Fr. Marquette

Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J.

Both Marquette University High School and Marquette University are named in honor of Jesuit, Fr. Jacques Marquette, a French missionary explorer in the 17th century.

Marquette was born in Laon, France on June 1, 1637. From the time he was a youth, he dreamed about becoming a missionary. This dream became fired up when he was at the Jesuit College at Reims, France. The Jesuits told stories of missionary activity in New France—Canada and the areas around the Great Lakes. Because of his dream and the impact of the Jesuits on his life, he decided to join the Society of Jesus in 1654. Shortly after he was ordained a priest in 1666, he was on a ship bound for Montreal.

The life blood of New France were the French fur traders. They brought goods from France which they bartered with the Natives for animal pelts. Marquette first learned Algonquin and in the Summer of 1668 was accompanied by Fr. Claude Allouez to the mission at Sault St. Marie, Canada. This had become the center for missionary work among the Ottawa and neighboring tribes .It was there that Marquette heard from members of the Shawnee tribe that there was a great river running through the land to the great sea in the Country of the Illinois natives.

Marquette was sent to the Mission of the Holy Spirit on Lake Superior near the present Ashland, Wisconsin. He was then assigned to work with the Hurons at Saint Ignace in what is presently upper Michigan. A Frenchman by the name of Louis Joliet stopped at Saint Ignace in 1672. He has been commissioned by the governor to explore the great river. Unbeknownst to Marquette, Joliet brought a letter from the Jesuit superior missioning Marquette to accompany him and five others to explore the great river.

So, in May 1673, they began their journey traveling westward to Green Bay, Wisconsin to enter the Fox River to a portage which put them in the Wisconsin that flows into the Mississippi. They canoed down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River, carefully mapping the river with a compass and astrolabe. They turned back because they heard hostile Spanish domains were further down. On their return, they took a short cut through the Illinois River. It was there the Illinois tribe welcomed Fr. Marquette and invited him to come back.

It was in late September 1673, that Marquette and his six travel worn companions pulled into the Mission at Green Bay. The trip and the winter took a toll on Marquette’s health. But his vigor returned so he and two companions began the journey to the Illinois in late October 1674. When they decided to winter at a portage before going to the Illinois, Marquette again suffered fevers and ill health. But he was strong enough by spring to visit the Illinois. They welcomed him with open arms. But he had to inform them he had to return to St. Ignace because the Jesuit Superior had scheduled a meeting of all the Jesuit missionaries of the area. On the trip, Marquette continued to weaken. He and his companions knew, he would not make it back. And on May 18, 1675, at 38 years old, Fr. Marquette died and was buried near the present Ludington, Michigan. Two years later, he was reburied at St. Ignace, Michigan.