In a new piece published at The Catholic World Report, Acton’s Samuel Gregg reviews “Apostles of Empire: The Jesuits and New France,” by Bronwen McShea, Associate Research Scholar with Princeton University’s James Madison Program. In “Apostles of Empire,” McShea details the history of Jesuit missionary efforts that took place in North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and brings attention to how the Jesuits’ missionary efforts were coupled with the advancement of French political and economic ambitions.
McShea challenges and, to my mind, decisively refutes the legend (reinforced by films like the 1991 movie Black Robe) that the Jesuit mission in French America was somehow divorced from the French colonial project. No one who reads McShea’s book will be able to cling to the fairytale that the Jesuits were exclusively focused upon saving souls and protecting Native Americans from greedy French colonialists, or motivated by a “utopian escapism” underpinned by a fair amount of noble savage mythology. Even the willingness of Jesuits to die in pursuance of their mission was, McShea suggests, not just about giving glory to God; it also reflected their readiness to sacrifice for France in an age of emerging nation-states. The Jesuits had no misgivings about venerating those French soldiers and Indian warriors who died fighting valiantly “against enemies of the French.