The life of Fr de Smet
St. Leo I - Pope, Confessor, Doctor
The Life of Father De Smet, S.J.
Father De Smet, traveled through wilderness in summer and winter, braving hardships and often going without food for days. His life is full of adventure but the most edifying part of his life is his great work as a missionary, converting thousands of Indians to the Catholic Faith. Fr. De Smet's edifying life and marvelous works are contained in the excellent book "The Life of Father De Smet, S.J. - Apostle of the Rocky Mountains 1801-1873" by Fr. E. Laveille, S.J. with imprimatur dated November 1915 which the following is taken from:
The Flathead Indians lived on the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. They had heard of the Great Spirit and the Black Robes from the Iroquois Indians who had migrated to this region from Canada. The Iroquois had come under the influence of the North American Martyrs in the 17th Century. The Flatheads had sterling qualities . . . living for the most part by Christian principles. They were very anxious to be taught the Catholic Faith to obtain eternal salvation. They sent four different delegations over a period of eight years to St. Louis begging for priests before it was possible for the Jesuits to send one due to the shortage of priests. Finally Fr. De Smet was chosen leaving St. Louis, with the delegation of Flatheads, on March 27, 1840 arriving at the Indian camp on July 11, 1840. The Flatheads, Pend d'Oreilles, and Nez Perces came from a distance of eight hundred miles to meet them, and in their midst Father De Smet tasted the purest joys of his apostolic life. ! He himself shall tell us of it.
"The poles were already set up for my tent, and upon my arrival, men, women, and children, sixteen hundred souls in all, came to shake hands with me and bid me welcome. The old men cried for joy, and the children expressed gladness by gambols and screams of delight. These kind Indians conducted me to the tent of the great chief, a patriarchal person called Big Face, who, surrounded by his council, received me with great cordiality. 'Black Robe,' he said, 'welcome to my nation. Our hearts rejoice, for today the Great Spirit has granted our petition. You have come to a people poor, plain, and submerged in the darkness of ignorance. I have always exhorted my children to love the Great Spirit. We know that all that exists belongs to Him and everything we have comes from His generous hands. From time to time kind white men have given us good advice, which we have striven to follow. Our ardent desire to be instructed in what concerns our salvation has led us on several o! ccasions to send a deputation of our people to the great Black Robe of St. Louis to ask him to send a priest. Black Robe, speak! We are all your children. Show us the path we must follow to reach the place where abides the Great Spirit. Our ears are open, our hearts will heed your words! Speak, Black Robe! We will follow the words of your mouth!'
"I then spoke at length to these good people upon the subject of religion. I told them the object of my mission, and asked them to give up their wandering life and settle in a fertile district. All declared themselves ready and willing to exchange the bow and arrow for the spade and the plow. I drew up a set of rules for the religious exercises. One of the chiefs immediately brought me a bell, and that first evening it called the Indians to assemble around my tent. After a short instruction, night prayers were said. Before retiring they sang in admirable harmony three hymns in praise of the Great Spirit of their own composition. No words can express how deeply I was touched.
"The great chief was up every morning at daybreak. He would mount his horse and make the tour of the camp, haranguing his people: 'Come,' said he, 'courage, my children! Tell Him you love Him, and ask Him to make you charitable! Courage, the sun is rising. Come, bathe in the river. Be punctual and at our Father's tent on the tap of the bell. Be still, open your ears to hear, and your hearts to retain the words he will speak.'
"When all were ready I rang the bell for prayers and instruction. From the day I arrived until I left the Flatheads, their avidity to hear the word of God increased daily. I preached regularly four times a day, and each time they ran eagerly to secure good places. Those who were sick were carried to the sermons.
"The morning after our arrival I began at once to translate the prayers through an interpreter. Fifteen days later I promised a medal of the Blessed Virgin to the one who would be the first to recite the Pater, Ave, and Credo, the Ten Commandments, and the four Acts without a fault. A chief arose. 'Father,' he said, 'your medal belongs to me'; and to my great surprise he recited all the prayers without missing a word. I embraced him, and made him my catechist. He performed this function so zealously that in ten days the whole tribe knew their prayers.
"I had the happiness of regenerating nearly three hundred Indians in the waters of baptism. They all begged for the Sacrament, and manifested the best possible dispositions. But as the absence of the missionary would be only temporary, I deemed it wiser to put off the others until the following year, not only with the intention of giving them an exalted idea of the Sacrament, but also to try them in regard to the indissolubility of marriage, something quite unknown among the Indian nations of America.
"Among the adults baptized were two great chiefs, one belonging to the Flatheads, the other to the Pend d'Oreilles, both over eighty years of age. When I exhorted them to renew their sentiments of contrition for their sins, Walking Bear (the name of the second) replied: 'In my youth and even later in life I lived in complete ignorance of good and evil, and during that time I must often have displeased God. I sincerely ask for pardon. But when I fully realized that a thing was sinful I immediately banished it from my heart. I do not remember ever having deliberately offended the Great Spirit.'
"I have never discovered the least vice in these Indians, save gambling, in which they often risk all they possess. These games have been abolished by general consent, since they have learned that they are contrary to the commandment which says 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.' They are scrupulously honest in selling and buying, and none of them has ever been accused of stealing. Every article that is found is carried to the tent of the chief, who proclaims the object and returns it to the owner.
"Slander is unknown among the women; a lie is considered especially odious. 'We fear,' they say, 'to offend the Great Spirit, hence we hold liars in abhorrence.'
"All quarrels and fits of passion are severely punished. They share one another's sufferings, give help in time of need, and care for the orphans. They are well-mannered, gay and very hospitable; their tent is open house; keys and locks are unknown. Often I said to myself 'These are the people that civilized men dare to call barbarians!'
"It is a great error to judge the Indians of the interior by those of the frontier. These last have learned the vices of the white men, whose insatiable greed of gain is served by corrupting the Indian, and whose bad example leads him into vicious habits."
To be continued . . .
This excellent 400 pg. book, "The Life of Fr. De Smet S.J." by Fr. E. Laveille, S.J. - http://olrl.org/books/desmet.shtml - is available in our Store - http://olrl.org/mm5/merchant.mvc - for only $9.00.
Sincerely in Christ,
Our Lady of the Rosary Library
"Pray and work for souls"
Last week we related from the wonderful book on the life of Fr. De Smet his first and very fruitful encounter with the Flathead Indian tribe. Fr. De Smet returned to the Jesuit province in St. Louis to recruit other priests and lay brothers for the missions. Having promised the Flatheads he would return, Fr. De Smet and the other missionaries set out on their perilous journey on April 24, 1841.
At Fort Hall on the feast of the Assumption they met the advance-guard of the Flatheads, who had traveled over three hundred miles to come and meet the Black Robes. Among them was Young Ignatius, Father De Smet's guide of 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 oldest member of the tribe, was also in the advance-guard. Although so worn with age that even when seated he leaned upon a cane for support, the ardor of his youth revived upon hearing of 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!" Then lashing their steeds and following their intrepid leader, the cavalcade covered fifty miles a day.
Father De Smet's heart rejoiced when he found that the year's interval had in no way diminished the fervor of the Flatheads. The greater number, even old men and little children, knew by heart the prayers he had taught them. Twice on week-days, and three times on Sundays, during his absence had the tribe assembled to say prayers in common. The box containing vestments, and the altar service left in their charge the preceding year, were carried on high like the Ark of the Covenant each time the camp moved.
Many of those baptized died saintly deaths. A girl 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 form St. Louis, the missionaries arrived at their destination. "As we approached the camp we saw one courier after another advancing. A gigantic Indian then appeared, coming toward us at full gallop. Crises of 'Paul! Paul!' were heard, and it was in fact Paul , 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."
Father De Smet, being absent from the tribe for a short time, returned on December 8th and began 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 thanksgiving for the favors God had showered upon His people. Between six and seven hundred converts, counting the children baptized 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 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 toward me. I was frightened a t first; then fear vanished, my heart was warm, my mind clear, and although I cannot say how it happened, suddenly I knew m! y prayers.' The child then told me the same beautiful person had appeared to him many times in his sleep, and that she told him that 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 a 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 the tribe."
One can imagine Father De Smet's joy and thankfulness when he could write his Provincial on December 30th: "The whole Flathead nation has been converted, and baptism administered to many Kalispels, Nez 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 Life of Fr. De Smet S.J. - Apostle of the Rocky Mountains 1801-1873" by Fr. E. Laveille, S.J. - http://olrl.org/books/desmet.shtml - is available in our Store at http://olrl.org/mm5/merchant.mvc - a 400 page book for only $9.00.
Sincerely in Christ,
Our Lady of the Rosary Library
"Pray and work for souls"
Audio Sermons about Fr. De Smet are available at:
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Anne, Therese, I love You; Save Souls!