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…



4 Responses to “Canadian Martyrs Part 2- No Reward but Paradise”

  1. canadiancatholicblog October 3, 2008 at 12:16 am #


    (53) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, Marie_among_the_Hurons
    (54) cf. Angus MacDougall, Isaac Jogues/ 1607-1646,, 1.
    (55) Ibid.
    (56) cf. Ibid, 2.
    (57) Ibid.
    (58) cf. Ibid.
    (59) cf. Ibid.
    (60) cf. Ibid.
    (61) cf. Ibid.
    (62) cf. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, Article on René Goupil.
    (63) cf. Horatio Phelan, Jean de la Lande,, 2.
    (64) Ibid.
    (65) Ibid., 4.
    (66) Ibid., 3.
    (67) Ibid.
    (68) cf. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, Article on René Goupil.
    (69) cf. Isaac Jogues, René Goupil 1608-1642,, 1, and, 1.
    (70) cf., 2.
    (71) cf., 1.
    (72) cf. Ibid.
    (73) cf. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, Article on Guillaume Couture. Couture survived this incident, was later dispensed from his commitments as a donné, married, and led peace efforts with the Iroquois. He died c.1701.
    (74) cf. Ibid.
    (75), 3, Isaiah 53:4, 2.
    (76), 2.
    (77) cf. Ibid., 3.
    (78) Ibid.
    (79) cf., 5.
    (80), 3.
    (81) cf., 5.
    (82) cf. Ibid.
    (83) cf. Ibid.
    (84) Ibid.
    (85) Ibid., 3-4.
    (86), 3-4.
    (87) cf., 4.
    (88), 4.
    (89) cf. Ibid.
    (90) cf. Ibid.
    (91) Ibid.
    (92) Ibid., 5.
    (93) Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, Article on Isaac Jogues.
    (94) cf., 5.
    (95) Matthew 5:9
    (96) cf., 5.
    (97) Ibid.
    (98) cf. Ibid.
    (99) cf. Peter Ambrosie, Noël Chabanel/ 1613-1649,, 1.
    (100) cf., 1.
    (101) cf. Wikipedia, Article on Samuel de Champlain,
    (102) cf. Wikipedia, Article on New France,
    (103), 1.
    (104) Ibid.
    (105) Ibid., 2.
    (106) Ibid., 4.
    (107) cf. Ibid., 3-4.
    (108) Ibid., 4.
    (109) Ibid.

  2. Beth Lynch December 30, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    I am writing from the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, NY. I am the event planner here and the director of the Martyrs Memorial Center on the property.

    Your three-part series of the North American Martyrs is a powerful, concise and historical account. Thank you for this and God bless your talent.

    I had not seen before the autographed drawing of St. Isaac Jogues. Are copies available? I would like to display it here if that is possible.

    Also, do you know if there are photos or figurines of the statue of the martyrs at Assumption Church?

    Pax tecum,
    Beth Lynch

  3. canadiancatholicblog January 3, 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    Dear Beth Lynch,

    Thank you for your compliments on my articles about the North American Martyrs. I apologize for taking a long time to respond to your comment. Also, Happy New Year 2009 to you!

    The story of these Jesuit martyrs is very inspiring to me. As I wrote, I was often deeply moved by their love for God in the early years of New France that led these six priests and two donnés to give their lives in the interests of the missions to the Native peoples and of peace. I hope that those who read my series on the North American Martyrs will be as enlivened by their heroic Christian witness as you and I are.

    The autographed drawing of St. Isaac Jogues is from an Austrian Jesuit website about the North American Martyrs. The URL for the image is

    As for the photo of the statue of the North American Martyrs at Assumption Church, I’m not aware of any photos or figurines of the statue, although I would be delighted to check. As per my blog profile page (‘About Me’), I’m currently in the Novitiate of the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) in Windsor, only a short distance from Assumption Parish.

    The photo of the statue that appears with my article, along with those of the name plaque (from below the statue), the morning glories, and the sunset from Malden Park in the first of the three articles are my own pictures. Please feel free to use these images, or anything I’ve written in the posts themselves, for any purpose you have in mind if you wish.

    Thank you again for your interest in my blog.

    Pax Christi,
    Warren Schmidt


  1. Outdoor Activities - October 3, 2008

    […] canadiancatholicblog created an interesting post today on Canadian Martyrs Part 2- No Reward but ParadiseHere’s a short outlineJogues 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 … […]

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