From the Pastor April 17, 2016 “Fearless: stories of the American Saints”
By Alice Camille & Paul Boudreau (Con’t) Isaac Jogues (1607-1642) Rene Goupil (1608-1642)
and Jean de Lalande (d. 1646)
It was a noble and heroic mission upon which these good men embarked in the seventeenth century. There was no tougher theater of missionary work than the New World. At the same time, there was no greater chance for missionary glory than among the indigenous people – bereft of European culture and Christian religion -- that colonialists were finding all over the North American continent.
New France, the land stretching from Acadia west across upstate New York, fording the St. Lawrence into Canada, onward to the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, was the territory of the Huron, the Algonquin, and the Iroquois, possessors of the land before any written history. This would be the arena of the great Jesuit enterprise.
Father Jean de Brebeuf was the first Jesuit missionary to the people of New France. Brebeuf had mastered the Huron language during a three-year stay at Wendake, the heart of the Huron nation on Georgian Bay.
Isaac Jogues was enthralled as a youth reading the exploits of Brebeuf in The Jesuit Relations. Anxious for the missions, he concluded his studies and was ordained in 1636. In April of that same year he embarked for New France. Jogues arrived at Wendake in September. It was at the mission Sainte-Marie that Jogues joined up with his hero, Jean de Brebeuf.
Shortly after his arrival, Jogues took sick with fever. He survived, but the ensuing epidemic among the Huron became so grave that in 1637 the Huron governing council passed a resolution that all the Jesuit missionaries must die. Thankfully, the Huron decree was not carried out.
Meanwhile, back in France, in March of 1639, Rene Goupil, an academically trained practitioner of the developing art of medical surgery…left his practice and entered the Jesuit novitiate. Unable to complete his studies due to a hearing impairment, (he) headed for New France and, in 1640, at a Jesuit mission near Quebec City, presented himself and his surgical skills for service.
In June of 1642, Isaac Jogues was sent from Sainte-Marie to Quebec City to bring a sick missionary to the hospital. Returning via Trois-Rivieres, Goupil was added to the manifest. On the second day the convoy was ambushed by..Mohawk pirates Goupil was taken captive. Jogues, watching from concealment in the bushes, revealed himself and surrendered to the Mohawk.
Jagues, Goupil were forced-marched some 270 miles to Ossernenon, now Auriesville. Familiar with the cult of the Jesuit priests, they knew that the three “canonical fingers” of the priest – the thumb, index and middle fingers with which the priest held the sacred host and chalice – were essential in the celebration of the Mass. During Isaac Jogues’s torture they cut off – some say chewed off – the fingers.
On September 29, 1642, Goupil was hacked to death by an enraged Mohawk who had caught him making the Sign of the Cross over his daughter. Thus, Rene Goupil became the first Jesuit martyr of North America.
Jogues, with the help of Dutch fur traders, escaped and made his way to New Amsterdam, thus becoming the first Catholic priest to set foot on Manhattan Island. From there he sailed to France.
Rested and recovered he returned to Quebec in 1644. The Mohawk ambassador worked out a deal for the exchange of prisoners with the Canadian Governor. Both agreed to send Isaac Jogues to his former captors as peace ambassador along with a contingent of Huron who wanted to protect their financial interests in any trade deal with the Mohawk.
Jogues was accompanied by a young Jean de Lalande, who’d spent time with him at Sante-Marie. The Mohawk were not happy with the Huron presence. Within weeks, Jogues and Lelande were arrested and put on trial.
On October 18, 1646, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Lalance were attacked and killed by an assassin and their bodies thrown into the Mohawk River. They joined their fellow missionary, Rene Goupil, in becoming the first sainted martyrs of the future United States.