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SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS: The Jesuit Mission at Mackinac.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, missionaries of the Society of Jesus shared their faith with the Indigenous populations of the Great Lakes region. In doing so, they founded a mission at the Straits of Mackinac that helped change the region's history.

Inigo Lopez de Loyola was born in Spain to Basque lower nobility in 1491. As a young adult, he served as a soldier and courtier, but that career ended in 1521 when he was seriously wounded at the Battle of Pamplona during the Italian Wars. He was brought to his family castle to convalesce and started reading the Catholic book Lives of the Saints out of boredom. While lying in bed, Inigo began to picture himself achieving great spiritual heights. Once he recovered, he left home to begin a pilgrimage toward mystical insight.

From that time on, Inigo referred to himself as Ignatius and eventually became known as St. Ignatius of Loyola. While studying at the University of Paris, Ignatius formed a group of like-minded men that eventually became the Society of Jesus (S.J.). The training for its members, called Jesuits, was long--those fully incorporated into the order had as many as 14 years of preparation.

Jesuits accompanied expeditions around the world during the European Age of Exploration, which lasted between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Their charge was to find God present in the cultures of indigenous populations, local flora and fauna, topographies, and minerals. After achieving a keen understanding of the native people they encountered, they would then introduce their message of Christianity, which they felt compelled to share.

Those international Jesuits often wrote detailed letters to their superiors to report on their studies, activities, and accomplishments. Father Robert De Nobili, S.J., learned the language and customs of southern India, believing that any method of evangelization must also include enculturation and that Christianity did not need to have a European worldview. Father Mateo Ricci, S.J., became an expert on the Chinese language, script, and belief system, serving as an advisor on the Chinese imperial court and being invited into the Forbidden City, home of the Chinese emperor. In Paraguay, Father Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz, S.J., organized the Guarani people into missions, known as "reductions," to keep them safe from Spanish and Portuguese slavers and establish indigenous Christian communities.

The Jesuits Arrive in Michigan

At the same time, Jesuits in North America were carrying out similar work among the native Wendat and Anishinabek tribes in the Great Lakes region. Their methods of evangelization created tensions among Catholic leaders who did not always approve of the Jesuit approach.

The first Jesuits to arrive in the land that would become Michigan did so in the 1660s by way of Sault Ste. Marie. That early band included Father Claude Allouez, S.J.; Father Claude Dablon, S.J.; Father Jacques Marquette, S.J.; and Brother Louis le Boesme, S.J. Like their fellow Jesuits around the world, those men had gone through tremendous training and possessed a grasp of local languages.

Their official assignment was to be Apud Wendates or Apud Outchibouec--to simply be among the tribes. When Father Dablon first arrived at the Straits of Mackinac, he wrote a geographical description of Mackinac Island, described the people living in the area, and explained the type offish available there. By 1670, he had established a Jesuit mission at the Straits and named it after the founder of his religious order, St. Ignace.

The most famous Jesuit to labor in the current state of Michigan was Father Jacques Marquette. Born in Laon, France, in 1637, he joined the Society of Jesus when he was 17 years old. Though he initially asked for assignment to the missions of India, he found himself in the French-Canadian Province of Quebec at the end of his course of Jesuit formation in 1666. At Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette met a Shawnee who told him about a "Great River to the West," which captured his imagination.

Shortly thereafter, Marquette accompanied a band of Christian Wendat that had fled Iroquois territory in the east and were located near present-day Ashland, Wisconsin. The band eventually relocated to Mackinac Island and, after less than a year there, moved again to the northern shore of the Straits of Mackinac, where St. Ignace exists today.

Marquette's descriptions of the mission at Mackinac depicted a village where the Wendat were "assiduous at prayer" and carried on their devotions even in his absence. While his seventeenth-century European biases were clear, Marquette was ahead of his time in many ways. He was fluent in both Ojibwa and Wendat and possessed a deep understanding and respect for Indigenous culture. He studied the local religions, attended both Wendat and Anishinabek ceremonies, and even became a pipe carrier. After a few years, the mission was well-established, leaving Marquette free to search for the "Great River to the West." In the spring of 1673, he joined a French-Canadian expedition that navigated and charted the Mississippi River, but he died on the return journey to St. Ignace.

Enter the Fur Traders and Military Men

Fathers Philippe Pierson, S.J., and Henri Nouvel, S.J., were the next Jesuits to take responsibility for the mission at the Straits of Mackinac. In 1676, Pierson wrote that "God has given up to the present, and still grants every day, so many blessings to... the Wendat Mission.... This little church gradually increases in number and grows strong in faith." Wendat and Anishinabek leadership took an active role in both village life and religious ceremonies.

It would be untrue, however, to state that the mission was a Garden of Eden. The mere presence of Christianity caused division among the Indigenous people, and conflicting religious authorities divided cultural lines. It appears the priests would sometimes go to unusual lengths to gain credibility, such as using European measurements to predict a solar eclipse during an Anishinabek celebration of the sun and the moon. There were also conflicts over erecting public crosses in the village and debates about which tribal dances were appropriate.

But the greatest challenge to the indigenous way of life--alcohol--came in spite of the Jesuit missionaries' efforts to curb its distribution.

The geographical location of the Straits of Mackinac forces anyone traveling between Lakes Huron and Michigan to pass through those narrows. Unsurprisingly, the crossroads became a central hub for the fur trade and military activity in the seventeenth century. The Jesuits soon had to compete with men of such stature as Robert de LaSalle, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, and Daniel Greysolon, all of whom either commanded or passed through Fort de Buade, the newly established garrison at the northern shore of the Straits.

Furthermore, the influx of French fur traders ended the relative isolation of St. Ignace and increased the secularization there. As commerce in furs brought many fortune-seekers, brandy, unfortunately, became a lubricant for making one-sided profits. The Jesuits, knowing that the indigenous population had little resistance to alcohol, preached against both its sale and use. After Fathers Etienne de Carheil, S.J, and Joseph-Jacques Marest, S.J., appealed to contacts in France, King Louis XIV signed a special order to limit the transportation of brandy to the Mackinac area.

But Cadillac would hear nothing of it, and he encouraged the lucrative trade to continue. He and Carheil became vowed enemies, with Cadillac once being "on the point of breaking [Carheil's] jaw." The Jesuit priest attacked him from the pulpit, preaching that "there is neither Divine nor human power that can permit the sale of this drink." With no resolution in sight, Cadillac moved his garrison to Detroit in 1701. Five years later, the Jesuit community burned the St. Ignace mission to the ground and returned to Quebec.

A Mission at Michilimackinac

Father Joseph Marest, S.J., reopened the Jesuit mission at the Straits of Mackinac in 1707, this time on the southern shore at the future site of Fort Michilimackinac. While the Jesuit community remained focused on the local Indigenous people, the growing French military and civilian population also received spiritual care. When the Anishinabek permanently settled at nearby L'Arbre Croche, or Cross Village, the mission split in two. The Indigenous parishioners kept the name St. Ignace and the French parish took the title Ste. Anne, named for the grandmother of Jesus and the patroness of those who traveled by water.

The Jesuits remained an integral part of the community. Father Pierre-Luc DuJaunay, S.J., especially, was a mainstay among both Native and European populations near the Straits of Mackinac. He grew up in Vannes, France, and after graduating from the Jesuit College there, he joined the same religious order as his teachers. Following the lengthy Jesuit formation, he came to New France in 1734 and was shortly thereafter assigned to live among the Ottawa at the mission at the Straits.

DuJaunay threw himself into his work, mastering the local languages and even compiling an Ojibwa-French dictionary. He discussed spiritual matters with the Anishinabek, taught humanities to the local French youth, maintained international correspondence, and oversaw the village's blacksmith shop. He held a considerable amount of respect within the community.

When the British took over France's North American colonies in 1763 as a result of their victory in the French and Indian War, they allowed the Jesuits to continue their work, so DuJaunay remained at the Straits. He and Brother Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Demers, S.J., aided in the transition of power and even sustained the earliest Englishmen through their first winter.

The Anishinabek did not make the transition as easily. Under Chief Pontiac's leadership, Indigenous tribes developed plans to rid the Great Lakes region of the British. Chief Minavavana assumed the responsibility of capturing Fort Michilimackinac. He devised a strategy by which a game of baaga'adowe, a forerunner of lacrosse, would act as a cover so that the garrison would be distracted and could be easily taken. On June 2,1763, Minavavana succeeded in his attempt to capture Fort Michilimackinac, and for a time, sovereignty returned to the original owners of the land.

Throughout the affair, Father DuJaunay sheltered a number of Englishmen in the Jesuit community, protecting them from certain death. DuJaunay's standing among the Anishinabek allowed him to travel to Detroit to meet personally with Chief Pontiac and help bring about a settlement between the Native tribes and the British. That peace was tenuous, however, and tensions continued to run high. A permanent peace would not come until the Ottawa of L'Arbre Croche met with Sir William Johnson in New York with a letter from DuJaunay "containing strong assurance of their good behavior." Shortly afterward, DuJaunay was recalled to Quebec, where he spent his last days living at the Ursuline convent there. With his departure, the Jesuit mission at the Straits of Mackinac ended.

All Jesuit missions in the British Great Lakes region officially closed in 1765. The event was long in coming, for the international Society of Jesus was under attack from both political and religious powers. First, the Jesuits' insistence that Christianity need not be European raised the ire of church leaders and other religious orders. Moreover, the Jansenist movement of France saw the Jesuits as morally lax and used their influence against them. Finally, Jesuit political influence produced jealousy in the courts of Europe, and Portuguese and Spanish diplomats felt their empires would be better off without a Jesuit presence. In 1773, Pope Clement XIV gave into pressure and suppressed the entire order.

Such a clash of cultures was often difficult and remains so today. Ideally, religious leaders have learned to see the sacred in every culture, and mutual respect becomes the foundation for any inter-religious dialogue. Pope Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus in 1814, and the Jesuits returned to the Great Lakes region soon after.

By James Boynton

Brother James Boynton, S.J., is a St. Ignace native and member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. As a Jesuit, he has worked in education both nationally and abroad.

Caption: A statue of Jesuit priest Father Jacques Marquette, which stands in Marquette, Michigan, today. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, 12004.)

Caption: St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, as depicted by Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaran. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Caption: A map of North America created by French geographer Jacques Nicolas Bellin in 1764. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, 74693006.)

Caption: A depiction of Father Marquette and several Native Americans in the Great Lakes region, as painted by German artist Wilhelm Lamprecht. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Caption: The Ottawa Chief Pontiac, who led the Native-American resistance to British control in the Great Lakes region. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-H27-A-4773.)

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Author:Boynton, James
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Mar 1, 2019
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