Historical dictionary  vol.: 2  let.: O

Oregon, United States (1847-1860)

Among the different foreign missions of the Congregation accepted by Bishop de Mazenod, Oregon and Algeria did not succeed. Only a few missionaries were sent there and they remained only a few years and did not make many conversions.

Acceptance of the Oregon mission (1846)
Two requests for missionaries for Oregon were made, in 1845 and in 1846: the first was a request to Bishop de Mazenod by Archbishop Norbert Blanchet of Oregon City who was on his way through Marseille, and the other was to Father Bruno Guigues, superior of the Oblates in America, by Bishop Magloire Blanchet, the brother of the former, who was appointed Bishop of Walla Walla in 1846.

Bishop de Mazenod’s reply to Archbishop Norbert Blanchet was negative, whereas he replied positively to Bishop Magloire Blanchet in order to honour the commitment made by Father Guigues. At that time Oregon included the present states of Oregon and Washington. From the ecclesiastical point of view it was attached to British Colombia. In the general chapter of 1850, Oregon was made a mission vicariate.

Missionaries sent between 1847 and 1860
For this mission the Founder chose Father Pascal Ricard (1805-1862) as superior. Accompanying him were the scholastics: Georges Blanchet (1818-1906), E. Casimir Chirouse (1821-1892), F. J. Charles Pandosy (1824-1891) and Brother Célestin Verney (1814-1889). Having set sail from Le Havre on February 14, 1847, they did not reach Walla Walla until the following September 5. On January 2, 1848, the scholastics Chirouse and Pandosy were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Magloire Blanchet. Brother Georges Blanchet remained a Brother for a long time and was not ordained to the priesthood until November 1, 1892.

The second group of missionaries were sent in 1849: Father Louis D’Herbomez (1822-1890), Brothers Gaspard Janin (1798-1880), and Philippe Surel (1819-1908). They left the port of Marseille on November 29, on board a sailing ship destined for San Francisco, where they arrived on July 19, 1850. On August 30 they reached Olympia where Father Ricard was waiting for them. In a letter dated November 17 and addressed to Father Ricard, the Founder informed him of these obediences and said that Father D’Herbomez “was an accomplished subject… my intention is that he should be your first councillor and that he should succeed to all your powers if you should become ill, or if, which God forbid, you should die. You can always place your trust in him. He is a dependable and very reserved man.”

A third team was sent in 1854: Fathers Paul Durieu (1830-1899), and Pierre Richard (1826-1907), accompanied by Brother Léo Waymaere. Having left Liverpool on September 7, 1854, they arrived in San Francisco on November 2 and reached Olympia four weeks later.

There was also a twelfth Oblate who worked in Oregon: François Jayol (1824-1907). He came as a diocesan priest and entered the Oblates in Olympia, doing his novitiate in 1849. He ministered there until 1860 when he was sent to British Colombia. A further three Oblates received their obedience for the mission vicariate of Oregon but always ministered in British Colombia: H. T. Lempfrit (1803-1863), Léon Fouquet (1841-1912) and Charles Grandidier (1835-1884).

The missions among the Yakima
The bishop of Walla Walla asked the Oblates to begin a mission among the Walla Walla and Yakima Amerindians. Beginning in 1847 they built a wooden chapel and house at the meeting of the Yakima and Colombia Rivers. They dedicated this mission to Saint Rose of Lima. Fathers Chirouse and Pandosy were assigned to take care of this mission while Father Ricard went to see Archbishop Norbert Blanchet in Oregon City and then, in 1848, made a foundation on the south shore of Puget Sound bay. The place chosen for the Saint Rose mission proved unsuitable because of the lack of timber for building and of arable land. Besides, there was no Amerindian encampment in that place and the Oblates did not stay long.

Beginning in 1848 and 1849, Fathers Chirouse and Pandosy together with Brothers Blanchet and Verney, founded three other missions about 50 kilometres from one another “at the request of the chiefs of small Yakima tribes numbering about 150, or 200, or at most 300 each” as Father Ricard wrote to Father Faraud on February 10, 1852. At each place the missionaries built a small poor chapel. When they arrived in the region there was “neither parish, nor mission, not chapel, nor house. They were lands which nobody had ever cultivated and our Fathers were the first to occupy them” in the words of Father Ricard (letter to Bishop de Mazenod, December 1, 1854).

The titles given to these missions were: The Immaculate Conception, Saint Joseph and Holy Cross. The mission of the Immaculate Conception was begun in 1848 at the request of chief Owhi. It was situated near the river Mnassatas, northwest of Saint Rose, in the direction of Olympia. The mission of Saint Joseph in Simcoe was also begun in 1848 and was in the valley of the Simcoe River, which flows into the Yakima. It was founded at the request of chief Kamiakin. In 1852 this mission was moved near the river Ahtanum and closer to the camp of chief Kamiakin. Father D’Herbomez came to live there from 1851 to 1854 and was accompanied by Father Pandosy. It had a farm, which was cultivated by Brothers Verney and Surel. Father Durieu came to take the place of Father D’Herbomez at the end of 1854 and remained until 1855-1856. The mission of Holy Cross was founded in 1849, half way between Saint Rose and Immaculate Conception.

Before the arrival of Father D’Herbomez and the Brothers Surel and Janin, Fathers Chirouse and Pandosy, with the help of Brother Verney ministered to these missions and did much travelling. On February 18, 1859, Father Ricard wrote to Father Faraud: “Fathers Chirouse and Pandosy are with the Yakima, about forty leagues from here. A mountain chain covered with snow until the month of June scarcely allows us to make more than one visit each year. They speak Walla Walla quite well; the Yakima language is little different from Walla Walla.”

Mission to the Cayuses
In 1852, Father Chirouse went to the Cayuses, near the Umatilla River, which is south of the Colombia River. This mission, dedicated to Saint Anne, had been founded in 1847, by Father J. B. Brouillet who had abandoned it shortly afterwards, following the beginning of a war between the Cayuse and the Americans from a Protestant mission. With the help of Brothers Verney and Janin he built a house-chapel. Father Richard arrived there at the end of 1854 or the beginning of 1855. Beginning in 1853, Father Chirouse founded another mission about thirty miles from the river Umatilla and dedicated it to Saint Rose, in memory of the first mission in the region. He became friendly with chief Five Crows who was a Catholic and frequented the church.

The War
In 1855-1856, war broke out between the Americans and the Yakima and Cayuse Amerindians. The latter took a poor view of the arrival of the colonizers. In 1855 a treaty was signed for the purchase of land and the establishment of reservations. The treaty was not much respected by either side. The Amerindians found the restrictions on their freedom were insupportable. They killed Mr. Boulon, the American government agent, and a war began which was particularly violent in the years 1855-1856.

At first the Oblates followed the Amerindians who were in hiding. On November 18, 1855, Father Chirouse wrote: “the whole country is on fire”. The missions were destroyed, especially by the army who accused the Catholic missionaries of supplying the Amerindians with arms. In 1856-1857, the Fathers and Brothers took refuge with the Jesuits in Colville. In his report on Oregon to the general chapter of 1856, the Founder wrote: “The mission to the Yakima and the Cayuse was prospering when the war broke out between the Americans and the native peoples. It brought devastation and ruin to those two missions and put our Fathers in danger of death. They only escaped by hastily seeking refuge in the nearby mission of the Jesuit Fathers who, we are glad to say, received them with fraternal charity” (session of August 7).

Father Pandosy did not return to the Yakima until the beginning of 1858 and he accepted to be chaplain to the American army. Other priests returned in 1857-1858. Father D’Herbomez, the new Oblate superior after the departure of Father Ricard, recalled all the missionaries from the Yakima and Cayuse in 1858 and sent them to British Colombia. His orders to do so had come from Marseille. Writing on April 20, 1858, Father Casimir Aubert said: “The general council (held after Easter) recognize that there is more than sufficient reason for not taking up again the mission to the Yakima and the Cayuse… With the threat of war breaking out again at any time there is no way to do serious work… It is something that has definitively been brought to a halt and there is no going back on it. The mission to the Yakima and Cayuse which our Fathers have been forced by circumstances to abandon will not be taken up again by our Fathers.” Fathers Chirouse and Richard were already in Olympia in 1857. Bishop de Mazenod has asked that they be brought there “to provide them with the benefits of community life at least for a time and enable them to become steeped once again in the interior life and the practice of the duties of a religious” (Letter to Father Ricard, November 15, 1856).

The missions on Puget Sound bay
In the spring of 1848, Father Ricard established his residence on the south shore of Puget Sound bay, in the archdiocese of Oregon City at a place which is called Priests Point, about four miles from New Market. He placed the mission under the protection of Saint Joseph. The town of Olympia, which was nearer to Priests Point, was fast developing at this time and the mission acquired the name of Saint Joseph of Olympia. Father Ricard lived there from 1848 until his departure in 1857. Habitually, his fellow residents were Brother Blanchet, procurator for the mission vicariate, and Father Jayol who did his novitiate there in 1848-1849, and Father D’Herbomez from 1850 to 1851 and again from 1854 to 1857. In 1853 the Fathers had a chapel for whites in Olympia and for Amerindians in Priests Point. Father D’Herbomez, who came first as visitor and then as vicar of missions after the departure of Father Ricard, left Olympia for Esquimalt in British Colombia in 1858 but he left Father Jayol in Olympia until 1860.

From 1855 to 1857 Father D’Herbomez made many missionary journeys around Puget Sound bay and was well received by the Amerindians. In 1858 he sent Fathers Chirouse and Durieu to the mission of Saint Francis Xavier in Tulalip, an Amerindian reservation of the Snohomish tribe, to the north of the bay. Father Chirouse and some Fathers and Brothers lived there until 1878. He also ministered to a further four reservations. He was agent for the Amerindians from 1871 to 1876.

The obstacles to evangelization in Oregon
The first difficulties that arose in Oregon came from the missionaries themselves. Father Ricard was a holy man, courageous and with good will, but he was relatively old and he was feeble and often ill. When the Founder recalled him to France in 1857, Father Ricard wrote a pathetic letter to Father Pandosy: “When we left Marseille ten years and four days ago, I was quite weak, but yourself, Father Chirouse, Brother Blanchet and Brother Verney, were with me and you carried me, so to speak, in your arms. My return, alone, will be quite difficult.” What a depressing thought! He added that he had asked for someone “to take his place and fill it better” but he had never asked to be recalled. He had wished to die in that mission like Saint Francis Xavier. Fathers Chirouse and Pandosy, at first alone among the Yakima, did not agree with one another and lived apart, each in his own mission (letter of Ricard to Faraud, February 10, 1850). Father Ricard made that known to the Founder who replied on January 10, 1849: “I found it quite painful to hear that the two young Fathers did not agree among themselves as befits good brothers, especially when they find themselves so far away from the father they have in common. Oh! That is simply not bearable.” The Brothers were also a cause of concern to their superiors. Brother Blanchet remained almost all the time with Father Ricard in Olympia. Already in 1851 he was “discouraged” (Letter from de Mazenod to Ricard, August 13, 1851). In 1856, Father Ricard said that he was a “good boy, but lazy in the extreme” (letter from Ricard to Faraud, June 2, 1856). Brothers Surel and Janin, when they saw that the Fathers had received land from the government as first occupiers, wanted to have some too in their name. Shortly after their arrival in 1851, they wrote to the Founder asking to be separated from the Fathers and to be independent, as they feared to be without resources in their old age (Letter from C. Aubert to Father Ricard, March 20, 1853). Bishop de Mazenod advised them not to worry about the future and, above all, not to entertain thoughts of apostasy. “Why do you wish me to authorize you to become proprietors, contrary to your vows? Is it possible that the demon of avarice has slipped into your hearts as he did into the heart of Judas? And is it for such miserable interests that one of you has asked to be dispensed from your vows? … That is just about the same as saying that he wants to go to the devil!” (Letter of de Mazenod to Brothers Surel and Janin, March 11, 1852).

Another difficulty was the poverty and the misunderstanding between Father Ricard and Bishop Magloire of Walla Walla who wished to treat the Oblates as if they were diocesan priests. First of all, the bishop did not hide his displeasure at the fact that Father Ricard took up residence in Olympia, in the diocese of Oregon City, while the Oblates had been sent for the diocese of Walla Walla. As well as that, he wanted to be the only one to receive the monies from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and he insisted that all the properties belonged to the diocese and not to the Oblates. Since he could not come to an understanding with the bishop, beginning in 1852, Father Ricard suggested to the Founder that they leave Walla Walla. The Congregation of Propaganda would not agree (letter of Bishop de Mazenod to Ricard, May 12, 1853). Bishop de Mazenod intervened and succeeded in arranging that “the Oblates continue to deal with the Propagation of the Faith when requesting help… especially for their food and maintenance and then for maintaining a central house which the bishops agreed must exist in each diocese as the exclusive property of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate”. The stations occupied by the Fathers, however, “belong by right to the diocese” (letter of Bishop de Mazenod to Bishop Blanchet, December 1853). The misunderstandings continued. Father Ricard suggested that at least there should be no further foundations in the diocese of Bishop Magloire Blanchet (letter of Ricard to Bishop de Mazenod, October 20, 1854).

The greatest trial was the war, at first between the Americans and the Cayuse in 1847-1848, and then the more general war between Americans and the Cayuse and Yakima Amerindians in 1855-1858. It was precisely because of the battles that Father D’Herbomez decided to abandon the region and to send the Fathers and Brothers to British Colombia.

Conversions among the Amerindians were very few. Father Ricard wrote in 1858: “Fathers Chirouse and Pandosy baptized a few adults, but the chiefs do not want baptism at all. They want to have a missionary but they do not want to change their way of life” (letter of Ricard to Faraud, January 10, 1852). For his part, Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “What makes me really sad is the little hope which these native peoples give us... Is it worthwhile to sacrifice so many good missionaries to achieve almost nothing there?” It seems that, among the Yakima, from 1847 to 1858 there were only 160 baptisms (Missions OMI, 1862, p.119). In Olympia, Father Ricard said that the Amerindians of the region were “idolaters to the bottom of their being” (letter of January 8, 1850). Nevertheless, there were 3,811 baptisms in Puget Sound between 1848 and 1868 (Waggett, p. 30). In his letters to Bishop de Mazenod, Father Ricard speaks almost exclusively of difficulties. Nevertheless, on January 13, 1857, he wrote: “Heaven in its goodness is prodigious in consolations for which we dared not hope. The action of Providence is visible. We ourselves are very surprised at the wonders of grace that are being accomplished before our eyes, and the Protestants are even more astonished. Every day, new bands of native peoples come to us to hear the word of God and to steep themselves in the spiritual life by receiving the sacraments. And that, in spite of three foot of snow…”

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.

Sources and Bibliography

There is a long list of archives and books in the work of Fr. Ronald Young, o.m.i., The Mission of the Missionary Oblates of M.I. in the Oregon Territory (1847-1860), Rome, 2000, 29 pp.
Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., “Le père Pascal Ricard, évêque d’Orégon”, in Études oblates 30 (1971), pp. 241-268.
Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., “The Yakima War” in Études oblates, 34 (1975), pp. 147-173, 261-294.
Oblate Writings I, Vols. 1 and 2.
Levasseur, Donat, o.m.i., A History of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Towards a synthesis, Montreal 1983.
Ortolan, Théophile, o.m.i., Les Oblats de M.I. dans le premier siècle de leur existence, Paris, 1915, II, pp. 267-328.
Waggett, George, o.m.i., “The Oblates of Mary Immaculate on the Pacific Northwest of USA.” in Études oblates, 6 (1947), pp. 7-88.


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