Less than a century after the founding of our religious order, Jesuits began arriving on the shores of America.
French Jesuits explored the woodlands of Maine and celebrated, in 1611, the first known Mass on American soil, at the mouth of the Kennebec River. English Jesuits landed in Maryland, in 1634, and established a mission there. More French Jesuits came and rode their canoes along the unchartered waters of the Great Lakes. By the 1680s, the men in black robes were also coming from Spain and setting up churches and villages in the southwestern United States. Italian Jesuits, in the mid-1800s, began reaching out to people of various cultures in Colorado, Montana, and California.
This period stretching well into the 19th century was, in a manner of speaking, the Wild West phase of Jesuits in America. It was a time when these priests and brothers explored the frontiers of faith, preaching the Good News to Native Americans and Protestant pioneers, and establishing the first U.S. Jesuit college, Georgetown, in 1789. It was also a time of martyrdom, suppression, and persecution.
For more than a hundred years in America, Jesuits operated under the auspices of their native provinces in Europe. Then, in 1833, these pioneers established the Maryland Province of Jesuits — the first in the United States. Jesuit colleges and universities began a period of explosive growth as Jesuits sought to educate waves of immigrants. By the early 1900s, Jesuit provinces and institutions were multiplying across the country.
Today, American Jesuits are still exploring new frontiers. Together with our lay collaborators, we are fostering dialogues with non-Christian religious faiths in the developing world, for example, and starting middle schools in hard-pressed neighborhoods of urban America. The mission remains as it has for 400 years — to bring people and cultures closer to the living God.