Death Comes for the Archbishop Characters
by Willa Cather

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Father Jean Marie Latour

Father Jean Marie Latour (zhahn mah-REE lah-TEWR), a devout French priest consecrated as vicar apostolic of New Mexico and bishop of Agathonica in partibus in 1850. With Father Vaillant, his friend and fellow seminarian, he journeys from his old parish on the shores of Lake Ontario to Santa Fé, seat of the new diocese in territory recently acquired from Mexico. In those troubled times, he finds many of the old missions in ruins or abandoned, the Mexican clergy lax and unlearned, the sacraments corrupted by native superstitions. The travels of these two dedicated missionary priests over a desert region of sand, arroyos, towering mesas, and bleak red hills, the accounts of the labors they perform and the hardships they endure to establish the order and authority of the Church in a wild land, make up the story of this beautifully told chronicle. Father Latour is an aristocrat by nature and tradition. Intellectual, fastidious, reserved, he finds the loneliness of his mission redeemed by the cheerfulness and simple-hearted warmth of his old friend and by the simple piety he often encounters among the humblest of his people; from them, as in the case of old Sada, he learns lessons of humility and grace. For years he dreams of building a cathedral in Santa Fé, and in time his ambition is realized. By then, he is an archbishop and an old man. In the end, he decides not to return to his native Auvergne, the wet, green country of his youth that he had often remembered with yearning during his years in the hot desert country. He retires to a small farm outside Santa Fé; when he dies, his body rests in state before the altar in the cathedral he had built. Father Latour’s story is based on the life of a historical figure, Jean Baptiste Lamy, the first archbishop of Santa Fé.

Father Joseph Vaillant

Father Joseph Vaillant (vay-YAHN), Father Latour’s friend and vicar. The son of hardy peasant stock, he is tireless in his missionary labors. If Father Latour is an intellectual aristocrat, Father Vaillant is his opposite: a hearty man of feeling, able to mix with all kinds of people and to move them as much by his good humor and physical vitality as by his eloquence. Doctrine, he holds, is good enough in its place, but he prefers to put his trust in miracles and the working of faith. When the gold rush begins in Colorado, he is sent to Camp Denver to work among the miners. There he continues his missionary labors, traveling from camp to camp in a covered carriage that is both his sleeping quarters and an improvised chapel. Borrowing and begging wherever he can, he builds for the Church and for the future. When he dies, he is the first bishop of Denver, and there is not a building in the city large enough to hold the thousands who come to his funeral. Like Father Latour, Father Vaillant is modeled after a real person, Father Joseph P. Machebeuf.

Padre Antonio José Martinez

Padre Antonio José Martinez (ahn-TOH-nee-oh hoh-SEH mahr-TEE-nehs, the vigorous but arrogant priest at Taos credited with having instigated the revolt of the Taos Indians. A man of violence and sensual passions, he has lived like a dictator too long to accept the authority of Father Latour with meekness or reason. When Father Latour visits him in Taos, he challenges his bishop on the subject of celibacy. After the bishop announces his intention to reform lax practices throughout his diocese, Padre Martinez tells him blandly that he will found his own church if Father Latour interferes with him. As good as his promise, he and Padre Lucero defy Father Latour and Rome and try to establish a schism called the Old Holy Catholic Church of Mexico. Until his death a short time later, Padre Martinez carries on his personal and ecclesiastical feud with Father Taladrid, who is appointed by Father Latour to succeed the old tyrant of Taos.

Padre Marino Lucero

Padre Marino Lucero (mah-REE-noh lew-SEH -roh), the priest of Arroyo Hondo, who joins Padre Martinez in...

(The entire section is 2,861 words.)