The True Old West Tale of Adam and Eve’s Conversion

nature, water, fall, holy presence

nature, water, fall, holy presence

Father Patrick Manogue was both a legendary priest and a very interesting character in Western history. An Irish immigrant, Manogue became a miner during the California Gold Rush just so he could become a priest.  He eventually built the first Catholic Church in Nevada and went on to become the first Bishop of Sacramento.

Born in 1831 in Ireland, Patrick Manogue was the oldest of seven children.   His mother and father both died by the time he was fifteen.   Their death left him the sole provider of his siblings.  At sixteen, in the midst of the Irish potato famine, he immigrated to Connecticut.  Like most Irish immigrants during that time, he sent money home to his brothers and sisters.

From Seminarian to Miner

At eighteen, Manogue enrolled in Chicago’s St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary.   After two years, finances and a cholera epidemic interrupted his religious studies, forcing him to flee Chicago. There is some evidence that by that time, some, if not all of his siblings, had also immigrated to the United States.

Manogue moved to California during the gold rush, became a miner, and managed to save an ounce of gold a week to finish his education. In his book The Miner Was a Bishop, Father William Breault, S. J. relates that Manogue bought into a hard rock claim and “worked tirelessly from morning till night, drilling and blasting and shoveling…and began to amass a modest fortune.” Once he secured his education fund, he went to France and finished his education at Paris’ prestigious St. Sulpice Seminary.  In 1861, at 30, he was ordained.

Back to the West

Because of his mining background, Manogue was assigned to start a ministry in the Territory of Nevada. By 1868 Manogue had built St. Mary’s in the Mountains, the first Catholic Church in Nevada.  The diocese that Manogue oversaw, or St. Mary’s Parish, if you will, was the entire Territory of Nevada – some 98,000 square miles.

In his book Roughing It, Mark Twain described Virginia City in 1863 as a town in which “vice flourished luxuriantly…the saloons were overburdened…pistols and guns explode and knives gleam in [the] streets.” In his book, Father Breault relates “the town boasted 100 saloons, and it was not uncommon for a man to drink a bottle of whiskey a day. The result was violence and exploitation.” It was into this environment that the 6’3”, 250-pound Manogue, according to Magagnini, frequently rousted “miners out of Virginia City’s saloons on Fridays and ordered them to take their paychecks to their wives.”

A Stalwart Man

An 1895 Sacramento Bee article described Manogue as a “a stalwart-limbed man of gigantic build, and a heart as warm as the tropics.”  A tireless cleric, he once rode 180 miles to give last rites to a man about to be hanged.  Learning the man wasn’t guilty he “retraced his steps in the face of bitter winter blasts” to get the governor to pardon the condemned.  One legend relates how he rode to a miner’s cabin to give last rites to an Irish woman who was dying after a breach birth.  Her husband, a German, met Manogue at the front door and, according to a 2014 article by Stephen Magagnini in the Sacramento Bee, told him he wouldn’t allow a “catlicker [sic] priest near his wife.” Manogue “beat the stuffing out of him, administered last rites to the wife and then took the man back to Virginia City for medical care.”

In 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, Manogue converted the Paiute Chief Adam and his “old wrinkled wife Eve” to Catholicism. It happened in Virginia City, Territory of Nevada, which at the time boasted a population of 15,000 and was the largest city in the Territory. Nevada would become a state a year after Adam’s conversion

Adam and Eve’s Conversion

The conversion of Indian Chief Adam occurred shortly after the first St Mary’s of the Mountains church was completed [eventually the church would be rebuilt three times].   The first facility was described in an October 1863 edition of the Virginia City Democratic Standard as nearing completion. The church was “eighty-four feet in length, forty feet wide and, high of spire eighty feet.” A cemetery was laid out “in a beautiful location, about a mile from town,” added the Standard.

An 1879 article in the Nevada Enterprise relates the hows and whys of Chief Adams’ conversion. Shortly after St. Mary’s was completed, Adam started to frequent the facility according to the Enterprise. He “called often at the church and was hospitably received by the pastor [Manogue] both on account of his advanced age and his kind and genial disposition.”   Apparently, Adam frequented the church (which was always open) and while waiting to chat with Manogue he would study the Stations of the Cross.

Moved by Christ’s Passion

According to the Enterprise, St. Mary’s Stations of the Cross “possessed more than a charm for the septuagenarian Piute [i.e., between the age of 70 and 79 who] … passed more than minutes before each station, and returned day after day in making the rounds of the fourteen .”   The stations were paintings which were, the newspaper related, “being lifelike, fresh, vigorous, and well colored, [and] had more than a passing attraction for the vivid fancy of the untutored and simple old Piute chief.” Chief Adam spent hours and days “pondering over the tragic scenes” apparently moved by the pictorial scenes of Christ’s Passion much as illiterate Europeans had hundreds of years before.

One day Manogue happened to walk through the church and Adam asked him for an explanation which the priest gladly gave him. The chief immediately asked the priest to convert him. The Enterprise article went on to report he was made to understand “that some time was required for the transmutation.” A month later Chief Adam and his wife Eve were baptized.

The written record about Chief Adam and his wife Eve is sketchy.   After his conversion, he brought all his children, “even to the fourth generation and they all were baptized.” The word of the chief’s conversion spread and by 1879 most Paiutes in the area had become Catholics even though, according to the press, “They have never had a chance of being properly instructed…they are humbly and simply good…if any immorality be traceable to their midst, the solution is found in their contact with the civilized and “noble white man.”

The Miner Becomes a Bishop

Some 20 years later (1881) when Manogue was invested as the first Bishop of Sacramento in San Francisco, “a delegation of Paiutes came from Nevada” to attend the ceremony relates a 1922 edition of the Indian Sentinel Magazine. After the ceremony “fearing they would miss their beloved Father Patrick…[and] not familiar…that the communion railing had gates, vaulted the railing and went up to offer their congratulations.”

Bishop Patrick Manogue died in 1895 at age 64.

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