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St. John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, priests, and their companions

Date published: 2002-Oct-01

Brief profiles of all eight Martyrs of North America

John de Brébeuf, ordained at 33, was the first Jesuit missionary in Huronia (1626) and a master of the Indian language. He worked throughout all the district, founded mission outposts converted thousands to the faith. He inspired many Jesuits to volunteer for the missions of New France. Massive in body, strong yet gentle in character, his visions of the cross and of his future martyrdom were fulfilled when he was tortured for hours after being captured March 16, 1649. He was martyred at Sainte Ignace, six miles from Sainte Marie at the age of 56. Brébeuf is said to have the heart of a giant. He was known as the apostle of the Hurons. The Indians called him Echon.

Gabriel Lalemant, a Jesuit at 19 and ordained at 27, was a scholar, professor and a college administrator, delicate in body but strong in desire for the mission of Huronia. After seven months there he was able to speak the native language. For one month he was assistant to Brébeuf and then his companion in martyrdom for 17 long hours. He died March 17, 1649 at Sainte Ignace.

Anthony Daniel, ordained a priest at 29, was a missionary near Bias-d'or Lakes (1632); he founded the first boys' college in North America (Quebec 1635) and laboured in Huronia for 12 years. In 1648 he made his retreat at Sainte-Marie and returned to his mission 12 miles away. On July 4, he just finished Mass when the mission was attacked. In Mass vestments he faced the enemy, encouraging the Christian converts to live their faith and thus giving time for some to escape. His martyred body was thrown in the flames of the burning Church at Mount St. Louis. He was 48 when he died.

Charles Garnier, was a Jesuit missionary in Huronia at age of 31. For 13 years he was pastor and missionary to the Hurons and Petuns. Gentle, innocent, fearless, a person of faith, he drew converts to the faith. Even when the mission of Etharita was attacked and he himself wounded, he continued to baptize neophytes and to assist a wounded Huron. In this act he died at the age of 44 about 30 miles from Sainte-Marie.

Noél Chabanel, a Jesuit priest at 28, a successful professor and humanist in France, had a strong desire to come to the Canadian missions but was unable to learn the native language and felt useless in the ministry. He took a vow to remain in the missions, on the cross of seeming failure, always in the shadow of martyrdom. Even his martyrdom came secretly at the hands of an apostate on December 8, 1649 on the Nottawasaga, 25 miles from Sainte-Marie.

René Goupil had to leave the Jesuit novitiate because of ill health. He studied medicine and offered his services to the Jesuit missions in Canada. On his way to Sainte-Marie, he and Isaac Jogues were captured and tortured. Jogues received his vows into the Society of Jesus. A month later at Auriesville, N.Y, he was martyred while making the sign of the cross on a child. The first of the eight martyrs to be killed, he was 35 years old when he died..

Isaac Jogues came to Huronia in 1636 and supplied at mission outposts for three years; he helped to build Sainte-Marie (1639) and explored as far west as Sault Sainte-Marie. Captured by the Mohawks when returning to Sainte-Marie from Quebec (1642), he was tortured, loosing several fingers and being made a slave. He escaped to France, but returned the same year as an emissary and missionary to the Mohawks. He was martyred at Auriesville, N.Y. at age 39.

John de La Lande offered his services as a layman to the Jesuits in New France. He accompanied Jogues to the Mohawk Mission (1646), was captured with him and tortured. He saw Jogues martyred. On the following day (October 19, 1646), he himself was killed at Auriesville, N.Y. Isaac Jogues was born in Orleans, France on Jan. 10, 1607 and entered the Jesuits at Rouen when he was 17 years old. Two months after celebrating his first Mass Feb. 10, 1636, he was on his way to the Jesuit mission in New France. He wrote his mother of his great joy when he landed in Quebec and saw native Americans waiting on shore. After only a month and a half, he set out on his first mission to the Hurons, travelling the 900 miles to Ihonatiria by water. The party spent 19 days paddling and carrying the flotilla of canoes around obstacles. During the voyage, the Hurons gave Father Jogues the name "Ondessonk" ("bird of prey").

Jogues met his hero, Father John de Brébeuf at Ihonatiria, and began learning the Huron language. The first problem arose when a smallpox epidemic broke out in the settlement and people blamed the missionaries for bringing the disease. When the epidemic passed, the settlement was abandoned and Jogues moved first to Teanaustayé and then on to Sainte-Marie, a thriving enterprise where missionaries had taught people how to cultivate the land and raise cattle, pigs and fowl. A group of Chippewas who had come to Sainte-Marie admired the prosperous settlement and invited the Jesuits to establish a mission among them. Jogues visited them in September 1641 and found them eager to hear about God, but the small number of Jesuits made it impossible to expand to new tribes at that time.

During the winter and spring of 1642, Jogues prepared neophytes at Sainte-Marie for baptism on Holy Saturday; one of the 120 adult converts was Ahtsistari, the tribe's greatest war chief. Although the French missionary felt contented that Christianity was beginning to take root, he wanted to convert the whole Huron nation and offered himself in prayer as a sacrifice to make that happen.

In June Jogues accompanied a group of Hurons back to Three Rivers, near Quebec, for supplies. The voyage was hazardous because the Iroquois were at war with the French. Jogues tried to get more Jesuit priests for the mission, but none were available. The provincial suggested he take René Goupil, a layman who was a surgeon and had promised to work with the Jesuits, remain celibate and obey the Jesuit superior. Jogues, Goupil and the Hurons set out Aug. 1 to return to Sainte-Marie, but were attacked one day into the voyage by a war party of 70 Mohawks who took three Frenchmen and 20 Hurons as prisoners. The Mohawks tortured Jogues by partly mutilating his fingers. Goupil asked Jogues to accept him into the Society of Jesus as a brother, given the peril they faced, and Jogues accepted his vows en route.

The Mohawks headed back to their home village passing through the St. Lawrence, Lake Champlain and into Lake George. Finally on August 14 the flotilla arrived at Ossernenon (which today is Auriesville, New York) on the bank of the Mohawk River. The prisoners endured the torture of running the gauntlet between two lines of warriors who beat the captives as they staggered by. Jogues and Goupil had to endure other torments; a woman cut off Jogues' thumb. Then the two Frenchmen became slaves of the chief who had captured them. Goupil was killed on Sept. 29, 1642 when someone saw him make the sign of the cross over a child, but Jogues remained a slave even while ministering to the Hurons who had been captured with him. When he accompanied several Mohawks on a trading trip to the Dutch settlement of Fort Orange (Albany), the Dutch tried unsuccessfully to ransom him. Finally they suggested he try to escape. After some hesitancy, Jogues hid in one of the Dutch ships where he remained for six weeks until his captors' anger at losing him subsided. Eventually he made his way to New York and then back to Europe.

He landed in Brittany on Christmas morning and made his way to Rennes where his Jesuit brothers received him as a hero. Jogues' only regret was his inability to celebrate Mass because of his mutilated hands: on the left hand the index finger was nothing but a stub and the thumb was missing while the thumb and index finger of the right hand were badly disfigured. He was unable to hold the host correctly, but Pope Urban VIII granted him a dispensation to celebrate Mass. Jogues visited his mother in Orléans but was eager to return to the missions so he set sail in May, arriving at Three Rivers in time to attend the July peace conference between the French and the Indians representing the Iroquois federation.

The final treaty needed the approval of the Mohawks; Jogues was chosen as an envoy to obtain their consent. He surprised his former captors by arriving as the ambassador of the powerful French nation and offering them that government's gifts. They accepted the terms of the treaty, and Jogues offered pastoral care to the Christian Huron prisoners remaining there. Then Jogues returned to Three Rivers on July 3 where he was supposed to remain.

In September the Hurons asked the Jesuit missionary to accompany them on an embassy to the Mohawks who had invited their former enemies to arrange details of the treaty. Jogues took along another layman as his assistant, John de La Lande, an experienced woodsman who had settled in New France before offering to help the Jesuits. The small party left Quebec Sept. 24, 1646. A few days into the trip they learned the Mohawks were on the warpath again. Only one Huron volunteered to continue with Jogues and La Lande. Meanwhile, the Mohawks in Ossernenon had suffered a crop failure and an epidemic, blaming it on the chest of vestments and books that the Jesuit had left behind him when he visited them as French ambassador. Warriors set out in search of some Frenchman to kill and were delighted when on October 17 they captured Jogues and his two companions.

The captors were beaten on their way back to Ossernenon where people cut strips of flesh from the neck and arms of the Jesuit. Some of the clans were friendly toward the missionaries and wanted peace with the French, but the war-like Bear Clan wanted to kill Jogues, which they did the next day when he was struck down as he entered a lodge. La Lande was advised not to leave another lodge where he was under protection, but he tried to slip out at night and was immediately killed by some warriors who were waiting to ambush him. The bodies of the two Frenchmen were thrown into the river while their heads were exposed on the palisades protecting the village.

Pope Pius XI canonized the whole group of missionaries known as the eight North American Martyrs, whose feast the Church celebrates on October 19: Fathers Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf, Gabriel, Lalemant, Charles Garnier, Anthony Daniel and Noel Chabanel, along with René Goupil and John de La Lande.

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