History of the Saint Thomas Farm
Thomas and Ann Howard
In 1634 a group of Catholic immigrants arrived in the present day state of Maryland after fleeing England due to Religious persecution. They settled, farmed and chartered religious organizations until 1785. They then formed a group known as the "League of sixty" and left Maryland to settle other lands. They left in three groups, the last being led by Edward Howard in 1787 and settling in Bardstown, Kentucky. There, Thomas Howard, son of Edward, and his wife Ann, set up a plantation of 109 acres in 1794. They also managed to acquire a total of 369.5 acres by 1807. This land was willed to the Catholic Church upon his death in late July 1810. The agreement in the will was that the church received ownership of the land upon his death, but his wife was to remain and cared for until she remarried, and left the plantation to live with her new husband, or until she died. Also, the plantation would have to remain property of the Catholic Church forever, never to be sold.
Catholicism in Kentucky
Missionaries started coming to Kentucky in 1787 with Father Whelan. The first catholic church was established by William de Rohan in Holy Cross. Following this, Father Baden, the first priest ordained in the United States, set up residence at St. Stephens, located on the present site of the Sisters of Loretto, Nerinx, KY.
In 1808, the diocese of Bardstown was established by Pope Pius VII.
Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget
This diocese was 1 of 4 which was carved from the original diocese of Baltimore; the others being Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Benedict Joseph Flaget was named Bishop of Bardstown arriving in Kentucky, June 1811. While traveling to Bardstown, Bishop Flaget, Father David and their students, established the first seminary on the flat boat they were on. Later the seminary would be constructed in Kentucky. The Thomas Howard plantation that was willed to the Catholic church in 1810 was the site chosen by Bishop Flaget to be the location of the Catholic rising for Bardstown. This was to initially include the Seminary and the St. Thomas Church which was “named after Thomas Howard’s patron Saint” [Miller: Old St. Thomas: 2002].
St. Thomas Seminary
The St. Thomas Seminary was first established in 1811 on a flatboat leaving Pittsburgh. This was accomplished by Bishop Flaget and Father David. They then set up the seminary in the log house built in 1795 by Thomas Howard. They remained in this log house until a larger brick seminary was built in order to house the greater number of students. They remained a major seminary until 1819 when St. Thomas became a preparatory seminary and the main seminary activities were moved to St. Josephs in Bardstown. The St. Thomas preparatory seminary remained in operation until 1869 when all of the students were removed to the main seminary.
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
The Sisters of Charity were founded in 1812 by Teresa Carrico and Elizabeth Wells. They were given a log cabin in which to house their society approximately one kilometer north of St. Thomas and approximately 1/2 mile from the seminary. In 1813, their ranks had reached 6 and Sister Catherine Spalding was named the first Mother Superior. In 1814, First Nazareth was opened up as a school for girls taught by the sisters. The sisters moved to the current location of Nazareth in 1822; located three miles north of Bardstown on 31E. The sister's 1818 brick schoolhouse was used for boys after the sisters moved to their new home. They started registering orphans in 1850. The sisters cared for the orphans until 1857 when the Brothers of the Sacred Heart took over. The sisters expanded their work throughout the nation and the world. They came to establish St. Mary and Elizabeth’s in Louisville (1915), St. Joseph’s in Lexington (1918), Nazareth College in Louisville (1920), Mount St. Agnes’ mental hospital (1913), and Our Lady of Peace mental hospital (1951). Their work also extends into India, Nepal and Belize.
St. Thomas Church
Completed in 1816 by the Seminarians and others, St. Thomas Church became a place for the growing community to come and worship. When first built, it served as the seminary chapel for the students and a parish church for the parishioners. It was built out of bricks that were formed and fired on site. St. Thomas Church served as the "Diocesan Center” until 1819 when St. Joseph cathedral was completed. Then, in October of the same year, the St. Thomas seminary moved to St. Joseph and St. Thomas then became a preparatory seminary.
St. Thomas Orphanage
In 1850, Bishop Martin J. Spalding delegated Father Francis Chambige to establish a home for dependent boys as had the Sisters of Charity for the girls. Two sisters were assigned to the farm in order to take care of the boys. The first orphans to arrive had to live in the seminary, but when it became too crowded, the seminary gave up some of the farm land and built a building for the boys. The farm land that was included also gave them a place to grow vegetables. This proved to be beneficial until the Civil War swept the nation. The soldiers from both the North and the South would sweep through the land and take the food from the orphanage.
Since the beginning of the St. Thomas Orphanage, it has reared and educated more than ten thousand boys. The home remained in operation at St. Thomas until 1889 and closed due to a devastating fire. The orphanage relocated to the city of Bardstown and then moved to Louisville, merging with St. Vincent orphanage for girls. St.Thomas-St. Vincent orphanage continued operation until 1984.
Visitors of Saint Thomas will notice a “walking timeline” in the walkway in front of the church.