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Preface & Acknowledgments

This exhibit displays items of Loyola University Chicago’s Jesuitica Collection that deal with the Jesuit missionary activity in the New World. The missionary enterprise, with its successes and failures, embraced Portuguese America, Spanish America, and French America.

The Jesuit apostolate in the New World was inaugurated with the arrival in Brazil in 1549 of six Portuguese Jesuits led by the renowned Manuel de Nóbrega. He and other Jesuits, like José Anchieta, António Vieira, Leonardo Nunes, Luiz de Grã, and Christóvão de Gouveia, were among the true founders of Brazil. They labored with the Jesuits who followed them in towns, schools, and missions. The history of Brazil mirrors their outstanding contribution to the country, especially their indefatigable efforts, despite sever opposition, to evangelize the native population and to protect them from exploitation. This remarkable period in Brazilian history ended with the expulsion of the Order from the Portuguese empire in 1759.

Seventeen years later (1566), the Spanish Jesuits entered the American scene in the area of Virginia and Florida but, after futile attempts at evangelization there, moved on to Cuba and Mexico where they established roots. Others followed later to Peru, Chile and Paraguay. Like their counterparts in Brazil, they also labored in towns and schools and in the evangelization and protection of the native population. Their best known missionary activity was the Paraguayan Reductions, an outstanding achievement by men like Giuseppe Cataldino and Antonio Ruíz de Montoya.The expulison of the Order from the Spanish empire in 1767 terminated the Jesuit apostolate in colonial Spanish America, an apostolate which played no small part in building up that part of the Americas.

With the French entry into the New World much farther north, the French Jesuits arrived (1632) to labor in New France, as French America was called. Their apostolic labors also embraced towns, schools, and the evangelization of the natives. As missionaries, they traveled, like their counterparts in Spanish America, over vast areas, reaching into the far south of North America. Notable among these missionary treks were the explorations and spiritual ministrations to the Indians of the well-known  Jacques Marquette who, in his travels, proved that the Mississippi river flowed into the Gulf of Mexico and not west into the Gulf of California as some believed. One of the French Jesuits’ proudest claims, however, is the saintly Mohawk Indian girl, Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. These missionary efforts in French America, so rich in geographical information, among other benefits, were brought to a close in 1762 with the suppression of the Order in France and her empire.

During their more than two centuries of evangelization in the New World, the Jesuits acted not only as missionaries and bearers of European civilization but also as staunch defenders of Indian rights, explorers, geographers, anthropologists, compilers of Indian dictionaries, ethnologists, linguists, map makers, architects, music and voice teachers, and medical doctors. Not a few of them ended their lives in bloody martyrdom. Noted for their sincere efforts at acculturation, they also played a  significant role in acquainting Europe with the New World through their letters to Jesuit headquarters and families and their publication of books of various kinds about this vast unknown territory. This display of rare Jesuitica presents some of their literary efforts.

Charles E. Ronan, S.J., taken from the foreword for the 1992 exhibit catalog. Updated by K. Young, 2014