Father James Croke letters, 1853-1874  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Croke, James, 1827-1888
Father James Croke letters
1853-1874 (inclusive)
0.1 linear feet, (1 folder1)
Collection Number
A 023
Rev. James Croke (1827-1888) was a Catholic missionary priest who served in Oregon in the 1850s, reporting directly to Bishop Francis Blanchet of Oregon City, Oregon. This small collection consists of typed transcripts of letters from Croke to Blanchet concerning the details of his missionary work. The original letters are held privately.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives.
UO Libraries--SPC, 1299
University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 541-346-3068
Fax: 541-346-3485
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public.

Collection must be used in Special Collections & University Archives Reading Room.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Born in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland, in 1827, James Croke was educated in Irish College in Paris, France, where he met French Canadian cleric François Norbert Blanchet. Croke came to the United States in 1850, stopping first at San Francisco. In 1851 Blanchet, now archbishop of Oregon City, appealed to Croke to come to Oregon, as there were very few Catholic priests in the state. Croke’s first major accomplishment came later that year when he raised funds for and supervised the construction of the first Catholic church in Portland.

Croke’s career took a different turn in 1853 when he became a travelling missionary to southern Oregon. Croke’s missionary activity included some time spent among the tribes of the Rogue River Valley, but his main purpose was ministering to white Catholic Oregonians, many of whom lived without regular access to a priest. To this end, Croke traversed the rugged mountains of far southern Oregon where Irish, Italian, French, and Mexican immigrants had come to mine gold. Croke found these polyglot mining communities to be more fertile soil than the established agricultural centers of Albany, Marysville [Corvallis], and Salem, where Protestantism was strongly entrenched among the sons and daughters of the original pioneer generation. Even so, Croke’s efforts met with limited success, and he developed chronic health and financial difficulties.

In 1857 he abandoned Oregon and returned to San Francisco. The following year he briefly reentered the state on the urging of Blanchet to construct a church in Jacksonville. This task accomplished, Croke fully entered the service of the archbishop of San Francisco, where he eventually rose to the position of Vicar General. His greatest achievement in California was the foundation of Saint Mary’s College in 1863. James Croke died in 1888.

Source: O’Hara, Edwin V, Pioneer Catholic History of Oregon (Portland: Glass and Prudhomme, 1911). http://www.archive.org/details/pioneercatholich00ohar

Schoenbery, S.J., A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest (Washington D.C.: Pastoral Press, 1987).

De La Salle Institute, Pioneers: The Brothers Come West. http://www.delasalle.org/consumers/christian_schools/brothers_come_west02.pdf

O’Longaigh, David, “Irish Pioneer Missionary Lived Heroically” in The Catholic Sentinel, March 15, 2002. http://www.sentinel.org/node/2636

The Catholic Guide, Archdiocese of San Francisco. http://thecatholicguide.com/wiki/Archdiocese_of_San_Francisco

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists of 23 typewritten transcripts of the original letters, which are held privately.

This collection chiefly consists of letters from Croke's missionary expeditions of 1853-1857 and 1858. As well as revealing the early history of the Catholic Church in Oregon, the letters present an observant outsider a view of Western Oregon Communities in these years. Most attention is focused on Jacksonville and surrounding mining camps, but Corvallis, Albany, Canyonville, Eugene, Winchester, Salem, and Coos Bay receive mention as well. Croke described the economic, religious, and moral conditions of these locations, paying special attention to the plight of Catholics in such a predominantly Protestant state. Northern California is similarly described, especially the mining communities around Yreka and San Francisco.

Croke also detailed the difficulties of traveling in such undeveloped locales, and commented on the progress of the Rogue River Indian War which interrupted his travel. Curiously, his own work among the Rogue River tribes is only briefly mentioned.

The last four letters in the collection are fragmentary, one dating from Croke's later career as Vicar General of San Francisco, the final three not written by Croke at all.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections & University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Archival material may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws and other regulations.

Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g. a cause of action for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Oregon assumes no responsibility.

If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Father James Croke letters, A 023, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from "Jessie Applegate's," Umpqua Valley
Describes journey on horseback from Oregon City. Remarks on state of religion in Albany. Has celebrated mass at O'Kelly's, near Marysville. Leaves for Winchester and hopes to get to Jacksonville. Complains of high cost of living, and illiterality of the people.
Typewritten transcription, 3 leaves
August 9, 1853
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Coos Bay, Oregon
Is tired of missionary tour, finds few Catholics, and them lukewarm. Comments on Applegate hospitality, his stay at Capt. Kilburn, Winchester, and visit with Rev. Wilbur. Has been obliged to miss Jacksonville because of Indian troubles. Has traded his horse. Describes trip to Coos Bay via Scottsburg, on steamer Washington. Describes prospects of Coos Bay and Empire City. Will walk on beach to Umpqua City, and return to Scottsburg. Is running out of money.
Typewritten transcription, 6 leaves
August 26, 1853
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Jacksonville, Oregon
Has visited all towns in southern Oregon, and advises permanent missionary post with two priests. Complains of high expenses. Has been given escort with Major Alvord and Jessie Applegate. Remarks on Joseph Lane's part in Indian war just past. Finds few Catholics in Jacksonville. Describes probable itinerary back to Oregon City.
Typewritten transcription, 5 leaves
September 20, 1853
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Salem, Oregon
Is looking for house to rent in Salem. Describes journey from Jacksonville. Has baptized Mrs. O'Kelly.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
October 26, 1853
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Portland, Oregon
Reports church has been moved to new site. Asks for deed necessary to complete land transaction. Will require more money to visit Astoria and St. Helens. Would like to fence in church to keep out the hogs, and plant small garden.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
March 7, 1854
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Canyonville, Oregon
Describes journey south. Says he feels "first rate." Comments on Methodist camp meetings. Fears the Methodists are getting the upper hand in the Umpqua valley, and even influencing Catholics.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
September 5, 1854
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Crescent City, California
Has left horse and buggy at Grave Creek, and is traveling by mule. Is obliged to go through Crescent City to get to Smith River settlements. Has been visiting Catholics, but is careful, they being out of his jurisdiction. Comments on the many nationalities represented. Is struck by the pleasure of the Mexican packers at finding a priest. Regrets success of Protestant preachers, but believes Methodist minister in Jacksonville is an uneducated bigot, and harmless. Comments on need of church in Jacksonville, and cost of living.
Typewritten transcription, 4 leaves
September 18, 1854
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Winchester, Oregon
Has been unable to write sooner, having no equipment. Lists various southern Oregon mining towns visited. Describes service held at Frenchtown. Finds miners tolerant. Has held two services in Jacksonville, and baptized Joe, Rogue River Indian chief. Describes hardships of travel to coast settlements.
Typewritten transcription, 3 leaves
November 1, 1854
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Albany, Oregon
Describes services at Corvallis. Believes Benton County the most anti-Catholic in Oregon because of the many farmers who are ex-preachers. Suggests Corvallis or Eugene City as proper place for central missionary establishment. Comments on lack of means for education of children, or for young girls. Regrets influence of "Gospel Christians."
Typewritten transcription, 3 leaves
November 22, 1854
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Portland, Oregon
Complains of lack of financial support. Points out that the people are not able to support a priest. Believes he has been subject to more than his share of mean drudgery. Wishes to be treated better.
Typewritten transcription, 3 leaves
January 25, 1855
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from San Francisco, California
Acknowledges letter of April 8. Cannot accept offer to visit and build church in Jacksonville. Gives three reasons. Realizes the needs of southern Oregon for the services of a priest.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
May 5, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Portland, Oregon
Sends census of Catholics in Rogue River, Umpqua, and Willamette valleys.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
May 17, 1855
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from San Francisco, California
Regrets he will not be able to visit Jacksonville this fall. Realizes necessity of someone in Jacksonville, but does not feel able to make the effort. Asks for unconditional exeat [permission to leave the diocese] from Blanchet. Is, pleased to hear of Blanchet’s success in South America.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
June 13, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from San Francisco, California
Reports Archbishop of San Francisco is sending him to northern California, and he hopes to get to Jacksonville by the way. Will superintend erection of church while there. Gives dimensions of church. Suggests a priest be sent down, and necessary vestments be sent in his care, overland.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
August 14, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Crescent City, California
Leaves for Jacksonville three weeks. Regrets death of Charley Casey in San Francisco. Is pleased to know B1anchet will visit southern part of diocese. Hopes to meet B1anchet in Jacksonville.
Typewritten transcription, 1 leaves
September 21, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Jacksonville, Oregon
Acknowledges two letters, and regrets Blanchet's troubles on return from Jacksonville. Describes his success in collecting money for Jacksonville church, particularly from communities other than Jacksonville. Says church was raised on November 8, but is not finished as yet. Has made up accounts, and put books in order, and regrets he has not more time, so as to leave church debt-free.
Typewritten transcription, 4 leaves
November 24, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Jacksonville, Oregon
Leaves for San Francisco tomorrow. Has been unable to collect money from miners because there has been no rain. Gives resume' of accounts of Jacksonville church. Has left credits in hands of John Anderson, who will see to completion of church. Regrets little work done on Yreka church during his absence.
Typewritten transcription, 3 leaves
December 15, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Yreka, California
Reminds Blanchet of church credits in hands of John Anderson at Jacksonville. Refers to O'Kelly's family near Eugene, and hopes they can be visited. Comments on difficulties of winter journeys in the Siskiyou Mountains.
Typewritten transcription, 1 leaves
December 17, 1858
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco, California
Has been able to negotiate Blanchet's check on the treasurer of the Propagation of the Faith, at 5 francs to the dollar.
Typewritten transcription, 1 leaves
August 17, 1867
1 James Croke to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco, California
Has had chalice cups re-gilt and renovated for $12.00. Asks B1anchet to celebrate six masses for him in payment. Discusses case, of Elijah Nichols, applicant for job of teacher. Recommends Nichols.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
October 14, 1873
1 John B. A. Brouillet to Francis Blanchet Portland, Oregon
Letter written from Washington, D.C.
Requests certain papers relating to the St. Francis Xavier and St. Paul's Catholic mission claims, so that the matter of ownership can be properly presented before congress.
Typewritten transcription, 2 leaves
March 14, 1874
1 T. E. O'Connelle to Francis Blanchet
Letter written from Marysville, Oregon
Bishop O'Connelle thanks Blanchet for his letter of welcome. Notes that there is a priest in Yreka, and soon there will be another. Informs him of Rev. Myles O'Reilly, who is staying with Jesuits on San Francisco.
Typewritten transcription, 1 leaves
March 23, 1863
1 Francis Blanchet to T. E. O'Connelle?
Letter written from unknown plance
Latin Text, seemingly a response to O'Connelle's letter of March 23.
Typewritten transcription, 1 leaves
April 29, 1863

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Missionaries--California--Correspondence
  • Missionaries--Oregon--Correspondence
  • Priests--California--Correspondence
  • Priests--Oregon--Correspondence
  • Personal Names :
  • Blanchet, Francis Norbert, 1795-1883
  • Blanchet, Francis Norbert, 1795-1883--Correspondence
  • Croke, James, 1827-1888
  • Croke, James, 1827-1888--Correspondence
  • Corporate Names :
  • Catholic Church. Archdiocese of Oregon City (Or.)--History--19th century
  • Catholic Church. Archdiocese of San Francisco (Calif.)--History--19th century
  • Catholic Church--California--Clergy--Correspondence
  • Catholic Church--California--History--19th century
  • Catholic Church--Missions--California--History--19th century
  • Catholic Church--Missions--Oregon--History--19th century
  • Catholic Church--Oregon--Clergy--Correspondence
  • Catholic Church--Oregon--History--19th century
  • Geographical Names :
  • Oregon Territory--History
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Letters
  • Transcripts