Roman Catholic missions were in the past, as now, almost entirely in the hands of the religious orders. The great missionary orders are the Benedictines (which evangelized medieval Germany), Franciscans (especially the Capuchins), Dominicans (founded for missions among the Albigenses), Carmelites, and Jesuits (involved with the education of boys). The Jesuits (see Jesus, Society of) were the great missionaries of the Counter Reformation. They went to East Asia (see Francis Xavier, Saint), to America, and to Protestant N Europe. It was the Jesuits who kept up the English missions in the 16th and 17th cent.
The first Catholic missionaries in Canada were Recollects, who worked in the first part of the 17th cent.; they were soon followed by Jesuits. Notable of these Jesuits were Jerome Lalemant, Jean de Brébeuf, and Isaac Jogues; they may be regarded as a principal factor in the growth of the Canadian frontier and in the exploration of Canada and the upper Mississippi. The Jesuit Relations, the individual journals of these Jesuits, are exceedingly important sources of early American history. In the period of the conquest of Central and South America by Spain the church sent its missionaries with the conquerors. The Franciscans and Jesuits were the most important orders in Mexico. In the late 18th and early 19th cent. there was an extensive Catholic missionary interest in the Mississippi valley, and many Italians and French came to America to teach in the newly opened country. Bardstown, Ky., was the chief center.
Since the 17th cent. practically all Roman Catholic missions have been administered by one of the Roman congregations, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith or Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, often called the Propaganda). This is made up of cardinals, whose office is in Rome. The foreign missions are administered by the religious orders, the missionaries being responsible to the congregation in Rome. A policy adopted in the middle of the 19th cent. emphasized the training of native clergy and the ordination of native bishops. Roman Catholic missions are supported by the congregation, by the religious orders, and by lay missionary societies.