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Heinrich Ruhen, Jesuit Missionary from Borsum

His Biography:

Important Events in His Life:


In June of 1718 Anna Buschen, wife of the carpenter Peter Ruhen, gave birth to a son in the house “At the Goose Pond” in Borsum (today a playground). He was baptized in the newly built St. Martin's Church in Borsum by Pater Brandt on the name of Heinrich. The godparents present at his baptism were: Heinrich Schrader and Elisabeth Heineken, both from Borsum.

From ca. 1725 to 1736

The young Heinrich Ruhen at first attended the elementary school in Borsum, which at that time was located on the south side of the cemetery. His teachers were the sexton and the organist for the church. Both men and some Jesuits from Hildesheim, who provided some pastoral duties and helped in the school, noticed the highly intelligent boy. They made it possible for him to

to attend the Jesuit school in Hildesheim, the “Marianum Josephinum.” Heinrich Ruhen not only graduated from this “Gymnasium” (high school), but he also took additional courses in philosophy and the humanities.


Already when he was eighteen years old, right after graduation >from high school, Heinrich Ruhen decided to join the Jesuit Society (SJ). He entered a novitiate college in Trier (southwestern Germany), where he took his first vows after two years, on October 23, 1738.

1738 to 1745

Heinrich Ruhen was then appointed to the Jesuit college in Münster, where he taught courses in the humanities for seven years. At the end of his teaching career he decided to take up

the study of theology, as he wanted to be ordained as a priest.

1745 to 1748

To study theology he went to the Jesuit college in Bürden near Paderborn. He successfully graduated in 1748 and was then indeed ordained as a priest.

1749 to 1750

It was his desire to work as a priest and missionary in foreign countries. Soon he was appointed as missionary for New Spain in North America. In order to get there, he had to undertake a

difficult and dangerous journey. Together with his fellow brother, Pater Baegert, who was later to write about this journey, he went on foot through Germany, France, and Spain to the harbor city of Cadiz at the Atlantic coast. Here they had to wait for a long time for a ship to travel to America. Because of increased pirate activities by the Arabs in Northern Africa, ship traffic was dramatically reduced. Only when the missionaries’ ship, the French merchant ship Conde,

destined for Veracruz, was accompanied by two heavily armored canon boats, the Conde dared the voyage across the Atlantic. The ship left the harbor of Cadiz on June 15, 1750 and reached

Veracruz, located in New Spain on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, 72 days later. From Veracruz the two Padres went to Mexico City to the headquarter of their order where they were familiarized with the country and its people. On the next segment of the journey they went with many fellow brothers to the northwest of the country where they all were supposed to serve as ministers. On December 19 they reached the city of Guadelayara, where they rested in their order's mission for a few days and celebrated Christmas.


In January they continued their journey to the northwest of the country to the province of Sonora. At the Pacific coast Heinrich Ruhen's fellow Padres left him, as they traveled by boat to the

peninsula Baja California where they were supposed to serve in various missions. Heinrich Ruhen continued on to Tubutama in the north of Sonora. Here he was already expected by his fellow brother Jacob Sedelmeyer, a Visitator of the Jesuit order. He assigned him to the mission Sonoyta which was located many days of travel on foot further to the west. This station once had been established by the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino 50 years ago who had done so beneficial work here that he is regarded as an American pioneer and received a place in the hall of fame of the USA in Washington, D.C.

This mission was reestablished by Heinrich Ruhen. Then he went a second time to his Visitator Sedelmayer in Tubutuma to make his eternal vows. This vow is today still available in the archives of the order in North America.

Already at that time Heinrich Ruhen was concerned that he would not live for long and asked his friends to pray for him, as he had heard of Indian riots in the vicinity. These Indians had been forced to work in recently discovered silver mines, a work they were not used to at all. They tried to end this slave labor by way of this riot. In the night of the 21st to the 22nd of November a group of riotous Indians came to Sonoyta and found Pater Heinrich Ruhen in his little missionary house, wounding him mortally with several arrows. The next morning the local Indians found him who had barely managed to crawl out of his house. In an act of mercy they killed him hitting him on his head with a stone to release him from his pain.

Five years later all these events were discovered by Pater Ignaz Pfefferkorn who had found and buried the mortal remains. The Indian who had ultimately killed Ruhen with the stone was not brought to a court [for obvious reasons]. Even in Borsum Ruhen’s death became known as it was noted in the church records, right after the entry of his baptism, “died as a martyr on November 21, 1751.

After 1760

Due to the ban of all missionary activities by the Jesuits in the Spanish territory and due to the later ban of the entire order by the Pope (1767), the beneficial activities of the Jesuits came to an end The church and the missionary stations fell in disrepair, and only vague memories and some ruins remained.

After 1900

Research and excavations brought to life the knowledge of the blissful activities of the Jesuits. Extensive written records were also discovered in the archives. All this then led to the rediscovery of the missions of Tubutama and Sonoyta. Also Heinrich Ruhen’s bones were found again. Today, there is a monument at that location, commemorating this citizen of Borsum who, only thirty three years old, died the death of a martyr.

After 1957

The first publications about this Borsum Jesuit pater in a journal about the history of the bishopric Hildesheim later inspired Klaus Möller, also from Borsum and who worked in the service of development aid, to visit the area of Sonoyta where he observed a deep veneration of this historical personality from Borsum. Subsequently the goose pond in Borsum, transformed into a small park, was renamed to Pater Heinrich Ruhen Square.

When the former Borsum teacher Franziska Achmüller visited her daughter who then lived in Tucson near Sonoyta, she made contacts with the local authorities. This led to a correspondence which eventually resulted in a city partnership between Borsum and the Mexican city of Sonoyta. A delegation from Borsum visited Sonoyta from November 12 to 20, 1997. Plans were made to establish memorial sites both in Borsum and Sonoyta.