The Mysteries of Father Constantine Scollen: Missionary to North American Tribes

“Father Con” as Daytonians would remember him during his retirement years at St Elizbeth’s Hospital

For almost 110 years, there has been a bronze marker in the Priest Lot with the name “Cornelius Scollen” embossed on it.  A recent e-mail from Ian Fletcher, an English historian, corrected a long standing mistake and gave a few clues  to interesting details of Father Constantine Scollen’s work and life. Apparently when Father Scollen retired to St Elizabeth’s Hospital, he was known to the Dayton community as “Father Con”. Whoever signed his death certificate guessed at his Christian name as well as his birthdate.

Father Constantine Scollen (4 April 1841 – 8 November 1902) was an Irish Roman Catholic missionary who lived among and evangelized the Blackfoot, Cree and Métis peoples on the Canadian Prairies and in Montana. Later he worked among the native peoples of the USA on missions in what is now North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas. In 1870, he had spent the winter at Rocky Mountain House, co-writing a Cree language grammar and dictionary with his mentor, fellow Oblate and friend, Albert Lacombe.

In 1876 he was an interpreter for some of the Plains Cree Chiefs  and witness to Treaty 6 between the Cree and the Canadian government. He was a

consultant to the Canadian government prior to the signing of Treaty 7 with the Blackfoot Confederacy, in 1877 and was also an interpreter and witness. He also wrote a book of 75 sermons in Cree, for Fr Dupin. In 1883, he wrote an unpublished Blackfoot/French dictionary and grammar for Fathers Doucet and Legal and to Fr Lacombe he gave a grammar, catechism and some hymns, in Blackfoot, all written and composed by him. Being a capable violinist, he also wrote the music.

In Wyoming in 1892, he created an Arapaho alphabet and orology. It was possibly the first example of a written form of the language. His original notebook is in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He had an extraordinary talent for languages and became the foremost linguist in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in Canada. In addition to his bi-lingual childhood tongues of Erse (Irish) and English he was fluent in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, German

and the First Nation languages/dialects of Cree, Blackfoot, Peigan (North and South) Stoney, Ojibwe, Sarcee and Arapaho. (Most of these native languages belong to the Algonquin family) He taught English to his fellow missionaries (who were all native French speakers) and First Nation languages to new arrivals. He was the only native English speaking Oblate priest among his exclusively French and French Canadian fellow priests and was the first priest to live among the Blackfoot. Scollen’s intervention with Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot Confederacy in 1879 and again with Chief Bobtail of the Cree in 1885 resulted in the avoidance of bloodshed.

The second mystery relates to the whereabouts of Father Scollen’s 250 page ,unpublished autobiography, “Thirty Years Experience Among the Indians of the Northwest.” Upon his death, the manuscript went to Father  Siebenfoercher, a former parish priest who retired to Dayton and died in 1911. The St Mary’s Seminary of Cincinnati has his other papers, but not Scollen’s manuscript. A genealogical enquiry is being conducted to find Siebenfoercher relatives who may have it and not know its value.

 

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16 Responses to “The Mysteries of Father Constantine Scollen: Missionary to North American Tribes”

  1. Sandra Scollon August 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Although the spelling is a little different in old records, I have records that match that spelling in my family records (and they are definitely ours). It’s possible that this could be a distant relative (and would explain some things in my family – like why four boys were sent to the US with no parents in potato famine years). Do you have any more information on him? Family member names? The years are very similar to my 2nd Great Grandfather. Could be a sib. The four boys settled in Iowa.

    • Calvary Cemetery - Dayton, Ohio August 22, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      Unfortunately, the only Scollen we have is Father Constantine Scollen. Please look at our Locate a Loved One site to see if any other names resemble those you are searching. We do not have information about Father Scollen’s parents.

    • Jayne June 12, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

      Hi farther Constantine scollen was my great great great uncle . If you would like any info contact me and my mum might be able to help you

  2. Jacob Scollen December 30, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    I have a website for the Scollen family around the world.

  3. Ian Fletcher May 20, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Hello
    I am the “Irish” historian mentioned in the article although I am actually English. I created a wikipedia page for Father Scollen some years ago so his parents and family details are shown there. He is not directly related to your family, Sandra. The spelling of the Scollen family name has many variations. This is mainly because the poor Irish were often illiterate and it was left to the immigration clerks to write down the name according to what they had heard.

    • Rose Russell September 1, 2014 at 1:09 am #

      Some clues you may wish to follow-up on.

      Please go to http://newspapers.wyo.gov/ (Wyoming Historical Newspapers), Browse “All Newspaper Titles”, Select “Buffalo Bulletin” and use keyword Scollen. Buffalo Bulletin no. 34 May 25, 1893, page 3 has Chapter XI (and it also appears the book was copyrighted in 1893?). Other issues show when Fr. Scollen was planning Mass at various places and one issue begins “Father C. Scollen, the writer of “Thirty Years among the Indians of the Northwest,” was probably the first man that ever chopped a billet of wood at the place now known as Calgary…”

      Another thing I’m curious about is if the possibility exists that the manuscript was mistakenly (or intentionally) published complete under someone else’s name or if parts of his book were excerpted or included in someone else’s book. Check Bookfinder for example for old books on Indians or Red Men.

      Also, check out this page: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Constantine+Scollen%3A+the+forgotten+missionary.-a0272362714

    • Your Wikipedia article is fascinating. Our archivist in Canada, shared by the OMI’s and the Saskatoon Diocese, Margaret Sanche , has put me in touch with more materials. And of course our archives in Rome have a lot of correspondence. Are you interested in them?

      • Calvary Cemetery - Dayton, Ohio December 22, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

        Absolutely! Please contact me directly at hollencamp@aol.com

      • Ian Fletcher March 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

        Hello

        Although I have privately published a biography of Fr Scollen, my research is continuing. The reason I published was that my friend Hugh Scollen, who had brought his great great uncle to my attention, had been diagnosed with liver cancer and I wanted him to see the result of my work. I am pleased to say that Hugh is now in remission.

        I would be very interested to hear about the documents you have. Diane Lamoureau was a great help to me, as OMI national archivist for seventeen years.

        Best wishes

      • Ian Fletcher April 26, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

        Hello

        Yes I would be interested in your material on Father Scollen. I am also interested in seeing any letters from Fr Doucet about his time working with Fr Scollen.

        Best wishes
        Ian Fletcher

    • I’m an historian with the OMI order and found your Wikipedia article fascinating. The archivist for our Lacombe Canadian Province is also the archivist for the Saskatoon Diocese, Margaret Sanche, and has been very helpful to me. Of course our archives in Rome have much.

      Could we correspond about these sources? I plan on being in Inchicore in early June, to see about his memory there.

  4. D Ainslie August 10, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Cornelius is the name he was christened with, he was given the name constantine by the church . he was my wife’s great uncle

  5. Ian Fletcher January 28, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    Hello again

    Father Scollen was christened Constantine Michael Scollen in Newtontonbutler, County Fermanagh, Ireland in April 1841. My good friends, the Scollen family have given me full access to their family records. Constantine was raised here in County Durham, England after his mother’s early death and the family moved here via Bradford.

    After sixteen years of research, I have just completed his biography and had it published privately. However, a copy may be available for walk in visitors to consult, at the Glenbow Museum reference section, in Calgary, Alberta, soon. I am also considering having the book made publicly available.

    I have published a second book which is entirely Scollen’s own writings. This includes his letters to the Buffalo Bulletin which he based on his journals, diaries and missing manuscript together with his early Arapaho work. This book was also published privately for distribution amongst my friends the Scollens and others. Again, I will be sending a reference copy to the Glenbow Museum.

    Throughout my research I have worked very closely with the National Archivist for the Oblates in Canada and received very kind assistance from leading Canadian historians. Despite having published my books, my search for his missing book manuscript continues along with the search for the missing Arapaho notebooks at the Smithsonian and Blackfoot Language papers which were last known to be in the hands of Fr Albert Lacombe, in Canada, in 1883.

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