Theophile Meerschaert

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Theophile Meerschaert †
Bishop of Oklahoma
Church Roman Catholic Church
See Oklahoma
In office 2 June 1891 (1891-06-02)—21 February 1924 (1924-02-21)
Predecessor Ignatius Jean, O.S.B.
Successor Francis Kelley
Ordination 23 December 1871
Consecration 8 September 1891
Personal details
Born (1847-08-24)24 August 1847
Russeignies, East Flanders, Belgium
Died 21 February 1924(1924-02-21) (aged 76)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
Styles of
Theophile Meerschaert
Mitre (plain).svg
Reference style The Most Reverend
Spoken style Your Excellency
Religious style Monsignor
Posthumous style none

Theophile Meerschaert (24 August 1847 – 21 February 1924) was a Belgian-born prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as the Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma City in the United States from 1891 until his death in 1924.


Early life and education

Théophile Meerschaert was born on 24 August 1847 in Russeignies, a farming village near Renaix, in the province of East Flanders in Belgium.[1][2] He was the eighth of nine children [3] of the peddler from Renaix, Pierre François Meerschaert, and his wife from Russeignies, Marie Therèse Gabreau.[2] After studying at the College of Renaix (1859–1864) and the College of Audenarde (1864–1868),[1] he entered the American College of Louvain in 1868, having been moved by word of the needs and opportunities in the American missions.[4]

Ordination and ministry

Meerschaert was ordained to the priesthood on 23 December 1871 in Mechelen, Belgium.[3][5]

He left for the United States in September 1872, arriving at Natchez, Mississippi in the following October.[1] For the next 19 years he labored among the difficult circumstances of the Southern Reconstruction. He was appointed to Hancock and Harrison Counties in November 1872, and transferred to Ocean Springs in August 1874.[1] In October 1875, Meerschaert was felled by yellow fever and his case thought hopeless, but he eventually recovered.[4] He worked in Bay St. Louis for a year before returning to Natchez in August 1880. He became vicar general of the Diocese of Natchez on 18 April 1887, and later apostolic administrator (1888–1889) after Bishop Francis Janssens was promoted to Archbishop of New Orleans in 1888.[1] He also served as rector of St. Mary's Cathedral.[3]

Vicar Apostolic in Oklahoma

On 2 June 1891, Meerschaert was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Indian Territory in Oklahoma and Titular Bishop of Sidyma by Pope Leo XIII.[5] He received his episcopal consecration on the following 8 September from Archbishop Janssens, with Bishops Edward Fitzgerald and Thomas Heslin serving as co-consecrators, at St. Mary's Cathedral.[5] En route to his new assignment, he celebrated the first Pontifical High Mass in Oklahoma Territory on 20 September 1891, at Guthrie.[1]

At the time of his arrival, the vicariate had three diocesan priests, 23 Benedictine monks, 21 churches, seven day schools, five Indian boarding schools, one college, one monastery, six convents and about 5,000 Catholics.[4] By the time of his death, the Church in Oklahoma had an elevenfold increase in Catholics, and churches and schools multiplied by some seven and five times respectively.[4] Meerschaert also dedicated about 100 new churches and recruited around a dozen American-born clergy during his tenure.[4]

Bishop of Oklahoma

Meerschaert was named the first Bishop of Oklahoma on 23 August 1905, when Pope Pius X raised the vicariate to the rank of a diocese.[5]

For thirty-two years as the Bishop, Meerschaert kept a detailed diary about his life and career in Oklahoma. It was edited and published as a book seventy years after his death.[3]

Meerschaert died on 21 February 1924 at St. Anthony's Hospital in Oklahoma City, aged 76.[1] Originally buried at Fairlawn Cemetery in Oklahoma City, his remains were transferred to the Bishops' Vault at Resurrection Cemetery, also in Oklahoma City.[3]


Theophile Meerschaert, author, and James D. White, editor, Diary of a frontier bishop: The journals of Theophile Meerschaert (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Sarto Press, 1994), ISBN 0964170205

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Williams, R.L. "Right Rev. THEOPHILE MEERSCHAERT (1847-1924)". Chronicles of Oklahoma.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 (French) Théophile Meerscheart, Birth Certificate No. 12, filed 24 August 1847, Register of Births for the Year 1862, Russeignies, East Flanders, Belgium; in: FamilySearch, "Belgium, Hainaut, Civil Registration,, 1600–1911"; Russeignies, Geboorten, huwelijken, overladen [Dutch, "Births, Marriages, Deaths"] 1811–1870; Image 496, Left Page, Item 3. The titles and columns were in Dutch but the actual birth certificate was in French. In 1847, Russeignies still belonged to the province of East Flanders. It did not switch to the province of Hainaut until 1963. See (French) "Historie de la commune", Belgique – Russeignies (Rozenaken), at Geneawiki for more details.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 White, James D. "MEERSCHAERT, THEOPHILE (1847-1924)". Oklahoma Historical Society: Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Growth: 1891-1924". Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Bishop Theophile Meerschaert".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[self-published source]

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
none (diocese erected)
Bishop of Oklahoma
Succeeded by
Francis Kelley
Preceded by
Igantius Jean, O.S.B.
Vicar Apostolic of Indian Territory
Succeeded by