Colonialism and Christianity


Indigenous Peoples of New France making Maple Syrup, Joseph Francois Lafitau, Customs of the American Indians, 1724 (Wikimedia Commons)

France’s return to the Saint Lawrence Valley and Lower Great Lakes in 1632 brought with it substantial change. Whereas before this period Recollet missionaries had been active in the region, with France’s return a new missionary order was introduced to the colony. Though Jesuits had been active in Acadia, 1632 marked their first arrival in the Laurentian colony. Shortly thereafter they were followed by members of the Ursuline Order, a cloistered order of women teachers. Both groups were created in a resurgence of Catholic evangelicalism in the 1530s following the Protestant Reformation and made education an important part of their evangelical mandate.

In this chapter we have juxtaposed two letters penned by missionaries from each religious order.

In the first document, we have drawn from the 1639 Jesuit Relations an account of Wendat-Catholic engagement in their homelands on the southeastern shore of what is today known as Georgian Bay. The Jesuit Relations were annual accounts of the Jesuit missionary sent back to France to inform the Church about the missionary’s work. As a global religious order, Relations such as these traveled around the world between missionaries and the Church’s central administration.

In the second document, from 1640, Marie de l’Incarnation, the Ursuline sister credited with founding the convent in Quebec City writes back to an unknown Catholic brother in France about her experiences in Quebec. de l’Incarnation never traveled beyond France’s administrative centre in Quebec. As a cloistered religious order, she also seldom traveled beyond the convent’s walls. In bringing these documents together, we hope that you will consider the diversity of Catholic missionary efforts and critically evaluate the degree to which the church implemented France’s colonial goals.

Historical Documents

  1. Reuben Twaites, ed., The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, vol. 17, (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1898), 133-143.
  2. Lettres de la Reverende Mere Marie de l’Incarnation, Abbe Richaudeau, ed.,(Paris: Vve H. Casterman, 1876), 89-92. 

Historical Interpretations

  1. Word Cloud Analysis of the Jesuit Relations
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