Father John Schoenmakers, S.J.
November 20, 1807 - July 28, 1883
John Schoenmakers was born in Waspick, Holland on November 20, 1807. Little is known of his early life except that he came from humble beginnings. He attended De Nef School in Turnhoutm, Belgium. The date of his ordination is unclear, but he was educated with several well-known Jesuit missionaries (VanQuickenborne, DeSmet, etc.).
Regardless of his origins, the success of Fr. Schoenmakers is indisputable. Previous attempts to establish missions among the Osages had failed. Not only did Osage Mission succeed, it excelled by any measure. Fr. Schoenmakers possessed the insight, flexibility and brilliance to succeed.
He knew that in order to succeed, it was a necessity to educate the Osage girls as well as the boys. He requested help and a group of Loretto Sisters arrived in 1847 to start the female department of the Osage Manual Labor School, and eventually St. Ann's Academy.
He, unlike other missionaries, understood and respected Osage customs. Instead of forcing white-man customs on them, he allowed a blend of Christianity and Osage culture.
While the Osages respected the Jesuits prior to their arrival, Fr. Schoenmakers greatly increased the level of trust and respect between the Osage people and the Jesuits.
Perhaps his greatest success is the fact that the Mission survived the Civil War. Moral beliefs pushed him toward anti-slavery; but he believed a neutral position would preserve the Mission in the long-term. The difficulty of his position is accentuated by the fact that he was forced to seek asylum for eight months, to avoid assassination by John Mathews' guerilla army. After the turbulent early years of the war, the Mission maintained a tenuous neutrality and often served as safe haven for Northern and Southern troops.
Post-war, Schoenmakers led the Mission to glory. After the Osage moved to Oklahoma, Osage Mission schools grew and educated students from across the region and other states. On July 28, 1883 an old rival, a heart condition, took his life. The following was recorded in Mission records: "He died on Saturday, a day when the town was teeming with shoppers from the surrounding countryside, hence word of his death spread quickly. The morning of the funeral 3,500 people formed the procession to the cemetery."