Department of History

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 Reverend Stafford Poole, C.M.


The Reverend Stafford Poole, C.M., is a retired Roman Catholic priest of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian Community) and a full-time research historian.  His area of specialization is colonial Mexico, particularly the Church in the sixteenth century.

            Father Poole was born in Oxnard, California, on March 6, 1930, into a family of English and Northern Irish background.  His parents were Beatrice Hessie Smith and Joseph Outhwaite Poole, Sr.  He grew up in North Hollywood, where he attended both public and parochial grammar schools.  The latter was Saint Charles where his schoolmates included Bing Crosby's sons and the future Cardinal Roger Mahony.  His high school years were spent at the Los Angeles College.  Upon graduation in 1947 he joined the Vincentian Community and spent his seminary years at Saint Mary's of the Barrens, the house of formation in Perryville, MO.  He took his vows in 1949 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 27, 1956.  In 1952 he was granted a B.A. in philosophy.

            After ordination he served at Cardinal Glennon College, the college seminary of the archdiocese of Saint Louis, where he was dean of students for four years.  In 1964 he was assigned to Saint Mary's in Perryville until 1971.  In the latter year he joined the faculty of Saint John's Seminary College in Camarillo, CA, part of the seminary system of the archdiocese of Los Angeles.  He served as president-rector of Saint John's from 1980 until 1984, when he resigned in a disagreement with the archdiocese over the governmental structure of the college seminary.  In 1990 he retired from active teaching and became archivist for the western province of the Vincentian Community.

            In February of 1958 Father Poole received his M.A. in Spanish literature from Saint Louis University.  The title of his thesis was "The Auto de Repelón of Juan del Encina: A Translation and Linguistic Commentary."  He then began work on his doctorate in history, a task that was made easier by the fact that the director of the department was Father John Francis Bannon, S.J.  His brother, Jim Bannon, was a well-known radio announcer in Los Angeles and a B-movie actor, as well as a parishioner at Saint Charles.  In the aftermath of World War II Father Bannon would visit him during the summer.  Father Poole would be his altar boy when Father Bannon celebrated early morning Mass.  Father Bannon had a photographic memory for names and faces, and, remembering his former altar server, smoothed the way for him.

            Father Poole's major was United States history and the minor Modern Europe.  His original intention was to write a dissertation on slaveholding by Catholic institutions in Missouri.  As it happened, another Jesuit, Father Ernest J. Burrus, was circling the globe hunting for Jesuit sources which he microfilmed.  At the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley, he rediscovered four volumes of the working papers of the first three Mexican Provincial Councils (1555, 1565, 1585), which had been thought lost.  He immediately contacted Father Bannon to assign a graduate student to work on them.  Thus, overnight, Father Poole became a specialist in Mexican colonial Church history, an area for which he had no preparation whatever.  His dissertation was titled, "The Indian Problem in the Third Mexican Provincial Council, 1585."  He received his Ph.D. in June 1961.

            In 1964 Father Poole distilled his reactions to seminary teaching in an article "Tomorrow's Seminaries," which appeared in the Jesuit journal America. Within days he received calls from two publishers to write a book on the subject.  The result was Seminary in Crisis, published by the American branch of the German firm Herder and Herder (1965).  He published more articles on this and related subjects in America, Commonweal, and other Catholic journals. He served as Associate Research Director, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), in 1965, helping to survey American Catholic seminaries.  In 1968-1969 he was a consulter to the American Bishops' Committee on Priestly Formation. He served on the editorial board for history of Roman Catholic Theological Education in the United States, sponsored by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, Notre Dame, and the Lilley Endowment (1985-1988).  In 1981 and 1982 he was respectively vice-president and president of the Midwestern Association of College Seminaries.

            In the field of Mexican history Father Poole's first interest was the Third Mexican Council.  He wrote several articles on this topic for the Franciscan journal The Americas and for the Hispanic American Historical Review.  In the late 1960s the late historian Lewis Hanke asked him to translate Bartolomé de las Casas's Apologia, a Latin work in defense of the Indians delivered at the Valladolid dispute of 1550-1551.  This was published in 1974 by Northern Illinois University Press.  A second edition appeared in 1992 and is still in print.  He also researched the life of Pedro Moya de Contreras, the third Archbishop of Mexico, who had convoked and presided at the Third Mexican Council.  This biography was published by the University of California Press in 1987.  A second, revised edition is currently being prepared for publication by the University of Oklahoma Press, and a Spanish translation by the Colegio de Michoacán, Mexico.  His research into the archbishop's life caused him to be interested in that of the prelate's mentor, Juan de Ovando.  In 2004 the University of Oklahoma Press published the biography Juan de Ovando: Governing the Spanish Empire in the Reign of Philip II.

            In the 1970s Father Poole became interested in the controversy surrounding the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.  It was not until after his retirement from  teaching, however, that he was able to pursue this.  In 1990, as part of his preparation he began the study of Nahuatl (sixteenth-century Aztec) with Professor James Lockhart at UCLA.  The first work to appear was Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531-1794, followed by a translation of the Huei tlamahuiçoltica (jointly with Professor Lockhart and Professor Lisa Sousa, 1998), and The Guadalupan Controversies in Mexico (2006).  Father Poole was an active participant in the campaign to stop, or at least slow, the canonization of Juan Diego, the visionary of the Guadalupe tradition.  The campaign failed.  In January 2005 he gave a history of it in a luncheon lecture of the Conference on Latin American History, titled "History vs. Juan Diego."  This was published in The Americas (July 2005).

            Father Poole also had a long-standing interest in the history of the Vincentian Community.  In 1974 he privately published A History of the Congregation of the Mission, 1625-1843, the first comprehensive history of the community.  In 1975 he helped to found the Group International d'Études Vincentiennes, which was reorganized as the Secretariat International d'Études Vincentiennes in 1981.  He also was a founder member of the Vincentian Studies Institute and was editor of its journal, Vincentian Heritage, from 1986 to 1987.  In 2006 the Vincentian Studies Institute awarded him the Pierre Coste prize for his contributions to Vincentian history.  He returned to an earlier interest when in 1986, together with Douglas Slawson, he published Church and Slave in Perry County, Missouri, 1818-1860.

            Father Poole has lectured in the Republic of Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Vatican City, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, and Australia.  He is a diplomate of the National Academy of History of Venezuela, and a distinguished guest of the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico.  He is a fifty-year life member of the American Historical Association and also belongs to the American Catholic Historical Association, the American Society for Ethnohistory, the Conference on Latin American History, and is a member of the executive committee of the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies.  Since 2003 he has been included in Who's Who in America.  In March 2009, the Rocky Mountain Conference for Latin American Studies had a special session dedicated to him and his work.  He has a reading knowledge Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Nahuatl.

            Father Poole lives at the Amat Residence in Los Angeles, where he continues his historical studies.