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Michel Portier

PORTIER, Michel, R. C. bishop, born in Montbrison, France, 7 September, 1795 ; died in Mobile, Alabama, 14 May, 1859. He entered the Seminary of Lyons, but before completing his theological studies he met with Bishop Dubourg, of Louisiana, who had come to France in search of missionaries for his diocese. Young Portier consented to follow the prelate to the United States, and reached Annapolis, 4 September, 1817. After a visit of several months to the home of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, he finished his studies in St. Mary's seminary, Baltimore, and was ordained priest in St. Louis by Bishop Dubourg in 1818. Shortly afterward there was an epidemic of yellow fever in the country, during which he was unceasing in his attendance on the sick and dying. He was finally attacked by the disease, and on his recovery was summoned to New Orleans, where he established a school on the Lancasterian system. He was shortly afterward appointed vicar-general of the diocese. The rapid increase in the number of Roman Catholics rendered a division of the see of Louisiana necessary, and in 1825 Alabama, Florida, and Arkansas were created a vicariate. Dr. Portier was nominated vicar-apostolic the same year. He was consecrated bishop of Olena in parlibus by Bishop Rosati in St. Louis on 5 November, 1826. There were only two churches in his vicariate--one in Pensacola and the other in St. Augustine--and the three priests, who were the sole missionaries in this extensive territory, belonged to other dioceses, to which they were recalled shortly after his consecration. His poverty was so great that he was unable to purchase the insignia appropriate to his rank. He remained in Mobile until the summer of 1827, when he began his episcopal visitation, travelling on horseback to Pensacola, Tallahassee, and St. Augustine. Owing to the heat that prevailed during his journey, he was attacked by a fever at the latter town and narrowly escaped death. When he had partially recovered he resumed his labors in St. Augustine and its neighborhood. The absence of priests for some years had resulted in a total neglect of religious obligations among the Spanish population, and he found it necessary to instruct even the adults in the rudiments of Christian doctrine. He remained until the end of September, constantly preaching and instructing in Spanish and English, except when stricken by fever, and wrought an extraordinary change in the habits of the people. His English sermons were attended by the members of all denominations, and he received substantial aid also from those who differed with him in belief during his stay in St. Augustine. In 1829 he prevailed on Bishop England to station a priest of his diocese in East Florida. He then sailed for Europe, and, after spending several months in France, where he obtained money, besides the services of two priests, four sub-deacons, and two ecclesiastical students, he returned the same year. While he was in Europe the bishopric of Mobile had been formed out of his vicariate, and he was installed bishop of the new see after his arrival. He began at once to organize parishes, and built churches at Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Florence, Huntsville, and Moulton. He next founded Spring Hill college, near Mobile, and also built the ecclesiastical seminary that was attached to it. The funds he had obtained from abroad enabled him to employ teachers. He introduced the Nuns of the Visitation order into his diocese in 1832, and in the following year built a convent and academy for them in Summerville. He began the erection of the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1835, a fine structure, which he completed in 1850. Nearly all the great charities of the diocese owed their origin to Bishop Portier. A large number of children having been rendered orphans by the cholera epidemic of 1839, he introduced a colony of Sisters of Charity and a body of Brothers of Christian Instruction from France, who took charge of the asylums that he founded. To these institutions he attached labor and free schools. He organized a girls' school in St. Augustine, introduced the Jesuits, and added largely to the number of churches and missions. He paid a second visit to Europe in 1849. After his return he took part in the different councils of his church in this country and was active in their deliberations. His last great work was the erection of Providence infirmary in Mobile, to which he retired when he felt his end approaching. Bishop Portier may be said to have created the Roman Catholic church in his vicariate, which, before his death, was divided into three extensive dioceses. He left twenty-seven priests, a splendid cathedral, fourteen churches, a college and ecclesiastical seminary, fourteen schools, three academies for boys and three for girls, two orphan asylums, an infirmary, and many free schools. He was for some time before his death the senior bishop of the American hierarchy.

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