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USA Northeast Province History

The presence of Jesuits in the Northeast dates to 1611, when Fr. Pierre Biard, SJ, explored the rivers of Maine and offered the first recorded Mass at the mouth of the Kennebec River. Returning with three other Jesuits in 1613, he founded Saint Saviour Mission at Fernald Point, in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Jesuits went on to establish further missions on the major rivers of Maine. Fr. Gabriel Drouillettes, SJ, founded a mission in the early 17th century in Augusta, Maine. Fr. Sebastian Rasle, SJ, who defended the land rights of Native Americans during the struggle between England and France for the control of North America, became the most famous Jesuit in the colonial history of New England.

With the worldwide suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, the activities of the Jesuits in North America ended temporarily. After the Order was restored in 1814, Jesuits like Benedict Joseph Fenwick, Virgil Barber, and John Bapst carried on the work of the Society of Jesus throughout New England. Fenwick, as Bishop of Boston, founded the College of the Holy Cross in 1843. Barber, a convert to Catholicism, became a missionary among immigrants and Native Americans in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

In 1846, French Jesuits arrived in New York City from Kentucky at the invitation of then Archbishop Hughes to assume responsibility for a small college and seminary, St. John’s, which he had founded north of the city. The assumption of this responsibility marked not only the beginning of Fordham University, but also the start of the New York-Canada Mission.

Although the Jesuits of the Mission did good work, the problems associated with operating across linguistic and cultural boundaries proved to be significant. In 1879, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus disbanded the New York-Canada mission and gave responsibility for the American section to the Maryland Province which was renamed the Maryland-New York Province.

By the twentieth century, the Jesuits were strongly established in Northeast. In Western New York, the German Province had established a Buffalo Mission to serve the large number of German immigrants in the region. The Jesuits founded two parishes in the 1850s and then Canisius College in 1870. The Maryland-New York Province was given responsibility for these works in 1907. Originally part of the Maryland-New York Province, the New England Province became a separate province in 1926.

In 1943, Maryland and New York were separated with New York retaining responsibility for all of New York and part of northern New Jersey. New York itself was split with the establishment of the Buffalo Province in 1960 which assumed responsibility for the works of the Society in upstate New York. With the changes that occurred in the Church and in American society in the 1960s, there was a decline in vocations leading to the reincorporation of the Buffalo Province into the New York Province in 1969.

Jesuits from New England and New York also serve the universal Church and Society by ministering overseas. In 1932, the Holy Father asked New England Jesuits to go into Baghdad, Iraq to set up a high school. Eventually, a university was also established. In the late 1960s, the schools were nationalized by the government, and Jesuits were expelled from the nation. Jesuits from New England have served in Jamaica since 1926 as pastors, teachers, bishops and archbishops - vibrant ministries that continue today. Since 1987, a community of Jesuits from New England has offered lay leadership development to the Christian community of Jordan and has pastored the English-speaking parish—Sacred Heart. New York Jesuits have also historically ministered to the people of the Philippines, Micronesia and Nigeria-Ghana. In 1958, the Philippines became its own province, as did Nigeria-Ghana in 2005. 

In 2014, after years of strategic planning, the USA Northeast Province was formed when the New England and New York Provinces united. The new province spans from New Jersey to Maine and comprises of over 550 Jesuits, making it the largest province in the world.

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