STECKLER, Gerard G.




Author Tags: Early B.C., Education

Gerard Steckler wrote a biography of Archbishop Seghers, the Catholic missionary who came to Vancouver Island in 1863 and was murdered in Alaska in 1886.

Born on December 26, 1839 in Ghent, Belgium, Charles John Seghers volunteered for foreign service and was sent to the Diocese of Vancouver Island where he taught in Victoria's two Catholic schools and directed a choir. The hard-to-please Bishop of Vancouver Island, Modeste Demers, preferred to leave Seghers in control of the diocese whenever he was absent even though there were five more senior priests. Weakened by illness, Seghers accompanied Demers to attend the First Vatican Council in 1869 during which time they had a private audience with Pope Pius IX. At age 33 on June 29, 1873, Seghers became the second Bishop of Vancouver Island and the youngest bishop in North America. After he was ordained by Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet of Oregon City, Seghers expanded his Diocese of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo, where he established the first Catholic school, to Victoria, where he created the first Catholic hospital, and to the west coast of Vancouver Island, where Father A.J. Brabant became the first permanent Catholic missionary. More significantly, he soon created the first Catholic mission at Sitka in southern Alaska where he travelled extensively and learned some of the Tlingit dialect. His work found favour with Archbishop Blanchet of Oregon City. Bishop Seghers became Coadjutor Archbishop in Oregon in December 10, 1878 and became the sole Archbishop on December 20, 1880. He was replaced as Bishop on Vancouver Island by John Brondel. Seghers increased his Archdiocese to 40 churches by 1883.

In Oregon Seghers became an increasingly fervent proponent of Catholic education to the extent that he opposed public education in the hands of the state and taught that nobody could enter heaven without a Catholic education. Upon the transfer of Bishop John Brondel to a new posting as Bishop at Helena, Montana, Seghers received permission from Pope Leo XIII to return to his work on Vancouver Island. This would allow him to continue his unfinished missionary work in Alaska. Upon his arrival back in Victoria, he soon left for Juneau, Alaska. He was forewarned not to take a quarrelsome and paranoid Dublin-born Catholic named Frank Fuller as his assistant but Seghers did not pay heed. Departing into the wilderness with Fuller in September of 1886, Seghers recorded in his journey that Fuller seemed to be insane. On the morning of November 28, 1886, Frank Fuller shot and killed Seghers with the Archbishop's 44-calibre Winchester rifle in a smokehouse where they had passed the night in Yesetltor, Alaska. Fuller was convicted of manslaughter. The killing is discussed in the Pacific Northwest Quarterly, No. 58, in an article by Gerard Steckler entitled "The Case of Frank Fuller: The Killer of Alaska Missionary Charles Seghers." Steckler also profiled the bishop in his biography Charles John Steghers (Ye Galleon Press, 1986).

BOOKS:

Steckler, Gerard G. Charles John Steghers: Priest and Bishop in the Pacific Northwest 1839-1886 (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1986).

[BCBW 2004] "Missionaries" "Early B.C." "Education"