Today (October 19) is the memorial of Sts. Isaac Jogues and John de Brebeuf, priests and martyrs and companions, otherwise known as the “North American Martyrs”. These saints include: Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Noel Chabanel, Charles Garnier,
Anthony Daniel, Rene Goupil and John de Lalande, the first six Jesuit priests, the last two Jesuit lay brothers. The Catholic Church in North America was founded through the blood of these martyrs (and others), and I want to concentrate on learning more about their sacrifices for the Faith. What these Jesuit priests and lay brothers endured to spread Christianity is amazing — truly super human, obviously only accomplished through grace and total love of God.
I have always had a particular soft spot for St. Isaac and St. Jean, particularly St. Jean. My parents recently made a trip to Niagara Falls, some old Canadian towns and the two shrines of the martyrs, and this year my sister’s family visited the same sites, since my oldest nephew was taking the name St. Jean for his confirmation saint.
The first place is the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York. Here is the site of the martyrdom of St. Rene Goupil (1642), Jesuit brother: St. Isaac Jogues (1646), Jesuit priest: and St. John Lalande (1646), and also the birthplace of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
The other shrine Martyrs’ Shrine is located in Midland, Ontario, Canada. Sts. John de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Noel Chabanel, Charles Garnier, and Anthony Daniel died near this shrine. Pope John Paul II visited this shrine in 1984, and here is his address he made during that visit.
This morning I was reading from the Magnificat and was struck by the fact that St. Jean de Brebeuf died on my birthday. As my birthday has no feast on the General Roman Calendar, I decided right then that he would be my patron. My mother called me a few hours later and was thinking along the same lines — I have a new patron saint. Not only that, my name is Jennifer, which is a form of Joan and John. For all these years I’ve yearned for a particular saint, even a particular St. John to be named after. But today, my mother decided with me that St. Jean would be my saint from now on!
I have been pondering all day the quote from St. Jean in the Magnificat, particularly:
The Fathers and Brothers whom God shall call to the holy mission of the Hurons ought to exercise careful foresight in regard to all the hardships, annoyances, and perils that must be encountered in making this journey, in order to be prepared for all emergencies that may arise….
This lesson is very easy to understand but very difficult to put into practice. Having left a highly civilized society, we are now in the midst of a barbarous people who care nothing for our philosophical and theological education. All the fine qualities that make us admired and respected in France are like pearls tramples under the feet of swine, or rather, mules, which despise us utterly when they see that we are not such good pack animals as they. If we could go naked and carry on our backs the load that a horse carries, then we would be wise according to their views and would be recognized as great men, otherwise not. Jesus Christ is our true greatness; it is he alone and his crosses that should be sought in ministering to these people. If we seek for anything else, we will find nothing but bodily and spiritual afflictions. But if we have found Jesus Christ in his cross, we have found the roses among the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing.
Written in 1683, I think of our own soft plush society, and how it would be to make this transition. What a sacrifice he made!
In reading some of the short biographies, there were some interesting facts I enjoyed. One, St. Jean suffered ill-health, which meant he couldn’t advance in theological studies, but he was able to undertake this very arduous mission. His work did not thrive — he tried over and over again without gaining one convert. And yet he persevered and kept returning until he did touch some souls. I never pictured him as a large man, but the descriptions say he was big, and heavy. I presume that meant he was stocky — the Indians were a bit hesitant to have him in their canoes because of his largeness. He had great difficulty learning the Huron tongue, but yet when he did, he wrote a catechism in the Huron language and a French-Huron dictionary for the Jesuits.
And he also wrote the verses in Huron for one of our favorite Christmas carols. On this feast day, and also through Christmas, our family loves to sing the gift left by St. Jean de Brebeuf, the carol “‘Twas
in the Moon of Wintertime” or “The Huron Carol”. The melody was a traditional French tune, and Father Jean de Brebeuf used the native Huron language to teach the Nativity story. The melody is so hauntingly beautiful, and the words are so simple and reverent. It has always been one of my favorite carols…and when I found out the origination of the words, I loved it even more. My boys enjoy it just as much, and I find them humming and singing it all through the Christmas season. Last year my son even tried to have his atrium learn and sing this carol, just because he loved it so. The melody is haunting, and the words are simple but very reverent.
To aid singing the carol, we use these picture books: The Huron Carol illustrated by Frances Tyrrell is a picture book retelling the story of
this Christmas carol. The
Huron Carol illustrated by Ian Wallace is another similar book and also a perfect accompaniments for this feast day. My boys can’t pick a favorite, so we always sing from both of the books.
And for those that say history can be written all through sports, here’s a neat tidbit. It has been said that John de Brebeuf named the Indian game “lacrosse” because the stick used reminded him of a bishop‘s crosier (la crosse). And now it is our present-day game lacrosse.
Food to eat:
Huron Indian food: corn, squash, beans, sunflowers, game meat – cornbread
More (gruesome) food would be considering the kind of sufferings the saints endured.
St. Isaac Jogues – some kind of “finger food”, ladyfingers, Catholic Cuisine has a few “finger” recipes.
For All Souls Day there are many recipes for “bone” type foods, sugar skulls. Since part of Father Jean’s skull is a relic on display in Midland, Ontario, a skull would be very appropriate!
Father Jean also died through fire, knives, and his heart was eaten after he died. Heart shaped foods would recall the later part, and foods related to fire or knives (skewered, shishkabobs, etc.) for the former.
Coloring Pages: North American Martyrs
For further reading:
Brebeuf’s Instructions to the Missionaries: List of instructions for Jesuit missionaries to the Hurons, written in 1637.
- You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.
- You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking.
- Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts.
- Try to eat the little food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours.
- Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun.
- Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe.
- Be the least troublesome to the Indians.
- Do not ask many questions; silence is golden.
- Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to appear cheerful.
- Carry with you a half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish.
- Always carry something during the portages.
- Do not be ceremonious with the Indians.
- Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle.
- The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip.
- Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.
Catholic Encyclopedia on Jean de Brebeuf
Patron Saints Index
Catholic Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact
Catholic Educators, Canadian Martyrs, Also known as North American Martyrs
The Jesuit Relations
For Younger Readers:
From the Daughters of St. Paul Encounter the Saints series, there is Saint
Isaac Jogues: With Burning Heart by Christine Virginia Orfeo.
There’s also the Vision Book Saint
Isaac and the Indians by Milton Lomask, about St. Isaac Jogues, a Vision book.
Cross Among the Tomahawks by Milton Lomask, about St. Jean de Brebeuf, former Clarion book, reprinted by Hillside Education.
And for more advanced (adult) readers:
The Jesuit Missionaries to North America: Spiritual Writings and Biographical Sketches by Francois Roustang
The North American Martyrs: Jesuits in the New World by Lillian M. Fisher.
Saint Among the Savages by Francis Talbot, SJ, about St. Isaac Jogues.
Out-of-Print Saint Among the Hurons by Francis Talbot, SJ about St. Jean de Brebeuf.