This year marks the 250th anniversary of the establishment of a government at the Indian mission at La Prairie, Quebec. This mission began very humbly around the cabin of Francis Xavier Tonsahoten and Catherine Gandeaktena, who had left the increasingly decadent and hostile village of Oneida to pray in freedom among the Christians of New France. In a few short years, La Prairie became renowned for its piety, attracting converts like the lily of the Mohawks: St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Under the new name of Kahnawake, the mission eventually rose to become the central fire, or capital, of the Seven Indian Nations of Canada, a confederacy of Catholic Iroquois.
Today’s date is also significant. February 26th is the anniversary of the first Mass at Old St. Joseph’s, Philadelphia in 1732; the oldest Catholic church in a city that was so key to the formation of the government of the United States. Fr. Joseph Greaton SJ was the English priest who established Catholicism in Philadelphia in a time when the religion was still outlawed under the British Crown. It is said that he came to the city dressed as a Quaker so as not to arouse undue suspicion. For almost two decades, Fr. Greaton offered the only public Mass in all the English colonies.
These histories remind us of a time when Catholicism was not so easily followed in these lands. They take us back to a wilder and more dangerous era, less urbanized and refined than our own, yet often more secure in the faith because of the many challenges and persecutions that sharpened its practice.
We have supermarkets full of food—and we do not fast. American Indian Catholics fasted, even during times when deer meat was all they had.
Weak men create hard times. But hard times create strong men.
The deteriorating social situation in the United States and in Christendom in general demands of us Catholics a new approach.
Not the carpeted-and-felt-bannered suburban Catholicism of the 1970s and 1980s—and maybe not even the Golden Age urban Catholicism of the 1940s and 1950s, with its beautiful stone churches on every block.
Conceptually, we North Americans need to go back to where it all began for us. To the frontier, where we faced openly hostile pagans and obstinate heretics. To the howling wilderness where we worked to cobble together modest churches from logs, hides, and earth. To the woods, the prairies, and the deserts where our poverty kept us close to God.
That frontier spirit has actually never left North American Catholicism—you can see it today most easily in traditional communities. The new Tonsahotens and Gandeaktenas are those parents with the determination to uproot their homesteads or to drive an hour each way every week just to attend a Latin Mass parish. The new Fr. Greatons are those unassuming priests who are quietly running their fledgling parishes and serving their congregations amidst a host of challenges.
This website has been created in that same spirit.
It is meant to be a place where historical research comes alive—where we are not just researching the facts of American Catholic history but then integrating those facts to our practice of the faith today.
Studiare, applicare, et creare: to study, to apply, and to create.