The History of the Society of the Precious Blood
Vilatte and Bishop Brown of Fond du Lac
After about a year trying to convert the Belgians on the peninsula north of the city of Green Bay, he saw that matters would not work out. On the advice of Loyson, he approached Bishop John Henry Hobert Brown, the Episcopal Bishop of Fond du Lac. He pointed out that in the northeast part of his diocese there were many hundreds of Belgian and French settlers who had already lapsed from communion with Rome, and that they wanted nothing to do with a church ruled over by an Italian pope. That, here in deed was an opportunity to organize a purified Catholic church which would present the Gospel to the people as did the primitive Church, and exercise authority according to the spirit of free America. Vilatte suggesting that the mission should be taken over by the Diocese of Fond du Lac as an Old Catholic outpost.
Bishop Brown, who was a broad-minded High Churchman, replied that he had already heard of Vilatte's mission work, and that he would be glad to help the movement. He explained that it would help promote good relations between the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Old Catholic Churches, which in Europe were doing so much to break down the power of the papacy.
Loyson had already written to Vilatte, asking him to come to Paris, so that he could discuss the possibility of his becoming a priest by Bishop Herzog at Berne. This would be the first step at setting up an Old Catholic Church in North America.
Vilatte replied to Loyson that he did not want to abandon his flock - he also did not have the money to travel to Europe.
Bishop Brown informed Vilatte that he was willing to support the missions, but that, he must be examined by two professors at Nashotah House Seminary on his theological knowledge. The test being satisfactory, Bishop Brown wrote that he would consult with some of his fellow bishops regarding Loyson's advice that Vilatte should be ordained by Bishop Herzog. (Herzog, by law was not allowed by the Swiss Government to perform episcopal acts outside Switzerland, but he ordained for the Gallican Church in France, some men who were sent to him by Loyson).
Word came on may 27, 1885, that the bishops (consulted by Bishop Brown) had decided that ordination of Vilatte by the Old Catholic Church was the wisest course to follow. It was also suggested at the time that Vilatte accept ordination of the Protestant Episcopal Church, as their orders were just as valid as the Old Catholics in Europe. Vilatte did not accept this proposal, as his followers did not want to be part of any church that may have question of orders. However, Vilatte did ask Bishop Brown for a testimonial letter and the following was written:
My dear Brother,
Permit me to introduce to your confidence and esteem bearer of this letter, Mr. Rene Vilatte, a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Fond du Lac. Mr. Vilatte is placed in peculiar circumstances. Educated for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, he found himself unable to receive the recent Vatican Decrees, and for a short time associated himself with the Presbyterian communion, but at last, by the mercy of God, was led into contact with this branch of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. He resided for a while at Green bay, a city of this diocese. In the neighborhood of this place there are settled about 30,000 Belgians. Of these a large number, probably 8,000, are believed to be inclined to the principals of pure primitive Catholicism. Several delegations of these Belgians have waited Mr. Vilatte and besought him to become their priest. Mr. Vilatte's character for piety, sobriety, purity, intelligence and prudence has been attested to the satisfaction of this diocese. Our canons, however, require a longer probation as a candidate then the exigency of circumstances will bear. At the suggestion of Pere Loyson, approved by the Bishop of Connecticut and other Bishops, at the faculty of Nashotah House Seminary, and by me. Mr. Vilatte approaches you, requesting you to ordain him to the priesthood, as speedily as you can find possible that he may enter upon the great work to which he seems to be especially summoned. It has been expedient to us to send him to you that he may learn personally something of the aims and spirit of the great movement of which you are a recognized leader and to be fitted to cooperate with you in some degree in this country. Mr. Vilatte's pecuniary means are limited and he desires to be absent from this diocese as short as time as possible. I ask you to ordain him to the priesthood and attest his character, briefly but sufficiently, by saying that I am willing to ordain him, if it should not seem expedient to you to do so.
Truly a loving brother and servant,
in the Holy Church of Our Lord,
JH Hobert Brown,
Bishop of Fond du Lac.
Armed with this letter, Vilatte arranged to return to Green bay, confident that the road was clear, so he planned to sail for Europe. But the Bishop accompanied him to the railroad depot, and before the train started, said: I will ordain you a priest tomorrow, if you will be satisfied with your ordination and rest here. To this Vilatte replied: “No! Old Catholic I am and Old Catholic I will be." Then came the assurance of the Bishop that he would nerve be subject to the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fond du Lac. Even this did not satisfy Vilatte.
He was ordained deacon and priest by Bishop Herzog on June 6 and 7, 1885.
The Rt. Rev'd John Henry Hobart Brown
January 1st, 1831 - May 2nd, 1888
First Bishop of Fond du Lac
The Rt. Rev'd Eduard Herzog
August 1st, 1841 – March 26th, 1924
First Old Catholic Bishop of Switzerland
Christkatholische Kirche in der Schweiz