In 1857, the French Roman Catholic religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, began permanent missionary work among the Native peoples of British Columbia. The memoirs of Father Nicolas Coccola, a Corsican-born Oblate who arrived in the province in 1880, reveal the complexity of the work carried out by the ordinary missionary priests.
To date, historical scholarship has focused on either exceptional missionaries or missionary methodology. Consequently, the numerous in-the-field Roman Catholic priests who obeyed the directives of the church and religious communities and who aimed simply to save “heathen” souls have remained obscure. As these memoirs reveal, the life of such an ordinary missionary was neither dull nor conflict free.
Coccola worked in British Columbia for sixty-three years. Historical circumstances forced him to engage in a variety of roles far beyond his clerical duties. His spiritual charges remained primarily the Native peoples of the Kootenay region and, later, of the northwest part of British Columbia. But as these areas of the province became settled and Native culture was disrupted, Coccola gained a new constituency when railway construction and mining enterprises brought a large number of workers of European origin. His roles ranged from arbitrator in Indian/white and labour/management conflicts to the unlikely position of director of an Indian mid-wife society.
Recommended to anyone interested in the history of the Roman Catholic church's missionary activities in British Columbia or in the cultural changes experienced by the native people around the turn of the century.
Diligent research provides some stimulating reflections on what the great Belgian priest Pierre Charles called missiology, and Whitehead's comparison of Jesuit mission methodology in the Pacific Northwest with that of the Oblates is of special interest.
These recollections provide a basis for comparison of the ordinary and the exceptional pioneer Oblate missionary.
Notes to Introduction
Notes to Memoirs
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