The Jesuits and pre-1870 Chicago

Early Encounters

The first Jesuit name to be distinctly connected with the Chicago area is that of Jacques Marquette, who with Louis Jolliet discovered the upper Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in June of 1673. Marquette spent the winter of 1674-1675 on the banks of the Chicago River, an event which might be considered an opening episode in the life story of the future Chicago.

Marquette made acquaintance with the Potawatomi in the course of his journey from Green Bay to the Illinois country. There were numerous contacts between the Potawatomi and the seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries. By the treaty of Greenville, 1795, the Potawatomi agreed to sell to the United States a tract of land six miles square lying at the mouth of the Chicago River. This tract, of course, was destined to become the territorial core of Chicago.

Another early enterprise was that of Father Pierre-Fran‡ois Pinet who established the Mission of the Guardian Angel. The site of this short-lived mission (c 1696-1702) was very probably on ground which is now within the Chicago's central business district. With the passing of this venture all contact of the Society of Jesus with the Chicago area ceased for almost a hundred and fifty years, except for the occasional passage of one of its missionaries along the portage trail linking the Mississippi with the Great Lakes.

From these early beginnings, mid-America was a favorite field of Jesuit missionary activity down to 1763. It was at that time that all the Jesuit houses in the Louisiana territory were suppressed by the Superior Council of Louisiana. This was part of a general movement which resulted in the ultimate world-wide suppression of the Society in Jesus in 1773.

Chicago, Off the Beaten Path

The main travel routes to what is now the midwest were predominantly river routes: down the Ohio or up the Mississippi. It was by the Ohio River route that the Jesuits began their labors in the midwest, centered at St. Louis, Missouri. In 1823 a group of Jesuits, priests, brothers, and seminarians followed the old Cumberland Road from White Marsh, Maryland to the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia. From there they floated down the Ohio on two flat-boats. They stopped briefly at Louisville, after which they proceeded downriver to Shawneetown Illinois. From there they went overland on foot 150 miles northwest to St. Louis. They arrived at St. Louis on Saturday, May 31, 1823. At the time it was a French-American settlement of some 5000 inhabitants.

A gazetteer of the time described Chicago as "a village in Pike County containing 12 or 15 houses and about 60 or 70 inhabitants." The very first election in the history of Chicago occurred on August 7, 1826. There were thirty-five voters on this occasion.

By the treaty of Chicago, ratified in February of 1835, the united bands of Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi ceded to the government all their lands along the western shore of Lake Michigan for an equivalent amount of land bordering on the Missouri and other considerations.

Modern Chicago

The City of Chicago was incorporated in 1833. Ten years later, the Holy See in Rome set up the whole state of Illinois as a Catholic Diocese with its headquarters at Chicago. In 1844 the first Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago reported that the chief city of his diocese contained but one church with two priests in attendance.

The first Jesuit to visit modern Chicago appears to have been James Oliver Van de Velde, the then vice-Provincial of the Jesuits centered in St. Louis. In 1846 Fr. Van de Velde spent three days in Chicago. He was to return three years later as its second Bishop. For a number of years various Jesuits were heard preaching from various Chicago pulpits and conducting missions or spiritual revivals, but there was yet no permanent residence or ministry. This situation continued until 1857 when Father Arnold Damen purchased property west of the intersection of Twelfth Street and Hoosier (now Blue Island) Avenue. This was the site of the future Holy Family Church, its attendant grammar schools and St. Ignatius College--the future Loyola University.