Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Father Francis M. Craft: Missionary to the Sioux

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Father Francis M. Craft: Missionary to the Sioux

Article excerpt

Father Francis M. Craft: Missionary to the Sioux. By Thomas W. Foley. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 2002. Pp. xvii, 197; 2 maps; 17 photos. $45.00 cloth.)

Following the Civil War, the United States government undertook a massive reform of its Indian policy, replacing the antebellum practice of segregating Indian and white populations with that of "civilizing and Christianizing," or assimilating, native peoples. To aid in these efforts, the federal Indian Bureau successfully petitioned leaders of mainline denominations, including the Catholic Church, to enlist missionaries to educate Indians in manners and customs of Christian citizenship.

One of the most controversial figures to emerge during this period was Father Francis M. Craft. A convert to Catholicism, Craft entered the clergy in 1883, as a diocesan priest after a short-lived career as a Jesuit novice. ("Craft was especially unsuited," Thomas Foley observes,"for the structured environment of a disciplined order like the Society of Jesus.") Almost immediately following his ordination, the priest was sent to the Rosebud Reservation to begin missionizing its Lakota inhabitants. Craft's unorthodox approach to his work, including utilizing native customs as stepping stones to assimilating and converting Indians, soon embroiled him in clashes with the local agent that culminated with his expulsion from Rosebud.

Throughout the next two decades Father Craft was in and out of hot water, both with the government and with church authorities, who considered his eccentricities and outspokenness sparks threatening to detonate the powder keg of Catholic-government relations. Thus, for example, after Craft was severely injured during the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890, many Catholic officials sought to disassociate themselves from him and the newspaper interviews he gave from his hospital bed in which he blamed government ineptitude and corruption for the tragedy. …

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