Several days ago one of my sisters dropped off a manila envelope from a distant relative. Her daughter found a book inscribed to me, “Love to Vincent, February 1956, Mommie.” On the bottom of the cover was “Vincent Profy, Jr. 130 Mill St. Bristol, Pa.” The 188 page book, “Father Marquette and the Great Rivers” by August Derleth, illustrated by H. Lawrence Hoffman was part of a series, Vision Books.
I think mom gave be a subscription to the Vision Books. They were mailed to me periodically. Each featured the story of a “great Catholic.” A promo for the series stated, “Vision Books are an exciting new series especially designed to acquaint boys and girls from eight to sixteen with they lives of great Catholic lay figures, martyrs, and saints. Vision Books will inspire and instruct. Their lively telling, their readability, and their historical accuracy make them unique. These colorful action-filled life stories combine scrupulous fidelity to facts with high entertainment value.”
I was eight years old, in third grade. The gift from my mother represented two things very important to her — education, specifically reading; religion, specifically Catholicism. I attended a Catholic elementary school, would be sent to a newly opened college preparatory school, and was expected to attend college, probably Catholic. I became an alter boy and very briefly considered a religious vocation. I read the Vision Books and many other books from the local, later school libraries.
I recognized the book, the series and its author immediately. A check online and I discovered there were 30 Vision books, I think I had about a dozen. I recognized several titles. And Deluth wrote over 100 books including one on Thoreau and several featuring Solar Pons (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche) that I read. I decided to re-read “Father Marquette.”
Jacques Marquette’s story in the book echoes an online biography. He joined the Jesuits as a teen. Wanted and was eventually sent to Quebec for missionary work. He learned many native languages, helped establish several missions. His most famous accomplishment was the exploration of the Mississippi River with a Canadian-French trapper, explorer, Louis Joliet. They encountered many Indian tribes. Joliet was driven to find the mouth of the river; Marquette driven to preach Christianity to the natives. They turned around in Arkansas, before reaching the mouth due to concerns about unfriendly Indians and the Spanish. But they were convinced the river emptied into the Gulf providing a river connection between the Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast and provided a report and maps of their exploration. The French would soon begin to control what became known as the Louisiana territory.
“Father Marquette” was a quick, easy read. The writing isn’t great but not bad. It’s fascinating to read about the various tribes, some of their customs, food, dress, peace pipes and their encounters and reaction to the French, and missionaries. I likes the geography and canoe explore. However for me missions to convert heathen natives is at least culturally insensitive and at times contributed to the destruction of native cultures. Ironically Holy Ghost Prep, the high school I attended (and worked at for 40 years) was operated by a missionary order, The Holy Ghost Fathers or Spiritans. Although professing to spread the word of God, they also claimed to totally respect indigenous cultures. My undergraduate college was Boston College, a Jesuit institution. Probably positives and negatives associated with their extensive missionary activity.
I can thank Mom and Dad for encouraging me to read and succeed at school. And although I have serious reservations about organized religion, I’m glad they gave me the background. And it was fascinating finding Father Marquette after over 60 years.