previous next

Jesuit missions.

In 1539 the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, was established by Ignatius Loyola. Its members were, by its rules, never to become prelates. Their vows were to be poor, chaste, and obedient, and in constant readiness to go on missions against heresy and heathenism. Their grand maxim was the widest diffusion of influence, and the closest internal unity. Their missions soon spread to every part of the habitable globe then known. They planted the cross in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and on the islands of the sea; and when Champlain had opened the way for the establishment of French dominion in America, to the Jesuits was assigned the task of bearing the Christian religion to the dusky inhabitants in North America. More persevering and more effective than the votaries of commerce and trade, the Jesuits became the pioneers of discovery and settlement in North America. Their paramount object was the conversion of the heathen and an extension of the Church; their secondary, yet powerful, object was to promote the power and dominion of France in America. Within three years after the restoration of Canada to the French there were fifteen Jesuit priests in the province (1636). The first most noted of these missionaries were Brebeuf and Daniel, who were bold, aggressive, and self-sacrificing to the last degree. Then came the more gentle Lallemande, who, with others, traversed the dark wilderness with a party of Hurons who lived far to the westward, on the borders of one of the Great Lakes. They suffered incredible hardships and privations—eating the coarsest food, sleeping on the bare earth, and assisting their red companions in dragging their canoes at rough portages. On a bay of Lake Huron they erected the first house of the society among the North American Indians. That little chapel, which they called the cradle of the Church, was dedicated to St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin. They told to the wild children of the forest the story of the love of Christ and his crucifixion, and awed them with the terrors of perdition. For fifteen years Brebeuf carried on his missionary labors among the Hurons, scourging his flesh twice a day with thongs; wearing an iron girdle armed at all points with sharp projections, and over this a bristly hairshirt, which continually “mortified the flesh” ; fasted frequently and long; kept his pious vigils late into the night, and by penitential acts resisted every temptation of the flesh.

As missionary stations multiplied in the western wilderness, the central spot was called St. Mary. It was upon the outlet of Lake Superior into Lake Huron. There, in one year, 3,000 Indians received a welcome at the hands of the priest. This mission awakened great sympathy in France. Everywhere prayers were uttered for its protection and prosperity. The King sent magnificently embroidered garments for the Indian converts. The Pope expressed his approbation, and to confirm and strengthen these missions a college in New France was projected. The pious young Marquis de Gaenache, with the assent of his parents, entered the Society of Jesus, and with a portion of their ample fortune he endowed a seminary for education at Quebec. Its foundation was [141] laid in 1635, just before the death of Champlain. That college was founded two years before the first high seminary of learning was established in the Protestant colonies in America by John Harvard (see Harvard University). At the same time the Duchess d'acquillon, aided by her uncle, Cardinal Richelieu, endowed a public hospital at Quebec, open to the afflicted, whether white or red men, Christians or pagans. It was placed in charge of three young nuns, the youngest twenty-two, and the oldest twenty-nine years of age, who came from Paris for the purpose. In 1640, Hochelaga (Montreal) was taken possession of as a missionary station, with solemn religious ceremonies, and the Queen of Angels was petitioned to take the island of Montreal under her protection. Within thirteen years the remote wilderness was visited by forty-two Jesuit missionaries, besides eighteen other devoted men. These assembled two or three times a year at St. Mary's; the remainder of the time they were scattered through the forests in their sacred work.

A plan was conceived in 1638 of establishing missions among the Algonquians, not only on the north, but on the south of the Great Lakes, and at Green Bay. The field of labor opened to the view of the missionaries a vast expanse of wilderness, peopled by many tribes, and they prayed earnestly for recruits. Very soon Indians from very remote points appeared at the mission stations. The hostilities of the Five Nations had kept the French from navigating Lakes Ontario and Erie: finally, in 1640, Brebeuf was sent to the neutral nation (q. v.), on the Niagara River. The further penetration of the country south of the Lakes was then denied, but a glimpse of the marvellous field soon to be entered upon was obtained. In September and October, 1641, Charles Raymbault and Isaac Jogues penetrated to the Falls of St. Mary, in the strait that forms the outlet of Lake Superior, where they heard of the Sioux. They yearned to penetrate the country of this famous people. This favor was denied the missionaries. Father Raymbault returned to Quebec and died, but Father Jogues was destined to endure many trials and adventures of missionary life. On his way from Quebec to the Hurons he was captured by a roving band of Mohawks, and he who was one of the first to

A Jesuit travelling through the wilderness.

carry the cross into Michigan was now the first to bear it to the villages on the way Five Nations. At the villages on the way from the St. Lawrence to the Mohawk domain Father Jogues was compelled to submit to the horrors of running the gantlet, yet he never repined, but rejoiced in his tribulations, and was made happy by the conversion, here and there, of one of the savages, whom, on one [142] occasion, he baptized with drops of dew. As he roamed through the forests of the Mohawk Valley he carved the name of Jesus and the figure of a cross on the trees, and with a chant took possession of the country in the name of Christ. He was ransomed by the Dutch at Albany, sailed for France, but soon returned to Canada.

Another missionary (Bressani), who suffered horribly, was also ransomed by the Dutch. In the summer of 1646 the Jesuits established a mission among the Indians of Maine, and so French outposts were established on the Kennebec and the upper Lakes fourteen years after these missionary labors were begun. There was then a lull in hostilities between the French and the Five Nations, and Father Jogues went to the Mohawks as ambassador for Canada. His report caused an effort to establish a mission

A Jesuit Missionary preaching to the Indians.

among them, and he alone understanding their language, was sent, but lost his life among the Mohawks, who hung his head upon the palisades of a village, and cast his body into the Mohawk River. In 1648, warriors from the Mohawk Valley fell upon the Hurons, and the Jesuit missions among them were destroyed, and priests and converts were murdered after horrible tortures. Finally, in 1654, when peace between the French and the Five Nations had been restored, Father Le Moyne was sent as ambassador to the Onondagas, when he was cheered by the sight of many Hurons holding on to their faith. Le Moyne was allowed to establish a mission in the Mohawk Valley. Very soon the Onondagas received Father Dablon and his companions kindly, and chiefs and followers gathered around the Jesuits with songs of welcome. A chapel was built in a day. “For marbles and precious metals,” Dablon wrote, “we employed only bark; but the path to heaven is as open through a roof of bark as through arched ceilings of silver and gold.” Fifty French people settled near the missionary station, and very soon there were Christian laborers among the [143] Cayugas and Oneidas. A change came. War was again kindled, and Jesuits and settlers were obliged to flee from the bosom of the Five Nations. After that, the self-sacrificing Jesuits penetrated the western wilderness to the Mississippi River, carrying the cross as the emblem of their religion, and the lilies of France as tokens of political dominion. In these labors they were assisted by the votaries of commerce. Seeds of civilization were planted here and there, until harvests were beginning to blossom all along the Lakes and the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. The discoveries of these priests and traders gave to France a claim to that magnificent domain of millions of square miles, extending from Acadia along the St. Lawrence and the Lakes, and the establishment of French dominion in Louisiana, on the borders of the Gulf of Mexico. It has been truthfully said, “The history of these [Jesuit] labors is connected with the origin of every celebrated town in the annals of French America; not a cape was turned or a river entered but a Jesuit led the way.”

There were twenty-four different Jesuit missionaries among the Six Nations between 1657 and 1769. Their names and places of service were as follows: Paul Ragueneau, at Onondaga, from July, 1657, to March, 1658. Isaac Jogues, prisoner among the Mohawks from August, 1642, to August, 1643; a missionary to the same nation in 1646, and killed in October of the same year. Francis Joseph Le Mercier, at Onondaga, from May 17, 1656, to March 20, 1658. Francis Duperon, at Onondaga, from 1657 to 1658. Simon Le Moyne, at Onondaga, July, 1654; with the Mohawks from Sept. 16, 1655, until Nov. 9 of the same year; then again in 1656, until Nov. 5; again there (third time) from Aug. 26, 1657, until May, 1658; at Onondaga, from July, 1661, until September, 1662; ordered to the Senecas in July, 1663, but remained at Montreal. He died in Canada in 1665. Francis Joseph Bressani, a prisoner among the Mohawks from April 30 to Aug. 19, 1644. Pierre Joseph Mary Chaumont, at Onondaga from September, 1655, until March 20, 1658. Joseph Anthony Poncet was a prisoner among the Iroquois from Aug. 20 to Oct. 3, 1652; started for Onondaga Aug. 28, 1657, but was recalled to Montreal. Rene Menard was with Le Mercier at Onondaga from 1656 to 1658, and afterwards among the Cayugas. Julien Garnier, sent to the Mohawks in May, 1668, passed to Onondaga, and thence to the Senecas, and was engaged in this mission until 1683. Claude Dablon, at Onondaga a few years after 1655, and was afterwards among the tribes of the Upper Lakes. Jacques Fremin, at Onondaga from 1656 to 1658; was sent to the Mohawks in July, 1667; left there for the Senecas in October, 1668, where he remained a few years. Pierre Rafeix, at Onondaga from 1656 to 1658; chaplain in Courcelle's expedition in 1665; sent to the Cayugas in 1671, thence to Seneca, where he was in 1679. Jacques Bruyas, sent to the Mohawks, July, 1667, and to the Oneidas in September, where he spent four years, and thence returned to the Mohawks in 1672; was at Onondaga in 1679, 1700, and 1701. Etienne de Carheil, sent to Cayuga in 1668, and was absent in 1671-72; returned, and remained until 1684. Pierre Milet was sent with De Carheil to the Cayugas in 1668, and left in 1684; was at Niagara in 1688, and was taken prisoner at Cataraqua in 1689. Jean Pierron was sent to the Mohawks in July, 1667: went among the Cayugas in October, 1668, and was with the Senecas after 1672, where he was in 1679. Jean de Lamberville was at Onondaga in 1671-72; was sent to Niagara in 1687. Francis Boniface was sent to the Mohawks in 1668, and was there after 1673. Francis Vaillant de Gueslis succeeded Boniface among the Mohawks about 1674: accompanied the expedition against the Senecas in 1687; was sent to New York in December, 1687, and to the Senecas in 1703. Pierre de Mareuil was at Onondaga in June, 1709, where he surrendered himself to the English in consequence of war breaking out between the latter and the French, and was courteously treated at Albany. Jacques d'heu was among the Onondagas in 1708, and the Senecas in 1709. Anthony Gordon founded St. Regis in 1769, with a colony from St. Louis. There were two “Sulpicians” as missionaries in northern New York, Francis Piquet, who founded Oswegatchie (Ogdensburg) in 1748, and his successor at [144] Oswegatchie, Pierre Paul Francis de la Garde. For Jesuit missions in California, see Junipero.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: