The men known today as The Canadian Martyrs were among the hardy and brave missionaries who brought the Gospel to the Huron and Iroquis people in the United States and Canada. They were martyred by the Iroquis between 1642 and 1649. They were beatified by Pope Pius Xi on June 21, 1925 and canonized by the same Pope in 1930.
The story of Saint Issac Jogues in especially moving, so much so that Francis Parkman in his definitive history of the colonization of America grudgingly mentions him, despite Parkman's strongly Protestant dis-approval of anything or anyone Catholic. In the course of his preaching the Gospel to the Mohawks in Canada, he travelled to the eastern end of Lake Superior, a distance of one thousand miles inland and farther than any other European at the time.
He was taken captive by the Iroquois in 1642 and imprisoned for thirteen months. He was kept as a slave and beaten by the women of the tribe regularily. The Indians considered it a dishonourable and shameful thing to be captured and death preferable to slavery, so keeping the priest as a slave was a worse punishment than merely killing him. Father Jogues did not think so. He welcomed the opportunity to witness to the Indians with his example to submission to God's will, and secretly taught and baptized the other captives and slaves of the tribe.
His greatest sorrow was the torture that cost him the use of his hands. The law of the Church is that whatever other infirmities a priest may have, he must retain the use of his hands in order to celebrate the Eucharist. After more than a year with the Iroquois, he was rescued by the Dutch and made his way back to France. The only passage available was on the open deck of a fishing boat, he slept in a coil of rope.
Once in France, he obtained a dispensation to continue as a priest, despite the injuries to his hands, and eagerly returned to the New World to continue the Lord's Work. During this time, he visited Auriesville, New York and is believed to be the first Catholic priest to set foot on Manhattan Island.
On a third visit to the Iroquois, he was seized by the Bear Clan who, believing him to be a sorcerer, held him responsible for the disease which was ravaging the tribe and for the failure of their food crops. He was tortured and beheaded.
An impressive display of fidelity, affection and resolute character. Of course, the account of their treatment at the hands of native Canadians ensures our school children will never hear of it.
What would these martyrs think of the country today, I wonder?