The First Sight
The Society of Jesus' first adventure in North America neither began nor ended well.
It is September 14, 1566, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and a large Spanish ship, with a Flemish crew, a contingent of Spanish soldiers, and three Jesuit missionaries aboard, having been blown out to sea twice by hurricanes and storms, sits tranquilly offshore by the northern coast of Florida, right near the future Georgia border, waiting for the proper moment to send an exploratory team to the beach in their one remaining boat.
They are lost. And they are almost out of water. They separated from their main fleet a month before and have been wandering up and down the Florida coast in search of the port of Saint Helena. There they will deliver the Jesuits to the service of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, whom Phillip II of Spain had appointed to destroy the French Huguenot colony on the St. John's River, from which the French would raid the Spanish ships laden with treasure from Mexico as they passed north of Cuba on their way home. Governor Menendez, with a reputation for cruelty, ruthlessly wiped the Huguenots out in 1565 and established the city of St. Augustine. But to pacify the Indians he needed a different kind of force. He implored the general of the Society of Jesus to send help, for, he wrote, “My ultimate object and desire is to procure that Florida be settled in perpetuity so that the Holy Gospel be extended and planted in these provinces.” These three men were to plant the faith in this new colonial garden.
These young men were part of a dynamic religious missionary movement that within a few years of its founding had already reached India, Japan, and what is now South America. In 1549, while across the world in Japan Francis Xavier was preparing to spread the faith to China, a party of six Jesuits had sailed into the beautiful harbor of