The Martyrs are St. Jean de Brébeuf (1649), St. Noël Chabanel (1649), St. Antoine Daniel (1648), St. Charles Garnier (1649), St. René Goupil (1642), St. Isaac Jogues (1646), St. Jean de Lalande (1646), and St. Gabriel Lalemant (1649).
By the late 1640s the Jesuits appeared to have been making more progress in their mission to the Huron, and had made many converts at this time. Nevertheless, within Huron communities, the priests were not universally trusted. Many Hurons considered them to be malevolent shamans who brought death and disease wherever they travelled. Their arrival had coincided with epidemics after 1634 of smallpox and other infectious diseases, to which aboriginal peoples had no immunity. The Iroquois considered the Jesuits legitimate targets, as the missionaries were nominally allies of the Huron. They had often helped organize resistance to Iroquois invasions
Captured in 1642 by the Iroquois, St. Isaac Jogues was tortured for 13 months. During that time, he taught the Faith to any who would listen, and finally escaped. In 1644, he returned to France to recuperate, and there he saw his dear mother for the last time. She wept to see the scars on his hands, as the brutal Indians had cut off some of his fingers with shells and knives and eaten them, as was their custom. She fondled his mutilated hands and knew there was no way of convincing him to remain in France.
What compelled him to want to return to so cruel a land? It was his love for his spiritual children, his beloved Huron converts whom he stood by to the end. On his return to New France, he assisted William Couture, an envoy of France, in communicating with the Indians. No white men were as well versed in the Indian languages as Jogues and Couture.
It was on the Mohawk mission in Ossernenon that he and his lay missionary companion John de LaLande met their death as martyrs of Our Lord Jesus Christ, thus sanctifying the land immersed in what Fr. Jogues called "demonic worship.” Instigated by the medicine men, the shamans, who spread rumors that the blackrobes were responsible for the epidemic and failing crops, a group of Mohawks on the warpath made him a captive. One Indian tore strips of his flesh from his arms and neck, saying, "Let us see if this white flesh is the flesh of an oki (devil)."
The Saint simply replied, "I am a man like yourselves, but I do not fear death or torture. I do not know why you would kill me. I come here to confirm the peace and show you the way to Heaven, and you treat me like a dog"(Fr. John O'Brien, Saints of the American Wilderness, p. 119) .
The Indians admired his courage, but the fury of the shamans could only be satisfied by his death. On October 18, 1647 Fr. Isaac Jogues was brutally tomahawked and scalped by an Indian chief. The American historian Francis Parkman, who was by no means a devout Catholic, wrote this about St. Jogues: "Thus died Isaac Jogues, one of the purest examples of Roman Catholic virtue that this Western Continent has seen. The priests, his associates, praise his humility, and tell us that it reached the point of self contempt, a crowning virtue in their eyes..... With all his gentleness he had a certain warmth or vivacity of temperament; and we have seen how, during his first captivity, while humbly submitting to every caprice of tyrants and appearing to rejoice in debasement, a derisive word against his Faith would change the lamb into a lion, and the lips that seemed so tame would speak in sharp, bold tones of menace and reproof" (Ibid., p. 89).
Because of the courage and zeal of Jesuit missionaries like St. Issac Jogues, some of these savages escaped the perversity of Satan. The names of the North American martyrs should be inscribed on our minds, and we should ask their intercession that this country might still become a Catholic land.
In conclusion, we would like to mention several of the most impressive converts made by these early Jesuit missionaries. One was baptized Joseph Chihouatenhoua, a married Huron who abandoned the superstitions of his ancestors and became a loyal disciple of the Black-robes, a friendship that lasted into eternity. He became a devout and knowledgeable Catholic, even studying and learning Latin. He also died at the hands of the Indians who refused to accept the sweet yoke of Christ.
Another remarkable Indian convert to the Catholic Faith, was a famous Huron war chief by the name of Ahatsistari. "Thither came one of the greatest war chiefs of all the Hurons into the Church. On Holy Saturday 1642, he and a number of other Hurons were received by Jogues and other missionaries into the Church. Ahatsistari was baptized Eustace" (Ibid., p. 35).
These conversions would have never occured without the sacrifice, and pure, untainted faith of the Jesuit missionaries. May their zeal inspire new apostles with that same burning fire for the salvation of souls in our own days, and bring down upon our country the blessings of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The martyrs were canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930. They are collectively the secondary patron saints of Canada. St. René Goupil, St. Isaac Jogues, and St. Jean de Lalande are considered the first three U.S. saints, as they were martyred in Upstate New York. Their feast day is celebrated in the General Roman Calendar and in the United States on October 19 under the title of "John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs", and on September 26 in Canada and among Traditionalist Catholics.
Many churches are dedicated to the martyrs, including the Canadian national church in Rome; Martyrs' Shrine church in Midland, Ontario, the site of their missionary work among the Huron; the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, along the Mohawk River; North American Martyrs Parish and School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; North American Martyrs Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska; North American Martyrs Catholic Church, a parish of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in Seattle, Washington; American Martyrs Parish in Manhattan Beach, California; and American Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Bayside, New York. Many schools also honor the martyrs, including the sports teams of the Pontifical North American College in Rome; a primary school named after them in Newmarket, Ontario; Jesuit High School in Sacramento, California, where each building on the campus has been named after one of the saints; Jesuit High School in New Orleans, Louisiana; the torture of the eight North American Martyrs by North American Indians is the subject depicted in the twelve-light World War I memorial window (1933) by Charles William Kelsey at the Loyola College (Montreal) chapel; at the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes on the campus of Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland; and a side shine at Madonna Della Strada Chapel on the campus of Loyola University Chicago. The martyrs are honored at Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic summer camp in Ozark, Illinois, where each unit of cabins is named after one of the martyrs.
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