Jean-Baptiste Brondel OMI of Steilacoom &c.

Another little-known missionary who spoke Chinuk Wawa…New priest Jean-Baptiste Brondel, OMI, born in Bruges, Belgium in 1842, was sent as missionary to coastal Washington Territory, arriving at Fort Vancouver on Halloween of 1866. That’s still square in the middle of frontier times.

It seems he served there for an indeterminate time as both missionary and teacher, so however much “Jargon” he picked up there ought to have been of the finest possible quality. I’ve previously shared some evidence to that effect. (See “DE QUÉBEC À VICTORIA“.) And one biography of him states it as a fact that Brondel, multilingual from childhood due to Belgian birth and priestly training, did add CW to his repertoire at Fort Vancouver.

Brondel went on to serve a decade at Steilacoom (kind of the precursor to modern Tacoma), going on to attain the rank of Bishop of Victoria, BC. He played a significant part in early Catholic history on both sides of the border.

I see many reasons, then, to believe that Brondel knew good Chinuk Wawa, although we’ve scarcely heard of the man in this connection. Perhaps his duties involved more interaction with Settlers than with Native people.

He went on to an appointment as Administrator of Montana, spending much of the rest of his life in that territory (later a state), a locale where the Jargon had little occasion for use. (All of the above information is from page 361 of the book “Indian and White in the Northwest: Or, a History of Catholicity in Montana“.)

However, on at least one known occasion, Brondel spoke CW on the record in public. The First Diocesan Synod in Helena, on June 24, 1884, was a big day, as described here:


The opening day, being the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the name Saint of the Bishop and Patron Saint as well of the Helena Diocese, was made the occasion for the laying of the corner-stone of the new St. John’s Hospital. The ceremony was conducted with unusual circumstance and solemnity, and at the dinner given on that day by the Hospital Sisters in honor of the Bishop and clergy, the latter indulged in the pleasantry of addressing his Lordship toasts of welcome in twelve different languages, Greek, Latin, English, Flemish, Italian, German, French, Blackfoot, Crow, Flat-Head [Montana Salish], and Nez Perces, to which his Lordship replied in Chinook.

— from page 369 of the same book

I still suggest it would be of great interest to locate whatever papers of Brondel’s are preserved in archives…

What do you think?
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