October 18, 2017

Sts. Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf and Companions, the North American Martyrs

The North American Martyrs

Memorial - October 19th

It has been said that the Catholic Church in North America sprang from the blood of martyrs, and the story of Saint Isaac Jogues and his companions is certainly proof of that. Jogues was born in France in 1607, and missionary zeal soon led the young priest to the New World in 1636, where he worked with the Huron natives under the direction of Fr. John de Brebeuf his fellow Jesuit and mentor.

The Huron Indians, however, were not the only native peoples he encountered. The Iroquois were traditional enemies of the Huron and sworn enemies of the French. Consequently, when the Iroquois captured and held Father Jogues and his companions for thirteen months, they were imprisoned and tortured cruelly. Their fingers were cut, chewed, and burned off, and they were forced to watch the mutilation and killing of their Christian converts as a violent punishment.

Father Jogues, with the help of the Dutch, was finally able to escape and return to France. He was granted permission by Pope Urban VIII to offer Mass with mutilated hands and almost at once set sail back to North America to continue his missionary work. In 1646, he was captured by a Mohawk war party and was brutally tomahawked before being savagely beheaded by them on October 18th.

John de Brebeuf and five of his companions were martyred after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada in 1649. After Brebeuf’s demise, his body was stripped, beaten and beheaded. The details of his martyrdom are as follows. The Iroquois began to win their war with the Herons and destroyed a large Huron village. They captured Brebeuf and his companions. who were fastened to stakes and tortured to death by scalping, mock baptism using boiling water, fire, necklaces of red-hot hatchets, and finally, mutilation.

According to tradition Brebeuf did not make a single utterance while he was being tortured. This astounded the Iroquois, who later cut out his heart and ate it in hopes of gaining his courage. In 1984, Saint John Paul II prayed over Brebeuf’s skull before celebrating an outdoor Mass on the grounds of the Martyrs' Shrine.

The Jesuit martyrs of North America were canonized on June 29, 1930 by Pope Pius XI. In 1940, Pope Pius XII officially proclaimed them the secondary patrons of Canada. The first North American martyrs to be officially recognized by the Church, their shrine is located in Auriesville, New York. Loving God, who chose to manifest the blessed hope of your eternal Kingdom by the toil of Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions, by the shedding of their blood, graciously grant that through their intercession the faith of Christians may be strengthened.

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