Rebuilding the Market: The Jesuits and the Mississippi Book Trade

Loyola Master’s in History student Dan Snow is working this semester on sales of Catholic books in the Midwest through the unique lens of a ledger documenting the book trade run by the Jesuits in St. Louis between 1842 and 1849. Dan has been awarded a competitive Research Experience for Master’s Programs (REM) Fellowship to support his work by the Graduate School at Loyola University Chicago. Dan will be blogging throughout the semester about his work.

For the last few semesters, I have been exploring an 1840s Jesuit book trade ledger from St. Louis. Prof. Roberts and I believe that this ledger offers valuable insight into the state of Catholic publishing and the advance of Catholic institutions westward during the mid-nineteenth century, and we have spent much time analyzing it. Over the course of the coming year, I will be working on the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project in greater detail than I have before and during this time I hope to build on what I have done over past months to better understand this microcosm of the American Catholic world.

Last semester, I primarily worked on transcribing the Jesuits’ sales between May and September 1849, the very last segment in the book trade ledger. The ledger can be a difficult document to navigate, filled with inconsistencies, shorthand descriptions, and other issues. Avoiding these, one can begin to understand what the Jesuits’ market looked like at mid-century. There were a total of 118 sales in this period. As of this writing, I have identified 47 unique purchasers for this period and 23 others who I have yet to identify. The majority of these purchases came from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, with many being from the city proper or from surrounding communities.

A map of 47 of the 1849 purchases showing their relative locations, largely centered around St. Louis.

A map of 47 of the 1849 purchases showing their relative locations,
largely centered around St. Louis.

Rock Building at Saint Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, MO (Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections)

Rock Building at Saint Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, MO
(Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections)

The 1849 orders can be segmented into a number of categories: religious orders (male); priests affiliated with the Archdiocese; parish priests in St. Louis; parish priests outside St. Louis; religious orders (female), and the laity. The two male religious orders were the Congregation of the Mission (St. Vincent de Paul’s group, known as the Vincentians) and the Society of Jesus (St. Ignatius Loyola’s Jesuits).  Both the Jesuits and the Vincentians had a major presence west of the Mississippi at mid-century: in 1829 the Jesuits took over running St. Louis University (founded in 1818) and maintained a sizeable seminary at Florissant, while the Vincentians ran a seminary at Perryville and a second seminary further south in Cape Girardeau. Additionally, priests of the two orders ran a number of parishes throughout the St. Louis area.

The Diocese of St. Louis was established in 1826 by Pope Leo XII and promoted to an Archdiocese in 1847 under Pius IX. It oversaw a vast area on the American frontier. Though it was established on French roots and had a proud history in the city of St. Louis itself, the Archdiocese was also responsible for a number of frontier missions and churches along the Missouri River into modern Kansas. The Archdiocese is worth separating from the churches under its control because its mission was very distinct from the respective parishes it oversaw. It would not be fair to compare the orders of St. Louis Cathedral (where books may have been distributed from to various institutions in the Archdiocese) to a parish church in Old Mines, Missouri which bought books solely for its own benefit. The purchases of the city’s archbishop, Peter Richard Kenrick, and his subordinates at the cathedral are frequent throughout the ledger. However, in 1849 Bishop Kenrick does not appear.

The parish priests of the city of St. Louis are given their own category to separate them from the parish priests outside the city. While St. Louis was not a major population center on par with New York or Philadelphia, it could have seemed as such when compared to the frontier settlements many priests found themselves in. in 1850, St. Louis had around 77,000 citizens and was the largest city for hundreds of miles, serving as a hive of economic, cultural, and political activity. Compared to the recently incorporated city of Chicago, St. Louis was a metropolis. The Mississippi brought goods to the city from New Orleans and the city buzzed with new people and products. Immigrants settled in great numbers in the city, although many – especially Germans – were passing through on their way to frontier settlements. On the whole, the conditions of a priest in the city were incomparable to the conditions of a priest outside. While the location of churches “outside St. Louis” varied greatly and life at each one could involve varying degrees of difficulty, some separation from the city is necessary.

The priests who lived outside of St. Louis occupied a unique place in the American frontier. Building their churches to serve a growing number of Catholic settlers, their parishes becoming the cornerstones of new towns. Most were centered near St. Louis, in communities like Old Mines or Potosi. Some lived in establishments so new that they lacked names, like the “German Settlement” in St. Genevieve County served by Rev. Joseph Blaarer. From their seminary at Florissant, the Jesuits sent missionaries into the West. Men like Father John Schoenmakers, who ran a mission in Osage County, Kansas, found themselves on the very forefront of the push across the plains. These priests, their experiences, and their needs were substantially different than their counterparts in the city.

Priests were not the only ones buying books in 1849. Women religious were essential providers of education, healthcare, and welfare in many American cities during the nineteenth century and St. Louis was no different. In 1849, four individual nuns placed orders with the Jesuits, as did a number of religious orders including the Ursuline Sisters and the Sisters of the Visitation. Women religious operated very differently than their male counterparts. While priests were involved in many social programs, the limited clerical capabilities of Catholic nuns often saw them deploy their skills and talents more frequently in such programs such as education and healthcare.  As a result, the works that they ordered varied greatly from their counterparts in groups like the Society of Jesus.

The last segment of the 1849 order list is the hardest to identify. Laity – the non-clerical, ordinary Catholics who filled the pews of a Sunday Mass – were and still are crucial in the Church. Of the 23 or so purchasers who remain unknown in the 1849 ledger, at least twelve are laity. Their lack of a clear institutional affiliation makes identification difficult. One can have little hope of finding a “Mrs. Jones” who placed an order in September 1849, and yet the presence of non-religious individuals is an important part of this story. Their orders show how Catholicism was being transmitted outside the hierarchy of the Church, and how the laity were playing a part in the move of both Christianity and these specific books westward. With luck, some of these individuals can be identified at some point, but even examining their purchases offers some insight into their involvement in the larger movement.

It may be hard to track down the Mrs. Jones who placed this order.

It may be hard to track down the Mrs. Jones who placed this order.

So who were the most active purchasers during this period?  Between May and September 1849, the top three purchasers were neither Vincentians nor Jesuits despite their large presence in the market. Rev. Simon Siegrist, a parish priest from St. Louis, had the most orders (six), followed by Rev. Simon Paris, the rector of St. Louis Cathedral (five) and Sr. Olympia (four). The presence of Father Siegrist at the top of the list is surprising as he was not seemingly high in the Archdiocese’s hierarchy nor was he a member of any order. Siegrist did order several German works, and it is likely that he served the city’s growing immigrant German population. Hopefully over the course of the coming semester I can uncover more about what he was purchasing and what his role in St. Louis might have been.

Father Paris’s presence as the second most prolific purchaser is not surprising, however. As the rector of the Archdiocesan seat, he occupied a high position within St. Louis Catholic life and likely administered over a number of programs.

Rounding out the top three was a woman, a nun named Sister Olympia who placed four orders in 1849. Her high number of orders reflects the work of a woman in education (in May 1849, for example, she ordered fifty catechisms).  As a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, Sister Olympia worked at St. Vincent’s Free School in St. Louis where she could put her catechisms to use teaching the city’s growing Catholic youth.

In all, 1849 is a great year for analysis, one that has been well-identified in terms of purchasers (relative to the other years studied, it has a much small percentage of unidentified purchasers). With a good understanding of who the individuals making purchases were and where they were located, we can begin to look at what they were buying. Bianca has done amazing work analyzing the works purchased in 1846, noting that nearly 350 unique items were purchased in that year. 1849 has fewer purchases than 1846, but I anticipate that it has as much variation in the titles sold.

A typical page from the ledger, showing orders in June 1849 from Father Siegrist, Father Dahmen, and Sister Genevieve.

A typical page from the ledger, showing orders in June 1849 from Father Siegrist, Father Dahmen, and Sister Genevieve.

Over the next few weeks, I will begin marking each item ordered in 1849, organizing them by order number to keep track of who was buying what. By the end, I should be left with a list that shows each respective book ordered, the number of transactions that included a specific book, the number of copies sold in each transaction, and the price charged per copy in each order. Creating this list will open a number of different paths for further analysis, including comparing the prices the Jesuits charged their respective customers and which books were most widely bought. However, I am most excited to use the list of titles to begin investigating what these books said about mid-century Catholicism. I hope to conduct research on the titles, producing at a minimum a few sentences on each work in order to understand what these pioneer priests and Catholics were reading. My work for the last few months has been building towards this study and I am excited to begin working on it.


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