Scope and Content
Title: Inventory of Presidents' Papers,
Papers of John Nobili, S.J.,
Date (inclusive): 1851-1856
Record group: 3DB1
Nobili, John, S.J.
Extent: Number of folders: 202
Santa Clara University Archives
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[Identification of item], Presidents' Papers, Papers of John Nobili, S.J., Santa Clara
University. University Archives.
Giovanni [John] Nobili was born in Rome on April 8, 1812. After entering the Jesuits in
1828 at the age of 16, he began his preliminary studies at the Roman College where he was
reported to be an excellent student. As a scholastic, he taught at the colleges of
Loretto and Fermo and published several works in physics and mathematics. He began his
theological studies in 1840 and was ordained in 1843. A year later he accompanied Father
Peter De Smet to the Indian missions of Oregon. After a year of strenuous ministry near
Port Vancouver, Nobili, at age thirty-three, was assigned to a new mission in New
Caledonia in Western Canada, what is today British Columbia. There he stayed for three
difficult years, ministering to the traders and trappers of the Hudson's Bay Company and
to the Indian tribes inhabiting the wilderness surrounding the mission.
Enduring terrible living conditions and often forced to work alone or travel as far north
as the Alaskan frontier, the small priest's health soon deteriorated. He nevertheless
remained firmly committed to his missionary work and in 1848, reluctantly returned to the
Jesuit headquarters in Oregon. Upon seeing his condition, Father Joseph Joset withdrew
him from further work in New Caledonia. Instead, Nobili accompanied Father Michael
Accolti to California in 1849 where he hoped to find a good doctor in San Francisco and
recuperate in the temperate climate. After several months, his health improved and he
busied himself with pastoral work while Accolti canvassed the state seeking support for
an educational institution near San Jose.
ln July, 1850, Accolti returned to Oregon to assume duties as superior of the Oregon
missions while Nobili remained behind as assistant pastor at the parish church in San
Jose. He spent all of 1850 and much of 1851 aiding victims of a cholera epidemic. Despite
Nobili's initial lack of enthusiasm for the school project Accolti had begun, he soon
inherited the sole responsibility for such an undertaking when the mission at Santa Clara
was offered to the Jesuits with the agreement that they begin an educational institution.
In March 1851 Nobili took possession of the property from the Franciscans and "with an
optimism that one can only qualify as audacious," a later historian wrote, committed
himself and his order to educational work in California. It was this work that would
distinguish Nobili as the founder of the first permanent school in American California.
During the next five years, Nobili encountered innumerable problems in his effort to
establish the college. Under his resourceful guidance from 1851-1856, the fledgling
school expanded, upgraded its academic instruction, and achieved a reputation "for
scholarship both literary and scientific" that was, claimed one historian, unequalled in
California. By 1855, the college boasted a faculty of eighteen priests and laymen.
Confident of the school's future, Nobili petitioned the state that same year for a
charter of incorporation. This was readily granted.
In February, 1856, as Nobili inspected the construction of the college's first new
building, a brick chapel, he stepped on a nail and contracted tetanus. After suffering
from lockjaw for two days, he died on March 1. His premature death at the age of 44 was
mourned throughout the state, for his hard-working dedication to the college had earned
him many admirers. As his successor declared, "All that we have and all that we shall
have, we owe to Father Nobili. He was the soul and sinew of all our labors."
* The quotations cited in this introduction are taken from Fr. Gerald McKevitt's book,
University of Santa Clara: A History, pp. 24, 47, and 49 respectively.
Scope and Content
The Nobili Papers contain virtually all the documents of the early days of Santa Clara
College. Included are financial records, legal papers (particularly dealing with securing
the former Mission land from various claimants), and correspondence with Church and State
officials, parents, and merchants. Of special interest are documents related to the
Orchard Trial, in which Nobili and Bishop Alemany seek to establish claim to land
formerly held by Mission Santa Clara. In addition to Santa Clara College documents, there
are papers related to St. Joseph's Church (San Jose), Mission Dolores (San Francisco)
property, and Mission San Jose.
While some records have been separated into series, e.g., the Orchard Trial, information
about these topics is also found in the correspondence. Correspondence is arranged
alphabetically by correspondent with Nobili. As much as possible, incoming and outgoing
correspondence has been placed together.
N.B. When the collection was rearranged, several folders were combined, so that some
folder numbers seem to be "missing."
Map Collection MSC [maps pertaining to Mission Santa Clara]
Identifier/Call Number: CSC-015:
Map of Santa Clara Town in 1853 (30cm X 40cm)
Identifier/Call Number: SCU-026:
Map of lot in the Town of Santa Clara held by Joshua W. Redman, 1854 (35mm x 51mm).
Identifier/Call Number: 3DB1-12
(book) Hawes, Horace. The Missions in California and the Rights of the Catholic Church to the Property Pertaining to Them,