Skip to main content

Boston College collection of John Bapst, SJ

Collection BC-1986-020A: Boston College collection of John Bapst, SJ


  • Creation: 1851 - 1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1851 - 1887

Scope and Contents

The John Bapst, SJ collection contains correspondence, official records, legal and religious documents, manuscript materials, publications, and newspaper clippings documenting the life and work of John Bapst, SJ, as a missionary and the first president of Boston College. The majority of materials relate to Bapst’s work as a missionary in Maine, including to the Penobscot Nation. Of particular note are the record book from the Governor’s Council for the Members of the Penobscot Tribe, and the town council order, eyewitness account, and correspondence regarding Bapst’s assault by the Know-Nothings of Ellsworth, Maine. The eyewitness account, entitled “Father John Bapst –A Sketch,” was used as the basis for an extended article published in 1885 in Woodstock Letters. Correspondence, and other documents detailing the early years of Boston College are also included.


Language of Materials

Materials in this collection are primarily in English, with some Latin.

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note

John Bapst, Jesuit missionary and first president of Boston College, was born in La Roche, Switzerland in 1816. After attending the Jesuit College of Fribourg, he entered the Jesuit order on September 30, 1835. He was ordained in 1846, and, following the exile of Jesuits from Switzerland in 1847, was sent to America as a missionary. Although he spoke neither English nor the Penobscot language, Bapst was assigned to the missions in Maine. There, he and his three assistants ministered to the Indigenous population as well as to Canadian and Irish immigrants settling in the area.

Father Bapst’s time in Maine coincided with the proliferation of Know-Nothingism. The success of his missionary activities made him the frequent recipient of scorn and, in one event, violence at the hands of anti-Catholic persecutors. The vitriol was particularly strong in the town of Ellsworth, where Bapst was seeking to establish a school free of state-sponsored (Protestant) religious education. Father Bapst was denounced in the local papers and Protestant churches and threatened with violence if he persisted in his ministry to the Catholics of Ellsworth. On October 14, 1854, in accordance with a town order, Bapst was taken from the home of one of his parishioners by a mob of Know-Nothings, ridden on a rail to the outskirts of the town, and tarred and feathered. There were also failed attempts to burn him alive. Though quite wounded, Bapst was undaunted, and the act of violence was almost universally denounced by Catholics and Protestants throughout Maine. The following year, Bapst saw the settling of the cornerstone for Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Bangor.

When the Jesuit missionaries withdrew from Maine in 1859, Bapst settled in Boston, becoming the first rector of Boston College. In 1863, Bapst was elected the first president of Boston College. He worked to establish the structural and practical foundation of Boston College, to gain financial and moral support for the new school, and oversaw the opening of its doors in 1864.

Bapst served as president until his retirement in 1869. At that time, he was given charge of the New York and Canada mission and then named pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Rhode Island, where a parish school was funded and built under his care. He died in November of 1887 and is buried in Woodstock, Maryland.


Dunigan, David R. A History of Boston College. Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Co., 1947.

Historical Records and Studies, Vol. XIV. New York: The United States Catholic Historical Society, 1920.


.5 Linear Feet (2 containers)


This collection documents the first president of Boston College, John Bapst, SJ, from his time as a missionary in Maine in the mid-1800s through the early history of Boston College. It is composed of correspondence, ephemera, publications, and other typescripts. The missionary materials also document the establishment of Catholic churches in Maine, the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing movement, and Jesuit work with the Penobscot Nation.


The John Bapst, SJ Collection is arranged into three series: I. Correspondence; II. Personal materials; and III. Maine materials. All series are arranged chronologically.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time. The Bapst deed to the cemetery plot in Penobscot, Maine was donated by J. Donald Monan, SJ in 1975; Frederick John Pratson's article was donated by Joseph Gauthier, SJ in 1979; Anna Hazard Barker Ward's letter of April 7, 1869 was presented to the archives of Boston College High School by her granddaughter, Mrs. William Endicott, in 2000.

Existence and Location of Originals

Originals of photocopied materials are held at the archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine and the Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus at Georgetown University.

Related Materials

The Maryland Province of Society of Jesus Archives, 1636-1975; bulk 1800-1875. Georgetown University, Special Collections Research Center.

Robert J. Fulton, SJ, President's Office Papers, BC.1986.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College Collection of John Bapst, SJ
1851-1982 (bulk 1851-1887)
unknown. Revised by AnneMarie Anderson, March 2010, and Alexandra Bisio
May 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States