Record Group 1 of Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions Records
Historical Note: Notable Events

The roots of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions began in 1873 with the appointment of a Catholic Commissioner for Indian Missions. The purpose of that office, which was incorporated the following year as the Office of the Catholic Commissioner for Indian Missions and later renamed the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, was to protect, promote, and administer the interests of the Catholic Church with respect to missions and evangelization among the Native Americans in the United States. In so doing, it advocated for and raised funds for Catholic missions and related Native American social and cultural issues in general.

Notable People: Officers and personnel of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and notable allied fund raising raising organizations.

Notable Events: Notable events regarding the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and Catholic evangelization of Native Americans in the present-day United States.

Notable Evangelization: Selected Native American missions, schools, parishes, and ministry programs supported by the Black and Indian Mission collection and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

Pictorial History: "The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions: 140 Years of Action", presented at the 75th annual Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo, North Dakota, July 24, 2014.



Notable Events: Notable events regarding the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and Catholic evangelization of Native Americans in the present-day United States.

  1800 to 1900
1824 The U.S. Government established the Office of Indian Affairs, which became the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1947. It functioned within the Department of War until 1849, when it was transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior.
1828-ca. 1890 Catholic missionaries accompanied Native peoples to reservations when they were removed from ancestral homelands throughout the United States. Many tribes were moved from the east to west and eventually relocated in Oklahoma.
1834, 1849 Congress established the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the War Department and later transferred to the Interior Department.
1839-1960s In Oregon Territory, Reverend Francis Norbert Blanchet (later the first Archbishop of Portland in Oregon/Oregon City) invented the "Sahale Stick" ("Stick from Heaven" in Chinook Jargon) with marks and symbols to teach basic Catholic beliefs and history. He soon published it reformatted as a scroll titled, L’Éschelle Catholique Historique (Catholic History Ladder), which he, Pierre-Jean de Smet, Albert Lacombe, and others revised and published. More information: In the Spotlight - "Catholic Ladder" Pictorial Catechisms.
1840s-1920s European-born missionaries in North America were more inclined to accommodate indigenous religious beliefs, languages, and customs than those born in the United States. Jesuits, in particular, followed the Paraguayan mission model that provided for extensive cultural overlap. Benedictine, Franciscan, and Jesuit missionaries traveled and lived with Native American families and provided health care. They valued native languages, which they used to teach Christianity in communities and schools; they appointed talented native leaders as catechists and designated as "church chiefs" those native leaders and elders who provided Christian role models; and they used art, music, and festivals to reinforce Catholic teachings. They advocated educating Indian children in Indian Country. Typically students were allowed to return home intermittently during the school year to help with chores and some local non-Indians were also admitted as students. They resisted the government policy for boy-girl integration and schools fed students at school who otherwise would have starved during famines. However, upon graduation, many students ceased to practice Christianity.
1840s-1970s Catholic schools relied primarily on women religious as teachers and religious brothers (e.g. Jesuit) as teachers for show classes.
1855 Rev. James M.C. Bouchard, S.J. (1823-1889) (Delaware) became the first Native American ordained a priest within the United States.
1862, 1870 In Alaska, Oblates of Mary Immaculate visited briefly and then began to evangelize Native Americans the following decade.
1870-1882 President Grant's "Indian Peace Policy" restricted Catholic evangelization and the establishment of Catholic schools to seven Indian agencies (reservations) where Protestant missionaries were  excluded. Based upon prior missionary initiatives, the Catholic Church believed it was entitled to operate mission schools at 34 of the 72 agencies then in existence. Furthermore, Catholic clergy were not allowed to visit Native Catholics residing at these agencies.
1870s Across the United States itinerant photographers established professional studios in numerous small towns, including those near and on American Indian and African American communities.
1872 Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet (Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon/ Oregon City) proposed naming a Washington agent to defend the Catholic Indian mission initiatives.
1873 Archbishop J. Roosevelt Bayley (Archdiocese of Baltimore) appointed General Charles B. Ewing as the Catholic Commissioner for Indian missions in Washington, D.C.
1874 The Office of Catholic Commissioner for Indian Missions was formally established with Rev. John B.A. Brouillet (Diocese of Seattle/ Nesqually) assisting General Ewing as treasurer. At this time, there were 40 Catholic churches and seven Catholic schools serving Native Americans in the United States. The Office of Catholic Commissioner assisted Catholic missionaries in securing government contracts to fund the schools.
1874-1894 Alaska, which as yet lacked native missions, was assigned to the Vicariate Apostolate of Vancouver Island in British North America.
1874-1950s In the Canadian West, Father Albert Lacombe, O.M.I., created the Tableau-Catéchisme (Pictorial Catechism) or "Two Roads" based on Blanchet’s L’Éschelle Catholique Historique, which added color graphics and two paths -- the evil way with a black road and a righteousness way with a red road each replete with corresponding symbols. Throughout the United States and Canada, Catholic missionaries and native catechists used the "Two Roads" together with native language worship publications to the mid-20th century.
1875-1887 The Catholic Indian Missionary Association was established and provided the principle financial support for the Catholic commissioner. The most successful chapters were in St. Louis and Philadelphia, The most successful chapters were in St. Louis and Philadelphia, with the former led by Ellen (Mrs. William Tecumseh) Ewing Sherman, sister of the Catholic Commissioner.
ca. 1877 The government established a contract system for extending federal funds to private church-affiliated schools serving Native American students.
1878 A dispute with James A. McMaster (editor, New York Freeman's Journal and Catholic Register) prompted the Office of Catholic Commissioner to secure an endorsement from the Holy See.
1879 The Office of Catholic Commissioner for Indian Missions, was renamed the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and Reverend John B.A. Brouillet was named its director.
1880-1920s Gelatin glass plate negatives were used widely in photography.
1881 The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions was incorporated.
1882-1955 Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) dedicated her life and financial resources in support of Catholic missions for African and Native Americans.
1884 The U.S. Bishops' held the Third Plenary Council in Baltimore under Archbishop James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, the Apostolic Delegate. In its decrees, the council recognized the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions as a Church institution and placed it under a committee of five prelates, which named Bishop Martin Marty, O.S.B. (Diocese of Sioux Falls), as president. The Council decreed the establishment of a national annual appeal to support African American and Native American evangelization (incorporated in 1915 as the "Commission for Catholic Missions among the Colored People and the Indians", a.k.a. the Black and Indian Mission Collection). Furthermore, the bishops signed the postulation to introduce the canonization causes for the Jesuit martyrs and Catherine Tegakwitha (Kateri Tekakwitha).
1885 906 Native Americans signed 27 letters supporting the introduction of the canonization cause for Catherine Tegakwitha (Kateri Tekakwitha). 16 letters came from the United States and 11 came from Canada, which were signed by chiefs, headmen, and students at Catholic schools. The signers included Charles Francis Finkbonner (Lummi ancestor of Jake Finkbonner, whose 2006 miraculous healing resulted in Tekakwitha's canonization), Black Elk (Oglala holy man baptized in 1904), and 150 Lakota people from the Benedictine missions at the Fort Totten and Fort Yates Indian agencies in the historic Fargo Diocese, now the dioceses of Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota.
1887 The Jesuits began to evangelize Native Americans in Alaska.
1887-[ongoing] The Lenten appeal of the Black and Indian Mission Collection began with modest initial responses. It collected funds from 66 of the 84 dioceses and disbursed funds to 34 dioceses and organizations engaged in missions. Notable contributing arch/dioceses included Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn and notable receiving dioceses included Alaska and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.
1889-1892 A controversy erupted between Rev. Joseph A. Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, and Thomas J. Morgan, Commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs, regarding allegations of anti-Catholic bias against Catholic Indian schools. Morgan severed communications with the BCIM and thereafter dealt directly with the Catholic schools.
1890 Father Stephan requested that a few prominent missions send photographs of their schools to the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. The Bureau used the pictures as visual aids to lobby Congressmen to support the continuation of federal contracts to Catholic schools serving Native American students.
1890-[ongoing] Across the United States, Indian celebrations became popular subjects, which included motion pictures. Some Native communities, particularly in the Southwest, reacted by restricting photography after 1910.
1891-[ongoing] Under the auspices of Bishop Marty, O.S.B., Saint Mary and Saint Joseph Societies were established as men's and women's sodalities among the Dakota, Teton, and Yankton Indians in North Dakota. Bishop Marty then founded the first Catholic Indian Congress as an annual sodality gathering, which later spread to the Dakota and Assiniboine of Montana and South Dakota and the Ojibwa of Minnesota.
1891 Katharine Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, which focused on evangelizing African Americans and Native Americans in the United States.
1894 The BCIM reorganized as a new corporation, which replaced its committee of prelates with a board of directors that included the archbishops of Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia.
1895-1900 Congress substantially reduced federal education contracts to Catholic schools serving Native Americans.
1896-1902 The "Browning Ruling" of the Office of Indian Affairs denied Indian parents the right to choose between government and private schools. Students were compelled to attend local government schools if space was available.
  1900 to 2000
1900 There were 101,000 Native American Catholics in the United States. The Native Americans were served in at least 154 Catholic churches and 68 Catholic schools.
By 1900-1940s Catholic missionaries presented lantern slides depicting Christian history as part of their evangelization efforts.
1900 The "Carlisle Plan" provided for the religious education of Indian Catholic pupils at Carlisle School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. By the next year the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions pointed to the plan as an arrangement to be imitated at other government boarding schools.
1900-1904 A controversy ensued regarding treaty rations (e.g., clothing, supplies) for Indian pupils attending mission schools. Government regulations allowed this benefit in 1900; it was rescinded in 1901 and restored in 1904.
1901-1962 The BCIM established the Society for the Preservation of the Faith Among Indian Children, which continued to 1922. It raised funds for Catholic schools serving Native American students. Its average annual membership varied from 45,000-50,000 and dues were $0.25/year until 1915 and $1.00/year thereafter. The Indian Sentinel (1902-1962) began as a membership benefit of the Society.
1902-1962 The BCIM solicited photographs and articles from missionaries for use in The Indian Sentinel.
1904-1990 Rev. Henry G. Ganss organized the Marquette League for Catholic Indian Missions in New York City as an auxiliary of the Society for the Preservation of the Faith among Indian Children. Funds for missions raised by the League were distributed through the BCIM.
1904 The government allowed tribal treaty funds to be used for tuition of Indian pupils in mission schools.
1905 The Catholic Church Extension Society was established in Chicago to aid in the building and supplying of churches and schools in needy areas throughout the U.S.
1908 Through its decision in Quick Bear v. Leupp, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted Native American parents to use tribal trust assets to pay tuition for their children to attend the private schools of their choice.
1909 In accordance with federal law, religious societies were granted patents in fee simple to those tribal reservation lands that they used for missions and schools. Formerly, these lands were held as tenants at will.
1910-1912 A religious garb controversy ensued when the Indian Rights Association objected to teachers wearing religious garb in government Indian schools. Ten former Catholic schools that were converted to government schools, utilized an estimated 46 teachers belonging to religious orders. The BIA issued a circular banning religious garb; however, President William H. Taft revoked the rule.
1910-1940 The photography collected by the BCIM included many postcards, which became more popular when Kodak and other manufacturers began to produce double weight photographic paper specifically for postcards and the telephone in the 1930s replaced lengthy correspondence as the primary communications tool.
1910-1970 Missionaries began to document Native American life with consumer-grade portable cameras, which is reflected in the photography they submitted to the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions for publication in The Indian Sentinel.
1911 Bishop Marty (now Bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud) introduced the Catholic Chippewa Congress among the Ojibwa of Minnesota using the Indian Congress model.
1912-1921 Monsignor William H. Ketcham, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, served as a member of the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners.
1920s Gelatin silver paper negatives and gelatin silver negatives on celluloid roll film replaced glass-plate negatives in photography.
ca. 1920-1980 In search of a better life, thousands of Native Americans migrated from reservations and traditional rural areas to cities and urban areas across the United States.
1920s-1960s The photography collected by the BCIM (and published in The Indian Sentinel) included a number of prints from western movies and Indian-theme pageants and celebrations, which became popular as rural tourism grew in Midwest and Western states.
1923 The Catholic bishops of the United States established the National Catholic Welfare Conference as a service agency. It began to contribute support to Native American missions as well.
1923-1945 John Collier (1884-1968) a convert to Catholicism, was an activist for Indian tribal self determination. He criticized the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs while Executive Secretary of the American Indian Defense Association, 1923-1933, and revamped the BIA while Commissioner, 1933-1945.
1930 Pope Pius XI canonized eight Jesuit martyrs of New France: Rene Goupil (1608-1642), Isaac Jogues (1607-1646), Jean de Lalande (-1646), Antoine Daniel (1601-1648), Jean de Brebeauf (1596-1649), Noel Chabanel (1613-1649), Charles Garnier (1606-1649), and Gabriel Lalemant (1610-1649).
1930-[ongoing] Catholic missionaries born in the United States gained control of the Catholic Indian missions and schools throughout the country. Most favored English over native languages and were less accommodating to indigenous religious beliefs and customs.
1930-[ongoing] Changing technology continued to affect the nature and quantity of archived documentation in the United States. The narrative quality of written correspondence diminished as the telephone replaced writing as the primary communications tool and the quantity, quality,and diversity of photographs grew as technology improved photography and more businesses in rural areas provided photographic supplies and development services.
1930-1980 The rebounding of the Native American population began to accelerate, and with encouragement from various federal programs, it became mostly urban as well. In the United States, the Native American population was nearly 10% urban in 1910 and over 50% urban by 1980.
1930s The BCIM and the Commission (Lenten collection) standardized their boards of directors to include the archbishops (ordinaries) of Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, which enabled them to hold separate back-to-back board meetings at the same location (typically was the residence of the Archbishop of Baltimore). By this time the Bureau had reduced its board meetings to two per year (spring and November) whereas the Commission held only one per year (November).
1938 The Meriam Report detailed the U.S. government's shortcomings in providing services to Indian reservations. Congress responded by passing the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), which provided the basis for the tribal self-determination and the preferential hiring of Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Today, 95% of BIA employees are members of federally recognized tribes.
1939-1978 Bishop Aloysius Muench of Fargo, North Dakota, convened the first annual meeting of the Tekakwitha Conference, which was attended by clergy and native lay Catholics from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It served as an association of Northern Plains missionaries who ministered to Native Americans until it was reorganized in 1978.
1940s-[ongoing] After World War II, many Native American Catholics relocated to urban areas and in so doing, they experienced adjustment difficulties. In response, concerned clergy and lay Catholics began to establish urban Catholic centers, e.g. Indian Catholic Club, St. Joseph’s Church, Los Angeles, California; Aniwim Center, Chicago, Illinois; Siggenauk Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and the Mother Butler Center, Rapid City, South Dakota.
1943 Pope Pius XII declared Kateri Tekakwitha (Mohawk - Algonquin) a heroic venerable Servant of God.
1949 In conjunction with the Jesuits, the Diocese of Rapid City established the first urban parish specifically for Native Americans.
By 1950s-[ongoing] In Christian education classes, teachers used programs in first motion picture, and then video, formats.
1968 The Holy See approves of the permanent deaconate as a restored ministry for the Church in the U.S. This ministry is viewed as distinctive from the priesthood, being more "pastoral" rather than "liturgical."
1970 In conjunction with the Jesuits, the Diocese of Fairbanks became the first U.S. diocese to establish a permanent deaconate program. This program focused on vocations for Native Americans.
1971 A National Association of Native Religious and Clergy was created as a support group for American Indian religious and clergy.
1975 There were 157,000 Native American Catholics. The Native Americans were served in at least 397 churches and 37 schools.
1977 Marquette University became the archival repository for the Black and Indian Mission Office.
1978-1981 The United States Catholic Conference Ad-Hoc Committee on National Collections attempted to fold the national Lenten collection of the Commission for Catholic Missions among the Colored People and the Indians into a consolidated national collection. By successfully opposing this attempt, Monsignor Paul A. Lenz preserved the independence of the Lenten collection and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, which depends on this funding.
1979 The Tekakwitha Conference reorganized and incorporated as an organization of Native American Catholics that promoted Native American evangelization and the canonization cause of Kateri Tekakwitha.
1980 Pope John Paul II beatified Kateri Tekakwitha (Mohawk - Algonquin).
1980 The Catholic Negro-American Mission Board joined the BCIM and the Commission at the Black and Indian Mission Office. The three agencies have continued their respective missions with one shared office, staff, and a consolidated board of directors that holds two meetings per year (spring and November).
1980 The BCIM began to award need-based grants to Catholic Native American missions, schools, parishes, and ministry programs.
ca. 1980-2005 In cooperation with other advocacy agencies, Rev. Theodore F. (Ted) Zuern, S.J., expanded the BCIM's advocacy for Indian rights beyond its concern for Catholic Indian missions and schools to include tribal self-determination and religious and political rights.
1983 The BCIM established the Association of Catholic Indian Schools to aid the preservation of the remaining Catholic Indian schools.
1986 The Holy See approved a translation of major portions of the Mass into Navajo, the first Native American language to receive such recognition.
  Native American language texts for language study and Catholic worship have been produced since the onset of Native American evangelization, however, prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), all of the official prayers of the Mass were said in Latin only. Thereafter, local vernacular languages were allowed with prior approval.
1986 Donald E. Pelotte, S.S.S. (Abenaki 1945-2009), named coadjutor Bishop of Gallup, became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. hierarchy.
1988-[ongoing] Charles J. Chaput (Potawatomi), O.F.M. Cap., the second Native priest ordained a bishop, served as Bishop of Rapid City (1988-1997), Archbishop of Denver (1997-2011), and Archbishop of Philadelphia (2011-2019).
1988 Pope John Paul II beatified Katharine Drexel.
1990 In the U.S., the Native American Catholic population included 25 priests, 80 sisters, 60 permanent deacons, 10 brothers, and two bishops. (Note: Most permanent deacons resided in the Diocese of Fairbanks, which had 31 Native American deacons constituting 47% of the total diocesan clergy.
1992 The Diocese of Rapid City Inculturation Project Office surveyed 10% of the Native Catholics in western South Dakota and found 43% under age 18 and less than 20% practicing the Catholic faith.
1992 On behalf of himself and all pre-World War II Lakota catechists in the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, Harry Blue Thunder (Brulé) of the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, received the Lumen Christi Award of the Catholic Church Extension Society.
1993-2003 U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops' Committee on Native American Catholics established the Inculturation Task Forces, which were the first efforts by the Church in the United States to seriously address the question of the relationship between Native American cultures and religion and the teaching and rites of the Catholic Church.
  2000 to Present
2000 Pope John Paul II canonized Katharine Drexel.
2002 In Mexico, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (Aztec, 1474-1548), the first indigenous person of the American continent to be declared a saint by the Catholic Church. Juan Diego was credited with receiving two apparitions from the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531.
2003 The BCIM awarded $1 Million grants to Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), Heritage University (Toppenish, Washington), and Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans), to establish financial assistance programs for Native American undergraduate students. It also awarded a $1 Million grant to Catholic University to establish a financial assistance program for Native American graduate students in Nursing.
2006-2012 Monsignor Paul A. Lenz became the U.S. Vice-Postulator for Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization cause and relocated its office to the Black and Indian Mission Office.
2007 The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions awarded Wyoming Catholic College (Lander, Wyoming) a grant to establish a financial assistance program for Native American undergraduate students.
2008 The Black and Indian Mission Office launched a website for the BCIM, the Commission, and the CNAMB.
2008-2010 The BCIM and CNAMB jointly sponsored the Monsignor Paul A. Lenz Art Contest for students in Catholic schools and/or Catholic religious education programs funded by these agencies.
2009-2010 The Black and Indian Mission Office established the National Advisory Council on Catholic Missions among Black and Native American Peoples, a board comprised of lay Catholics.
2012 Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha (Mohawk - Algonquin).
2016 The U.S. Bishops endorsed the canonization cause of Nicholas Black Elk (Oglala Lakota).