The Letters of Gerard Pilz, O. S. B. – Pioneer Benedictine in<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Florida


The Letters of Gerard Pilz, O. S. B.

Pioneer Benedictine in Florida

Source: The archives of Saint Vincent Archabbey Latrobe, Pennsylvania


While researching for his book, Pioneer College, Dr. James J. Horgan came across a wonderful collection of letters sent to his superiors by Fr. Gerard Pilz. The Benedictine presence in Florida was established when Pilz came to San Antonio in 1886.

Bishop John Moore, Bishop of the Diocese of Saint Augustine, had written to the Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., requesting a German-speaking priest.

Judge Edmund F. Dunne’s Catholic Colony of San Antonio had been established in 1881 and colonized in 1882 and had attracted a large number of German- speakers. They had tired of dealing with the resident pastor, Fr. John F. O’Boyle who could not speak their native, and thus more comfortable, language.

Of the 20 letters that follow, seven were in English while thirteen were in German. The compilers are grateful to Mrs. Elisabeth Brantsch who provided translation of Fr. Gerard’s German letters.

Compiled by: Edward J. Herrmann and James J. Horgan

Original German text translated by: Elisabeth Brantsch Wiesenbronn, Germany

English letters: April 12, 1886 [# 1]; May 14, 1886 [# 2]; June 23, 1886 [# 6]; August 5, 1886 [# 7];October 20, 1886 [# 8]; December 20, 1886 [# 9]; March 12, 1887 [# 12]

German letters: May 15, 1886 (with May 17 conclusion of same) [# 3]; June 7, 1886 [# 4]; June 9, 1886 [# 5] Jan. 4 [# 10] and 10, 1887 (with Jan. 19 conclusion)[# 11]; Mar. 27, 1887(from Newark) [# 13]; Jun. 21 [# 14], 25 [# 15], & 29 [# 16], 1887; Sept. 15 [# 17] & 30 [# 18], 1887; Oct. 27, 1887 [# 19]; and Dec. 6, 1887 [# 20]

[# 1] 339 N. Market St. Chicago, Ill.

Apr. 12, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot of St. Vincent;

Rt. Rev. & Dear Archabbot,

To-day I received a letter from the Rt. Rev. Bishop Moore, D. D. He found it very strange that he did not receive a letter from you long ago. He desires that I come & see things, then report to you and if my report is favorable, you and he will make the necessary agreement etc. The Bishop invites me to come to St. Augustine to see him before I go to Judge Dunn’s [sic] colony. There is a church and school at the place, but they need a larger & better church & the congregation is willing to build one. A priest is there who is very “disagreeable” & the Bishop receives constant complaints from a part of the congregation. The priest does not speak German, yet the larger portion of the congregation is German. [Note: Pilz is speaking of Saint Anthony Church pastor Fr. John F. O’Boyle.]

I have concluded to leave here about Wednesday after Easter for St. Augustine & after I have seen the Bishop I will procede to San Antonio, & soon report to you. After some time, when I have learned the ins and outs of the place and country I hope to be able to judge about our prospects. Please, dear Archabbot, drop a few lines to Bishop Moore & I would be very thankful, if you give me some lines to present to his Lordship on my arrival at his residence.

Recommending myself to your holy prayers, I am, Rt. Rev. & dear Archabbot

Most respectfully Your obedient Son Gerardus, O.S.B.

P.S. I write to the Bishop that I will come right after Easter.


[# 2] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. May 14, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., Archabbot of St. Vincent. Rt. Rev. & Dear Archabbot,

I arrived here May 12 at 9:00 P.M. Mr. Byrne of Jacksonville insisted upon that I not go straight to San Antonio, but see the mainly interesting portion of Florida. He offered to go with me, & he paid all my expenses. We went to Orlando where the priest joined us. Thus there were three in Co. From Orlando we went to Tampa; then back to Lakeland and on to Dade City. – Florida is a wonderful country! Some districts are very poor – poor land; others very rich; others midling. [sic] The very poor is undoubtedly the smaller portion. This part here is the most beautiful in every respect. San Antonio has found a splendid district for people to settle & make in an easy manner [a] nice living; but I can not say much yet, because it will take some time to investigate matters. I saw the bishop at Jacksonville & had a long talk with him. He afterwards went & told people, saying: “The Archabbot has sent us a first class man.” My health is splendid so far; the clime just as anybody would like. The northern folks tell lies about the heat – I stopped in Savannah one day, i.e. 12 hours; went to Skidaway Island. I am sorry to find that Abbot Leo has taken all the men from Skidaway & left only 1 1/2 men. The place will suffer thereby immensely – and then they say: “It’s no good!” If you could send Rev. Oswald, a scholastic who knows a little music, it would be very good. Rev. Oswald had no time to go with me to Skidaway. – But more next week. I am bothered with visitors.

The priest here – who is absent since I come – will cause trouble. He will have to go, and he desires to make war against the Bishop. I have to serve him a letter from the Bishop, which is an unpleasant one, I believe. – I have seen Judge Dunne, Col. Dallas, Dr. Corrigan, brother to Archbishop Corrigan – they came to see me. I have returned their visit.

Next week, then I hope to be able to tell you more about the place, its condition, its hopes & its draw backs & then you may judge for yourself. I am even more convinced that it is by far the best spot in the south you can take. I am disappointed – and greatly so, because I have not seen one Alligator yet. I must prepare for Sunday. Have written very hurriedly. Remember me in your holy prayers.

Most respectfully Yours

ever devoted Son Gerardus, O.S.B. ————————————————————-

[# 3] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. May 15, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B.

My Lord Abbot,

This morning I saw a good part of the area surrounding San Antonio. Dr. Corrigan, brother of the New York Archbishop, came soon after my Mass to drive me around. I visited several orange groves & other farms. Among other things, I saw an orange tree that had produced 5000 (five thousand) oranges each year for two years in a row. Because frost hurt it some it will bear a little less this year. In the northern part of Florida frost did a great deal damage. In this middle part of Florida it can only do a little damage. There hasn’t been any frost like this since 1835. People are not afraid of frosts, because they occur so very seldom. The area is so beautiful & good that I have only one desire, I wish so much that Your Grace could be here. There is no healthier area in America. An eighty-year-old man from Stearns Co., Minnesota, who was no longer able to get out of the house there, is like a young again here, & walks around like a youth & even works daily. Dr. Corrigan, an eminent physician, is here with his family. He has built a $10,000 house on the other side of the wonderful lake [that is Lake Jovita], & he says that he never wants to live anywhere else. People here are beside themselves with joy, because they believe that the Benedictines will surely take jurisdiction of this place. I wanted to arrive at night to keep things quiet, but I hadn’t yet been at Mr. Frese’s house for 10 minutes when cannon fire announced my arrival far & wide. Mr. Mull[e]n [actually John B. Mullan] from Baltimore jumped out of bed & came over to the house at 10:30. The Irish as well as the Germans are overjoyed & are only afraid that since I come to them from a big city I may not like it here. The land sales are moving along rather quickly. Every half year the price goes up sharply. Two years ago a piece of property was offered to Dr. Corrigan for $500.00. Back then he did not take it. Now he has had to pay $4000 for it. Back then the city lots were $25.00. Now they are $150.00 to $250.00. Many families who have already bought in are expected by fall. The good thing here is that until an orange grove bears fruit, one can plant on that same soil: Welschkorn [a type of grain], potatoes (sweet & white), oats, cabbage, beets, bananas, beans, peas, strawberries, eggplant, & other fruits & things that I do not know at all, to live off of it & to earn money. There is a market for all these items. That means one can get rid of it, no matter how much of it one has. A person can live well here with easier time & less work than up north. I hope that we will not drop San Antonio. It will not take long at all until we will have to have several priests here. The church here is small. It is much too small. Soon it will be necessary to build here & the community wants & can do it. People pay $20.00 a year for 3 seats. That amounts to $6.33 for one seat. The best seats in Newark did not bring in that much. There is lots of spring-well-water; healthier, clearer & fresher than I have drunk in Florida.

May 17

Yesterday evening Mr. Sultenfuss took me through the so-called German section on a tour. That means we only looked at the fields, of oranges & lemons – as we drove by. The whole thing results from two years’ work. Your Grace would be amazed if you could see these fields & fruits, so extensive are the plantings. It is not surprising because it is easy to cultivate. The trees in the woods are far apart & the woods are so free of shrubs that one can comfortably drive around in all directions. This week & next I will visit each family to see how things are going & especially see how the colonists are doing financially. Then I will look up, at Judge Dunne’s, how much land & how many lots have been sold & how much is left. From what I have heard, Dunne wants to present us with a significant gift of the best land. If he gives it without special conditions, I think that we should by all means take it. San Antonio’s colony undoubtedly has a great future. I went off for half a day today to visit a few families. All who I saw, 10 in number, thank God that they are here.

I am always amazed about the fruit & the produce. It is very pleasant to drive around like that, thanks to the lovely air which alleviates the heat so that one gets refreshed rather than weakened.

Yesterday I celebrated High Mass & preached in English & German. I wore a heavy Mass vestment of gold brocade & I perspired only very little. People who have been here 2 to 3 years perspire hardly at all & what is odd – they wear woolen undershirts & clothes that are not at all light.

Aside from water we drink, a kind of wine made from oranges, that is very pleasant. San Antonio will soon also have an abundance of other wines. Grape vines thrive splendidly.

There are, strangely, many prejudices against Florida up North, such as the unbearable heat, all kinds of terrible insects, malaria, the alligators, etc., etc. All that idle talk is utter nonsense. Florida is the American Italy & in a way a “paradise.”

These good settlers have been totally neglected in church matters. That is the reason for their extraordinary joy over my arrival. The people, German & Irish, kneel down when they see me coming & they cry with joy. The priest who is still here should never have been ordained. People do not even have the opportunity to still their hunger for the sacraments. The young people have been totally neglected; in three months there has been no sermon, & when there was one, it was only a pronouncement with several rough or pointed remarks & no reading of the Gospel for an entire year. People really do not want to go away from here, because they know that they cannot get a better & healthier place. I will put an end to this thing & write to the bishop today & then take jurisdiction over the community. We have to do this at least for the present to remedy the misery. For the rest, I confidently hope that Your Grace & the chapter will consider everything carefully before we turn down this post. For my part, I am willing to stay here forever & I am sure that others will like to be here too. Should I now accept the 160 acres if no further conditions are made than that we look after the spiritual needs of the colony? I will not do anything without instructions from St. Vincent. The bishop advised me to take anything that I can get, but to not accept any other conditions than the one mentioned above. I therefore ask Your Grace to inform me of your views & to tell me what to do. I am reasonably healthy & well. I hope that if I stay here, i.e., if we accept the post, to see a confrere here soon. With a thousand greetings & much love & high esteem,

Your devoted son in Xto [Christ],

Gerard M. Pilz, O.S.B. ————————————————————-

[# 4] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. June 7, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot,

My Lord Abbot:

Your Grace!

I have been waiting for a long time in pain for Your Grace’s answer. I hope that I will get one this week.

On Ascension Day I took over the community here pro tem. I have used this past month to take a complete look at everything & to get to know the surrounding area. I visited all the colonists & by doing so took a status animarum [that is, a sense of the situation] & inquired about the financial situation of the settlers. There probably is not a more beautiful area in all of Florida & it is unbelievable what all grows here, vegetables of all kinds & so healthy at that. A family can make its livelihood with 5 acres of land here especially once the orange trees start bearing. Until they bear, you plant other things between them. Many kinds of food are harvested twice a year. The chickens here lay their eggs year in & year out, except when they are incubating. Only yesterday Mr. Gilmaire [actually Gailmard], a Frenchman, told me that God has done everything for this area & that it was only people’s own fault if they did not get ahead quickly. Mr. Sultenfuss, Mr. Hinterlang & others came here 3 years ago & only had 5 acres in their possession. Sultenfuss was even $500.00 in debt & now Your Grace should see how well these people are doing. And people can work year in & year out. Winter is like summer – a big advantage. I was most amazed about the cabbages, the white & red turnips, kohlrabi, beans, lima beans & cauliflower. Strawberries are in abundance for 6 to 7 months. Watermelons of excellent quality & you can eat as much as you want without danger of feeling badly. I eat lots of cucumbers; everybody loves them. They don’t cause any discomfort. There is much sweet corn planted for the table & it thrives beautifully because it is never damaged by frost like at St. Mary’s [the Benedictine abbey in Newark, New Jersey] or other places in the northern states. The squashes also make good food & thrive beautifully. Also the eggplant (tastes like oysters) & there is such an abundance of vegetables; and the fruit of the trees! Many have started planting grapes to try a range of varieties. To judge from the grapes already there, there is no doubt that wine will be good. It will be found out this year which kinds are most productive. We also make wine from oranges – very nice, like gold & lovely to drink. The best profits lie in orange culture. A man who has 5 acres of bearing orange trees can certainly count on several thousand dollars pure profit annually. The older these trees get, the more productive they are. There is a 40-year-old tree nearby, that will bear five thousand oranges again this year & will bear 8000 oranges in a few years. Several miles from here is a tree that produces 10,000 annually. You might think that this is a fairy tale but it is the total truth. I will take a look at that tree soon. You can hardly find a more beautiful tree than an orange tree. People here say that if you come close to an orange grove when the fruit is ripening, you can enjoy an aroma that makes you think that you are in heaven. Once you go into the grove, the smell is very strong & is no longer as pleasant. The so-called grapefruit grows here too. The tree looks like an orange tree, only the leaves are much darker. The fruit is as large as a small child’s head, lighter in color than the orange, but much lovelier in smell & taste.

Our woods are pines, live oaks & other kinds of hard woods that I do not know. When you look at the soil, you would think that it couldn’t grow anything. It looks like pure sand. But as soon as you put your hand in it, you can feel that it is not sand. And if you mix it with water, i.e., if you just get it damp, it becomes dark gray – very dark in fact. In the so-called hammocks, the ground is abundantly rich. So far, it has not rained much. That doesn’t matter much though because the strong nightly dew keeps everything going & the soil is rich enough to hold the moisture a long time. The so- called rainy season that comes annually will soon begin taking care of everything for the coming year.

It is impossible for me to describe everything to Your Grace. By the time I get back home from driving around, I have forgotten the unusual names of the fruits & vegetables that grow here. The most important thing is that you must plant everything at the right time & in the right way. Newcomers from the North make the most ridiculous mistakes to begin with. Here you plant in October, November, December & January & then again in June & July. Orange trees are planted in January & you can plant them also during the orange season.

There is a new railroad under construction that will pass close by San Antonio, about half a mile from here. There is supposed to be a branch going to San Antonio. It should be ready for the 1st of Sept. This colony will then be connected with Tampa, the Port of New Orleans & also with all parts of the state & the Northern states so that we are not limited to delivering our fruit & other products by wagon just to Dade City.

The Most Reverend Bishop has sent me a beautiful letter & has given all of Hernando Co. to my cura [that is, authority]. If Your Grace is going to make a contract with the Bishop, you will have to ask for the whole County, the way it is now, for all time. It will probably be divided soon & San Antonio will undoubtedly become the County seat in the one half. I will soon get my own house & a horse & buggy & it will very soon be necessary for Your Grace to send a second priest. The “crackers” (natives) are very willing to be taught. The people are religious but very ignorant. All of them in this area realize, since the Catholics have come here, that the Catholics know more about religion than they do & therefore want to be taught. They feel very flattered when the priest invites them to come to church. There were 51 buggies & many riding horses at the church on Easter – all “Crackers.” Unfortunately, only a few could find room in the church because it is too small. They gathered around outside. I have to enlarge it if only for the “Crackers.”

More than anywhere, this place has the best prospects for us Benedictines. But, we have to plant orange trees & grow things in the fields. This way we will soon acquire the necessary means to found a solid settlement for the Order. It is a heaven here in comparison to Skidaway [the Benedictine mission near Savannah, Georgia]. Can you spare a priest of Irish descent?

Have not seen a live “Gator” here yet. Often I hear them bellowing. The bulls have strong voices. They bellow like cows. A while back a few men wanted to catch one for me. They already had him in their hands, but unexpectedly he slapped his tail to the left & right & he escaped & dived quickly under water. The “Gators” are afraid of people. They hunt pigs but can seldom catch one unless it is asleep, because the pigs here can run as fast as dogs. It makes me laugh when I see them run. These pigs have excellent meat but very little bacon. Almost all of them are wild. People just go out & shoot one if they want to eat pork. Florida cattle also run wild. The “Crackers” have big herds walking around but the people don’t keep them for their milk. Dr. Corrigan bought one cow to have fresh milk for his family. (He has 17 people in his house.) He first had to domesticate the cow & get her used to eating civilized food. In the beginning, she gave only one tablespoon of milk a day & was a pitiful looking animal. Now she is a dear Muherl [that is, Bossie] & gives plenty of milk for the whole household.

I have stayed with him for 14 days because the priest here has refused to cooperate with me. Dr. Corrigan has a house chapel where I can celebrate daily but the priest has had to hand over the keys & everything to me. He has four or five followers, Irish people of not very good reputation, who have tried to keep him here but the Bishop did not pay any attention to them.

I have written many things mixed together here. My time is short & I had to write quickly. That is why this letter is not more orderly. If we want to settle here, we should not hesitate too long. We could plant quite a few orange trees before January. I could use a few Brothers for this work, not too old. I am asking Your Grace to let me know what you would like to do. You can rely on what I have said, that it is the truth, because I myself would not want to stay here unless prospects were the best. Even sickly Brothers could do the work here & get better or become completely healthy again. People who are very sick can not be healed here, but their life can be prolonged unless their illness is very far advanced. Asking for Prayers, with many greetings & high esteem, your Grace’s

most devoted son,

Gerard M., O.S.B.

P.S. Hope that you received my telegram in time for your namesday. ————————————————————-

[# 5] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. June 9, ’86

My Lord Abbot:

Your Grace!

Yesterday I finally received your letter from the 31st of May. I am very pleased that the chapter approves of a settlement of the Benedictines here. If we want to get income soon, we will soon have to start planting an orange grove – the sooner the better. Wasting time is losing money. We should do it even if we only plant 5 acres.

Abbot Leo is a real schemer [that is, Leo Haid of Maryhelp Abbey, North Carolina]. He wants to put Skidaway in our laps & keep Savannah. If he were here & could see this area – all of central Florida – he would grab it immediately. I even had a dream that I drove him around the area, but I was aggravated about his coming & about you & St. Vincent’s because I thought you had sent him here.

As far as the heat is concerned here, Your Grace should not be worried at all; the hot does not bother me. In Savannah it is hot, really hot, & yet people bear the heat there without special discomfort. It is pleasant here now compared to Savannah. In Pittsburgh (also Allegheny), Covington, Newark & New York, and especially in Baltimore, the heat in the summer is often harder to bear than in Savannah. In the aforementioned cities, it is often so unbearable that you get weak & worn out & cannot sleep or rest at night. You can even have a dizzy spell in the middle of the street. Here there is nothing like that. No fatigue or anything like it at all. The sun is strong but the wonderful air from the Gulf or from the Atlantic ocean, a salty breeze, neutralizes the heat & strengthens the body. Then through the night until 10 & 11 o’clock in the morning, it is a true pleasure. In the North you sometimes lose your appetite. No, it is so much more pleasant here than in the northern states. Through this air, the rich nightly dew, the plants have so much salt content that one does not have to give the animals any salt & nobody even thinks about it. Our Fathers will be healthy here, more so than anywhere else. I am getting along well these days & oh, how I like the food. I really do miss the company of my confreres very much. But I comfort myself however with the thought that it will take not be long until you will send me a some help. It really would be advantageous to have a priest of Irish or American descent. Maybe one could be found who likes life in the country & enjoys nature.

One can travel from San Antonio to Jacksonville any day of the week. It takes approximately 10 hours & costs $8.00. The rate is 5 cts. a mile. It will, however, soon be cheaper. It also runs from Jacksonville to San Antonio every day. That is, when one takes the next route. [Note: Train service did not actually reach the San Antonio station until February 23, 1888. Pilz’ use of “the next route” is evidently a reference to Dade City, six miles to the east, where rail service began on September 14, 1885.] I have travelled around the countryside because I wanted to see as much as possible of Florida before I came to San Antonio. I have gone from Jacksonville to Silver Spring Park, then to Orlando where I spent the night. From there I went via Kissimmee to Lakeland, Tampa & the Gulf, from there back to Lakeland & Dade City. I have seen a lot, beautiful areas & settlements all along – gorgeous lakes, but also often swamps & barren, rugged land. The nicest part of Florida I found last – viz., San Antonio & its surrounding area. This is not yet a paradise but it will become one. I wish I had a $1000 & a few Brothers, then I would create a small paradise for the Benedictines. I’m not just fantasizing or daydreaming! The Fathers of St. Vincent should never give up this chance in Florida. It is going to benefit quite a few of them when they can come here & collect their strength and still enjoy his old age. I won’t be alive to see it, but that doesn’t matter. I want Florida to belong to our Motherhouse. We will have a strong influence on the whole state. The state can be ours if we just get busy. All Florida is clamoring for Catholic High School (or College). I will fish for land wherever I can as soon as we definitely accept the commitment. Four parties fighting over 40 acres on our lake. It is still railroad land. Two parties have already transferred their claim to me & if I can get the others, the land will belong to us. The property borders the town & Lake Jovita. It is beautiful & unbelievably fertile. Today 40 acres were offered to me today in Carmel. These are given to me by a certain Mr. Boland. Carmel is 2–1/2 miles from San Antonio. Everywhere they want to give us something just to keep us here. Colonel Dallas has also offered us 40 acres with the condition that the monastery be put there. I laughed at him & told him that I cannot accept any conditions. Judge Dunne has already made provision for Sisters, too.

That’s right! Let me also mention that this is land par excellence for sugarcane & rice. Sugarcane seldom ripens completely in Louisiana (New Orleans) because of the frost. Here it always ripens & grows exceptionally well. It is a source of great profit. Cane plantings prosper 4 years with full productivity & all you have to do is plow between the rows annually. In the 5th year you have to plant over again or lay fertilizer around each cane. The annual return on ordinary land is at least 3000 pounds of sugar per acre. (On better soil, 3700 pounds per acre.) Let’s say 3000 pounds per acre. 10 acres: 3000 x 10 = 30,000 lbs at 7 cts. per lb. 30,000 x 7 = $2100.00. Now the expenses if you have everything done by somebody else. (I can express myself better here in English.)

10 days work to break up ten acres costs here $15.00 24,000 seed cane at $10.00 $240.00 15 days planting $5.00 10 days work with hoe $10.00 15 days work with cultivators & plows $22.50 6 men, 40 days, equal to 240 days work $240.00 (manufacturing) 2 pair of oxen 40 days at $3 per day $120.00 Barrels, etc. $60.50 Total $723.00

Income of 10 acres $2100.00 Expense $723.00 Net profit $1377.00

The Disston Company recently planted 1000 acres. In the subsequent years expenses go down sharply. Then the net profit is considerably larger. If we were to work the land ourselves it would be a further saving.

Rice is more profitable here than wheat up North. I have recently visited the farm of Mr. Wischer [that is Wichers]. He has planted many different kinds of vines & already has many ripe grapes. The sweet potatoes grow like weeds. The white ones don’t do as well as in the North. Dr. Corrigan, however, has beautiful white potatoes aplenty. He pays a lot of attention to them & wants to prove that they grow just as well if they have been planted at the right time. Note, rice stalks make the best animal fodder. Horses leave everything when they get rice stalks. Cow peas (which are good to eat & an excellent fertilizer) are planted in great quantities. They belong to the bean family. They are sown between the planted rows of Welschkorn or other field crops. The yield is about 10 to 15 bushels per acre of. Its greens also make good fodder.

I inquire about all these things & try to determine for myself by first-hand inspection. Welschkorn generally does not grow very well but I have seen it 12 feet tall. We can do without it.

We are having a Pic Nic today & I have to stop now. Have thrown everything together because I have to write rapidly. Our Fathers might react by saying: So what? We don’t want to be farmers. The Order doesn’t just cultivate land anymore, etc. But we have to get the means to build monasteries & institutes. From our house alone we do not have the resources. St. Vincent cannot say: Go to Florida, build a small monastery, build a teaching institute, etc. Take $30,000 or $50,000. We can get the resources here with less expense & less work than in the North. A great field stands open for us here, but we must have men who are Apostolic & willing to face some difficulties in the beginning. By the way I am getting on well. I even have a good little glass of wine at noon time. (Wine is better here than beer, i.e., it goes better with the climate.) Now & then a glass of beer tastes good, too. We have plenty of good things on the table. I eat by myself. A young married man keeps me company in my travels. I always wear the habit with white trousers underneath. They are better than black ones. Only when I ride a horse do I wear civilian clothes because it is more practical. My poor little church pleases me more than the big ones up North & my people are so lovable. The pastor at Orlando wrote to me not long ago:

[Note: The remainder of the letter, except for the postscript, was in English.]

“I hope & pray that everything may turn so that you will remain in Florida? . As soon as you have made up your mind to stay, I hope we will be able to work in concert not only for the spiritual welfare of the Peninnsula [sic], but also for the temporal aggrandizement of so beautiful a country”.

It will take a few days till I can find out what it costs to go to Montgomery, Ala. In my next I will be able to tell you, my dear Archabbot. I do not know what it costs from Savannah to Jacksonville. The boat costs little. It took me from 8 P.M. to 11 A.M. the next day to go in cars. If you come, I would meet you in Jacksonville provided you telegraph to me from Savannah. The most pleasant time to come would be in October or any of the winter months. I am sure, however, that you would feel pleasenter [sic]here even now, then [sic] up north. The rainy season will set in soon, however, & then it is not so very agreeable, although to get a good wetting is no harm and we would scarcely think of changing clothes, unless for the disagreeableness. The sickly people care not for rain, it never hurts them. – I hope the Fathers at St. Vincent will pray, that the holy Will of God be done regarding our Mission in Florida. If Father Julian would be here, I know he would be charmed with this country; pitty [sic] that he is not perfect in English. The Protestants of Dade City and all the neighborhood are delighted to hear that the “Benedicts” are coming. Sufficit!

Recommending myself to your holy prayers, I am, Rt. Rev. & dear Archabbot

Most respectfully, Your devoted son Gerard M., O.S.B.

P.S. I have enough money in income that I can live well. More in the next letter.

N.B. It costs $14.20 from Savannah to San Antonio.


[# 6] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. June 23, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B. Archabbot Rt. Rev. and Dear Archabbot

I send you a good map of Florida. Our place is erroneously marked “Santonia.” After a while I can send you a map of our colony which will show how much land has been sold so far and how much is left. I must copy the map myself, since there are very few in existence.

We have entered the so called rainy season. It will rain now daily until September. These rains are very fructifying. I had a splendid wetting yesterday coming home from Schisselbauer’s, where I saw a sick woman. Rains do not make us in the least sick. Nobody thinks of changing clothes on account of being soaked with water; going to bed we change so as not to be lying in the wet. I am afraid we can not have a procession to morrow. The people are so anxious to have it for the first time in this colony. I live by myself since yesterday – just opposite the church; an old man, Mr. Boland stays in the house during the night and occupies the room adjoining mine for the purpose. Next week I get an old woman though to cook for me & keep the house in order. She is far above the canonical age. She will have a room at the other end of the house. I hope that you will be able to send me a brother after some time. I would need one as it is. Brother Aemilian in Covington desires so much to come to Florida. He would be the best man I could have. We have a highly educated class of people here, Aemilian would make a good impression; he is polite, and is tasty [sic] about the house and sacristy etc. See, dear Archabbot what you can do for me. A cook coming from the north has to learn cooking almost anew, because we have many things here which are not known in our common kitchens in the north. Mrs. Lane is an excellent cook. Some people get sick when they come to Florida, because they eat too much. We never can drink too much. Our water is very good and singular, the weakest stomach bears a great quantity and it never causes catarrh of the stomach, yet it is refreshing. At first I did not like it, because I thought it not cold enough.

I got yesterday a present of 40 acres of good land near Carmel. The condition is that it be for the benefit of the Order of St. Benedict; that, if we sell it that party i.e. the donor is offered a chance to buy it back, and that we pray for him. The 40 acres of the Judge are beautifully located just at the town. I will make the pick next Friday of the different 40ties and, of course I will pick the 40 near our beautiful lake. Mr. Frese will give me 40 acres or at least 20 acres – no condition made – simply for our benefit. These lands will in short time become very valuable. They are going up higher almost from month to month. Mr. Sultenfuss will undoubtedly become our great benefactor. He owns a great deal of land and will very likely get the title to it in a short time. He owns a great tract of Railroad land and will either get the title from the R.R. Co. or if the R.R. Co. looses [sic] the land it falls back to the State and then he will get the title from the state, because he occupies it 3 years and has very greatly improved it. Sultenfuss will at once be a rich man. He is a great friend of our Order. There are other people here who will give us land. Major Lukas [actually Major Thomas Lucas] says, he will provide 40 acres for our benefit. Our sand is the queerest soil. We can clean glass and silver plated things with it and it makes no scratch. They say it contains much lime and other ingredients which make the soil so fertile. Our country is green summer and winter. The church lot is 400 feet square. I will leave a place for the new church – in future to be built – and after the parochial residence is finished I will have all the rest of it planted with orange trees which will in time bring a good income for the pastor. This work the congregation will do with pleasure and it will, therefore, not cost a cent. I get the trees for nothing too. I have found that the so called seedling tree is the best and most beautiful. As soon as we have a patch cleared on any of our lands I will plant little seedlings in shape of a nursery so as to have a good supply for making groves. Besides nurseries pay splendidly.

Our people are happy since I have come. Now they have Mass and they can get Masses read for their intentions & they can come to Mass, because it is at a fixed time. I ring the Angelus bell every morning at 5:30 o’clock; at six the second bell is rung and then Mass begins. Sundays we have Mass at 7 o’clock and at 9 o’clock. During summer season highmass is not said. I preach short sermons, one Sunday in English, the other in German. The English wonder that I do so much. Last Sunday we had Vespers for the first time again after 2 years. Then a priest was here for a short time and he gave them Vespers. People cried for joy last Sunday when they could assist at Vespers again. They came in spite of the heavy rain. Vespers is sung by our young men – no ladies. A few weeks ago I organized them for that purpose, and we learned diligently until we could surprise the congregation. At Mass a mixed choir sings. During the week I give instructions in catechism every day, as we have no school now.

Now I have talked enough! Will you, dear Archabbot pay us a visit next fall? I hope you will come to see the beauties of Florida.

By the bye! There prevails an opinion up north, that we go half naked here in the South. In all Florida I have not seen anything the kind. Even our Crackers dress very modest themselves, and the children likewise.

I have tried to find the reason why the old settlers are called Crackers. I now learn that the name comes from their cracking their whips so fearfully. They have, namely very long whips – 10 to 12 feet long – and a very short pretty heavy handle to them – about 1 to 1–1/2 feet long. Then they swing the whip a while in the air until suddenly they swing opposite and by these means give a crack with the whip which is heard very far. I have seen a “Gator” swim at last. It was about 10 feet long. We have plenty Crains [sic], and other large birds that I cannot name. I desire your prayers, dear Archabbot & hope to hear soon from you.

Most respectfully Yours devoted Son Gerardus, O.S.B.


[# 7] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. August 5, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., Archabbot of St. Vincent;

Rt. Rev. and Dear Archabbot,

At last an answer to my long letter which I sent you some 3 or 4 weeks ago. I kept waiting to learn first whether or not you could or would send me an assistant of the description I gave you. I will take Rev. Cyprian [Creagh] as soon as my house is finished. I could not have him now – i. e. not right away. My house will not be ready for use before October next.

Brother Francis de Sales [Zwiesler] in Newark desires to come here. He has written twice to me and once to Judge Dunne. It tickles me to some extent, because that brother was so happy and wrapped up in the new Abbot i.e. Rev. James [Zilliox]; now he finds that he can not admire him any longer. I am, however, willing to take him, for he has excellent qualities and will be of great use to me, if you are willing to let him come. A few days ago I had a letter from Abbot James telling me that he is sorry that brother Francis is not happy and dissatisfied with him, i.e. with the Abbot, as others are; but if I take him, he will by no means be welcome back. Francis will not make his vows for Newark. So then, if you, dear Archabbot will send him to me or allow me to have him you do me a great favor. If I have the priest and the brother, I will be fixed nicely.

It is true, the work here is not so much yet as to make 2 priests absolutely necessary, but it is such even now that a man must be strong to do it all properly, and if I am not well a day – i.e. even one Sunday, I could not satisfy the demands of the people. It is also a great burden to go to confession to a priest so far off, as Tampa or Orlando. I have to leave in the evening & go with the 6 o’clock train – arrive at 9 P. M. in Tampa and be back next day at 10 P. M.

I would like to begin to cultivate some of our lands, if you could send me 2 working brothers. If not – would you allow me to get brothers, i.e. receive men into the Order as candidates. I have some applications. It is high time to begin or else we lose a year. I have 40 acres of very good land touching the town and 40 again some distance away; and I will receive 80 acres in a very short time from another party. We should have at least 5 acres ready to set in orange and lemon trees – also plant bananas etc. As soon as the house is finished on the church grounds I will put 148 orange trees on the remaining grounds, as also a good vegetable garden and flowers. Besides all this I leave a large place for a new church and school. The church ground is 400 feet square. The Bishop, who by the way is exceedingly pleased with me, wants me to begin to build the new church as soon as I am done with the parochial house.

I am sorry, dear Archabbot that Savannah goes out of our hands. Rev. Oswald will be sorry too. Fiat voluntas Dei! [God’s will be done.]

You will, I am afraid, suffer by working so hard during vacation. Don’t let everybody go away. Charity begins at home, and you are not as strong as 20 years ago. Try to keep well enough that you can come to San Antonio Fla. next fall. You will find it delightful here. Even now it is pleasant. The heat does not molest us much; in fact, very little. I wish Rev. Paulin were here; a more delightful climate he could not find on earth, and I am sure he would feel much better. Day before yesterday I drove out into the country to see Mr. Kirchner. His wife told me that she was in a most miserable condition for some years on account of her stomach. Now she is a hearty woman. They are only here one year. Nobody sick here – some delicate because they came sick, but every one getting better. Father James Corrigan, the President of Seton Hall spent his one month’s vacation here. He left us last Tuesday, on leaving he said: “I have never spent a more delightful summer and I am coming back next summer.” He felt sorry in leaving San Antonio. I was sick for 5 days; by indiscretion I got an attack of dissentery [sic]. On the fourth day I took Castor oil with 10 drops of laudanum and that set me all right till next morning. My rheumatism seems all gone.

I have two alligators; regular pets. They are out in the yard in a box containing rain water. As little as they are: one 12 inches, the other 16 inches – they try to bite me; but of course their teeth are too small yet.

That heating apparatus of the monastery, College and church at St. Vincent will be a grand and decided improvement; do away with a great deal of labor and remove the danger of fire, if properly working and if well put up.

Well, the “Crackers.” They hate to be called Crackers. The[y] are a mystery, like many other things in Florida. Nobody knows, they also do not know, from whom they are descended or of what nationality. In the English they speak we absolutely notice no foreign brogue whatever. They are stupid, shy but vindictive people; extremely lazzy [sic] pale, tallow looking, leather skinned. Their eyes are stirring, dead and lusterless. I don’t think they ever comb their hair, which is generally flaxen colored. Their houses are bare log cabins with low roofs, without doors or windows, only holes into them; no filling between the logs – plenty of breeze all through their houses. Very seldom they have floors. They have no out houses, privies, wells, no fences, no gardens or plants; but every one has a sweet potato patch, as that costs hardly any work. The sweet potato grows like wild weeds; need no looking after. The Cracker settled always near a lake or spring to have water, for he will not dig a well; hogs, cattle and game is their meat; the tops of cabbage palmettoes, sweet potatos, and wild fruit is their diet; for salt and pepper they use clay; of of [sic] which they make small pellets (like a doctor’s pills) and these they eat. Our clay is namely a very singular thing; it contains something spicy, whatever it may be. There is family here from the north which has to leave again, because their children have taken to clay eating and no power can stop them. They eat so much that the[y] get dangerously ill. We have horses that like to eat it. The women dress remarkably plain, but very modest. The[y] have generally only one dress on their body, no underwear whatever. From what I could learn I found that the Crackers are a very moral people. They know scarcely anything about religion; but they say regularly their prayers and keep Sunday very scrupulously. It is a good thing for Florida that these Crackers are dying out, for they are a hindrance to all civilization. Since the civilized people have come into this section of the country, some of these Crackers have commenced to plant some vegetables and flowers, water mellons [sic], peaches etc. I buy such things from them, as may serve my table. At first they were very hostile to the settlers here, but since late they become more reconciled. Their preachers are very stupid also. I know one of them a certain Mr. Tucker, who lives about 2 miles from San Antonio.

My income here per pew rent is annually $696.00 nearly seven hundred. The expenses of the church were last year $17.50. Up to this time I have had Masses enough, but they are getting less. The stola is not very much. I will soon see what it costs to live. It will not amount to much at any rate.

I will write to Rev. Cyprian and ask him how he would like to come to Florida.

Asking a remembrance in your holy prayers I am, Rt. Rev. and dear Archabbot

Most respectfully Your Devoted son in Xto

Gerardus, O.S.B.


[# 8] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. Oct. 20, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B. Arch Abbot of St. Vincent.

Rt. Rev. and Dear Archabbot,

Before my last trip to Jacksonville, Orlando & Tampa I wrote you a few lines in answer of your last favor. Monday evening brother Francis de Sales arrived from Newark, and Friday evening I expect Rev. Cyprian Creagh. Brother Francis is more than agreeably surprised about our town and the country in general. He expected here a few log houses in the midst of the woods and everything in a primitive state. What will he say when he visits our colony and sees the fruits and vegetables we produce and the happy people that live in this colony. A few year[s] more and we will be all right; i. e. the colonists.

Now business. – I[n] all likelihood we will receive an offer of some grounds touching Clear Lake, just at the border of this town. An acre of land there is now worth $100.00. We will be offered 40 acres gratis, but the condition is or will be made that we have to build the college on it. A nicer, better and more beautiful location we can never get. – If we keep San Antonio, or stay in Florida we must in time have a college. If we could open a college with only 2 professors to-day we would at once do better than North Carolina. We would satisfy the great want of all Florida and the neighboring States would send us their [students]; even the North would send us students on account the healthy climate. Will you give me permission to take that tract of land with that condition? Again: if we get the land will you allow me to take a few young men as brothers of the Order to clear and cultivate that land. Something should be done. If we do not contemplate to establish a higher school down here, I would say that we should not remain and waste forces in Florida. Let us begin in a small scale. We have the best of prospects. You have professors that are not very strong, they will do a good work and fill their place here perfectly well, whilst in the north they may soon break down. You need not send $5,000.00 to San Antonio. $1,000.00 will do towards the building, when we are ready to begin. Best of all would be, if you, dear Archabbot would come down here, and see for yourself. Come this winter and come soon. The cheapest way for you to come would be to New York; there take the splendid Savannah Steamer first class board and all included $10.00 for a priest. Take then through ticket from Savannah to Dade City. By this route you will not touch Jacksonville, but come straight on. I will have conveyance at Dade City to bring you up. The Steamship and Navigation Co. will build a R.R. line which comes 3 miles within San Antonio & another Co. will soon build a line from Brooksville straight to Tampa which will come through San Antonio.

My house, or rather the Parish priests house is slowly but steadily progressing. It will be a nice and comfortable residence. Please, let me know if you will come. If you do not, I will come and must come. It costs me $17.00 to New York from here. If you come not this winter I know you will not come in summer.

The Bishop will be here 2nd of November, to give Confirmation. I am very well so far. Bitt um’s Gebet. [Please pray for me.]

Most respectfully Yours

devoted son in Xto

Gerardus, O.S.B.


[# 9] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. Dec. 20, ’86

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B. Arch Abbot of St. Vincent.

Rt. Rev. & Dear Archabbot,

To-day a week ago we moved into our new house. We feel happy to have a house of our own. It is a nice and a comfortable house; 4 rooms down stairs and 4 rooms up stairs; the kitchen and dining room are an extra building – very neat, cosy. Our cook comes in the morning and goes home in the evening. I will photograph the house and send you a copy.

Very likely I will after the holydays pay you a visit; I will, however, not leave here, before Mr. Wimmer arrives. I expect him soon after the 1st of January. You have very likely heard that he and Mr. Radel of Newark bought 360 acres of land. They were fortunate in obtaining those grounds so near the town. Very likely the Orange Belt R. R. line will run near their lands and a depot be in the neighborhood. We are almost certain that we get that line. Then all property in and about San Antonio will rise sky high in price. – I have so much to tell you – can not do it by writing.

I wish you, Rt. Rev and dear Archabbot a merry Christmas and a happy New Year – many of them. Begging a remembrance in your prayers, I am, dear Archabbot

Most respectfully Your Devoted son Gerard.


[# 10] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Florida Jan. 4, ’87 My Lord Abbot:

Just read your letter of 30 Dec. I answer with many tears for the suffering that you have to bear. Today I will start a novena & will celebrate the Holy Mass during that time for the purpose that you, Most Reverend Archabbot, will be relieved of this suffering & will get your health back. We expect Mr. Wimmer [that is, the Archabbot’s 30 year old brother, Ferdinand] any day & Mr. Radel will arrive here next Saturday. Mr. Gruss from Chicago will come with wife & children for a visit & will spend 3 months here. Last winter he bought property here & planted an orange grove this summer. Mr. Gruss will be a resident of our community & is rich. He & Radel & also [F.] Wimmer told me to stay here until they come or else I would already be traveling to see Your Grace. I will, however, surely leave towards the end of this month. I will have to give a lecture about Florida in Newark & when that is done, I will rush to St. Vincent. Had Your Grace come to Florida when I invited you before the winter came, you would surely not have gotten so sick. I have misgivings about traveling to the north in the winter because I know how terrible the weather there is.

Our Judge Dunne is in a bad situation. He spent $3000.00 in legal proceedings & that has already been years ago & now the man from whom he had borrowed it is suing him & the United States government has put a lien on his property here. I suppose it will be sold shortly. The Judge has been gone from here for 3 months & is staying in Toledo, Ohio, from where he wrote a lamentable letter to me a few days ago. Otherwise, everything is well in San Antonio. – Pray for me.

With highest esteem, your most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.


[# 11] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla. January 10, ’87

My Lord Abbot:

I received your letter from the 8th on the 15th. Most of all I thank Dear God that Your Grace is getting relief from your painful affliction. I still hope that your suffering will be relieved so that you will be able to bear it easily.

How the thing with Judge Dunne will end up is still a mystery. Dr. Corrigan & I have been in Brooksville to investigate the matter. We have had a search done & there is nothing recorded against Judge Dunne at the Courthouse. We also asked if there were any judgements against him & the courthouse staff said they had no record of any, nor any notice of when this judgement against Dunne came up. Therefore, we had no alternative but to turn to the United States marshal. He assured us, in a very friendly letter, that no property in the city of San Antonio, that had been bought by Judge Dunne before November 22, 1886, will be sold, because the judgement had only been entered Nov. 22, 1886. Therefore, there is no danger for us. The Judge is a reckless man. He has known for years that this commotion was coming – he has sold lots of land & taken in lots of money – but he also threw it away in bunches & saved nothing. However, his property here is magnificently beautiful and, just between you and me, worth $15,000.00 to $20,000.00. I suppose this will be attached. He has already been absent for about 4 months & in any case, will not come home until the matter has been cleared up. I do not believe that he will lose his possessions, he is much too clever for that. I am glad that the citizens of San Antonio are secure.

We just received the news that Mr. Wimmer’s furniture has arrived. He is very glad because he now can move into the house – a beautiful home. Mrs. Wimmer is a pest. However, I recently very bluntly told her the truth & that made her think. People make the Sign of the Cross when they see her coming. Radel is very generous towards Mr. Wimmer. Wimmer can still become a rich man if he lives another ten years. Just last Saturday already a man wanted to buy 80 acres from him. Wimmer is asking $35.00 per acre for the land he bought for $10.00 per acre. I advised him not to sell for another year. Then he will then easily get $50.00.

Jan. 19

Yesterday I received a letter from the Most Reverend Bishop. He is anxious to see me before I go to St. Vincent. Therefore I plan to leave Saturday & on Tuesday I will meet with Mr. Radel in Jacksonville, because he wants to travel back with me. His daughter, Aggie, who is here with him, has bought a city lot. I recently received one as a present from the owner of these city lots – a corner lot. Aggie has the other one. Mr. Radel is sending 12 large crates of oranges home today – about 2000 oranges. Two boxes belong to me. I will bring one of them with me, to pay my respects to Your Grace.

The best medicine that Your Grace can take against your affliction is pure apple cider. Drink plenty of it – as much as you can stand. Try it. I saw a hopeless case cured by it – an old man at that.

I will talk to the bishop concerning the High School & the handing over of San Antonio. Senator Mann is working on getting a very beautiful 40 acre piece of property for us from the Navigation R.R. Co. for a nominal price. He wrote to me about it yesterday and offered the property to us for $3000.00. I just laughed at him. Now we will receive it as a gift. Because of this property, I have had to go to Jacksonville twice. Finally, I came up with a clever idea & wrote to Mr. Tucker in Jacksonville that I did not want the property & that I would build the High School somewhere else. Senator Mann then did his part without my knowledge, because he & the Co[mpany] didn’t want Hernando Co., specifically San Antonio, to lose the institution. This 40 acres borders on San Antonio & on the lake. It is a magnificent & very fertile piece of land. The Company also wants to give me control over the other land – another 80 acres – so that only I can sell it to people we would like to have as neighbors. We would get a 10% commission. Each acre is worth $150.00 to $175.00, depending on location. I had complained that, in case I were to build the High School there, the company might sell property to people who we might not want to have adjacent to us. They had come down from $3000.00 to $1500.00 for the 40 acres, i.e. they wanted to give me $1500.00 for the sake of the High School. Following that I cancelled the whole thing & let them know that I would only accept it as a gift. That produced results. On my trip home to the North, I will see Tucker in Jacksonville. – I will have some fun with him. He is a man who looks forbidding, but I sized him up at our first meeting. Now he is my friend. Who knows? Senator Mann may get me another few thousand dollars from this company. Recently I also received a beautiful lot in Brooksville as a gift, for building a chapel for the Catholics there later on. You know, an attorney, a Protestant, told me that he believed that Mr. Saxon, whom I have known for a long time, would give a city lot to me. Saxon is very rich & has a magnificent home outside the city. I immediately went there with the lawyer & Saxon was so willing that he left the choice up to me. Through this, I chose the most beautiful location. For Christmas I received a gift of five acres of land close to San Antonio, also a beautiful piece. Through land sales later on, we will be able to build quite a respectable High School.

Abbot James [Zilliox of Newark] wrote that he will not come down here, because I will be away. The Archbishop of New York will come to San Antonio in February. Sorry that I will be absent.

I am looking forward to seeing Your Grace soon. I only hope that I will find you healthier, the way you had been. I can not stand to know that you are suffering so. Asking for your Holy Prayers,

Most respectfully, Your most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.

P.S. Greetings from Radel ————————————————————-

[# 12] St. Mary’s, Pa., Mar. 12, ’87

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B. Archabbot of St. Vincent.

Rt. Rev. and Dear Archabbot,

How is your health? I am very anxious to learn whether you are improving or not. I hope you are though; if not just at present you have undoubtedly prospects when warm weather sets in. So far we have had most miserable weather. I suffer much from it, and am therefore homesick after the beautiful clime of Florida. This bad weather has made my lectures to a great extent unsuccessful. I hope I will have a good day to morrow. Tuesday I go on to Wilmington, Del. Tuesday after to Brooklyn. Then I shall return to Fla. I desire very much that you let Rev. Fath. Paulin come along, for many reasons. I know that he can fix things at home, so that he be not absolutely needed. As soon as you feel pretty well, you come down to us also and I am sure you will never be sorry for it. I wish you were there now. Now, please, dear Archabbot let Rev. Paulin come along to see our place and report & at the same time benefit his health.

Again I desire to draw your attention to the final settlement of things concerning our mission in Fla. and Bishop Moore. The sooner things are fixed the better. Let it be understood that whole Hernando Co. with present boundaries is forever to belong to the Order. The Bishop is anxious to have our Order well established in Fla. What his successor will do, in case he die things not being settled, we do not know.

Good Father Aegid gone! He is only 4 years older than myself. In him the Order has lost a great worker; a member that loved the Order; an humble, charitable man. I can hardly realize the fact that he should no longer be with us. I should, Rt. Rev. and dear Archabbot be very happy, if you would drope [sic] me a few lines, especially if by them I receive good tidings concerning your health & my requests. I will be at the Abbey in Newark right the day following St. Benedict’s feast, & remain thereabouts – Brooklyn, New York till Dom. Passionis [Passion Sunday]. Then I go home so as to be in San Antonio on Palm Sunday. Rev. Paulin would have to be in Newark to meet me on Palm Sunday or the day after.

I hope and I pray hard, dear Archabbot, that you will soon be well enough to come South too. I ask your prayers and your blessing.

Most respectfully Yours ever devoted Gerardus, O.S.B.


[# 13] St. Benedict’s Church Barbara Street, Cor. Niagara Newark, N.J.

March 27, 1887

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot, O.S.B.

My Lord Abbot,

I received the document & the letters written to the Honorable Bishop Moore last Friday. I will immediately copy everything & mail it to Your Grace & will also make sure that the Bishop receives Your Grace’s letter & the document. The document & the instructions to Bishop Moore are exactly what I have wished for & the Bishop agrees. It should assure that future bishops will not cut out the Benedictines after they have worked for years & put everything in the best condition. I suppose that Hernando Co. will become wholly Catholic like Stearns Co. in Minnesota.

I thank Your Grace for the prompt procurement of these papers. Concerning your suffering, I hope that you will feel considerably better as soon as summer arrives. I also believe that God responded to all our prayers and granted that you would be with us for at least a few more years. I am sure that the Sisters O.S.B. are also praying for you.

I would have liked to have talked to Your Grace more but I saw that you were very weak & I would have therefore considered it to be wrong to bother you anymore than was absolutely necessary.

Today we begin the Forty Hours Devotion here. I have taken over the sermons and that will bring me a few dollars more. Then I will travel to Florida. A wealthy man from Wilmington will be traveling with me. I will absolutely not commit us to anything. Don’t worry Honorable Archabbot, & I will not rush anything either, but I hope that you can come and visit us in the summer.

Asking for your Holy Prayers, I never forget Your Grace during the Holy Mass.

With greatest esteem & admiration, your most devoted & thankful son, Gerard M., O.S.B.


[# 14] San Antonio, Hernando Co., Fla June 21, ’87

Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot, O.S.B.

My Lord Abbot

Your Grace:

Couldn’t you spare a brother who can cook & also work a little bit in the garden? We desperately need one even if he doesn’t know anything about gardening; as long as he is willing to work he could learn what is necessary.

I don’t know what to do with Brother Francis de Sales. I cannot use him as a teacher. The school was a total fiasco. He has the knowledge but absolutely no control over the children. They do with him whatever they please. The people thought it was ridiculous. He cannot teach the German children to read & write in German but that is just what the parents are demanding. The way it is, he is totally superfluous. He cannot perform manual labor. He is too weak for that at times & it seems that he has absolutely no inclination even for work around the house – like sweeping rooms, making beds, etc. He spends most of the time reading.

Couldn’t you use him somewhere as a sacristan? He would be good at that. For us he is useless under these circumstances.

Please, couldn’t you see if you could give me a Brother for the kitchen & the house? He should not be a weak or old man.

Our county is now called Pasco county. Hernando was separated into 3 counties. [This refers to the legislative action on June 2, 1887 which resulted in the split of Hernando County and the formation of Pasco and Citrus counties.] I am sorry that we couldn’t keep the name.

I believe that we will soon have to establish a mission station in Brooksville, which we will have to visit [at least] monthly. Brooksville will remain the county seat of Hernando. It is still questionable whether San Antonio will become the county seat of Pasco county. Dade City will be the provisional county seat (for two years). After that, it will be put to a vote. I believe by then people will find that it is not practical to have Dade City as the county seat & will then vote for San Antonio.

I assume that Your Grace read in the newspaper that yellow fever broke out in Key West. People in Tampa have packed their luggage so that they can leave immediately if the terrible disease were to strike. I don’t suppose it will become that dangerous.

The rainy season is starting here. That makes it nice & cool & pleasant. That means rain! You cannot open your mouth when you are outside or else you might drown. It will now rain for several months & we love it. The rainy season brings unbelievable fertility.

Would Your Grace please let me know soon whether I will get a Brother & where Brother Francis should go? He has not made any vows yet. Asking for your Holy Prayers, your Grace’s most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.


[# 15] San Antonio, Pasco Co., Fla. June 25, ’87

Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot O.S.B.

My Lord Abbot,

Your Grace,

I received your letter of the 17th on the 23rd. If Rome confirms our jurisdiction over all of Hernando Co. we could give up some of it if we cannot take care of all of it. It is always easier to give up something than to get it. I believe that all this can be arranged.

It seems that Your Grace has not been informed that we have a school. That is why I believed that Brother Francis would fit in, but I have been very disappointed. He has been teaching school since last fall. The school was already operating when I came here. Francis is not capable of learning Latin. He seems to have the greatest difficulty with it. He has been here for more than a year, serving the Holy Mass twice a day, & he still has to have the little book or else he cannot give the responses. He seems to have no memory for Latin words. He doesn’t want to learn them either. He suffers a lot from headaches.

I do not have to advertise Florida [that is, San Antonio]. I often receive letters with a string of questions. I answer them to the best of my knowledge, but I insist that people first inspect the land & the area personally. That way I do not take responsibility for any consequences.

I hope that at least by fall Your Grace will be able to send me a Brother who can cook a little & look after the garden. He doesn’t have to be a gardener. He would have to learn the way they do it here anyway.

I don’t know where to find a suitable teacher who knows German & English. Next year we will be large enough to have Sisters. For this year I do not want to risk it. I will have to enlarge the schoolhouse before classes start again & the church in particular must be expanded. I am already making preparations by collecting the necessary money. I will start only when I have enough cash in hand so that there will be no sense of debt.

Our orange & peach trees in the church yard are growing very well. We are already eating figs, grapes, etc. Your Grace seems to have a high opinion of Alabama yet everybody knows that even the trees there have the fever, which is the reason why so many people leave & come to Florida to settle. If, however, an abbey ever is established there, naturally the Florida mission will come under its jurisdiction. By the way, in time there will be an abbey here too. I am sure of it. You & I of course, will not live to see it.

You don’t see much future for Florida but it will become a rich state & a real garden spot.

It pains me that Your Grace’s health is still not better. – [Mr.] Wimmer just won’t take any advice & therefore cannot be helped. He will be lucky when he is no longer able to travel. I lent him $30.00 so that he could go to Ohio to sell his farm there. I fear that he will come back without having sold the farm & then I will be out the $30.00. He has not cut down a single tree on his land here. If his handyman, Adelbert, had cut down just one tree per day during these past six months, five acres would be cleared or at least enough that much that he could live on it & grow the necessary vegetables, keep chickens, etc. The way it is, however, the Wimmers have been sitting here for 6 months & are paying $15.00 a month house rent – or perhaps it is better to say are not paying it. All the while they are looking around the world & complaining. Now, while he is away, his wife wants to sell his piano. It is ridiculous.

If Wimmer sells the farm in Ohio & travels northward again with the money, then he will be ruined forever.

Coming back to Brother Francis again, I would like to suggest that you use him as a librarian at St. Vincent. I suppose they know that he has not made his vows yet. He has lost a lot of good will with the families here he because he gossips a lot & concerns himself with everyone’s personal business. P. [Pater, that is, Father] Cyprian does not seem very happy here. He would like to return to the monastery. That would suit me. His temper is too hot. That is why he does not get along with the people, even his fellow countrymen. Otherwise, he is a good man.

Asking for your Holy Prayers, With highest esteem, your devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B. ————————————————————-

[# 16] San Antonio, Pasco Co., Fla. June 29, ’87

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot, O.S.B.

My Lord Abbot,

Your Grace,

Brother Francis read me your letter several days after he received it. It was a fitting response & should have been enough for the Brother. He is, however, a restless spirit, discontented because he has it too good. He wants to be a contemplative. It is ironic that he wants to live so monastically & yet I cannot get him out of bed in time for Holy Mass which I regularly read at 6:00 a.m. For a long time he had his alarm set for a quarter to six. Only recently he changed it to 5:30. He doesn’t seem to pray. Just today P. Cyprian asked me if this man prays his Rosary. But he devours every newspaper & reads all day long & serves as the town newspaper because we do not have one. People are already very tired of him. Thanks to his sticking his nose into everything that is none of his business, the choir has quit & we have not had Vespers for weeks & not even Benediction on Sun. & Holy days. But I now have the prospect of getting the choir back together. You know, the choir resigned at Easter following an insult from Brother Francis. Mr. Wimmer did try to recruit other members but he could not find any singers & now he is gone & probably will not be back.

The Brother can see that he is of no use here at all anymore. That is why he is trying to get away from here in an orderly fashion. He has gotten many of his ideas from Abbot James. And although he did not want to live in the same monastery with him, he does correspond with him. Of course, he would create disaster among the Brothers. I would like to get rid of him. P. Cyprian would never vote to accept his final profession.

Yellow fever is not likely to reach our area. Even if it did we would stay to the end. So far there are only a few cases in Key West which is 200 miles from the Florida mission. They have not had the first case in Tampa & Tampa is a port city.

Today the Bishop sent me the decree of the Propaganda Fide [the Vatican office for the Propagation of the Faith]. Rome has thus confirmed what we requested [that is, Benedictine jurisdiction over all of Hernando County] – “servatis tamen praescriptionibus in Bulla ‘Romanos Pontifices’ contentis.” I am not familiar with this [Papal] Bull. The Bishop has doubtless also sent a copy to you. It was approved on the 1st of June.

The Germans here are revolting against an enlargement of the church. They want to have a German church in which not only the sermons but also the prayers are in German. I submitted the matter with all the reasons for it to the Bishop. He protested decidedly against it, however. That may cause a lot of commotion. Today I will go to Brooksville to make preparations for a mission station. There are several Catholics who never have a Mass & no opportunity to receive the Holy Sacraments. I will come back home in the evening.

A lawyer there, who would like to become a Catholic, has been working very hard to get us to visit from time to time. He came to San Antonio twice recently to discuss the matter with me. He is Lutheran. His wife is Episcopalian.

Poor Wimmer is speculating again. He has given a few music lessons & hopes for more students. Now, however, he needs the help of [the Blessed Virgin] Mary. I am almost sure that he hasn’t been properly providing for his family. He must pay rent & the grocery bills which he has run up for 6 months, plus $40.00 boarding charge for the first few weeks after his arrival. He asked me for $30.00 so that he could leave. He assured me that he would sell his land in Ohio even if he only got $1000.00 for it & then he would repay me & that he was going to be back in 14 days. I made him give me a note for 30 days & now he complains in a letter that I have set to short a time. If he had mentioned that he wanted more time, I would have set it for 60 or 90 days. The way things are now, I am sure that even six months would not have been enough & that I will lose the $30.00 anyway. – When he came to San Antonio for the first time, we advised him to start by buying just 5 or 10 acres of land, and to stay another 3 years up North, & to have the land prepared gradually during that time & then to come. Instead, he hooked up with Radel & came with bag & baggage without a field to settle on & without a penny. In addition to that he had to borrow $500.00 to come here.

I have bothered Your Grace enough for now. I hope that you will recover your health & I pray for it.

Your Grace’s most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.


[# 17] San Antonio, Pasco Co., Fla. September 15, ’87

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., Archabbot

My Lord Abbot,

Your Grace,

I do not want to keep P. Cyprian at any cost. He does not fit here & does not do much good. For right now I do not need any help because Rev. Reisdorf is here for 6 months; & before I have to put up with a crank like P. Cyprian, I would rather not have anybody, or I would rather not be here myself. They will be able to use him in Alabama if they should start a high school or a college. He is not fit for community life. He is good for tearing down, not for building up. Plus, he is sick most of the time & it is his own fault. If you give him what he wants, he gets sick. If you don’t give him what he wants, you can’t stand him. Since I knew that he would not ask to come back, I suggested to him to go north. If Your Grace compels me to keep him, so be it. I will never lead a community with him.

Send me a priest who can speak English but who wants to do more than just eat & drink & make himself comfortable, yet constantly complaining & criticizing. An English speaking priest should not come with the attitude that he is joining a community run by a German Hotel-keeper. The letter which he recently wrote to me confirms that he does not belong here. I will not answer him.

It pains me that Your Grace has been so sick again & has not recovered at all yet.

With highest esteem, your most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.


[# 18] San Antonio, Pasco Co., Fla. Sept. 30, ’87

My Lord Abbot,

Your Grace,

I guess I will not be able to answer your letters until next week because I was in Jacksonville, [&] Orlando & I have lots of work here & did not get around to writing. Mr. Wimmer is pestering me so much that I wanted to write to him, to let him know of my displeasure. I am taking the liberty of including the letter. You should read it & send it on if you approve. He has recently written a terrible letter to a young married man. He owes this man $40.00 & the man just wanted the money back. Now Mr. Wimmer is using this opportunity to attack me. [You will recall that] (I even lent him $30.00 so he could leave. He calls me inhumane (unhuman)(???). (check with Brigitte regarding this whole section) In his letter he says I am not worth wearing the (the habit)(???) beautiful holy dress, etc. “A priest’s sex has no bottom” & he would wish to break my neck to “fix” me or similar things. I cannot write all of this. It is too difficult.

Are you still suffering? How badly? If there was just a cure!

Brother Francis left – for Rome. He was an expensive (experiment (???). I gave him $100.00. He wanted $150.00. That tears a hole in the sack, but I am glad he is gone. He didn’t want to work at all, not even in the house. I will have to ask Your Grace to give me a priest younger than Rev. Cyprian & for heaven’s sake, no crank. He does not have to be Irish or American if he is just industrious & speaks English properly so that his pronunciation is correct. So much in a hurry. I have to go to Lake Body [That is, Lake Buddy].

Asking for your Holy Prayers, with high esteem, your most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.

I am in good health.


[# 19] San Antonio, Pasco Co., Fla. Oct. 27, ’87

The Rt. Rev. Boniface Wimmer, Archabbot,

My Lord Abbot,

Your Grace,

The Very Rev. Father Reisdorf received a letter today from the Vicar General of St. Louis in which a much better parish has been offered to him than what he had had so far. However, he would have to start at that post shortly. Rev. Reisdorf hates to leave San Antonio, but he can not let this good opportunity pass him by. Thus he will be leaving San Antonio in approximately 2 weeks. I therefore ask Your Grace to please send me a confrere. It is not necessary that he be Irish or American as long as he is fluent in English & can preach in English effectively. I would like to have an industrious man who is willing to work. Aside from all that, I would also like for him to be a righteous man. I will have to be able to also send him on missions to Brooksville, St. Thomas & Tomkinsville, which is approximately 40 miles from San Antonio. I would prefer a young man to an older one because conditions demand a lot of stamina. We will have to open another mission in our district soon when the new railroad is finished. In about 14 days, the railroad to San Antonio will be opened & by New Year’s the passenger trains will run all the way to the terminus, i.e. to Point Pinellas [In fact, according to Kast’s CHRONICK, the first construction train passed through San Antonio on November 27th and passenger service began on February 13, 1888. “Point Pinellas” was later named St. Petersburg by Russian entrepreneur Peter Demens who built the Orange Belt Railway].

When I am here by myself I just cannot get around to doing other things. The priest has hard work on Sundays when he is here by himself. Because he has to look after two communities at one time – the Irish & the Germans. Early Mass – before that listening to Confessions. After the early Mass again the country people, then before the High Mass, catechism for the German children, then High Mass, sermon & in the afternoon before the vespers, catechism for the Irish children & then vespers. Following that – lessons. Your Grace will understand that it is getting pretty hard for me to do all of this. **(completed to this point on 11-27)

I have heard that Your Grace’s health has improved quite a bit. That shows that praying has helped after all. This news has made me very happy. If only Dear God could help that much more that you could visit your children away from home. I then might have hope to see you in sunny Florida. You will never go home again once you’ve come here.

Rev. Reisdorf & I have been working for two weeks in the garden. Today we planted beans. A few days ago, cabbage, radishes, onions, etc. In a few days I will celebrate my first harvest in Florida. Hope to get many sweet potatoes. Oh, that is right – I have already had the cow peas harvest a month ago! …about nine bushels. There were about 18 bushels. Half of it one has to give away to the people who pick the cow peas & thresh them. In the Spring a bushel of cow peas brings in $2.00. Right now $1.50. I also planted strawberries & pineapples. They grow very well. The cow peas are excellent fodder for the animals & are also good for people to eat, like peas up north. One prepares them just like that, too. The climate is lovely. The yellow fever came as close as thirty miles to us yet San Antonio is not afraid. By the way, it is not any worse than epidemic diseases in the north, e.g. Platoon (????) & Typhus, the bad throat disease. I do not know why people are so terribly afraid of the yellow fever. The disease would not have spread as badly in Tampa if they had had attendants for the sick right to start with. The way it was families visited each other & carried the disease from family to family. Only after they were sure it was the yellow fever, they started looking for attendants for the sick. Savannah sent quite a few. Even though many people caught that disease in Tampa, very few have so far died from it. The disease is at home in Cuba just like the nerve fever is in Munich. People don’t seem to take much care, however. The people there do live up to their ears in dirt. I am just always sorry that we are not planting an orange grove. Each year that we miss is so much lost. A certain Mr. Waar wants to give me orange trees worth $25.00 as a present & I do not have the necessary money to clear a few acres of our land. If we would just plant five acres. The clearing & transportation of the trees costs $15.00 per acre. I could probably get it done for $13.00. The plowing when it is the first time costs $3 per acre. The fences are different. The wire fences are probably the best & on top of that, not even expensive. A picket fence would be even better because no rabbits can get through it. A picket fence made out of the hearts of the trees costs for about $60.00 for 5 acres . These last a long time. Think about it Your Grace, about whether you might want to do something.

I have a chicken coop, just think, & a dozen chickens in it. I bought them from Mrs. Wimmer before she left, but now I have learned that she has left without having paid for the chickens which she had bought about a year ago. All are glad that she has left. She took out a mortgage on her land in Ohio & as she says, borrowed about $400.00 through it. And now she has left with bag & baggage & has not paid for her debts. Her grocery boarding (????) $27.00. I do not know how much her grocery bill was. Chickens & who knows what else? She paid the rent for the house because a lien was put on her furniture. She will not pay, she said, for the debts that her husband has made. If it is true that she borrowed $400.00, then she could have paid for all of this & would have left here as an honorable person & San Antonio would also be in an honorable position. Here people are glad everywhere that she is gone. She talked about all the people & the talk all came back to the people. She did not even spare our Justice of the Peace nor the priests. These poor people just go farther into debt. Now it is time that I stop bothering you. I received the good news about the improvement of your health through a letter from Father Placidus & I hope that the news is true. I finally ask you again that you soon send a priest. Asking for your Holy Prayers, Your Grace’s most devoted son, Gerard M., O.S.B.

P.S. I will send with this letter an issue of our paper, but read. (??)


[# 20] San Antonio, Pasco Co., Fla. Dec. 6, ’87

Very Rev. Father Michael, O.S.B., Prior of St. Vincent Abbey

Most Reverend Prior:

Received your letter this morning. Of course I would like to have had a man who speaks English well & does the sermon; but, if you can absolutely not do anything else at all, please send me Father Constantine (??). Then I will just have to take over the English part of this parish. Please send me help immediately.

Eight days from Sunday I will have First Communion here. Then after that a Triduum for the Pope by order of the Bishop. Then the holidays – English & German – that really means two communities or parishes – & I am almost not capable to do all that. Almost every Sunday I get quite sick & played out. The sooner the gentleman comes, the better. As much as I can tell about him, Father Constantine would like to come here. I received a letter from him today in which he indicates that he would not dislike being with me. He is, of course, not quite the suitable person. We have so fashionable people here. He is, however, as far as I know him a good & eager priest.

Under these circumstances you have to without any doubt take over all of the administration, take over the office of the Abbot without consulting him because otherwise the whole Order would have to suffer more or less. If we had to wait for rules from Rome, what would become of us. The Prior of the house is the representative of the Abbot during his absence. He is now, so to speak, absent & he is also the administrator due to the circumstances & “ipso facto” in our case.

I received your circular & told the parish to pray for the archabbot.

If possible, send the brother to me by railroad – Baltimore via Washington, Richmond, Savannah, Jacksonville, Dade City. He will arrive in Dade City in the evening at 6:00. There he should take a buggy at the livery station & let them drive him here. Our railroad should be working by then but I am not sure. The railroad has been finished further towards the Gulf of Mexico but passenger trains are not running yet.

Couldn’t you come with him? How much I would wish that. Please send priest at once. Ora pro me.

With highest esteem, devotus in Deo, Gerard M., OSB

The twenty letters above introduce you to Fr. Gerard Pilz, O.S.B., and tell of his 1886 coming from Latrobe Pennsylvania’s St. Vincent Archabbey to Judge Dunne’s Catholic Colony of San Antonio. He established the Benedictine presence in Florida, surveyed the situation and recommended that the Benedictines take-on the San Antonio mission. He wrote that to be successful they must establish a college as well; that came to fruition on June 4, 1889 when a charter for Saint Leo College was granted by the legislature of the State of Florida

His work completed, he left San Antonio on November 9, 1889 to accept appointment to a teaching position at St. Mary’s College (now Belmont) in North Carolina. Jurisdiction over San Antonio/St. Leo had been transferred from St. Vincent to Belmont on October 10, 1888.

Fr. Gerard died September 20, 1891 and is buried in the Belmont Abbey cemetery.

I searched for additional letters but, even with a trip to visit with Bro. Phillip Hurley, Archivist at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, I was unable to locate any. As they say, ‘the rest is History.’

Eddie Herrmann, San Antonio, Florida March 25, 2011

front page