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Joseph Crétin

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First Bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A. b. at Montluel, department of Ain, France, 19 December, 1799; d. at St. Paul, Minnesota, 22 February, 1857. He made his preparatory studies in the Petits séminaires of Meximieux (Ain) and L'Argentière (Rhône), his studies of philosophy at Alix (Rhône), and of theology in the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, Paris. He was ordained priest 20 December, 1823, and soon afterward was appointed vicar in the parish at Ferney, once the home of Voltaire, and eventually became its parish priest. He built there a new and beautiful church with funds largely gathered by himself on a tour through France, founded a college for boys, and revived the Catholic Faith among his parishioners, many of whom had become indifferent towards it, owing to the surviving influence of "the philosopher" and the close proximity of the Protestant cantons of Switzerland. But Crétin longed for a larger field of activity; at one time he thought earnestly of going as a missionary to China. His perplexities in that regard were solved by the advent of Bishop Loras, first bishop of Dubuque, Iowa, who arrived in France in 1838 in search of priests for his Western diocese. Crétin was one of the few who volunteered and on 16 August, 1838, he secretly left his parish, embarked at Le Havre with Bishop Loras, and landed in New York in October of the same year. The winter of 1838-39 was spent in St. Louis, Missouri, and on his arrival in Dubuque, 18 April, 1839, he was at once appointed vicar-general of the new diocese. For over eleven years he exercised his priestly ministry in these new and unopened regions, dividing his time chiefly between Dubuque Iowa, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and the Winnebago Indians in the neighborhood of Fort Atkinson, Winnieshiek Co., Iowa. Only once, in 1847, did he absent himself, when he made a trip to Europe in the interest of his missions. In 1850, St. Paul, Minnesota, became the seat of a new diocese. Crétin was appointed its first bishop, and went to France, to be consecrated, 26 January, 1851, at Belley by Bishop Devie, who had ordained him to the priesthood.

After having obtained some donations and several ecclesiastics for his new diocese, he returned to America and arrived in St. Paul, 2 July, 1851. The same evening he made his first appearance in the log chapel of St. Paul, his first cathedral, and gave his first episcopal blessing to his flock. Within less than five months a large brick building was completed, which served as a school, a residence, and a second cathedral. Another structure, begun in 1855, was finished after his death, and serves as the cathedral of St. Paul. In 1853 a hospital was built; during the same year, and again in 1856 he bought land for cemetery purposes. For the instruction of children he introduced, in 1851, a community of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and in 1855, the Brothers of the Holy Family. He also planned the erection of a seminary, and always eagerly fostered vocations for the priesthood, keeping at his residence seminarians in their last period of preparation. He supported likewise the cause of temperance not only by personal example, but also by organizing, in January, 1852, the Catholic Temperance Society of St. Paul, the first of its kind in Minnesota. Another work to which he applied himself was that of Catholic colonization. With an eye to the future he endeavored to provide for the growth of his diocese by bringing Catholic immigrants from European countries to the fertile plains of Minnesota. Withal he did not neglect his ministerial and pastoral office. He was often alone in St. Paul without the help of priest, and at times travelled through the vast extent of his diocese bestowing on his people the consolations of religion. Bishop Crétin's memory is held in esteem and veneration, especially by the old settlers of St. Paul.


Most of the material for Bishop Crétin's life is still unpublished. The above details are from letters written by him and other documents in possession of The St. Paul Catholic Historical Society. A few documents and references on the subject are found in Acta et Dicta (St. Paul, 1907) I, No. 1; The Diocese of St. Paul (St. Paul, 1901); Ravoux, Mémoires (St. Paul, 1892); De Cailly, Memoirs of Bishop Loras (New York, 1897); O'Gorman, History of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States (New York, 1895); Thebaud, Forty Years in the U. S. (New York, 1904), 274-275; Reuss, Biog. Cyclo. of the Cath. Hierarchy in the U. S. (Milwaukee, 1898); Shea, Hist. of the Cath. Ch. in the U. S. (New York, 1904).

About this page

APA citation. Schaefer, F. (1908). Joseph Crétin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Schaefer, Francis. "Joseph Crétin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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