Demons, Saints & Patriots: Catholic Visions of Native America through the Indian Sentinel, 1902-1962

Demons, Saints & Patriots: Catholic Visions of Native America through the Indian Sentinel, 1902-1962

Demons, Saints & Patriots: Catholic Visions of Native America through the Indian Sentinel, 1902-1962

Demons, Saints & Patriots: Catholic Visions of Native America through the Indian Sentinel, 1902-1962


"This well-researched study illuminates the work of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions through the periodical it published from 1902 to 1962. Careful attention to the missionaries who wrote and the natives they wrote about yields impressive results—on the many varieties of missionaries and missionary motives, on the occasional successes and frequent tragedies of native development, and on the depth of human interactions that attended the missionary encounters. Mark Clatterbuck has written an important book on a rich, complex, and compelling subject." Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame

"With a sophisticated blend of religious history, theology, psychology, anthropology and hermeneutics, Mark Clatterbuck explores the meanings of Catholic missionaries’ articles found in their Sentinel. Here are the narratives revealing the missionaries’ complex images ranging from the Indian as the demonic savage, to the Romantic image of the “noble native” culminating in contemporary experiences of Catholic priests in sweat lodges or sharing the pipe. The reader will be treated to nothing short of an elegant writing style. This is a captivating synthesis of narrative and analysis." Christopher J. Kauffman, The Catholic University of America

"This is a lively, well documented account of Catholic missionaries, many of them foreigners to the U.S., alienated from their homes, defensive about their place in this country, ambivalent about the Natives whose souls they fought to save, and sometimes subject to the lure of reverse conversion to Indian ways." Christopher Vecsey, Colgate University

Mark Clatterbuck has been actively engaged in the Christian-Native encounter for more than fifteen years, including teaching and parish work on the Rocky Boy’s Chippewa-Cree Reservation in Montana. He holds a PhD in Religion and Culture from the Catholic University of America. Currently he lives with his wife and two daughters in Lancaster, PA.


Few subjects of American religious history have generated the kind of interpretive schizophrenia that has marked the story of twentieth-century Catholic missionary work among Native American tribes in the United States. Until the 1960s, non-Native observers were nearly unanimous in their praise of the Catholic Indian missionary, portraying reservation priests and boarding school teachers as saintly frontiersmen of heroic dedication, sacrificing all to civilize the Indian child and save the Indian soul. In more recent decades, such soaring portraitures have been widely rejected. They’ve been replaced, instead, by assessments which bring the missionary much closer to earth, assessments which often land the well-intentioned women and men of the Church abruptly in the muddy mire of colonial complicity and cultural imperialism. Once shining emblems of unparalleled Christian devotion, they have since acquired a more sullied distinction, sometimes being numbered among the greatest tragedies ever to visit the US tribes. The Native players in this ambiguous missionary narrative are likewise cast in totalizing and oppositional terms. As early as 1900, we find missionary workers enthusiastically describing the American Indian as a paragon of moral innocence, a soul of innate piety from which a new Christian utopia may well spring. Elsewhere, we find frustrated priests damning all things indigenous, painting the American Indian with sweeping strokes of animal savagery, mental inferiority, and nearly hopeless sexual depravity.

This book examines the Catholic Indian Missions project from 1900 to Vatican II with the aim of exploring and explaining these radically conflicting portraits of Indians and missionaries alike. The specific focus of this project is the relationship which existed between missionary strategy and the missionaries’ own struggle for identity as they found themselves caught between the unfamiliarity of indigenous cultures on the one hand, and the hostility of a dominant American Protestantism on the other. At the center of my research stands The Indian Sentinel, a periodical published by the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions from 1902 to 1962. Published as both a chronicle of Catholic Indian missions activities and an impassioned public rela-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.