Joseph Crétin

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Joseph Crétin circa 1850

Joseph Crétin (19 December 1799 – 22 February 1857) was the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Cretin Avenue in St. Paul, Cretin-Derham Hall High School, and Cretin Hall at the University of St. Thomas are named for him.

He was born in Montluel, in the département of Ain, France, 19 December 1799; he died at St. Paul, Minnesota, 22 February 1857. He made his preparatory studies in the Petits séminaires of Meximieux (Ain) and Saint-Genis-l'Argentière (Rhône), his studies of philosophy at Alix (Rhône), and of theology in the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, Paris. He was ordained priest 20 December 1823, and soon afterward was appointed vicar in the parish at Ferney, once the home of Voltaire, and eventually became its parish priest. He built there a new, beautiful church and founded a boys' college with funds gathered on a tour through France. At this period, he also revived the Catholic faith among many indifferent parishioners, who were made indifferent by the surviving influence of Descartes, and the proximity of the Protestant cantons of Switzerland. But Crétin longed for a larger field of activity; at one time he thought earnestly of going as a missionary to China. His perplexities in that regard were solved by the advent of Bishop Mathias Loras, first bishop of Dubuque, Iowa, who arrived in France in 1838 in search of priests for to evangelize his vast diocese. Crétin was one of the few who volunteered and on 16 August 1838, he secretly left his parish, embarked at Le Havre with Bishop Loras, and landed in New York in October of the same year. The winter of 1838-39 was spent in St. Louis, Missouri, and on his arrival in Dubuque, 18 April 1839, he was immediately appointed vicar-general of the new diocese. For over eleven years, he exercised his priestly ministry in these new, unopened regions, dividing his time chiefly between Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and the Winnebago Indians in the neighborhood of Fort Atkinson, in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Only once, in 1847, did he absent himself, when he made a trip to Europe in the interest of his missions. In 1850, St. Paul, Minnesota, became the seat of a new diocese. Crétin was appointed its first bishop, and went to France, to be consecrated, 26 January 1851, at Belley by Bishop Devie, who had ordained him to the priesthood.

Bishop Joseph Cretin, first Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese of St. Paul, in casket.

After having obtained some donations and several ecclesiastics for his new diocese, he returned to America and arrived in St. Paul, 2 July 1851. The same evening he made his first appearance in the log chapel of St. Paul, his first cathedral, and gave his first episcopal blessing to his flock. Within less than five months a large brick building was completed, which served as a school, a residence, and a second cathedral. Another structure, begun in 1855, was finished after his death, and served as the cathedral of St. Paul until the present Cathedral was completed in 1915. In 1853 a hospital was built; during the same year, and again in 1856 he bought land for cemetery purposes. For the instruction of children he introduced, in 1851, a community of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and in 1855, the Brothers of the Holy Family. He also planned the erection of a seminary, and always eagerly fostered vocations for the priesthood, keeping at his residence seminarians in their last period of preparation. He supported likewise the cause of temperance not only by personal example, but also by organizing, in January, 1852, the Catholic Temperance Society of St. Paul, the first of its kind in Minnesota. Another work to which he applied himself was that of Catholic colonization. With an eye to the future he endeavored to provide for the growth of his diocese by bringing Catholic immigrants from European countries to the fertile plains of Minnesota. Withal he did not neglect his ministerial and pastoral office. He was often alone in St. Paul without the help of priest, and at times travelled through the vast extent of his diocese bestowing on his people the consolations of religion. Bishop Crétin's memory is held in esteem and veneration, especially by the old settlers of St. Paul.

The text of this article is largely taken from the 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
New creation
Bishop of St. Paul
1851–1859
Succeeded by
Thomas Grace