Belgian Waffle

Oct 8, 2020

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that removed the artwork of the Belgian born, Fr. Pierre De Smet, S.J. 

Pulling down statues has been around for a long time. Destroying monuments of a tolerant past in order to achieve a future of violence and hate is what happens in cultures. Are we attacking symbols of a hateful past as part of fighting for a peaceful future?  No one should whine about the peaceful removing of a symbol that represents an evil, like slavery. Why however; are we tearing down statues of the symbols that represent the good, the true and the beautiful? 

“The Belgian-waffle”, Pierre-Jean De Smet’s first missionary tour was to the Pottawatomie Tribe at Council Bluffs, IA. He also visited the Sioux in the area to arrange a peace between them and the Pottawatomie’s, the first of his peace missions.

In about 1840, Indians from the Flathead and Kalispell Tribes of Montana sent delegations to St Louis in search of a “Black Robe” which is what they called Catholic Priests, Fr. De Smet was assigned to the task.

He would travel with the American Fur Company and rendezvous with an Indian escort that had been sent by the tribe, at the Green River in WY.

Fr. De Smet celebrated Mass for this gathering of trappers, traders and Indians which became known as “The Prairie of the Mass”

Fr. De Smet and his escorts joined the main camp at Pierre’s Hole, which is in present day Idaho.  He was greeted by an estimated 1,600 tribal members, many traveled over 800 miles to meet the “Black Robe”.  He was led to the lodge of the great chief, Tjolzhitsay (whom Fr. De Smet called Big Face) and received the warmest of  welcomes.

A month later, the party reached the headwaters of the Missouri, in present day (Three Forks, MT). It was here that Christianity was first preached in Montana. Fr. De Smet baptized Chief (Big Face) and Chief Walking Bear, as well as some 350 tribal members “Where the Waters meet.”.

Fr. De Smet founded, St Mary’s Mission, as well as, St Ignatius’s Mission in the regions around present Day Missoula, MT. He founded Sacred Heart Mission in Cataldo, Idaho, as well.

He traveled by actual calculations 180,000 miles across the west and including travels back to Europe, all helping and seeking help as an advocate for the Native Peoples of America.

His almost inexplicable and seemingly instantaneous ascendancy with every tribe with which he came in contact, called upon him to be an advocate for the Native Tribes.

The Priest who said: “To suffer and die for the salvation of souls, is the sole ambition of a true missionary.” He brought the gospel and sacraments to, the Blackfeet, Crow, Cree, Chippewa, Kalispell, Flatheads, Nez Perce, Pottawatomie and the Sioux.

He influenced peace between the Blackfeet and the Crow.

In Horse Creek Valley near Fort Laramie, WY his presence soothed the ten thousand Indians at a council with the government.  The Indians loved him and trusted him implicitly.

On a visit to the Sioux country, at the request of the government De Smet found out that the government pre-planned for deadly punishment, he refused to take part in any of the negotiations.

In 1867 he crossed the Bad Lands in South Dakota, reaching the Sioux camp of Sitting Bull. He was received with extraordinary enthusiasm. His counsels were agreed to. A treaty of peace was signed at Fort Laramie in 1868, by all the chiefs. This result has been looked on as the most remarkable events in the history of the Indian wars.

Never stern, his cheerful buoyancy of character was almost childlike, a characteristic he preserved to the end of his life. He was not wanting in personal courage, evidenced by the many events in his career. He never faltered in faith or fervor.  

But, his title to fame, was his extraordinary influence upon people, an influence. no other man is said to have equaled. Even Protestant writers declare him the sincerest friend the Indians ever had.

In May of 1873, when word spread up the Missouri basin of Fr. De Smet’s death, words brought by the Steamboat named De Smet,  mourning began.   The Black Robe, “the one whose tongue does not lie,” would come no more.

Sometimes, we tear things down before we look inside to see their true value.  Sometimes we choose a diet and we throw out a Belgian Waffle and eat stale toast instead.  A fool’s endeavor is thinking that his hate, can somehow build peace?  Ain’t it so!


Andrew Clarendon  “Dismantling the legacy of Fr. De Smet,” Society of St Pius X

Kevin Schmiesing:  “The Apostle of the Rockies: Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet, SJ,” Catholic Exchange


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