Rivet Middle/Senior
High School


Father Jean Francis Rivet

In April 1795, a few days after Father Flaget left Vincennes, Father Jean Francis Rivet arrived.  Father Rivet had a commission from the War Department to be a missionary to the Indians, for which he was paid $200 a year.  Government payment was usually in arrears, and because of the poverty of the pupils, Father Rivet frequently signed his letters "The Poor Missionary."

The U.S. government (like regimes elsewhere) wanted missionaries to "subdue" native peoples, so settlers could take their lands "peacefully."  Rivet, however, wanted to help Indians materially and spiritually.  His first efforts met with little success, so he turned his attention to the French, teaching them (with Indians and non-Catholics) reading, writing, and catechism.  He also liked to visit Fort Knox where many Irish soldiers lived with their families.  There he baptized many children.

Rivet was well-qualified, if not over qualified, for this position.  Born on the island of Martinique in 1757, Rivet had occupied the chair of professor of Latin Rhetoric at the Royal College of Limoges from 1784 to the outbreak of the French Revolution.  He came to America in 1794, and a year later Bishop Carroll sent him to Vincennes.  As part of his educational program, Rivet brought in a new schoolmaster, this time a Frenchman from Detroit, Francois Houdon, but again the unhealthy climate of Vincennes frustrated the plans for a school.  Soon after his arrival, the new school master sickened and died on September 8, 1796.  In 1796, Rivet petitioned Congress for a land grant to support a school, but with no results.

When the new governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, arrived in Vincennes in 1801, he found Rivet a ready ally in the cause of education.  Harrison asked him to teach his four-year-old son and to become Headmaster of a school.  Rivet wrote his bishop:  "Governor Harrison, who has showed great esteem for me...is going to establish a college here for Latin, and wishes me to have a considerable part in this establishment which was called Jefferson Academy."  This school was predecessor of Vincennes University, and Rivet is considered to be the first Headmaster.  By the fall of 1801, the school was in operation with masters in the classics, belle-letters, mathematics, and English and French languages.  To aid him, Rivet brought from Baltimore a Mr. "Makdonas" (probably Peter A. McDonald).  At first the classes were held in the living room of the rectory behind the old log church.  Later, Rivet moved the school to a two room building of native cypress next to the governor's mansion, but probably it did not continue beyond the death of Father Rivet in 1804.  Catholic education would be delayed a number of years because of Indian disruptions and the War of 1812.

In spite of extreme hardships in his personal life, Father Rivet practiced heroic penances as the leader of his flock.  In his spiritual diary he writes that he slept on the floor without blankets.  Perhaps because of these sacrifices, Father Rivet became ill with the "White Plague," called for a priest, and wrote out his confession.  Unfortunately we do not know what he looked like nor the exact date of his death (February 12, 13, or 25).  If one considers the number of baptisms, marriages, conversions, and burials, then he was a very successful pastor.

Among Father Rivet's effects was a library of 290 volumes, probably the largest library in the territory.  Most of these books were theology or lives of saints, but some could have been used for instruction, such as "Principles of Latin Language," "Principles of English Language," "Conduct for Children," and three pamphlets entitled "Mathematics."  Also listed in his possession were "1 big school bench."  In his will, Father Rivet requested that he be buried, and that a crucifix be erected to remind people to pray.  He  would  wait 140 years before the monument was purchased.

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