New Exhibit Unearths Jesuit Artifacts from the Midwest

One of the first things a visitor sees when walking into Loyola University Museum of Art’s newest exhibit is two giant globes.

The two wooden spheres are valuable records of the western world from 400 years ago—the only pair of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. But for 100 years, they sat in the living room of a seminary near St. Louis, unseen by the outside world.

Like many of the artifacts in the exhibit, the globes have finally been unearthed and displayed to the general public. Crossings and Dwellings, which marks the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus, seeks to tell the story that hasn’t been told: the history of the Jesuits and women religious in the Midwestern United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Visitors can view gold vestments and chalices that were hidden in a vault at Holy Family Parish in Chicago (the safe was finally cracked in 2002), or 80 rarely seen detailed drawings of a Jesuit’s travels throughout the Midwest in the mid-1800s.

“I really pushed to have so much of it displayed, because it never gets seen, and people should know it exists,” said Steve Schloesser, curator of the exhibit and a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago.

The exhibit contains 318 artifacts that range from the precious—a first edition of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises—to the curious—a 19th-century taxidermied marmot found in the cupboards of Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.

In fact, Crossings and Dwellings covers Jesuits’ and religious women’s history in the Midwest from when the Jesuits first came in the 1600s as missionaries, to when they opened parishes and schools in St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Schloesser said museum visitors will be surprised by the storied history of the Midwest—that it’s more than a “flyover zone.”

“This was basically Europe transplanted. And so you’re really seeing a story that retells the 19th century in the Midwest,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten used to thinking of the Midwest as farmland and industrial cities, but at that time it was not.”

A focal figure of the exhibit is Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit known for his missionary work among the Native Americans, and who brought the Blaeu globes over from Belgium. De Smet traveled back to Europe 19 times over his lifetime to raise money for novitiates and to act as an ambassador for Native Americans with European states.

One item of De Smet’s on view is a reliquary he carried on his belt; it’s filled with relics from 32 Jesuit saints and blesseds.

“He’d come to the new world and was doing all this work in an order that went through the Suppression. And [the Jesuits] had only just come back”¦so he’s sort of carrying the history of the order with him and they’re supporting him,” said Jonathan Canning, senior curator of the Martin D’Arcy, SJ, Collection at the museum.

Also on display are De Smet’s hip flask, a portable crucifix and chalice, a deerskin coat gifted from the Native Americans, and a black funeral cope. De Smet traveled about 180,000 miles over his lifetime and drew detailed maps of his travels to the Rockies and beyond, which are also exhibited.

Visitors will see anti-Jesuit propaganda from the Suppression era and artifacts like an Oscar from a student who attended Mundelein College, a college for women opened by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1930 in Chicago.

“It’s funny, because if you look at them in the cases, everything’s arranged so neatly,” Schloesser said. “The amount of craziness that got them all saved is really something.”

The exhibit leads up to an academic conference October 16-18, which marks the bicentennial of the Jesuit Restoration and a century of women’s education at Loyola-Mundelein.

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