the Sand (University of Florida, 1983) pp. 167-168.
- Gannon at pp. 168-169
- Gannon, p. 170.
- Gannon at p. 171
- Gannon at p. 174
- Cyprian Davis, History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company 1990) p. 119