Louis William Valentine Dubourg

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Louis William Valentine Dubourg

Archbishop of Besançon
Archbishop Louis William Valentine Dubourg.jpg
Installed29 July 1833
Term ended12 December 1833
PredecessorLouis-François-Auguste de Rohan-Chabot
SuccessorJacques-Marie-Adrien-Césaire Mathieu
Other postsApostolic Administrator of Louisiana and the Two Floridas (18 August 1812-18 September 1815)
Bishop of Louisiana and the Two Floridas (18 September 1815-14 January 1826)
Apostolic Administrator of Mississippi (19 August 1825-14 January 1826)
Bishop of Montauban (20 August 1826-29 July 1833)
Ordination20 March 1790
Consecration24 September 1815
by Giuseppe Maria Doria Pamphilj
Personal details
Born(1766-01-10)10 January 1766
Cap-Français, Saint-Domingue
Died12 December 1833(1833-12-12) (aged 67)
Besançon, Doubs, France
BuriedCathédrale Saint-Jean, Besançon, Doubs, France
ParentsPierre Dubourg & Marguerite Armand de Vogluzan

Louis William Valentine Dubourg, SS (French: Louis-Guillaume-Valentin Dubourg; 10 January, 1766–1833) was a Sulpician bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the early years of the United States. He first served as apostolic administrator and later Bishop of Louisiana and the Two Floridas, and as Vicar Apostolic of Mississippi. He was later the Bishop of Montauban and then Archbishop of Besançon in France.

Early years and education[edit]

Louis-Guillaume-Valentin Dubourg was born in the city of Cap-Français (known today as Cap-Haïtien) in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue, likely on 10 January 1766.[a] His mother was Marguerite Dubourg née Armand de Vogluzan and his father was Pierre Dubourg, who held the titles of chevalier de la Loubère et Saint-Christaud and Sieur de Rochemont.[3]

Pierre Dubourg was a merchant from Bordeaux who had relocated temporarily to Saint-Domingue. His business interests included a trading warehouse and a coffee plantation. Although the family would retain interests in the island, young Louis was sent back to France at the age of two, to live with his maternal grandparents in Bordeaux and to be educated there.[4] His early education was received at the Collège de Guyenne, a royal institution claiming a history dating back to the 3rd century.

Dubourg continued his education at the minor seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, entering on 12 October 1786.[4] Saint-Sulpice was run by the Sulpician Fathers, who were dedicated to seminary education, and maintained a major seminary for the education of the sons of the nobility and a minor seminary for the education of commoners.

Dubourg completed his course and was ordained in 1788,[5] after which he joined the Society of Saint-Sulpice. His first assignment as a new priest was to a new community at Issy, near Paris, to work in a boarding school for younger boys. As conditions deteriorated under the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, Dubourg retired at first to his family at Bordeaux, and then was forced to flee France in August 1792 for exile in Spain.

Exile and arrival at Baltimore, Maryland[edit]

Seven months after Dubourg went into exile, Spain was host to 6,322 French priests. The French clergy were suspected of Jansenism and Gallicanism, leading the King of Spain to limit their exercise of the ministry to celebrating Mass, and prohibited them from holding public office or teaching. To make matters worse, the declaration of war between Spain and France in 1793 made the French exiles enemy aliens. This combination of impediments forced French clerical exiles to seek ministries elsewhere. Needing to move on, Dubourg, while looking for a ship in 1793, found a captain who recognized him from the resemblance to his brother who, the captain informed him, had fled to Baltimore in the United States. He was part of a group of Sulpicians who took passage on the ship and landed in Baltimore,[4] then home to 1,500 French refugees from the uprising of Toussaint L'Ouverture on Saint-Domingue.

President of Georgetown College, Maryland[edit]

In Baltimore, the Sulpicians had arrived in the early 1790s, intending to found a seminary. John Carroll, Bishop of Baltimore, was hesitant to allow this, but was quick to use them as staff for his new academy, Georgetown College founded in 1789. Dubourg and his companions joined them, and arrived in Baltimore in December 1794. He was appointed to succeed Robert Molyneux as President of the college on 1 October 1796, serving until early 1799.[5] Under his administration, the curriculum expanded and the college's enrollment grew. During his tenure he hosted a visit by former President George Washington in 1797. Washington tied his horse up and entered alone. On 10 July 1798, Dubourg was a dinner guest at Washington's home in Mount Vernon. When Dubourg resigned from Georgetown he was not on good terms with the directors. Bishop John Carroll explained the origin of the problem: “He was too fond of introducing his countrymen into every department; and the Directors had too strong prejudices against every thing, which was derived, in any shape, from France ... in consequence thereof, their judgment had an involuntary bias to blame him”.[citation needed]

President of St. Mary's College, Baltimore[edit]

After an unsuccessful trip to Havana where he joined Benedict Joseph Flaget in attempted to open a school, Dubourg returned to Baltimore in August 1799 and became the first President of St. Mary's College, Baltimore,[5] where he remained for thirteen years. While in Cuba, a number of families were impressed by the Sulpicians and sent their sons with Dubourg to pursue their education in Baltimore.[6]

During his time as President, he acquired a reputation as a spendthrift while introducing some innovations. Seeing a need to obtain financing for the College, he obtained permission from the State of Maryland to run a lottery. While his own inattention to detail may have contributed to the decline of the institution, international politics also played a role. The concordat between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII provided for some re-establishment of the Catholic Church in France and led some of the French clergy to return home, thereby depleting St. Mary's faculty. Dubourg considered a return and even taking the College with him, but he remained and continued to lead the college. He again traveled to Havana in 1802, to find that the Spanish government discouraged Cuban planters sending their sons to be educated and be exposed to possible republican influences in Baltimore. He then went to New Orleans, but meeting opposition for a proposed academy, returned to Baltimore.[6]

In 1803, the Spanish government sent a frigate and ordered the return of all its subjects to their own country. The college relied heavily on students from the Caribbean, and was severely impacted by the withdrawal of Cuban students.[6] Despite these handicaps, the school survived. During his stay in Baltimore, Dubourg achieved a position of personal prominence. He was instrumental in assisting some Poor Clares, exiled from France, to open a school for girls in Georgetown. While preaching in New York, he captured the imagination of a young widow, Elizabeth Ann Seton, guiding her journey to religious life in Baltimore. He was the superior of her community of Sisters of Charity, and advised their relocation from Baltimore to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where their motherhouse and the shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton remain.

Bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas[edit]

The expansion of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase created a need for the extension of the episcopal leadership of the Church. Among other sees, Archbishop Carroll nominated Dubourg to lead the American presence of the Catholic Church in the region. Accordingly, in August 1812 the Holy See named him Apostolic Administrator of Louisiana and the Two Floridas.[7] DuBourg was confronted with several challenges when he began his ministry in the west. At the time of his arrival in New Orleans, corruption was rampant, and nowhere more so than in the Church. The dominant person in the local Church was Friar Antonio de Sedella, Rector of the Cathedral of New Orleans through appointment by the King of Spain.[b]

With Napoleon defeated, Dubourg decided to return to Europe to present the problems of the Church in Louisiana to the officials of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, the department of the Roman Curia responsible for mission territories around the world. Before leaving, Dubourg created a controversy by naming another French émigré, Louis Sibourd, administrator in his absence. Friar Antonio refused to acknowledge Sibourd's authority unless Dubourg could show he had the authority to appoint a Vicar General, as he was not a bishop. With the controversy still raging, Dubourg sailed for France on 4 May 1815, arriving in Bordeaux in July, shortly after the Battle of Waterloo. The subsequent occupation of France by the Allied forces made travel difficult. Dubourg sent correspondence to Rome explaining the situation in New Orleans. The newly freed Pope Pius VII responded with a letter to Archbishop Carroll confirming Sibourd as Vicar General. Forthcoming was Dubourg’s appointment as bishop, followed by his consecration on 24 September 1815, at the Church of Saint Louis of the French in Rome.[7]

In the course of his trip, Dubourg proceeded to recruit for his diocese. In northern Italy his appeal among the Congregation of the Mission, the Vincentians,[8] led to his first recruit, Felix de Andreis. DeAndreas then recruited Joseph Rosati who, in time, would be the first Bishop of St. Louis and builder of what is now known as the Old Cathedral. Among other clergy who volunteered to serve were Leo-Raymond de Neckere and Antoine Blanc, who would become successive Bishops of New Orleans and Michael Portier who would become Bishop of Mobile. The scandals of Sedella induced Mother Marie Oliver, Superior of the Ursuline nuns back in France, to consider removal of her Sisters from New Orleans, but Dubourg talked her into, not only permitting them to stay, but sending nine postulants.

In January 1817, Dubourg visited Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat to ask her to send some of her Religious of the Sacred Heart to educate the girls of his diocese. One enthusiastic volunteer was the 47-year-old Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne, who led a group of four sisters in pursuit of her dream of teaching the Native Americans. Both of these women are now honored as saints. Joining the group were three members of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He also collected art work which currently graces the Basilica of Saint Louis in Missouri and the Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. As Bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas he made St. Louis his episcopal headquarters from 1817 to 1820.[8]

Serving the Church in St. Louis, Missouri[edit]

Dubourg left Bordeaux with more than two dozen supporters on 1 July 1817, arriving at Annapolis on September 4. Traveling by stage and steamboat, Dubourg first reached Missouri on 28 December at Fenwick’s Settlement near the mouth of Apple Creek. They moved on to Ste. Genevieve where he said the first Pontifical Mass in his diocese on 1 January 1818. He moved on to Cahokia, where a mounted patrol of 40 accompanied him to St. Louis, Missouri, on 5 January 1818, where he was installed in the church which was described as “a kind of miserable barn falling into ruins". A town which had not had even a resident pastor was now the home of an extraordinary bishop and would soon be flooded with missionaries.

St. Louis in 1817 was a small episcopal see as the city did not extend beyond Third Street, had no resident pastor and no proper cathedral. Dubourg made a request that St. Louis prepare to raise funds for the erection of a cathedral, for support for the missionaries and to reimburse him for the journey. Dubourg achieved four goals: the building of an adequate church and strengthening of the organization of the Saint Louis parish, the founding of an academy for boys under the guidance of diocesan priests, a girls school under the Religious of the Sacred Heart, and a missionary effort among the Indians.[citation needed]

Dubourg invited Mother Duchesne to establish, in 1818, an academy in St. Charles and then Florissant. That same year, Dubourg founded St. Louis Academy, which later evolved into Saint Louis University. [9] Dubourg established a seminary under the auspices of the Vincentians in St. Louis and Perryville.[10] Three Christian Brothers were sent to staff Ste. Genevieve Academy on 3 January 1819. That same year Dubourg addressed the issue of the appointment of coadjutor bishops to assist in his large diocese. In this he betrayed an incredible string of bad judgment. He first nominated Louis Sibourd, whom he had named Vicar General when he went to Europe. for the northern part of the diocese. This request was denied by Rome due to Sibourd’s age. Dubourg raised the issue of appointing Sedella as Vicar General, but Sedella declined the offer. In his letter, Sedella gave his age and the preposterous situation in which the ordinary would be in the village of St. Louis, while a coadjutor would be in New Orleans. This letter may have played a role in Dubourg's move back to New Orleans. In 1822, Dubourg left St. Louis with an unfinished church and an unresolved issue about preaching to the growing English-speaking population.[citation needed]

In 1823, Dubourg made a further contribution to the development of St. Louis. A financial crisis in Maryland forced a group of Belgian Jesuits to seek a new home. Dubourg seized the opportunity by taking advantage of a “faith-based initiative” of the Federal government by applying for a funding for an Indian school. The grant was approved, and seven pioneer Jesuits, most prominent among them the renowned Indian missionary Pierre De Smet, moved their ministry to St. Louis. Dubourg situated them on a farm in Florissant in the vicinity of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. A few years later these same Jesuits would take over Saint Louis College, the successor of Saint Louis Academy which later evolved into the current Saint Louis University.[10]

In 1825, Dubourg was appointed by Rome as the Vicar Apostolic for the State of Missouri. In his new post, he rejected the claim by one Abbé Segura as pastor of the Red Church of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. Segura had left the Diocese of Aire in France without an exeat, proving his good standing as a priest. Dubourg had ordered Segura to secure this document, and with that the parish would be his. Ignoring Dubourg's order, but with the support of the local community, Segura began officiating in the parish. Dubourg condemned this decision by Segura and the church wardens, but Segura remained in the post until the appointment of de Neckere as Bishop of New Orleans in 1830.[11] In 1826 Dubourg made his last trip to Missouri, visiting Perryville, Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis where he attempted, and thought that he succeeded, in suppressing Saint Louis College. He left St. Louis by steamboat and traveled to Europe where he resigned his posts in America.

Return to France[edit]

The Catholic Church in France was then recovering from the Napoleonic era and Dubourg was appointed Bishop of Montauban, where he served for seven years before becoming the Archbishop of Besançon in eastern France.

Dubourg died on 12 December 1833, aged 67, after living less than a year in Besançon. He was buried in his cathedral.


  • Bishop Dubourg High School, St. Louis, Missouri.[10]


  1. ^ Some sources identify his date of birth as 14 February or 16 February, 1766.[1][2]
  2. ^ Friar Antonio is popularly remembered in New Orleans as Père Antoine, whose ghost is claimed to walk an alley alongside the cathedral.



  1. ^ Clarke 1872, p. 205
  2. ^ Chambon 1909
  3. ^ Burch 1999
  4. ^ a b c Clarke, Richard Henry. "Most Rev. William Louis Dubourg, D.D.", Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States, Vol. 1, P. O'Shea, 1872, p. 205 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ a b c Chambon, Célestin. "Louis-Guillaume-Valentin Dubourg." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 14 January 2019
  6. ^ a b c Murray, John O'Kane. "Most Rev. Louis William Dubourg, D.D.", The Catholic Pioneers of America, H.L. Kilner, 1882, p. 205
  7. ^ a b "Archbishop Louis-Guillaume-Valentin Dubourg, P.S.S."
  8. ^ a b "Archbishops of St. Louis", Archdiocese of St. Louis
  9. ^ "Timeline of Saint Louis University". Saint Louis University. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Bishop Dubourg High School, St. Louis, Mo.
  11. ^ Yoes, Henry E. III (2005). Louisiana's German Coast: A History of St. Charles Parish (2nd ed.). Lake Charles, LA: Racing Pigeon Digest. p. 104.



  • Bowden, Henry Warner. Dictionary of American Religious Biography, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977; ISBN 0-8371-8906-3
  • Christensen, Lawrence O. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, MO and London: University of Missouri Press, 1999; ISBN 0-8262-1222-0
  • Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1967
  • Annabelle M. Melville, Louis William Dubourg: Bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas, Bishop of Montauban, and Archbishop of Besancon, 1766-1833, Loyola University Press, 1986; ISBN 0-8294-0529-1

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Robert Molyneux
3rd President of Georgetown College
Succeeded by
Leonard Neale