Christianity and Native America

Why Marquette? | FAQ  |  Index of Collections |  Access and Services

Why Marquette?

Catholic evangelization of the Americas' aboriginal Indian peoples is an ongoing story of epic proportions. It is a saga on spreading the Gospel for over 500 years and it is a struggle for peace and justice, cultural accommodation, and the development of indigenous Christian faith communities.

With its centralized bureaucracy, numerous religious orders and dioceses, and access to substantial financial resources, the Catholic Church has been able to maintain mission programs on an extraordinary scale. Moreover, a number of its missionaries, especially Jesuits, have had classical educations and linguistic training, which enabled them to create extensive writings on indigenous life and languages, especially as these related to the Church and interaction with officials of Church and state.

Mindful of its mission as a Catholic university, and recognizing the value and preservation needs of Church records pertaining to Native American peoples, the Marquette University Department of Special Collections and University Archives made a commitment to collect and preserve this unique heritage. Marquette actively solicits and makes accessible collections of organizational records, personal papers, oral histories, and audio/visual recordings. Marquette also acquires individual photographs, newsletters, recordings, and other documentation pertaining to Native Catholic activities as well as the products of research that benefited from its collections. Of particular interest are notable "at risk" collections that otherwise might not be saved without outside intervention. Furthermore, the department may accept other compatible collections relating to indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Deacon with pine boughs in his hands in Tekakwitha Conference procession, 
		  St. James Cathedral, Seattle Washington, 1993 Signing the Lord's Prayer in Plains Indian Sign Language at Tekakwitha 
		  Conference, Phoenix, Arizona, 1984
A deacon processed before Mass at the Tekakwitha Conference, St. James Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, 1993. Tekakwitha Conference Records, Anne M. Scheurman, photographer. Angel McFarland Sobotta (Nez Perce) signed the Lord's Prayer in Plains Indian Sign Language PDF document at the Tekakwitha Conference, Phoenix, Arizona, 1984. Tekakwitha Conference Records.

In 1977, the department became the repository for the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. Thereafter, it became the repository for the Tekakwitha Conference and/ or acquired more than 50 other collections, which collectively document Catholic evangelization, pastoral, and social justice concerns. More than 100 native peoples in Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States are represented in the collections. While English is the prevailing language in most collections, some records use other languages as well, e.g. Dakota [Lakota], French, German, Ojibwa, Spanish.

Furthermore, the general collection of Marquette's Raynor Memorial Libraries hold over 30,000 related titles.


Historic Directories: Many different types of directories, such as city directories, occupational and professional directories, ethnic directories and church directories are created for contemporary reference purposes, and also serve as useful tools for historical research. More information.

Catholic-related records about Native Americans at other repositories: Marquette's Guides to Catholic-Related Records about Native Americans in the United States describe the holdings of related archival records not at Marquette University. The entries for missions, parishes, dioceses, and the religious institutes (or orders) of men and women also include chronologies to illuminate involvement with Native Americans. Geographical listings divide the current repositories by country, region, and state, and a master subject index includes all Catholic and Native American groups identified in the records and all past and present institutions that have held the records. Native ethnic group (tribal) entries are followed by sub-entries listing only those repositories with record holdings of genealogical value. The Helps section of volume 5 also contains a listing of archival repositories of non-Catholic church records, a number of which contain genealogical value.

Genealogically valuable records in the Marquette Archives: At Marquette, most records with genealogical value are school records, which are restricted by The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Microfilm versions of these records will not be loaned. However, following consultation with an archivist, patrons may use these records on-site in the archives reading room or archives staff will conduct genealogical searches for patrons who submit a completed Application for Genealogical Query.

Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions Records, Series 2-1 School Attendance Records: These records contain the bulk of Marquette's Native American-related records with genealogical value. Patrons are invited to consult the surname index to these school records, which remains incomplete. Nonetheless, it contains many, if not most, of the surnames found among students who attended U.S. Catholic schools for American Indians outside of Alaska. It provides surnames, ethnicity, two-letter postal abbreviations of the state where the school was located, and the number of the box that contained the record. A few non-Indians also attended these schools. If listed in the reports, they are also included and their ethnicity is noted accordingly.

Surname Index

More information about the background of these school attendance records.

Patrons are also invited to consult Marquette's Guides to Catholic-Related Records about Native Americans in the United States, which includes records of genealogical value at other archival repositories.

Pictures in Native America collections: Marquette's digital collections present a representative sampling of its pre-1980 off-line photographic holdings about American Indians. Furthermore, pre and post-1980 images from several collections are used in PDF pictorial histories of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and the Tekakwitha Conference that are linked to the respective history note pages of those descriptive inventories. All images (whether or not they are displayed online) are available through on-site visits and special requests with custom scanning as needed. For more information, click "Ask an Archivist".

Catholic Ladders: Several collections in the Marquette Archives contain Catholic ladder pictorial catechisms, related writings, and/or photography depicting them. More information: In the Spotlight - "Catholic Ladder" Pictorial Catechisms.

Reading Photographs: More information to help interpret historic photographs, especially those about Native Americans.

Past research: The department maintains lists of past writings about African Americans and Native Americans that have been researched using its holdings.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: The Christianity and Native America collections contain many photographs, writings, and recordings about St. Kateri and her Native American followers, a number of which appear in the book - Native Footsteps along the Path of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Marquette University Press with the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, 2012), and the video - The Legacy of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (2013). To learn more about the collections, use keywords "Kateri" or "Tekakwitha" in "Search the Collections" and "Digital Collections". For further information, click "Ask an Archivist" and see the St. Kateri Tekakwitha resource list for K-12 educators.

Other Holy Christian Native Ancestors: Several collections, including the online digital collections, contain pictures of holy Christian Native American ancestors. One whose life is perhaps the best documented is Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950), an Oglala Lakota medicine man and catechist from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.


Painting of St. Kateri Tekakwitha by Claude Chauchetiere SJ

Painting Father Marquette and the Indians by Wilhelm Lamprecht

Holy Man Nicholas Black Elk wearing War Bonnet 1937
St. Kateri Tekakwitha attributed to Claude Chauchetiere, S.J., ca. 1685.
"Father Marquette and the Indians" by Wilhelm Lamprecht, 1869.
Nicholas William Black Elk by W. Ben Hunt, 1937.


Access and Services

Marquette welcomes public use of its collections. However, for optimum service, patrons are invited to consult with the archivist before their first use of Marquette materials and thereafter as needed. All original items must be used in the department's reading room whereas most microfilm and many publications and recordings may be borrowed through interlibrary loan. To insure the immediate availability of materials and audiovisual equipment, appointments are advised for all on-site research. Restricted materials are subject to special regulations and are not available through interlibrary loan.

Service Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and evening and weekend hours by appointment. Photographic identification is required for access to the Raynor Memorial Libraries. For further information see General Information and Services and contact:

Mark G. Thiel, CA (Certified Archivist), Archivist
Marquette University
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
R360 John P. Raynor, S.J., Library
1355 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53233

Raynor Memorial Libraries
P.O. Box 3141
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-3141

Telephone: (414) 288-5904
Fax: (414) 288-6709


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