Archive | October, 2008

Transfiguration- Luke 9:23-36

25 Oct

Transfiguration Icon, OConnor House, Windsor, ON

Transfiguration Icon, O'Connor House, Windsor, ON

There was a certain person who, by loving Me with his whole soul, learned the things of God and inspired many by the wonders of the things he spoke…To some I speak of ordinary things, to others special things; to some I appear in signs and figures, while to others I reveal mysteries in a flood of light…For it is I alone who teach the Truth, Who search the hearts- no thoughts are hidden from Me- I, the Prime Mover of all actions, giving to everyone as I see fit.

– Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, III.43.4

The Apostles Peter, James, and John were privileged witnesses to the Transfiguration of Jesus, an extraordinary revelation of God’s presence, but more importantly this event began with Jesus in prayer. (1) Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel opens with the first attempt at apostolic ministry by the Twelve. Upon their return, Jesus retreated with them to Bethsaida, a small fishing village. (2) After the feeding of five thousand people, as a recurring theme in Luke Jesus is again said to have been “praying in solitude” with his disciples in the background. There, Peter is able to vocalize the revelation he had received from above, that Jesus is “the Messiah of God.” (3)

However, the Twelve grasped only part of the Lord’s message; while the Son of God had indeed come to deliver the world from death, the Son of Man had come into the world as a servant who was to suffer the consequences of our sin only to conquer it. Jesus promises a share in His victory to all who freely partake in His Passion:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (4)

St. Luke is the sole synoptic Gospel writer to emphasize the “daily” commitment to participation in Christ’s suffering that is required of His disciples. (5) While this world values economic success and material accumulation, Jesus warns us that one might possess all the earthly riches possible, yet forfeit the most valuable of all- the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who are unwilling to deny themselves- who are too proud to recognize God’s primacy and supremacy- will be, as Jesus says, “ashamed of [Him] and of [His] words” when the Son of Man, who redeemed us by His Cross, appears “in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (6) Our Lord then concluded His first clear foreshadowing of His Passion and invitation to discipleship- a daily sharing in the Cross- with another prediction that further confounded His already shaken followers:

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God. (7)

With some significant variations, the Gospels of Matthew, of Mark, and of Luke all include this verse. To emphasize the approaching end of time and the divinity of Christ, St. Mark writes of Jesus’ forecast of the coming of the Kingdom “in power” (8), whereas St. Matthew records Jesus’ reference to Himself as “the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom,” (9) suggesting a less eschatological slant in the Matthean Gospel (10) in favour of a greater accent on the extension of the Lord’s reign over the earth through the Church.  Luke is the most ambiguous of the three synoptic Gospel authors in his allusion to God’s Kingdom that occurs between the first prediction of Christ’s Passion and the Transfiguration. Since Luke’s Gospel continues into the Acts of the Apostles, its author probably intended an allusion to Jesus’ institution and sustenance of the early Church, especially considering the time of heightened persecution of Christians during which the third Gospel was likely written. In this respect Luke would have been in closer agreement with Matthew than with Mark. Furthermore, had Luke written his Gospel after A.D. 70, which Scripture scholars Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch admit as a strong possibility, he could have been referring in particular to that year’s sacking of Jerusalem that dispersed the Jews, “[marking] a turning point in salvation history that [signalled] the expiration of the Old Covenant Kingdom and the definitive establishment of the New.” (11) This view is supported by Jesus’ earlier words to the crowds that followed Him from Capernaum: “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I was sent.” (12) On the contrary, Hahn and Mitch provide a cross-reference from Luke 9:22 to the first letter to the Thessalonians, in which St. Paul urges the Christians of Thessalonica to live lives of gratitude, of purity, and of charity, while they pray for the dead and await Christ’s Second Coming with hope:

Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from Heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore console one another with these words. (13)

Paul deals more directly with the Parousia in this and other letters than do any of the Gospel writers.  (14) Matthew ends his Gospel with Jesus’ promise to “be with [us] always, until the end of the age.” (15) This first book of the New Testament Canon most consistently portrays Jesus as “God with us.” (16) In this respect the ‘Emmanuel’ Gospel differs from that of Mark or of Luke. The latter two evangelists tend to be in closer agreement with  each other than with Matthew both in their presentation of Jesus to a largely Gentile audience as a servant who willfully submits to and redeems human suffering and defeats death itself, (17) and in the order of the events in each of the Gospels. (18) Each author’s reasons behind his inclusions or omissions are subject to speculation among scholars. St. John, whose literary style and theological development are radically different from those of the synoptic Gospel writers, implies that questions concerning the meaning of Jesus’ prediction that some disciples would live to experience the end of time ought to be of secondary importance to Our Lord’s call to discipleship. Jesus responds thus to Peter’s inquiry about “the disciple following whom [He] loved”: “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” (19)

Less pointedly, Jesus communicates this same message just prior to the Lucan Transfiguration narrative. In the first twenty-nine verses of Chapter 9, Luke intertwines his identification of Jesus and that of His Apostles. The initial ministry of the Twelve, followed by Jesus’ first prediction of His Passion and by His Transfiguration teach us two core values of discipleship: compassion and patience. Both words derive from  the common Latin root “pati“, which means “to suffer [or] to endure.” (20) Our daily Cross is therefore put before us as the essence of discipleship, just as Jesus’ death is the precondition for our salvation.

Patience is a notably difficult virtue to practice contemporarily. We are bombarded by brief technological sound bytes and increasingly respond to a constant drive toward individual achievement. As a result, patience and the ability to engage in conversation, whether among people or with God, becomes diminished. Yet the Transfiguration is all about patience, conversation, and prayer. St. Luke most clearly emphasizes that Jesus “went up the mountain to pray,” and that He was transfigured while in the very act of prayer. (21) Nowhere does the Lucan account of the Transfiguration involve a monologue; Jesus is always in communion and in conversation with the other figures who are present.

Only Peter, John, and James were chosen from the larger crowd of disciples to climb the mountain, the usual place of prayer in Luke. (22) These three Apostles watched the Transfiguration, which showed the intimacy of the Trinity in prayer. They also exclusively saw the appearance of Moses and Elijah alongside Jesus. Questions might arise, then, as to God’s justice in singling out these three men while leaving the majority of jesus’ disciples in the valley below to grapple with the gloom of His pre-announced death. God, at times, confounds all human notions of justice. In addition, according to Luke “about eight days” pass between the first prediction of Jesus’ Passion (23), so conceivably, as they were invited up the mountain to pray, even James, John and Peter had been confused and saddened by the prospect of their Master dying at the hands of “the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.” (24) After witnessing such a foretaste of Jesus’ victory over death as the Transfiguration, one would expect the three most prominent Apostles to have an increased understanding of the purpose of Christ’s ministry but as they descended the mountain  they were unable to speak of the events above, and their comprehension of their mission and of that of Jesus was as uncertain as before they had seen Our Lord transfigured. (25) The Apostles, like us, would come to see the justice of God only in the context of His mercy in Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection in which we are also called to participate.

Besides the analysis of God’s justice in the announcement of Jesus’ forthcoming death to all followed by the selection of only three men to observe the Transfiguration, the section between the first Passion  prediction and the ascent of the mountain abounds in symbolism, especially in references to other passages in the Bible. For example, the Lucan inclusion of a timeline in which these events took place- “about eight days” (26)- is generally accepted as foreshadowing of the period between the Passover subsequent to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and His Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead on the day after the first Sabbath following the Passover. (27) While this is the most accepted explanation for the approximately eight-day lapse prior to the Transfiguration, there may also be a connection to the octave between the birth of a male child and his presentation to a priest to signal the completion of the mother’s purification under Jewish law. (28) Pertinently, Matthew and Mark differ from Luke on the number of days- six in the first two Gospels, which recalls the six days in which God created the world, as per Genesis (29)- and on the exactitude of the interval between the first mention of the Passion and the Transfiguration. (30) Although St. Luke frequently  refers to Jewish customs and history, his accomodation of mainly Gentile readership enables him to be more ambiguous than St. Mark and especially St. Matthew about dates and timelines. Nevertheless, all three synoptic Gospel writers agree on the presence of Peter, James, and John where Jesus was transfigured. (31) St. Hilary argues that Jesus’ choice of only three Apostles to accompany Him on the mountain is an allegorical comparison to the three sons of Noah- Shem, Ham, and Japheth- from whom the human race decended after the flood. Likewise, Peter, James, and John were to be witnesses to the spread of the Christian faith; they were to bring Christ, the salvation of humankind, to the world. (32) If, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our Christian initiation that echoes Jesus’ Baptism is “the mystery of the first regeneration,” then “the Transfiguration is ‘the sacrament of the second regeneration’: our own Resurrection.” (33)

From now on we share in the Lord’s Resurrection through the Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the Body of Christ. (34)

In the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, the Body of Christ- the Church- celebrates her unity but recognizes the divisions that do exist, most sadly between the many denominations of baptized Christians. While we hope for an end to this disunity, there is also discord between fellow Catholics that must be overcome if the Church is to become an even greater example of the transfigured and risen Christ to the world. In the Eucharistic Prayer during Mass, the priest repeats Jesus’ words of consecration, drawn from the Gospels of Matthew and of Mark:

…Take this all of you and drink from it: This is the cup of My blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of Me. (35)

Luke’s mention of only three Apostles in his Transfiguration account is perhaps emblematic of similar tensions between the “you” and the “all”, or, in the diction of the Gospels, the “all” and the “many” (36), that have persisted since the time of the early Church. Dominican Friar Timothy Radcliffe proposes a solution to this problem. “With some hesitation,” Radcliffe categorizes the Church’s members as either “Kingdom Catholics” or “Communion Catholics”, grouped according to the two periodicals that attempted to explain “the agenda of the [second Vatican] Council.” (37) Radcliffe writes:

Some Catholics see our Church as primarily the People of God on pilgrimage toward the Kingdom. Others see us as primarily members of the institution of the Church, the communion of believers. Most of us find ourselves to some extent in both models but tend more toward one or [the] other understanding of the Church… As Roman Catholics, we need both sorts of identity, and… the tension between them is fruitful and dynamic.

…First of all we must look at the nature of this polarization, [which] is usually seen in terms of the division between the left and the right, between liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists. This is only partially accurate. Western society, and increasingly the whole globe, is deeply marked by this polarity and because we are members of that society then it colours the way that Christians see divisions within the Church… But this sort of dichotomy is also deeply contrary to our faith, and we are called to transcend it. (38)

St. Luke declares that the Transfiguration began with prayer. The three Apostles then saw Jesus’ face “changed in appearance [while] His clothes became a dazzling white,” (39) but they understood poorly that this extraordinary manifestation of God was also a call for their conversion; the future leaders of the Church would eventually learn to transcend worldly divisions in the interest of true evangelism. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke uses the same Greek root to describe the light that blinded Saul on the road to Damascus as the word employed to characterize Jesus’ clothes after the Transfiguration. (40) Despite his impulsiveness, Peter captures perhaps the most significant message of the Transfiguration: “Master, it is good that we are here.” (41)

Two points are evident from Peter’s words. Firstly, he comprehended in part the glorious event that he saw, which foretold the everlasting glory that would come after Jesus had accomplished his “exodus” in Jerusalem. (42) Secondly, Peter, like the other Apostles, presumably had a thorough knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures. St. Peter suggested that three tents be constructed, one each for Jesus, for Moses, and for Elijah. Luke then comments that Peter “did not know what he was saying.” (43) In a sense, the Transfiguration was, as Peter thought, a time of celebration, but he did not want the joy of the occasion to end. Thus, Peter ignored the purpose of the conversation between  Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, that Jesus’ route to triumph had to pass through His death in Jerusalem. (44) He recalled the Feast of the Tabernacles, hence his reference to the tents- in Greek “σκηνάς”, transliterated as “skenas”- that are written about in the Pentateuch. (45) In fact, three feasts are mentioned in the same chapter of Deuteronomy: the Passover, evoked by Jesus’ coming “exodus” in Jerusalem, the Feast of Weeks, which is similar to the Christian celebration of Pentecost fifty days after Easter, and the Feast of the Booths or Tabernacles. (46)

Other than his connection between the Transfiguration of Christ and the great Jewish feasts of the Old Testament, St. Luke makes two more Trinitarian references in this narrative. The first is the presence of the three Apostle Peter, James, and John, and the second, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is in the voice of the Father, in the human person of Jesus the Son, and in the cloud that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. (47) Elsewhere, St. Luke’s use of people and of numbers is connected to an important message. For example, Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, therefore He is the One who hears and fulfills both the law, symbolized by Moses, and the prophets, whose representative is Elijah. (48) Moreover , these “two men”, according to Fred Craddock, “[tie] the story to both the Resurrection and the Ascension,” (49) or to compare the aforementioned argument of St. Thomas Aquinas to that of St. Basil the Great, Moses and Elijah could signify the Resurrection and the second coming of Jesus Christ in glory. (50)

Much scholarship and still more speculation abound when considering a Biblical passage as pivotal as the Transfiguration. St. Luke writes that “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw His glory.” (51) Thus the glory of God is attributed to Jesus, and His Godhead is affirmed by the Father: “This is My chosen Son, listen to Him.” (52) Even as the Apostles heard the voice of the Father,  they remained fearful as the cloud came over them. Peter, James, and John would be speechless about what they had seen until after the Resurrection, and some fear would linger until Jesus’ Ascension.  (53) St. Augustine comments thus on Peter’s reluctance to suffer in his service of the Lord:

Peter did not understand this when he wanted to remain with Christ on the mountain. It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says, “Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the Way goes down to be exhausted on His journey; the Spring goes down to suffer thirst, and you refuse to suffer? (54)

St. Augustine’s question applies as much to Peter as to James, to John, to the other Apostles, and to all who wish to be counted as Jesus’ friends. God’s glory will be revealed to those who serve and to those who suffer. Some will accomplish greater works than others, or will suffer more than others, but Heaven is promised to all who love and who believe in Christ. Therefore we, like the three Apostles, fall silent in awe of God, and descend the mountain to continue our journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem. (55) While the path lies in a “valley of tears,” (56) it is also a fertile land where we are called to serve God and humankind lovingly and faithfully. (57) We pray in the words of the Byzantine liturgy for the Feast of the Transfiguration:

You were transfigured on the mountain, and Your disciples, as much as they were capable of it, beheld Your glory, O Christ our God, so that when they saw You crucified they would understand that Your Passion was voluntary, and proclaim to the world that You truly are the splendor of the Father. (58)

Lord God, You revealed the luminous glory of Your Son to Peter, James, and John as they prayed on the mountain. Strengthen us in faith in times of suffering and in times of joy. May You then welcome us according to Your will from our earthly lives into the everlasting contemplation of Your glorious presence in Heaven. Amen.


Canadian Martyrs Part 3- Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

7 Oct

‘Huron Carol’ is performed and arranged by Heather Dale — (from her CD “This Endris Night”). Used with permission.

News of gruesome deaths of Jesuits in Canada failed to deter still more priests and donnés alike from recognizing Jesus’ summons to apostleship: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (110) Noël Chabanel and Gabriel Lalemant were the last two of the Canadian martyrs to answer this calling. Their path to Heaven passed through Ste.-Marie among the Hurons, overcoming daily crosses both large and small.

Encouraged by the prospect of serving with the likes of Jean de Brébeuf, Antoine Daniel, and Charles Garnier, rhetoric instructor Noël Chabanel, born in Saugues near Marseille, left the classroom for the wilderness of Huronia. Fr. Brébeuf was Chabanel’s first mentor upon his arrival in Québec on August 15, 1643. (111) Eighteen years after his first sight of New France, Brébeuf was back in Québec recovering from a broken collarbone when the ship carrying Noël Chabanel with fellow Jesuit Fathers Gabriel Druillet and Léonard Garreau docked after three months at sea.

Chabanel had been presumptuously advertised by French Jesuits as “very apt for the [Huron] language.” (112) On the contrary, Chabanel struggled in his linguistic training both in Québec and then during his first two years at Ste.-Marie. He was also repulsed by various Huron customs. (113) Brébeuf’s patient and wise teaching would thus prove exemplary. The elder Jesuit was a friend of French and Huron alike. Brébeuf had composed a hymn, to be known as the “Huron Carol”, combining Huron images of nature with the story of Christ’s Nativity. He also listed recommendations for other Jesuits who were to travel between Huronia and Québec with the Natives:

You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers… Try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours… Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe… Do not ask questions. Silence is golden. Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to be and to appear cheerful… (114)

Jean de Brébeuf’s influence was pivotal in Chabanel’s decision to remain in the Huron missions, even while his linguistic and cultural hardships had him contemplating his return to France. Noël Chabanel relocated to Immaculate Conception Mission at Ossossane where, from 1646 to 1647, he was under the direction of Fr. Pierre Chastelain. (115) There, Chabanel met Fr. Charles Garnier in the latter’s journey toward Petun country, and took final vows before Fr. Paul Ragueneau. His greatest vow, though unofficial, was that of stability in Huronia, made on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 20, 1647:

My Lord, Jesus Christ, who by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to co-operate with the designs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversions of these Hurons to the Faith; I, Noël Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron mission, it being understood that all of this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray then, O Lord, that you will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that you will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen. (116)

Chabanel was recalled to Ste.-Marie after only a year at Ossossane, as Jean de Brébeuf had specifically requested the assistance of Chabanel with a growing population of Hurons who were fleeing constant Iroquois destruction of their villages. Ste.-Marie became too small for  this sudden migration of Hurons, therefore Chabanel, Chastelain, and Brébeuf also looked after nearby St. Ignace II. (117) Chabanel’s stay at St. Ignace was also short; Charles Garnier called for help with the remaining Petuns in St. Jean, whose morale was undercut by continued Iroquois attacks. (118) The uneasy peace secured in Montréal two years prior was effectively broken. Teanaostiae, or St. Joseph I, and Ste.-Marie, the largest and most strategic targets in Huronia, lay directly in the path of the Iroquois fury.

The Jesuits ended their annual retreat at Ste.-Marie on July 1, 1648. Fr. Antoine Daniel insisted upon his immediate return to Teanaostiae. (119) Three days later, Fr. Daniel began to celebrate Mass as “the war cries of [advancing] Iroquois were heard.” (120) He proceeded with the Mass, which included numerous baptisms. Daniel feared for the infants and for the sick and dying Hurons, who would be unable to escape the approaching violence. He ordered all able-bodied Hurons to flee, then went forth from the chapel to meet the Iroquois warriors, who shot Fr. Antoine Daniel with arrows and then with a musket.  (121) “He fell and died calling upon the name of Jesus.” (122) The chapel was set aflame along with all of Teanaostiae. Pagan Iroquois offered the body of Antoine Daniel in sacrifice, throwing it into the burning church. The attention paid to Fr. Daniel’s corpse by the warriors, though, allowed most of the Huron villagers of Teanaostiae to escape the carnage for Ste.-Marie or for Christian Island. (123)

Teanaostiae’s fall did not stop willing Jesuits from applying for service in Huronia. One of the last blackrobes to be sent to the Huron missions was Fr. Gabriel Lalemant, the nephew of Charles and of Jérôme. Gabriel was reputed to be physically weak, and despite his famous family heritage, he nearly was not  even permitted to sail from France to Québec. Francesco-Giuseppe Bressani, another veteran of Huronia, “referred to [Lalemant] as a man of extremely frail constitution.” (124) However, Gabriel Lalemant’s dedication overrode his lack of physical strength; he ministered in Québec and learned both the Algonkin and Huron tongues within two years. (125)

Jérôme Lalemant finally agreed to send his nephew to Ossossane for further study of the Huron language under Fr. Chaumonot. (126) To protect against the capture of Jesuits or of their Huron allies, Jérôme Lalemant organized a massive convoy of sixty canoes, two hundred fifty Hurons, and twenty-six Frenchmen, including an armed escort of twelve soldiers, and five priests: Bressani, Bonin, Daran, Greslon, and Gabriel Lalemant. These arrived in Ossossane in late August, 1648. (127)

Facing the prospect of more intense violence from the Iroquois, Jean de Brébeuf appealed to have Fr. Gabriel Lalemant sent to him at St. Ignace. Seven hundred Hurons had been killed since the sacking of Teanaostiae; Ste.-Marie and four neighbouring villages including St. Ignace and St. Louis had been transformed into refugee camps for survivors. (128) Neither these communities nor those of the Petun Nation were safe, therefore Fr. Noël Chabanel had been called to St. Jean to serve alongside Fathers Garnier and Garreau. (129)

Within one month of Fr. Lalemant’s move to St. Ignace, 1 200 Iroquois warriors overwhelmed that village’s Huron sentinels:

Early in the morning of March 16, 1649, as the light of day was breaking, they found the one weak and unprotected spot in the palisaded village and swiftly broke in an overran [it]. Five hundred Hurons, mostly older people, women, and children, were quickly subdued. Some were killed instantly, but most were taken prisoner. Only three managed to escape to warn St. Louis of this disaster and of what was to come. It was a death blow to an already staggering Huronia. (130)

Fathers Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were both captured during the third attack on St. Ignace. They were fastened to stakes, scalped, mutilated, and burned with hatchets, firebrands, and scalding water- a “mock baptism” devised for the occasion by the Iroquois. (131) Yet the two blackrobes endured for a full day and more. Brébeuf died in the afternoon of March 16, 1649. (132) Like his confrère, Lalemant suffered silently. The one considered to be so frail clung to life overnight; his captors left him at sunset, hoping for him to survive until morning, when they could make of him a holocaust to their awakening sun god.  (133) A hatchet blow finished Fr. Gabriel Lalemant about fourteen hours after the death of Fr. Jean de Brébeuf. The latter’s courage was so renowned that the Iroquois who killed him consumed his heart to receive a portion of his fortitude. (134) As he expired, Fr. Brébeuf taught the Huron captives of St. Ignace:

My children… let us lift our eyes to Heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be our [exceedingly] great reward. Let us die in this faith, and let us hope from His goodness [for] the fulfillment of His promises. I have more pity for you than for myself, but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives. The glory [that] follows them will never have an end.

‘Echon’, these said to him, ‘our spirits will be in Heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that He may show us mercy. We will invoke Him even unto death.’ (135)

Thus Echon, the Healing tree, was felled along with Fr. Gabriel Lalemant. Alarm spread across the Jesuit communities of New France. Jérôme Lalemant subsequently ordered Ste.-Marie to be abandoned and to be deliberately destroyed, and a new and safer village to be built on Christian Island. (136) Noël Chabanel, still mourning the death of his friends Brébeuf, Lalemant, and Daniel, was to lead the remaining Hurons northward. He left St. Jean on December 5, 1649. (137) Two days later, Fr. Charles Garnier, the only Jesuit left in St. Jean, was martyred as the village burned around him. Two bullets struck Garnier, who, staggering to his knees and fighting for his last breath, baptized a dying Petun and then rendered himself unto God. (138)

Noël Chabanel and his group of escapees from St. Jean were not far into their journey when the distant cries of Iroquois were heard. Most of the Hurons fled, although Louis Honareenhax remained with the main group of refugees. Fr. Chabanel’s last days were shrouded in mystery for the next year. In 1650, Fr. Paul Ragueneau, the newly-elected Jesuit Superior of New France, released that year’s Relation that included Honareenhax’s account of Chabanel’s last act of charity. Chabanel and a few Hurons had been stopped near the broken ice of the Nottawasaga River on a bitterly cold winter night. Noël Chabanel gave his coat to a freezing Huron, and then he was never seen again. (139)

Part of this story may have been true, but Fr. Ragueneau distrusted Louis Honareenhax, a well-known apostate Huron. Honareenhax, Fr. Ragueneau revealed later, “had publicly confessed and even bragged that he had killed Father Noël with a hatchet blow and thrown his body [into] the half-frozen Nottawasaga River…” (140) Fr. Noël Chabanel had been martyred on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1649. (141)

Pope Pius XI canonized the eight Canadian Martyrs, Fathers Isaac Jogues, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, and Noël Chabanel, and donnés René Goupil and Jean de la Lande, together on June 29, 1930.  (142) Their story is one of charity and of diversity, from the brilliant teachers Brébeuf and Jogues to Goupil, the former medical student and patron Saint of anaesthetists, and to Noël Chabanel, “the silent hero of the hard trail, patron of misfits…, of the lonely , disappointed, and abandoned.” (143) Despite the bleak outlook for the Jesuit missions in New France after the dismantling of Ste.-Marie, the work of the black robes began to bear fruit soon thereafter. At Ossernenon, where Saints Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, and Jean de la Lande had been tortured and killed, Tegakouita, who took the baptismal name Kateri, derived from Catherine, was born in 1656. In 1980, Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, became the first North American Indian ever beatified. (144)

The Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians was written to encourage the early Church, but its words, read on the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs, are timeless: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”  (145) The Catholic Church in North America did not die with the eight Jesuits, but instead it thrived on their example. However, some were still deeply shaken long after the loss of the great missionaries. In 1666, Jesuit Father Claude Allouez roamed the “desolate wilderness north of Lake Superior,” (146) possibly looking for Hurons dispersed into the barrens during the desperate flight of 1649. Isolated Natives had been found by explorers of the region in previous years. A lone Fr. Allouez came upon a group of Petuns there, many of whom had tears in their eyes. They explained that they were mourning the death of Father Charles Garnier, martyred in St. Jean eighteen years earlier. (147)

Our Lord promises everlasting consolation to those who give their lives for love of Him and of their neighbour:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (148)

† Priez pour nous

Pray for us †


Canadian Martyrs Part 2- No Reward but Paradise

3 Oct

Hope dawned brightly over Huronia as the Jesuit missions gained stability. Ste.-Marie, the hub of the missionary efforts in New France, had been established in 1639, (53) and the evangelism of the likes of Fathers Jean de Brébeuf, Antoine Daniel, and Charles Garnier had begun to bear fruit. With the Hurons still reeling from disease, drought, and supply shortages caused by Iroquois blockades along the St. Lawrence River, Isaac Jogues, a priest three years ordained, was sent to them. Like Fathers Brébeuf and Daniel, Jogues, born in Orléans, had been a novice in Rouen under the famous novice master Louis Lalemant. Father Jogues arrived in Québec on July 2, 1636, accompanied by Fr. du Marche.  (54) He was reputed for his quiet strength. His friend and fellow Jesuit in France, Fr. Jacques Buteaux, said of Jogues, “he was loved by ours as being most gentle and as being very observant of our way of life.” (55)

Isaac Jogues joined the late-summer leg of a Huron trade convoy from Québec, arriving in Ihonahitria on September 11, 1636. There, the young Jesuit was trained by his more experienced confrères in missionary work, Fathers Brébeuf and le Mercier. (56) Intelligent and receptive to instruction, Jogues was appointed to oversee construction of the new mission settlement of Ste.-Marie among the Hurons along with Jérôme Lalemant, the new Jesuit Superior in Huronia. Meanwhile, he had also worked alongside the influential Charles Garnier in the Tobacco Nation, where the blackrobes’ efforts nearly ended in disaster. Jérôme Lalemant wrote, “These missionaries see themselves the abomination of those whose salvation they seek, at the peril of their own lives.” (57) Jogues’ labours with Garnier were short-lived; he was asked to investigate the possibility of expansion of the missions to the Sault Nation. Jogues and Fr. Charles Raymbaut reached the link between Lakes Huron and Superior, current site of Sault Ste.-Marie, after seventeen days of canoeing. They were welcomed by a new people estimated at 2 000 individuals. (58)

Cold weather and illness that threatened Fr. Raymbaut’s life forced the early return of the two priests to Ste.-Marie in November, 1641. (59) Jean de Brébeuf had left Huronia for Québec during the same year; he was to direct the flow of supplies from there to the missions until 1644, therefore Isaac Jogues traveled with Raymbaut in the summer of 1642 to Québec, where Fr. Raymbaut was able to receive medical attention.  (60) The ever-present dangers of this journey became most acute in the early 1640s; both Huron and French supplies were intercepted more often than in previous years, and men in the canoes risked being kidnapped by Iroquois who waited along the banks of major rivers.

Jogues’ endeavour to bring a sick confrère back to Québec was exceedingly risky, yet both Fathers Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbaut arrived, surprisingly without incident, in Québec on August 1, 1642, after six weeks of daily dawn-to-dusk canoeing. (61) There, fewer Hurons were disembarking to trade. The desperate Jogues-Raymbaut expedition highlighted the need for medicines and medical expertise to be sent into Huron villages along with food and clothing. René Goupil, a Jesuit donné who, due to deafness, had been unable to take vows in the Order but had studied medicine prior to entering the novitiate, was chosen to fill this role. (62)

The Jesuit donnés played an important part in the history of the Huron missions. Donnés- literally ‘given’ assistants- were initially employed by the Jesuits in the Order’s Province of Champagne. (63) They were laymen who vowed devotion to the Society of Jesus for six months at a time; “the commitment would be accepted on behalf of the Society, [which] would… provide for the donné’s needs until death.” (64) Most donnés were exemplary Christians. Fr. Charles Garnier characterized them thus: “Many blessings [accrue] to the Mission because of them… laymen in dress, religious in heart.” (65) Jérôme Lalemant favoured the construction of Ste.-Marie, the anchor of the missionary effort in New France, and the staffing of the new settlement with donnés as domestic workers.

Thirty-three donnés worked at Ste.-Marie during its ten-year existence. Of these, “six or seven” wished to make their vows permanent, instead of for only half a year between renewals.  (66) This modification was refused by the General of the Jesuits in Rome, Fr. Vitteleschi, but the Jesuit priests of New France recognized the essential contribution of the donnés to Huronia. A formal appeal was made to Vitteleschi by six of the Order’s priests, Jérôme Lalemant, Pijart, le Mercier, Garnier, Ragueneau, and Chastelain, to keep and to expand the employment of donnés in New France. Vitteleschi responded favourably to their request on December 25, 1644, on the conditions that the donnés not receive a salary, were not bound by vows, and that their necessities were to be provided for by the entire Society of Jesus. (67)

René Goupil was a unique donné because of his education in medicine. He practiced surgery in addition to the manual labour assigned to him at Saint-Joseph-de-Sillery, near Québec. (68) Fr. Barthélemy Vimont, the third Jesuit Superior in New France, succeeding Fr. Paul le Jeune, allowed Goupil to join Isaac Jogues, who had safely ferried a deathly ill Charles Raymbaut from Huronia to an infirmary in Québec, on his return to Ste.-Marie. (69)

Twelve heavily-loaded canoes, about forty Hurons, Fr. Jogues, and two donnés, René Goupil and Guillaume Couture, departed from Trois-Rivières on August 1, 1642, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  (70) Concurrently in Québec, Huron chiefs had received a pledge of protection from the French against their Iroquois enemies. (71) French assurances mattered little; on the first evening of the trip tracks were seen leading away from the St. Lawrence River at the entrance to Lac Saint-Pierre near modern Sorel. (72) In a likely attempt to facilitate the spotting of Iroquois sentries along the riverbank, a delayed start was ordered on the second day. However, the convoy was ambushed by a party of Iroquois warriors led by five chiefs. René Goupil was captured immedately. The more savvy Isaac Jogues hid himself in dense forest. Guillaume Couture shot and killed one Iroquois chief but was seized by the other four. Jogues then surrendered himself in order to remain with his two donnés. Some of the Hurons scattered while most were taken prisoner. (73)

Couture was made to lead the brutal procession southward into Iroquois territory, in revenge for the death of the Iroquois chief. (74) The severe suffering that befell Fr. Jogues, Couture, and Goupil during that macabre march to the Iroquois village, Ossernenon, was thoroughly recorded by Isaac Jogues himself, in a biographical letter to Jérôme Lalemant in May, 1646:

Upon our arrival in the first village where we were treated with so much cruelty, [Goupil] demonstrated a patience and a gentleness simply extraordinary. Having fallen under a hailstorm of blows heaped upon us with clubs and iron rods and not being able to get up he was carried half-dead to the scaffold where we had been placed in the middle of a village. But he was in such a piteous state that he would have moved even cruelty itself to compassion. His body was livid with bruises so that one could see in his face only the [whites] of his eyes. Yet, for all that, he appeared more beautiful in the eyes of the angels as he was more disfigured and like Him of whom it is said, ‘We gazed upon Him as a leper… There was in Him neither comeliness nor beauty.’ (75)

This grisly scene was repeated in each of three villages on the path to Ossernenon. The missionaries’ fingers were broken and their fingernails burned or torn. Isaac Jogues’ left thumb was amputated with a shell or sharp stone, but the priest whose quiet fortitude had earned him the Huron name ‘Ondessonk’, or ‘Bird of prey’ (76), rejoiced that he was still able to write to his confrères using his right hand. (77) “Patience”, Jogues wrote, “was our physician.” (78)

Iroquois land followed the Hudson River valley. In the mid-seventeenth century, this territory bordered the Dutch-claimed New Amsterdam where the Hudson met the Atlantic Ocean. Both the Dutch and the Mohawk Iroquois, a federation of several clans, some favouring war and others more pacific, were divided over relations with their traditional enemies, the Catholic Hurons and the French. (79) Dutch diplomacy helped to save the lives of all but three Hurons and of the French captives at Ossernenon, though the Mohawks “refused to surrender Jogues, Goupil, and Couture.” (80) While New Amsterdam bribed the Iroquois with gifts should they have freed the three Jesuits, some Mohawks were made suspicious of Catholic rituals practiced by the French because of anti-Catholic accusations by the Dutch. Mohawk perceptions that the Jesuits brought evil spirits and natural disasters upon them through these foreign signs were therefore reportedly fueled by Dutch Protestants whose animosity toward the French Catholics had carried over from wars in Europe. (81)

On September 29, 1642, Isaac Jogues and René Goupil ventured outside Ossernenon’s fortifications to converse between themselves and to enjoy the silence not readily found inside the town.  (82) Earlier in that day, Goupil had left his cabin, where both he and Jogues were living with an Iroquois family. The elder of the household distrusted the French, and became enraged when Goupil made the sign of the Cross over a child’s head in blessing. A war party was ordered to find and to kill Goupil. (83) During their conversation and Rosary recitation outside of Ossernenon, Jogues warned Goupil of the impending threat against them. Upon their return to the village’s entrance, they were interrupted by a group of Iroquois speaking to them. One Mohawk unsheathed a hatchet and struck Goupil, who by Jogues’ account “fell face down on the ground, uttering the Holy Name of Jesus- often we had encouraged each other to conclude our speech and our life with this Holy Name.” (84)

At the blow, I turned and saw the bloodied hatchet and I knelt fully expecting a similar blow [that] would link me with my dear companion. But, since they held back, I got up and ran to the dying René who was quite near and whom they had struck twice more on the head to finish him off- but not before I had given him absolution which in our captivity I had been giving him regularly after his confession every other day. It was on the Feast of St. Michael that this angel of innocence and martyr of Jesus Christ gave his life for Him who had given him His. (85)

Fr. Isaac Jogues survived the attack on Goupil and worked as a slave to the Iroquois for another year thereafter. (86) He had attempted unsuccessfully to bury Goupil the morning after his death,  hastily weighing down the body under water to avoid capture. By the time Jogues returned with a spade from a neighbouring cabin the next day, the body had been dragged into the forest by Mohawk youth. Jogues found and then buried Goupil, whose body had been scavenged by wildlife, following snow melt the next spring. (87)

A Mohawk fishing expedition on the Hudson River began in August, 1643. (88) Passing through a Dutch village to trade, Jogues met the town’s commander, Arendt von Corlaer, who urged him to escape from the Iroquois. Von Corlaer offered Jogues shelter overnight, and Jogues prayed over his decision until dawn. Treatment of French and Huron captives at Ossernenon had improved, and Iroquois had become more open to baptism, if only on their deathbeds, and to the presence of the Jesuits. Jogues thus accepted the Dutch offer; he was hidden in a canoe while irate Mohawks searched for him. His captors turned up river as Jogues prepared to surrender himself. (89) The Dutch then set out for New Amsterdam, where Jogues enjoyed “excellent hospitality” until he boarded a Dutch ship bound for the Huguenot city of La Rochelle, France, where Jogues arrived on December 25, 1643. (90) The heart-rending account of Fr. Jogues’ brief stay in France began, according to biographer Angus MacDougall, with the Jesuit’s encounter with a merchant who brought him to Rennes.

[Jogues] presented himself at the Jesuit residence [in Rennes], asking to see the Rector. As [one] might expect, the porter, at that early hour, rather put off by his miserable and strange appearance, demurred a great deal, until finally Jogues appealed to him to say to the Rector that a poor man from Canada was asking to see him. The porter thought it wise to deliver this message. The Rector, who was vested to say Mass, came at once to see this poor person, believing him to be someone in dire need.

The Rector welcomed the stranger with kindness and… plied him with questions about the New World and about various Jesuits there. Finally, he asked him about Father Isaac Jogues; there had been some dreadful rumours. Was he alive, or had he been put to death?… Jogues quietly answered, ‘He is at liberty, and it is he, Reverend Father, who speaks to you.’ (91)

Tales of a “living martyr” (92) spread in France even while Isaac Jogues rested at the Jesuit rectory in Rennes, but the valiant blackrobe insisted upon his return to Canada despite crippled hands that made holding the host  for Consecration during the Mass impossible. Jogues applied to Pope Urban VIII for an indult to be able to celebrate Mass and to be recommissioned to New France. The Pope granted Jogues’ request without delay: “Indignum esset Christi martyrem Christi non bibere sanguinem– It is not proper that a martyr for Christ should not be able to offer Christ’s blood.” (93)

Father Isaac Jogues set foot in Québec once again in June, 1644. He was welcomed by his Jesuit brothers there, the majority of whom had believed that he was dead. For the next two years, Jogues ministered to settlers in Montréal and build constructive relations with both Iroquois and Hurons who passed through the colony. (94) Jogues lived and had nearly died for the Gospel Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (95) Peace between the French and Iroquois was within reach, so Jogues was sent to Ossernenon to secure an agreement with the Natives there. Negotiations were productive but brief; Isaac Jogues left Québec in May, 1646, and returned in July. (96) By September of the same year, skirmishes and Iroquois blockades of river routes and raids of French and of Huron settlements had resumed. Fr. Jogues did not hesitate when he was chosen for a second peace expedition, though he knew his life was at risk. He ended his letter to another Jesuit with this prediction, “If I am the one to be sent on this mission, I shall go but I shall not return… Farewell, dear Father. Pray that God [will] unite me to Himself inseparably.”  (97) The peace voyage led by Isaac Jogues departed Québec on September 24, 1646. “Two or three Hurons…, a Huron Iroquois,” and another donné, Jean de la Lande, accompanied Jogues, but only one Huron continued past Trois-Rivières. (98)

Little is known about the young layman from Dieppe, Jean de la Lande. This nondescript donné was not of the nobility as was Charles Garnier. Jean de Brébeuf was a skilled linguist, and Noël Chabanel, stationed at Ste.-Marie along with Brébeuf as of 1644, had been a celebrated professor of rhetoric in Toulouse. (99) Jean de la Lande, whose birthdate is uncertain, was the unsung hero of the eight Canadian martyrs. Similarly, few details exist other than in the Jesuit Relations about the deaths of Jean de la Lande and of Isaac Jogues. While peace initiatives brokered by Fr. Isaac Jogues were encouraging from a French perspective, the treaty of 1646 left the Iroquois divided. Most of the Mohawks who negotiated with the French and Hurons for the preceding two years were members of the Turtle and Wolf Clans, while the most extreme members of the Bear Clan favoured the eradication of the Hurons and continued to pillage French trading posts. (100)

In the decade following Samuel de Champlain’s death and succession by Charles de Montmagny as the first official Governor of New France, (101) the colony had become better organized politically and militarily, but only a few hundred French settlers lived in an immense territory that extended from Québec to the Ohio River and from Cape Breton to Lake Winnipeg. (102) Administration and communication were agonizingly slow. Governor de Montmagny relied heavily upon the Jesuit Relations and letters to inform himself about events, particularly  those concerning the Indians, in New France. As the Jesuits involved themselves in peace talks with the Iroquois, the Dutch of New Amsterdam watched with heightened interest; subdued Mohawks meant security for the Dutch also.

Two reliable accounts of Isaac Jogues’ and of Jean de la Lande’s last days are known. A document delivered directly to de Montmagny from an Iroquois returning to Québec and dated June 4, 1647, was corroborated by an official letter sent seven months earlier from the Governor of New Amsterdam, Wilhelm Kieft, that also reached de Montmagny in June, 1647. In addition to detailing the deaths of Jogues and of de la Lande, Kieft’s letter “fixed the blame squarely on the Bear Clan and exonerated the Turtle and Wolf Clans of all responsibility” for the murders of the two Jesuits.  (103) Jérôme Lalemant’s Relation of the following year included testimony of an Algonkin chief who had “tried in vain to save the lives of both Jogues and de la Lande” after their capture near Trois-Rivières. (104) As during the captivity of Jogues and of René Goupil, the priest and ambassador of peace was marched through several Mohawk villages, enduring excruciating torture. However, in this repetition of the horrors of four years prior, Fr. isaac Jogues did not escape the angry mobs of the Bear Clan at Ossernenon. He was tomahawked to death on October 18, 1646. Jean de la Lande, “hoping for no reward but Paradise,” received the martyr’s crown on either the same day or the next day. (105)

Jesuit donnés continued to work in New France until 1727. (106) Their virtues were extolled in the Order’s Relations and in letters. Fathers Paul le Jeune, Jean de Brébeuf, Jérôme Lalemant, and Paul Ragueneau, fourth Jesuit Superior of New France, articulated the significance of the presence of these lay assistants in the Huron missions. (107) Paul le Jeune wrote, “Our Indians speak of [the donnés] with admiration… When they see persons who do not wear our costume, practicing so exactly what we teach, they place a higher value on our faith; this may some day be a motive for them to embrace it.” (108) Paul Ragueneau thus characterized the donnés:

They assist us by their labour and industry, with a courage, a faithfulness, and a holiness that assuredly are not of earth. Consequently they look to God alone for their reward, deeming themselves only too happy to pour forth not only their sweat, but, if need be, all their blood to contribute as much as they can toward the conversion of the Indians. (109)

To be continued…


Canadian Martyrs Part 1- A Holy and Sacred Temple

1 Oct

Assumption Church, Windsor

Canadian Martyrs, Assumption Church, Windsor, ON, Canada

One of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one who knows.’ Then the elder said to me, ‘These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

‘For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship Him day and night within His temple, and the One who is seated on the throne will shelter them.’ (1)

Between 1642 and 1649, eight members of the Society of Jesus were martyred while serving in the missions to the Native peoples of New France. The aftermath of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation had plunged western Europe into chaos. In France, eight Wars of Religion involving Catholics and Calvinist Huguenots were fought over a thirty-six year span before the Edict of Nantes was proclaimed in 1598, extending Huguenot rights while solidifying Catholicism’s position as the official French state religion. (2) These conflicts reached their bloody zenith in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres of August to October, 1572, during which an estimated 70 000 Huguenots were murdered throughout France. The rampage was ignited in virulently anti-Protestant Paris by the August 18, 1572 marriage of the Huguenot King Henri III of Navarre to Marguerite de Valois and by the subsequent assassination of the Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, who had remained in Paris to negotiate peace with the king following the third War of Religion. Coligny was opposed by violent Parisian mobs incited by the inflammatory preaching of several Catholic clergy. (3)

Thirty-eight years previously, Ignatius of Loyola and nine companions of the University of Paris, including Francis Xavier, first met in the crypt of St. Denis Chapel at Montmartre to discuss a non-violent response to Protestant challenges to Catholic doctrine. These talks led to the formation of the Society of Jesus, which received full recognition from Rome as an Order without limitations on its membership in 1543. (4) Huguenots were gaining ground in France, inspired by John Calvin’s publication of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. (5) The French Protestants provoked the usually tolerant King Francis I by the Affair of the Placards- l’Affaire des placards- when proponents of Zwingli’s denial of the real physical presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist attached a poster that decried the “horrible, great, and insupportable abuses of the Papal Mass” to the king’s bedchamber door in Blois. (6) Similar posters, which were distributed countrywide,  and the persecution of Huguenots that followed, begot disorder that would reign over France for nearly a century.

While the stage was set for war in France, the newly-founded Jesuit Order advocated rigorous education for Catholic clergy who would defend the Catholic Church’s teaching against the rising influence of Protestantism. The Jesuits quickly proved themselves to be skilled instructors of the Catholic faith, including within their ranks saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and apologist Robert Bellarmine, who fought against the Reformation’s errors with better formation for priests-to-be.  (7) Concurrently, European powers Spain and Portugal, then France, England, and the Netherlands had begun to explore and to settle farther reaches of the world. In this era of increased exploration, of mercantilism, and of colonialism, the Society of Jesus also produced missionaries, St. Francis Xavier the most distinguished among them, reputed for their adaptability to foreign cultures and for their physical hardiness, as well as for their teaching ability.

In 1534, the same year in which the Society of Jesus was conceived, Jacques Cartier led his second voyage to the New World. Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River, made contact with the Algonkin and Iroquois, and claimed the vast land for King Francis I and for the Catholic Church.  (8) However, France would not establish a permanent settlement there until July, 1608, when Samuel de Champlain arrived aboard the Don-de-Dieu- Gift of God- and chose a natural embankment above the St. Lawrence as the ideal location for a fortified settlement. Champlain named the site Québec, from the algonkin word that means ‘where the river narrows.’ (9)

Although the date and place of Champlain’s birth are uncertain, he declared himself to have lived in Brouges, which was in a Huguenot-dominated part of France. The explorer’s given name was atypical of a  17th  century French Catholic and suggests a possible Protestant family history or an acceptance of the Huguenots in the region where Champlain was born. Whatever Samuel de Champlain’s genealogical or religious influences, he clearly emphasized the importance of interdenominational peace in the settlement and fur trade of New France, especially since the men who participated in Champlain’s North American expeditions were a combination of Catholics and Huguenots.  (10) Strong relations with the Native peoples of New France were as critical to the colony’s success as was Catholic-Protestant co-operation.  Champlain’s record of treatment of the Indians was mixed; he built trade allegiances with the Algonkin and Wendat Hurons and closely studied their cultures and languages, but an ambush on Champlain by three Iroquois chiefs, two of whom were then reportedly killed by a single round from Champlain’s arquebus and the third of whom was shot dead by one of Champlain’s men, soured French-Iroquois relations for the century that followed.  (11) The Protestant Dutch became the principal Iroquois trade partners, and the Iroquois’ main source of firearms that would later be used against their French and Huron enemies. In his later years, Champlain concentrated on the fortification of Québec, the discovery of a purported maritime passage to China, and on the organization of missions to convert the Hurons and Algonkins to Catholicism. With the latter purpose intended, Jesuits and Recollet Franciscan priests were sent from France to North America. In 1625,  Fr. Charles Lalemant, Champlain’s friend, and later last confessor and witness to his death, was appointed as the first Jesuit Superior of New France. (12) Lalemant was eventually joined in Québec by his brother, Jérome, and then by his nephew Gabriel, who would give his life in the Huron missions. (13)

One of the first Jesuits to arrive in New France after Charles Lalemant was named the Order’s Superior in Québec was the burly thirty-two-year-old Fr. Jean de Brébeuf. A native of Condé-sur-Vire in Normandy, Brébeuf contracted tuberculosis while in the novitiate. He nearly failed to complete his studies, and was ordained to the priesthood early due to illness in February, 1622.  Jean de Brébeuf’s health improved enough that he was permitted to sail to Québec, where he arrived on June 19, 1625.  (14) Brébeuf was to remain near Québec for his first year in New France. He ministered to the nearby Algonkin Montagnais, who co-existed peacefully with the French and were receptive to Christian teaching. Brébeuf gained a reputation as a quick and attentive learner; he kept notes of Montagnais language and customs. These natural abilities helped Brébeuf to thrive in his new assignment to Huron territory that began on July 25, 1626, when he departed Québec with “a fellow Jesuit, Fr. Anne de Noüe, and a Recollet Father, Joseph de la Roche Daillon.” (15)

Brébeuf’s first stay in Huronia was short, due to the siege of Québec by the English, led by the Kirke brothers. Fathers de Noüe, Daillon, and Brébeuf returned to Québec in 1627, 1628, and 1629, respectively. By the end of 1629, “most Frenchmen and all missionaries were repatriated to France.” (16) The Hurons, whose language Brébeuf had mastered so rapidly, lamented the loss of their robust and intelligent priest who regarded the Natives as his own brothers and sisters. In his relation of 1633, Jesuit Father Paul le Jeune wrote about Brébeuf’s recall from Huronia:

When Father Brébeuf was making himself understood, the arrival of the English compelled him to leave these poor people, who said to him at his departure:

‘Listen, you have told us that you have [a] Father in Heaven who made all, and that he who did not obey Him was cast into the flames. We have asked you to instruct us. When you go away, what will we do? (17)

With the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye that restored Québec to France in 1632, (18) Brébeuf returned to the Huron missions. (19) He was joined by two other Jesuit priests, Ambroise Davost and Antoine Daniel, who had crossed the Atlantic with Samuel de Champlain, re-appointed by Cardinal Richelieu as Lieutenant General of New France. (20) The early successes of the missionaries turned to hardship upon the re-establishment of contact between the French and the Hurons. Moreover, Québec, once recovered from English control, needed to be partly rebuilt. Champlain was assigned the task of reconstruction and of fortification of Québec, and the founding of another French settlement at Trois-Rivières. Iroquois warriors had begun repeated attacks on Québec from the south. Exasperated, Champlain retaliated against the Iroquois, whom he wished either “to be wiped out or brought to reason.” (21)

Iroquois resentment toward the Hurons grew as the latter prospered from the fur trade with the French. Therefore the Iroquois had blockaded the commercial routes along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, which at first postponed the voyage of Fathers Brébeuf, Daniel, and Davost to Huronia intended for the summer of 1633. Another complicating factor was the imprisonment of an Iroquois for the murder of a Frenchman. According to the Relations compiled by Fr. Paul le Jeune, then the Order’s Superior of New France, the prisoner’s relatives had threatened to kill any Jesuit seen on the St. Lawrence River.  (22) Champlain allowed Brébeuf, Daniel, and Davost to travel to Huronia the next summer, but only by a more desolate northern route that included eight hundred miles by canoe, over eighty portages around “dangerous rapids and impassable waterfalls”, food shortages, sleeping on rock or hard, wet earth, and “swarms of mosquitoes and black flies” that inhabited the damp reaches of the north country. (23)

Neither French nor Huron regarded hygiene as a priority on these lengthy trips. Most distressingly for Brébeuf, the most physically well-suited blackrobe for missionary work, was the inability of himself, and even more so, other Jesuits in communicating in the Huron language. The Natives who traveled with Fr. Davost have been described as a particularly “surly crew” (24); the resolution of disputes with the Hurons was especially difficult for those unable to speak their unwritten tongue. Brébeuf reached Huronia with Daniel and Davost on August 5, 1634. Exhausted but safe, he wrote in the 1634 Relation, the Jesuit system of annals of missionary work that was instituted by the first Superior of the Society of Jesus in New France, Charles Lalemant:

To be sure, I was at times so weary that my body could do no more. But at the same time my soul was filled with great happiness as I realized that I was suffering this for God. No one can know this feeling until he has experienced it. (25)

Brébeuf was named Superior of the Jesuit missions in Huronia upon his arrival in 1634, a position he maintained until Jérôme Lalemant, Charles’ brother, succeeded him four years thereafter, when Brébeuf was moved to the Huron settlement of Teanaostiae. Jean de Brébeuf, called ‘Echon’- ‘the Healing Tree’-  by the Hurons for his immense stature and for his knowledge of natural remedies for minor ailments, remained at Teanaostiae until 1641, when he returned to Québec following a Huron revolt in which he and Fr. Chaumonot, another Jesuit, were beaten. (26) In an unsuccessful attempt in the winter of 1643 to convert the Neutral Nation near Lake Erie, known as such because they refused to be drawn into war between the Iroquis and the Hurons despite their close ethnic relation to the latter, Brébeuf fell on ice and broke his left clavicle. He was ordered to return to Québec to recuperate from fatigue and from accumulated injuries sustained in Huronia. Fr. Brébeuf then served three years in Québec as the coordinator  of supply trips to his Jesuit brothers serving the Hurons on Georgian Bay. (27)

The 1630s were a dangerous decade for the Jesuit missionaries in Canada. Conversions of Hurons were infrequent, and usually limited to sick and dying Natives. Jean de Brébeuf, as talented a communicator as he was, made “his first adult convert in good health” (28) only in June, 1637. Pierre Tsiouendaentaha became the first healthy adult Huron Christian, followed by Joseph Chiwatenha two months later. Brébeuf had spent twelve years in Huron territory. Epidemics of smallpox and dysentery in 1634, influenza in 1636-37, and smallpox again in 1639 almost halved the Huron population that Champlain had estimated to be 30 000 in 1625. (29)

The first influenza epidemic sowed renewed hostility among the superstitious Hurons. This illness was particularly deadly for the oldest and youngest Hurons. This factor divided the Hurons between those that welcomed the French culture and the wealth that came with trade in fur and in porcelain, and those who accused the Jesuits of subverting traditional Native customs while the elderly teachers and the young future of the Hurons were being annihilated. Traditionalist Hurons convinced their council at Teanaostiae to condemn the Jesuit missionaries to death. Jean de Brébeuf prepared Fr. Paul le Jeune for the possible massacre of all Jesuits and the failure of the missions. The threat of violence from the Hurons subsided by 1638, allowing Jean de Brébeuf to visit the Neutral Nation, then to travel to Québec via the St. Lawrence route. However, more frequent Iroquois raids on French settlements and on “Huron supply convoys” (30) began to imperil future journeys between Huronia and Québec. The Iroquois thus earned the nickname “pirates of the fur trade.” (31)

At the beginning of that turbulent decade, in 1630, Antoine Daniel, a native of Dieppe and Jesuit novice then teacher in Rouen, was ordained to the priesthood. (32) Fr. Daniel also sought work in the Huron missions. He made a formal request to be sent to New France immediately after his ordination, but the English controlled the territory until 1632. Antoine Daniel was well-suited for work with the Hurons. As a seminarian at the Jesuit college in Rouen from 1626 to 1627 he had taught a Huron boy sent to France, Amantacha, whom Daniel baptized as Louis de Sainte-Foy. (33) Fr. Charles Lalemant, then Jesuit Superior in Québec, wrote a letter to his brother Jérôme, also in Rouen at the time, about Amantacha on August 1, 1626:

A little Huron is coming to see you; he longs to see France. He is very fond of us and manifests a strong desire to be instructed. Nevertheless, his father and the Captain of the nation [wish] to see him next year, assuring us that, if he is satisfied, he will give him to us for some years. It is of importance that he should be thoroughly satisfied, for if this child is…instructed, it will open the way to many tribes where he will be very useful. (34)

As soon as France regained control of Québec, Antoine Daniel and Ambroise Davost realized their dream of becoming missionaries. After two years in the small French settlement on St. Anne’s Bay, Cape Breton, Davost and Daniel went to Québec. They were then sent to Toanache I and II, adjacent Huron villages where they served alongside Fr. Jean de Brébeuf, and then to a new mission, Ihonatiria, or St. Joseph I. Amantacha, the Huron boy taught by Fr. Daniel in Rouen, had come back to St. Joseph but “had rejected not only the French culture but also the faith into which he had been baptized.” (35)

The letters of Jean de Brébeuf and especially the annual Jesuit Relations told of the valour of the Jesuits in Canada and aroused the desire of many members of the Society of Jesus still in France to join them. These records also conveyed disappointment over the slow rate of Huron conversions, over the toll exacted by disease, and over the hazards of the voyage between Québec and Huronia. Brébeuf, Daniel, and Davost negotiated with a Huron trading party to ferry them on the Ottawa River toward Toanache. The Algonkins had refused to do so, fearing for the lives of their French allies. Illness overcame several Hurons making the month-long trip, which obliged the priests to paddle the canoes, and eventually resulted in the Hurons leaving the French to their own devices in the wilderness. The blackrobes became separated from each other but reunited at their destination. (36) In the meantime, an Algonkin interpreter had returned to Québec with a rumour that “Father Brébeuf was suffering greatly, that the Indians were sick, and that Father Daniel had died of starvation or was in imminent danger of dying.” (37) Father Paul le Jeune, assuming the worst about Antoine Daniel but unsure of the trustworthiness of the news source, ominously concluded the 1634 Jesuit Relation: “Who knows whether Father Daniel is still living?” (38)

Father Daniel was indeed alive, and when calm was restored to Huronia he was moved eastward from Ossossane village and came to reside among the Arendarhonon tribe, known as “‘People of the Rocks’ or the Rock Nation.” (39) Daniel tirelessly evangelized in two main Huron communities, St. Jean Baptiste (Cahiague) and St. Joseph II (Teanaostiae), and visited several others during the most successful period for the Huron missions. (40) Conversions began to increase, and Jérôme Lalemant, successor to Jean de Brébeuf as Jesuit Superior in Huronia, ordered the construction of a new village, Ste. Marie among the Hurons (Ste.-Marie-au-pays-des-Hurons), in 1639. (41)

As the Society of Jesus expanded rapidly worldwide and the Order’s Relations became more accessible in France, many young Frenchmen were inspired to join the Jesuits and to apply for the missions in Canada.  Between 1636 and 1640, three Jesuits whose apostolic zeal for Huronia would become especially memorable, Fathers Charles Garnier and Isaac Jogues, and the donné René Goupil, were chosen to sail to New France. Garnier was born in Paris on May 25, 1606, and baptized at Saint-Gervais, the parish of the Lalemant family from which came four prominent Jesuits of the early seventeenth century. The family of Charles Garnier belonged to the nobility; Charles’ father Jean was a former undersecretary to King Henri III, and his grandfather was “an officer in the Royal Army and suffered martyrdom because he refused to give up his Christian faith.” (42) Charles Garnier, a student and then an instructor at Paris’ storied Clermont College, also attended by Antoine Daniel, perhaps most overtly yearned for the missions in Canada. He was ordained to the prieshood in 1635, but required the consent of his father, vehemently opposed to Charles’ departure for Québec, to be sent to New France. Charles was aware of the dangers associated with the missions, but downplayed them to convince Jean Garnier, who reluctantly allowed his son to set sail a year later. Fr.  Charles Garnier arrived in Québec on June 11, 1636, and set out for Huronia two months thereafter.  (43) His letters to his brother and to Fr. le Jeune before and during the trip showed Garnier to be a man of tremendous joy in his new surroundings:

If for me Canada is a holy and sacred temple, which God made for me in this world, the Huron country is its Holy of Holies… Let us therefore leap for joy in this land of blessing… I really do not have the time, because I am waiting for the means to take Father Chastelain and myself to meet the Hurons… God willing in six or seven hours, that is at dawn, I will be leaving to go to the Hurons. (44)

Garnier, a gifted writer and a quick study of the Huron language, also provided insight into the difficult crossing of the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Saint-Joseph, while his letters revealed a deep and genuine humility and gratitude toward God:

What particularly pleased me was the sight of my flock coming to the Sacraments. Over and above special feast days some received Holy Communion on Sundays and ordinary days… We gave Viaticum to a sailor who had fallen from the top of the mizzenmast to the deck. He was well-disposed to die. However, as I saw him in great discomfort, unable to sleep, I gave him my cabin and went in with Father Chastelain in his, but the sick man found this cabin too stuffy, so the next day I occupied it again but left him my mattress so he could sleep even in the midst of the cannons. Hearing this, the Captain made me take one of his… That is something of what has taken place on our voyage. If any good comes out of it may the glory be given only to God. (45)

Charles Garnier spent most of his thirteen years in Huronia among the Petun Nation, first at Ihonatiria, then in the largest Huron mission village, Teanaostiae, as of 1641. His apostolate also extended to the Tobacco Nation, and briefly to the Neutrals farther south. Fr. Simon le Moyne and then Fr. Léonard Garreau were assigned with Garnier to Teanaostiae, while fellow Jesuit priests Chaumonot, Chastelain, Menard, Pijart, and Jérôme Lalemant joined them in the neighbouring villages. (46) Despite the proximity of the Huron communities, Garnier remarked how little the Jesuits saw each other. As the number of Christian Hurons steadily grew, Algonkins, who lived in many of the same villages as the Hurons, asked the Jesuits to minister to them. Thus, Garnier and Garreau were separated by 1647, the latter traveling to Ekarenniondi (St. Matthias) and to Etharita (St. Jean). (47)

Similar problems arose among the Petuns that were prevalent elsewhere in Huronia: disease, unsuitable clothing for the cold of winter, and lack of food as the Iroquois intercepted supply convoys from Quebec and pillaged both Huron and French towns. Crop failure preceded Fr. Garnier’s arrival in Huronia. Garnier’s presence was believed by the Natives to have ended that year’s devastating drought, therefore he was named ‘Ouracha’, or ‘Rain-bringer’. (48) In another letter to his brother, Charles Garnier cited the principal obstacle, related also to the inability to convert many Hurons to Christianity, as “the difficulty of praying and getting a little rest away from the noise.

There is also the deprivation of Mass, which we either cannot say at all, or very seldom…My dear brother, pray for us that God may keep us and make strong the courage that He gives us. We sorely need it. (49)

Less than a year later, hope abounded from Huronia as the number of Native converts to the Catholic faith grew. More space was necessary to accomodate the Huron Christians who wished to come to Mass. Charles Garnier’s correspondence to his brother, dated May 22, 1642, described the donation by one of the Hurons of half of his long house for use as a chapel.  (50) According to Garnier, “the greater number came to hear Mass in this chapel every day and came regularly to confession [there] on Saturdays.” (51) By 1645, the Jesuits had established strong groups of Christian Hurons, although new conversions were still few. Again Charles Garnier wrote to his brother:

Hardly we have time in the morning to make our meditation, when the Christians come to Mass. After our Mass we take the opportunity to instruct them in the Catechism or in pious practices, or we even teach them some prayers. The rest of the day is spent in similar exercises. In brief, sunset time has come, when we say the prayers again, at which they attend. At last, we are quite surprised that the day is over. (52)

Sunset from Malden Park, Windsor, ON, Canada

Sunset from Malden Park, Windsor, ON, Canada

To be continued…