The Canadian Martyrs
January issue, we started to cover the story of the Canadian Martyrs.
This month, we are pleased to give you a report on the life of St. Isaac
ST. ISAAC JOGUES (1607 – 1646)
Isaac Jogues was born in Orleans, France on January 10, 1607. From the age of ten he attended Jesuit schools and when he was seventeen, he decided to become a Jesuit. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at Rouen and after two years, continued his studies at the College of La Fleche. In 1629 he began to teach young boys at Rouen. Four years later he began to study theology in Paris. After three years, in 1636, Isaac was ordained a priest. Wanting to go to the missions of New France, Fr. Jogues sailed from France on April 8, 1636, and reached Quebec on July 2nd.
On August 24th, Fr. Jogues travelled in a canoe with five Huron Indians who had come to trade and were returning to the upper country. There were many hardships on this journey. Their only food was crushed corn, boiled in water without salt or other spices. They slept out in the open on high cliffs bordering the Ottawa River. It was tough travelling in the crowded canoe and they were not able to change their position to relieve cramped muscles. And to make it even worse, Fr. Jogues could not speak a word of Huron, so he had to keep silent! Then to top it all off, they had to carry their canoes around rapids and waterfalls which were plentiful on the Ottawa River. Finally, after nineteen days they arrived at Ihonatiria.
Fr. Jogues became so sick that he almost died, but he regained his health and then started learning the Huron language. At first he worked with Fr. Charles Garnier among the Tobacco Indians. But their work among these Indians was completely unrewarding, as the Tobaccos blamed the “Blackrobes” for the diseases they got. Even though the two priests were so good, patient, and generous, the Tobaccos were hostile towards them.
After Fr. Jogues left the Tobacco missions, he ministered to the Hurons around Sainte-Marie. He also directed some of the new building at the rapidly growing mission center. Then in September 1641, Fr. Jogues joined Fr. Raymbaut to work with some 2000 Indians who lived mainly where Sault Ste. Marie is today. But because winter would be approaching before long, the two missionaries with their Huron companions paddled back to Sainte-Marie.
In June 1642, Fr. Jogues journeyed to Quebec with Fr. Raymbaut who was very sick. On August 1st, Fr. Jogues along with thirty-nine others left for Huronia with much-needed goods and supplies. But they did not get very far. On the following day the savage Iroquois attacked them! Most of the Hurons ran away, a few were killed or captured and Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Guillaume Couture were taken prisoner. The Iroquois tortured their prisoners by ripping out their fingernails, chewing their fingers and beating them with clubs. Then they were dragged off to Mohawk country.
On the 18th day, weak from lack of food, loss of blood and the pains of their bruised and broken bodies, the prisoners arrived at the first Iroquois village. Here again they suffered terribly: they were beaten, cut, whipped, burned and scratched! After this they had to undergo the same treatment in two other Iroquois villages. And even at night the teenagers and children would throw hot coals on their flesh and tear open their wounds!
Finally on September 29th, Jogues and Goupil went for a walk and were met by two Iroquois. They both begged God to have mercy on them and on their return to the village; the two Iroquois struck Rene Goupil with their hatchets and killed him. Fr. Jogues wasn’t killed and had to survive the winter among the savages. About mid-winter, living conditions improved a little, and the holy priest was able to teach some of the elders about the Catholic Faith. He was also able to visit the sick, comfort other Huron prisoners and even succeeded in baptizing some dying Iroquois.
In August 1643, Isaac Jogues, with his enemies, had to pass through a Dutch village in order to do some trading. The Dutch commander drew the priest aside and urged him to escape. After praying at night, our saint decided that it was God’s will for him to flee, so he hid in a boat at anchor on the river. The Iroquois were outraged at the Dutch when they found out that they had helped Fr. Jogues to escape. But the Dutch gave gifts to the Iroquois and this calmed their anger. When the Iroquois had moved on, the Dutch sent Fr. Jogues downstream to their main colony: New Amsterdam (New York) and from there our saint took a Dutch boat to France.
Fr. Jogues arrived in France on December 25, 1643. On January 5, 1644, Fr. Jogues presented himself at the Jesuit house at Rennes. The Rector welcomed our saint with kindness and questioned him about New France and the Jesuits there. After some time, the rector finally asked him about Fr. Isaac Jogues: “Was he alive? Had he been put to death by the Indians or…?”
Then Fr. Jogues answered, “Fr. Jogues is free and it is he that is speaking to you!”
There was some excitement at the Jesuit house to say the least; all the Jesuits at Rennes looked upon Jogues as one raised from the dead. They were all deeply moved at the sight of the holy priest and one even recorded the impressions of him: “He is cheerful as if he had suffered nothing, and is eager to return among the Hurons amid all those dangers! He expects to cross the ocean once again in order to comfort these poor people and to finish the sacrifice already begun.”
Fr. Jogues arrived back in New France in June 1644. His Superiors sent him to the young colony in Montreal to minister to the people there and to do various dealings with the Iroquois. The French were hoping to arrange a lasting peace with the Iroquois and needed a man like Fr. Jogues to help them, as he knew their language and ways.
In May 1646, our saint went as ambassador of peace to the Iroquois and returned to Quebec in early July. In September, the French believed it necessary to make stronger peace relations so they sent Fr. Jogues among the Iroquois again.
Our saint, Jean de la Lande and a few Hurons, left Trois Rivières around the 27th of September. At first everything went smoothly, but some Iroquois they met on the way told them that all was not well. Certain Iroquois were not happy with the peace treaty and they were all for breaking the truce and attacking the French.
It wasn’t until June 1647, that letters from the Dutch reached Quebec with the news of Fr. Jogues and Jean de la Lande’s death. Both of these holy men had been beaten and killed with tomahawks by some Iroquois who were angry with the French and full of hate for Fr. Jogues whom they thought had been the cause of so much bad luck.
Fr. Jerome Lalemant said Fr. Isaac Jogues was a true martyr, with rare humility and great purity of heart. He lived in strict poverty and had a great love of the Cross. By nature he had a quick temper but he controlled his temper. He spoke out boldly only when an Iroquois mocked the Catholic Faith. He was always very prayerful and had a powerful love for the Blessed Sacrament. Fr. Jogue’s heart was full of love and charity for all people, including his Iroquois enemies.
St. Isaac Jogues suffered two martyrdoms in a single lifetime. God extended his life so that he could offer his life to God a second time.
Like St. Isaac, let us also practise charity towards our friends and enemies and let us love prayer and the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Isaac Jogues: pray for us
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