Fathers on the Frontier: French Missionaries and the Roman Catholic Priesthood in the United States, 1789-1870

By Michael Pasquier | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments

Robert Penn Warren had the protagonist of All the King’s Men, Jack Burden, believe that “a student of history does not care what he digs out of the ash pile, the midden, the sublunary dung heap, which is the human past.” With this sentiment in mind, Warren had Burden try and fail to write a dissertation on the life of a Confederate soldier named Cass Mastern. He had Burden walk away from his slatternly apartment containing a pine desk covered with the picture, journal, and letters of a dead man with a morally perplexing past. He had Burden walk away from the historian’s craft “because in the midst of the process I tried to discover the truth and not the facts. Then, when the truth was not to be discovered, or discovered could not be understood by me, I could not bear to live with the cold-eyed reproach of the facts.”

The confessional qualities of letter and journal writing can be startling, but they can also be illuminating. Over the past eight years, and over the course of reading thousands of letters and journal entries, I’ve been both disquieted and impressed by the lives of Roman Catholic priests in the United States. I’ve tried not to dabble in the business of truth-making, choosing instead to let the actors of the past live with their own truths and thereby leave matters of fact for a young historian like me to put into some narrative order. But then I’m reminded, sometimes by my academic mentors and more often by my own conscience, that I’m not just telling a story. I’m also asking personal questions of my ecclesiastical subjects and

-vii-

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