Exploring Catholic Chicago

In the 1880s, at the height of Chicago’s labor movement, 78 percent of its workers were immigrants. Historian Heath W. Carter argues in Union Made that Chicago’s Catholic immigrant workers mobilized their faith in support of unions and protecting the dignity of labor. While the archdiocese remained critical of labor radicalism, working class communities were “hotbeds of alternative Christianities” in the late nineteenth century according to Carter. Last week, the Ramonat Scholars read this and other histories of Catholics’ diverse union and political participation from the nineteenth century to the present.

The contributions of Catholic workers in Chicago’s past can still be appreciated in the city’s landscape through parks, monuments, union offices, ethnic parishes, and schools. The Ramonat Scholars embarked on an urban scavenger hunt last week to explore how and where Catholics left their mark on Chicago.


Mark Neuhengen and Jenna Ludwig at the statue of James Connolly


Nikolas Callas at the Chicago Cultural Center


Sarah Eden at the Haymarket Memorial


Alice Gordon and Spencer Bailey at the recreated Chicago Board of Trade Room


Laura Enachescu at the Pullman Museum


Sydney Williams at Union Park


Colette Cooney at the Plumbers Union

To read more about the Ramonat Scholars’ urban explorations, check out their newest blog post on the righthand tool bar ⇒⇒⇒


How do Catholics Vote?

What political issues are most important to American Catholics? Have Catholic political values changed over time and if so, why? Is there such thing as a “Catholic vote”?

The Ramonat Scholars have devoted their first two weeks of reading and class discussion to these important questions, which they discuss in their blogs on the righthand tool bar ⇒⇒⇒



The scholars largely agree that American Catholics are united in faith but divided on a range of political issues including immigration, gun control, and abortion. Catholic voters also care about education, unions, and the welfare state but may not vote consistently in these areas either. While a homogeneous “Catholic vote” may not exist because of the diversity of American Catholics themselves, Amy Al-Salaita suggested in class that a shared respect for the dignity of human life may influence Catholic political values.

The emphasis on dignity of life and labor has contributed to the active role of Catholics in the American labor movement since the 1880s. This week, Sarah Eden, Laura Enachescu, Sam Jaros, Kristin Morrison, and Sydney Williams reflect on the relationship between Catholics and unions in their blogs.

Welcome to the Fall 2018 Seminar!

Welcome to the Fall 2018 Ramonat Seminar in American Catholic History and Culture! Visit the about page to learn more about this year’s Ramonat Seminar, which investigates  how Catholics and Catholicism shaped American politics in the twentieth century. The Fall and Spring syllabi are now online. We’re looking forward to a great year!

Follow this site for updates on Ramonat-related events and to learn more about what the Ramonat Scholars are reading, researching, and writing over the next academic year.


Dominican Sisters of Hope in Washington D.C., 1968.

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.