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American Studies | Cultural History | Native American Studies | United States History


Benedictine sisters and monks administered and staffed a boarding school on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota from 1882-1945, responding to a request from the local bishop and to the Peace Policy of President Grant. Church denominations were asked to cooperate with the government in Christianizing and “civilizing” the Indians—on and off-reservations. With significant aid from federal funds, various denominations, primarily Catholic and Protestant, built churches and schools to educate and “convert” Indians. This was done in the cause of assimilation, with most of the missionaries, lay or religious, deliberately undermining the traditional cultures. Benedictines came late to the Indian ministry but participated fully to bring white society’s values and ways to the tribes.

The Benedictine endeavor, St. Benedict’s Mission, overall was a humanely-run institution. Much of this was due to the influence of values deeply engrained in the missionaries, values based on the Gospel and on the Rule of St. Benedict which undergirded their work. There has been more positive judgment of the St. Benedict’s School at White Earth than negative. Interviews with both the missionaries and Indian graduates offer support for this conclusion.