The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop | Crisis Magazine

n Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop two French Jesuit missionaries arrive in the American Southwest to revive the Catholic faith and evangelize the Mexicans and Indians, Catholics who were once taught but have lapsed and do not live their faith seriously. As the priests bring the Sacraments to the small villages, baptize the children, and sanctify the marriages of couples who have lived together and founded families without the blessing of the Church, the Jesuits realize that their missionary work requires other forms of education besides religious instruction. Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant as Catholic missionaries to the New World also bring culture and civilization to a primitive world. Wherever the Catholic faith flourishes, the quality of life also improves, and people learn the art of living well rather than merely surviving. In the minds of the two Jesuits, “Wherever there was a French priest, there should be a garden of fruit trees and vegetables and flowers”—the telltale signs of civilized life, indeed.


If you haven't read Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, by all means do yourself a favor and read it. It captures something, I hardly know what to call it, about the cultural intersection of the Church and the American (South)West. You would have to write a different book about the Church and say, Idaho. LWJ and I and some number of kids, I forget how many, made a pilgrimage to Santa Fe, which still has lots of Catholic and new age catholic sites of interest. We stayed at the Bishop's Lodge, which is now somewhat touristy, but still nice. Rancho Encantada is the nice place to stay, which we did earlier I think. We attended a strange but beautiful Mass in the cathedral downtown, presided over by a very handsome, American Indian priest. Navajo, Hopi, who knows. Santa Fe is a lovely town when it's not overrun by the tourists and there are a lot of places in the hills around Santa Fe where you would swear you are not in the US.

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