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Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions

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An institution originated (1874) by J. Roosevelt Bailey, Archbishop of Baltimore, for the protection and promotion of Catholic Indian mission interests in the United States of America. The United States Government holds the Indians as its wards and, accordingly, supervises them in all their internal and external relations. Consequently, missionaries, philanthropists, traders and others who have to do with the Indians or who live among them, are obliged to approach them through these governmental channels, and to conduct all negotiations with them under permission and direction of Government Indian officials. Catholic Indian mission interests being extensive, varied, and scattered over many states and dioceses, the Church, as a measure of expediency bordering closely on necessity, established, at the seat of Government, the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, through which to transact the affairs of the missions with the United States Indian Office—the director of the Bureau being the mouthpiece of the hierarchy and of the missionaries in their official relations, regarding Indian matters, with the Government. In order to do its work intelligently and effectively, the Bureau excercises a limited supervision over the missions and mission-institutions. At the present time the bishops and missionaries, generally speaking, look to the Bureau for support of the mission schools and for material assistance in maintaining and establishing missions. To meet these needs, the Bureau, through various agencies, solicits alms for the missions from the Catholic body (Indian and white) throughout the United States.

The Bureau comprises: a board of incorporators—the Archbishop of Baltimore (president), James Cardinal Gibbons; Archbishop of Philadelphia, Patrick J. Ryan; Archbishop of New York, Most Rev. John M. Farley; a director, Rev. Wm. H. Ketcham; a treasurer, Very Rev. E. R. Dyer, S.S.; a secretary, Charles S. Lusk; a legal advisor, Hon. Charles J. Bonaparte; a field-lecturer, Rev. Charles Warren Currier. The Archbishops of Baltimore and Philadelphia and the director form the executive board. As for the greater portion of the Indian population, the advent of the Catholic missionary antedates that of the United States Government. Prior to the creation of the Bureau, Catholic Indian affairs were adjusted locally between bishops and missionaries and Indian agents and other Government officials. Tired of destructive and expensive Indian wars, and realizing that the western Indians could not be kept in a pacific state by money or promises, President Grant looked for the solution of the Indian problem in the Christianizing of the tribes. Accordingly he announced to Congress (5 December, 1870) his "Indian Peace Policy";—"Indian agencies being civil offices, I determined to give all the agencies to such religious denominations as had heretofore established missionaries among the Indians, and perhaps to some other denominations who would undertake the work on the same terms—i.e., as a missionary work". This plan to give the agencies over to "such religious denominations as had heretofore established missionaries among the Indians" was fair and practicable and might have proved successful had it been carried out impartially. In 1870 there were seventy-two Indian agencies, and in thirty-eight of these, Catholic missionaries had been the first to establish themselves. Despite this fact, only eight—Colville and Tulalip in Washington Territory, Umatilla and Grand Ronde in Oregon, Flathead in Montana, Standing Rock and Devil's Lake in Dakota, Papago in Arizona — were assigned to the Catholic Church. Eighty thousand Catholic Indians passed from Catholic influences to Protestant control.

This condition necessitated vigorous defensive measures on the part of the Church. At the instance of bishops in whose jurisdiction were Indians, Archbishop Bailey, on 2 January, 1874, appointed General Charles Ewing Catholic Commissioner. The same year, the Very Rev. J. B. A. Brouillet, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Nesqually, was called to Washington to assist General Ewing. In 1875, Catholic ladies of the city of Washington organized the Catholic Indian Missionary Association. Father Brouillet became the director and treasurer of The Catholic Indian Mission Work. In 1879, the Bureau was officially created with General Ewing, commissioner, Father Brouillet, director, and Rev. Felix Barotti, treasurer. On 13 June, 1879, the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda gave a letter of commendation in favour of the Catholic Indian Missionary Work. Father Barotti died in 1881 and was succeeded as treasurer by Charles S. Jones of Washington D.C. On 14 June, 1881, the Bureau was incorporated under the general incorporation law of the United States. On 1 June, 1877, Pius IX created General Ewing a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. On General Ewing's death (1883), Captain John Mullan of San Francisco was appointed Catholic Commissioner. Father Brouillet died in 1884 and Rev. J. A. Stephan was appointed director. By a decree of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, the Bureau was formally recognized as an institution of the Church and placed under a committee of five prelates: James Cardinal Gibbons, Most Rev. Patrick W. Riordan, Archbishop of San Francisco, Right Rev. James A. Healy, Bishop of Portland, Right Rev. John B. Brondel, Bishop of Helena, and Right Rev. Martin Marty, Bishop of Sioux Falls — (in 1893 this committee was increased to seven by the addition of Most Rev. Patrick J. Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and Most Rev. Placide L. Chapelle, Archbishop of Sante Fe). The committee of five made appointments as follows: president, Right Rev. Martin Marty; vice-president Most Rev. Placide L. Chapelle; director, Rev. J. A. Stephen; assistant director, Rev. George L. Willard; treasurer, Rev. J. A. Walter.

In 1894 the committee of regents was dissolved and the Bureau reconstituted. The old organization was superseded by a new corporation chartered in perpetuity by an Act of the General Assembly of the State of Maryland (approved 6 April, 1894), the Most Rev. Archbishops of Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia being the incorporators, and the corporate title, The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

Under the new organization Bishop Marty was retained as president and at his death (1896) was succeeded by Cardinal Gibbons. Right Rev. Monsignor J. A. Stephans was director until his death in 1901. The office of assistant director, vacant since 1890, was successively filled by Rev. B. J. Kelly and Rev. E. H. Fitzgerald. The treasurer, appointed in 1894, still remains in office (1909), and also the secretary who, as private secretary to General Ewing, has in reality served as secretary to the Bureau since its inception.

Work of the bureau

The Indian Peace Policy was in force from 1874 to 1882, but even after its discontinuance the need for the Bureau remained imperative. Being constantly in touch with the officials of the Indian Office, the Bureau has been instrumental in ameliorating the condition of the Indian, and in making tolerable the lot of the missionary, who, at all times, has been under close and galling Governmental supervision, and, in many instances, subjected to annoyance, humiliations, and petty persecutions on the part of the Indian agents and agency employees. From 1874 to 1879 the Government refused to concede to all denominations an equal right to go upon Indian reservations. For this sole reason a Catholic missionary was expelled from a reservation assigned to Protestants, and in 1880 the Indian Office declared itself unable to grant a permit for a Catholic missionary to go upon a Protestant reservation, though the fact that the reservation was under Protestant control did not signify that the Indians were Protestants. The same year, by order of the Department, a Protestant missionary was expelled from a Catholic agency (Devil's Lake). This brought a change in popular sentiment which, together with the agitation kept up by the Bureau, caused the recognition, rather theoretical than actual, of religious liberty for Indians and Indian missionaries. Even yet the rights of conscience, so far as Indians are concerned, are often violated, particularly in the case of Catholic Indian pupils attending Government schools.

A fund known as the Catholic Indian Mission Fund, created chiefly by the Catholic Indian Missionary Association and partly by charitable donations and bequests, provided support for the Bureau up to 1887, and supplied it with means to assist the missions. During the twenty-two years following its organization, it received and disbursed from this fund $48,717.88. All the officers of the bureau serve without salary, with the exception of the director, secretary, and field-lecturer. The salaries and running-expenses of the Bureau since 1887 have been provided from the annual Lenten collections for Indian and Negro missions. The influence of the Bureau for good has steadily increased. President Roosevelt recognized the value of the institution and during the present administration (1909) it has received marked consideration.

Impartial observers of Indian affairs admit that the greatest good accomplished for the Indian has been through the agency of religious schools, and particularly of Catholic schools, and it is in this cause the Bureau has done its best work. In 1873, Catholic missionaries and sisters had charge of Catholic government schools (two boarding and five day) supported out of the U. S. treasury at a cost of $8000. Only in this was was help received from the Government by Catholic missionaries and Sisters until 1877. Catholic Indian mission and school work was kept up in a measure by funds collected and disbursed by the Bureau. In 1877 the bureau made application to the Government for contracts for the support and tuition of Indian pupils in Catholic mission schools. This application was favourably received and the "Contract School System" came into being. Not less than $1,500,000 to erect and equip Catholic mission school buildings were furnished by the daughters of Francis A. Drexel of Philadelphia, particularly by Mother M. Katherine Drexel, the foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Coloured People. In 1883 the Catholic mission boarding schools numbered eighteen and received from government allotments $39,175. The highwater mark in the number of schools (forty-three boarding and seventeen day) was reached in 1890 and of Government compensation ($397, 756) in 1892.

The remarkable success of Catholic schools aroused great opposition, Protestant denominations suddenly changed their policy and declined to accept Government help for their mission schools, popular sentiment unfavorable to the idea of the contract school system was created by the American Protective Association, with the result that Congress in 1895 began to curtail its appropriations for education in mission schools, and in 1896 declared it "to be the settled policy of the Government to hereafter make no appropriation for education in any sectarian school", and in 1900 made what it designated "the final appropriation for sectarian schools". During the term of the contract system, the Bureau secured from the Government for the tuition and support of children in Indian mission schools the grand total of $4,540,263. Since the discontinuance of the contracts, some schools have been closed; on the other hand new missions and new schools have been established. Most of the existing schools have been supported by the Bureau, which also aids in maintaining the missions and in providing priests for the work of instructing Catholic Indian pupils of Government schools. At present, Catholic Indian educational work, inclusive of Alaska, comprises fifty-three boarding and seven day schools. The bureau provides support to forty-one of these boarding schools, besides providing for the education of a number of Indian boys in an institution for whites. In 1907 it disbursed to the missions and schools $231, 517.31. This may be taken as an annual average of its work in this line.

The most important achievements of the Bureau within the last decade have been: (1) the revocation of the "Browning ruling" (1902) which denied the Indian parent the right to choose a school for his child, the Indian Office arrogating that right to itself; (2) the restoration of rations (1906), amounting approximately to $20,000, to pupils of mission schools entitled to them by right of treaty, the rations having been denied the mission school children in 1901; (3) the securing of contracts, which produce to the contract schools an average yearly income of $100,000 for the support and tuition of Indian pupils in certain mission schools, payable out of Indian tribal funds, these contracts being granted by order of President Roosevelt (1904), and sustained by a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, 18 May, 1908, in consequence of which the tuition and support of the pupils of the Catholic mission schools of the Menominees (Wisconsin), Sioux (South Dakota), Northern Cheyennes (Montana), Osages and Quapaws (Oklahoma), which tribes have tribal funds, are paid out of the moneys of these tribes; (4) the recognition of the right of Catholic Indian pupils in Government schools to be exempted from attending Protestant worship and instruction; (5) the securing of the enactment by Congress (1909) of a law granting patents in fee simple for the mission and school lands on Indian reservations (aggregating over 10,000 acres) which have been held by the church as tenant at will.

Of the annual amount disbursed by the Bureau, Mother Katherine Drexel contributes more than half. In this way from 1898 to 1908 she expended $799,157.37. Prior to 1891 no part of the annual Lenten collection was granted the bureau for its educational work. Since that time it has received from the collection and disbursed to the schools $276,286,74. The remainder of the funds disbursed by the Bureau have been accumulated by means of an appeal which it issues annually, and by donations, bequests, and societies instituted for the soliciting of alms for the Indian missions.


(1) The Catholic Indian Missionary Association (indults granted 16 July, 1876 and 20 July, 1876), for the support of the Bureau and its work, was organized (1875) in the city of Washington chiefly through the efforts of Mrs. Gen. Wm. T. Sherman. This association accomplished its purpose. The contract school system rendered it unnecessary and it ceased to exist.

(2) Society for the Preservation of the Faith Among Indian Children (indult granted 20 December, 1904), known as the Preservation Society, established by the Bureau in 1901, approved by the American hierarchy and commended by Pius X (1908), collects from each of its members an annual fee of twenty-five cents for the benefit of the missions. It has maintained an average membership of from forty-five to fifty thousand. Recently the Most Reverend Incorporators of the Bureau have requested the American Federation of Catholic Schools to take a special interest in this society and to secure and maintain for it a membership of eight hundred thousand. The director of the Bureau is the President of the Preservation Society.

(3) The Marquette League, an auxiliary to the Preservation Society (blessing bestowed by Pius X, July, 1904) was organized in New York City (1904) chiefly through the agency of Rev. H. G. Ganss, who for several years devoted his time to promoting the Preservation Society. The League exacts a membership fee of two dollars yearly and secures offerings for the repair and building of chapels, the support of catechists, scholarships for Indian pupils in Catholic institutions, and other missionary purposes. Its funds are distributed through the Bureau. Branches of the League have been established in various eastern centres, but the New York City League, under the able management of its successive presidents, Mr. E. Eyre, Mr. Joseph H. Fargis, Hon. Eugene A. Philbin, and the Brooklyn League, under its President, Mr. Alexander McKinney, have produced the best results.


Mother M. Katherine Drexel has been the most generous helper of the Bureau and the Indian missions. In the Indian and Negro mission work of the American church she holds a unique position. Other notable benefactors are: Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Corrigan, Archbishop Ryan, Archbishop Farley, Archbishop Keane, Bishop Horstmann, Rev. T. K. Crowley, Rev. N Kirsten, Mrs. Edward Morrel, Henry Heide, Theodore E. Tack, Thomas McMahon, E. Eyre, F. S. Horn, John J. Horn, Robert A. Johnston, John G. Kuhrie, Miss Juliana Klein, Michael Fogarty, Association of the Holy Childhood, Ludwig-Missions-Verein (Munich).

Bureau publications

From 1877 to 1881 the Bureau published "Annals of Catholic Indian Missions in America". In 1883 it published a pamphlet, "The Work of the Decade"; in 1895, a pamphlet, "The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, 1874 to 1895". From time to time is has circulated statistics and various pamphlets on topics relating to Indian education and mission work. It publishes each year a Report of the Director to the Most Reverend Incorporators, and an annual, "The Indian Sentinel" (since 1902), in the interest of the Preservation Society. The present (1909) office of the Bureau is at 1326 New York Avenue N. W., Washington, D.C.


Acta et decreta concilii plenarii Baltimorensis tertii (Baltimore, 1884); Wiltzius, Official Catholic Directory (Milwaukee, 1909); Bureau Publications, The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions 1874 to 1895 (Washington, 1895); The Work of the Decade (Washington, 1883); Our Catholic Indian Missions (Washington, 1909); Reports of the Director for 1900-01 and 1901-02, 1903-04, 1904-05, 1905-06, 1906, 1907, 1908 (Washington); Reports of the Mission Work among the Negroes and Indians, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908 (Baltimore); Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, VII (Washington, 1899), 109; Congressional Record, fifty-third Congress, sess. 3; fifty-sixth Congress, sess. 2; fifty-seventh Congress, sess. 1; Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908 (Washington); Tucker, Appeal Cases, District of Columbia, XXX (Rochester, 1908), 154; United States Reports, CCX, 1908, 50; U. S. States at Large, XXXV, pt. 1 (Washington, 1909), 814.

About this page

APA citation. Ketcham, W. (1910). Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Ketcham, William. "Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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