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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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John Thayer

Missionary, convert, first native of New England ordained to the priesthood, b. 1755; d. February 5, 1815

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Thayer, JOHN, missionary, convert, first native of New England ordained to the priesthood, b. at Boston, Mass., 1755; d. in Limerick, Ireland, February 5, 1815. His family were among the early Puritan settlers of New England and all during his career he manifested much of their stern unbending character. Educated at Yale, he became a Congregationalist minister and as such served during the Revolutionary War as chaplain of a company organized for the defense of Boston and of which John Hancock was commander. After the war he wandered over Europe and was in Rome when the beggar-saint Benedict Joseph Labre died. An attempt he made to dispute some of the miracles wrought through Blessed Labre's intercession resulted in Thayer's conversion to the Faith, May 25, 1783. His own account of this conversion, one of the first of prominent New England Protestants, was printed in 1787 and reissued in several editions in the United States, in London, and in Ireland. It was also translated into French and Spanish, and created a great controversial sensation at the time. Ambitious to convert his non-Catholic fellow-countrymen, he then took a theological course under the Sulpicians in Paris where he was ordained priest in 1789. He returned to the United States the following year and was put in charge of the newly organized Catholic congregation in Boston but soon failed as a pastor because of his erratic and contentious temper. He left Boston in 1799, and ministered for a very short time at Alexandria, Virginia, whence he went to Kentucky as a missionary. Here he remained for four years, his zeal, however, not compensating for his lack of policy and his infirmity of temperament. His wandering inclinations carried him across the ocean again in 1803 and he finally settled down in Limerick, Ireland, where he died, locally esteemed as a priest of edifying piety and ascetic life. The remainder of his small private fortune, with some gifts he had collected, he left by will to found a convent in Boston. Inspired by this wish the three daughters of a merchant named James Ryan, with whom he lived in Limerick, emigrated to Boston (1819) and there founded the Ursuline Community, whose convent, Mount Benedict, near Bunker Hill, Charlestown, was burned and sacked by an anti-Catholic mob on the night of August 11, 1834.


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