Dominican Foundations in Kentucky        


 History of St. Rose Priory 
 More Photos 
Saint Rose Church is in the left center of the foreground. The upper lake is clearly visible, but the lower one to the right of it is hidden by trees. The water tower is no longer used. Saint Catharine Motherhouse and College are in the background on the right. Today, much of the land is leased to the Medley family for cattle and tobacco farming.
 View Map of US Settlement Patterns (1800) 

1804   Edward Dominic Fenwick Arrives in U.S.

Edward Dominic Fenwick
The initial move toward founding a Dominican province in the United States was made by Edward Dominic Fenwick O.P., an American descendant of early Maryland colonists, who had been sent to Europe for study. When he returned to Maryland he wanted to establish a  seminary. However,  Bishop Carroll opposed his plan, opting instead to send him to the western frontier of his diocese where settlers were in  desperate need of priests. It seems that the bishop did not want a seminary competing with Georgetown College, which he himself had founded in 1789.

In 1804, the only priest in Kentucky was the zealous, eccentric French missionary, Stephen Theodore Badin. He had been ordained by Bishop Carroll in 1793, the first priest ordained in the United States, and proudly signed his myriad letters as "Stephen Vincent Badin, Proto-Priest." Assigned to Kentucky after ordination, he served there alone, occasionally helped by itinerant clergy. He joined the crescendo of pleas from his people to the Bishop of Baltimore, which by 1804 convinced Bishop Carroll to send Fenwick and his Dominican Brothers.

1805   Founding of A Province of Four Friars


History of St. Joseph Province

by John A. Langlois, O.P.
 Click Here 
The Dominican Province of St. Joseph was formally erected in May, 1805 by the Master of the Order, Pius Joseph Gaddi. Existing on paper alone at this point, the province contained not a single house and numbered only four friars, three of whom had yet to arrive on the scene. Fenwick, the only American in the group, would be superior. Joining him would be the English friars Samuel Wilson, William Tuite and Robert Angier. Normally, a new province is not formally erected until a number of foundations within the new territory have been made. An already established province assumes responsibility for the new foundations, providing men and financial support. However, the English province at the beginning of the nineteenth century was itself struggling for survival and could little afford to support a new venture in the United States. Fenwick and his companions were left to build the province completely from their own resources.
 SOURCE: John A. Langlois, O.P., The Province of St. Joseph: A Brief History

1806   Establishment of St. Rose Priory

The friars established their community at St. Rose priory near Bardstown, Kentucky. The community was dedicated to the first Dominican saint of the Americas, Rose of Lima. It was here that the Dominican Province of St. Joseph was established in 1806.

Historical marker at
St. Rose, Kentucky



1807   The Founding of St. Thomas College

"The College Idea in the History of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph"

 A chronology of higher education to 1865 
by James Walker, O.P.
At St. Rose, the friars also established a school for young boys and for youths interested in joining the Order of Preachers. The Dominicans named this pioneer educational institution the College of St. Thomas Aquinas. It was open to boys eight to sixteen with tuition $125 a year. One of the best known pupils to attend St. Thomas was the future President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis, who for a time was the only Protestant boy at the school.
 SOURCE: Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation (1786-1865).

1811   Creation of the Bardstown Diocese

In 1811, the Dominicans welcomed to the ecclesiastical outpost of Kentucky the first bishop on the western frontier, Benedict Joseph Flaget. In the Bardstown diocese the friars served as itinerant preachers, instructors in their school, and pastors of the earliest parishes formed in the wilderness.

The people responded favorably to their pastoral ministry, finding their practices more acceptable than the rigorous ones of the veteran French missionary Stephen Theodore Badin and his Belgian co-worker Charles Nerinckx.
 SOURCE: Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation (1786-1865)

 U.S. History Timeline

 1820   Missouri Compromise: 

In an effort to maintain the balance between free and slave states, Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) is admitted as a free state so that Missouri can be admitted as a slave state; except for Missouri, slavery is prohibited in the Louisiana Purchase lands north of latitude 3630'.


1822   Foundation of the Sisters of St.Magdalene, KY
           (Sisters of St. Catharine)

Angela Sansbury
The Foundress of Dominican Sisters in the United States
While launching the foundation of the friars in the United States Edward Fenwick hoped to have American sisters to share in their mission. This hope was realized in 1822 when nine young women, answering the call of the provincial Samuel Thomas Wilson, became the first American Dominican Sisters, today known as the Congregation of St. Catharine of Siena. Angela
Historical marker at St. Catharine, Kentucky
Sansbury was the first to make her religious profession, and was elected to lead the community as prioress.

The founding members began their common life in a crowded log cabin near Cartwright Creek. They wore a religious habit in their convent but when traveling they used the dress of the day. In 1823, they opened a school in a small "still house" building formerly used to make hard liquor. They enrolled fifteen pupils at St. Mary Magdalen, the name they gave to their new school.

 SOURCE: Paschala Noonan, O.P., Signadou: History of the Kentucky Dominican Sisters

1826, 1829   Early Members of the Third Order

The foundations laid by Edward Fenwick included not only friars and sisters, but also members of the Dominican Laity, then known as the Third Order. In 1807, the year after the beginnings in Kentucky, Fenwick wrote to Luke Concanen in Rome to ask about receiving men and women as lay Dominicans. He said, "I think the Third Order, if I understand it well, might be established with benefit to the pious people and much honour to our Lord."

Little is known about the first lay Dominicans in the United States. Among their sparse records from the early nineteenth century is that of the reception of one Betsy Wells by the Dominican friars at St. Rose in 1826. Another, in 1829, records the reception of two men, George Shock and John Roi, into the Third Order.

CREDITS: The timeline is based primarily on the contents of THE ORDER OF PREACHERS IN THE UNITED STATES, edited by Mary Nona McGreal O.P. and published by Editions du Signe of Strasbourg. Vol. I, Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation: 1786-1865, published in 2001, is available from PROJECT OPUS, 5082 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60644 Another source is the article by M.N.McGreal in the Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, requested by Michael Glazier and published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. The original content of the book and article has been edited and adapted into a time-line format using photos and other resources on the web.
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Don Kania, OP