Today we celebrate the feast of three of the North American Martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. René Goupil and companions, a group of Jesuit missionaries who came to New France (Canada) in the 1620s. They settled in Quebec and ministered to the colonists and eventually to the Iroquois and Huron Indians.
“Black Robes”, as they were called, were not well received by the natives. Superstition and distrust caused them to be blamed for any maladies or misfortunes. Often caught between warring tribes, they strove to bring peace and the love of Christ to these combative cultures.
St. René Goupil was captured in 1642 and tortured in by the Iroquois for making the sign of the cross over a child’s head because the Iroquois feared it was a curse. He was the first of the three to die, martyred by a tomahawk to the head.
St. Isaac Jogues was also captured in 1642 by the Mohawks where he was enslaved and tortured for 13 months. Dutch settlers helped him escape and he made it back to France. Two years later, he returned to Canada to continue his missionary work with the Native Americans. Trying to negotiate peace between the Iroquois and the Mohawk, he and the other missionaries were blamed for an epidemic and were put to death.
St. Jean de Brébeuf actually wrote a catechism in Huron and a French-Huron dictionary, even though he claimed to be woefully inept at the language. St. Jean is credited with naming the Indian game “lacrosse” because it made him think of a bishop’s crosier. He died at the hands of the Iroquois in 1649.
When I run across people like these three saints, I often stop and wonder what I’m made of. Would I? Could I follow in those footsteps? Would I ever be brave enough to travel to a foreign land to spread the gospel? Sometimes I don’t even do it in my own back yard. Then just think of the bugs! These guys were living out in the wilderness, the thick forests of Canada and the northeast – hostile unsettled territory.
At this point, it looks like God hasn’t called me to that. I am so grateful he called these men that went before me. The fruit of their sacrifice was a surge of vocations and missionaries in France and New France which help spread the Catholic faith in the New World.
Churches in the city next door to where I live were founded by French Canadian immigrants, many of them not able to speak English. They came to the mills to work and to settle with their families. They brought their faith.
The martyrdom we celebrate today helped bring that Faith to our country.
I am so grateful for the sacrifices of those who came before us, for what they did to bring us the Truth and beauty of the Church. Most of us are not called to martyrdom, but we are called to die daily to ourselves in service of Him who holds the world in His hand. We will never fully understand the sacrifice of marytrdom, but we can be eternally grateful.
Saints Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brébeuf, Rene Goupil, and companions, pray for us!
God bless, Anne