from A Living History of Perry County by James Mosby
The mission of Leopold was established in 1838 by the Reverend Julian Benoit, who resided in Derby at the time. A few months after building the Chapel in what is now Leopold, Father Benoit moved from Derby to the Chapel and from there ministered to the people in the area. In order to ensure growth of the area, Father Benoit, in the winter of 1840, wrote to friends in France, Germany and Belgium, asking that they induce emigrants coming to America to settle in this area where "good land could be got for $1.25 an acre, and where the priest speaks their language." In the spring of the same year, Father Benoit was sent to Fort Wayne and was replaced by the Reverend Augustine Bessonies. Much of the land was still covered with forests and the clearings were few. Father Bessonies bought forty acres of land to lay out a town and measured out one hundred lots. This was done in the year 1842. As many settlers were from Belgium, Father Bessonies named the town Leopold for the king of Belgium. He also built a log church which he called St. Augustine, after his own patron saint. Other structures were a log school house, a store, a black smith shop and a post office. Father Bessionies was appointed the first postmaster by James K. Polk. A second church was built soon after the Civil War. In 1897 the first mission was conducted by the Reverend F. X. Weniger, S. J., who preached in three languages: French, German and English.
Three Benedictine Sisters from Ferdinand came in September 1898 to teach in the school. The venture did not succeed, for the mission was given up at the end of the school year in May, 1899. The Sisters taught religion classes in the springtime for many years, and prepared the children for reception of the sacraments. This work was later done by the Sisters from Our Lady of Grace Convent, Beech Grove.
Father Bessonies was held in affectionate esteem by people "of every religion or of none," for his many virtues and for his winning disposition and very evident love of the flock entrusted to him. He was a veritable "circuit rider" with a weekly schedule serving the missions which seems unbelievable. A volume could be filled with tales of the thrilling and pathetic incidents of his career in the wilderness.
There is a statue in St. Augustine's church that has historical significance as well as religious interest. Only two other such statues are in existence. The original one is a village church in the Duchy of Luxemburg, Belgium and the other in Carey, Ohio. The state in Carey and the one in St. Augustine's are exact replicas of the original famed state, "Our Lady of Consolation" in Belgium.
The statue in Leopold church represents a sacred vow made by three young men from the town, Henry Devillez, Lambert Rogier and Isadore Naviaus. During the Civil War, while being held in the notorious Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia, these three young men made a vow that if they were released and would reach home they would return to their native land of Luxemburg, Belgium and have a replica of the state and have it brought back to America and enshrined in St. Augustine's church. This they did and the state was given a place or honor on the side alter of St. Augustine's Church in Leopold.
In the year 1900, Father Mattingly started a parochial school in Leopold. It was taught by the Sisters of Providence from St. Mary of the Woods in a rented house for seven or eight months. This undertaking was given up as impractical since the pupils were so widely scattered.
In 1844 a log schoolhouse was set up. Private subscription schools were held in the log school house up to 1851, when the Indiana Public Free School system began with a public school teacher conducting the school.
The second church at Leopold was built of log under the direction of Father Bessonies in 1842-43. The stone in the present parish yard marks its location.
The present stone church originated in 1866 and was completed in 1873. It measures 115x45 feet, and is built of sandstone which was found below Leopold and on what was the Rennie place beyond. The foundation began when Father Philip Ducron was there. The walls were raised by Rev. John Brassert 1867-1869. There were delays and difficulties until the roof was added and enclosed by Rev. Philip Doyle 1869-72. It was not used until 1873.
The stone was hauled from below the town hill by means of teams of oxen. The ones who moved the stone contracted to do so for $300.
The Georges were the stone masons employed on the first part of the building; a contractor from Louisville, KY finished the work. By this time people were discouraged and heavily in debt, and the church was about to be sold for debt.
Rev. John Unersagt, a native of Badin, Germany, came in 1872. History says he was the man for the times. He had been a missionary in Africa, a chaplain in the arm and was a man of decision.
There was not only discontent, there was open rebellion on the part of some who joined with forbidden secret societies and openly ridiculed religion and the pastor. Rev. Unversagt restored order and best of all the entire debt was paid off while he was there. The new stone church was first used since he was responsible for moving the altars and pews from the log church into the new.
it was thirty years before the tower and spire were finished by Rev. Joseph Thie. He also purchased the chimes of bells. When Father Boland came he replaced the rock floor with one of wood, added better altars and changed the heating plant. Up until this time the church had been heated by a large pot-bellied stove with a series of pipes held up by wires and out the flue. The new heating unit was hot water and steam produced by a coal furnace housed in an outside building. Coal is no longer used and an oil burning furnace has replaced it.
The church was originally built with huge pillars supporting the roof. These had been removed along the line sometime previous to this. There was much controversy that this weakened the structure, but the excuse given for their removal was that some of the parishioners slept behind the pillars.
At this time Paul Claudel and his sister Ann, gave money for some new statues, one of the Virgin Mary and one of the Sacred Heart. About 1877-80 when Father Hypolite Pierrard was at Leopold, the King of Belgium was pleased to know that a good Belgian family had a son, pastor of the church here. He sent vestments, a monstrance and a set of candle holders worth $1500 as a donation to the church at Leopold.
There have been resident doctors at Leopold from time to tome, but none who served the community as long and faithfully as Dr. John E. Taylor. he died in 1950, and since that time people have gone to Tell City, Cannelton or English for medical service.
The first resident physician was Dr. Crumb. He was assisted by Dr. Hiram Curry who lived at Rono. Dr. Spiedel, once resident at Leopold, gave my father, Eugene Marcilliat violin lessons. Dr. McAdams and Dr. Ross were also here for a while. Dr. Ross was killed in Cuba during the Cuban Insurrection, where he was serving with the U.S. Army. Dr. Lomax, Bristow; Dr. Slaught, Dr. Bennett, Derby, were frequently called to administer to the people. Dr. Miller and Dr. John Taylor were both living in Leopold about 1908-1910. Dr. Miller moved to French Lick and Dr. Taylor continued on alone. He made calls on horseback for a long time, but was the first person to own a car at Leopold. Father Boland and Wm. Ward soon followed his example and bought cars.
Dr. Kaisor, before becoming established in Tell City, divided some time between Derby and Leopold around 1906-1908.
When Highway 37 was completed it left Leopold a mile off of the improved road. Father Omer Eisenman sponsored the building of a road which connects with 37.
A third major disaster happened April 21, 1922, when a tornado hit Leopold early in the morning, and did extensive damage. One of the hardest hit places was the house which is now the site of the Leopold Post Office. This house belonging at the time to Mr. and Mrs. W.m Devilles, was lifted from its foundation and moved a few feet.
James N. Ward's store and house combined were completely demolished. The store belonging to the Henry Kannapel family, located in what was formerly the Cody property was badly damaged when one side wall was torn partly away from the main structure.
St. Augustine's Church was heavily damaged when portions of the roof and a heavy beam were ripped away from the building.
Mr. Ward rebuilt his store and home in which the the Ernest Guilliaue family live and maintain a store. The house, where the Post Office is now, was put back in good condition and St. Augustine's Church was repaired.
Another disaster happened about 1908 or 1910 when the Yaggi dance hall burned. It had been condemned as a meeting place due to its condition and as being a fire hazard. It burned when snow was on the ground. Some household goods belonging to Mrs. Eliza Yaggi and her daughters were saved.
It has been reported that there were four saloons in Leopold at the same time:
1. The Joe Yaggi Saloon on the site that is the Post Office.
2. The Thomas Cody Saloon in the back section of a general store
3. One in what was know as the Speed Hall across from Dr. Taylor's residence.
4. Another in the Roosevelt Sprinkle property.
There were other saloon keepers of an earlier date. One of the very first saloons was operated in the old Victor Devillez house. It was built as a long house one room following another. The end room facing east toward town was once a saloon.
Another early saloon was located on the corner where the Joan Edwards home stands. This was operated by Louie Goffinet.
Many of the old men on their way to church on Sundays stopped for a little refreshment. It was a common complaint by the priest that they should start earlier in order to get to mass on time.
Among other tavern keepers were: Peter Goffinet, Andrew Flamion, Theodore Doogs, Charles Solbrig, C. L. Solbrig, John M. Kelly. The present owner of the only tavern in town, located on what was the Cody property is Julius Franchville.
This sounds as if this may have been a community of alcoholics. This was not true, as much of their clients came from surrounding country.
Beer was consumed on the spot, but whiskey was finished off then or purchased by the gallon to take home. Whiskey was used for medicinal purposes. It was also commonly used at house warmings, barn raisings, log rollings and threshings, as a refreshment. In early times it sold for twelve and one half cents a gallon.
Statue of Our Lady
Following the tornado of 1922, when the present church was damaged so heavily, Rev. Pierce Dixon came to Leopold. It fell upon him to have the church repaired. this brings us to the little statue of Our Lady of Consolation. This had been in the church on the left side of the altar, except for a period of a few years, where it was placed following the Civil War.
As stated before, Father Boland had received money from the Claudel's for new statues. We may presume he thought the old one a bit dated or didn't delve into the history of it too far. The little statue of the Civil War days was placed in a box back of the main alter and the new one went up instead. Relatives of the men who had procured the statue in the first place were indignant. Some even refused to come to church.
In the course of repairing the church, Father Dixon came upon the statue in the box, exclaiming, "We have something here worth a million!" That story flew and many wondered if the church had suddenly fallen heir to a fortune.
As the church was repaired the Statue of Our Lady regained its place on the side altar where it now rests. Although the story has been told many times, it is worth retelling.
During the Civil War, which occurred 1861-1864, many Union soldiers were captured and held in a military prison at Andersonville, Georgia. In that lot were four men from Leopold in Perry County. They were: Henry Devilliz, Lambert Rogier, Isadore Naviaux and Xavier Rogier.
Many men were ill and suffered from lack of water and food. Xavier Rogier became sick and died in his brother's arms. His brother held him for a long time, because it was so crowded and he dreaded to lay him down.
They prayed together and decided to provide the money to procure a statue of Our Lady of Consolation if they were spared and able to return home to Leopold safely. This they were able to do and they entrusted Bishop John George to go to Luxembourg along with Henry Devillez and a son to get the statue. The original such statue is in Luxembourg and has quite a long history dating back to 1666.
It may be interesting to note here how Mr. George acquired the name Bishop. He attended school at St. Meinrad for a while. When he came home at vacation time, some wag said, "Hmm--Father John." Whereupon Mr. George answered, "It's not Father John, it's Bishop John!" He carried the name forever after.
I once asked my grandmother, Mary Meunier Grave, why Mr. George did so many things for people. She explained that he knew his way around better than most, and could speak two or three languages. So he was picked as an emissary for the people many times.
To go back to our story, these men made the trip to Luxembourg and returned with the statue. It was placed upon the side altar where it now stands.
It was my privilege when I attended High School at Leopold to be at the Pierrard home for dinner one day when Bishop John George was a guest of theirs. He was an elderly man then and was almost blind. The thing that I remember in listening to his conversation was the fact that they had taken the statue apart and concealed the parts in different ways at the port of entry. At the time I couldn't understand why they concealed the statue or parts of it. Certainly trying to avoid custom's officials didn't seem right for a mission such as theirs. Since that time I have run across a note in history saying the crown was concealed because they were afraid someone might steal it for the jewels. For those of you who have never seen the statue, it is very unique. It is carved of wood and the body just extends to low hip depth. When it is set on a pedestal with long skirts, this isn't apparent. The arms are made with slots filled with wooden pins for ease in dressing. There is a spike about three inches long on the Virgin's head to hold the crown in place. The statue is unusual in that it can be dressed as one would dress a doll. The Virgin and infant are dressed in similar material.
Different people have made clothes for them. A Mrs. Raymond Peter from Ohio reportedly cut up her wedding dress to make clothes for Our Lady and her Son. She fashioned these after those used at the shrine at Carey, Ohio. The dress lately seen on it was made by Mrs. Celine Kelly.
There is only one other statue like this and that one is at Carey, Ohio. There is nothing to keep someone from making replicas of it.
These things sets the one at Leopold and that at Cary, apart:
1. They both came from Luxembourg.
2. They are hand carved of wood.
3. Both were touched to the base of the original in Luxembourg.
Father Moll was instrumental in setting up the outdoor shrine to Our Lady of consolation. Mr. and Mrs. Albert Flamion give the money for the statue. This was carved by a stone artist in Italy using certain specifications Father Moll provided and having a picture of the original to guide him. This cost approximately $1200. Others gave sizable gifts, too, so the shrine is a gift of many good Leopold people.
For several years outdoor pilgrimages have been held at the shrine in the month of May. These have been discontinued for the time being due to the heavy schedule Father Moll has with no assistance.
Another task that Bishop John George performed for the people around Leopold was to make trips to the Orphanage at Vincennes to get orphans to live with different families. In those days all that was necessary to place these orphans was for the family to be respectable and responsible, and able to provide clothing and food. One such orphan was a girl by name of Katie Pettigrew. She lived at the home of James Grave, Sr. Later she married and became Mrs. Calloway.
First a church of logs hewed from the forest
Built in the honor of God and His Holy name.
From logs to church of sandstone our forefathers built.
With chisel, hammer and stone was cut to last through the ages.
Rafters hand hewed from the forest's stately trees,
Stone hauled by oxen and slide.
Walls laid by human hands like pyramids of old.
With these hands and strength of heart,
St. Augustine was built to last forever.
A footnote of the past and hope of the future.
The witness of man's courage of love of God.
That shall live in the heart of this land they came,
To the glory of God with their hands built a church
And called it St. Augustine.
St. Augustine, built of logs before 1840. A stone marking the location of the altar of the small building is almost directly in front, about 200 feet from the door of the present massive stone church. The stone from a quarry nearby was cut by chisel and hammer by hand. The stone was placed on slides drawn by ox team. The stone was cut so that little mortar was needed.
The stone was lifted in place by hoist and shoved up ramps like the pyramids of old. The rafters and beams were hand hewed from trees on the little place. The walls of the interior were finished by local people. The church was refinished in 1927. The Our Lady of Consolation was purchased by the Civil War soldiers in prison in Andersonville prison. After the the Civil War one of the men returned.
Our Lady of Consolation
This history of the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation at Leopold, Indiana, began on September 19, 1863, at the battle of Chicamauga during the Civil War. The Union forces were defeated and many prisoners were taken. They were sent to the prison at Andersonville, Georgia. This Prison became known as a maniac's nightmare because of the brutal treatment of the prisoners. Over 14,000 northern soldiers died there from starvation or disease, were maimed by bloodhounds or beaten by their crazed and starved fellow prisoners. At the war's end the officer in charge of the camp, Captain Henry Wirtz, was tried by a military court and sentenced to hang.
Among those prisoners in this horror-ridden camp were three young men of Perry County, Indiana, members of St. Augustine's Church of Leopold. These men were Lambert Rogier, henry Devillez, and Isadore Naviaux. Being men of faith, they turned to their Holy Faith for consolation and to Our Blessed Mother for help. Henry Devillez had come from Belgium as a boy of fourteen and well remembered the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in the Duchy of Luxemburg. So in their sore affliction they made a sacred vow that one of them would return to their native land, if released from this filthy prison, and have a replica of the Statue of Our Lady of Consolation made and bring it back to St. Augustine's Church in Leopold, Indiana.
After almost eleven months as prisoners they found themselves free and after many hardships they reached their homes in Perry County.
Now began the business of fulfilling their vow. There was a man living at Troy, Indiana, John P. George, who made frequent trips back to Belgium. Knowing this, Lambert Rogier contacted him and in his company made the trip overseas to Luxemburg, where they had made an exact replica of the Statue of Our Lady of Consolation. This new statue was brought back by Mr. Rogier, arriving in New York on July 4, 1967. Thence it was transported to Leopold and enshrined on the side altar of St. Augustine's Church. There it stands today, a memorial to those men and a consolation to the many who come to pray at Mary's feet.
Devotion to Our Lady of Consolation, as it is practiced at Her Shrine in Leopold, is of a much earlier date than the founding of the Shrine in 1867. It had its origin in the early 17th century in the little Duchy of Luxemburg. it was on May 10, 1628 that devotion to Our Lady of Consolation had its formal beginning. On that date there was consecrated a small chapel in honor of Our Lady of Consolation outside the city of Luxemburg, capital of the country which is know for its national devotion to Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted. While this chapel was in the building state one of the worst catastrophes of the ages struck, the bubonic plague. Scores of people were stricken suddenly by the disease, suffered, and died. The death toll was so staggering that one historian, writing of the times, had to say, "Neither grave diggers nor cemeteries could be found adequate to bury the many dead." In their anguish and dread of death the people fervently invoked the aid of Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted.
Father Broquart, the priest in charge of building the chapel, contracted the plague himself and while he lay dying he made a vow to Our Blessed Mother that if he were spared and allowed to finish the work he would dedicate the chapel to Our Lady of Consolation. His fever subsided and he recovered. He resumed the building of the chapel, and when it was finished and dedicated, he had placed on the altar a statue of Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted.
Many and varied cures of sick people were soon attributed to the prayers offered at the Shrine. Many of these cures have been recognized by the Church as true miracles.
The statue itself is an image of our Blessed Mother holding the boy Jesus on her arm. Each figure wears gorgeous crown of jewels and is dressed in a white dress and blue cape. Mary holds in her hand a scepter by which she declares her power as Queen of heaven and earth. A silver heart is suspended from her arm to show her love for the Divine Son she holds. The long key, with the teeth forming the monogram for "Ave Maria" symbolizes her ready access tot he treasury of God's grace. The Child in her am holds a ball and cross in His hand to show His Divinity and the supreme dominion over the world, and that through the Cross, He brought salvation to the world.
Perpetual Novena Services are held every Saturday evening at the Shrine in St. Augustine's Church. Special Novena prayers, recitation of the Rosary, Distribution of Holy Communion, and Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament mark the services.
Each year on the last Sunday of May, devotees of Our Lady of Consolation make a pilgrimage to her Shrine in Leopold. Public devotions are held at 2:00 in the afternoon. The Sunday morning Masses are at 8:00 and 10:00. The public is always invited to attend these devotions.