Eucharistic Crusade
The Canadian Martyrs

At the beginning of the year, we started to cover the story of the Canadian Martyrs. Today, we are pleased to give you a report on the life of St. Jean de La Lande.


ST. JEAN de la LANDE (? – 1646

Like René Goupil, Jean de la Lande was a “donné”. The donnés or oblates were laymen (non religious) who helped the missionaries.

In New France, in the 1600’s, paddling over long stretches of water was the ordinary means of travelling. Canoes and baggage had to be carried on shoulders over rocky places and long days of walking on foot were necessary if one wanted to make a good distance in one day.

            The oblate would gather the wood and build the campfire and prepare the little meal of ground corn boiled in water. This would give the priest time to say his Breviary, his Rosary and his other prayers. And when night came, the oblate would set up a tent and cut cedar branches, which formed his bed for the night. In the morning the missionary would set up his portable altar in the forest and his donné would serve the Mass.

            But it was in the permanent missions that the oblates were most appreciated. They hunted, fished and tilled the soil; and they were masons, carpenters, tailors, cooks and doctors. They shared in the hardships of the missionaries and in time of danger they were prepared to defend the priests and the mission sights.

            In the missions the oblates taught the native converts how to build cabins and how to till the soil and grow food. During times of illness the oblates acted as surgeons and nurses to the sick and prepared medicine for them.

            The oblates made themselves all things to all men and did valuable services to both French and Indians. In the 1600’s, Paul Ragueneau wrote to the Jesuit Superior General about the oblates saying: “They are all chosen men, most of whom have resolved to live and die with us. They assist us in our works and industries with a courage, faithfulness and holiness that are not of this earth. They look to God for their reward and are only too happy to pour out not only their sweat, but if need be their blood as well. They want to do as much as they can to convert the Indians.”

            When St. Isaac Jogues started out on his last journey to the Iroquois country, he chose a good companion who was ready to give up his life, if he were asked to do so for the sake of souls. Fr. Jogues found these good qualities in Jean de la Lande who had come from Normandy, a French country in Europe.

            When they were prepared to go, Fr. Jogues and Jean left Trois-Rivières on August 24th, 1646. A few Hurons who wanted to visit their captive relatives went with them. After crossing Lake St. Peter the group began to paddle up the Richelieu River on their way to Lake Champlain.

Since five years before, in 1641, the Iroquois had mutilated Fr. Jogues’ hands after they had captured him. They pulled out his fingernails, cut off his thumb and chewed off parts of his fingers. Because of this, the holy priest was not able to paddle the canoe. But Jean de la Lande was a strong fellow and did double the paddling, which pleased the Hurons who wanted everybody to do their share of the work.

            When night came on, the canoes were pulled ashore and Jean built the fire and prepared the evening meal. After the meal, Fr. Jogues and Jean prayed the Rosary together and lay down on their bed of branches. The next day, after their morning prayers and breakfast, they travelled on to Lake Champlain. 

During these long days, Jean proved himself to be a true friend to Fr. Jogues, looking after the personal needs of one who had only the partial use of his hands and taking care of the baggage. There was a lot of baggage, because the two had planned to spend the winter in the Mohawk country, where the Iroquois lived.

Meanwhile, events were taking place among the Iroquois. Fr. Jogues and Jean were met by an Iroquois war party at the lower end of the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament and cruelly beaten. Jean de la Lande resigned himself to the will of God when he was beaten and stripped naked by the Iroquois.

            Many miles had yet to be covered before they sighted the first Iroquois village, and two days later the Iroquois made their triumphal entry into Ossernenon with their prisoners. The village was familiar to Fr. Jogues who had spent thirteen months captivity there. But now a terrifying sight met his eyes; men, women and children were howling and wild with joy over his capture. The savage Iroquois shouted wild threats and they began to cut bits of flesh from their prisoner’s ears and eat them before their eyes.

            And yet amid all those horrors the two men had a few friends among the Wolf and Turtle clans, who felt sorry for them, and wished to save them. But the members of the Bear clan would not listen. They ignored the promises they had made at the treaty of Trois-Rivières.

            But not everybody agreed with the anger urged on by the Bear clan. So it was decided that an assembly should be held at another Iroquois village to discuss the situation. There the peacemakers had the upper hand and it was decided that Fr. Jogues and Jean should be freed.

Fearing that the assembly would take the means to protect the prisoners, the evil Bear clan Iroquois decided to take the whole affair into their own hands and commit the crime secretly. Before the other Iroquois had time to return from the assembly, Fr. Jogues had had his skull split open with a tomahawk, by a cowardly Iroquois.

            But what was to become of poor Jean de la Lande? Now alone with his wicked enemies, he expected the same type of death as Fr. Jogues, so he prepared himself for it. God does not abandon His servants at such moments, and He no doubt inspired Jean to renew the offering he had so often and so generously made since he had left Trois-Rivières. And God also gave Jean the courage and fortitude to make the supreme sacrifice. This enabled Jean to pass into a life which no longer fears either the rage of the Iroquois, the anger of the devil, or the pains of death. The next morning Jean was put to death by a blow from a tomahawk, just as his companion had died the night before. The heads of the two martyrs were then cut off and placed on pickets facing the road by which they had entered the village, and their bodies were thrown into the river.

            The report of Jean de la Lande’s death and that of Fr. Jogues’ reached the French colony only in 1647. In the same year an Iroquois prisoner taken at Trois-Rivières gave further information about Jean de la Lande. After the death of Fr. Jogues, whom he had tried to save, he became the protector of young Jean. He told Jean not to wander far from his cabin, as his life was in danger. But the next day Jean went to get some object, which he had brought with him from Trois-Rivières and was killed with a tomahawk by those who were watching him.

            Jean de la Lande was gifted with a strong faith in the truths of the Catholic religion and with a firm hope in God’s promises. These great virtues gave Jean the strength and courage to meet every trial, and when the moment arrived he faced death willingly, in order to share not merely the sacrifices but also the merits of the missionary life. And as a reward for his generosity, God gave Jean the greatest prize He can give to man here below; the palm of martyrdom!   

                             St. Jean de la Lande: pray for us

The End

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