2005-05-27 / Columnists

Jesuit Ties to Mackinac Island Now More Than 3 Centuries Old

Jesuit Missionaries A Look at History
By Frank Straus

Jesuit Missionaries
A Look at History


The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, has a connection with Mackinac Island that is now more than 330 years old. Members of the Society first came to Mackinac Island as part of their alliance with the Huron or Wyandot nation, many of whom were refugees after a destructive war with the Iroquois Confederacy. Many Huron tribesmen, who had previously lived on the shores of what is now Georgian Bay, moved to northern Michigan in the 1650s and 1660s after a series of Iroquois raids into Ontario.

Father Jacques Marquette, S.J. (1636-75), who wintered with a band of Huron on Mackinac Island in 1670-71, is the best-known Jesuit with a Mackinac Island connection. Marquette Park, in downtown Mackinac Island, was laid out and named in Father Marquette’s honor. A statue of the explorer stands in the center of the park, and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission reconstructed Marquette’s bark chapel in the park’s western corner in the early 1960s.

Statue of Father Jacques Marquette on Mackinac Island.
Statue of Father Jacques Marquette on Mackinac Island. Fr. Marquette is best known for his leadership of the expedition down the Mississippi River in 1673, which first mapped this great river as far south as Arkansas Territory.

On Mackinac Island, Fr. Marquette is usually credited with being the founder of the current Parish of Ste. Anne, although frontier conditions helped create a gap in the parish’s organizational history for a few years shortly after 1700. The Catholic presence at the Straits of Mackinac moved from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace with Marquette in 1671, later being reestablished at Colonial Michilimackinac at Mackinaw City, and then returning to Mackinac Island in 1780-81.

A view from Charlevoix Heights. A view from Charlevoix Heights. Other places on Mackinac Island that recall the Jesuits include Allouez Trail, which stretches from Hubbard’s Annex to Crooked Tree Road near Four Corners. Because of the mature second-growth forest in this area, Allouez Trail is a great favorite among Island saddle-horse riders and hikers.

Father Claude Allouez, S.J. (1620-89) was the first Jesuit to have been recorded as visiting the Straits of Mackinac, in 1669. This was only one point on the missionary’s endless journeys through the North American interior. He spent 32 years “in country” and is said, during his lifetime, to have performed the sacrament of baptism approximately 10,000 times. Fr. Allouez was especially successful in establishing Christianity among the Illinois Indians. At age 69, still in active service, he died near the present site of South Bend, Indiana.

The spring that feeds Brown’s Brook, at the base of the bluff between the two halves of the Stone Brook subdivision on Mackinac Island’s western shoreline, is officially named Dablon Spring. Claude Dablon, S.J. (1619-97), in 1670, was named Superior General of the Jesuit missions in the interior of what was then French Canada, and he supervised Allouez, Marquette, and other Jesuit missionaries in this region. A talented cartographer, Fr. Dablon, in 1672, drew the first accurate map showing the outlines of the Great Lakes.

An overlook on Tranquil Bluff Trail above Carver Pond, near the junction of Soldier’s Garden Trail and Tranquil Bluff Trail on the northeastern side of the Island, is marked on some older maps as Jogues Slope. St. Isaac Jogues (1607-46) is one of the eight North American martyrs canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI. He became a Jesuit novice in 1624 at the age of 17, was admitted to the Society of Jesus, and became a Canadian missionary. In 1641, he and a colleague visited the present site of Sault Ste. Marie. During an attempt to return to Quebec, Fr. Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and enslaved during the winter of 1642-43. Escaping servitude and torture, he returned to France in 1643-44. Offered the chance of an honored life in the safety of Europe, Fr. Jogues chose to return to the homeland of the Iroquois in what is now upstate New York. In 1646, he was recaptured near Lake George. In a macabre note, one of the epidemic illnesses associated with the growing contacts between Europeans and North Americans had broken out among the Iroquois, and Iroquois healers and medicine men, largely helpless in the face of the epidemic, accused the familiar captive of being a sorcerer. Isaac Jogues was martyred near Auriesville, New York, October 18, 1646. The following day, October 19, is to this day the official feast day of the “North American Martyrs.”

Pierre de Charlevoix, S.J. (1682-1761) is best remembered by the thriving small resort city and county southwest of Petoskey, but the outthrust of the Fort Holmes heights toward the southeast is also called “Charlevoix Heights” on some old maps. This is the tongue or outthrust of plateau behind the old (1936) bronze plaque, from which one can see Round Island and Bois Blanc disappearing into the distance. Charlevoix, a member of the “third generation” of French explorers, passed through the Straits of Mackinac in 1721 “en route” from Quebec to New Orleans, paying a visit to Colonial Michilimackinac on the south side of the Straits of Mackinac. He improved upon Marquette’s and La Salle’s understanding of how the Ohio and Mississippi rivers come together, and wrote what Frenchmen of the time considered to be the definitive geographic accounts of New France.

Menard Station is the point on the top of Spring Trail (the trail from Dwightwood Spring up to Manitou Trail on the brow of the bluff) with a view of Lake Huron. It is named after Fr. Rene Menard, S.J. (1604-61). A cloud of mystery surrounds the death of this veteran missionary. After many years of missionary work among the Huron, Iroquois, and Ottawa (or Odawa), Father Menard, living at that time on the southern shore of Lake Superior, learned in 1661 of the existence of the Sioux or Lacotah nation, who at that time mostly lived in what is now Minnesota. While attempting to reach this tribe during the summer of 1661, Menard became separated from his companions in the Big Woods of northern Wisconsin and was never seen again.

Raymbault Height commemorates Father Charles Raymbault, S.J. (1602-43). The older maps of Mackinac Island show this overlook from Leslie Avenue above Lake Huron. It is at a spot where Leslie Avenue and Tranquil Bluff Trail come together, about halfway through Leslie Avenue’s length. Fr. Raymbault was one of the first Jesuits to penetrate the Great Lakes territory west of the Ottawa River. His most memorable mission was undertaken with the future martyr Isaac Jogues to Sault Ste. Marie in 1641. In this mission, Raymbault and Jogues were among the first missionaries to bring Christianity to the Chippewa or Ojibwa nation.

One site that formerly commemorated a member of the Society of Jesus has since disappeared. Nouvel Spring was producing a flow of water on the lakeshore about one quarter mile west of Devil’s Kitchen, below the bluff, in 1915. It was named in that year in honor of Fr. Henri Nouvel S.J. (1624-1696), one of the first missionaries to the Ottawa or Odawa nation. After Marquette left St. Ignace on his famous expedition in 1673, Nouvel took over the mission and erected the substantial church that stood upon the site of the current St. Ignace museum. Upon the return of Marquette’s remains to St. Ignace in 1677, Nouvel supervised their burial in the church with Christian rites at the spot marked by a memorial today. Unfortunately, Nouvel Spring has apparently dried up.

All of these Mackinac Island sites and landmarks, well-known or obscure, commemorate the efforts of early Jesuit labors in the interior of North America.

(Postcard courtesy of Tom Pfeiffelmann)

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