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Father James Croke letters

Identifier: A 023

Scope and Contents note

The collection consists of 23 typewritten transcripts of the original letters, which are held privately.

This collection chiefly consists of letters from Croke's missionary expeditions of 1853-1857 and 1858. As well as revealing the early history of the Catholic Church in Oregon, the letters present an observant outsider a view of Western Oregon Communities in these years. Most attention is focused on Jacksonville and surrounding mining camps, but Corvallis, Albany, Canyonville, Eugene, Winchester, Salem, and Coos Bay receive mention as well. Croke described the economic, religious, and moral conditions of these locations, paying special attention to the plight of Catholics in such a predominantly Protestant state. Northern California is similarly described, especially the mining communities around Yreka and San Francisco.

Croke also detailed the difficulties of traveling in such undeveloped locales, and commented on the progress of the Rogue River Indian War which interrupted his travel. Curiously, his own work among the Rogue River tribes is only briefly mentioned.

The last four letters in the collection are fragmentary, one dating from Croke's later career as Vicar General of San Francisco, the final three not written by Croke at all.


  • Creation: 1853-1874


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Born in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland, in 1827, James Croke was educated in Irish College in Paris, France, where he met French Canadian cleric François Norbert Blanchet. Croke came to the United States in 1850, stopping first at San Francisco. In 1851 Blanchet, now archbishop of Oregon City, appealed to Croke to come to Oregon, as there were very few Catholic priests in the state. Croke’s first major accomplishment came later that year when he raised funds for and supervised the construction of the first Catholic church in Portland.

Croke’s career took a different turn in 1853 when he became a travelling missionary to southern Oregon. Croke’s missionary activity included some time spent among the tribes of the Rogue River Valley, but his main purpose was ministering to white Catholic Oregonians, many of whom lived without regular access to a priest. To this end, Croke traversed the rugged mountains of far southern Oregon where Irish, Italian, French, and Mexican immigrants had come to mine gold. Croke found these polyglot mining communities to be more fertile soil than the established agricultural centers of Albany, Marysville [Corvallis], and Salem, where Protestantism was strongly entrenched among the sons and daughters of the original pioneer generation. Even so, Croke’s efforts met with limited success, and he developed chronic health and financial difficulties.

In 1857 he abandoned Oregon and returned to San Francisco. The following year he briefly reentered the state on the urging of Blanchet to construct a church in Jacksonville. This task accomplished, Croke fully entered the service of the archbishop of San Francisco, where he eventually rose to the position of Vicar General. His greatest achievement in California was the foundation of Saint Mary’s College in 1863. James Croke died in 1888.

Source: O’Hara, Edwin V, Pioneer Catholic History of Oregon (Portland: Glass and Prudhomme, 1911).

Schoenbery, S.J., A History of the Catholic Church in the Pacific Northwest (Washington D.C.: Pastoral Press, 1987).

De La Salle Institute, Pioneers: The Brothers Come West.

O’Longaigh, David, “Irish Pioneer Missionary Lived Heroically” in The Catholic Sentinel, March 15, 2002.

The Catholic Guide, Archdiocese of San Francisco.


0.1 linear feet (1 container) : 1 folder

Language of Materials



Rev. James Croke (1827-1888) was a Catholic missionary priest who served in Oregon in the 1850s, reporting directly to Bishop Francis Blanchet of Oregon City, Oregon. This small collection consists of typed transcripts of letters from Croke to Blanchet concerning the details of his missionary work. The original letters are held privately.

Processing Information note

Collection processed by processing staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Father James Croke letters
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Barrett Codieck
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA