Selected Papers From The 1987 And 1988 George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conferences
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Peter Peregrine
Purdue University

Claude Jean Allouez died near present-day Niles, Michigan on August 27, 1689, after almost 30 years spent in missionary work among the native peoples of the northeastern United States. He is credited with baptizing at least 10,000 native Americans, and instructing more than 100,000. The purpose of this paper is to look more closely at this impressive life's work, to see if a common thread can be found that will tell us something of who Allouez was, what motivated him, and what he was trying to accomplish in the wilds of North America. The paper is not meant to be the final word on Allouez or on Jesuit missionary activity in New France. It is offered as a eulogy to a man I have come to respect through three years' work with the documents he produced.

Allouez was born on the sixth of June, 1622 in the town of Saint-Didier, Haute-Loire, France. [1] Little is known about his parents, but they must have been fairly well-to-do, for they were able to give him a fine education. In October of 1631, at the age of nine, Allouez entered the Jesuit college at LePuy. [2] Language was the major subject for the first three years of study, and Allouez became fully versed in the grammar and syntax of Latin, which, at the time, was the common language of science, politics, and theology. Allouez first went through four classes of Latin grammar, which probably took about two years to complete. [3] He spent the next two years reading Latin classics of literature and history. [4] Rhetoric was given great emphasis, and class presentations and discussions (conducted entirely in Latin) gave him a deep and well-rounded knowledge of eloquent speech. Greek and perhaps Hebrew also were studied in these higher classes of grammar. At about the age 13, Allouez moved from the faculty of languages to the faculty of arts at LePuy. Here he was taught the natural sciences — logic, physics, philosophy, and mathematics. [5] In 1639, after four years of study with the faculty of arts, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, and was given the choice of pursuing law, medicine, or theology when he entered a university.

Perhaps spurred onward toward the missionary field by his mentor at LePuy, the then famous missionary Francois Regis, Allouez chose to study theology, and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Toulouse on September 22, 1639. [6] His "first probation" began at once, 10 days of relaxed spiritual retreat and conferences in which the constitution of the Society of Jesus was outlined. On November 3, Allouez received his Jesuit robe and was welcomed into the novitiate. [7] Daily life at the novitiate was more ordered than Allouez had been used to at LePuy. Bells summoned the novitiates to different tasks throughout the day, most lasting no longer than a half hour. These tasks, and the rapidity with which they shifted, were meant to promote obedience and servitude. [8] Allouez also undertook a series of "experiments" designed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, which were used to broaden novitiates spiritually. The first of these "experiments" concerned the Spiritual Exercises, upon which the ideology and spiritualism of the Society of Jesus still is based.

The Spiritual Exercises required the novitiate to spend a month examining his conscience, past life, sins, and the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Silent and vocal prayer constantly accompanied these examinations, The Spiritual Exercises were meant to purify the novitiate's soul, and are still a powerful influence on the lives of novice Jesuits, as Ren&ecute; Fulop Miller explains:

He who goes through Loyola's Spiritual Exercises has to experience hell and heaven with all his senses, to know the burning pain and blessed rapture, so that the distinction between good and evil is for ever indelibly imprinted in his soul. [9]

Allouez must have come out of the month's retreat with a new view of himself and the world, a view based on his commitment to give himself and his life over totally to the will of God, and to serve God by carrying out His will. Throughout the remainder of his novitiate training, the lessons taught by the Spiritual Exercises would be reinforced and built upon, partly through more "experiments."

Among the other "experiments" that Allouez performed was a month spent at a local hospital nursing the sick (one must remember that this was 1640 — hospitals were shelters for the destitute and dying, and this must have been quite an experience for a young man who had spent virtually his entire life sheltered in various Jesuit institutions). [10] This "experiment" was meant to give the novitiate practice in mercy, and to show him the dignity and love possessed by every human being. Another "experiment" meant to expand the novitiate's understanding and compassion for others was to teach the catechism to children. [11]

Perhaps the most interesting "experiment" undertaken was to make a month-long pilgrimage without any money, requiring Allouez to beg for food and shelter. [12] This "experiment" was meant to make the novitiate learn to have complete faith in God, and to experience the poverty of Christ.

Following two years at the novitiate, Allouez took his vows and became a Jesuit. The novitiate had given Allouez a unique and distinctly Jesuit outlook on life. As described by Joseph DeGuibert, that outlook can be characterized as "the service of God; service through love of Christ; service with Christ by following Him and walking in his footsteps." [13] Allouez, as a dedicated Jesuit, would strive throughout his life to carry out the will of God; to serve God fully and entirely. The strict rules of the novitiate, and the ordered life he had lead in all the Jesuit institutions he had attended, gave him a strong sense of obedience, and in becoming a Jesuit, Allouez promised to become obedient completely to the will of God. His life, again as described by DeGuibert, would be spent in "the firm determination to do everything possible to assure a better service to God," [14] and for Allouez, that service could be done best in the mission field.

Several years were spent in further education and training before Allouez received his orders for the North American missions. Indeed at this time the missions in North America were in a terrible state. The Iroquois were becoming hostile, and shortly would annihilate the Huron, destroying two mission towns in the process, and torturing several Jesuits to death. [15] Allouez, however, was one of the first Jesuits called to North America when the Iroquois wars finally settled down and North America was safe again for the missionaries.

In the meantime, Allouez completed his theological studies at the College of Billom. He studied rhetoric and philosophy between 1641 and 1645, and then became a teacher at the college. [16] In 1651 he began the most difficult course of study in the Jesuit educational system, theology, which he finished in 1655. [17] Allouez then spent a probationary year (the third year of novitiate training before ordination) at the College of Rodez, where he remained after his ordination as a priest until he was sent to North America in the spring of 1658. [18]

Allouez arrived in Quebec on July 11, 1658, after a passage across the Atlantic of perhaps three months. [19] His first business was to learn a native language, and the one selected for him was Algonquian. Allouez learned quickly, certainly aided by his extensive education in grammar and rhetoric, and was assigned to the Saint Lawrence missions. On September 19, 1660, he became the Jesuit superior at Trois Rivieres. [20] Allouez proved himself a good leader, and on July 21, 1663, he was appointed vicar general to the virtually unmissionized regions around lakes Superior and Michigan.

The appointment as vicar general for the western Great Lakes meant that Allouez was expected to journey into the region, make contact with the native peoples, set up missions among them, recruit missionaries for these missions, as well as be responsible for the souls of the French who traveled into the area, just as a priest in France would be responsible for his parishioners. [21]

Allouez's first voyage into the wilderness was almost a disaster. On August 8, 1665, soon after his flotilla of six Frenchmen and 400 Amerinds left Trois Rivieres for Lake Superior, Allouez's canoe ran aground in a rapids, and broke. [22]

Although repaired, Allouez knew it would not last, and that he and the other Frenchmen would have to travel in the Amerinds' canoes. [23] The following day Allouez was told there was no room for him, and the Amerinds paddled off, leaving him alone in the wilderness. [24] Although the other Frenchmen persuaded a canoe to retrieve him, the next day Allouez again had trouble finding a canoe to carry him, and was going to be again left to die in the wilderness. [25] He tells us:

In this abandoned state I withdrew into the woods, and, after thanking God for making me so acutely sensible of my slight worth, confessed before his divine Majesty that I was only a useless burden on the earth.

My prayer ended, I returned to the water's edge, where I found the disposition of that Savage who had repulsed me with such contempt entirely changed; for, unsolicited, he invited me to enter his Canoe, which I did with much alacrity, fearing he would change his mind. [26]

Allouez became the butt of Amerind jokes, his clothes and bedding were taken, and he was denied food, but he was not abandoned again.

Allouez's abandonment obviously had an impact on him, on his perceptions of his own worth and safety. He was forced to realize his own reliance upon the Amerinds. Without their acceptance he was, quite literally, dead. Even so, his faith never wavered. Indeed, soon after his abandonment Allouez witnessed a demonstration of shamanistic healing, and tells us:

I could not endure the invocation of any of their imaginary divinities in my presence; and yet I saw myself quite alone, and at the mercy of all these people. I wavered for some time, in doubt whether it would be more fitting for me to withdraw quietly, or to offer opposition to their superstitious practices. The completion of my journey depended upon them; if I incensed them, the Devil would make use of their anger in closing against me the door to their country, and in preventing their conversion. Besides, I had already perceived how little weight my words had with them, and knew that I would turn them still more against me by opposing them. Despite all these reasons, I believed that God demanded this little service from me; and accordingly I went forward, leaving the result to his Divine providence. I accosted the chief Jugglers... [27]

Despite this courageous showing, and despite the numerous baptisms Allouez performed and the large crowds he preached to in the 25 years of missionary work that were to follow this episode, I see no evidence that he ever was successful in converting the Amerinds of the western Great Lakes to the Catholic faith. The key word here is faith, for it brings up the crucial distinction between form and meaning. [28] Baptism, prayer, instruction, all are forms of Catholic worship, and merely participating in them does not mean that one is a member of the Catholic faith. In order to be one of the faithful, one must make a leap from the forms of worship to the meanings that lie behind them. The Amerinds of the western Great Lakes never made that crucial leap from the forms of Catholic worship to the meaning of Catholic faith. [29]

Religion, for the people of the western Great Lakes, centered around individual and group attempts to gain power from a supernatural source known as manitou. Power was sought through spirit mediums (also referred to as a manitou) by giving feasts, public and private offerings, or by individual contact through a dream while fasting. As described by Allouez:

they have among them a sort of tradition which makes them Believe that, if they have some vision, or rather some dream, they will be fortunate in Hunting and war; and that, should they fall into the hands of their enemies, they will escape from them. Thence it comes that they cling to dreams and visions of These kinds as they would cling to life. [30]

Religion, for these people, was power-oriented. One made sacrifices, gave feasts, or fasted in order to gain the support of a spirit or manitou, and through it, the power to be successful in whatever venture one was about to assume. This was quite different from Allouez's beliefs. His faith was built upon the desire to carry out God's will. Although power and support could be (and was) solicited through Christ, the saints, and the Virgin, Allouez's faith was not power-oriented, rather the reverse: to be a good Jesuit Allouez felt he must yield himself totally to the will of God. [31] For Allouez, God was not used to gain power to fulfill human desires, rather God used humans to carry out His will.

The Amerinds of the western Great Lakes saw God as a source of power, not as a means to salvation. They used God as they had their manitous, and were not inclined to surrender themselves to His will. They looked to God for help in hunting and war, and to cure their ailments, as some of Allouez's own writings show:

they invited us to many feasts, not so much for the sake of eating as of obtaining, through us, either recovery from their ailments, or good success in their hunting and in war. [32]

on meeting the enemy, the first thing they did was to make the sign of the Cross, after which they gave battle so confidently that they happily won the victory. And upon returning home they celebrated the triumph of the Cross, proclaiming everywhere that they were solely indebted to it for such good success. [33]

A band of young men who have blackened Their faces enter our Cabin in The evening, and say that they come to sleep in The Chapel so that God may appear and speak to Them in Their slumber, and promise to Deliver Their enemies to Them. [34]

Since the Amerinds' Christianity was based solely on the use of God as a source of supernatural power we can hypothesize that if an invocation of God's power was made and success was not achieved there would be a loss of faith in the power of God. This, again, would stand in direct opposition to Allouez's faith, where the failure of God to provide does not cause one to doubt his power, but rather to doubt the strength of one's own faith. An example from Allouez's own writings offers strong support for this hypothesis:

during The previous year, a band Of Young Outagami [Foxes] defeated eleven of the enemy's Canoes, and attributed this happy result to the prayer that they had said in the Chapel before starting on That expedition. But another band, who had likewise prayed to God after The example of the former, and who had even painted the Cross on Their bucklers, were defeated. This gave rise to rumors which Spread among The people — who said everywhere that God loves not Those who pray, but Those who pray not, and that to the latter He gives such great advantages...All these things had so changed Their minds that I had great difficulty in finding a place where in I might lodge; and I was compelled to take refuge in an old Cabin, open to all The winds. [35]

Allouez apparently realized that a gulf existed within most of the Amerinds between the forms of worship they presented and the meanings they carried within, but he seemed unconcerned that the Amerinds might be feigning belief, acting out forms without believing the meanings. For Allouez the forms were sufficient:

with the grace of God, The deceptions of the evil spirit are discovered; The people are disabused, and come as usual to listen to us, and outwardly perform everything connected with a Christian's duty. [36]

In this statement, Allouez seems to recognize the gulf between outward form and inward meaning, but shrugs it off as insignificant. He seems to be saying that it is enough that the Amerinds go through the motions, that they need not understand what the motions mean.

Why was Allouez so unconcerned about this apparent lack of faith among the Amerinds? Hadn't he come to the wilds of North America to convert the Amerinds? Hadn't he endured hardship to make them Christians? I think there are two answers to these questions: first, Allouez realized that if he pushed them too hard, the Amerinds would abandon him again, and a dead missionary was no use to anyone. Allouez wanted to carry out God's will, and although His will might require Allouez to die, Allouez certainly believed it would not help God's purpose on earth for him to be abandoned because of overzealousness. Some of Allouez's private papers suggest this very thought:

To convert the savages not so much knowledge is needed as holiness. Too ardent zeal ruins everything; their natural coldness and indifference does not like to be sharply pressed. [37]

Secondly, Allouez realized that he could not teach Christianity to the Amerinds in a way they did not understand. He knew he could not turn the Amerinds into French Catholics (as, for example, the Recollects attempted to do), [38] but tried to foster a native Catholicism from within them. Allouez's education and training had infused him with the idea that God existed within each human soul, and that the goal of spiritual education was to help an individual to forge a personal connection with God. Such a connection could not be forced, but had to develop slowly. And the way Allouez had learned to foster the connection between an individual and God was through the type of formal instruction and ritual practice that Allouez had received throughout his Jesuit education.

Just as Allouez had created a personal connection with God through years of instruction and practice, so the Amerinds would come to know God in their own way if given proper direction. For Allouez the meaning of Catholic faith was less important than the Amerinds performing "a Christian's duty." If they were performing correctly, following the correct forms of worship, the meanings would come, and those meanings would flow from within native culture and experience. In short, Allouez felt he could not impose Christianity upon the Amerinds, but had to foster it from within them.

It was Allouez's ability to maintain rapport with the numerous Amerind peoples of the western Great Lakes, and to foster a native Christianity from within them, that Allouez's confreres also found remarkable about him:

He has, in truth, a very peculiar gift for winning The Hearts of the savages. . .[his hard work] showed them How much the father loved them, were a powerful inducement to make them Believe Those truths, to preach which so much trouble was taken without any other Object in view than their salvation. . .The Father did not fail to Show them. . .that he looked upon Them As men, in Whom He recognized The image of a God who had Created them, who had died for them, and who destined them to The same happiness as the Europeans. [39]

Allouez gives us much the same picture of himself in this description of one of his first meetings with the Amerinds of the western Great Lakes:

blessed be God, who gives us all these opportunities and richly recompenses, besides, all these hardships by the consolation that he makes us find, amid the greatest afflictions, in the quest of so many poor Savages' souls — which are not less the work of his hands and the price of the Blood of JESUS CHRIST, his son, than those of the Princes and Sovereigns of the earth. [40]

Allouez's long Jesuit training had taught him that religion grew from within and could not be forced from outside. The political situation of the western Great Lakes made it imperative that he maintain rapport and friendship with the Amerinds. For these reasons, Allouez did not attempt to master the Amerinds' souls or to civilize them. He tried to help them gain an understanding of God, and that in their own way. When Allouez died at St. Joseph on the night of August 27, 1689, he left behind a life's work not of conversion, as the list of the missions he founded and the baptisms he conferred suggest, but of accommodation and assistance.


1James J. Wynne, "Claude Jean Allouez," in Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 1. (New York: Scribner, 1953), 222.


3George E. Ganss, St. Ignatius' Idea of a Jesuit University. (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1954), 47.


5Ibid., 50.

6Wynne, "Allouez," 222.

7See Denis Meadows, Obedient Men. (New York: Appelton-Century Crofts, 1954), 35-36.

8Ibid., 47-107, is an excellent description of life as a Jesuit novitiate.

9Rene Fulop-Miller, The Jesuits: A History of the Society of Jesus. (New York: Capricorn, 1956), 6.

10Joseph P. Donnelly, Jacques Marquette, S.J. (Chicago: Loyola, 1968), 44-45.

11Ibid., 45-46.


13Joseph DeGuibert, The Jesuits: Their Spiritual Doctrine and Practice. (Chicago: Loyola, 1964), 176.

14Ibid., 170.

15James T. Moore, Indian and Jesuit: A Seventeenth-Century Encounter. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1982), 26-31.

16Leon Pouliot, "Claude Allouez," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966), 57.





21Wynne, "Allouez," 222.

22Reuben G. Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1896-1901), 50:251.


24Ibid., 50:253.

25Ibid., 50:255.


27Ibid., 50:261.

28Ralph Linton, The Study of Man. (New York: Appelton-Century-Crofts, 1936), 403; also see Roy Rappaport Ecology, Meaning, and Religion. (Richmond, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1979), 194.

29Peter Peregrine, Miami-Jesuit Relations at Green Bay, 1669-1679: A Study in Acculturation. (Unpublished Master's Thesis, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Purdue University, 1987), 50.

30Thwaites, Jesuit Relations, 59:229.

31See Fulop-Miller, The Jesuits, 3-27.

32Thwaites, Jesuit Relations, 55:203.

33Ibid., 56:145-47.

34Ibid., 58:51.

35Ibid., 58:65-67.

36Ibid., 58:57.

37Pierre Margry, Decouvertes et Etablissements des Francais dans l'Ouest et dans le Sud de l'Amerique Septentrionale (1674-1754). (Paris: Imprimere D. Jouaust, 1875), 1:72 (translation mine); cf. Thwaites, Jesuit Relations, 8:178-180.

38See James Axtell, The Invasion Within. (New York: Oxford, 1985).

39Thwaites, Jesuit Relations, 62:205, 209-11.

40Ibid., 54:207.

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