Benjamin Petit

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Benjamin Marie Petit
Born (1811-04-08)April 8, 1811
Rennes, Brittany, France
Died February 10, 1839(1839-02-10) (aged 27)
Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Other names Chichipe-Outipe (Little Duck)
Education University of Rennes (law) and Saint-Sulpice Seminary
Church Roman Catholic
Ordained October 14, 1837 in Vincennes, Indiana [1]
Title Priest; Missionary to the Potawatomis
External images Fr. Benjamin Petit, 1838, from an oil portrait by artist George Winter.

Benjamin Marie Petit (April 8, 1811 – February 10, 1839) was a Catholic missionary sent to the Potawatomi nation of Native Americans in Indiana in 1837. A native of Rennes in Brittany, Petit was trained as a lawyer at the University of Rennes, then studied for the priesthood at the Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris. In 1836, he came to the United States, along with a number of other priests, deacons and seminarians, among them Anthony Deydier, to work with Bishop Simon Bruté in Indiana. Also a native of Rennes, Bruté ordained Petit as a priest in 1837 and sent him to work among the Potawatomi.

Removal of the Potawatomi[edit]

In 1838, when the United States forced the removal of a band of 859 Potawatomi from the vicinity of Plymouth, Indiana, to the present-day site of Osawatomie, Kansas, Petit accompanied them on most of the two-month march, now called the Potawatomi Trail of Death. More than 40 of the Potawatomi died of disease and the stress of the march. Petit himself became ill during the march. Because of the needs of the Bishop of Vincennes, Simon Brute, Petit was recalled to Vincennes. Fr. Robert Gorman, former archivist of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, wrote in his unpublished history of the diocese:

"...he [Brute] wrote to Benjamin Petit on the Osage River, recalling him to Vincennes. Petit, who had overtaken the Indians at Danville on September 16, 1838, arrived with them at their reservation on the Osage on November 4, 1838. In the course of the march along the trail of death about 150 Indians had deserted or perished. On his arrival, Petit himself was suffering from a serious illness caused by fever and exhaustion, which lasted during the two months he stayed at the Osage. Brute's letter arrived on December 23, 1838 and, having completed arrangements to transfer his charge to the Jesuit missionary, Christian Hoecken, who hitherto had worked on the Kickapoo mission. Petit, accompanied by an Indian, started on his return on horseback, January 2, 1839. After 150 miles of this mode of travel he found it impossible to go on and got on the stage which carried him to Jefferson City. The route from this point to St. Louis was traversed in an open wagon in the rain and over bad roads. On January 15, 1839 he arrived at the Jesuit College in St. Louis in the last stages of debility, with many running sores on his body, which was completely jaundiced by the fever. Three days later he wrote to Brute informing him of his location and condition. He hoped for recovery but died in less than a month, on February 10, 1839. On the receipt of the news in Vincennes Brute celebrated a solemn requiem in the cathedral on Monday, February 18, 1839 and delivered a touching, eulogy on his favorite missionery who was known as the Seraphic Benjamin Petit. The immense charity and tragic story of Petit were long remembered and left their mark on the diocese."[2]

In his book The Trail of Death, Irving McKee writes in his conclusion:

"Father Petit did not live to see his Bishop again. Exhausted by his strenuous journey and weakened by successive attacks of fever, he died at St. Louis on February 10, 1839. He was not quite twenty nine years old." [3]

Father Petit died in the Jesuit seminary building at 9th and Washington Streets and was buried in the old cemetery at 7th Street and St. Charles Avenue. In 1856 the cemetery was moved to make way for downtown St. Louis. At that time, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. took Father Petit's body back to Indiana. Father Petit's remains rest under the Log Chapel at the University of Notre Dame. Because of his service to the Potawatomi, Petit is remembered by the Catholic Church as a martyr of charity.


  1. ^ Petit was ordained by Simon Bruté, first bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. Like Bruté, Petit was a graduate of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris.
  2. ^ Gorman, Robert, Unpublished History of the Diocese of Indianapolis, undated. [Original located in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis]
  3. ^ McKee, Irving, The Trail of Death, Indianapolis, 1941.

External links[edit]