Connolly: "History"

"Louise Siuwheem"

A Ministry of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province With Native American Peoples of the Pacific Northwest

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9/22/07  Visions came in the late 1700s to Chief Shining Shirt of the Pend d'Oreilles in Mission Valley, Montana, and to Chief Circling Raven of the Coeur d'Alenes in Idaho that one day men would come in black robes and teach new truths about religion that would be important for the people. Some years later Catholic Iroquois spread throughout the west working as canoemen for the Hudson's Bay Company. They too spoke of a new religion and of men in black robes who carried a crucifix and said a great prayer.

These early traditions had a dramatic meeting in Montana's Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula in 1820. A band of Catholic Mohawk Iroquois . . . migrated west under the leadership of Ignace LaMousse and finally settled among the Salish Flatheads in their Bitterroot Valley. Ignace taught the sign of the cross and the Catholic prayers to the Flatheads, baptized their children, and marked their graves with a cross. He urged the need for Blackrobes who could say the great prayer among them.

In 1831 a delegation of Flatheads and allied Nez Perce journeyed some 1600 miles to St. Louis to seek Blackrobes for their people. Their deaths coupled with unavailability of Catholic priests who could relocate west prevented the acquisition of Blackrobes.

In 1835 and again in 1837, Ignace LaMousse traveled to St. Louis to petition for Blackrobes. However, a Sioux attack on the South Platte River resulted in the deaths of LaMousse and his party.

An 1839 delegation, however, encountered Fr. Peter De Smet, S.J. in Council Bluffs, Iowa and convinced him to come to the Flatheads. Upon arriving in the west in 1840, De Smet was so impressed with the eagerness of the Flatheads, their background in Christianity, and their high standard of morals that he returned shortly to St. Louis to obtain other priests and financial support for the founding of Catholic missions in the Rocky Mountain west.

The Catholic Iroquois had done their missionary work well. When De Smet returned in 1841, he found many of the western tribes eager to have their own missions and to gain the material and spiritual benefits of the Blackrobes' religion. In rapid succession De Smet and his fellow missionaries founded large mission establishments--"mother missions"--among the Flatheads in 1841, the Coeur d'Alenes in 1842, the Kalispels in 1844, and the Colvilles in 1845.

In later years permanent mission churches and schools were also developed with other tribes of the Jesuit Rocky Mountain Missions: the Blackfeet in 1862, Spokanes in 1866, Yakimas Assiniboines in 1885, the Crows and the Okanogans in 1887.

This was the legacy of Kateri Tekakwitha passed on through her people to the Iroquois canoemen who brought it west--where it found eager hearts prepared by the ancient visions of Shining Shirt and Circling Raven.

Excerpted and edited from "Visions of Chiefs and the Iroquois Connection: The Northwest Tribes and the Catholic Way" by Fr. Thomas E. Connolly, S.J. (Pastor, Sacred Heart Mission, DeSmet, ID)

Missions & Parishes of Rocky Mountain Mission-Northwest

As a ministry of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and as serving three distinct cultural regions in the Pacific Northwest--Plains, Plateau, and Coastal cultures--Rocky Mountain Mission-NW ministers in companionship with Native American peoples to strive among these communities to respond in faith to the Gospel call for greater solidarity in love, hope, and justice.


DeSmet ~ Sacred Heart Mission--serves Plummer & Worley [Learn More...]


Hays ~ St. Paul Mission--serves The Agency, Lodgepole, & Zortman [Learn More...]

Heart Butte ~ St. Anne Mission--serves Two Medicine River [Learn More...]

St. Ignatius ~ St. Ignatius Mission--serves Arlee & Jocko [Learn More...]


Pendleton ~ St. Andrew Mission--serves St. Anthony Hospital & Athena [Learn More...]


Swinomish Reservation ~ St. Paul Mission--serves Tulalip [Learn More...]

Omak ~ St. Mary Mission--serves Inchelium, Keller, & Nespelem [Learn More...]

Wellpinit, WA ~ Sacred Heart Mission--serves Ford & West End [Learn More...]

Urban Ministries in Seattle & Tacoma [Learn More...]

Director of the Work: Rev. Patrick J. Twohy, S.J.

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