The American Catholic Almanac, co-written by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, is a daily reader of stories about fascinating — and sometimes unexpected — American Catholics. From before the American founding through the present day, the book follows saints and sinners, heroes, children, politicians, athletes, and artists who all have one thing in common: their Catholic faith. Get your copy here!
The house, despite its generous proportions, was full past overflowing. Canadian trappers perched in the windows. Native Americans filled the lawn outside. Even the Protestants of Sault Sainte Marie came out on June 23, 1833, eager to hear the baby-faced man in black preach the Gospel and offer the Mass.
Properly speaking, as a Dominican, the man in black—Father Samuel Mazzuchelli—should have worn white. But when Mazzuchelli arrived in Wisconsin three years before, he discovered that the natives still spoke reverently of the “Black Robes”—the Jesuits who left the region decades earlier. With the permission of his bishop, Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati, the priest exchanged his white robes for black, thereby enhancing his credibility with the Chippewa, Menominee, Winnebago, and Potawatomi Indians he’d come to evangelize.
Mazzuchelli was only 23 then. He arrived in America still a deacon, was quickly ordained by Fenwick, then sent north, by himself, to serve as the lone priest in a territory half the size of his native Italy.
In the three years since his arrival, he’d kept busy—rebuilding an abandoned church in Mackinac, building a new church in Green Bay, translating textbooks into Menominee, and opening schools for Native Americans and European immigrants. He also traveled thousands of miles to catechize Catholics who hadn’t seen a priest since their baptism, perform marriages, hear confessions, say Mass, and baptize new converts.
Administering the sacraments would eventually take Mazzuchelli across Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Over the next 30 years, he would build more than 20 churches, design the Iowa Old Capitol Building in Iowa City, found more schools, teach oil painting and astronomy, advocate for the rights of Native Americans, and bring untold numbers into the Church.
The Apostle of the Upper Midwest contracted pneumonia in 1864, while caring for the sick of his Wisconsin parish. He died that February. Pope John Paul II, 129 years later, conferred upon Mazzuchelli the title, “Venerable.”