October 19 is a day that the Catholic Church remembers the heroism and missionary zeal of the Jesuit North American Martyrs.
Jesus told his Apostles "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth."
Saint Jean de Brébeuf (March 25, 1593 – March 16, 1649) was a French Jesuit missionary who traveled to New France (Canada) in 1625. St. Jean de Brebeuf studied a the College of Rouen and acted as Steward there. Because of his deep commitment to serving Christ and his zeal to be a missionary, the Provincial of France, Father Pierre Coton chose him to lead a group to Canada (New France) in 1625.
In June 1625, St. Brebeuf and his companions, Fathers Charles Lalemant, Ememond Masse, lay brothers Francois Charton and Gilbert Burel arrived in Quebec. There they lived among the Montagnais who were part of the Huron nation. St. Brebeuf learned the Algonquian language and way of life aiding him and his Companions in witnessing for Christ.
St. Brebeuf would be joined with Father Anne Nouree in 1626 to act as missionaries to the Huron. In learning the Indian culture of the Hurons, he found ways to show comparisons to explain Christianity. The threat of disease was a constant struggle as the Europeans were blamed for bringing the common cold to the Indians.
Some of the Huron believed St. Brebeuf to spread sorcery, they were very superstitious and so the missionary outlook had challenges.
By 1640, nearly half the Hurons died of smallpox, it was truly very difficult.
With Huron children and the aged dying, the Indians took refuge with the Priests because they seemed unaffected by the disease as they cared for the sick.
In 1633 St. Brebeuf broke his collarbone which took him off the frontlines and back to Quebec to recover. While there he continued to teach the Huron the ways of Christ.
In 1649 an Indian uprising took place capturing St. Brebeuf along with Companion Gabriel Lalemant when the Huron Mission at St. Ignace was attacked and destroyed by the Iroquois. The priests were taken to the village Taaenhatenteron near (St. Ignace) where Missionaries and converts were tortured before killing them.
Survivors of this brutal attack gave testimony of the bravery of St. Jean de Brebeuf and Companions Charles Garnier, Noel Chabanel, Christopher Regnault. St. Brebeuf's concern during the torture was for his fellow Companions, the cruel Indian torture was based on superstition as they wanted to "steal" their courage. As part of this ritual, the Indians drank the blood of the missionaries, the Iroquois mocked baptism by pouring boiling water over St. Brebeuf's head. Like Christ his Savior, St. Brebeuf endured his tortures without a word of complaint for himself, his death became his glory as he was taken to the Heavenly Kingdom.
These stories or martyrdom only inflamed the desire by more missionaries to go to the New World taking the Catholic Faith to those who did not know Christ. St. John La Lande was only 18 years old when he joined French Jesuit missionary, Father Isaac Jogues to go to the land of the Mohawks. As a young boy, St. John had been captivated by the heroine stories told of Father Jogues.
Father Jogues shared his tales and experiences of being a missionary among the Mohawks, bringing Christ and the gospel message to the people of the New World.
St. John’s enthusiasm to do God’s work was recognized by all who knew him, he spoke of the exploits of the missionaries who gave their lives as martyrs in Indian Territory and longed to go there.
Father Jogues originally arrived in North America for the first time in 1636 where he landed off the shore of Quebec. Father Jogues told his companion, Rene Goupil, “A century ago a Norman sea captain gave this place its name. He was on a ship here in the harbor, just as we are—only his ship was carrying the first white men to come up the Saint Lawrence River. When he saw the cliff there, the captain of that little ship was amazed. He cried out in his rough farmer’s French, ‘Que bec’ meaning ‘what a rock”.
To the enemies of the Mohawk, they were a fierce people who specialized in torture and fighting. They instilled fear with the beating of the war drums heard coming from the mountains in the distance. This was the reality and danger the missionaries encountered as they journey to reach out to the Mohawks with the gospel of Christ.
Father Jogues would be captured by the Mohawks in 1641 and was forced to run the “gauntlet” because the Iroquois blamed his chest of religious articles for causing a bad crop that year. The gauntlet was a form of Indian torture that few survived especially if the use of deadly weaponry were used.
The Indians would have their captives run between two lines of braves who might be armed with tomahawks, clubs, and knives. Sometimes clubs and sticks might be used for the fortunate ones. Well known settlers such as Daniel Boone, John Stark, and others ran the gauntlet.
Father Jogues wrote of his experience of running the gauntlet, “Before arriving at the Iroquois village we met the young men of the country, in a line armed with sticks… (Father Jogues and Companions were forced to walk slowly) for the sake of giving time to anyone who stuck us.”
Rene Goupil was not so fortunate as he would suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Mohawks. The Indians pulled out their hair and beards, Father Jogues right hand; his index finger (first digit) was literally burned while another finger was crushed by a warriors teeth.
Father Jogues would eventually be freed and returned home to France but he longed to return to the land of the Mohawks, all these stories were known by St. John La Lande who also wanted to go to the New World as a Missionary like Father Jogues. Finally, in 1646, St. John could hardly believe it that he would not only get the chance to go to Quebec, but to accompany Father Jogues on his second missionary journey.
To test the young 18 year old companion, Father Jogues asked St. John La Lande if he wanted to take this trip. Father Jogues personally didn’t believe he would survive this second time around. He warned St. John how others were permanently crippled and maimed even if they did survive. Father Jogues warned him, “If you have any fear, don’t come.”
None of this deterred St. John, his response was simply, “I’ll go with you”, so the mission was set.
On September 27, 1646, Father Jogues, John La Lande, and three Huron Indians set out from Quebec by canoe heading for the Mohawk village of Ossemenon. As they traveled, the Mohawk drums spoke through the canyons that they were on the warpath. Indian drums rang in the distance and two of the Huron Indian guides abandoned the missionaries fearing what was ahead of them.
Father Jogues and John La Lande would be captured; they were stripped, beaten, and taken to the village. On October 17, the Indians cut strips of flesh from Father Jogues neck and arms. Because of the Indian superstition, they blamed Father Jogues for an epidemic because of their religious items.
The Indians planned a mock feast inviting Father Jogues to attend one of the lodges where he was surrounded and attacked with tomahawks. He didn’t stand a chance. The Indians took the body of Father Jogues and paraded him throughout the village as a trophy. They ultimately decapitated the missionary priest.
St. John La Lande was separated from Father Jogues and placed in another lodge, when he learned of the Martyrs fate; St. John went out looking for the body only to suffer the same fate. St. John was martyred on 19 October, 1646.
Fr. Jogues, John La Lande, and Jean de Brebeuf were beatified by Pope Pius XI on June 21, 1925 and canonized on June 29, 1930. St. John La Lande’s feast day is October 19, the day he was martyred.
Prayer to the North American Martyrs
O God, who by the preaching of and blood of your sainted Martyrs, Isaac and John and their
companions, did consecrate the first fruits of the Faith in the vast regions of North America,
graciously grant that, by their intercession, the flourishing harvest of Christians may everywhere
and always be increased. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with
You, in the union of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and forever. Amen.
Prayer of Petition
O God, who did inflame the hearts of your sainted Martyrs with an admirable zeal for the
salvation of souls, grant us, we beseech You, what we now ask (mention you intention), so that
the favors obtained through their intercession may make manifest before men the power and
glory of Your name. Amen.