Born in Schlessen, Germany, which is now Klodzko, Poland, on March 28, 1713, Juan Nentvig entered the Society of Jesus presumably at Glatz, Bohemia, August 28, 1734, and ended his studies there in 1744. Most investigators cite the 1744 date as the beginning of his Jesuit college life. But the records are quite clear that he was a priest in 1750. Taking into consideration the ten-year probationary period required to become a Jesuit, one must conclude that the 1744 date signals the end of Nentvig's college life rather than its beginning.
In letters and other writings Father Nentvig's name appears in several forms. Probably baptized Johann Nentwich, he has also been called Nentwig and Nentoig, as well as Nentvig. Too, his name has been hispanicized Juan Nentuig. Also, his first name is sometimes listed as Jean. Juan Nentvig is used throughout this interpretation because it appears to be the name most widely accepted.
Choosing to become a missionary, Nentvig applied and obtained permission to go to the West Indies. He left what is now Prague, Czechoslovakia, January 28, 1749, and arrived at the Hospicio, or temporary housing for Jesuits, of Santa María de Cádiz on May 12. From 1767 to 1772 this same hospício served as a detention camp for the exiled members of the Order, and the building still stands today on Topete Street, but it is no longer church property.
Encountering favorable winds, El Corazón de Jesús arrived in Veracruz in record time, docking on August 25. From there Nentvig traveled immediately to Mexico City, where it is recorded he visited the mint. Shortly thereafter he received an assignment to the main mission of Tubutama in the northwest of New Spain.
In Sonora there were rumblings of discontent, and the 37-year-old priest was reassigned to Sáric. In 1751 the catalogues of the Jesuit Order register him as having completed his studies and describe him as being robust, with a pensive nature and sound judgment.
The tremendous rebellion that began on November 21, 1751, caught Nentvig in Sáric, but he managed to escape when Father Sedelmayr, S.J., notified him that his life was in danger if he were to stay there. Nentvig reached Tubutama, where he, Father Sedelmayr, and a handful of followers defended the mission church for two days. Despite a head contusion that made him delirious, Nentvig managed to reach Santa Ana five days later.
Without an official assignment, he officiated at Santa Maria Suamca until March 18, 1753, at which time he was sent to Tecoripa where he remained until March 15, 1757. Then he was transferred to the principal mission of Huásabas (Guásabas) where he took his fourth vow on February 2, 1759, and was appointed superior in 1763. Because the Regional Visitor, Father Manuel Aguirre, S.J., was in poor health, Father Nentvig assisted him in the duties of that office until 1767.
It was in Huásabas that Nentvig wrote the Descripción de Sonora. He found time to finish it during the summer of 1762 in the midst of a smallpox epidemic when he was burdened with the task of caring for the ailing fathers Aguirre and Och and weighed down with his regular priestly duties. Compounding his difficulties was failing eyesight. No glasses were available until years later. It wasn't until February, 1766, upon the death of Father Tomás Pérez de la Busta, S.J., of Sahuaripa, that Father Nentvig began using the glasses of the deceased father.1 During his last months in Huásabas, he applied for and received the assistance of Father Ramón Sánchez, S.J.
As visitor-rector, Father Nentvig ordered the Jesuit ministers in his district to travel to Mátape in obedience to the governor's edict of July 14, 1767, where they were informed of their banishment.2 Meekly they marched to San Jose de Guaymas and, after a stay of a few months, embarked on the packet ship El Principe to Matanchel. From this port they traveled by land to Guadalajara, a terminus Father Nentvig never reached, for he died at Ixtlán on September 11, 1768, and was buried a day or so later at Jala (Xala), municipality of Santa Maria del Oro, county of Ahuacatlán, state of Nayarit.
1. In an effort to quell Indian raids within the province, the Elizondo expeditionary force of about 1,100 men led by Colonel Domingo Elizondo was sent to Sonora in May, 1768, and remained until April, 1771. Cf. Almada's Diccionario…, pp. 259–60.
2. The governor's instrucción of July 14, 1767, is quoted verbatim in Pradeau's Expulsión de los Jesuitas de las provincias de Sonora, Ostimuri y Sinaloa, pp. 41–4.