The North American Martyrs: Torture and Triumph
Eight Jesuit and lay missionaries set forth into the New World starting in 1625 to work with French traders and evangelize the Native Americans. By 1649, they were all dead at the hands of several Indian tribes martyred for their faith and work among the various peoples. They received the ultimate triumphant crown of glory, being canonized in 1930.
Their Feast Day is October 19th.
Who are they?
- St. Rene Goupil originally intended to be a Jesuit, but was unable to complete his novitiate due to sickness. He traveled to North America as a lay missionary. Goupil was the first to be martyred after a spear was thrown to his head while teaching the Indian children how to make the sign of the cross. At the time of his martyrdom, he had made his vows as a Jesuit to St. Isaac Jogues.
- St. Jean de Lalande was a Jesuit who was martyred in 1646. During a peace mission across the lands among several different Native American tribes, Lalande was one of several captured by the Mohawk Indians. They were subsequently declared free by some of the warring tribes which further angered others. Lalande and Isaac Jogues were then killed because of the dispute on October 18, 1646.
- St. Isaac Jogues was a companion of St. Jean de Lalande, who was martyred by the Mohawks. Before his martyrdom, however, he suffered greatly at the hands of the Native Americans. He had earlier been captured by the Mohawks in 1642 and had many of his fingers cut or chewed off. He managed to escape, later returning to France, where he was given special dispensation to celebrate Mass with his mutilated hands. He returned to North America in 1646 with Jean de Lalande, where he died in glory by a tomahawk beheading.
- St. Antoine Daniel was a Jesuit missionary who served with his companions in North America. In 1848 when a village was attacked by Iroquois, Daniel safeguarded his people in a chapel, and gave them absolution and granting baptism. He then went out to meet the Iroquois, while carrying a large cross. They killed Daniel and disposed of his body into the chapel that the Iroquois were burning.
- Gabriel Lalemant was a Jesuit missionary who worked with Jean de Brebeuf for three years among the Hurons before being martyred in 1649. His body was boiled and burned, including his eyes, and he was dealt his death-blow by hatchet into his head above his ear.
- Jean de Brébeuf, was a Jesuit who worked slowly but successfully among the Huron tribe of North America. The Hurons were subsequently attacked by the Iroquois and savagely tortured Brebeuf and his companion, Lalemant. They endured scalping, baptism in boilin water, mutilation, fire and more. Tradition describes how “Brébeuf did not make a single outcry while he was being tortured and he astounded the Iroquois, who later cut out his heart and ate it in hopes of gaining his courage.”
- Noel Chabenal was a Jesuit missionary who spent six years among the Native Americans, learning Algonquin. Not much is known of Chabanel except that he found most of the Huron Native American life and customs disdainful, yet he remained steadfastly wedded to his vows regarding his mission. He was slain and martyred by a Huron in 1649.
- Charles Garnier was a Jesuit missionary and one of the earliest to arrive among the Native Americans in 1636. He was liked and respected by the Hurons who nicknamed him “rain-giver” Garnier was highly influenced by Jean de Brebeuf and was concerned for his own life after Brebeuf was martyred in 1649. Shortly thereafter, the Iroquois did indeed attack the Hurons, killing Garnier during the raid.
O God, who chose to manifest
the blessed hope of your eternal Kingdom
by the toil of Saints John de Brebeuf,
Isaac Jogues and their companies
and by the shedding of their blood,
graciously grant that through their intercession
the faith of Christians may be strengthened day by day.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The Archbishop of Ottowa took a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Martyrs a few years ago and wrote this blog post about his trip.