Ramonat Seminar Final Colloquium

This past Saturday, we celebrated the end of the school year with a colloquium. Scholars presented their research and fielded questions from the audience, then they and their guests joined Susan Ramonat, Dr. Karamanski, and Marie in a celebratory toast! Finally, this year’s winner of the Susan Ramonat Award for Scholarly Excellence was announced–congratulations to Garrett Gutierrez, this year’s winner!

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Movie Night: Mission

On Monday, March 26, at 5 pm, the Ramonat Scholars will gather for a screening of the 1986 film Mission, starring Robert DiNero and Jeremy Irons. The film explores the experience of eighteenth-century Spanish Jesuit missionaries in South America.

Save the Date!

Save the date for an exciting upcoming lectures!

Monday, January 30: Dr. Andreas Motsch, “Early Ethnography in New France.” 4 pm, Cuneo 116.

Joseph-François Lafitau (1681-1746)  was a Jesuit missionary in New France who discovered American ginseng and who wrote an extensive comparison of the customs of Native Americans to those of the people of antiquity. He did so in order to prove a key theological point, the common origin of mankind in biblical genesis. While his theological objectives reduce his ethnographic descriptions to means to an end, it is the ethnographic component which has kept the work from being forgotten. Dr. Motsch’s talk will sketch the relation between theology, mission and ethnography and highlight the wealth of ethnographic insights the work still holds in text and image.




Wrapping Up: A Trip Up North

We’ve made it to the end of the semester! The Ramonat Scholars are working on their final projects for this semester: historiography papers. In a nutshell, a historiography paper explores what has been written about a particular topic and how it has changed over time. For our students, these papers will explore the topic that they’re interested in researching for next semester.

Ramonat students are exploring topics from Catholic mission boarding schools in the nineteenth and twentieth century, Ojibwe and Jesuit approaches to and understanding of disease, the Jesuit role in the Beaver Wars of the 17th century, Native American policy and the Board of Catholic Indian Missions, to the memory and legacy of the California missions.

To give a preview of what next semester will look like, and to give students the chance to get familiar with the resources available in our region, we took the students up to Marquette this past Saturday. Archivist Mark Thiele introduced the class to the relevant collections at Marquette, and Sister Mary Ewens discussed the process of writing the chapter she published in Crossings and Dwellings: Restored Jesuits, Women Religious, American Experience, 1814-2014. Students had the opportunity to work with the collections at Marquette from the Board of Catholic Indian Missions and other sources, and got a glimpse of the (unrelated) Tolkien collection at Marquette!

As we head towards the holiday season, I leave you with this:

The Huron Carol was written around 1642, by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf. In the text, he tries to combine Catholic religious beliefs with Huron imagery, and it is an interesting example of the syncretism sometimes present in missionary work.

Exploring Blackfeet Art with Dr. Sally Thompson

On Tuesday, November 14, the Ramonat Scholars and members of the Loyola University community came together for the first of this year’s speaker series. Dr. Sally Thompson, who has spent over thirty years working with the native tribes of the West, presented on the art of Nicholas Point and an unnamed Blackfoot artist. Point’s artwork represents his impressions of Blackfeet country; self-taught, he painted what he saw and what was described to him.  His miniature painting technique could be clumsy at times, but he was an excellent sketch artist and captured the likeness of many of the Blackfeet. His representations of the Blackfeet tell us about what Europeans, in particular Jesuit priests, saw and expected to see when they encountered Native Americans.

Art by Nicholas Point, SJ (left) and an unknown Blackfeet artist (right).


In contrast, the Blackfoot artist who handed a sheaf of paintings to Point before he left Blackfeet country represented both Native Americans and whites from a distinctly Blackfeet perspective. Focusing on similar subjects, his paintings of people are often faceless, and white men all share a distinctive posture. The art of this Blackfoot man provides valuable insight into how the Blackfeet thought about and represented the newly arrived whites in their midst.

After the presentation, Dr. Thompson joined some of the students for dinner and a rousing discussion that built on the themes of her lecture. The students were happy to have the opportunity to continue the discussion of representation and to learn from Dr. Thompson’s experiences working with native tribes in Montana, particularly her work using the art of Nicholas Point and the Blackfoot artist with high school students on reservations.

Ramonat Scholars at dinner with Dr. Thompson and Dr. Karamanski

Student Spotlight: Mapping Missionaries with Brittany Stieferman

Brittany Stieferman is a senior, majoring in psychology and pre-medicine, with a minor in history, she plans to become an otolaryngologist. Here, she shares her experience with the “Mapping Missionaries” project. To learn more about the Mapping Missionaries project and see the map, see our post “Going Digital, Part 2: Mapping Missionaries.” 

The data collected by John Corrigan, Tracy Leavelle, and Arthur Remillard concerning the French and Spanish missions in the United States provides a lot of useful information, and raises just as many questions concerning the European colonization of North America and missionary interaction with Native American tribes. Google Fusion tables is a neat, interactive learning tool useful for engaging the viewer by showing the establishment of missions as a function of time, empire, missionary order, or even as a function of commodity produced.

Mission positioning and establishment

I found it most logical to split the map into the two empires and to track the establishment of missions that way. France built their first Jesuit mission in Maine in 1565 which remained active for almost two centuries. Spain built Jesuit missions along the coast of the southeastern United States, the first two in South Carolina in 1566 which were closed within six years. The starting positions for the French and Spanish empires make sense considering their relative positions in Europe–if they just went straight across the Atlantic Ocean that’s about where they’d end up in the North America.

Given the entryways of the French and Spanish empires, it’s reasonable that French missionaries mainly stayed in Canada, though they would eventually expand south into the Midwestern United States traveling along the Mississippi river. There were a few French missions in Florida, and southern Arizona bordering Mexico—this in what would be Spanish “territory”, so overlap did occur but it was rare. The Spanish empire mainly had missions established in the southern United States, starting in Florida and moving westward to the coast of California. They had a few missions set up in Canada and in the northeastern United States in French “territory”.

French Jesuit Missions

The positioning of the missions, regardless if French or Spanish, suggests that they were placed in populous Native American locations—this because the missionaries want to reach as many people as possible, and because they have limited resources and funds to build missions. This also gives us a general radius of where Christianity was spread first hand, and where it was spread more heavily. Multiple missions being built in close proximity would suggest the acceptance of Christianity by certain tribes, for example there were clumps of missions built near Toronto, Canada (mostly Huron, 39 total across North America), and also clumps of missions built in northern Florida (mostly Timucuan, 24 total across North America).

The Spanish missionaries went further west than the French missionaries ever did. The furthest west that the French missionaries established a mission was in southern Canada on the border of Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Spanish built missions throughout many of the southern United States reaching California—although this took place over a century and a half, Spanish Franciscan missionaries established missions spanning over 2300 miles. The Spanish missions reached around 1700 miles further west than the most western French mission.

Spanish Franciscan Missions

It’s interesting that Spanish missionaries expanded more than the French; this could be in part because the Spanish were patrons of the Franciscans and therefore their missionary efforts weren’t hindered with the suppression of the Jesuit order around 1750, but with that being said 82% of the Spanish missions were built before the 1750s. There were likely also more Franciscans than Jesuits in general since Franciscans travelled in groups, and therefore Spain had a greater workforce dedicated to establishing missions. France left most of Canada unexplored. It’s understandable why the French missionaries may not want to search north (it’s cold), but why not move further west? Why did they instead move south along the Mississippi river? My best guess would be they followed leads that Native tribes would give them advising them where to go to meet other Native tribes, or they were following in the footsteps of French explorers.

Missionary Orders

The French heavily favored Jesuit missionaries, with French Franciscan missionaries few and far in between. This is in stark contrast with that of the Spanish empire sending primarily Franciscan missionaries—kind of odd considering the Jesuits are of Spanish origin. There were only twelve Spanish Jesuit missions built in the United States, and they were all closed by 1733. More puzzling, the Spanish missions built between 1566 and 1587 were purely Jesuit. In 1587, there was a clear divergence and from then on basically only Franciscan missions were built. Why did Spain stop endorsing Jesuit missionaries after the first 21 years?

Commodities and Trade

The French missions primarily traded furs, which coincides with location. The Spanish missions didn’t deal with furs at all, instead trading agricultural goods, labor, and sometimes farm animals which makes sense based on their location and environment in the southern United States. The fur trade of the French missions gives us general information on fur trading routes with the range of fur-trading missions extending as far as 2000 miles from Quebec to Arkansas. The furs were produced at the missions and traded for other things, but I wonder how active in the fur trade the missions were and if their contribution was incremental to the fur trade as a whole.

Native American Tribes

The missions dealt with a large array of Native American tribes. What stuck out to me was that the first Spanish missions were meant to proselytize the Huron tribe in Saint Augustine, Florida, and also in southern Georgia. This is interesting because the Huron were primarily located in Ontario, Canada. The distance between Saint Augustine and Southern Ontario is over 1200 miles and would take over 16 days of continuous walking from one destination to the next, and that’s with modern roads! It’s interesting that the Huron traversed so far. There were also two Iroquois missions in Georgia. I wonder if the Huron and Iroquois tribes that lived so far south of their main hub had somewhat regular contact through messengers, or if they travelled back and forth frequently.


It would be interesting to map the spread of disease across North America based on the death records provided by missionaries, however the data is severely limited as only the Spanish missions in San Antonio recorded a death toll. With just this data given, the sample size is too small to produce a credible generalized extreme value distribution or estimation of proportion. With additional data from outside sources, it might be possible to produce a statistical analysis of the decline in Native populations from disease with a low confidence interval, proving mostly ineffective. This would also be ineffective overall in deducing initial Native populations as decline from warfare should be factored in. Instead, it might be interesting to look at how certain diseases effected the Europeans on its initial spread, therefore spread to virgin recipients of the disease, and to compare this to what is known about the mortality rate of the Native Americans and like diseases.


The data, and its incorporation into Google Fusion tables is extremely useful in understanding the expanse of the French and Spanish missions across North America. There were 420 missions combined, however most of North America was left mission-less by the early 1800s. Half of the United States and 70% of Canadian provinces were never touched by established Catholic missions, anyway. There is no doubt that people lived in these areas and I wonder what the spread of Christianity was like for the inhabitants who were miles away from the initial European colonization.

Save the Date for Sally Thompson!

The Ramonat Seminar, The Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, and the Loyola University History Department are proud to present “Perceiving the Other: Visual Counterpoints in Blackfeet Country, 1846,” a lecture by Dr. Sally Thompson.

Dr. Thompson’s lecture will discuss the art work of Jesuit missionary Nicholas Point, the Blackfeet Indian artistic response, and the legacy of Jesuit missionaries in contemporary Indian country.

Join us! We would love to see you there!

Tuesday, November 14

5:30 PM

McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall 

Questions? Email mpellissier@luc.edu

Student Spotlight: Mapping Missionaries with Christian Geoppo

Christian Geoppo is a junior, majoring in Economics with a minor in Mathematics and Information Systems Management. Here, he shares his reflections and conclusions from the “Mapping Missionaries” project. To learn more about the Mapping Missionaries project and see the map, see our post “Going Digital, Part 2: Mapping Missionaries.” 

I found the Google Fusion Tables very easy and enjoyable to work with. However, I was rather annoyed to find that the program made distinctions between “Food and Labor” and “food, labor.” To historians using the program who want to be very specific and precise with filters, this feature induces undue work as they would have to scroll through all the filters to ensure that no separate versions of the same filter are represented.

After entering the data, I played with the filters in order to tease out patterns. First I separated the missions by empire. Not knowing much about the Spanish missions, as they had not yet been covered in class, I decided to focus on them. I was surprised to find that there exists a high concentration of missions in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas as these are dry, inland areas. Upon further investigation, however, I realized that this made sense, as they were clustered around the Rio Grande. I was also surprised to find that they were among the earliest missions established. The first four were established within a two year period beginning in 1598 all near the modern day city of Santa Fe. One of the values I find from Google Fusion tables is that historians can track the Spanish expansion and contraction by looking at the map through filters. Since establishing Christian missions was in the vanguard of European colonization efforts, we can determine that the Spanish were beginning to branch out of Mexico and into the American Southwest by the 1590s.

I was also surprised to learn that the first two Spanish missions were established in South Carolina by Jesuits. Since of the 269 Spanish missions, 256 of them were staffed by Franciscans, I had initially thought that Franciscans had established the first missions. Additionally, I had thought that the Spain’s missions would have originated in Florida not the Carolinas. However, based off the map, it appears that the Jesuits first established missions in South Carolina, and then moved south into Florida. The Jesuits appear to have met with little success as these missions only lasted around two years, with the longest one lasting around six. Each of the Jesuit missions in South Carolina and Georgia targeted a different tribe (Escamacu, Chayopin, Borrado, or Camama), and I wonder if the Jesuits had inadvertently stumbled into a regional conflict that drove them out. It is also entirely possible however, that these tribes were less susceptible to Christianity since at that time and location these tribes were not as exposed to European traders as the Huron and Iroquois were in French Canada. As a result, these populations would not have experienced the significant disruptions in social norms that the Huron and Iroquois experienced because of the fur trade. Moreover, since they were in less contact with European traders, the southern tribes would not have experienced the mass epidemics brought on by the fur trade. As seen in the Anderson and Blackburn readings among others, European diseases eroded native peoples’ faith in traditional beliefs, making it easier for them to convert to Catholicism. With traditional beliefs still intact, Spanish Jesuits to South Carolina did not find the fertile ground with which to plant their new faith.

I also noticed that although many Spanish missions to Florida were located along the Atlantic coast, hardly any were located along its Gulf coast. To historians of migration this would indicate that Spanish colonization began on the Atlantic coast and moved west. It would also indicate that the Spanish did not sail around the Florida peninsula to explore and proselytize the coastal regions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Additionally, by redefining the parameters of the Date Established filter, I noticed that the period from 1725 to 1750 represented the wind down of mission activities in Florida with no new missions being established there after this period. This may suggest that prior and existing missions were successful in converting the natives in that region. It appears that the loss of Spanish Florida to Britain following the 1763 Treaty of Paris caused minimal disruption to existing missions in the area as few were closed in that region following the treaty. Indeed, it appears that most of the missions in Spanish Florida closed between 1695 and 1705. These included long term missions such as San Matheo de Tolapatafi (founded 1625, closed 1704) and San Martin de Tomole (founded 1655, closed 1704). Curiously, fifteen missions in the Tallahassee region closed in 1704. Whether this is from plague, tribal violence from the Apalache and Chine, or violence related to Queen Anne’s War, I do not know. But the collapse of these missions signals that a very significant event had occurred.

Additionally it was interesting to view commodity patterns. Labor appears to have been supplied by nearly every Spanish mission. There is no information as to what form this supply of labor took, but as seen from recent criticism of Junipero Serra’s California missions, it is likely that slavery was involved. Corn was supplied from Florida and Georgia; agricultural products and livestock were harvested from California; and horses and cattle were raised in Texas.

Turning to the French missions, the map indicates that 151 missions were established between 1565 and 1752. While 118 missions were founded by Jesuits, the Capuchin, Recollect, and Sulpician orders each established about nine missions apiece. Nine seminaries were also established, with a high concentration along the southern Mississippi River valley. The first seminary was established in New Brunswick in 1686, signaling that French colonization had matured to a point that enough French colonists desired to become priests that establishing a North American seminary was more efficacious than sending prospective priests to France.

As expected with the French missions, many missions’ main commodity was furs. Sixty-eight missions produced furs throughout the years of French colonization. I did notice however, that a large cluster of missions to the Huron near Toronto closed between 1648 and 1649. This corresponds to what we learned in class about the Iroquois Wars, which ended with the annihilation of the Huron in 1649. I did not realize the scope of destruction that the wars had wrought until I saw it reflected on the map. Fusion tables add a dimension to history that is often missed when simply reading a text. Twenty years separate the destruction of the Huron missions near Toronto and the establishment of the Iroquois missions near Montreal. A new generation had to come of age following the destruction of the Huron before French Catholics were accepted by the Iroquois tribe and permitted to establish lasting missions. This attests to the antipathy the Iroquois felt towards the French, who early on had chosen to fight and trade with the Huron rather than the Iroquois. The establishment of the missions occurred only two to three years following the treaty of 1667, which established a final and lasting peace with the French. The Jesuit missionaries were not ones to wait.

Unlike the Spanish Franciscans, French Jesuits established missions along the Mississippi and Alabama coast and interior. However, these occurred late in the French colonial movement, with establishment of the coastal missions in 1700 and 1704 and establishment of the interior missions in 1722 and 1728. These missions did not produce any major commodities and closed fairly quickly. In fact most of the missions established south of St. Louis, with the exception of Immaculate Conception IV closed a few years after they opened. Perhaps the first nations in these regions were not as susceptible to disruption as the tribes in Canada and New England because they were not as exposed to the fur trade, which as we learned in class caused major spiritual and social upheaval. Without the tribes’ association with French traders and exposure to European diseases to the extent that the northern tribes faced, it is likely that old beliefs and traditions remained intact and Christianity was mostly rejected.

Overall, I felt that this project aided my understanding as to the extent of and challenges faced by Catholic missions in North America. The ability to use time lapse also helped me to visualize French and Spanish territorial expansion and encroachment on native peoples’ lands as well. I believe that fusion tables are an asset for historians, especially if they are tracking migrations.

Going Digital, Part 2: Mapping Missionaries

Now that the project is over, it’s time to show it off! Over the past few weeks, the Ramonat Scholars have been working with Google Fusion Tables. Fusion Tables is a tool that allows you to project data points over a map. You can then manipulate the data by variable. In our case, we used data collected by Tracy Leavelle and John Corrigan for their project French and Spanish Missions in North America.

Students downloaded the spreadsheets with Leavelle and Corrigan’s data, then input it to a Google spreadsheet. We ran into a couple of bumps in the data input process, but everyone learned how important it is to have uniformity when you’re contributing data to a group project like this.

Then, students uploaded that Google spreadsheet into Fusion Tables and played around with the map. They could manipulate it by variables including: empire (French or Spanish), date established, date closed, years open, major commodity, and associated Native American tribe. By manipulating the map, they drew some fascinating conclusions about the missions.

Check out our map here, and click on the “Map of Latitude” tab to see missions color-coded by duration.