For Adrian's family, therefore, Catholicism was more than just religion--it was the vehicle that brought them out of England to the U.S.
Adrian's response to his mother not wanting ever to belong in her adopted town of Ryder, Iowa, seems to be twofold: feeling identified with her, he imagines himself an alien in Ryder; yet he longs for an identity he can hold onto as well, and finds one in his imagination, as the grandson of a church builder, and great grandson and great great grandson of church builders.
It was not until 1881 the last of the Sioux surrendered with Sitting Bull at Fort Buford, in what would become in 1889 the state of North Dakota. After two years of confinement, Sitting Bull and his immediate followers were sent to live on the Standing Rock reservation. Although the Chippewa of North Dakota were evangelized by Roman Catholics starting in the 1830s by Father Belcourt, and the Mandan in 1840 by Father DeSmet, the Sioux of that area were not evangelized until the Father Genin established a mission at Ft. Totten in 1865. The Grey Nuns opened a school on the Fort Totten Reservation in 1874, and Benedictine priests and nuns opened a school on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1877. When Eileen goes to teach on the Standing Rock Reservation, she is following a tradition that is approximately a century old, and a living remnant of the frontier era.
The frontier lives on as well, in Exsules Filii Evae, not only in the antique shops that Adrian frequents, but in the cultural institutions and practices that appear in the novel. Although Adrian was a town kid, he was socialized in childhood by means of the local 4-H club, and Eileen notes that the principal cultural alternative she has to the altar society at Fort Yates is the local Homemaker's Club. Elsie Seaman, at the age of 80-something, persists in gathering wild gooseberries for jam, stocking up for winter with home-grown root vegetables, and assisting the ladies at the old age home in procuring scraps of fabric for their quilting groups. As there is in every small town in America, there is assuredly a 7-11 down the street, but it coexists with these throwbacks, as it were, to a time when Manifest Destiny was not quite a fait accompli.