On the Padres

On the Padres' Trail


Until 1492, Christianity was totally unknown to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Although the Native Americans already had long-established religious cultures of their own, the arrival of the Christian Europeans made an extremely significant impact on their lives: over the following five centuries, millions of American Indians would come to identify themselves as Christians. The first form of Christianity that American Indians encountered was Roman Catholicism, and, in terms of numbers of self-identified American Indian Catholics, Catholicism has remained the dominant Christian religion among Indian peoples—for better or worse.

On the Padres’ Trail begins with the arrival of Europeans in the New World and the invasion of the Caribbean, from which author Christopher Vecsey traces the expansion of Catholicism into New Spain. He devotes special attention to the history of the Catholic faith and institutions among the Pueblo peoples of New Mexico, particularly in the years since the establishment of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Then he turns his attention to the history and effects, both good and bad, of the Catholic missions among the Indians of California. In the final section of the book, he details the history of the judgments made about Catholic missionizing in California (and, by extension, all of New Spain) and closes with the sometimes critical perspectives of contemporary Native American Catholics regarding the padres who first brought Catholicism to their ancestors.

Professor Vecsey’s American Indian Catholics series, the first full-length treatment of the subject, is a comprehensive study which encompasses five hundred years and much of North America. In over a decade of study, the author has conducted primary research at repositories held by Catholic dioceses, in the records of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions (housed at Marquette University) and in Catholic Indian communities throughout the American Southwest. He has attended conferences of Catholic Indians, participated in Catholic Indian liturgies, and interviewed many Indian Catholics.

On the Padres’ Trail, the first volume in Professor Vecsey’s three-volume American Indian Catholics series, is an invaluable addition to current scholarship on the history of the Catholic Church and to the field of Native American studies.