My first experience in mission work began the next day. I was sent to visit the Catholics along the railroad east of Denver and any other families on the ranch near the stations. The section foremen were generally good and reliable men, and most of them were Catholics and practiced their religion, so I had always a stopping place where I would be welcome. Bishop Machebeuf laid out my itinerary; it was to visit certain stations, and say mass and administer the sacraments to all desiring them and give them an encouraging and helpful sermon. Being new at the business, and visiting a new place every day, the task seemed rather hard to me, especially the preaching, in which I had not yet acquired any great facility. The Bishop told me that was easy; all I had to do was to tell them to be good and say their prayers and teach the children and little practical things like these, and, as I was not twice in the same place, the same sermon would do for the whole trip. Such, he said, was his practice when he started out on the missions in Ohio many years before and it worked out all right.
Assured by these instructions I set out in a fine railroad coach over the same route where I had passed ten years before in a mule-drawn vehicle when we were prepared to shoot Indians, now to save souls. Tempora mutantur!
My first stopping place was about seventy-five miles away, and on this part of my journey I had the company of Mother Elizabeth of the Sisters of Loretto of Denver on her way to St Louis, and Father Thomas McGrath, pastor of Georgetown, Colorado, on his way to Chicago, from which he was not to return. Godfrey was the name of the station where I left the train, and there was not a building in sight except the section house. It was merely a station in the big cattle country. Mr Richard Listen was the section foreman, and his wife and little daughter made up the balance of my congregation with a few of the men who worked as sections hands.I made a few more stations on this trip, among them one near Hugo, to the ranch of Captain Barron, a cattleman who was a convert. He had an estimable wife and family and a very comfortable missions, and the entire family would go to communion at each of my visits. His youngest daughter, a beautiful little girl, went to school of the Sisters of Loretto, later, and I prepared her for her first communion, and years afterwards I prepared her for death. She died just as I had given her the Last Sacraments and Blessing.
The neighbors in those days were not very near, and on one of my visits to a station beyond Hugo where the Cliffords lived, Mrs Clifford complained about the nearness of her neighbors at that time. I could see no sign of civilization and I asked her how far it was to the nearest of her neighbors. She answers; “Eight miles.” Then she added; “When they were sixteen miles away, they came occasionally, but now they want to come every Saturday and stay till Monday.