St. Isaac Jogues & St. Jean de Brebuf & Companions

Among the valiant priests that helped to evangelize the New World, a place of honor should be given to the eight Jesuit martyrs from France who gloriously endured their death for the spread of the Gospel among the Huron and Iroquois nations along the Canadian and U.S. border around Upstate New York.   On Wednesday we honor these courageous priests.   The “North American Martyrs” as they are known died within the 7 year period between 1642-1649 as they were caught between the war between the Huron and Iroquois.   St. Isaac Jogues, St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. Noel Chabanel, St. Antoine Daniel, St. Charles Garnier, St. René Goupil, St. Jean de Lalande and St. Gabriel Lalemant served as missionary evangelists to the indigenous peoples.   They were however, as most European priests, seen as malevolent somehow connected with the spread of European diseases and siding with one of the warring tribes or the other.  They were even blamed for epidemics, battle defeats and crop failures.  Unfortunately these men of peace and love were put to violent deaths, victims of the violent encounter with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Among the best known, St. Jean de Brebeuf, known as the “Apostle to the Hurons” became an expert in communicating with the Hurons and he even developed a French/Huron dictionary.     He was however violently tortured by fasting him to stakes, fake baptism with boiling water and scalping.     At the age of fifty five he met his death and his body was brutally degraded and buried along with St. Gabriel Lalemant.     His compatriot was St. Isaac Jogues who was born in Orleans, France in 1607.   He was sent to the Huron and Algonquian allies of the French in North America.  On his journey to Huron territory, he was captured by the Mohawk Iroquois along with St. Rene Goupil and brutally tortured.   Among the violence they endured was to have their fingers cut off.    Fr. Jogues was forced into slavery among the Iroquois and even courageously attempted to catechize his own capturers.   After years of living in this condition he managed to escape and make his way back to France where he gained fame as a “living martyr”.  His missionary courage and apostolic zeal fueled his desire to return to New France and continue his mission.   He was sent as a peace maker to the Mohawks where after some time they inevitably “tomahawked” to death on October 18, 1646 along with St. Jean de Lalande.  

The story of these courageous Jesuits, filled with apostolic zeal to spread the faith to a people so foreign to Christianity inspires faith in us.   These martyrs, along with all the martyrs of Christ shine as witnesses of Jesus Christ.   They were not violent, nor were they aggressive in declaring religious war with the pagan people they encountered.   They stood as witness of Love Incarnate.   The endured courageously the violence of hate and suspicion for the sake of Gospel .  

As we honor these holy martyrs who spread the faith in North America let us ask God to grant us the grace we need so that we too can be witness of peace and love.   Never allowing violence, retribution or vengeance to soil our immortal souls, but always desiring to be true disciples so as to share the glory of the heavenly home of the martyrs of the Lord. 


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