Among the most gifted men of the 17th century were Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Noel Chabanel, Charles Garnier, Anthony Daniel, Rene Goupil, and John de Lalande. The first six were Jesuits, the latter two, laymen.
By 1632, the Jesuits had a mission center in Quebec, where they ministered to 20,000 Huron in 30 villages. The missionaries suffered from cold and heat and were not accustomed to the Huron culture. When the “black robes” arrived, Huron children ran to their mothers, afraid that they were sorcerers. The missionaries were blamed for a smallpox epidemic. Still, they tried to bring the faith to the native people, educate them, and teach them medical and agricultural skills. John de Brébeuf founded schools and wrote a catechism and dictionary in the Huron language. He was once condemned to death but spoke so well that he was spared. Noel Chabanel, a language professor, could barely stutter out Huron phrases. The food and life of the Huron repulsed him, but he vowed to stay. Rene Goupil and John de Lalande, lay missioners, worked without pay. Charles Garnier sometimes walked 40 miles to baptize one child.
The missionaries converted about two thousand converts in their many years in Quebec. Then the enemies of the Huron, the Iroquois, who resented the French, captured and tortured the missionaries. Rene Goupil was tomahawked while trying to baptize a baby. Anthony Daniel was at Mass when the Iroquois attacked, shot arrows at him, and threw him into the fire. Isaac Jogues was made a slave but escaped back to France. His left hand had been mutilated, but Pope Urban VIII allowed him to celebrate Mass, saying, “It would be a shame that a martyr of Christ not drink the blood of Christ.” Isaac Jogues returned to America. On a peace mission to the Iroquois for the governor of New France, he was accused of bringing a bad harvest. The Iroquois thought his box of religious goods contained the plague. He was attacked and killed. The Indian who killed him was later baptized and took the name Isaac. The sufferings of the missionaries are the seeds of the Church.
O Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear me! I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes
ever behold the red and purple sunset!
Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise that I may understand
all things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons
you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when my life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.
-Sioux Indian Prayer
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Holy Card for the North American martyrs by unknown artist, 1930. Public Domain via Wikimedia.