Timeline of American Catholic History

A Century of Exploration, 1500–1600

The 1500s were a period of exploration and discovery in the New World. Even as adventurers such as Cabeza de Vaca probed the secretes of the vast continent, the first missionaries evanglized among the native peoples of America. Following Columbus, the earliest explorers and missionaries to what would become the United States were Spanish. Jesuits and Franciscans figured prominently among the daring missionaries who often represented the first contact between Native Americans and Europeans. This confrontation between faiths and cultures, sometimes fruitful, was often tense. Few of the earliest missionaries met much success in the way of native converts, and many died violently at the hands of the Indians. Nonetheless the Catholic faith had come to America aboard the Spanish ships, and the seed humbly planted would not perish but would slowly grow to maturity and abundance over the ensuing centuries.


1511 Diocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico established

1537 Alvar Cabeza de Vaca publishes account of expedition to Gulf Coast

1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles lands on Florida coast (St. Augustine)

1571 Fr. Juan Segura and companions killed near Jamestown

1597 Franciscan martyrs killed on coast of Georgia