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Notable Oregonians: Father Francis Blanchet - Missionary

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Father Francis Blanchet

Father Francis Blanchet, 1795-1893

Francis Blanchet attended the Petit Seminaire of Quebec and was ordained in 1819. He worked as a missionary in the Montreal area until 1838 when he was appointed as Vicar General of the Oregon Mission with Reverend Modeste Demers. Upon his arrival at the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver in late 1838, Blanchet became the first priest to visit the Oregon Country. He and Demers used Fort Vancouver as their headquarters for the next four years while traveling in the region.

 

The Hudson's Bay Company maintained numerous posts in the territory north of the Columbia River and Blanchet chose one of them, Cowlitz, for the site of his first mission in 1839. During construction a delegation of Nesqually Indians asked to see the "real Blackrobe" and to be instructed by him. Being ignorant of their language and at a loss to make himself understood, he thought of a novel method to instruct them.

 

He made a long flat stick or ladder with forty short parallel lines on it to represent the four thousand years before Christ; these were followed by thirty-three points and three crosses to show the years of Christ's life and the manner of His death. A church and twelve perpendicular marks denoted the beginning of the Catholic Church at the death of Christ through the Apostles; eighteen further horizontal marks and thirty-nine points showed the time elapsed since the death of Christ. The lesson proved successful. The Indians took home copies of the stick, which they called the Sa-cha-lee-stick, and which is known as the "Catholic ladder."

 

In 1839 Blanchet began living at St. Paul, Oregon where he founded St. Joseph's College in 1843, while Demers continued at the Cowlitz mission. Later in 1843 Blanchet received the appointment of vicar-apostolic and was given the title of Bishop of Philadelphia. The next year he traveled to Canada and to Rome, where Pope Pius IV subsequently made Oregon an ecclesiastical province. The province was divided into three suffragan sees with Oregon City allotted to the now Archbishop Blanchet; Walla Walla to his brother, Magliore Blanchet; and Vancouver Island to Demers. Blanchet returned to Oregon in 1847 where he worked for the next 32 years before his retirement in 1879. He was an accomplished author in addition to his missionary work.

 

(Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia | Dictionary of Oregon History) Revised 1/2013

 

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