The North American Martyrs, Confessors

September 26 (in Canada) and October 19 (in the US).

Today is the feast day of the North American Martyrs.  Orate pro nobis.

These Martyrs were among the earliest Saints of North America. All were French born Jesuits: Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Antony Daniel, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, and Noel Chabanel, priests; and John La Lande and René Goupil, lay-brothers. They selflessly worked among the native Hurons until they met their death at the hands of mortal enemies of the Hurons: the Iroquois and the Mohawks. The Iroquois were animated by the bitter hatred of the missionaries, whom they subjected to indescribable tortures before putting them to death.  Five died in what is now Canada, three in what is now the United States.

They came in the 1640’s to New France, to add their strength to that of the Franciscan Recollets, who had preceded them by a few years. There was not yet any bishop to assist them; the first bishop of Quebec, Blessed Monsignor Francis Montmorency de Laval, arrived only in 1658.

Father Jean de Brébeuf was born in Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy, France on March 25, 1593. He became a Jesuit in 1617. In 1625 he sailed to Canada as a missionary, arriving on June 19, and lived with the Huron natives near Lake Huron, learning their customs and language, of which he became and expert; although the missionaries were recalled in 1629, Brébeuf returned to Canada in 1633. He unsuccessfully attempted to convert the Neutral nations on Lake Erie in 1640. In 1648 the Iroquois attacked Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, where Brébeuf was living, and he was captured and tortured to death on March 16, 1649.

Father Isaac Jogues: One of the eight Frenchmen known as the North American Martyrs, the Jesuit priest Isaac Jogues’ first task when he arrived in Quebec in 1636, was to learn the Huron language. His teacher was Father Jean le Brébeuf , another Jesuit. Brébeuf earlier had written Instruction, a collection of data based on his years of living among the Hurons since 1625. His practical advice included tips for conduct: eating with the Indians, sharing their camps, caring for the ill in view of “medicine men’s” feelings. It was “helpful for many situations,” its introduction stated, “both the predictable and the unexpected.”

Early in 1644 Fr. Jogues sailed to Montreal and ministered again to the Hurons while waiting for a chance to return to the Mohawks. Two years later he was sent to Ossernenon, the principal Mohawk village, to negotiate a peace agreement between the Iroquois Nation—–of which the Mohawks were a part—–and the French. After meeting for a week, Jogues left for Quebec with news of success and a plan to return again to Ossernenon.

Unfortunately, the Mohawks had poor crops that year, and an epidemic broke out. They believed that the box containing vestments and religious articles which Jogues had left behind caused these disasters. As he was returning to the village from Quebec with John de La Lande and some Hurons, some members of the Mohawks’ Bear Clan invited Jogues to a dinner. As he stooped to enter their longhouse on Oct. 19, 1646, he was tomahawked to death. The next day they killed La Lande. Perhaps this was the “unexpected” le Brébeuf could not prepare him for.

Father Antoine Daniel was the first to die in Canada, after ten years among the Hurons. The chapel of the village where his mission stood was filled with his faithful Christians, and he had just finished saying Mass, when the Iroquois attacked in July of 1648. The men ran to the palisades; the priest, when the invaders broke through, went to the chapel door and faced the Iroquois, warning them of God’s anger. They slew him at once and threw him into the chapel they had already set on fire, still occupied by the women and children.

Father Gabriel Lalemant (Born at Paris, France, 1610; died 1649) joined the Jesuits in 1630. He taught at Moulins for three years, and after further study at Bourges, was ordained in 1638. After teaching at La Flèche and Moulins, he was sent to Canada at his request in 1646 as a missionary.  Father Gabriel Lallemant, 39 years old in that year and of a delicate constitution, was martyred the next day; he had been forced to witness the death of his beloved Father Brebeuf. He cried out: Father, we are given up as a spectacle to the world, the Angels and men! And he went up to him and kissed his bleeding wounds. Facing the same fate afterwards, he knelt down and embraced the stake to which he was to be tied, to make his final offering to God. He himself survived for longer still, seventeen hours. The Iroquois set fire to the bark they had attached to him; he was baptized in mockery of the faith, in boiling water, not once but many times. The savages cut the flesh of his thighs to the bone and held red-hot axes in the wounds. They finally tired of their task and finished him with a blow from an axe.

Father Charles Garnier:  He was a valiant priest who had said: The source of all gentleness, the sustenance of our hearts, is Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He was of a wealthy family, and as a student in the Jesuit college of Clermont, would deposit his weekly allowance in the church’s collection box for the poor. In the mission he slept without a mattress, and when traveling with the Indians, would carry the sick on his shoulders for an hour or two to relieve them.  He died the day before the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 7, 1649, while aiding the wounded and the dying; an Iroquois fired two bullets directly into his chest and abdomen. Seeing a dying man near him, twice he tried to stand and go to him, and twice he fell heavily. Another Iroquois then ended his life with an axe.Though Garnier has been canonized and therefore his memory is still green, yet we find few who know much about him. But what an impression he must have created by his character and his presence that even dim memories are alive today. Scarcely was he dead than his fellow missionaries Fathers Leonard Garreau, Simon le Moyne and René Menard are high in their praise of his apostolic work and life. Warmly they recall to mind this great souled apostle, the very acquaint-ance of whom was an inspiration to greater things.

Father Noel Chabanel: (Born near Mende, France, on February 2, 1613; died December 8, 1649), after joining the Jesuits in 1630, was sent to New France in 1643 to evangelize the Hurons. He became assistant to Fr. Garnier at Etarita in 1649 and was murdered by an apostate Indian while returning from a visit to neighboring Sainte Marie. The two Fathers left at once to see the sad spectacle with their own eyes. It was a sight worthy in God’s sight. There were corpses everywhere, one on top of another, of some poor Christians half burned in the remains of the fire-swept village, of others drenched in their own blood. . . . At last, in the middle of the ghost town, they came across the body they had come to find, but it was hardly recognizable, all covered with blood and ashes from the fire that had swept over it. But some christian Indians recognized their Father who had died for love of them. They buried him on the spot where the church had been, though there was no trace left of the church. It had been swallowed up in the flames.

Lay Brother John de la Lande:  When Isaac Jogues returned to Canada from France to resume his missionary work, he asked for an assistant. His Jesuit superior offered him John de la Lande, a permanent lay volunteer.  Born in Dieppe, the young Belgian had come to New France as a settler sometime before 1642—–but once there, he offered himself to the Jesuits, desiring to devote his life to the service of God by working with the missionaries. Upon hearing that Fr. Jogues wanted a companion, John volunteered to help. The veteran missionary spoke to the young man with great frankness, describing the hardships and rigors of missionary life, warning that there might be captivity, torture (such as Jogues himself had already suffered), and even death. Nevertheless, the description of possible privations and suffering could not undo la Lande’s determination. It is said that he took Fr. Jogues’ mutilated hands into his own and professed his desire to share his future, even if that future were to include Martyrdom.

When John de la Lande was told of the murder of Father Jogues, he was also advised to not to leave the lodge under any circumstances because the Mohawks were hoping to kill him as well. Eventually, however, the thought of the body of Fr. Jogues, perhaps lying unburied somewhere in the village, overcame John’s caution. He wondered whether it might be possible, under cover of darkness, to locate the body, recover some articles that Jogues had taken with him, and send them as holy relics to the Jesuits in Quebec. As he ventured out of the lodge, a tomahawk crashed down upon his head. It was early morning on October 19, 1646. When daylight came, the bodies of Isaac Jogues and John de la Lande were thrown into the Mohawk River, and their heads were exposed on the palisades enclosing the Mohawk village.

Lay Brother René Goupil:  He was born in the little village of St. Martin, now a suburb of Anjou, which like Orleans, St. Isaac Jogues’ native city, is situated on the Loire River, but further downstream and to the west. As a young man he became a Jesuit novice with the intention of serving as a lay brother, but ill health prevented him from taking his vows. Skilled in the care of the sick and possessing a practical knowledge of medicine, after a time he resolved to sail to New France in order to help the Jesuit missionaries he had earlier hoped to join. St. Isaac Jogues found him working in the Quebec hospital in 1642, and was delighted when he volunteered to travel with him to the Huron country to serve as infirmarian at Mission Sainte Marie.  Both were captured by the ferocious Mohawk Iroquois on the St. Lawrence River, along with a large number of Christian Hurons. It was on the torture trail to the Mohawk country that Fr. Jogues received René’s perpetual vows as a Jesuit brother. Six weeks after their arrival at the village of Ossernenon, René became the first of the eight martyrs to die, the first canonized saint of North America.

St. Isaac Jogues, who was himself to die a glorious martyrdom four years later, buried the relics of his dear Brother, and upon his escape from the Mohawks, wrote a short “Way of Martyrdom” which relates the story of René’s triumphant passage into Eternity.

The North American Martyrs were beatified on June 21, 1925 and were canonized on June 29, 1930; the General Roman Calender Feast Day is October 19th; September 26 in Canada.  Two shrines commemorate them. One is at Auriesville, NY, the Ossernenon of old. The other at Midland, Ontario, near the site of Old Fort Ste. Marie of the Hurons.

Litany of the Jesuit Martyr Saints of North America
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us. *

Holy Mary, Queen of Martyrs,
Saint Isaac Jogues,
Saint John de Brebeuf,
Saint Gabriel Lalemant,
Saint Anthony Daniel,
Saint Charles Gamier,
Saint Noel Chabanel,
Saint Rene Goupil,
Saint John de la Lande,
Pioneers of the Cross in a new world,
Heroic apostles of the faith,
Zealous promoters of God’s glory,
Consumed with love for souls,
Men of prayer and action,
Lovers of poverty,
Models of chastity,
Faithful in obedience,
Followers of Christ Crucified,
Fearless in suffering for Christ,
Enduring cold and hunger for Christ,
Stripped and scourged for Christ,
Tortured by fire for Christ,
Cruelly slain for Christ,
Peerless athletes of God,
Loving children of the Queen of Martyrs,
Filial clients of St. Joseph,
Worthy sons of St. Ignatius,
Our intercessors in Heaven

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Spare us, O Lord
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Have mercy on us.

Let us pray:

 O God, Who hast hallowed the first-fruits of the faith in the northern regions of America by the preaching and blood of Thy blessed Martyrs John, Isaac and their companions: grant in Thy mercy, that through their intercession the plentiful harvest of the faithful may increase everywhere from day to day. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Image: Cartouche sur la carte de la Nouvelle-France Novae Franciae accurata delineatio. (6)


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