Giovanni Pietro Antonio Nobili was a Roman Catholic priest, Jesuit, and missionary. While there are no accounts of Father Giovanni documenting his time in Kelowna, he did work with the local First Nations peoples in this area. He was born in Rome to Domenico Nobili and Rosa Eutizi on April 28, 1812. Giovanni entered the Society of Jesus in Rome in 1828 and took his first vows in 1835. As a Jesuit scholastic, he taught humanities at several Jesuit colleges in Italy before his ordination in 1843. Soon after, he volunteered for the Jesuit missions being prepared for the northwest coast of North America. Nobili, four other Jesuit priests and six sisters sailed from Antwerp, Belgium in 1844 and arrived at the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Vancouver, Washington.
For the next ten months Nobili ministered to the many French Canadian employees at the fort and learned many Indian dialects. In June of 1845 he left for New Caledonia. While at Walla Walla, Washington, Father Giovanni received instructions to proceed north into the interior to visit as many Indian tribes as possible. Nobili continued north, stopping to visit Fort Okanagan (Washington) and Indians from the Siouxwaps (Shuswaps) and Thompson tribes. On August 9, 1845, by agreement between Grand Chief Nicola and Father Nobili, a settlement was founded at Nicola Prairie (Garnett Lake, Summerland). Still heading north he stopped at Fort Alexandria on the Fraser River, to Fort George (Prince George) and finally Stuart Lake.
In 1846 he reported back to Fort Colville and was instructed to continue his mission to the Indians of New Caledonia. By 1847 the Jesuits founded nine Missions in the Pacific Northwest.
By 1848, the Jesuits decided to leave New Caledonia to the local clergy and concentrate on gold-rush California. In May of 1849, Nobili made his way to San Francisco, where he served as assistant pastor. The next year Father Nobili founded a Jesuit College, the first Catholic college in California. While supervising construction in 1856 he stepped on a nail, contracted tetanus and died on March 1. He is buried in the mission church, now the chapel of the University of Santa Clara. Although Giovanni’s life was short, his establishment of the first non-native settlement in the Okanagan Valley was an important step in our area’s history.
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