Mission Story Our Museum W.W. Graves Research About Us Links From the Past News

Father John Bax, S.J.

January 15, 1817 - August 5, 1852

Sketch of Priest

John Bax, a Belgian, was born January 15, 1817 at Turnhout. He was received into the Society of Jesus on November 12, 1840. Fr. Bax was 30 years old when he, Fr. John Schoenmakers and three Jesuit lay brothers traveled to Neosho County to establish Catholic Osage Mission. Although Fr. Bax was ten years younger than his superior, Fr. Schoenmakers immediately realized that Bax was immensely gifted. He was an eloquent speaker and had extraordinary facility for acquiring languages. Within a short time after his arrival at the Mission, Fr. Bax had mastered the Osage language so well that the Indians joked he spoke it better than themselves.
Fr. Bax quickly gained the confidence and friendship of the Osage people, especially the children. Soon his enthusiasm won the love of the parents who called him the "Father who is all heart." Fr. Bax is credited with baptizing two thousand Indian adults and children. He was also responsible for establishing four missionary stations including the U.S. Army Garrison Station at Fort Scott.
With his passion came a serious flaw -- Fr. Bax was a workaholic who accepted any challenge, often at the cost of personal well-being. By the time he was 35, the rigors of his job and the frontier had taken its toll. Fr. Bax was a weakened man. It is reported that among his 2,000 baptisms approximately 800 were performed during a Black Measles epidemic in 1852. As a result of his efforts to minister to the Osage, Fr. Bax was sickened and taken to Fort Scott for treatment. In a weakened physical condition, he could not recover. He succumbed to a common frontier ailment, scurvy. Fr. Bax died on August 5, 1852, with his final admonition to Fr. Ponziglione, "Father take care of my children."
Fr. Schoenmakers knew he had lost an incredible young priest when Fr. Bax died. He did not measure Fr. Bax's influence only by the number of converts but by his influence on the Osage People. "It seems. . .that after his death he speaks more forcibly to the memory and hearts of the Osage than when alive." Later Fr. Ponziglione wrote of both Schoenmakers and Bax, "For it they receive no thanks; praise they did not expect, for God alone looked down upon their labors and He was their only witness."

Back Home