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The mighty Mississippi was once named ‘River of the Immaculate Conception.’ Here’s why

“Immaculate” is not a word most people would use to describe the Mississippi River’s famously muddy waters. But Father Jacques Marquette was not most people.

The Jesuit explorer, who came from France as a missionary to Canada in 1666, was one of the first Europeans to name the Mississippi, which he explored and mapped with his companion Louis Joliet beginning in 1673. And the name he gave to this vital artery of North America was “The River of the Immaculate Conception.”

The entrustment of this mighty waterway — one of the largest and most important rivers in the world — to the Virgin Mary was part of the French Jesuits’ mission to evangelize the Native Americans of the area, which by all accounts they did, not with violence but with fellowship and respect.

French missionary activity in North America was driven by great devotees to Mary, like Father Marquette, who had a vision of the meeting of two civilizations — European and Native American — under the Catholic faith, rather than a conquest of the land, said James Wilson, professor of humanities at St. Thomas University in Houston.

“They set out on their canoes entrusting themselves entirely to God’s grace, entrusting themselves entirely to Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and they didn’t seek to build lasting monuments to their conquests or to plant flags,” Wilson, author of a seven-part poem called “River of the Immaculate Conception,” noted.

“They sought primarily to enter as agents of grace among the Indians and to live with them, preach to them, and enter into communion with them.”

Of course, the Mississippi today bears its original, Native-given name, which roughly translates to “great waters.” But Wilson said far from being a footnote in history, Marquette’s consecration of the Mississippi endures as a testament to how God’s grace was already working in North America. Nearly two centuries later, in 1846, the bishops of the now United States declared Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the patroness of the country.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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