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Elisha John Durbin (February 1, 1800 in Madison County, Kentucky – 1887 at Shelbyville, Kentucky) was an American Roman Catholic priest, known as the "patriarch-priest of Kentucky".


His parents were John D. Durbin, son of Christopher Durbin, pioneer, and Patience Logsdon. In 1816 he was sent to the preparatory seminary of St. Thomas, in Nelson County, where he spent about four years of manual labour and study under missionaries including John Baptist Mary David, Benedict Joseph Flaget, Felix de Andreis, and Joseph Rosati. From there he went to the nearby Seminary of St. Joseph, at Bardstown, where, in 1821-1822, he had as an instructor Francis Patrick Kenrick.

He was ordained priest in Bardstown, by coadjutor Bishop David, 21 September 1822. Early in 1824 Flaget, Bishop of Bardstown, entrusted to him the pastoral care of western and southwestern Kentucky, about thirty counties, with an area of over 11,000 square miles, nearly one-third of the State. Then began a missionary career of over sixty years, as the "Apostle of Western Kentucky". Union County, Kentucky was the centre of his mission. From it he journeyed on horseback over his vast territory, erected churches, established stations, formed congregations, and visited isolated families.

In the beginning duty called him beyond his mission proper into Indiana, and once a year to Nashville, Tennessee. He traversed a sparsely settled mission incessantly. Occasionally a cogent communication from him would appear in the press.

In old age, his sturdy constitution gave way in 1884. His bishop, yielding to his entreaties, assigned him the small mission at Princeton, Kentucky. After a stroke of paralysis he was given, in 1885, the chaplaincy of an academy, at Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he died.

Further reading

  • Donald R. Durbin, Jr. (2004), Patriarch of the American Frontier: The Life of Reverend Father Elisha John Durbin

This article incorporates text from the entry Elisha John Durbin in the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.



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