Bishop Ireland’s Efforts to Colonize Minnesota with Irish Catholics, a Doctrine of Discovery Story

Archbishop John Ireland is a well known name in St. Paul. He was the first Archbishop of St. Paul and held that post for 30 years (1888–1918). The John Ireland Boulevard runs between the state Capitol and the St. Paul Cathedral.

A little know part of Ireland’s story was his successful effort to colonize parts of western Minnesota with Irish Catholics. He created the Catholic Colonization Bureau of St. Paul in 1876, just after he became a bishop here.

Taking a broader lens, Ireland’s story is about one aspect of how the Doctrine of Discovery played out in Minnesota. The Doctrine of Discovery is the forerunner of Manifest Destiny. It refers to the religious and legal justification used by Europe’s monarchs to claim and colonize lands occupied by indigenous peoples, seize their property and forcibly, convert, enslave, or remove them. The Doctrine has its roots in 15th century papal edicts.

In this 19th Century story, Minnesota lands had been cleared of indigenous people after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. The land was now ready for colonization, and Ireland had a plan. Continue reading

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