Bishop Modeste Demers, Bishop of Vancouver Island, was not easily impressed, but soon referred to Father Seghers as half of myself, and in his absences always left Seghers in charge of the diocese, even though the other five priests were his seniors in both age and experience. Because of his work, Father Seghers soon became gravely ill. On doctor's orders he went with Bishop Demers to Rome in 1869 to attend the First Vatican Council. While there, the two had a private audience with Pope Pius IX. Little over a year later Bishop Demers died.
Because the Canadian bishops hoped to join the Diocese of Vancouver Island as a suffragan to the Archdiocese of St. Boniface, Manitoba, and thus break its ties with Oregon City and the United States, they delayed the final selection of Demers' successor for almost two years. On June 29, 1873, Charles John Seghers was ordained as the second Bishop of Vancouver Island. At age thirty-three, the youngest bishop in North America was ordained by Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet of Oregon City, who, at seventy-eight, was one of North America's oldest prelates.
For the next six years, Bishop Seghers maintained the Diocese of Vancouver
expanded its influence to Nanaimo, where he established its first Catholic school. He founded the first Catholic hospital in Victoria, and set up the first permanent native mission on the west coast of Vancouver Island under Father A.J. Brabant.
But it was to Alaska that Seghers gave the most attention. Within
three weeks of his
ordination as bishop, he was on his way to that far-flung land, where he built the first Roman
Catholic mission post in the southeastern settlement of Sitka. Returning in 1877, he traversed over 2,500 miles of Alaskan territory, learned a native dialect, and experienced the extreme harshness of the climate. But by 1879, Archbishop Blanchet of Oregon City had resolved to relinquish his burden, and he could imagine no better person than the young Bishop of Vancouver Island.
Bishop Seghers was appointed to Oregon as Coadjutor Archbishop December 10, 1878, and succeeded Archbishop Blanchet on December 20, 1880. In Oregon he traveled thousands of miles preaching, teaching, confirming, and lecturing on a wide variety of subjects, from marital infidelity to alcoholism. He spoke mainly about Catholic education. Like many Roman Catholic churchmen of his day, he had a deep distrust of democracy and liberalism and, it seemed, a positive dread of state involvement in education, which he believed would be the thin wedge of communism.
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In opposing public education, he sincerely felt that the Roman Catholic church was on the side of the citizen's rights and liberty. Thus, for Archbishop Seghers, Catholic education for the Catholic youth was vital. He even went so far as to declare that without it, Catholic children would never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it, he concluded, without bitterness and without fear. His remarks probably helped to trigger an already present anti-Catholic bias in Oregon, especially a prejudice against Catholic education, which was to last well into this century. Archbishop Seghers helped to establish more schools, and encouraged and won the services of the Benedictine priests and nuns, Mount Angel Abbey being his most noteworthy addition to the educational institutions of his archdiocese.
Archbishop Seghers also held the first two Archdiocesan Synods, at which he told the clergy that while they were not there to discuss, approve, and make laws, they were encouraged by him to speak out. . . on matters and make known. . . [their] wishes and, if asked, proffer. . . opinions. He reduced the archdiocesan debt, and increased the number of priests to thirty. By 1883, the Archdiocese had forty churches.
When Bishop John Brondel, his successor on Vancouver Island, was
transferred to Helena, Montana, as its first Bishop in 1883, and a suitable
replacement could not be found, Archbishop Seghers asked for and received
permission from Pope Leo XIII to return to Vancouver Island. Alaska
had always held a fascination, and he had already established a mission
there in the southeast; now he wished to extend his efforts as far as the
Yukon. Within months of arriving in Victoria, he was on his way to
Juneau, and pressed the Sisters of St. Ann and the Jesuits to assist him
in establishing missions, which were to include a
hospital and a school, in Juneau and the Yukon.
The Jesuits warned Seghers not to take Frank Fuller as his assistant. The Dublin-born Catholic had tried for years to be accepted by the Jesuits, but the general assumption of those who knew him was that Fuller was mentally ill. Quarrelsome and usually ill-tempered, he was always convinced that others were plotting against him, and he often refused to speak to anyone for days. On September 8, 1886, Seghers left for the wilderness accompanied only by one man: Frank Fuller. Seghers soon began to realize his folly and ultimately fatal judgment, and noted in his diary on that final journey Fuller's increasingly strange behavior, and that his companion showed definite evidence of insanity.
Between 6 and 7 a.m. on November 28, 1886, in a small smokehouse where the two had spent the night in Yesetltor, Alaska (near what would eventually be dubbed Bishop's Mountain in his memory), as Charles John Seghers bent over to pick up his mittens, Frank Fuller shot him in the chest with the Archbishop's own 44-caliber Winchester rifle. Seghers, 46, died instantly. Fuller was eventually found guilty of manslaughter.
While there was little interest in any Roman Catholic evangelization of
Alaska before Seghers' death, that single dramatic event guaranteed the
establishment of Roman Catholic missions there.
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