“Nineteenth Century Jesuit Reductions in the United States”
Originally published in Mid-America (April 1935)
By: William Donnelly
CSKT BX 3708 .D6 N5 1935p

This article argues that early Jesuit missionaries to the Western Montana area adopted the same model for mission communities that Spanish priests developed in South America throughout the 1600’s. Reductions were originally independent, isolated settlements organized by Catholic priests to convert South American natives to Christianity and Western culture. It was the hope that in relocating natives to these communities, they would avoid the influences of their old ways of life.

The North American reductions served much the same purpose. Besides teaching Christianity, reductions hoped to convert nomadic populations of North America to a stationary, agricultural lifestyle. Locations for the settlements were often far from other white settlements, as it was felt that the loose morals of traders and settlers would undermine the priests’ work. Another reason for isolation was that the Jesuits feared the influence of Protestant missionaries that could contradict their teachings. Surprisingly, the early writings on this community concept encouraged priests to live and work in the original language of the people, which is quite different from the language-purge that occurred in the following decades in many mission boarding schools. The original foundation of St. Mary’s and St. Ignatius in the early 1840’s are used as examples of these types of agri-utopian communities.

The author defends his points by quoting large pieces of written correspondence, diary entries, and newspaper articles from the 1800’s. These primary sources were the best part of the article, as they offered a firsthand look at the motivations and goals of the first Catholic missionaries to this area. While history shows us that the original visions for these communities evolved into something much less innocent, the article educated me on the Jesuits’ intentions and ideology.

Originally posted June 2014