The Canadian Martyrs
Canada’s First Saints
The Canadian Martyrs were eight Jesuit missionaries who tried to convert the First Nations to Christianity in the mid-17th Century.
Collectively known as the Canadian Martyrs, they found themselves caught in the middle of the on-going wars between the Huron and Iroquois that characterizes that period in Canadian history. They had successfully converted many of the Huron tribes to Christianity, even though they were not universally trusted by the Hurons. Additionally, the Iroquois saw them as legitimate targets, partially because the Canadian Martyrs were nominal allies of the Hurons, and because they had helped the Hurons to fend off a number of Iroquois attacks.
The Lives of Canada’s First Saints
St. Jean de Brebeuf and St. Gabriel Lalemant
The son of farmers, Jean de Brebeuf was born in France’s Normandy region in 1593. He joined the Jesuit Order in 1617. He was nearly expelled after contracting tuberculosis, and was unable to teach or preach.
In 1622, Brebeuf was ordained, and despite the objections of some French Protestants, was sent to New France to work as a missionary. He did not remain in Canada for long, however. In 1625, Brebeuf was forced to return to France after war broke out with England. It took time to win the First Nations over to Christianity. The missionaries were frequently blamed for epidemics, defeats in battle and crop failures. As a result Brebeuf did not win his first converts until 1637.
In 1648, Brebeuf was joined by Gabriel Lalemant. Little is known about Lalemant, but what is known is that he was sent to Wendake to assist Jean de Brebeuf in his missionary work converting the Hurons.
In 1649, the Iroquois captured the Jesuit missions of St. Ignace and St. Louis, where they captured Brebeuf and Lalemant. In addition to being scalped, Brebeuf and Lalemant were “baptized” with scalding water, made to wear necklaces of hot axes, burned and physically mutilated. According to Catholic tradition, Brebeuf endured this torment in silence. It is also said that the Iroquois were so impressed by the courage of Brebeuf and Lalemant, they ate Brebuef’s heart in the belief that they would gain his strength.
St. Charles Garnier and St. Noel Chabanel
Charles Garnier became a Jesuit in 1624. He was eventually ordained in 1635 and sent to Canada in 1636. He spent his entire life living among the Hurons, studying their culture. The Hurons named him Rain Giver, because his arrival was followed by a drought-ending rain storm. Very little is known about Garnier’s missionary activities, however, but he is believed to have been killed, along with Noel Chabanel when the Iroquois attacked their Huron village in 1649.
St. Antoine Daniel
Antoine Daniel was born in Dieppe, France in 1601. He became a Jesuit in 1621.
In 1633, Daniel was posted to Canada, where he studied the Wendat language. In 1634, he travelled to Wendake, where he assisted Jean de Brebeuf in converting the Hurons to Christianity. In 1637, Daniel was sent to a mission on Georgian Bay. He would remain there for the next ten years. In 1648, Daniel was sent to what is now Simcoe County. Just after he arrived, the Iroquois attacked the mission. Fearing that everyone in the mission would be killed, Daniel gave the Hurons present general absolution. He then went out to distract the Iroquois, advancing toward them carrying a cross. At first the Iroquois were too stunned to react, however, they quickly came to their senses, and Daniel was killed. His delaying tactic worked, however, and most of the Hurons at the mission were able to escape.
St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil
Born in Orleans, France, Isaac Jogues became a Jesuit in 1624. In 1636, he was sent to Canada to convert the Huron and Algonquin tribes. In 1642, Jouges was with a party that included fellow Canadian Martyr Rene Goupil and a number of Huron converts. The travelers were beset by a Mohawk war party, and Jouges was captured. He was tortured and mutilated, losing several fingers in the process. He survived the ordeal and became a Mohawk slave, all the while attempting to convert his captors to Christianity. He was eventually able to escape with the help of a group of Dutch traders who took him to Manhattan.
Despite his ill-treatment at the hands of the Mohawks, Jogues, along with Jean Lalande, returned to try to secure the tentative peace that had been brokered between the Mohawks and the Hurons. Unfortunately, Jogues was not trusted by the Mohawks. As a result, both Jogues and Laland were clubbed to death and beheaded near Auriesville, New York in 1645.
The Canonization of the Canadian Martyrs
The Canadian Martyrs were canonized as saints by Pope Pius XI in 1930. Both Martyr’s Shrine, in Midland, Ontario and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, in Auriesville, New York are dedicated to their memories. Their feast days are October 26 in Canada, and October 19 in the United States.
Latourell, Rene.Jean de Brebeuf. Dictionary of Canadian Biograph On-line.
Pouliot, Leon. Noel Chabanel, Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-line.
Larivier, Florian. Charles Garnier. Dictonary of Canadian Biography On-line.
Pouliot, Leon. Antoine Daniel. Dictionary of Candian Biography On-line.
Pouliot, Leon. Rene Goupil. Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-line.
Giguere, Georges-Emile. Isaac Jogues. Dictionaroy of Canadian Biography On-line.
Pouliot, Leon. Jean Lalande. Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-line.
Pouliot. Leon. Gabriel Lalemant, Dictionory of Canadian Biography On-line
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