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Osage Nation collaborates with Jesuit Archives

A collection of 19th-century documents related to the Osage Nation is among the collections available to researchers at the new Jesuit Archives and Research Center in St. Louis.

Geoffrey Standing Bear, now principal chief of the Osage Nation, visited the Jesuit Archives nearly three decades ago to see the collection, which contains correspondence and administrative records of the Jesuit Mission to the Osage Nation, established in 1847 near what is now St. Paul, Kan. Documents in the Osage language include a dictionary, Bible, two versions of the Lord’s Prayer, a Sign of the Cross and a letter to Pope Leo XIII regarding the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha.

These are some of the few Osage language documents still in existence.

When he became principal chief in 2014, Chief Standing Bear followed up on his visit to St. Louis 1990. He sought and received funding from the Osage Nation Foundation to pay for the preservation and digitization of the documents in the Osage language. Some of that funding paid for the purchase of a large digital scanner that will remain with the Jesuit Archives and Research Center as a gift from the Osage Nation.

The Osage Nation materials have been restored and returned to the Jesuit Archives and Research Center. The digitization of those materials is in process now, using the equipment donated to the archives by the Osage foundation.

The Osage and the Jesuits share a history from as far back as 1821, when the first Jesuit missionaries came to the St. Louis area. They taught the Osage, and most of the tribe became Catholic. Later, when the Osage had been forced to move to Kansas, they asked for Jesuits as their faith leaders.

Today, a high percentage of Osage remain Roman Catholic. The Osage word for priest is “Sho-minka” — derived from the name of one of the first Jesuit priests sent to the mission, Father John Shoenmakers.

In addition to the official documents, the archives contain ancient Osage legends as told to the priests, legends which had been lost through the generations.

The Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province contributed information for this story.

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