Tag Archives: Canadian history

Per Ipsum, cum Ipso, in Ipso: George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, Father of Vatican II

16 Apr

Archbishop George Bernard Flahiff attended every session of Vatican II, but “spoke only once to the assembled council fathers,” on ecumenism.[1] However, I have chosen Flahiff as the subject of my biography of a council father because of his significant involvement in the promotion and development of Vatican II’s theological appreciation of religious life, and because the study of Flahiff’s life is of special interest to me as a Basilian in formation for priestly service. I will therefore consider Flahiff’s efforts in preparation for the Second Vatican Council, his role as a Father of the Second Vatican Council, and how Flahiff’s teaching and example, notably as Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil, were an anticipation of the Council. Lastly, I will discuss Flahiff’s post-Conciliar application of the theological legacy of Vatican II.

Flahiff, thirty years ordained, was elected to his second term as Superior General of the Basilian Fathers on 14 June 1960.[2] During his inaugural six-year term in this position, Flahiff was instrumental in the 1955 reunification of the Basilian Fathers of Viviers, France, and of Toronto, Canada, divided since 1922.[3] As head of the Basilians, he also anticipated the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, especially in the areas of Catholic education, of liturgy, of missions, and of religious life. Flahiff, though, perpetually deemed himself unworthy of positions of ecclesial leadership. In what may have been a reference to a quotation from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Flahiff’s baptismal namesake, when one of his fellow monks became Pope Eugene III in 1145, Flahiff said to Basilian Chapter delegates upon his second election as Superior General, “May God forgive you for what you have done.”[4] Recalled nonetheless by his successor as Superior General, Fr. Joseph Wey, as a “man of God” and an example to his confreres of charity, of care for his fellow Basilians and for those to whom he ministered, and of a “vigourous interior life,”[5] Flahiff was named Archbishop of Winnipeg on 15 March 1961.[6] Vatican II, convoked on Christmas Day, 1961, by Pope John XXIII, opened in October of the following year.[7]

Formal planning for Vatican II had commenced with the motu proprio of June 5, 1960, Superno Dei Nutu, in which John XXIII established the Council’s preparatory commissions and secretariats. Once Flahiff had been appointed to head the See of Winnipeg, “the Council organizers,” Fr. P. Wallace Platt writes, “were not long in fingering the new archbishop to help in the preparation.”[8] His assignment to the Preparatory Commission on Religious Life was an added surprise for the self-effacing Flahiff, who had begun his episcopacy only six months earlier. Flahiff’s progression from Basilian Superior General to archbishop to father of an ecumenical council was indeed swift, even astonishing many of his Basilian confreres.[9] Flahiff cautiously accepted the new responsibilities long foreseen for him by Rome, as he noted concerning his April, 1961, private audience with Pope John XXIII. Archbishop-elect for less than a month at that time, Flahiff replied hesitantly to a question from the pontiff about his age: “Fifty-five years, Holy Father.”[10] John XXIII then responded:

That is fine. I was forty-four [years old] when I was consecrated a bishop. I will tell you something. It is all in the Pater Noster– three things: hallowed- kingdom- will. [God’s] will only matters. [God] chooses you.[11]

The pope’s entreaty failed to dispel Flahiff’s anxiety at becoming a bishop. John XXIII, though, remained convinced that Flahiff was a worthy selection to the episcopate. Christ Himself, pleaded Pope John again, willed that Flahiff serve as a bishop. The pope informed Flahiff that he had seen the scrutinium, “the document outlining the qualifications of the candidate for a bishopric,” and that “we were all pleased: you were for this post.” Flahiff then told John XXIII his episcopal motto, Per Ipsum, cum Ipso, in Ipso, at which the pope “beamed, ‘Ah, bene, bene! That is it!’”[12] Flahiff was sustained as he had been before his episcopal consecration, by a deep life of prayer. Amid rumours that Flahiff would fill the vacant See of Winnipeg, before the Vatican Radio announcement that he had in fact been named its bishop, another Canadian bishop cynically remarked: “I hear they are going to appoint a bishop who prays.”[13] Flahiff’s reputation for prayerful discernment of God’s will and of the good of his confreres both individually and congregationally had gained him widespread admiration among Basilians. As Basilian Superior General from 1954 to 1961, he was keenly interested in the welfare of the burgeoning community, especially in the areas of vocations and religious and priestly formation and vocations, as well as the missions. Flahiff’s commitment to such matters, to which five letters written by, to, or about Flahiff during or immediately following his generalate attest, foreshadowed the attention paid to those themes at Vatican II a decade later.

The first of these letters, dated 21 May 1955, is addressed to Flahiff by Fr. John Collins, Director of the Basilian Mission Centre in Rosenberg, Texas.[14] Collins had met with Bishop Wendelin J. Nold of Galveston, who asked for the appointment of two additional Basilian priests to serve the rapidly growing Mexican community in his diocese. Two days later, Bishop Nold sent this request in writing to Collins. He proposed not only that the Basilian presence in Rosenberg be maintained, but that the Basilians also replace the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in immigrant chaplaincy in Sugar Land or Stafford and establish a second mission centre in Angleton.[15] Upon notification via Collins of Bishop Nold’s petition, Flahiff appointed Fr. William F. McGee as Superior in Angleton and Collins to the parishes in Sugar Land and in Stafford.[16] Flahiff’s acceptance of this increased Basilian commitment to the missions was only the beginning of the order’s rapid spread into mission territory; by the end of Flahiff’s generalate, the Basilians were established in Mexico City.[17] As Superior General, Flahiff also actively sought religious vocations, as shown by his letters to Frs. A. Leland Higgins, Basilian General Councillor, and John Corrigan. Two letters of 3 March 1961 chronicle one of Flahiff’s last appointments of his generalate, that of Fr. Edmund Brennan as Vocation Director.[18] Although Flahiff had chosen Brennan to succeed Corrigan due to the latter’s poor health, he recognized Corrigan’s expertise in religious formation- he had published a book, Theology of Religious Vocation- and assured him of the need for his collaboration with the newly-assigned Brennan.[19] A fifth letter, from Fr. John Fiore congratulating Flahiff on his consecration as bishop, shows that a Vatican II understanding of the episcopacy as the “fullness”[20] of Holy Orders, as Fiore wrote, was already ingrained in the Basilian order before the Council.

During Vatican II, Archbishop Flahiff’s input before the assembly was limited. Behind the scenes, though, Flahiff participated actively in conciliar discussions. A member of the pre-conciliar Commission on Religious Life, Flahiff later contributed to the writing of Perfectae caritatis, Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life.[21] Flahiff’s sole opportunity to speak before the assembly came during the Council’s third session on 2 October 1964. His speech on “the schema on ecumenism” that became Unitatis redintegratio[22] was remarkable for his assessment of the purifying role of intra-Christian divisions. Flahiff stated that “schisms can remind the Church that ‘she is not yet as holy as she should be and not yet perfectly obedient to her vocation to be catholic.’”[23]

Flahiff was appointed after Vatican II to the Congregations for Religious Life and Secular Institutes and for Catholic Education. He was also one of four Canadian bishops to attend each of the first two Synods of Bishops in Rome in 1967 and 1971. Pope Paul VI named Flahiff a Cardinal on 28 March 1969.[24] P. Wallace Platt speculates that Cardinal Flahiff’s further rise in ecclesial ranks was thus halted by a strong minority in the Roman Curia who were suspicious of him. For instance, Flahiff’s recommendation to the 1971 Synod of Bishops for greater recognition of “the aspirations of women… in the life of the Church” was met with criticism from those who regarded Flahiff as advocating the ordination of women.[25] Nonetheless, within the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the Congregation of St. Basil, Cardinal Flahiff was particularly respected. He reminded his fellow Basilians, most notably at the order’s 1966 General Chapter that, in keeping with Perfectae caritatis, all aspects of religious life require constant scrutiny and renewal. Flahiff also frequently emphasized the interconnection among the documents of Vatican II.[26] He retired to the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada in 1982 and died in the same city on 22 August 1989. George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, father of Vatican II, is remembered primarily by P. Wallace Platt for his “example” as “a zealous pastor, a humble religious, a faithful [priest,] and an admirable human person.”[27]



This essay was originally submitted on 12 October 2010 for a course entitled “Thought of Vatican II,” at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada, MDiv Year II, Semester I.

[1] P. Wallace Platt, Gentle Eminence: A Life of Cardinal Flahiff (Montreal/ Kingston/ London/ Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999), 101.

[2] P. Wallace Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” in Dictionary of Basilian Biography, 2nd ed. (Toronto/ Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2005), 216-217.

[3] Ibid., 216.

[4] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 66.

[5] Ibid., 66-67.

[6] Ibid., 224.

[7] Walter M. Abbott, ed. “Important Dates of Vatican II,” in The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), 741.

[8] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 91.

[9] Ibid., 68.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 75.

[13] Ibid., 75.

[14] John Collins to George B. Flahiff, 21 May 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[15] Wendelin J. Nold to John Collins, 23 May 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[16] George B. Flahiff to Wendelin J. Nold, 18 June 1955, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[17] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[18] George B. Flahiff to A, Leland Higgins, 3 March 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[19] George B. Flahiff to John Corrigan, 3 March 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[20] John Fiore to George B. Flahiff, 2 May 1961, General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto, ON.

[21] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[22] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 101.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 217.

[25] Platt, Gentle Eminence, 101.

[26] George B. Flahiff, “Vatican II and the Religious Life,”16 August 1966, Keynote address to the Basilian Convention, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY.

[27] Platt, “Flahiff, George Bernard,” 213-218.

It Is Good to Be Here- Reflection for Mass of August 6, 2010- Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

8 Aug

Friday, August 6, 2010
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Readings: 2 Peter 1:16-19; Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 9+11 (R: 1a and 9a); Luke 9:28-36

This Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord brings to mind my beginning as a Basilian Associate. My spiritual director in Edmonton at the time had been working with me during our meetings on praying over the readings of the coming days. During one meeting, we discussed Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. My spiritual director asked, “If you had to focus on one theme in this Gospel on which to preach, what would that theme be?”

Luke’s Transfiguration narrative provides us with many details, so it was a difficult task for me to stay focused on a single theme. For example, I am often drawn to the words of God the Father that are also recalled in today’s first reading from the Second Letter of Peter: “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] Three of the most trusted Apostles, Peter, James, and John, accompany Jesus up the mountain.[2] Moses and Elijah, representative of the law and the prophets, converse with Jesus after his clothes are made to shine a dazzling white.[3] Poor Peter, barely able to stay awake,[4] misspeaks more than once. He does make an interesting comment about the three tents, recalling the Jewish Festival of the Tabernacles.[5] Jesus, likewise, literally came to dwell among us according to John’s Gospel, or, more faithfully to the Greek, He “tabernacled” among us.[6] Also, in the Lukan Transfiguration, the whole Trinity is present: the Father in the voice, the Son in the human person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud.[7] That cloud, as well as the mention of Jesus’ “departure,” in Greek exodon, point ominously to the Passion and death of Jesus.[8]

All of these details are fascinating and quite appropriate fruits of scholarly research. Yet this theophany- an amazing manifestation of God’s power- for all its awesome display, calls us to a deeper simplicity. Noticing my struggle to focus on a particular detail of the Transfiguration- I was more like Peter, who Luke tells us “did not know what he was saying”[9]– my spiritual director pointed me toward what he thought was most significant in the story: Peter’s simple words, “Master it is good that we are here.”[10]

Like St. Peter, how good it is when we can spontaneously speak and pray those words. This week, I spent about two days translating a French interview transcript into English for Salt and Light Television. The interviewee, Montreal Cardinal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte, spoke to one of our producers about the upcoming canonization of Brother André Bessette. Cardinal Turcotte related the healings performed while Brother André ministered at Collège Notre-Dame and at St. Joseph’s Oratory, and then through Brother André’s intercession after his death. Cardinal Turcotte said of the pilgrims who still visit the Oratory by the thousands that a sense exists that it is good to be there. Even those who will not be healed of physical infirmity nonetheless receive consolation, and have said, “We have peace.” Those pilgrims, through the prayers of Brother André, are prepared for their “great passage from life to death,” a transition that will bring new life but that is “never easy.”[11]

Let us then pray that, through the intercession of Brother André and the whole Communion of Saints, our lives on earth might be a process of transfiguration, our being made fit for eternal life with God in heaven. Let us join, with St. Peter and with the pilgrims to St. Joseph’s Oratory, in praying in thanksgiving as we celebrate this Eucharist that foretells our coming into God’s glory: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”


Note on material used from the interview of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, conducted for Salt and Light Television: Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of translating this and other French-language interviews for an upcoming documentary on Blessed Brother André Bessette, csc. Brother André will be canonized on October 17, 2010.

For more information, please go to www.saltandlighttv.org, and stay tuned for Salt and Light TV’s coverage of Brother André’s canonization. He will be known to the universal Church as St. André of Montreal.


[1] Luke 9:35, 2 Peter 1:17. This verse is also a repetition of Luke 3:22, in which a voice from heaven speaks these same words as Jesus is baptized.

[2] Luke 9:28

[3] Luke 9:29-30

[4] Luke 9:32

[5] Luke 9:33. See also Zechariah 14:16, Deuteronomy 16:13-15

[6] See John 1:14. The Greek word in reference is εσκηνωσεν, literally “tabernacled” or “build [one’s] tent. The same root is found in Luke 9:33, in Peter’s words, “Let us build three tents (‘skenas’- σκηνας).”

[7] See the Entrance Antiphon for Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

[8] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:141.

[9] Luke 9:33

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jean-Claude Turcotte, interviewed by Sébastien Lacroix for Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, July, 2010. Translation from French is mine. See note above.

Peace in New France: A Comparative History of Exploration, Settlement, and Missions of France and of other European Nations in the Americas

26 May

Historian David Hackett Fischer writes that few accounts of the earliest “encounters between American Indians and Europeans… are about harmony and peace.”[1] Nonetheless, as Fischer points out, “scholars of many nations”[2] maintain that the French explorers and later settlers of New France related more peacefully with the Indians of that territory than the first European arrivals of the late fifteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries did with native inhabitants elsewhere in the Americas.[3] Greater accord existed between the French and North American Indians compared to that between Europeans and Indians elsewhere in the New World, with significant exceptions.

For example, upon “hearing a Dominican sermon” that decried the cruel treatment of Indian slaves in the pearl fishery of Guadeloupe,[4] the Spanish “colonial official and plantation owner” Bartolomé de las Casas sought to become a priest and was ordained in 1514. He became a Dominican friar eight years later and devoted the rest of his life to the defence of the equal human dignity of the Indians and of the Spaniards.[5] More than a century thereafter, New England colonists Roger Williams and John Eliot, like the Catholic las Casas but “of the reformed Church of England,”[6] respected the Indian people as they worked to evangelize them. Eliot translated the Bible to an Algonquin tongue, “the first Bible… to be printed in America,” and also produced a catechism.[7] Opposite these examples of non-French esteem toward the Indians, on his voyages under the French Crown in 1534 and 1535, Jacques Cartier responded to Indian greetings in the St. Lawrence Valley by “seizing their children and carrying them to France against their will.”[8]

Thus, the French were not invariably kind and explorers and colonists of other powers cruel toward the Indians and toward other persons of their own ethnicity.  However, French-Indian mutuality in North America was stronger than that between Europeans and Indians elsewhere in the New World for three interrelated reasons that I will consider in this paper. The first basis for this reality was economic: Indian-European and inter-European co-operation were more essential to the success of New France- large, sparsely settled, poorly defended, and heavily dependent on the fur trade with the Indians- than to the survival of American settlements of other realms that balanced mercantilism with colonialism more than the French did. The second motive was religious and political conflict in Europe: Reformation-era France was divided between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots. Such religious strife permeated the French monarchy and peasantry alike. In contrast, other colonial nations were more homogeneously Catholic or Protestant. French explorers, Huguenot and Catholic, strove to build inter-confessional peace from their earliest American settlement attempts. The third reason was the greater priority given by the French than by other European countries to religious evangelism in their colonial holdings. Recollets then Jesuits distinguished themselves in missionary work among the indigenous inhabitants of New France. While Portugal and Spain both attended to evangelization in the Americas, it was of secondary significance to the mercantile endeavours of these nations. On the other hand, for the French, commerce and mission with the Indians went hand in hand. Indian missions were an afterthought in New England until the late seventeenth century contributions of Williams then of Eliot.[9] Likewise, the Protestant settlers of New Netherlands were more interested in trade and in shipping than the export of the Christian faith to the New World.

Economic more than religious interests impelled France, like Spain, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands, to explore and then to colonize the Americas in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. King Francis I of France financed a 1524 voyage by Giovanni da Verrazzano to find “a western passage to China and the Indies”[10] thirty-two years after the Genoese Christopher Columbus located not India but America while on a similar journey under the Spanish Crown.[11] In 1493, a year after Columbus’ expedition, Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull Inter Caetera.[12] That document, followed by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal, set the boundary between Spanish and Portuguese possessions three hundred seventy leagues west of Cape Verde, with Portugal to receive all land to the east and Spain all land to the west of the demarcation.[13] That treaty, though, was merely a delay in other European countries’ colonial aspirations. France’s Protestant King Henri IV negotiated the formal Treaty of Vervins in 1598 with the Catholic Philip II of Spain.[14] Amid the brief peace and fuller royal treasuries[15] in Europe after Vervins, France, England, Spain, and Portugal drew informal “amity lines”[16] in the Atlantic that opened America to settlement and commerce by non-Iberian countries. Henri IV instigated the practice of amity lines when “in 1598, [he] put Spanish leaders on notice that he would not be bound by old agreements that carved up the world between Spain and Portugal.”[17]

Even in the century between Tordesillas and Vervins, though, Spanish and Portuguese “hegemony in the New World” was deliberately ignored by other colonizing nations.[18] In 1497, England’s Henry VII permitted the Venetian John Cabot to search for a maritime trade route to China and India.[19] Cabot found the North American Atlantic coastline instead and explored it from Newfoundland to what later became New England.[20] The English, interested in a Northwest Passage to oriental riches and in Newfoundland’s fishery, left inland exploration of North America to the French. Francis I accepted this opportunity to commission Jacques Cartier to sail to the New World.[21] Cartier made his first voyage in 1534.[22]

On the shore of the Bay of Chaleur, Cartier was welcomed by male Mi’kmaq who held animal pelts aloft on sticks. Female Mi’kmaq, in contrast to the men, retreated into the forest. “The Indians,” J.R. Miller asserts, “initiated both the contact and the commerce” with the French.[23] Cartier knew from the eagerness of the Mi’kmaq men to trade with his crew and the reserve of the Mi’kmaq women that those Indians had previously encountered Europeans and had sought their “iron wares.”[24] The Mi’kmaq performed extensive and merry ceremonies as the French exchanged their metallic goods for Mi’kmaq furs. According to Cartier, the Mi’kmaq “bartered all they had to such an extent that they went back naked without anything on them, and they made signs to us that they would return on the morrow with more furs.”[25]

Subsequent voyages in 1535 and 1541-1542 brought Cartier to the Saguenay River and to Stadacona and Hochelaga- present-day Québec City and Montréal, respectively. Cartier’s party overwintered at Hochelaga during their second expedition, when many became ill with scurvy. One quarter of Cartier’s shipmates died of that disease.[26] The Indians could have allowed the remainder to perish also, but they compassionately taught the French “sojourners… to make a tonic containing ascorbic acid from bark, cedar needles, and water.”[27] That action showed the Indians’ willingness to assist these European visitors for more than mere material gain. Meanwhile, the French view of the Indians, whom Cartier had considered “the sorriest folk… in the world” for their lack of valuable belongings save “their canoes and fishing nets,” began to moderate with further contact.[28] Indian-French relations had begun inauspiciously in North America. In 1535 at Penouille Point, Cartier, with clear intent to claim the land for France, which overshadowed the act’s religious significance, erected a thirty-foot high cross inscribed with the name of King Francis I.[29] At the same location, Cartier captured two sons of the Iroquois chief Donnacona “to take them back to France”;[30] Dom Agaya and Taignoagny were returned to North America the following year.[31]

French aims of association with the North American Indians were manifold and interconnected. J.R. Miller writes:

By the end of Cartier’s third voyage… the Europeans had settled on four motives that would drive their contacts until the eighteenth century: fish, furs, exploration, and evangelization. The indigenous people had tolerated the first, eagerly embraced the second, co-operated in the third when doing so did not threaten their interests, and still remained blissfully ignorant of the last motive.[32]

 Peace in France was abruptly shattered by the 1540s as the religious divisions of the Reformation emerged. Sixty years of intermittent civil war left France nearly bankrupt.[33] Thus, French exploration of North America and contact with its Indian population were halted until the Edict of Nantes of 1598 ended the Wars of Religion in France.[34] That edict was followed by the renewal of French activity west of the Newfoundland fishing grounds.[35] Samuel de Champlain was a key figure of this resumed French presence in North America.

Champlain’s genuine yearning for peace helped to form New France into the haven of Indian-European and inter-European concord relative to other colonial territories of the Americas that it would remain during its century-and-a-half long existence. A native of Brouage on the Bay of Biscay coast,[36] Champlain honed his appreciation of the human dignity of those of differing beliefs as a youth in one of the most violent theatres of the French Wars of Religion. David Fischer speculates that Champlain, born in about 1570,[37] “was… baptized a Protestant,” and notes that he grew up in a milieu of “famine, plague, and suffering… intense religious hatred and incessant war.”[38] Brouage “changed hands [five] times” between Catholics and Protestants during Champlain’s infancy.[39] La Rochelle, the nearest city to Brouage, was then the greatest Huguenot stronghold, which made the entire Gulf of Saintonge shore on which both communities stood a strategic battleground for Protestant and for Catholic forces. In 1568, Brouage belonged to the Protestants. Catholics seized the village with Italian help the following year, and then relinquished it in 1570. Acquired anew by Catholics via a “peace treaty,” Brouage was used shortly thereafter as “a base for operations against… La Rochelle.”[40] By 1571, Protestants had regained Brouage and then lost it once more.[41]

The arranged marriage the next year between the “Catholic Princess Marguerite de Valois and the… Protestant Prince Henri de Béarn and Navarre”[42] escalated what had been localized confessional skirmishes as on the Gulf of Saintonge into kingdom-wide carnage. Neither the Catholic Church nor the House of Guise- exceedingly anti-Protestant even for the time- approved of the union. Huguenots were warned by English emissaries of the danger to their lives should they have stayed in Paris for the wedding celebrations. They remained indeed, and the English prediction of bloodshed came true when Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny was shot on 22 August, 1572. King Charles IX, fearful of being assassinated in a Protestant reprisal for the wounding of de Coligny, was persuaded by Catholic militants to renege on his short-lived offer of protection to panicked Huguenots.[43] The following night, a “Catholic militia” arrested the newlywed prince and the duc de Condé, both Protestants, and “murdered” Admiral de Coligny “in his bed.”[44] The Catholic mob killing spree subsequently spread beyond Paris “to the provinces of France.”[45] Estimates of the number of dead in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre vary widely: two thousand to one hundred thousand Protestants were slain in France between August 24 and October 2, 1572.[46]

Threatened with death should he have remained a Protestant, Prince Henri de Béarn and Navarre became Catholic on September 26, 1572. Over the next twenty-three years, Henri oscillated between denominational stances three times, drawing the suspicion of French Catholics and Protestants alike. His final turn toward Catholicism was sealed on July 25, 1593.[47] According to Fischer, Henri’s repeated confessional changes had not been the result of indecision but a shrewd plan to build stability in his realm. Moreover, the prince thought the continuous fighting “by both sides in the name of Christ” to be “un-Christian.”[48] Henri had therefore exhorted Catholics and Protestants to reconcile with one another: “We believe in one God, we recognize Jesus Christ, and we draw on the same gospel.”[49] Although the Bourbon Henri came to abhor war whether from a Catholic or Protestant perspective, as a Protestant in 1587 he defeated two Catholics, Henri of Guise and Henri of Valois, “in open battle”[50] during the last of nine French Wars of Religion,[51] known as “the War of the Three Henris.”[52] Two years later, the Catholic Prince Henri was enthroned as King Henri IV,[53] and peace ruled France for the next four decades.

Shortly after Henri IV’s reign began, the new king’s ally Samuel de Champlain followed his sovereign into the Catholic Church. Champlain quickly earned the trust of Henri IV. A highly-skilled navigator, Champlain was appointed by the king as a geographer in the Louvre in 1602. There, he studied why six previous French attempts to settle North America had failed, and how a permanent New World colony might yet be established.[54]

Champlain’s seafaring abilities had been tried between 1599 and 1601 on a royal expedition to New Spain sanctioned by Spanish General Pedro de Zubiaur, with a mixed Spanish-French crew.[55] Spain had enlisted French help to spy on English interlopers in New Spain’s waterways; England had attacked Spanish Puerto Rico in 1598.[56] The espionage fleet was overseen by a Spaniard, Don Francisco Coloma, while its lead ship, San Julian, which had just been sold by France to Spain, was captained by Champlain’s uncle, Guillaume Allène Provençal.[57] In New Spain, Champlain saw the same “free dives” for pearls that had raised the ire of Bartolomé de las Casas almost a century earlier, although by Champlain’s time African descendants were working in place of the Indian slaves encountered by las Casas.[58] Champlain reacted with similar disgust to that of the Spanish Dominican against the inhumanity of the slave trade in the Spanish Empire. Slavery, whether of Indians or of Africans, was not to be replicated in the New France that Champlain was to build. Alas, the French used slaves with the same impunity as the Spanish in Hispaniola’s sugar cane plantations before and after Spain surrendered the island’s western third to France via the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick.[59] African slaves were also imported to French North America in the late seventeenth century.[60]

Samuel de Champlain first sailed to North America aboard the Bonne Renommée, commanded by the Catholic François Gravé, Sieur du Pont. The weathered ship landed at Tadoussac on May 26, 1603. There, as in New Spain, Champlain conversed with the Indians. The observant Champlain distinguished between the many Montagnais and Algonquin nations in the vicinity, negotiated trade with them, and sketched maps of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay valleys based on his explorations and on his conversations with the Indians.[61] The French called their friendly reception by the Indians that featured tobacco, local game, dialogue, and welcome speeches and dances interspersed with long periods of silence a tabagie– “a tobacco feast.”[62]

Success at Tadoussac spurred Champlain to petition Henri IV to finance another expedition that would culminate in a permanent French New World settlement. The king agreed to that proposal enthusiastically, under the condition that the colony be centered on the fur trade.[63] Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, “a Protestant with a Catholic wife,”[64] was made responsible for the realization of Henri IV’s designs. De Mons was influenced by an “American circle at Court”[65]– royal officials who had read about America from details of a century of voyages but had never sailed to the Americas- to lay anchor in Acadia, the North American Atlantic region known to da Verrazzano and thought to have had a similar climate to that of France’s western coast.[66] In May of 1604, the Don de Dieu arrived at Sainte-Croix Island after a rapid ocean crossing during which the lead ship nearly ran aground on Sable Island.[67] The mission that began as a triumph in Catholic-Protestant relations exemplified by Champlain and de Mons and by the harmony between Catholics and Huguenots ended in failure: the Sainte-Croix River iced over during a harsh winter. The colonists’ food, water, and firewood were exhausted. Scurvy followed, which was more deadly at Sainte-Croix than it had been at Hochelaga for the party of Cartier’s second voyage. Thirty-five of seventy-nine settlers died at Sainte-Croix.[68] The site, named “Bone Island” for its shallow graves of French settlers, was abandoned within a year of its inception.[69]

Three more years passed before Champlain founded the first successful French colony at Québec.  In the interim, in two voyages he explored and mapped North America’s eastern coast from Port Royal- now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia- on the Bay of Fundy to Norumbega, present-day northern Maine. Champlain was the first lieutenant of the French Crown in New France. He was officially so from 1617 until his death on Christmas Day, 1635, in the arms of his friend, the first Jesuit Superior of Canada, Father Charles Lalemant. Father Paul le Jeune, then-editor of the Jesuit Relations, which documented that Order’s missionary activities in Canada and were started by Charles Lalemant, acknowledged Champlain’s significance for New France and especially for its Indians in his announcement of the lieutenant’s passing:

      On the twenty-fifth of December, the day of the birth of our Savior upon earth, Monsieur de Champlain, our Governor, was reborn in Heaven… I am sure that God has shown him this [favour] in consideration of the benefits he has procured for New France, where we hope [that one day] God will be loved and served by our French, and known and adored by our [Indians.][70]

Beginning with the tabagies at Tadoussac and then at Norumbega,[71] within thirty years Champlain had made contact with Indians as far inland as the Huron Nations of the Great Lakes, for the fur trade and for the Christian faith. Those priorities were invariably intertwined for Champlain.[72] As he worked to evangelize the Indians, Champlain respected them as equal to the Europeans although they were, he said, “‘without faith, law, or authority,’ ni foi, ni loi, ni roi.”[73]

Champlain, whose religious faith deepened as he aged,[74] was a peacemaker and a nation-builder. However great his role was in the foundation of New France, though, other reasons for the prevalent co-operation among the French and between its first European settlers and Indians existed, chiefly the size of New France and its meager population. The French and Indians of New France thus relied upon one another for survival. Other European powers held smaller colonies that had larger populations than New France. For example, France claimed an area that extended from the Atlantic coast of Acadia to the Great Lakes and from James Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.[75] Upon the death of Cardinal de Richelieu in 1642,[76] three thousand French settlers lived in New France.

In comparison to New France, thirty thousand English had colonized New England by 1642, and the population was rapidly expanding and displacing Indians westward.[77] Thirty thousand Portuguese, mostly clustered around the sugar-producing centres Pernambuco and Bahia, had settled in Brazil by 1585.[78] Portuguese administration in Brazil, in contrast to that of the Spaniards in New Spain, was chronically unorganized. Portugal’s focus in the western hemisphere was more mercantile than colonial. Thus, Brazil remained mired in poverty until after the monarchies of Portugal and Spain were united under Spain’s Philip II in 1580.[79] Portugal focused on trade at the expense of colonial development beyond Africa, India, and islands near Europe such as Madeira and Cape Verde.[80] Spain possessed a land area much larger than New France in the Americas, but New Spain was highly ordered into “chartered” towns: one hundred twenty-one of these towns had been built by 1574, and a further two hundred ten were constructed by 1628.[81] Those settlements, as elsewhere in the Americas, were structured around the exploitation of natural resources: mining, principally in South America, fishing, and, particularly in Mexico and in the Caribbean, plantation crops and livestock.[82] The Netherlands, although a prosperous nation by seventeenth-century European standards, especially since the Dutch declared independence only in 1579,[83] were not as involved in colonization as France, England, Spain, or Portugal. The main Dutch concerns were shipping[84] and, in North America, the fur trade.[85] Consequently, New Netherlands included only 1 300 Dutch settlers as of 1663.[86]

Demography, politics, and economics in Europe and in the North American colonies of European countries affected relations between Indians and colonists of the Americas as well as between the settlers themselves. However, religious motives of colonial nations interconnected with those factors in these Euro-Indian and inter-European relationships. The Netherlands, owing to their scant attention to settlement in the Americas, were not a relevant contributor to evangelization of the Indians there. Nor was England, whose American colonial history- about as long as that of France[87]– was short relative to that of Spain or Portugal. Additionally, New England was a confederation of several colonies, each with their own religious confessions, and priorities. Unlike France, which founded its colonies of North America both on the fur trade and on the Indian missions, English evangelism of the Indians was neither as sustained nor as systematic.

Spain and Portugal rivalled France in their missionary focus in the Americas, but the Spanish and Portuguese were more coercive than cooperative, in contrast to the French, toward the American Indians to whom they carried Christianity. Diarmaid MacCulloch argues that the Iberians viewed their American missions as another Crusade. That mentality of religious conquest had been developed in Spain and Portugal, where monarchies were stable enough to impose a nearly homogeneous Catholic faith on those lands. Non-Catholics and recent converts to Catholicism were persecuted by the Inquisition in Spain, or simply expelled from the country. Jews met the latter fate in Spain in 1492, after Spanish Muslims surrendered Granada,[88] and in Portugal in 1496.[89] The brutal excesses of the Spanish Inquisition were also directed against Protestants in Spain and Indians in the Americas. The 1512 Laws of Burgos included a “Requirement” that was to be proclaimed to the Indians in Spanish: If the Indians submitted to Spain’s claims to their territory and accepted Christianity, “then no force would be used against them.”[90]

Members of religious orders that organized missions in the Americas- the Dominicans, Franciscans, and then the Jesuits- criticized the practices in New Spain of slavery, torture, and the non-acceptance of mestizos– mixed European-Indian descendants- for Holy Orders. By 1570, Spain had come to disapprove of religious clergy in its missions; secular clergy increasingly took their place.[91] That imbalance of secular to religious clergy did not occur in New France, where the Jesuits, who had followed the Recollet Franciscans as the foremost order in Canada’s missions, distinguished themselves in particular. The Jesuits, founded at the outset of the Reformation,[92] were well-suited to missionary work. A leading Jesuit figure in Canada, Jean de Brébeuf, arrived in New France in 1625. He garnered the trust of the Indians of the Huron nations of the Great Lakes region. He was successful in doing so over twenty-four years, despite epidemics of disease- especially smallpox and influenza- that ravaged the Indians and turned their suspicion against the missionaries and their rituals. Brébeuf was martyred in 1649 along with Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Lalemant’s nephew,[93] by Iroquois who sacked the Jesuits’ Huron missions. Brébeuf taught the Hurons as he suffered a gruesome death that his suffering would be rewarded in heaven: “[Our torments] will end with our lives; the glory which follows them will never have an end.” “Echon,” one responded, “Pray to God for us… We will invoke [God], even unto death.”[94]

The Indians of New France long remembered the gallant Jesuit missionaries, eight of whom had been martyred among them. Eighteen years after the final collapse of the Huron missions, Jesuit Father Claude Allouez encountered Petuns, ethnically related to the Hurons, wandering in the brush near Lake Superior. Allouez was informed by the forlorn Petuns that they were still mourning the death of Charles Garnier, one of the Canadian Martyrs.[95] The Jesuits preached and lived peace among the Indian people of New France. They built on a humanist legacy of co-operation between French and Indian, Catholic and Protestant. Harmony came from those who had experienced religious and political strife in Europe and were determined not to export it. That co-operation among diverse peoples of New France existed for economic and demographic reasons- the territory was large, and French and Indians depended upon the fur trade- but also for religious reasons; evangelism in New France was founded on mutual recognition of the human dignity of the Indians and of the French settlers.


This historical research paper was originally submitted for my course entitled History of Christianity II (843-1649) at the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, ON, Canada, MDiv Year I, Semester 2, on 15 March, 2010.


[1] David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream: The Visionary Adventurer Who Made a New World in Canada (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 527.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 608. Fischer states that, shortly before publishing Champlain’s Dream, he had been invited to meet representatives of several Indian nations based “throughout the United States” at the Newberry Library in Chicago. He asked leaders of these nations what they would wish to be called; they expressed a preference to be denoted by their individual nations’ names. The term “Indian” was acceptable- better than other designations, or even a mark of pride for some with whom Fischer spoke- in collective reference to the first inhabitants of the Americas. Those conventions of nomenclature will thus be followed in this essay. 

[4] Ibid., 86-88.

[5] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 (London/New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 69.

[6] Online Etymology Dictionary, “Anglican.” http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Anglican. Accessed 9 March, 2010. To refer to Williams and Eliot as Anglicans- a noun not used until 1797- is anachronistic.

[7] MacCulloch, Reformation, 540-541.

[8] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 527-528.

[9] MacCulloch, Reformation, 540-541.

[10] Robert Choquette, “French Catholicism Comes to the Americas,” in Charles H. Lippy, Robert Choquette, and Stafford Poole, Christianity Comes to the Americas (New York: Paragon House, 1992), 142.

[11] David Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, Introductions to History (London/New York: Routledge, 2000), 49.

[12] Pablo Alberto Deiros, Historia del Cristianismo en América Latina (Buenos Aires: Fraternidad Teologica Latinoamericana), 301.

[13] Ibid., 303.

[14] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 67-68.

[15] K.G. Davies, The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century, vol. 4 of Europe and the World in the Age of Expansion, edited by Boyd C. Shafer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974), 17.

[16] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 68.

[17] Ibid., 69.

[18] Ibid.

[19] J.H. Parry, Europe and a Wider World: 1415-1715, edited by Maurice Powicke (London/New York/Melbourne/Sydney/Cape Town: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1949), 52.

[20] Ibid.

[21] J.R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada, 3rd ed. (Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2000), 27-28. Francis I only grudgingly took advantage of England’s disinterest in inland North America; France, too, was principally searching for a Northwest Passage. Inland exploration was a secondary option to find a route to the Far East.

[22] Ibid., 28.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 30-31.

[27] Ibid., 31.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Marcel Trudel, “Cartier, Jacques,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. http://www. biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?BioId=34229. Accessed 11 March, 2010.

[30] Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 30.

[31] Trudel, “Cartier, Jacques,” accessed 11 March, 2010.

[32] Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 31.

[33] History Learning Site, “Fourth French War of Religion.” http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ FWR4.htm. Accessed 12 March, 2010.

[34] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 67.

[35] Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 32.

[36] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 15-29.

[37] Ibid., 573.

[38] Ibid., 52.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid., 54.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Georges Goyau, “Saint Bartholomew’s Day,” in Catholic Encyclopedia.  http://www.newadvent.org/ cathen/13333b.htm. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[47] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 54-55.

[48] Ibid., 55.

[49] Ibid., 54-55.

[50] Ibid., 55.

[51] Ibid., 529.

[52] Ibid., 55.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid., 105-123.

[55] Ibid., 78-83.

[56] Ibid., 80.

[57] Ibid., 77.

[58] Ibid., 86-88.

[59] Tim Lambert, “A Brief History of Haiti.” http://www.localhistories.org/haiti.html. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[60] Choquette, “French Catholicism Comes to the Americas,” 187.

[61] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 137-138.

[62] Ibid., 132.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid., 149.

[65] Ibid., 150.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid., 160-161.

[68] Ibid., 171.

[69] Ibid.

[70] “The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents Volume 9,” edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/relations_09.html. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[71] Fischer, Champlain’s Dream, 174-175.

[72] Ibid., 6-7.

[73] Ibid., 154.

[74] Ibid., 7.

[75] Choquette, “French Catholicism Comes to the Americas,” 134.

[76] Georges Goyau, “Armand du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu,” in Catholic Encyclopedia.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13047a.htm. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[77] Parry, Europe and a Wider World, 124.

[78] Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, 79.

[79] MacCulloch, Reformation, 417.

[80] Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, 5.

[81] “New Spain Conquest.” http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~walters/web%20230/Unit%203%20New% 20Spain%20Conquest.html. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[82] Birmingham, Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400-1600, 54-58.

[83] Henry C. Morris, The History of Colonization: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York/London: MacMillan, 1900) 1:305.

[84] Ibid., 302.

[85] Davies, The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century, 18.

[86] Parry, Europe and a Wider World, 132.

[87] Ibid., 121.

[88] MacCulloch, Reformation, 58.

[89] John W. O’Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 1993), 188.

[90] MacCulloch, Reformation, 68.

[91] Karen Melvin, “Priests and Nuns in Colonial Ibero-America,” in Religion and Society in Latin America: Interpretive Essays from Conquest to Present, edited by Lee M. Penyak and Walter J. Petry (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), 100-114.

[92] O’Malley, The First Jesuits, 23.

[93] Angus MacDougall, “Gabriel Lalemant, 1610-1649.” http://www.wyandot.org/lalemant.htm. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

[94] “The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents Volume 34,” edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/relations_09.html. Accessed 13 March, 2010. “Echon,” the Hurons’ name for Brébeuf for his knowledge of basic cures for diseases, meant “Healing tree.”

[95] James McGivern, “Charles Garnier, 1606-1649.” http://www.wyandot.org/garnier.htm. Accessed 13 March, 2010.

Ste. Marguerite d’Youville, Universal Model of Holiness- Reflection for Mass of October 16, 2009

16 Oct

Friday, October 16, 2009
Memorial of Ste. Marguerite d’Youville
Readings: 1 Corinthians 13:4-13; Psalm 146:2-10; Matthew 25:31-40

Less than three weeks ago, the memorial of eight Jesuit “Canadian Martyrs” was celebrated in Canada. Those men gave their lives courageously to the service and spread of the word of God to the Native peoples of North America, and are therefore rightly honoured. In three days, the anniversary of the death of one of the eight “North American Martyrs,” St. Isaac Jogues, who died near present-day Albany, New York, will be commemorated in the United States. (1)

Today, in between the two great feast days of the Jesuit martyrs, the Canadian Church remembers the life of a more obscure saint, Marguerite d’Youville. I have long had an appreciation of Canadian history, particularly that of the Francophones of our nation. But I gained an even deeper perspective of French roots in my Anglophone-dominated native province of Alberta when I took a “Franco-Albertan” history course in my next-to-last year of undergraduate studies. (2) Also, I would often drive past the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton, named after the Order founded by Ste. Marguerite and surrounded by the aptly-named road, Youville Drive.  

Born in Varennes, Québec in 1701, Ste. Marguerite lived most of her life in poverty. Her father died when she was young. After two years of education under the Ursulines in Québec, she returned home to teach her five younger siblings. She married François You de la Découverte in 1722. François was abusive toward Marguerite and toward himself, and he bootlegged liquor to the Indian peoples. He died young, leaving Marguerite destitute with two boys who went on to become priests. Marguerite founded a home for poor women in Montréal in 1737, and ten years later she and her companions saved the General Hospital of New France from financial collapse. Another eight years passed before the rule of the Sisters of Charity of Montréal- the Grey Nuns– was approved. (3)

In 1990, Marguerite d’Youville became the first Canadian-born person to be canonized. (4) She is a saint not only because she was humble and poor, or because she founded a religious order, or because she was faithful to an abusive husband for eight years, while also losing four of six children in their infancy. Ste. Marguerite is the ideal religious, a Canadian and universal model of holiness.

In the words of St. Paul, “faith, hope and love” found their home in Ste. Marguerite. (5) Her love and kindness was directed toward the least of our brothers and sisters. (6) The Kingdom of Heaven (7) welcomes those like Ste. Marguerite d’Youville and those among us who strive after her example.


A Communion of Hearts- Jean Vanier

26 Nov

Less than two years after L’Arche, an international community for the intellectually disabled, was founded, its members were invited to Rome for a papal audience with His Holiness Pope Paul VI. The Pontiff began his greeting thus:

Seeing you all together makes us realize that you are a small group united by love and an active will to help one another. You are a community in whose midst Jesus is happy to live. (1)

By Wednesday, April 6, 1966, the date of that Holy Week audience with the Pope, L’Arche had joined with a larger house called Val-Fleuri in Trosly-Breuil, France. Despite its small size, it had already developed a tradition of organizing pilgrimages and shorter field trips for its members. (2) More than thirty years later, the group begun by the self-effacing Jean Vanier had spread to thirty-four countries on six continents. (3) While I was serving as president of the Newman Club at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, two core members of that city’s L’Arche house were accompanied to one of our weekly meetings by two caretakers who spoke about L’Arche’s presence in Edmonton and around the world.

Following a presentation on the history of L’Arche and on the organization’s contribution to the care of the disabled, the Newman Club members gathered were invited to ask questions about the talk, but this opportunity for interaction with the speakers was different than most. One of the L’Arche core members had a gift of telling other people’s ages, so the university students of the Newman Club deligtedly put the young man’s ability to the test.

Jean Vanier, who founded L’Arche along with Dominican Father Thomas Philippe, celebrated his eightieth birthday this past September. In an interview with Globe and Mail columnist Ian Brown, himself a father of a disabled son, Vanier reflected on aging and on his own life:

The reality of my life as a human is to accept myself as I am. At the age I have. So that at the age of 80, I live as 80, and not as if I’m 40. Live and enjoy life and don’t spend my time weeping, and saying, ‘I don’t have any more power, people are not coming to see me. Don’t spend your time regretting. Spend your time living. (4)

As he ages, Vanier, widely considered to be “the world’s most significant thinker on the subject of disability,” (5) increasingly applied this same attitude to himself and to the residents of the one hundred thirty houses that make up L’Arche. The intellectually and physically challenged have many of the same necessities as Jean Vanier, a PhD-level philosopher who is among the foremost contemporary Christian humanists. Like all human beings, the disabled members of L’Arche and the octogenarian Vanier share a fundamental need to be loved. People generally fear abandonment and loneliness. Particularly in technologically-advanced societies, competition and productivity are valued almost to the point of obsession. Those deemed unfit to contribute to the rapid material advances of the world are shunned. When L’Arche was founded forty-four years ago, the disabled were crowded into bleak institutions and forgotten. Currently, 80 to 90 percent of children in North American and European nations with disabilities such as Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida are aborted. (6) Arguably, little progress has therefore been made in Western societies’ treatment of the disabled; their inhumane approach has merely shifted from marginalization to elimination of those whom Jean Vanier counts as “among the most persecuted people on earth.” (7)

Jean Vanier’s experience with the mentally disabled and his own physical limitations have taught him about the essence of being human, with all our strengths and weaknesses. Each person, whether able-bodied or not, will eventually lose independence. Precisely at that point, Vanier contends, one reaches humanness on its deepest level, yet we fear relinquishing our autonomy. However, Vanier says pondering the Biblical story of the fall of humankind, we must realize that we are not in control in the first place:

There’s a really interesting text in Genesis… which is probably the oldest book about the beginnings of humanity. At one point, Adam and Eve separate from God. And then God runs after them and says, ‘Where are you?’ He doesn’t say, ‘You’re bad!’ He just says, ‘Where are you?’ And Adam responds, ‘I was frightened because I was naked. And so I hid.’

So fear [is] due to nakedness, which leads to hiding. And what is that nakedness we fear? It’s our mortality. It’s our incapacity. It’s the realization that I’m not in total control of my life. I can go out here and fall on my neck, and you would have to bring me to the hospital, and so on. We can have all the insurance we want, but we still move to death. Whether we like it or not, we are not in control. (8)

L’Arche is a community of people who have never been in control, but the disabled core members of that organization are, in Vanier’s view, the best teachers of how to accept one’s self, of how to lead a life of compassion, of gratitude, and of peace, and of how to pray. Prayer, Vanier emphasizes, does not necessarily involve deep thought or verbal conversation; those whom he has served for forty-four years are incapable of discussing theology or philosophy, but they offer an even greater gift. “Praying,” Vanier said to Ian Brown, “is not doing…Prayer is communion and gratefulness…a way of reminding ourselves to be who we are.” (9)

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions of the time prior to his conversion: “I loved not as yet I loved to love… I searched about for something to love, in love with loving, and hating security, and a way not beset with snares.” (10) Later in the same work, he prayed, “Oh, let Truth, the light of my heart, not my own darkness, speak unto me! I have descended to that, and am darkened. But thence, even thence, did I love Thee.” (11) Similarly, Jean Vanier spent many years discerning the Lord’s will for him. He had a promising career in the Navy, thought about becoming a priest, then began to lecture in philosophy after earning a doctorate. Vanier, though, came to a small house in Trosly-Breuil that had fallen into disrepair. There, the thirty-six-year-old Vanier started L’Arche, where the intellectually disabled have taught him more about human nature and basic necessities than Vanier could have taught in a philosophy course. In words reminiscent of those of St. Augustine, Jean Vanier spoke of his life before L’Arche was created:

I was searching without knowing what I was searching for… I didn’t have a centre, but I found myself when I founded L’Arche. I didn’t have an answer to all the technical questions about the future of this small community. But not knowing has allowed me to take the risks to continue. (12)

While Jean Vanier searched and prayed over his vocation, his parents, who were also known to take risks for the betterment of the world, steadfastly supported their son. Georges Phileas Vanier, a native of Montréal in 1888 whose father had emigrated from Normandy, France, and whose mother was Irish, married Pauline Archer, twenty-three years old and also from Montréal, in 1921. (13) Pauline Vanier’s parents were “Charles Archer, a Québec Superior Court judge,” and Thérèse de Salaberry, descended from early eighteenth-century settlers on Québec’s seigneuries. (14) Pauline was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Montréal, with supplementary tutoring in English and French literature that gave her a “lively mind and insatiable curiosity.” (15) She also hoped to become a religious sister, but her plans were altered with the outbreak of World War I. Pauline was refused admission as a foot soldier, and instead accepted work as a nurse “at a military convalescent hospital, where she laboured long hours until war’s end.” (16) Her wartime activity met the disapproval of her parents.

After the war, Pauline met Georges Vanier, who had twice been awarded medals of bravery during the conflict. He had once written home from the trenches, “I sleep as ever on the fresh earth… one day we shall go back to her.” (17) Georges Vanier’s right leg was severed by a German shell, but he refused to return to Canada: “I simply cannot go back to Canada while my comrades are still in the trenches in France.” (18) Shortly after the marriage of Georges and of Pauline Vanier, Canadian Governor General Lord Julian Byng, First Viscount of Vimy, appointed the couple to Government House in Ottawa.  (19) Georges was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and sent to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1927. There, Jean Vanier, one of five children- four sons and one daughter- of Georges and Pauline Vanier, was born on September 10, 1928. (20)

Georges Vanier joined the Canadian High Commission in London in 1931, and in 1939 the Vanier family moved to Paris, where Georges had been “named minister of the Canadian Embassy.” (21) While Georges Vanier gained a reputation as an intelligent and skilled diplomat, Pauline ably ran the family home and was devoted to several social causes. Georges’ warnings of impending war, even before Adolf Hitler had ascended to power and while Germany’s economy was crippled by punitive war reparations against that country, were prophetic. As an adviser on disarmament at the League of Nations, Georges Vanier pleaded, “I ask you to open your eyes to human suffering, to direct your hearts to those who have not the strength to ask for help. Let us go to them. They have already been waiting too long.” (22) However, the world’s leaders did not listen; World War II began in August, 1939. France fell to Nazi Germany less than a year later, and the Vanier family fled Paris for Bordeaux before being shipped to England. (23) In London, the Vaniers waited out the horrific bombing of the Battle of Britain. Deborah Cowley wrote about Pauline Vanier and her family’s flight from France:

It was her escape in 1940 from wartime Paris to London with their four children…that gave Pauline a chance to show her courage and her complete trust in God. With the Germans rapidly overrunning France, Georges insisted that she and the children leave Paris in the Vanier automobile. Every road south was jammed with refugees, who were being repeatedly machine-gunned by German fighter aircraft. Suddenly, an enemy airplane crashed beside the road  just ahead of Pauline’s car. She leapt from her car and ran to the smoking wreck hoping to drag the pilot to safety. Alas, he had died in the wreck. (24)

While in London, Pauline Vanier continued her many humanitarian efforts, and Georges began to support General Charles de Gaulle’s plan to assemble a free French army to take France back from Nazi Germany. Georges Vanier’s position was panned by Canada and other Allied nations, who as yet failed to view Vichy France as merely a Nazi puppet state. Thus, the Vaniers were recalled to Canada, but were returned to Europe as the urgency of the Nazi threat and the leadership of Charles de Gaulle in the Allied resistance began to be appreciated. (25) In late 1944, Georges Vanier arrived in Paris as Canadian Ambassador to France. Pauline eventually followed him; she petitioned the Canadian Red Cross to allow her to work for them as a spokesperson, and was successful despite reluctance to open the French capital to civilians at that time, especially to women. After the war’s end, Pauline Vanier helped to resettle refugees who were returning to France. (26)

Georges and Pauline Vanier’s service to their country and to humanity ignited a similar concern in their son Jean. While World War II was still raging, Jean Vanier, at thirteen years old, asked his father’s permission to enroll as a Royal Navy Cadet in Portsmouth, England. (27) Georges gave his assent, simply but profoundly, “I trust you.” (28) His son would cite this moment later as “probably one of the two most important things that happened, because if he trusted me, then I could trust myself.” (29) Jean Vanier went on to join the Canadian Navy as an aircraft carrier officer (30), but he was still searching for a deeper purpose to his life.

He left the Navy in 1950, and subsequently befriended a Dominican priest, Fr. Thomas Philippe, who was the director of L’Eau Vive, a mostly lay academic community in Saulchoir, France, whose focus was on Christian prayer and  on the study of metaphysics. (31) Meanwhile, like his father before him, Jean Vanier contemplated whether he had a vocation to the priesthood. Fr. Thomas’ failing health forced him to appoint Jean Vanier to direct L’Eau Vive, which he would do for the next six years. During this period, Vanier was unable to advance in his studies in philosophy as long as he stayed in Saulchoir. Therefore, with the hope of becoming a priest, he entered the seminary in the Archdiocese of Québec. (32) Tension mounted between the Dominicans and Vanier, and the latter was asked by the Holy See to leave L’Eau Vive if he wanted to devote the requisite time to his seminary studies. (33) During the same period, Vanier had started his doctoral thesis at l’Institut Catholique de Paris on happiness and Aristotelian ethics, entitled “Le Bonheur: Principe et fin de la morale aristotélicienne,” which he published in 1962. (34)

Fr. Thomas Philippe’s teachings created divisions among his fellow Dominicans and also stirred controversy in Rome, thus Jean Vanier’s mentor at L’Eau Vive retreated into a Trappist monastery.  (35) Vanier and Fr. Thomas met again in Trosly-Breuil in 1962. There, Fr. Thomas had become the chaplain of a home for the mentally disabled called Val-Fleuri. The home had been founded by a physician, Dr. Préault, and Mr. Prat, whose son was intellectually challenged. (36) A second visit to Trosly-Breuil deepened Jean Vanier’s awareness of the cruelty of the dark and bleak mental institutions in France like the one he saw that housed eighty men in cramped conditions. (37)

Jean Vanier had long been gifted with a strong sense of ethics and of social justice. He had become a  well-respected instructor of moral philosophy at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada, where he was hired in 1964, after completing his PhD. (38) Vanier knew by then that he was not called to be a priest, He did not see that as an obstacle, but accepted that he was being led closer to Christ. “I was forced to continue to search and to believe that life would always be stronger than death,” Vanier said in retrospect. (39) He refused to give up, and God led him decisively to Trosly-Breuil.

The modest house in that town, which in the early 1960s had neither flush toilets nor electricity, became the starting point of a revolution in the care of the disabled. (40) Two years after his first visit to Val-Fleuri, on August 5, 1964, Jean Vanier chose three men from an institution in Paris to live with him. They were Raphaël Simi, who could neither walk nor speak after a bout of meningitis, Philippe Seux, partially paralyzed by encephalitis, and a man named Dany, whose needs could not be met by Vanier and who was returned to the institution. (41) Vanier’s house, next to Val-Fleuri, was named L’Arche, after Noah’s Ark. The original wooden sign still marks the home’s entrance today. Vanier cooked, cleaned, and cared for Raphaël and for Philippe on his own at the beginning of L’Arche. (42) The home began with a sense of mission and of prayer. Vanier wrote that he and “Père Thomas…had the deep conviction that [they] had been called together by Jesus to accomplish something.” (43) Seux, Simi, and Vanier quickly established a friendship and a community. In Vanier’s words, “Our prayer was magnificent.” (44)

Back in Canada, Georges and Pauline Vanier were less convinced of their son’s latest efforts. Tony Walsh, founder of Benedict Labré House for homeless men in Montréal, urged them to fully support Jean Vanier and L’Arche. (45) Since 1959, Georges Vanier had been the Governor General of Canada, only the second Canadian-born holder of that office, succeeding Vincent Massey. (46) He and Pauline were “a perfect partnership in the service of Canada,” declared then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. (47) However, Georges Vanier’s health, a concern at his appointment as Governor General, continued to decline. He was confined to a wheelchair by heart problems in his last years, but he was still an inspiring presence. The last speech by Georges Vanier was to students at the University of Montréal in 1967. By then, the separation of Québec from the rest of Canada was being more openly promoted in that province, which sometimes resulted in isolated acts of violence and of terrorism. Georges Vanier’s words were powerful:

The measure of Canadian unity has been the measure of our success… If we imagine we can go our separate ways within our country, if we exaggerate our differences or revel in contentions… we will promote our own destruction. Canada owes it to the world to remain united, for no lesson is more badly needed than the one our unity can supply: the lesson that diversity need not be the cause for conflict but, on the contrary, may need to richer and nobler living. I pray to God that we may go forward hand in hand. (48)

Within months of that address, on March 4, 1967, “George Vanier’s gallant heart, pressed to its limits for so long, quietly surrendered.” (49) After Georges’ death, Pauline lived for five years in Montréal while serving briefly as Chancellor of the University of Ottawa. She made a two-week retreat with Carmelite nuns, then decided, at seventy-three years old, to join her son Jean in Trosly-Breuil. Pauline Vanier spent the last nineteen years of her life at L’Arche. She ensured that the core members were able to worship in their own language, and ran prayer meetings in a chapel she had made in her former sitting room at the house in Trosly-Breuil. Pauline Vanier passed away in 1991, just days from her ninety-third birthday. (50)

Over the last forty-four years, Jean Vanier has overseen the rapid expansion of L’Arche around the world, encouraged and blessed by the Holy See. Until his age recently dictated otherwise, he also maintained a busy schedule including travel, interviews, speeches, and workshops. Spin-off groups have emerged from L’Arche, such as Faith and Light, founded in 1971 in Toronto by Jean Vanier and by Marie-Hélène Mathieu.  (51) Jean Vanier has authored several books and has received many awards internationally, for example the French Légion d’honneur, the Community of Christ International Peace Award, the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award, the Beacon Fellowship Prize, and the Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) Award from the Vatican. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada. (52) More importantly, L’Arche has taught Jean Vanier about the dignity of each human being, especially of those too often discarded by societies that value material productivity and competition over humanity. Jesus Christ spoke the same message two millenia ago:

The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’… Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me. (53)

The words and actions of Jean Vanier echo those of the One who freely assumed our frail human nature to meet us in and to redeem us from our weakness. Jean Vanier wrote about the purpose of L’Arche:

Our community life is beautiful and intense, a source of life for everyone. People with a handicap experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings… They discover a place that gives meaning to their lives and their capacity to love and live out compassion and give life to others. The essence of our communities is this ‘living with.’ We are called, certainly to serve with all our ability and to help those who are weaker to develop, but the foundation of this helping is found in friendship and the communion of hearts, which allows us all to grow. (54)

Christ’s humanity dignifies and transforms ours to be more like His. Thus, Pope Paul VI concluded his meeting with the L’Arche pilgrims during Holy Week, 1966: “God calls all of you, in spite of your difficuties, to be saints, and He reserves a special role for you in His Church… We count on you, dear sons, and we bless you.” (55)

Lord Jesus, You are happy to live among us. May we be instruments of friendship,  of compassion, of justice, and of peace, especially to those considered lowly in our world. May we serve as You served, with Jean Vanier as a living model of Your humanity. Unite us to Yourself in a true communion of hearts. We ask this in Your Name. Amen.


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

7 Oct

‘Huron Carol’ is performed and arranged by Heather Dale — www.HeatherDale.com (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…