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…



5 Responses to “Canadian Martyrs Part 1- A Holy and Sacred Temple”

  1. canadiancatholicblog October 1, 2008 at 9:14 pm #

    Notes for this article:

    (1) Revelation 7:13-15
    (2) cf. Wikipedia, Article on the Edict of Nantes,
    (3) cf. Wikipedia, Article on the St. Bartholmew’s Day Massacre,
    (4) cf. Wikipedia, Article on the Society of Jesus,
    (5) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Institutes of the Christian Religion, Religion. This book was first published in Latin in 1536, then in French in 1541.
    (6) cf. Wikipedia, Article on the Affair of the Placards,
    (7) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Robert Bellarmine,
    (8) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Jacques Cartier,
    (9) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Samuel de Champlain,
    (10) Ibid.
    (11) Ibid.
    (12) Ibid.
    (13) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Charles Lalemant, The surname was spelled either Lalemant or Lallemant.
    (14) cf. Angus MacDougall, Jean de Brébeuf/ 1593-1649,,1.
    (16) cf. Ibid.
    (17) Ibid.
    (18) cf. Wikipedia, Article on the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye,
    (19) cf., 1.
    (20) cf.
    (22) cf. Winston Rye, Antoine Daniel/ 1601-1648,, 1.
    (23), 2.
    (24) Ibid.
    (25) Ibid., 2-3.
    (26) cf. Ibid., 3.
    (27) cf. Ibid.
    (28) Ibid.
    (29) cf.
    (30), 4.
    (31) Ibid.
    (32) cf., 1.
    (33) cf. Ibid.
    (34) cf. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, article on Antoine Daniel,, 1.
    (35) cf., 3.
    (36) cf. Ibid., 2.
    (37) Ibid.
    (38) Ibid.
    (39) Ibid., 5.
    (40) cf. Ibid.
    (41) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Sainte-Marie among the Hurons,
    (42) James McGivern, Charles Garnier/ 1606-1649,, 1.
    (43) cf. Ibid., 2.
    (44) Ibid., 3.
    (45) Ibid.
    (46) cf. Ibid., 4-5.
    (47) cf. Ibid., 5.
    (48) Ibid., 2.
    (49) Ibid., 4.
    (50) cf. Ibid., 5.
    (51) Ibid.
    (52) Ibid.

  2. Polycarp October 2, 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    Looking forward to part 2 and more! Great article.

  3. canadiancatholicblog October 2, 2008 at 1:21 pm #

    Thank you, Polycarp!

  4. Immigration Advice in Graves end October 24, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    I savor, result in I found exactly what I
    was having a look for. You’ve ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye


  1. Free Religion News and Blogs » Blog Archive » - protestant religion - October 1, 2008

    […] Canadian Martyrs Part 1- A Holy and Sacred Temple By canadiancatholicblog 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 … A Canadian Catholic Perspective… – […]

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