St. Paul Mission, Hays, MT
ST. PAUL MISSION, HAYS; SACRED HEART CHURCH, THE AGENCY; ST. THOMAS CHURCH, LODGEPOLE; ST. JOSEPH CHURCH, ZORTMAN
10/29/07 Though Catholic catechists had been denied access to the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes currently on the Fort Belknap Reservation, various Jesuits had made intermittent visitations among the people until 1884: Peter DeSmet, Nicolas Point, Joseph Giorda, Philip Rappagliosi, Urban Grassi, Joseph Damiani, and Joseph Bandini. St. Paul Mission arose in response to a petition by the Assiniboines and Gros Ventres for a Mission. Fr. Frederick Eberschweiler, S.J. obtained permission in November 1885 to construct such a Mission, and school, on the Milk River near today's Harlem. By December, a log cabin had been erected to serve as a church. "On the 8th of December, feast of Mary Immaculate . . .," wrote Fr. Eberschweiler, "the solemn inauguration of my mission took place."
Owing to various drawbacks of its location--scarcity of wood, fuel, and potable water, as well as susceptibility to decadent behaviors of nearby white settlers--St. Paul Mission was relocated 40 miles SE to the scenic valley of the "Little Rockies" along Peoples Creek. When Fr. Eberschweiler scouted the valley in spring 1886, he assessed its resources in biblical parlance:
The cattle country with grazing land: the best I ever saw. Timber: that whole mountain range is thickly covered from the bottom to the top of the mountains. Water: seven beautiful creeks, running into the Milk River, clear as crystal, sweet as honey. Cultivating land: at all the creeks, but especially at "Peoples Creek"; at least 15 miles long remaining near the mountains is a deep, wide valley of the best garden-land, enough to make the whole tribe here very rich and happy.
The treaty approving the Mission's relocation and operation under the direction of the Society of Jesus was ratified on 21 January 1887. In September that year, Fr. Eberschweiler and two Ursuline Sisters moved to the new Mission site. Within twelve months a Jesuit residence comprising spacious log cabins, a church, schools, and living quarters for students and Ursuline Sisters were erected. 14 September 1887 marked the official founding of the Mission, whose name derives from incremental practices by workers and others of referring to it as "St. Paul's."
By 1890 500 baptisms had been performed. Following the assignment of Fr. Balthasar Feusi, S.J. to St. Paul's, Fr. Eberschweiler moved to Fort Benton in 1891 and to Chinook in 1896, from which he founded seven more churches adjacent to the Great Northern Railroad. From 1891-94 Fr. Feusi constructed a sandstone boys' school at St. Paul's. His successor, Fr. Charles Mackin, S.J., obtained monies to fund a new sandstone church (1898) and a convent. Though federal grants were suspended by 1900, St. Paul Mission received liberal support from benefactors and the Catholic Indian Bureau in Washington, DC.
The years 1898-1901 witnessed 193 baptisms, 21 marriages, and 7 marriages sacramentalized. A student body of 120 enlivened the school up until 1933. Closure of the residential program in 1936 gave way to a day school. Fire, ignited by a defective flue on 16 November 1931, consumed the two sandstone buildings that Fr. Mackin had built. After a series of temporary arrangements, 1933 marked the setting of a new church cornerstone. Dedication of the church took place in 1936.
St. Paul Mission was a center for missionary thrusts to surrounding areas and towns. Foremost among these was Havre which became a genesis of evangelizing excursions to locales like Chester, Devon, Dunkirk, Gildford, and Kremlin. Indeed, St. Paul Mission bore testimony to "the Jesuits opening new country as shock troops of the Church." Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
The foregoing information and quotations are culled/adapted from: William N. Bischoff, S.J. The Jesuits in Old Oregon: 1840-1940 (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1945) 86-87, 106-112; Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J. Jesuits in Montana 1840-1960 (Portland, OR: The Oregon-Jesuit, 1960) 61-70.
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