Father Ravalli

Written by  Carlo Ravalli jr
A great missionary figure from Ferrara honoured in the state of Montana.
A sort of historical novel entitled The Good Samaritan of the Northwest recounts the adventurous life of Antonio Ravalli, distinguished son of Ferrara and Jesuit missionary famous and almost venerated among the people of Montana in the United States of America.

The life of Antonio Ravalli is a fascinating saga, which began in 1812, the year of his birth in a house on via Scandiana, near S. Maria in Vado, to Giovanni, chief engineer in the Province of Ferrara and his wife Teresa Fioravanti.

In 1827 the young Antonio entered the Society of Jesus in Roma, subsequently studying biology in Padua and for some time teaching in the Jesuit universities.
During these years he met Padre Pierre De Smet, who in 1841 had founded a permanent mission in North America and who was then recruiting more missionaries for a fresh departure, and in 1843, with ten or twenty other religious, he set sail from the Netherlands for Oregon, via Cape Horn.

It was a long and difficult crossing, finally arriving at Fort Vancouver, in the State of Colombia; the journey continued via Hudson Bay along the Colombia River and other lesser rivers to the first Saint Ignatius mission in Montana, and then on to the Padre De Smet's St. Mary mission in the Bitter Root Valley.

Against a crowded historical background, with the founding of numerous colonies, the start of the gold rush, the battles between rival Indian tribes, Padre Antonio/Anthony Ravalli began his work as an engineer, able to build irrigation canals and mills, an architect, working to extend the missions with churches, houses, warehouses and grain stores, as a doctor able to advise the native midwives, as a surgeon using distilled alcohol in apparatus of his own design, as a biologist and curious researcher into the effectiveness of herbs on prairie dogs.

All this while the Catholic missions were developing an important role as intermediaries between native Americans, the US government and the British government and were therefore subject to criticism from priests of other religious affiliations, protestants and presbyterians.

These problems, and the violence that followed the introduction of alcohol by adventurers persuaded the Jesuits to transfer from the St Mary mission to the Sacred Heart mission at Alena, where a church designed by Antonio Ravalli was built.
With the gold rush, the missionaries moved further east to the new St Ignatius mission, where Padre Ravelli's skills were put to work in the construction of another church in wood.

And then back to the old St Mary mission, the mission most loved by Padre Ravalli, who rebuilt the church and decorated it with paintings and sculpture.
Again, Father Anthony's tender care of the sick, the frostbitten and the injured, often using improvised instruments for surgical operations, made him loved by all, even by representatives of other religions, such that every man who took the cloth in Montana was called Ravelli.

Struck by apoplexy and partly paralysed, Padre Antonio continued to care for the sick and carry out operations for as long as he could. Although he was invited to return to his homeland for treatment, he chose to remain to the end.

He died on 1 October 1884 and was buried in Stevensville in what was later to receive the name Ravalli County.

The Montana Historical Society in Helena, Montana, has induced Father Ravalli into the "Gallery of Outstanding Montanans" on March 16, 2005 at the Montana State Capitol.

A large delegation from Ravalli County travelled to Helena to share in this wonderful recognition.