On October 19, in the dioceses of the United States, the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. John de Brébeuf and Issac Jogues and their companions, 17th century martyrs. They were six Jesuit priests and two lay brothers who traveled from France to North America to preach the gospel to the Huron and Mohawk natives in present-day New York, Quebec, and Onatario, Canada. They endured many horrific tortures and death in order to accomplish what they had set out to do.
In 1625, St. John de Brebuf, at age 32, entered into the Huron tribe in the harsh frontier of Canada. John had tuberculosis, but the climate so agreed with him that the Hurons, surprised at his endurance, called him Echon, which meant load bearer. John was tortured and martyred in 1649. The Indians, hoping to gain the incredible strength he had, drank his blood.
St. Issac Jogues was sent to Canada in 1636, where he worked among the Mowhawks. He was taken captive by the Iroquois in 1642 and imprisoned for thirteen months, where he was kept as a slave and beaten by the women of the tribe. While in captivity, Father Jogues 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 Dutch settlers and returned to France. There he obtained a dispensation to continue as a priest, despite the injuries to his hands, and eagerly returned to the New World to resume his duties. When he returned to Quebec twenty-four year later, he was tortured, decapitated, and martyred by the Iroquois tribe.
These eight North American Martyrs, were canonized by Pope Pius XI on June 29, 1930. They are patrons of the Americas and Canada. The Shrine to North American Martyrs in Midland, Canada, is located at the Mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, where the Canadian martyrs had their mission.
"My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings"
- from a letter of Isaac Jogues to a Jesuit friend in France, September 12, 1646, a month before he died