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Verso l’Alto- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

13 Mar

In the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, one is never far from mountains. The district owes its name to a contraction of an Italian phrase, “ai piedi del monte”-“at the base of  the mountain.”  (1) Turin is nestled against the northern bank of the Po River, whose headwaters are in the Pian del Re on the slope of Monte Viso, 56 kilometres south of the Piedmontese capital. (2) In the shadow of the Alps, Turin has a long and storied history. Nearby, the Carthaginian army leader Hannibal invaded Roman territory in 218 B.C. (3) The Holy Shroud of Turin, which was brought to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist by the royal House of Savoy in 1578, draws devotees to the city. (4) Turin took its place as a major intellectual and political centre by the 19th century. It is the birthplace of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, a proponent of the unification of Italy that by 1870 had resulted in the seizure of the Papal States. (5) Piedmont then gave rise to a successful automobile industry, with the foundation of the automakers Fiat and Lancia.  (6) Economic prosperity coincided with the predominance of liberal ideas in politics and in the media. Gazzetta Piemontese, a pro-republican and pro-national unification newspaper, was founded in Turin in 1867 and was bought in 1895 by Alfredo Frassati, who changed its name to La Stampa. (7)

For historical, political, and economic reasons, Turin retains its fame to the present day. Its geographical setting has also increased Turin’s standing as a world-class centre of sports- the city hosted the twentieth Olympic Winter Games in 2006 and is home to Football Clubs Torino and Juventus. (8) Turin was also home to a young man, Pier Giorgio Frassati, son of Alfredo Frassati, who was largely unknown except by his family and friends. Pier Giorgio Frassati was handsome and physically fit. He was  proficient skier, swimmer, and mountain climber who belonged to the Italian Alpine Club, and he often led groups of university students on climbing trips to nearby peaks. On June 7, 1925, a companion photographed Pier Giorgio ascending a face in the Val di Lanzo. He is shown with both feet wedged into footholds and both hands gripping the rock above, poised to pull his powerful body upward. “Al piedi del monte”- “at the base of the mountain”- he is gazing toward the heavens. On the photograph, Pier Giorgio Frassati later wrote another Italian phrase, “Verso l’alto,” which translates into English as “toward the top.” (9) That had become Pier Giorgio’s motto, and was as much about a look toward Heaven, the ultimate goal, as it was a testament to a well-developed life of prayer and to an acute sense of social responsibility. The climb during which Pier Giorgio Frassati was photographed in the Val di Lanzo was his last. He died less than a month later, but in his short life he strove for the summit both physically and spiritually and is an example for our time, particularly for youth, of a grateful response to God’s universal call to sainthood: “Verso l’alto!”

While Pier Giorgio Frassati had little personal personal celebrity, his family had become distinguished by the late nineteenth century. Pier Giorgio’s father, Alfredo, was a successful entrepreneur. At twenty-six years of age, Alfredo Frassati bought Gazzetta Piemontese, thereafter named La Stampa– “The Press”- and then became its editor-in-chief. (10) Owing in part to the regionalized political and social organization of Italy, little newsprint was read far beyond the city of its origin, and the majority of Italian newspapers were not daily but were weekly or monthly publications. La Stampa differed from this trend. Founded as a daily newspaper, it rapidly became distributed and read throughout Italy and by Italians living abroad. La Stampa was known for its informative and concise articles, and it was one of the first Italian newspapers to print correspondence from readers, an innovation that evolved into the letters-to-the-editor sections in contemporary publications. (11)

Alfredo Frassati was highly skilled in a wide array of disciplines. Prior to his entry into journalism, he had earned a law degree from the University of Turin. In 1913, his political involvement led to his appointment to the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy. At that time, he was the youngest Italian senator. (12) Remarkably, Alfredo Frassati maintained his political neutrality as editor of La Stampa in a period of heightened instability and factionalism in Italy’s government. He was a liberal republican with strong opinions, but Alfredo Frassati was prudent in expressing himself, especially in print. His political views meshed well with his approach to religion. Although he had been baptized and raised a Catholic, he had lost his faith in his youth. (13) In matters of both political and religious belief, Alfredo Frassati lived as a practical agnostic; his faith was of little importance to him. However, he was respectful in dealing with his political opponents and allies alike, and refused to author or to print in La Stampa any aricles that attacked the Catholic Church. (14)

In 1898, Alfredo Frassati married a painter, Adelaide Ametis. Their marriage was troubled almost from the start. (15) The couple had two children. Their first, Pier Giorgio, was born on Holy Saturday, April 6, 1901. A daughter, Luciana, followed on August 18, 1902. (16) Alfredo Frassati’s busy career often kept him away from his family. Pier Giorgio began to receive his primary education at home in 1907. (17) Adelaide Ametis helped with her children’s schooling, but Luciana and Pier Giorgio felt the frequent absences of their father. Pier Giorgio was under constant pressure to follow in Alfredo’s footsteps and eventually to take ownership of La Stampa. Luciana was arguably more free to discern her life’s vocation, since her parents’ expectations of her, as influenced by the culture of the time, were more relaxed than for their firstborn son. (18) From his early childhood, though, Pier Giorgio developed aptitudes and interests that increasingly differed from those of Alfredo Frassati. Pier Giorgio and Luciana also shared a deep spirituality that confounded both their parents, in particular their father.

According to Luciana Frassati, Alfredo’s incomprehension of religious matters was less of an impediment to familial harmony than Adelaide’s agitated character. While Alfredo was recognized in public and in private for his honesty, statesmanship, and moral fortitude- all qualities of a great servant of one’s country, Luciana sensed that her mother’s public displays of devotion were not replicated in her more hidden actions:

Our father’s agnosticism hurt me much less than the Ametis household’s ‘piety’. We never heard a word against the Church from him, whereas our mother’s hypercritical temperament might have created an impression of [anticlericalism]. In her own family, nothing was looked at from a really Catholic point of view. Our mother and her sister, who would not have missed Sunday Mass or days of obligation for anything, were never seen by us to visit the Blessed Sacrament or to go to Benediction. They never went to Communion or were seen to kneel and say a prayer. (19)

In fairness toward Adelaide Ametis, many of Luciana’s criticisms against her mother were for traits not uncommon in the most faithful Catholics of the early twentieth century. For example, to partake of the Eucharist regularly was novel, although people might have attended Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. Pope St. Pius X, who led the Church from 1903 to 1914, was inspired by a movement toward frequent reception of Reconciliation and of the Holy Eucharist that had begun to spread within religious communities. This new sacramental appreciation in the Church met skepticism among local superiors in some Orders, who were wary of lessened reverence for the Lord’s Supper that might have resulted from too frequent reception of the Eucharist. Undaunted, Pope St. Pius X made significant liturgical reforms and gave the Church’s official sanction to daily Communion for those who wished to receive it. (20) Few laypeople were immediately affected by the changes. On the other hand, Pier Giorgio and Luciana had been taught about the value of a close relationship with Jesus Christ through the Blessed Sacrament. (21) Such devotion was almost unique outside of religious congregations at the time. Thus, the argument of Basilian Father Thomas Rosica concerning Pier Giorgio’s deep faith and influence on future generations  is all the more persuasive that “Pier Giorgio listened to the invitation of Christ: ‘Come and follow Me.’ He anticipated by at least fifty years the Church’s understanding and new direction on the role of the laity.” (22)

Nearly forty years after the death of Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the  Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was the first document of the Council to be promulgated. The Council’s attention to the Eucharisitic celebration led logically to its definition of the Church’s mission, as in the Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes:

The mission of the Church… is fulfilled by that activity which makes her, obeying the command of Christ and influenced by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, fully present to all… in order that by the example of her life and by her preaching, by the Sacraments and other means of grace, she may lead [all] to the faith, the freedom, and the peace of Christ, that… there may lie open before them a firm and free road to full participation in the mystery of Christ. (23)

Apostolicam Actuositatem, Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, had declared that “in the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission.” (24) This document then expounded on the function of different groups of laypersons. The Decree’s treatment of the role of children, “according to their ability… true living witnesses of Christ among their companions,” (25) and of youth stemmed from the example of young modern figures like Pier Giorgio Frassati, who in a special way carried Our Lord, the “Light of Nations,” (26) to the world in which they lived. Apostolicam Actuositatem includes this reflection on the vocation of young persons in the Church:

[They] exert a very important influence in modern society… Their heightened influence… demands of them a proportionate apostolic activity, but their natural qualities also fit them for this activity. As they become more conscious of their own personalities, they are impelled by a zest for life and a ready eagerness to assume their own responsibility, and they yearn to play their part in social and cultural life. If this zeal is imbued with the spirit of Christ and is inspired by obedience and love for the Church, it can be expected to be very fruitful. They should become the first to carry on the apostolate directly to other young persons, concentrating their apostolic efforts within their own circle, according to the needs of the social environment in which they live. (27)

Those words aptly describe the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati. Beginning six decades before Vatican II, Frassati, the young layman, lived the Christian vocation recognized by that Ecumenical Council as the essence of the Church’s mission. Biographer Ann Ball illustrates that even as a small child, Pier Giorgio Frassati deeply recognized the needs of others, especially of the poor. Upon learning from his mother what an orphan was, Pier Giorgio, in tears and unable to sleep, descended the stairs to where his parents were entertaining guests. He asked his mother if Jesus were an orphan. In an effort to comfort her son and to return him to bed, Adelaide Ametis told Pier Giorgio “that Jesus had two fathers, one in Heaven and one on earth.” (28)

When Pier Giorgio was just four years old, a poor woman appeared outside the Frassatis’ home with her child. Pier Giorgio realized that the child was barefoot and quickly gave the shoes and socks that he had been wearing to the destitute woman. His parents were awestruck at Pier Giorgio’s spontaneous generosity. (29) The poor were a common sight near their house, such that Adelaide and Alfredo Frassati paid progressively less attention to them over time, but Pier Giorgio could not simply ignore the plight of the disadvantaged. Once, when Alfredo had turned away a man of unkempt appearance who reeked of alcohol, an inconsolable Pier Giorgio ran to his mother, whose only recourse was to send her son after the beggar to ask him to return so that he could be given some food. (30)

A champion of the poor from a young age, Pier Giorgio Frassati was never as distinguished a student as he was a social activist. After three years of home schooling with the assistance of a Salesian priest, Pier Giorgio and Luciana were sent to a state-run school  in Turin.  (31) Both struggled through three years there. In 1913, the same year as Alfredo Frassati’s appointment to the Senate of Italy, both children failed their exams, although Pier Giorgio, the heir and firstborn son of an elite family, aroused the dissapointment of his parents more than Luciana did. (32) As a result, Pier Giorgio was transferred to a Jesuit private institution where he was educated for four years. His lack of academic success was not attributable to a lack of effort. (33) Nevertheless, Pier Giorgio continued to perform poorly in class, even under the helpful leadership of the Jesuits. In 1917, he failed a grade for a second time, and was again moved to new surroundings, the Social Institute of Turin, or Sociale, also a Jesuit school. In a letter to his friend Carlo Bellingeri, Pier Giorgio Frassati lamented the results of his exams, but looked forward to the following year during which he would simultaneously complete his last grade level and remedial courses from the previous year:

Maybe you already know that I failed. I really didn’t think about [failing] Latin. I was worried about composition and instead the opposite happened. I will go to the Sociale, where I’ll attend second year classes in hopes of taking the first year exams in February. (34)

Pier Giorgio Frassati persevered at Sociale until he received his high school certificate in 1918. (35) While his studies were not his strength, Pier Giorgio’s spiritual life flourished in his six years under Jesuit influence. He received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time on June 20, 1910, at the Church of Corpus Domini, followed by his first Holy Communion at the Chapel of the Sister Helpers of the Souls in Purgatory on June 19, 1911. Four years later, on June 10, 1915, Pier Giorgio was confirmed in his home parish, Our Lady of Grace, or “La Crocetta.” (36) Alfredo and Adelaide Frassati ensured that their children received the Sacraments, but they misunderstood and discouraged the adolescent Pier Giorgio’s increasing religious activities, fearing that his proximity to the Jesuits would lead him to become a priest himself. (37) Pier Giorgio was undeterred; within a year after his move from state school to study under the Jesuits, he had joined two Catholic student groups, the Apostleship of Prayer and the Company of the Most Blessed Sacrament. (38)

After his high school graduation, Pier Giorgio Frassati enrolled in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Royal Polytechnic of Turin. (39) His goal was to become a mining engineer, for professional as well as for spiritual reasons. He desired “to serve Christ better among the miners,”  (40) whom Pier Giorgio saw as among the most unhappy workers. Pier Giorgio Frassati had long been interested in helping the poor and those engaged in wearisome or in dangerous labour. He went on to become an active member of the Young Catholic Workers while he was a university student. However, his father did not approve of his field of study. He hoped instead that his son would inherit his newspaper business, but Alfredo Frassati was afraid to approach Pier Giorgio directly, so he sent a fellow La Stampa journalist to relay his message. “With  tears in his eyes” but ready to do as his father wished, Pier Giorgio asked the emissary, “Do you think this will please Papa?” The journalist nodded, to which Pier Giorgio replied, “Well, tell him I accept.” (41)

Soon thereafter, post-World War I Italy began to descend into political turmoil. Alfredo Frassati resigned his seat in the Senate when Benito Mussolini led the Fascists to power. (42) Despite that small act of protest, Pier Giorgio’s father was appointed Italian ambassador to Germany. The family thus moved to Berlin, which put a hold on the intended transfer of La Stampa from Alfredo to Pier Giorgio Frassati. There, the Frassatis were guests of the family of theologian Karl Rahner in Freiburg, among other German elites. (43) Pier Giorgio also continued his engineering courses, albeit from a distance. He had  become involved in more faith-based assemblies in Turin, including the University Students Nocturnal Adoration Group as well as organizations with international reach such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society  and Pax Romana, in addition to the Young Catholic Workers. (44) Consequently, Pier Giorgio Frassati kept in regular contact with his peers in Turin, often travelling to Italy for meetings of the groups of which he was a member. Those conferences occasionally led to confrontations with Italy’s Fascist authorities, as during a demonstration at the Young Catholic Workers Conngress in Rome, when Pier Giorgio Frassati was arrested after another protestor’s banner fell into his hands. He used its pole to fend off blows from the police. (45) In another incident, after Alfredo Frassati had criticized the Fascists in a La Stampa editorial for the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, an oppostion politician, for which he would later need to sell the paper to  Giovanni Agnelli of the Fiat Group to protect his family (46), the Frassati home in Turin was broken into by a police squad. Pier Giorgio singlehandedly fought off the squadristi with his fists, chasing them down the street and shouting at them: “Blackguards! Cowards!” (47)

Although Pier Giorgio Frassati never hesitated to protect his family or the Church, he disliked violence. He once remarked that “it is not those who suffer violence that should fear, but those who practice it. When God is with us, we do not need to be afraid.” (48) Arguably, he was as embarrassed as the thugs who attacked his home, as the event was reported in the local newspapers. (49) Pier Giorgio preferred more pacific means of witness to the Gospel, as Dominican Brother R.F. King points out:

His first priority, in every case, was to emulate the spirit of the Beatitudes, to be poor and meek, to mourn his own sins and those of the world, to hunger and thirst for justice, to show mercy, to keep his heart pure, and to make peace wherever he could. He did not attempt to draw attention to himself, but his quiet persistence at helping the poor, at promoting peace through justice, and at encouraging his fellow students to greater devotion to God left its mark. When anti-clerical activists attacked priests and religious, he defended them with his own body. If asked to speak, he would note that the basis of all true social reform was the supernatural charity which is a gift from God. Prayer and the Sacraments formed the foundation for the… apostolic work he saw as the calling of laypeople… His brand of heroic virtue was the everyday sort of getting up each morning and holding nothing back, but giving each moment and action totally to the service of God and neighbour. (50)

Pier Giorgio especially valued service to God, to his family, and to the poor. When his fellow students asked Pier Giorgio to go with them to a pub, he would suggest that they accompany him to pray before the Blessed Sacrament prior to their night out. Pier Giorgio joined the Dominicans as a tertiary, taking the name Girolamo after Fra Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican who preached against the moral decadence of the Borgia family and of Pope Alexander VI and who was hanged for his efforts.  (51) With his companions, Pier Giorgio created an informal group in 1924, “Tipi Loschi”, rendered in English as “the Sinister Ones”, “the Shady Characters”, or “the Riff Raff Club”, to further their work among the downtrodden. (52) Within “Tipi Loschi,” Pier Giorgio was known by the humourous nickname “Robespierre,” after the French Revolution-era insurrectionist. (53) At the time, Pier Giorgio Frassati was in love with a young woman, Laura Hidalgo. They might have married if not for the opposition of Pier Giorgio’s mother, who saw Laura’s lower social class as incompatible with that of the Frassatis. Pier Giorgio obeyed his parents, who were soon to become separated anyway. On his decision not to marry Laura Hidalgo, Pier Giorgio asked rhetorically, “Why create one family to tear apart another?” (54)

By the autumn of 1924, Luciana Frassati was preparing to wed Jan Gawronska, a Polish diplomat. (55) With the Frassati family permanently back in Turin after a stay in Berlin, Pier Giorgio returned for another year at Royal Polytechnic. The beloved grandmother of Pier Giorgio and of Luciana became terminally ill. Two months into the academic term, Pier Giorgio ‘s closest friend, Marco Beltramo, was accepted into the Air Force academy after passing his entrance exams. Pier Giorgio Frassati wrote to Marco Beltramo to congratulate him, although he lamented that they would be apart until Marco’s graduation. Optimistically, Pier Giorgio concluded, “Let me remind you that in three years’ time when you finish at the academy, one of the first flights you make must have Robespierre aboard.” (56)

Pier Giorgio and Marco never flew together. As university classes ended in the spring of 1925, a strapping Pier Giorgio Frassati continued his visits to the poor of Turin. He was also an avid attendee of the theatre and opera, and a voracious reader who was able to quote entire sections from Dante. (57) He took his friends to climb in the Val di Lanzo on June 7, 1925. Then his grandmother’s health took a final downturn three weeks later. Pier Giorgio’s mother confronted him as his grandmother lay dying in the family home: “It seems… that whenever you are needed you are never there.” (58) She did not realize that Pier Giorgio had fallen three times on his way to his grandmother’s bedroom to pray at her side and had managed to pull himself ahead only by grasping the wall in the hallway. (59) Pier Giorgio was being paralyzed by poliomyelitis that claimed his life in just five days. From his deathbed, twenty-four-year-old Pier Giorgio Frassati wrote a barely-legible note to his friend Grimaldi to ensure that Converso, a poor beggar, would receive his medication. In his polio-stricken hand, Pier Giorgio instructed Grimaldi: “Here are Converso’s injections; the receipt is from Sappa [the pharmacy]. I forgot about it. Renew [the prescription] from my account.”  (60) Serene to the end, Pier Giorgio had remarked, “I believe that the day of my death will be the most beautiful day of my life.” (61)

On July 4, 1925, [death] presented itself to him. With the marvelous confidence with which we had come to associate him, he met [God]: ‘Here I am, Lord.’ Then, calmly, he closed his eyes. (62)

To his parents’ surprise, thousands lined the streets for Pier Giorgio Frassati’s funeral. Most of the congregation was made up of poor people that Pier Giorgio served until the week before his passing. (63) Marco Beltramo walked in front of his closest friend’s coffin wearing his military uniform.  (64) An Italian politician mourned the death of the Senator’s son: “The best man in the world just died.” (65) The Royal Polytechnic Institute awarded Pier Giorgio Frassati a posthumous degree in mining engineering on April 6, 2001, the hundredth anniversary of his birth. (66) Alfredo Frassati returned to the Sacraments after Pier Giorgio’s death and, through several business ventures, mostly in the energy sector, he lived until 1961, his ninety-third year. (67) Luciana Frassati, a lawyer, lived to be 105 years old, dying in October, 2007. (68) She was the mother of six children, including Wanda Gawronska, whom I was pleased to have met during Rise Up, a Catholic Christian Outreach youth conference in December, 2008, in Toronto, Canada. Luciana was a tireless worker for Pier Giorgio’s sainthood cause, which is now being promoted by Wanda Gawronska. Pier Giorgio’s body was found to be incorrupt in 1981 (69), shortly after Pope John Paul II prayed at the grave in Pollone, Italy, of the person he called “the man of the eight Beatitudes.” (70) During a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square attended by thousands of young people, Pier Giorgio Frassati was beatified on May 20, 1990. (71) When Pier Giorgio Frassati was no longer able to climb the mountains he loved, and never having flown with Marco Beltramo, God called His great servant to the greatest of summits- upward to the top, to Heaven, “Verso l’alto!”

Let us pray, in the words of Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, from the recent Rise Up conference in Toronto. (72) After each petition, the response is “Show us the way, Verso l’alto, upward to Heaven.”

Pier Giorgio, help us to strive for simple hearts, attentive to the needs of others, and friendships based on that pact that knows no earthly boundaries: union in prayer. If we do not know the road, and if we often abandon the path…

If by being superficial we have not put into our knapsack all that we need for the climb, and if we never lift up our gaze because we do not want to take the first demanding steps to set ourselves on the way…

If we lack the strength to overcome the most difficult passes, and if we have the strength but prefer to use it to turn back…

If we never pause to be nourished by the bread of eternal life, and if we do not quench our thirst from the fountain of prayer…

When we do not know how to contemplate the beauty of the gifts we have received, and when we do not know how to offer ourselves for others…

If we have committed many sins…

If we have lost hope…

Pray for us, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Show us the way, “Verso l’alto,” upward to Heaven and deep into the heart of God. Teach us how to be holy Saints for the Church and for the world, to give witness to the Beatitudes with our lives. 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…


‘To Win Them All for Christ’- Blessed Laura Montoya Upegui

22 Aug
Colombia is blessed with abundant natural richness and diversity. Over one tenth of all known species of organisms in the world are found there. She is the only South American nation with both Pacific and Caribbean coastline. Also, three major ranges of the Andes mountains merge into a single continental backbone in southwestern Colombia, but are mostly separated by the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys. The remainder of the country’s land is comprised of plains, desert, and rainforest, and a small portion of Colombia’s southernmost boundary follows the mighty Amazon River.The natural beauty of Colombia is complemented by her human wonders. Caucasian descendants of the first Spanish settlers live and work alongside black men and women whose ancestors were shipped as slaves from Africa. Aboriginal peoples of several traditions make up a small but significant minority of Colombians.

However, despite enormous potential, Colombia has been mired in near-constant armed conflict since her decade-long fight for independence from imperial Spain that culminated in the creation of Gran Colombia on August 7, 1819. Occasionally, the low-level fighting has boiled over into large-scale civil war, as in the Thousand Days’ War (Guerra de Mil Días) of 1900-1903 that resulted in the secession of Panama from the rest of Colombia. Since 1863, only one presidential term in office, from 1874 to 1876, has been free of mostly politically-motivated warfare. The face of conflict has changed over time. In the last forty years, for example, leftist guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries have presided over lawless chaos fueled and financed by the drug trade that has made Colombia internationally infamous. Colombia boasts one of Latin America’s highest economic growth rates, but also has the world’s highest rate of internally-displaced persons, greater than that of Israel, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

In the midst of almost continuous bloodshed, Colombia has counted many great and holy people among her citizens, most of whom are unknown. One such devoted and saintly model for Colombia is Blessed Laura Montoya Upegui, who lived much of her childhood in extreme poverty. Blessed Laura later founded an order of religious sisters dedicated to teaching the Christian faith to the Aboriginal peoples deep in the jungles. In 2004, Laura Montoya Upegui became the first Colombian woman ever beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. The majority of Colombians are unfamiliar with her story, despite her autobiography.

I would not have become aware of Blessed Laura’s life had I not been privileged to have taught Grade 11 French, along with four other courses, one in English and three in French, at four grade levels at Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA) in Cali, Colombia. The graduating eleventh grade class at INSA was a particularly brilliant group of students, but within this class of 15-to-17-year-olds that would make any teacher beam with pride, one of them, named Carlos, stood out.

Carlos was in my regular Grade 11 French course and was one of five of the most talented members of INSA’s Class of 2008 who also took the French elective, wherein I had the freedom to plan the course curriculum with special attention to aspects of French culture and history that would hopefully interest and enlighten both myself and the students. In the first semester of the school year, prior to my arrival in Cali, another French teacher with whom I would teach the French elective had presented an account of the life of 15th-century martyr St. Joan of Arc (In French, Ste. Jeanne d’Arc, 1412-1431). I was encouraged to integrate a discussion of the Catholic Church’s contribution to French culture and of her influence on the students’ own lives. To smoothen the transition from the opening semester, I chose the second of two plays by Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux about Ste. Jeanne d’Arc, called Jeanne d’Arc accomplissant sa mission (Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission). This play, the longest and best-known of the eight theatrical works by Ste. Thérèse published together as Récréations pieuses (Pious Recreations), was written for January 21, 1895, the feast day of St. Agnes, the patroness of Mother Agnes of Jesus, then-Prioress of the Lisieux Carmel and also Thérèse’s second-oldest sister. (1)

During the last decade of the nineteenth century, partly in response to increasing anticlericalism in France, devotion to Ste. Jeanne d’Arc was re-awakened, nearly five hundred years after her death at the stake in Rouen. Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus capitalized on efforts to make Jeanne d’Arc more widely known in France and worldwide. Well-researched and ever-sensitive to historical accuracy and to her teaching role within and beyond her small monastic community, Ste. Thérèse composed two plays about her heroic compatriot that brought the story of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc into contemporary relevance and interest and led to her long-awaited canonization in 1920, just five years before the official recognition of Thérèse’s own sainthood.

The day after the canonization ceremony for Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux, May 18, 1925, Pope Pius XI called the young Carmelite a “second Jeanne d’Arc.” (2) On May 3, 1944, with France devastated by World War II- Lisieux itself was 75 per cent destroyed and one in ten of its inhabitants were killed in at least ten Allied bombardments between June 6 and August 22, 1944, following four years of Nazi occupation- Pope Pius XII declared Ste. Thérèse of Liseux French co-patroness along with Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. (3) The story of the Maid of Orléans, as told by Thérèse of Lisieux, is:

a dynamic unity, across time and space, of an ongoing mission. Yesterday, Chinon, Orléans, Reims, Rouen. Today, quite simply all of France. It is a unique exploit that continues to unfold before our eyes. From the perspective of faith that is Thérèse’s, it is in Heaven, today like yesterday, where the destiny of the fatherland is played out… For Thérèse, the summit of Jeanne’s epic is found neither at Orléans nor at Reims, but at Rouen. at the stake… Upon hearing the word of God, [Jeanne] asks the meaning of her humanly incomprehensible destiny, thus the dialogue of the Archangel Gabriel with the prisoner. The one whom tradition considers the angel of Gethsemane comes to lift the heroine up to her martyrdom, unveiling to her the face of Christ in His Passion. (4)

Both Jeanne and Thérèse died in union with the Lord of Gethsemane and of Calvary, and both were raised to Heavenly glory with Him. The former is a martyr by the strict definition; Jeanne was captured in battle, was betrayed by the king and country she fought to defend, was sold into enemy hands, and was burned as a witch at nineteen years of age. The latter, who succumbed to tuberculosis at age twenty-four, lived and died in and of love for God, and is rightly recognized as a patroness of the missions and of missionaries.

Many have been deeply moved by such examples of heroism, purity, and sanctity. One of those examples, although her life was less famous than those of Thérèse of Lisieux and Jeanne d’Arc, is Blessed Laura Montoya Upegui. Toward the end of my French elective course, after the class had studied Ste. Jeanne d’Arc and Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux, along with St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1225), like Jeanne and Thérèse a genuine lover of God and of all His creation whose mother was French-born and whose father traded silk cloth in France and was attracted to all things French, I asked whether any of the students had a patron or otherwise favourite saint whose life they would like to write about. Of the five teenagers in the course, only Carlos, in eloquent French no less, answered the question fully on the final exam. Thus I was introduced to Blessed Laura Montoya Upegui and was inspired to do further research and then to write an article on this great teacher of the Native peoples of the Colombian rainforest.

María Laura Jesús Montoya Upegui was born to Dolores Upegui and to Juan de la Cruz Montoya on May 26, 1874. She was baptized four days later. Laura entered the world during a rare period of peace in Colombia that followed the ratification of the Rionegro Constitution of 1863. Between Independence in 1819 and the signing of the Rionegro Constitution, Colombia’s moderate Liberals and Conservatives exchanged power effectively, each bringing necessary reforms and constructive policies to the country. For example, the Liberals abolished slavery in 1848, while the Conservatives encouraged co-operation between Church and state and strong international relations.

By 1863, though, cracks were beginning to appear in the political system that had guided Colombia for three decades. Although the Rionegro Constitution was largely brokered by moderate members of the governing Liberal Party, some radical Liberals proposed laws that would punish the Conservative Party for having introduced anti-Liberal legislation during its previous term in office. The bipartisan conflict escalated over successive presidential terms until 1874, then deceptive calm swept over the country. Apparent peace was short-lived while sparring politicians moved Colombia increasingly close to civil war. Radical Liberals took power in 1876. Anticlerical and anti-Conservative laws were immediately passed and enforced; opponents of the ruling party were imprisoned, assassinated, or had their property confiscated. These crimes motivated even moderate Conservatives to take up arms to protect their civil rights. Juan dela Cruz Montoya, a supporter of the Conservative cause, was killed outside of Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city after Bogotá, in 1876. Dolores Upegui was left to raise Laura and her two other children alone and in extreme poverty, especially after the national government forced the family to leave their home.

Laura was enrolled in Holy Spirit School (Colegio Espíritu Santo) in Amalfi, Antióquia. The Montoya family was poor before the assassination of Juan de la Cruz, but after 1876 it was left destitute. Laura Montoya Upegui was not permitted to complete secondary school, dropping out to support her family. In 1890, at only sixteen years old, Laura was sent to Medellín’s Immaculate Conception Normal School (Normal de Institutoras de la Inmaculada Concepción). She was not expected to succeed in her studies to become a teacher at such a young age, especially without having finished high school. However, she persevered and achieved some of the highest grades upon graduation from the Immaculate Conception Normal School.

Laura Montoya Upegui remained in Medellín, providing for herself and for her family by teaching elementary schoolchidren. Blessed Laura taught not only “academic knowledge, but sought to diffuse Gospel teaching and values.” (5) Meanwhile, naturally inclined toward contemplative prayer, Laura desired life as a cloistered Discalced Carmelite nun. The call to active missionary life, though, proved stronger. In 1908, Laura left Medellín to work among the Native people in the Uraba and Sarare regions of Colombia. This, she said, was “God’s project” (6), which exceeded yet also fulfilled Blessed Laura’s desire to contemplate and to serve the Lord and His people.

Her work in the jungle soon caught the attention of the Bishop of Santa Fe de Antióquia, Monsignor Maximiliano Crespo. His Excellency approved the mission in Dabeiba del Uraba, as well as Laura Montoya’s foundation of a new religious Order, the Missionairies of Mary Immaculate and of St. Catherine of Siena, on May 14, 1914. The congregation’s main purpose was to teach Catechism and basic-level academic subjects to Aboriginal children. The sisters, called ‘Lauristas’ after their foundress, lived by a Rule that was both active and contemplative, drawing upon Holy Scripture and pre-existing spiritual traditions, especially the Ignatian fusion of contemplation and action that, as per the Jesuit motto itself, seeks “the greater glory of God” (7) above all, and the Discalced Carmelite practice of regimented prayer for the salvation of souls.

The Lauristas adopted black habits with white veils. Their habits included the Order’s emblem, a heart that encircled the Latin word ‘Sitio’- “I thirst”- Jesus’s cry from the Cross. Along with the exemplary thirst for souls shown by Mother Laura and by her companions, the Missionairies of Mary Immaculate and of St. Catherine of Siena would learn to what extent they would need to suffer for Christ’s name. They encountered racial discrimination; many Colombians did not favour the ‘Indian Works’. The sisters were viewed as “‘religious goats’ going out to the wilderness to give the ‘wild beasts’ a living catechism.” ( 8 )

Only self-sacrifice would counter the unjust attitudes against Mother Laura’s community and the Natives. Laura Montoya Upegui had written previously, “I looked upon those living in the jungles as if they were real sons.” (9) In the Gospels, John the Baptist is positioned as a herald of the Lord- the one who would “make [Jesus] known.” (10) John is the first missionary of the wilderness mentioned in the New Testament. Like John the Baptist, Blessed Laura knew the importance of solidarity with those she would bring to Christianity. Her role was to somehow acquaint the Natives with the Christ who lived in the hearts of the sisters and of the Natives, to make known the Divine Source of all goodness to a people that did not yet know Him. Through kindness and an emphasis on love and obedience toward the Church, Mother Laura nurtured new vocations to her Order and inspired the sisters who had been alongside her from the beginning of the Indian Works as well as the Natives themselves, who were beginning to discover the power of the Christian message. In the process, she wished to remain unknown. The words of St. John the Baptist about Jesus appropriately summarize the hidden labour of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and of St. Catherine of Siena: “So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (11)

In her autobiography, Mother Laura wrote about essential qualities of the women who would respond to the vocation to bring Christ to the First Peoples of Colombia:

There’s a need for intrepid women, valiant and on fire with the love of God, who would be able to unite their lives with those of the poor inhabitants of the jungle, to lift them toward God.

Necesitaba mujeres intrépidas, valientes, inflamadas en el amor de Dios, que pudieran asimilar su vida a la de los pobres habitantes de la selva, para levantarlos hacia Dios. (12)

To be lifted toward God often entails suffering, as Christ Himself taught by His ultimate gift of Himself out of pure love on the Cross.Mother Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena, as she was known in religious life, experienced the agony of a long physical decline near the end of her life. Mother Laura’s last nine years were spent confined to a wheelchair. During this time, though, she continued to write and to guide the members of her religious community by her wise and serene example. Like St. Joan of Arc, Blessed Laura’s greatest victory was in giving herself to God until her last breath. She, too, was a daughter of God who had come face to face with the suffering Servant and united herself to Him.

Laura Montoya Upegui quietly went to the Lord on October 21, 1949. She was seventy-five years old and almost completely immobile. Much work among the Native people of Colombia had yet to be accomplished, and once again the country edged toward civil war. The April 9, 1949 assassination of popular moderate Liberal politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, widely expected to be Colombia’s next president, ignited ten years of violence (‘La violencia’, also called ‘el Bogotazo’, because the centre of unrest was in Bogotá, the national capital) that left 180 000 Colombiansdead. The Indian Works were delayed, but the sisters continued undaunted and eventually expanded internationally. At Mother Laura’s death, the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and of St. Catherine of Siena were present in three countries. Today, the Order includes ninety houses in nineteen countries in South America, in Africa, and in Europe. (13)

Mother Laura of St. Catherine of Sienawas declared Venerable on January 22, 1991. The miraculous cure of an 86-year-old woman with uterine cancer was attributed to Mother Laura’s intercession. In his announcement of the decree from the Holy See on this miracle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints José Saraivo Cardinal Martins recognized Mother Laura’s wish to “become an Indian with the Indians to win them all for Christ.” (14) The Holy See also praised Mother Laura’s “understanding of the human vocation and the divine dignity of the Indians.” (15) Laura Montoya Upegui was beatified on April 25, 2004 by Pope John Paul II. Her feast day is October 21. (16)

Blessed Laura Montoya Upegui, pray for us and especially for the students, graduates, teachers, support staff, and administrators of Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Cali. We ask especially for peace in Colombia and in all the world, that the dignity of all human beings be recognized regardless of race, and that all might be brought into the glory of God.

A short prayer (17), written by Blessed Laura near the end of her life and in the midst of the destruction wrought by Colombia’s history of violence, is a poignant example of the selflessness and humility of this sister for whom we also pray for canonization:


Destroy me, O Lord,

And upon my ruins

Build a monument

To Your Glory.


Destrúyeme, Señor,

Y sobre mis ruinas

Levanta un monumento

a tu Gloria.








Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux Part 3- Entering into Life

2 Jan

Happy New Year 2008! In this third and final section to conclude my series of articles on the life of Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux, my hope is to convey her virtue, her love, and her holiness that are all amazing, but also to show her humanity that is real and moving. As I wrote the final section, I reflected on how we might become part of the story of Ste. Thérèse; her life is part of our own history as Christians, with all of its joys and pains. Ste. Thérèse lived through joy and suffering, often intertwined, as a Carmelite nun. She died young, and is to this day a popular though as often misunderstood figure in the Church.

…Since the beginning of November I haven’t written any articles to this blog, though in the meantime I completed my fifth course in philosophy (Greek Philosophy and the Christian Tradition), which was a great success and highly enjoyable. Then, I received news that I had been posted as an Associate of the Basilian Fathers (Congregation of St. Basil), to Cali, Colombia, for six months beginning on January 5, 2008 (four days away!). I ask for prayers from those who read this as I begin this next step in my discernment and formation toward the priesthood, and I pray for all of you, God’s people, in return.

I conclude the introduction to this last article on the life of Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux with one of her poems entitled “To the Infant Jesus”, from a prayer card I received yesterday:

Jesus, you know my name,
Your sweet gaze beckons me,
And says, “Give yourself up to me
And I shall steer your tiny boat.”

With your sweet little Child’s voice,
O! How marvelous!
You calm the roaring waves
And the wind!

Rest yourself
While the storm rages about you,
Let your fair head
Rest in my heart.

How delightful your smile
While you sleep.
I want to rock you tenderly, fair child,
With my sweetest lullaby.

– Sr. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, O.C.D., December, 1896.

Thérèse’s first chores in Carmel were doing the laundry and sweeping the floors. The latter task was most trying, especially when Thérèse would encounter cobwebs; she was horrified by spiders. Thérèse persevered despite this and her father’s illness that was worsening. Successive strokes had plunged Louis Martin into dementia. Two months after Thérèse’s entry into Carmel, Louis disappeared from Lisieux, but was found by Céline and by Isidore Guérin in Le Havre, 60 km from home. Louis’ strokes recurred in August of 1888, such that Thérèse’s taking of the habit was deferred. She took the habit on January 10, 1889, at barely sixteen years old. Louis was able to participate in the ceremony, and Thérèse also recalled the pure snow falling outside that matched the colour of her novice’s habit. Thérèse, whose love for God and for His people was as pure as the fresh snow, added “of the Holy Face” to her religious name. The additional name was a reminder of God’s promise to come, although Thérèse spent much of her Carmelite life in obscurity, fulfilling her smallest duties with utmost love, though Heaven was at best seen “through a glass darkly”. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Louis’ health continued to decline. Though Céline, too, wished to become a Carmelite, she and Léonie stayed at home to care for their father. Louis was hospitalized at the Bon Sauveur sanatorium in Caen until he became confined to a wheelchair. Throughout Louis’ humiliation, as his mind degenerated into that of a child, Céline and Léonie suffered along with him. Thérèse wrote many letters to her sisters outside Carmel during this time, reminding them of her compassion for them and for Louis despite suggestions by some acquaintances that Louis’ Carmelite daughters had abandoned him, and that “a day without suffering is a day lost”. (LT 47) When Louis was moved back in 1892 to Lisieux to live out his days, Céline took on the role of a nurse. She often pushed Louis’ wheelchair around the garden at La Musse, the Guérins’ property near Lisieux. Louis Martin was wheeled into the Carmelite monastery to visit his three daughters there for the last time on May 12, 1892. He barely managed to whisper the words, “In Heaven…” (Thérèse of Lisieux, Complete Works, Chronology, p.1491) Two years later, he was completely paralyzed by another stroke. Louis received Extreme Unction on May 27, 1894. He suffered a major heart attack ten days later, and he died peacefully on July 29, at the age of 70. Thérèse wrote that Louis’ passing enabled him to rise to eternal union with God, and that the part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in Heaven”, took on an even deeper meaning. (cf. Ms. A, 75v°)

Céline notified her Carmelite sisters of Louis’ death: “Papa is in Heaven.” Thérèse said later that “God had given (her) a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth”. (LT 261) Those words are inscribed above the final resting place of Zélie and of Louis behind the Basilica of Ste. Thérèse in Lisieux. The canonization cause of Zélie and of Louis Martin was opened by 1960, and on March 26, 1994, Thérèse’s parents were declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II. One miracle attributed to their intercession is required for their beatification, and two miracles are needed for canonization.

Following Louis’ death, on September 14, 1894, Céline entered Carmel as Sr. Marie of the Holy Face (eventually Sr. Geneviève of St. Teresa), taking with her much of her painting and photography equipment. Thus, Ste. Thérèse of the Child Jesus remains the most photographed saint to this day. A cousin, Marie Guérin, also entered Carmel as Sr. Marie of the Eucharist on August 15, 1895. Sisters Geneviève of the Holy Face and Marie of the Eucharist were two of five novices entrusted to Thérèse, who was Novice Master in all but name. She gave up her right to official positions of power to allay concerns that the four Martin sisters and one cousin might have excessive influence in the community.

In 1894 and 1895, Thérèse wrote and performed the lead role in two plays about then-Blessed Joan of Arc, “The Mission of Jeanne d’Arc, or the Shepherdess of Domrémy Listening to the Voices”, followed by “Jeanne d’Arc Accomplishing Her Mission”. Pledging obedience to Jesus, to Mary, and to Mother Agnes of Jesus (her sister, Pauline, who had become Prioress), Thérèse wrote her first autobiographical manuscript from January, 1895, to January, 1896, on the orders of Mother Agnes, who had noticed Thérèse’s vivid recollection of her childhood and ordered Thérèse to write it in a simple lined scribbler. Also in 1895, Thérèse offered herself spontaneously to Divine Love, a power so great that it conquers all sin, as a fire consumes a drop of water. (cf. Ms. C, 36r°; Pri 6, 1v°/2r°)

Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart, Thérèse’s oldest sister, asked Thérèse to put her doctrine of spiritual childhood and of complete confidence in God in writing. This became Manuscript B of her future autobiography. Thérèse wrote this during her annual retreat for the anniversary of her profession in September, 1896. It would be Thérèse’s last such retreat, as she had begun to suffer from tuberculosis. Between Holy Thursday and Good Friday of 1896, Thérèse coughed up blood for the first time. She interpreted this as an encounter with her Divine Spouse who was calling her home. (cf. Ms. C, 5r°)

This first concrete sign of tuberculosis was reported much later. For months, Thérèse carried out her regular duties without complaint, despite her cough and high fever. She corresponded with two missionary priests, Fathers Adolphe Roulland and Maurice Bellière, who were struggling with their vocations, and she also wrote her third autobiographical manuscript, a chronicle of her time as a nun which was to be used as a lengthy obituary, or circular, that was customary to honour deceased Carmelites. When she was carried to the infirmary on July 8, 1897, Manuscript C was left unfinished. The last pages had been written in pencil, as Thérèse was too ill to dip a pen into an inkpot. As with all three manuscripts, the third ended with the word “love”. Thérèse’s last recorded letters were written to Fr. Bellière, who in August, 1897, was told that Thérèse had a month or less to live. Thérèse wrote from the infirmary, “I am not dying; I am entering into life.” (LT 244)

Thérèse’s spiritual suffering perhaps exceeded her physical distress. She was unable to see the glory of Heaven. Her writings as well as spoken words compiled by Mother Agnes of Jesus (Pauline) as the Last Conversations convey a hope in eternal life from which Thérèse felt greatly distanced. Thérèse of Lisieux died in agony. She died alone as did Christ on the Cross: “My God…Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Thérèse gasped her last words just after seven o’clock in the evening on September 30, 1897: “My God, I love you”. (CJ 30.9) She then raised her head from the bed for about the time required to say the Apostles’ Creed before falling back and breathing her last. In death, she maintained an angelic smile upon her face, and she clutched her crucifix so tightly that it had to be forced from her hands to prepare her body for burial. (cf. CJ 30.9, notes of Mother Agnes of Jesus)

Thérèse, who was canonized on May 17, 1925, before 60 000 pilgrims to St. Peter’s Square, promised that she would “spend (her) Heaven doing good on earth” (CJ 17.7), and her mission continues. Léonie entered the Sisters of the Visitation for good in 1899. She died in 1941, and later joined her parents and Ste. Thérèse as members of the Martin family who are either recognized saints or whose merits are being considered by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Mother Marie de Gonzague wrote in the Lisieux Carmel’s register after Thérèse died: “The nine and a half years (Thérèse) spent among us leave our souls fragrant with the most beautiful virtues with which the life of a Carmelite can be filled. A perfect model of humility, obedience, charity, prudence, detachment, and regularity, she fulfilled the difficult discipline of mistress of novices with a sagacity and affection which nothing could equal save her love for God.”

October 17, 2007 was the tenth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s proclamation of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux as the thirty-third Doctor of the Church. In the late Pontiff’s Apostolic Letter, “Divini Amoris Scientia”- “The Science of Divine Love”, the universality of Ste. Thérèse’s teaching and message was acknowledged: “Her person (and) the Gospel message of the ‘little way’ of trust and spiritual childhood have received and continue to receive a remarkable welcome, which has transcended every border…The power of her message lies in its concrete explanation of how all Jesus’ promises are fulfilled in the believer who knows how confidently to welcome in his own life the saving presence of the Redeemer.”

I testify here to the influence that the intercession of the “greatest Saint of modern times”, in the words of St. Pius X, has had on my own life and vocational discernment. We ask that Ste. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face may continue to keep watch over us and to pray for us. We ask this in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


An explanation of the abbreviations used in my in-text notes:

LT- Letters of Ste. Thérèse
CJ- Carnet Jaune (Last Conversations) (day, month)
Pri- Prayers of Ste. Thérèse
The page numbers cited in all 6 articles (3 in English, 3 in French) are the original page numbers of Ste. Thérèse’s manuscripts, which were written using both sides of each sheet of lined paper. Thus, my citations include either v° (“verso”- reverse side) or r° (“recto”- front side).

In addition, today is the 135th anniversary of the birth of Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux and is also the feast day of the patron of the religious order I belong to, the Congregation of St. Basil (or, the Basilian Fathers). St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, pray for us…

Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux Part 2- I Just Love Him

8 Nov

The first part of this series of articles on Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux began with details of the early years of Louis Martin and of Zélie Guérin, the parents of Ste. Thérèse.

Sadly, Zélie died after a prolonged battle with breast cancer in 1877, at the age of 46 years. Following his wife’s passing, Louis moved his family to Lisieux. Aided by his brother and sister-in-law, there he raised his five daughters with great love and patience. The two oldest Martin girls, Pauline and Marie, became Carmelite nuns at Lisieux. Thérèse longed to join them in Carmel, and made a bid to do so at only 15 years of age.

This second part ends much the way the first article in this presentation did: in tragedy. In the midst of Louis’ descent into mental and physical infirmity, one of Thérèse’s mentors and closest friends in Carmel, Sr. Geneviève of Saint Teresa, died during an influenza outbreak in December, 1891. Thérèse saw the relation between this holy sister’s death with that of her own mother. Thérese, though, carried a sense of joy despite her suffering and that of her family and religious community. Throughout Thérèse’s life, the Child Jesus was continuously linked with the Holy Face of Our Lord’s Passion.

We ask for the continued intercession of one who lived her religious name to perfection. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, pray for us…

Louis Martin and his five girls moved to Lisieux in November 1877, to a house called Les Buissonnets which Zélie’s brother, the pharmacist Isidore Guérin, was leasing near his own home. Louis was helped by Isidore and his wife, Céline, in raising his children. A widower at 54, he lavished love upon his daughters without spoiling them. Marie was nicknamed “le diamant”- “the diamond”, Pauline, “second mother” to Thérèse, was “le perle”- “the pearl”, Léonie was “the good-hearted one”, Céline was “the dauntless one”, and Thérèse was Louis’ “Petite Reine” or “Little Queen”. Throughout her life, Thérèse would reciprocate this royal title of endearment conferred upon her by Louis; she often referred to her father as “le Roi de France et de Navarre”- “the King of France and of Navarre”, or, in short, “mon Roi chéri”- “my dear King”.(cf. LT 51, 63, Ms. A, 21r°)

Within four years of the Martins’ move to Lisieux, Thérèse and Céline began studies as day boarders at the Benedictine Notre-Dame-du-Pré Abbey. The Benedictine nuns are not commonly associated with education, but because of the anti-clerical laws that had become increasingly restrictive following the French Revolution, they ran private schools just to remain solvent. Thérèse’s years at the abbey were generally sad. She was several years ahead of her grade level in most subjects, with the exception of French spelling, grammar, and mathematics. Thérèse excelled at learning the Catechism, and had nearly memorized the 15th-century classic on religious devotion, “The Imitation of Christ”, as a child. However, her prodigious intellect coupled with her quiet personality made her the object of derision by her envious schoolmates. (cf. Ms. A, 23r°)

Thérèse was understood by few, and was a lonely child. However, she related specially with God, not going more than a few minutes without thinking about Him, and by her later reckoning not requiring a spiritual director to strengthen the bond between herself and the Lord. Nonetheless, ostracism at school began to cause Thérèse’s health to decline. She suffered dreadful headaches, and her fragile emotional state was a continued concern.

At nine years old, Thérèse was given the mission and the name that she would later take on in religious life. She had gone with her family on a routine visit to the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux. The Prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, would ask Thérèse what her leisure activities were, while being reminded of Thérèse’s deep shyness along with devotion due to which she would spend long periods of time kneeling beside her bed in prayer. Thérèse would respond that she would be thinking of God. When pressed by Mother Prioress on what she was thinking about God, Thérèse would clarify, “Nothing, I just love Him.” Thérèse had also already developed a strong connection to Christ, though she said she would have a hard time losing her lovely name, Thérèse, upon entering the Carmelites. Mother Marie de Gonzague suggested, because her name had already been used by Carmelite reformer St. Teresa of Jesus, and therefore as a means of respect that it ought not to be used, that Thérèse should take the name Sr. Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus (Theresa of the Child Jesus). (Ms. A, 31r°) Thérèse was thus given the religious name she had earlier dreamed of, and she was set on the way toward her vocation of love.

Thérèse was aptly named; she gave herself, as did her patron saint, for the love of God and the salvation of souls. Louis also would affectionately call her “Thérésita” (LT 11), after the niece of St. Teresa of Avila, who had entered the monastery at only nine years old. Thérèse’s father would make sure his youngest child was especially attentive whenever St. Teresa of Avila was mentioned during Mass. God had called Thérèse by name, and this was evident to her from a young age. One evening, Louis was returning home from Isidore Guérin’s home with Thérèse, who gazed up at the stars and noticed a constellation in the shape of a T. In her autobiography, Thérèse wrote later, “I showed Papa (the stars), declaring that my name was written in Heaven…With my little head well in the air, I stopped at nothing, then, to contemplate the starry blue heavens above.” (Ms. A, 18r°) The Bible verse from which she drew this reflection, Luke 10:20, in which Jesus reminds His disciples, “Rejoice and be glad, for your names are written in Heaven”, is said during evening prayer on Ste. Thérèse’s feast day, October 1…

God had a special plan for Thérèse, though it seemed that He might take her to Himself prematurely. When Thérèse was not yet ten years old, Pauline, her sister, spiritual guide, second mother, and confidante, joined the Lisieux Carmelites. That event, coupled with a lengthy absence of Louis, who had gone to Paris, plunged the already emotionally fragile Thérèse toward severe illness between March and May, 1883. Some doctors doubted that she would live, let alone recover. Her condition was never accurately diagnosed. Thérèse had a short respite from the mysterious ailment such that she was able to visit Pauline in the monastery in April, but then her health deteriorated again. Louis, Marie, Léonie, and Céline began a novena to Our Lady of Victories, but Thérèse’s health did not improve. At their sister’s bedside on Pentecost, May 13, 1883, Marie, Léonie, and Céline implored Our Lady to save Thérèse’s life. In the room, Louis, on Zélie’s request, had placed a statue of Mary that had been outdoors at his property in Alençon years earlier. As her sisters were praying, Thérèse looked toward the statue, and rose from the bed. She had seen Mary smile at her as she was completely cured. The figure of Mary, which now stands in the Carmel of Lisieux, has since been known as “Our Lady of the Smile”. (Ms. A, 30r°)

Thérèse’s headaches persisted, and she still lacked a mother to contribute emotional stability. Louis arranged for private tutor, Valentine Papinau, to educate Thérèse as of 1886, ending her time at the Benedictine abbey. At the same time, Thérèse was suffering from a crisis of scruples, whereby she was concerned that she would offend God by her every imperfect action, no matter how small. Marie would even need to limit the number of “sins” Thérèse would confess. This would last until October 1886, although Thérèse received full consolation only in October 1891, when her confessor in the Carmel, Fr. Alexis Prou, assured her that she was free of mortal sin.

Christmas 1886 was a turning point in the life of Thérèse Martin. Upon returning home from midnight Mass, the children would traditionally find small gifts in their shoes near the fireplace. By this time Thérèse was nearly fourteen, and Louis showed his fatigue and frustration by wishing aloud that this would be the last year for this childish custom. Thérèse would normally have been deeply upset by a remark such as her father’s. Céline looked with pity on her sister, but Thérèse did not shed a tear. Unexpectedly, she went with joy to the fireplace and began to unwrap her gifts in front of her father. Thérèse’s joy was also imparted to Louis, who watched as his daughter instantly overcame years of emotional hardship related to Zélie’s death.

The following summer, Henri Pranzini was convicted and sentenced to be guillotined for the rapes and murders of two women and a young girl in Paris. At Mass, Thérèse was struck by an image of Christ on the Cross on a prayer card. She would write that she wanted to be at the foot of the Cross to catch the blood that fell from Jesus’ wounds. Thérèse recalled Jesus’ words from the Cross, “I am thirsty”. Our Lord is thirsty for souls, even those as unrepentant as Pranzini. Thérèse saw Pranzini’s salvation as her first divinely-inspired mission. When her “child” was given a last chance to speak before his execution, he asked to borrow the priest’s crucifix, on which he kissed each of Our Lord’s wounds. Thérèse believed this to be a sign from God that Henri Pranzini would be saved. (cf. Ms. A, 46r°)

Thérèse was prepared to begin her “giant’s race”. (Ms. A, 44v°) She was indeed a spiritual giant poised to enter the Carmelites, if only she were able to convince her father, her uncle, Isidore Guérin, the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, Msgr. Flavien Hugonin, the Vicar-General, Fr. Maurice Révérony, the Carmelite superior, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Delatroëtte, and even Pope Leo XIII, of her maturity and wisdom, which were remarkable for a girl of not yet fifteen years old.

Louis was quite easily convinced of Thérèse’s early vocation. Though he initially thought she was young to be making such a commitment, he gave Thérèse his blessing while giving her a small white flower he had picked. Her uncle was more difficult to sway, but after Thérèse, and likely her uncle also, had prayed for fifteen days, on October 22, 1887, Isidore Guérin also gave his consent for Thérèse to enter Carmel. Fr. Delatroëtte was emphatically opposed to Thérèse’s entry into Carmel at such a young age. Her only hope was to speak to the bishop. Louis arranged for Thérèse to meet Bishop Hugonin, and accompanied her to Bayeux, 70 km from Lisieux. One of the most enduring pictures of Thérèse dates from this occasion on October 31, 1887. Thérèse had put her hair up to look older for the bishop. She was strikingly beautiful, with long blond hair and large deep blue eyes. The tallest of the Martin children, she was called “the tall English girl” by some people in Lisieux.

Thérèse got a cautious response from the bishop, who understood that her vocation was true but wished to speak first to Fr. Delatroëtte. Knowing the Carmelite superior’s opposition, Thérèse was unable to hold back her tears. However, Bishop Hugonin suggested that Thérèse join a pilgrimage to Rome a month later for the fiftieth anniversary of the priestly ordination of Pope Leo XIII. The papal audience would take place on November 20, 1887. Léonie had entered the Visitation convent in Caen, where she would stay until the following January; it would be the second unsuccessful attempt at religious life for the poor middle sister of the Martin family. Thus, beginning on November 4 Thérèse and Céline went to Rome with their father Louis, who had recovered sufficiently from his first stroke that had left one side of his body partially paralyzed.

On the way, Thérèse, Céline, and Louis passed through Switzerland, and visited Milan, Venice, Bologna, Padua, and Loreto. At the Casa Santa, in legend thought to have been the home of the Holy Family that was miraculously carried by angels from Nazareth to Loreto, Louis asked a priest to give Communion to Thérèse and Céline. This was a departure from tradition at the Holy House, where a single large host was normally kept on the paten for a priest to celebrate Mass alone. For this special occasion, two more large hosts were added and Mass was said at Louis’ request for Thérèse and for Céline, much to their delight. (Ms. A, 59v°) Meanwhile, Fr. Révérony, representing the Diocese of Bayeux and Lisieux, had been watching Thérèse closely from the beginning of the voyage. The trip enhanced the understanding Thérèse had of priests, who, although they are “raised above the dignity of the very angels” (Ms. A, 56r°), are weak human beings who especially require the prayers of the faithful for the protection of their souls.

Thérèse was understandably nervous, especially at the prospect of speaking to the Pope, as the papal audience approached. One was not supposed to speak to the Pope during the audience, for fear of delaying the ceremony, but Thérèse was encouraged by Pauline in a letter she had received from the Lisieux Carmel. During the audience, Thérèse was prepared to heed the request to genuflect, to kiss the papal slipper and ring, and then to wait for the instruction to rise before moving on, but Céline, waiting behind Thérèse, whispered, “Speak!” (Ms. A, 63r°) Thus, Thérèse asked the Pope to permit her entry into Carmel at fifteen. The Pope responded, “Do as your superiors wish.” Thérèse renewed her request, and the Pope replied, “You will enter if the Good God wills it”, after which Thérèse, who again was moved to tears, was carried by papal guards into another room. Though she was disappointed, Thérèse found joy on the return trip to Lisieux. She knew what God’s will was, and the Lisieux Carmel was almost unanimously behind her, too. At the foot of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii, a city that was just beginning to be excavated from volcanic ash that had buried it in 79 A.D., Thérèse reflected that God could will the seemingly impossible. God is so powerful that, in the Psalmist’s words quoted by Thérèse, He “looks on the earth and it trembles, (and) touches the mountains and they smoke.” (Psalm 104:32; Ms. A, 64v°)

On December 28, 1887, Bishop Hugonin wrote to Mother Marie de Gonzague that she had episcopal permission to admit Thérèse into Carmel, but that the entry would be deferred until April 9, 1888, following Easter. Thérèse would spend the months that followed practicing virtue and sacrifice with even more devotion than before. Just three days before the admission letter was received, on Christmas Day, no news had yet been received about Thérèse entering Carmel, although she had been checking the mail with Louis daily for some time. Thérèse arrived at Les Buissonets following midnight Mass. Sensing her sister’s discouragement, Céline placed a model ship in a basin. On the body of the ship, a passage from the Song of Songs was inscribed: “I am sleeping, but my heart keeps vigil”, and on the sail was written, “Abandon!” (Ms. A, 68r°)

The day Thérèse entered Carmel, Louis knelt and tearfully gave his daughter his blessing. On the same day, Céline turned down a request for marriage. Thérèse’s early years in Carmel were difficult. Her two sisters, Marie and Pauline, were both in the same monastery, though religious life dictated a degree of separation between them. Early winters were cold, and the monastery was not heated. Late in 1891, Mother Geneviève of St. Teresa, who had founded the Lisieux Carmel 53 years earlier and whose name was later adopted by Thérèse’s sister Céline, passed away as an influenza epidemic swept through the moanstery. Thérèse was able to see clearly the face of a Carmelite she called a saint, unlike when she was almost too small to see into her own mother’s open casket 14 years earlier. (To be continued…)


Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux Part 1- Her Family

21 Oct

In my most recent post, on the first 17 verses from Luke 7, I focused on at least two major themes: on healing whose fullness comes through Jesus Christ, and on the role of a prophet.

Since then I have started yet another philosophy course, entitled Greek Philosophy in the Christian Tradition, and once again my frequency of blog posts has consequently diminished. Nonetheless, on October 12 I was greatly privileged to have been able to speak to a Catholic university student group, the Newman Club, of which I am the president for a second term this year. I spoke on the life of Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux. She is one of my favourite saints, and has been a major focus of my spiritual reading as I also am discerning religious life and the priesthood and am currently an Associate of the Congregation of St. Basil, or Basilian Fathers.

Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux was called “the greatest healer of modern times” by Pope Pius XII, and “the greatest saint of modern times” by St. Pius X. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Divini Amoris Scientia (The Science of Divine Love), the Apostolic Letter in which the late Pope declared Ste. Thérèse a Doctor of the Church, Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux is a model for religious, for contemplatives, for women, and for young people.

To carry the themes over from my last article, Ste. Thérèse, the co-patron of the missions, is an example of a healer and a great prophet. Therefore, here is the first of three parts of the text of my presentation, which extends from the early years of Ste. Thérèse’s parents to the death of her mother.

“Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed, I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more…

I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is eternal.” (Ms. B, 3v°)

The “story of the little white spring flower” (Ms. A, 2r°) began the night of January 2, 1873, when at 36, rue Saint-Blaise, in the small town of Alençon, France, the ninth child of Marie-Azélie (Zélie) and of Louis Martin was born. She was named Marie Françoise Thérèse. But God, in whose book all our days are written before they come to be (cf. Ps. 139:16), had planted the seed of this beautiful Saint much earlier.

Both of Thérèse’s parents had longed for religious life, but poor health, in the case of Zélie, and Louis’ youth and lack of knowledge of Latin had dictated otherwise. Louis Joseph Aloys Stanislaus Martin was born on August 22, 1823 in a military camp in Bordeaux, France. He was the third of the five children of Marie-Anne-Fanie (née Boureau) and of Captain Pierre-François Martin. The Martin family was continually on the move. As such, Louis’ full ceremonial baptism, at St. Eulalie in Bordeaux, wasn’t completed until October, 1823. The Archbishop of Bordeaux then declared the newly-initiated Louis to be “predestined”.

Just after Louis’ thirtieth birthday, the last of his four siblings passed away. In 1843, 20-year-old Louis traveled to the Augustinian Grand-Saint-Bernard Hospice in the Swiss Alps but was refused admission. He returned home carrying a small white flower as a souvenir of the pilgrimage. Following one year of study in Latin, he decided to become a watchmaker, first studying the trade under his father’s cousin in Rennes. He then settled in Alençon in Normandy, where his watch making business thrived.

The quiet town of Alençon was a perfect fit for Louis Martin, who regularly attended Mass in the early hours of the morning before opening his shop. Although a priest had told him that he could leave a side door to his shop open on Sundays, Louis declined any commercial activity on the Lord’s Day. Mr. Martin enjoyed solitude; his favourite activities included trout fishing and occasional hunting, when he could be alone with God and with His creation. Louis was also known to give generously to the poor, and he often donated his catch of the day to the Poor Clares.

Late in 1857, Louis Martin, who still had no thoughts of marriage, to the dismay of his mother, bought a property named “La Pavilion”. Shortly thereafter, he fell in love with Zélie Guérin, a 26-year-old lace making student. Louis and Zélie were married only three months later, on July 13, 1858.

Zélie, like her husband, had tried to enter into a religious community. Due to respiratory difficulties and recurrent headaches, she was turned away by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Zélie’s longing to be a religious was not without precedent in her family; her older sister, Marie-Louise, became a Sister of the Visitation as Sr. Marie-Dosithée in Le Mans at 29 years of age in 1858.

Marie-Azélie Guérin had one other sibling, her brother Isidore, born ten years after her. Isidore, who was highly intelligent, became a medical student in Paris before buying the pharmacy in Lisieux that was owned by his eventual father-in-law, Pierre Fournet. Isidore married Pierre Fournet’s daughter, Céline, in 1866, in the same year as the purchase of the pharmacy. Céline and Isidore Guérin had two daughters, Jeanne and Marie, who were five and three years older than Thérèse Martin, respectively. Thérèse was especially close to her cousins, one of whom would also become a Carmelite at Lisieux…

Thérèse’s mother Zélie was born at St. Denis-sur-Sarthon on December 23, 1831. At that time, Zélie’s father, 42-year-old Isidore, was a police officer, while her mother, Louise-Jeanne (née Macé), 27, was a homemaker who later opened a small café. Zélie was brought up strictly. She and her brother and sister were allowed few possessions. Isidore was more affectionate toward his son and daughters than was Louise-Jeanne, though both parents had a strong faith and a great love for their children.

In 1844, the Guérin family moved to Alençon, where 13-year-old Zélie was enrolled in the School of the Perpetual Adoration. She later wrote that her childhood had been a sad experience. Zélie’s poor health worsened matters for this bright girl who was nevertheless constantly at the top of her class in French composition and style.

After the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul refused her entry, Zélie prayed that God might grant her many “little saints” as children that would be consecrated to Him. The answer to her prayers began on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1851. In a dream, the Blessed Virgin Mary told Zélie to learn to make Point d’Alençon lace. It was a painstaking process to make the high-quality garments for which Alençon was famous, but Zélie was a quick study. She opened her own business, which at its height employed about 15 women. Our Lady visited Zélie once more, when, in April 1858, she passed a man on the Bridge of St. Léonard in Alençon. A voice told Zélie, “(It) is he whom I have prepared for you”.

Zélie married the man she met on the bridge, Louis Martin. For nearly a year, Louis and Zélie lived a celibate married life, following the example of Saints Mary and Joseph. Then their confessor, seeing the devotion with which, in their first year of marriage, Louis and Zélie had cared for a five-year-old boy whose father had died, suggested that they ought to raise their own children. On February 22, 1860, their first of nine children over 13 years, five of whom would reach adulthood, was born. Marie was most cherished by Louis and by Zélie. Thérèse would later refer to her oldest sister and baptismal Godmother as the first of nine lilies (referring to all the Martin children) on which would rest the cloth used by St. Veronica that bears the imprint of the Face of Jesus, as in an image painted for Céline by Pauline at Thérèse’s request. (cf. LT 102)

On the ninth anniversary of her first encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary, December 8, 1860, Zélie prayed for a second child. Nine months later almost to the day, September 7, 1861, Marie-Pauline was born. She would become the most overtly religious of the Martin girls, save perhaps Thérèse, and the first to enter the Carmelites in Lisieux, on October 2, 1882. A third daughter, Marie-Léonie, followed on June 3, 1863. Unlike her two older sisters, Léonie struggled with poor health from the beginning. Her chances of survival were continually in doubt when, during her first sixteen months, Léonie developed eczema that covered her body and put her at risk for infection. Léonie also suffered a bout of measles such that she went into convulsions.

The fourth daughter, Marie-Hélène, born October 13, 1864, started out healthier than Léonie, but the lacemaking business and four children within four years were beginning to weaken Zélie. Therefore, Zélie found herself unable to nurse Hélène, and she sent her fourth daughter to Rosalie (Rose) Taillé, a wet nurse from a modest farm cottage in Semallé, 9 km from Alençon. The following year, Zélie consulted a doctor about a painful swelling in her breast. The doctor, for reasons unknown, felt that an operation was unnecessary. Besides, the condition seemed to resolve itself, and would pass undetected for the next eleven years…

Meanwhile, Louis and Zélie continued to pray for a son who might grow up to be a priest. This wish seemed to have been granted with the birth of Joseph-Louis on September 20, 1866. The child was the strongest at birth since Marie, but he eventually developed enteritis and suddenly died on February 14, 1867. Though Zélie was convinced that her son had been received into Heaven, his death and that of Louis’ father a year-and-a-half prior had left her “overwhelmed” with grief. Six days before Christmas 1867, a second son, Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, was born. This second son was baptized at birth because his health was so poor. Again, Rose Taillé came to nurse the child, but three months of recurrent bronchitis followed by enteritis claimed Joseph-Jean-Baptiste’s life on August 24, 1868. God took him from Zélie’s arms into His loving embrace in Heaven. The four surviving Martin children were encouraged to pray for the intercession of their departed brothers. Hélène thus was cured of an ear infection just five weeks after the first boy had died.

The Martins continued to experience bereavement when Zélie’s father passed away only two weeks after Joseph-Jean-Baptiste. Sorrow was mitigated by some joy with the birth of Marie-Céline on April 28, 1869. This seventh child was also of delicate health, and the unavailability of Rose Taillé to nurse her added to her parents’ anxiety, but Céline, a precocious yet quiet girl, survived. Instead, Hélène rapidly became ill and died on February 22, 1870. Her death hit her parents even harder than those of their two sons, because Hélène had lived for five years in reasonable health. Also, Léonie, who had a difficult temperament in addition to her own health problems, was abruptly deprived of her natural companion among her siblings.

Another daughter, Marie-Mélanie-Thérèse, born on August 16, 1870, died on October 8, aged two months. Zélie continued to pray for a son, but the ninth child was another daughter, Marie-Françoise-Thérèse. She, too, was ill early on, and Rose Taillé was summoned again to nurse her. Thérèse was baptized when she was two days old, on January 4, 1873. God’s plans certainly differed from those of Zélie and of Louis, but for that there was a reason yet to be revealed…

The youngest Martin girl became a lively and strong-willed child who was at least as intelligent as Céline. In her letters of this time, written to Marie and Pauline while they were boarders at the Visitation Convent in Caen, 70 km away, Zélie contrasted the shy Céline with the rambunctious Thérèse, whom she called “le petit lutin”- “the little imp”. (Ms. A, 4v°) Thérèse had a strong sense of morality and of the value of practical good works from early on. If she feared having done something wrong, such as tearing a small piece of wallpaper or pushing Céline, she would pre-emptively throw herself into Louis’ arms, vowing never to repeat the same mistake. (cf. Ms. A, 5v°) She would test her parents’ patience occasionally, like when she would call out to Zélie from the stairs, “Maman!” Only when her mother responded would Thérèse move up or down one step. The game was renewed at each of the fifteen or so steps in the house until Thérèse would reach either the top or the bottom of the stairway.

Thérèse quickly developed an amazing spiritual maturity, too. At four years old, she was asked by Céline, nearly nine, how such a great God could fit into such a small host to be received by people at Communion. Thérèse responded simply but profoundly, “God does as He wishes.” (Ms. A, 10r°) Once, while accompanying her mother in the garden, Thérèse exclaimed to her, “Dear Mama, how I wish you would die.” Zélie, by then suffering from advanced breast cancer unbeknownst to Thérèse, began to scold her daughter, asking her why she would say such a thing. Thérèse replied with childlike logic, “…Because then you will go to Heaven.” Zélie recounted that Thérèse would repeat the same thing to her father, drawing the same alarmed reaction, “when she was at her most affectionate”. (Ms. A, 4v°)

Four months after the death of her sister Marie-Louise (Thérèse’s aunt), Visitandine Sr. Marie-Dosithée, from tuberculosis, Zélie also entered into eternal life. In the weeks preceding his wife’s death at 46 on August 28, 1877, Louis would not leave her side. The following morning, four-year-old Thérèse, barely tall enough to see into the open coffin, was taken to see her mother for the last time. Among her daughters, Zélie’s death most deeply affected Céline and Thérèse. The lively Thérèse, who at two years old one morning escaped from her home and hurriedly followed her parents to Mass, became reserved and prone to emotional outbursts. She would cry for little reason, and then cry more because she had cried. In contrast, the more introspective Céline became increasingly free-spirited, taking on Thérèse’s former role as “le petit lutin”. (To be continued…)


The Universal Brother- Blessed Charles de Foucauld

4 Feb

«Mon Père, je remets mon esprit entre vos mains.» (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”) (Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:6)

Blessed Charles de Foucauld led into his prayer of abandonment, which I included in my previous post, with this quotation from Scripture that is a very appropriate summary of Charles’ own life. Charles de Foucauld continued:

«…C’est la dernière prière de notre Maître, de notre Bien-Aimé. Puisse-t-elle être la nôtre. Et qu’elle soit non seulement celle de notre dernière instant, mais celle de tous nos instants.» (“…That is the last prayer of our Master, our Beloved. May it be our own prayer. And not only that of our last moments, but that of our whole lives.”)

Indeed, Charles de Foucauld eventually would practice this everyday self-giving to Christ. He lived for three years in Nazareth in a humble tool shed, working as a servant to the Poor Clares. After ordination, he moved on to Beni-Abbes, to Algiers, and finally to Tamanrasset, in Algeria. Charles would live alone or with a few companions during this time in the desolate Sahara. He was a tireless ambassador for the Lord until his final breath. Our Master’s last prayer was also that of Charles de Foucauld. However, Charles’ life didn’t start out in the same way. It wasn’t until he was well into his military career that he realized his call to faith.

Charles Eugène, vicompte de Foucauld was born in Strasbourg, France, on September 15, 1858, and baptized at birth. He had one sister, Marie, who was three years younger than Charles. His surname suggests an aristocratic lineage. In fact, his family had a history reaching back to the Crusades, where his ancestors had fought alongside St. Louis. Charles de Foucauld was distantly related to an archbishop and to a priest who were martyred during the French Revolution. The family’s motto was «Jamais arrière», which roughly translates to “Never back” or “Never retreat”. Charles’ family held a large fortune.

Tragically, Charles and Marie de Foucauld lost both their parents in close succession in 1864. Their mother, Elizabeth de Morlet, died during a miscarriage, and their father, Georges Edouard de Foucauld, succumbed six months thereafter to tuberculosis. The children were cared for by their grandmother for a few months before she passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Their nearly seventy-year-old grandfather, Colonel de Morlet, then cared for Charles and Marie.

In 1870, France lost Alsace and Lorraine to Germany as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. In order to retain French citizenship, Colonel de Morlet moved his family to Nancy. There, Charles attended secondary school. He received the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Confirmation in 1872, and obtained a baccalaureate while studying under the Jesuits in Paris. Charles then began to prepare for entry into Saint-Cyr, a Parisian military academy. Before the end of the year, the Jesuit school dismissed Charles for unruly conduct and laziness.

Charles de Foucauld finished high school in 1874. By then he had lost his faith, becoming an agnostic. Of this time Charles later wrote: “For 12 years I neither denied nor believed anything, despairing of the search for truth, not even believing in God. No proof seemed to me clear enough.”

Charles was nearly turned away from the Saint-Cyr military academy in 1876 because he was overweight, but his grandfather, Colonel de Morlet, used his military position to persuade the academy to accept his grandson. Due to Charles’ portly stature, he was ridiculed by his peers at Saint-Cyr. Charles was called «le porc» (“piggy”). More critically, Charles refused to apply himself to his military training. Out of a class of 87 at Saumur Cavalry School, Charles finished last in 1878. He had also become involved with a mistress, Mimi, who was poorly regarded by most of the officers and by their wives. In 1880, Charles de Foucauld’s regiment was sent to Algeria. He took Mimi along as if she were his wife, against the army’s orders. Charles was suspended and sent back to France, where he settled in Evian, eventually parting from Mimi.

The following year, Charles de Foucauld applied successfully for re-instatement into the army and was sent to Oran in Tunisia. Over the next eight months, he proved to be an exemplary officer. After the completion of the assignment in Tunisia, he resigned from the military and prepared to explore Morocco. Charles initially went to Algiers, where he learned Arabic and Hebrew.

On his journeys to Morocco and parts of northern Algeria, Charles was protected by Rabbi Mardochee, and also disguised himself as a Rabbi. In 1885, Charles de Foucauld was awarded the French Geographical Society gold medal for his Moroccan exploration. He thought of marrying at Algiers in 1884, but his family disapproved of the marriage. In part because of the influence of Islam, Charles first discovered meaning of commitment and faith while exploring northwest Africa. In 1901, Charles wrote that “the encounter with Islam caused (him) a great upheaval.” His journey toward returning to his faith had begun.

Charles de Foucauld returned to his family in France in 1886. Upon his return to France, Charles often entered various Catholic churches to pray: “My God, if you exist let me know”.

He met with his cousin, Marie de Bondy, who urged Charles to meet with Abbé Henri Huvelin, parish priest at Saint-Augustin in Paris. Charles de Foucauld told Abbé Huvelin: “Abbé, I have not faith, I have come to ask you to instruct me”… “I seek the light and I do not find it”. Abbé Huvelin, a patient and loving teacher despite being nearly paralyzed by rheumatoid arthritis, asked Charles if he had been to Confession. The young man protested, saying he had not come for that purpose. Charles’ dissent was similar to that of the patron of Abbé Huvelin’s church, St. Augustine, who once longed for conversion “but not yet”.

Despite Charles de Foucauld’s initial complaint, he received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, followed by Holy Communion, from Abbé Huvelin. Sensing Charles’ deepening asceticism while he was still in Morocco, God had sent him an angel, some said, in the form of his cousin Marie, who had acquainted Charles with the holy Abbé Henri Huvelin.

After his conversion, Charles stayed with his family for three years to discern his vocation. He joined the Trappist order on January 15, 1890. However, Charles wrote later that he knew his spiritual path earlier than that: “My religious vocation dates from the same moment as my faith: God is so great…”

Following his hope, Charles was eventually sent to a poor monastery in Akbes, Syria in July, 1890. But Charles longed to live an even deeper poverty, walking in the Lord Jesus’ footsteps in Nazareth. He was sent to Rome to study in 1896. There, he began to formalize his plan for a new religious order. In January, 1897, the Abbot General of the Trappists dispensed Charles from his vows.

Charles de Foucauld arrived in Nazareth in March, 1897. He began to work as a servant to the Poor Clares. Charles wrote of his three years in Nazareth: “I obtained permission to go to Nazareth on my own, and to live there unknown, as a worker, from my daily work. Solitude, prayer, adoration, meditation of the Gospel, humble work…” During this time, he was advised by Abbé Huvelin to think about ordination to the priesthood. Charles returned to Notre Dame des Neiges in France to contemplate this call. He was ordained a priest at Viviers on June 9, 1901, at 42 years of age.

Shortly thereafter, Charles went to Beni-Abbes, Algeria, to build a fraternity where he would establish a religious order, the Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which would live according to a monastic rule that he wrote. Charles also freed many slaves and endeavoured to learn the culture and language of the nomadic Touareg people of the Algerian Sahara. Also, Charles de Foucauld, along with his friend Louis Massignon, a renowned Islamic scholar, ambitiously developed a Touareg dictionary of language, grammar, songs, and poetry. De Foucauld and Massignon also translated the Bible into a Touareg dialect.

Between 1909 and 1913, Charles de Foucauld made three trips to France to attempt the establishment of a Union of brothers and sisters of the Sacred Heart, for the conversion of people to the Catholic faith. Charles lamented that he was unsuccessful in converting even a single soul to Catholicism during his lifetime, but by his death 49 people had joined his Union. He returned to Algeria in 1914, this time building a small fort in Tamanrasset where he spent the remainder of his life alone. War began in Europe the same year, and the unrest stretched into North Africa. Rebels clamoured to destabilize a weakened French presence in the region.

Charles fell victim to this violence on December 1, 1916. A band of Touaregs surrounded his fort in Tamanrasset before luring Charles out and shooting him. There he died, alone. He had written shortly before, quoting the Scriptural parable of the grain of wheat: “If the grain of wheat that has fallen into the ground does not die, it remains alone. If it dies, it bears much fruit. I have not died, and so I remain alone… Pray for my conversion so that in dying I may bear fruit.”

Charles’ efforts bore much fruit. He was recognized by the Touareg as “marabout”, or “holy man”. His humility and austerity united him intimately to the “Humble worker of Nazareth”. Thus, Charles de Foucauld was nicknamed “the Universal Brother”. From the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1933 by Louis Massignon and other friends of Charles de Foucauld, there arose 19 related orders of religious brothers, sisters, or priests that still exist today. Charles de Foucauld was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 13, 2005.

In a letter to his cousin Marie de Bondy dated December 1, 1916, the day Charles was killed, Charles wrote of the mission to be carried out and how to achieve it: “Our self-abasement is the most powerful means that we have to unite us to Jesus and do good to souls”.

Again, I include Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment, as we pray for the canonization of this “Universal Brother”:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures-
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Mon Père, je me remets entre Vos mains;
Mon Père, je me confie à Vous;
Mon Père, je m’abandonne à Vous.

Mon Père, faites de moi ce qu’il Vous plaira.
Quoi que Vous fassiez de moi, je Vous remercie.
Merci de tout; je suis prêt à tout, j’accepte tout.

Pourvu que Votre volonté se fasse en moi, mon Dieu,
Pourvu que Votre volonté se fasse en toutes Vos créatures-
En tous Vos enfants, en tous ce que Votre Coeur aime,
je ne desire rien d’autre, mon Dieu.

Je remets mon âme entre Vos mains;
je Vous la donne, mon Dieu, avec tout l’amour de mon coeur,
parce que je Vous aime.
A qui ce m’est un besoin de me donner,
de me remettre en Vos mains sans mesure;
je me remets entre Vos mains avec une infinie confiance,
car Vous êtes mon Père.


Blessed Charles de Foucauld, pray for us…