Friday, September 18, 2015

Fr. De Smet, S.J. Apostle of the Rocky Mountains. Friday 18th September, 2015 Ember Day. St. Joseph Cupertino,C

Fr. De Smet, S.J.  the Founding of the St. Mary's Mission and some amazing miraculous accounts.


Fr. De Smet, Apostle of the Rocky Mountains with his beloved Indians

Fr. Pierre De Smet (1801-1873) was a Jesuit priest from Belgium, and one of the best known missionaries in the world, who travelled more than 260,000 miles in his missionary journeys.

He was the only single person the American Indians trusted, and they called him "the white man whose tongues does not lie."   He travelled eight times back to Europe to raise funds and beg supplies for the Indians, and endured incredible hardships  in summer and winter, on foot or whatever transport was available, while going without food or water for several days.  


 In 1842, a Flathead Indian Chief spoke to him the following:  "Black Robe, welcome to our country.  Long have we desired to see you and be enlightened by your words.   Our fathers worshipped the earth and the sun.   I remember distinctly the day we first heard of the one and only true God.   Since then it is to Him we have addressed our prayers and supplications, and yet we are much to be pitied.   We do not know the teachings of the Great Spirit, and we sit in darkness.   But now I hope you have come  to bring us light.   I have finished.   Speak, Black Robe!   Every ear is open and eager to hear your words."  


On his second journey to the Rocky Mountains, in which he had promised to return to the Flatheads the previous year, Fr. De Smet was accompanied by three lay Brother and  three laborers, April 24, 1841.    They followed the Nebraska River until reaching the first spurs of the Rocky Mountains where they met more hills and mountains beyond which dwelt the tribes destined to hear the word of God.  


At Fort Hall on the Feast of the Assumption they met the advancing guard of the Flatheads who had travelled over 300 miles to come and meet the Black Robes.    Among them was young Ignatius, a convert and Fr. De Smet's guide the previous year.   Ignatius had been running for four days without food or drink in order to be the first to salute the missionaries.    


Simon, the eldest member of the tribe was also in the advance guard.   Although worn with age, the ardour of his youth revived upon hearing the approach of the Black Robes.    "My children," said he, as he mounted his horse, "I am one of you; if I succumb on the way our fathers will know in what cause I die."  During the journey he was often heard to say, "Courage, my children, remember we go to meet the Black Robes!"    They covered 50 miles a day.   


 Fr. De Smet's  heart rejoiced when he found that the year's interval had in no way diminished the fervour of the Flatheads.    The greater number including little children knew their prayers by heart he had taught them.   Twice on weekdays and three times on Sundays during his absence, the tribe assembled to say prayers in common. 


The box containing vestments and the altar service left in their charge were carried on high like the Ark of the Covenant each time the camp moved.  


The Blessed Virgin Appears to a Child of Twelve-Prophecy of a future Mission

Many of those baptised died saintly deaths.   A girl of twelve years of age exclaimed at the moment of death:  "How beautiful!  How beautiful!  I see the heavens opening and the Mother of God is calling me to come!"   Then turning to those about her she said:  "Heed what the Black Robes tell you, for they speak the truth; they will come and in this place erect a house of prayer." 


 Enemies of Catholicism vainly endeavored to sow dissension and distrust, by insinuating that the missionaries had no intention of returning.  "You are mistaken," replied Big Face.  "I know our Father; his tongue does not lie."  He said, 'I will return,' and return he will."    




The missionaries left the caravan three days after their arrival at Fort Hall, going north to the Flathead encampment.   One of the braves sent Father De Smet his finest horse, with strict orders that no one should mount the steed before it was presented to the Black Robe.


On August 30th, four months after their departure from St. Louise, the missionaries arrived at their destination.


"As we approached the camp we saw one courier after another advancing.   A gigantic Indian then appeared, coming at us full gallop.    Cries of 'Paul! Paul!' were heard, and it was in fact Paul [Big Face], so named in baptism the year before.  They thought him absent from the camp, but he had just returned, wishing himself to present us to his people.     Toward nightfall an affecting scene took place.


The neophytes-men, women, young men, and children in arms-struggled with one another to be the first to shake hands with us;  our hearts were too full for utterance.   It was a great day."


Upon his first visit to the Flatheads, Father De Smet had urged them to look about for a fertile tract of land where the tribe could settle.   They lived, principally, upon the fruits of the chase;  hence, it was neither feasible nor possible to suppress this means of subsistance until agricultural development could replace it.  Nor did father De Smet expect to transform instantly a wandering tribe into a sedentary people.


Hunting for some time to come , would have to remain their principal means of subsistence, but, instead of encampments continually following in the wake of the roaming buffalo, their movable lodges would be transformed into fixed abodes, where, after the day's hunt, the men could join their families and experience the softening influence of home life.   Ihe Indian thus would be drawn from idleness; he would learn economy, and unconsciously acquire the habit of civilization.


The proposition was enthusiastically received.   The Flatheads chose a suitable site which the missionaries went to inspect, at the source of the Clarke River, and beyond a barren territory.   In traversing these arid wastes, the Indians and missionaries lived on fish foe eight days; but the horses suffered for want of food, not a blade of grass being found on that desolate soil.   After twice crossing the ridge of the Rocky Mountains, the caravan at last entered the valley destined to be the home of this wandering tribe, and pitched their tents a few miles south of what is now the town of Missoula, between Stevensville and Fort Owen.


The Bitter Root River, which further on becomes the Clarke, watered this extraordinarily fertile region.   The richness of the soil, the beauty of the situaion, and the proximity of other tribes decided the missionaries to make this place the seat of the mission.


It was September 24th, the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, and the same day Father De Smet erected a cross in the centre of the camp.   "I should have liked all who are zealous Christians to be present at this ceremony;  it was a moving spectacle to see the Flatheads, from the chief to the youngest child, come to press their lips reverently upon the emblem of our salvation, and swear upon thier knees to die a thousand deaths rather than abandon their religion."


The solemn inauguration of the mission took place  the first Sunday in October, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.   The mission was placed under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin and called St. Mary's Mission.


It was a solemn moment!  the marvels of the primitive Church were about to be renewed in those mountains.   The missionaries sank on their knees, imploring the help of heaven.


The plan of evangelization adopted by these intrepid apostles merits more than a passing mention.


Fr. De Smet writes in a letter to his Superior, Father Verhaegen.


"The little nation of the Flatheads appear to us to be a chosen people, out of which a model tribe can be made; they will be the kernel of a Christianity that even Paraguay could not surpass in fervor.  We have greater resources for obtaining such results than the Spanish Fathers: remoteness from corrupt influences; the Indians aversion to other sects; his horror of idolatry; his liking for the white man, and for the Black Robe in particular, whose name for him is synonymous with goodness, learning, and piety; the central position of the mission; sufficient land for several settlements; fertile soil; the protection of high mountains; no meddlesome and petty authority conflicting with that of God and those represent Him upon earth; no tribute to pay but our prayers; such are the advantages our mission enjoys.    Futhermore, the Indians are convinced that without religion there is no happiness either in this life or in the world to come."


In order to preserve the language of the neophytes, the missionaries taught them in their mother tongue.   The curriculum of the mission comprised reading, writing, arithmetic, and singing.    "A more advanced course of teaching, it seems to me, would be prejudicial to the simplicity of these excellent Indians."   Exceptions were made only in favor of those who promised to labor for the propagation of the faith.


"Father Point, our architect, has already drawn plans for the village, in the centre of which will stand a church one hundred feet long and fifty feet front, with the priest's house and school adjoining.   Around this central point will be grouped the dwelling-houses, workshops, stores, and other buildings of common utility, the farming land beginning on the outskirts of the village."


Hardly had the missionaries arrived at their destination, when they began the work of construction.   Every man became a laborer.    The Flatheads cut thousands of stakes in the forest and fenced their property.


The priest's house and farm-house rose as by enchantment.     In less than five weeks a temporary church with "pediment, colonade, balustrade, choir, seats, etc.," was erected in the exact spot designated by the young Indian girl of whose happy death we have spoken:  "The Black Robes will come to this spot and will build a house of prayer."


On the feast of St. Martin the catechumens assembled and instructions preparatory to the reception of baptism were begun.    A number of neophytes were to receive the Sacrament on December 3rd, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, almost having to be postponed due to a sudden storm as well as the interpreter and sacristan falling ill, and the organ becoming out of order, but fortunately everything turned out well for the 3rd December.


The Indians were lost in wonder and admiration when they beheld the decorations and arrangements of the sanctuary.    "Festoons of green covered the walls.   Above the alter, artistically draped, the holy name of Jesus stood out in relief upon a background of blue sky.    A statue of the Blessed Virgin stood at the end of the choir; an image of the Sacred Heart adorned the door of the tabernacle.


The flaming torches, the silence of the night, and the approach of dawn - all this moved the hearts and minds of the Indians already touched by grace, and nowhere, I think, could be found a similar gathering of elect souls."


What a joy indeed, for the missionaries, this offering to St. Francis Xavier, on his feast, the spectacle of two hundred men and women just emerging from barbarism, replying intelligently to their catechism questions, and praying with great fervor as they received the Sacrament of Baptism; then retiring to their places , each carrying a lighted candle.    Being obliged at times to speak through an interpreter, the missionaries were in the church from eight o'clock in the morning until ten o'clock at night, taking only one hour for dinner.


The following day was devoted to legalizing marriages.


Father De Smet, at that time was absent from the mission.   He returned December 8th and begun at once the preparation of those who had not yet received baptism. Besides lessons in catechism taught by the other Fathers, Father De Smet gave three instructions daily to the catechumens, who learned so quickly and showed such admirable dispositions, that on Christmas day he administered  baptism to one hundred and fifty souls, and performed thirty two marriages.


  "I began the day by saying Mass at seven o'clock, and at five in the afternoon I was still in the chapel.   The emotions my heart then experienced are but poorly expressed in words."


  "The next day I sang a Solemn High Mass in thanks-giving for the favors God had showered on His people.   Between six and seven hundred , counting the children baptised the previous year, assembled in the heart of the wilds, where until now the name of God was unknown, offering the Creator their regenerated hearts and promising fidelity to Him until death.


Such devotion must be very pleasing in God's sight and will assuredly call down blessings upon the Flatheads and the neighboring tribes."




The Blessed Virgin Appears To A Child To Show Her Pleasure at the St. Mary's Mission


The Blessed Virgin now deigned to manifest in a striking manner how pleasing to her was the simple faith and innocence of her new children.    Shortly after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the Mother of God appeared in the tent of a poor woman to a little orphan named Paul.   "His exemplary childhood," writes Father De Smet, "his piety and candor, and the account he gave of the apparition, preclude all doubt of the truth of his statement.


The following is what he told me in his own words: 'Upon entering John's tent , where I went to ask help with the prayers I do not yet know, I saw a wonderfully  beautiful person raised above the ground, clad in raiment white as snow, a star upon her brow and a serpent at her feet; in her hand she held a fruit I have never seen before, and from her heart rays of light radiated towards me.   I was frightened at first; then fear vanished, my heart was warm, my mind clear, and although I cannot say how it happened, suddenly I knew my prayers.'


The child then told me the same beautiful person had appeared to him many times in his sleep, and that she told him it would please her if the first Flathead village would be called St. Mary.


  "The boy had never seen nor heard tell of visions, nor did he even know whether the apparition was a man or woman, as the clothes were unfamiliar to him.    Questioned by several others, he gave the identical description of all that had happened.    The child grew in virtue and was the angel of his tribe."




   One can imagine Father De Smet's joy and thankfulness when he could write to his Provincial on December 30th:  "The whole Flathead nation has been converted, and baptism administered to many Kalispels,  Nes Perces, Coeur d' Alenes, Snakes and Kootenais:  other tribes are asking for us, and a vast country only awaits the arrival of the missionary to range itself under the banner of Jesus Christ.   This, Reverend father, is the gift we offer you at the close of the year 1841."


The newly-born mission became in three months a flourishing Christian colony, and as it was essential to keep up, through regular religious practices, the good disposition of the Indians, a rule of life was outlined and strictly adhered to.


The Angelus gave the signal for rising in the morning; half an hour later morning prayers were said in common, then followed Mass and instruction.   Everything was done to render these exercises attractive to the Indians.



Night-time prayers were said at sundown, followed by an hour's instruction. The time spent in church seemed all too short to the Indians: "After prayers said in common," writes Father De Smet, "the Indians prayed and sang hymns in their homes; these pious exercises were prolonged often far into the night, and if awakened during the night they began again to pray."

"Sunday, the day of rest was, was religiously observed, and even before the coming of the missionaries a timid deer could have stayed among the people in perfect safety, even when the Indians were starving for food.



Twice a year some of the Flatheads left the village to hunt buffalo.   Not wishing to leave before receiving baptism, the Indians remained at St. Mary's as long as a morsel of food was left to eat, and even the dogs, driven by famine, devoured the leather straps which tethered the horses at night.


The departure for the winter's hunt took place December 29th, and the expedition prepared for an absence of several months.   Father Point accompanied the wandering camp, not wishing to leave a part of the tribe so long without spiritual help, and because his presence would prevent the disorders the hunt usually occasioned.


The winter was a severe one.   It snowed without interruption for three months.   Many of the Indians were attacked by snow-blindness, and during a terrific storm Father Point nearly succumbed.   Had not some hunters quickly lighted a fire when they saw him turn a ghastly pallor, he would have died of cold.   The crowning trial was that they saw no buffalo.


But neither cold, nor wind, nor snow, nor famine, prevented the Flatheads from accomplishing their spiritual devotions.    Night and morning the camp assembled in and around the missionaries tent, the greater number having no shelter but the sky above them.   Nevertheless, they were most attentive to the sermon, and sang the  hymns which preceded and followed the prayers.   At daybreak and at sunset a bell summoned the hunters to recite the Angelus.    Sunday was strictly kept.


Such fidelity touched the Heart of God, as we shall see from notes taken from Father Point's diary.


  "February 6th:   Today is Sunday.  Strong wind, gray sky, bitter cold; no hay for the horses; the buffalo driven by the Nez Perces.


   "February 7th:    The cold is more piercing, the aridity of the plain increases, the snow a great hinrance.  Notwithstanding yesterday, the day of rest was sanctified, today perfect resignation.   Courage!  confidence!


    "Toward midday we reached the summit of a high mountain.   What a transformation!  The sun was shining and the cold less penetrating.   We saw an immense plain before us, good pasture, and herds of buffalo.


Repetition of the 153 Fishes in the Gospel, mirrors the Rosary - a small miracle!

The expedition halted, the hunters assembled and set off for the chase.    Before sunset one hundred and fifty-three buffalo fell to their bag.   If this find of buffaloes was not a miracle, it resembled greatly the miraculous draft of fish.


In God's name Peter cast his net and brought to shore one hundred and fifty-three fish.     Confident in the power of God and in His name the Flatheads brought down one hundred and fifty-three buffaloes." [ there are 153 Hail Mary's in the complete Rosary]


Several Pend d'Oreilles joined the Flatheads.   Despite the difficulties of a nomad's life and the rigors of the season, Father Point found means to instruct and baptize a number of Indians.   At the approach of Easter the hunters returned to St. Mary's, and on Holy Saturday the whole tribe assembled in the mission church to sing the Regina Coeli.


In the spring of 1842 a succession of touching feasts took place.   The Rocky Mountains witnessed for the first time the month of May devotions, the celebration of the feast of the Sacred Heart, and the procession of the Blessed Sacrament.   The fervor of the Indians was such that numbers were permitted to receive Holy Communion frequently.   "There are entire families," writes Father  De Smet, "who approach the holy table every Sunday.   Often we hear twenty consecutive confessions without finding matter for absolution."


The old chief Big Face was no longer witness of these wonders.   He died during that same winter, after having, at ninety years of age, made his first communion.


   "Have you no sins to repent of since your last baptism?"  asked the missionary.


    "Sins?" he replied, astounded.   "How could I commit sins when it is my duty to teach others to live well?"


 He was buried wrapped in the flag he waved every Sunday to announce the Lord's Day.   He also could chant his Nunc Dimittis, for he had lived to see his tribe a Christian people, practicing, in the heart of the desert, the highest Christian virtues.


  [ taken from The Life of Father De Smet, S.J.  Apostle of the Rocky Mountains 1801-1873]


More to follow - check back soon


Watch video: Historic St. Mary's Mission, Montana, U.S.A.


Link to the 4th September 2010 and 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquakes

1 comment:

Alexandra Wilson said...

This is just a wonderful article! Thank you so much-- using some of this in a piece that will be posted to soon Blessings to you all!!

Distance Everheart