DENVER, CO (Catholic Online) - As I knelt staring at St. John de
Brebeuf's skull through the glass case at the Martyr's Shrine in
Midland, Ontario, I thought about the courage of our founding fathers of
faith in North America.
In 1611, Jesuit missionaries first set foot on our continent. Within
forty years eight of them, (whose feast day is October 19th) gave up
their lives near the Georgian Bay and in upstate New York. This
quadricentennial of the Jesuit mission gives us cause to look to our
Much like the setting sun, we often see the full beauty of the Saints
as their mortal light exits this world. This is especially true of
martyrs. The following is a brief summary of a few of the deaths of
these Jesuits, which sums up the heroism with which they lived.
When St. Isaac Jogues was received into the Jesuits his superior
asked what he desired. His response: "Ethiopia and Martyrdom." "Not
so." was the reply. "You will receive Canada and martyrdom."
After years of ministry among the Huron, St. Isaac Jogues was
captured and tortured by the Mohawk Indians. On the verge of execution,
he escaped and was smuggled back to France by the Dutch. He quickly
rose to "stardom." Everyone regarded him as a living Saint and national
hero. The Queen of France even stooped to kiss his mangled hands,
fingers missing, having being cut or gnawed off by his torturers. St.
Isaac could have retired in the safety of France but returned to his
mission as soon as he was able. He was killed by a Mohawk brave with a
St. Charles Garnier was ministering to his Huron village when it was
attacked. He ran from one burning cabin to another, baptizing and
comforting his people when he was shot in the upper chest and lower
abdomen. After regaining consciousness he saw a wounded Huron writhing
across the room. He pulled himself up and struggled toward the dying
man to help him. An Iroquois brave noticed and killed him with his
hatchet. He died with hand outstretched, reaching to minister to the
St. Rene Goupil was a layman who worked side by side with the
Jesuits. When St. Isaac Jogues was captured there was a time when St.
Rene could have easily escaped but chose to stay with his friend. He
endured weeks of disfiguring tortures, during which he comforted and
converted fellow captives who were suffering a similar fate. He was
tomahawked while walking side by side with Jogues for teaching a child
how to make the sign of the cross. He fell to the ground saying the
name of Jesus.
St. Anthony Daniel had just finished celebrating Mass with his Huron
friends at sunrise when the war cries of the Iroquois rang out through
his village. He went to those who had been butchered to comfort and
baptize them in their last moments. When the Iroquois were headed
toward his church to burn it down he sprinted toward them and commanded
them to stop. They did for a moment, stunned by this unarmed man's
courage. Then they brought him down with muskets and arrows.
St. John de Brebeuf was a huge man with amazing courage. Though he
lived under constant threat of death, a fellow missionary wrote,
"Nothing could upset him during the twelve years I've known him."
He was the first missionary to enter Huronia. In time he became like
one of them. He wrote instructions to those who wanted to join his
mission starting with, "You must love these Huron, ransomed by the blood
of the Son of God, as brothers."
Though he could have escaped, he chose to die with them when Iroquois
raided their village. The younger St. Gabriel Lalemont, who had looked
up to St. John, remained and died with him as well. Together they
underwent some of the most gruesome tortures of any martyr in history
for endless hours. Through it all they comforted their fellow
captives. John reminded them, "The sufferings will end with your
lives. The grandeur which follows will never have an end."
Seven years after their deaths, the daughter of an Iroquois chief was
born in the very tribe that killed them. She is known today as Blessed
Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified, proving
true the words spoken by Tertullian 1,400 years before these martyrs
entered paradise, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church!"
These men set out into nations where a violent, gruesome death was
constantly before them. We set out into an increasingly anti-religious
culture where we might lose a few friends for standing up for the truth,
or at worst, get mocked or sued, but probably not tomahawked. They set
out on canoes into uncharted waters filled with tribes who were hunting
them down. We set out in our cars to work or the supermarket to bump
shoulders with a world that needs to be reminded of God through our
words and our charity.