Jesuits in North America
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic order that is still doing good work today around the world. During the age of encounters—especially during the colonization of the Americas—the Society of Jesus, also known as Jesuits, played an important role in documenting Native Americans, converting them and helping them adapt to their newly changing environment. The practice of first establishing respect, then influence, and eventually working for religious conversion proved effective at converting Native Americans in North America. Their extensive ethnographic documentation as well as everyday letters to one another have proved useful to scholars trying to understand early Native American and French encounters in North America.
The Society of Jesus was first established in France by Ignatius of Loyola 1534. Ignatius was a soldier in the Spanish army and saw combat when King Francis I of France invaded Spain in 1521 and on the 20th of May he was wounded when a cannonball hit his right leg which would forever leave him with a limp. His recuperation in the castle of Loyola, however, would lead Ignatius into a conversion of the soul. John W. O’Malley author of The First Jesuits, explains Ignatius of Loyola’s transformation in the castle: “He found none of the tales of the chivalry that he loved to read. In some desperation he turned to the only literature at hand—the lives of the saints in The Golden Legend by Jacopo da Voragine and the Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony” (O’Malley, 24). Still, according to O’Malley, he contemplated a return to service even with his limp, however, when he entertained the notion he was left “dry and agitated in spirit,” O’Malley again: “He gradually came to the conclusion that God was speaking to him through [his injury] and he resolved to begin an entirely new life” (24). After pilgrimages, meditation, academic studies (where he learned Latin grammar, studied Aristotle’s Physics, dialects, and Peter’s Lombard’s Sentences), imprisonment for being construed an alumbrado (alumbrados where sometimes believed to be Lutherans and in a time of the Inquisition of Toledo, anything different was heretical), traveled to Paris where he founded the Society of Jesus with a mixed bag of fellows ranging from age, countries, and classes. The war, his injury, the time spent recuperating at the castle of Loyola, and even his persecution proved eventful moments in the life of Ignatius and the development of the Society of Jesus.
Through the hard work of Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits became a religious order of the Catholic faith that spread throughout Europe and by the 1700’s had spread all around the world reaching China, Japan, India, South America, Mexico, and North America. But before they set out to convert and help humanity they first took a vow of poverty. Like Ignatius, Jesuits were well educated and proficient in reading and writing and according to Allan Greer in the Jesuit Relations, Jesuits specialized...