The Patron Saints of North America
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” This ancient saying by Tertullian, one of the early Church writers, can be applied to the saints whose memorial is acknowledged each year on October 19. Their names are: Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Noel Chabanel, Charles Garnier, Anthony Daniel, Rene Goupil, and John de Lalande. The first six were Jesuits and the last two listed were laymen. Known as the Patron Saints of North America, they were canonized by Pope Pius XI on June 29, 1930.
A brief snapshot of their missionary efforts begins in the year 1636 when, under the leadership of Jean de Brébeuf, these determined men arrived in Quebec. They established a Jesuit mission which was the first European settlement in modern-day Ontario. The mission, named Sainte-Marie, served as their headquarters for Jesuit activities in the area.
Over the course of nearly a quarter century, these men worked primarily among the Hurons and are known to have converted thousands of souls. These men spared nothing in their efforts to bring the love of Jesus to those whom they served. Jean de Brébeuf was known to have composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron.
This missionary work required nothing more than a heroic bravery and zeal. The Hurons were at constant war with the Iroquois who at one point captured and imprisoned Fr. Isaac Jogues for 13 months. His letters and journals tell how he and his companions were led from village to village, how they were beaten, suffered extreme tortures, and were even forced to watch as their Huron converts endured the same.
A short account cannot do justice to their missionary endeavors, but two will be mentioned here, the first related to the magnanimity of Isaac Jogues. Due to an unexpected turn of events, he managed to escape his captors and found his way back to France. The suffering he endured during his missionary efforts was apparent to anyone he encountered because he was missing several fingers that had been cut, chewed, and even burnt off. Amazingly, however, after about a year and a half, rather than remain in the comfort of his native land, he chose to return to the mission where he eventually gave his life as a martyr. Similarly, Jean de Brébeuf, who was forced to return to France when the English captured Quebec in 1629 and expelled the Jesuits, also returned to his eventual capture where he succumbed to death after four hours of extreme torture.
The martyrdom of these men can hopefully place seeds of greater zeal for the faith in our own lives and circumstances. Certain accounts give testimony to the fact that they gave glory to God for having been given the privilege to suffer horrible tortures and thereby share in Christ’s suffering and passion.
As we honor the North American Martyrs, let us approach with renewed vigor our own opportunities to sacrifice for the increase of our rich Catholic faith in others, our family, friends, and the world.