James Martin, S.J.October 18, 2008

Were it not a Sunday, tomorrow, October 19, Masses would be celebrated to commemorate the Feast Day of the North American Martyrs: the eight Jesuit priests and brothers martyred in Canada and New York, the result of their work with native peoples in "New France."  They are sometimes known as the "Canadian martyrs."  That particular company of saints includes Jean de Brebeuf, Noel Chabanel, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Rene Goupil, Isaac Jogues, Jean de Lalande, and Gabriel Lalemant.

One of the hidden treasures of the Catholic church in this country is "Martyrs’ Shrine" in Auriesville, New York.  For me, the most moving spot in that large complex of churches, chapels and places of prayer (the New York Jesuit cemetery is also there) is "The Ravine," where Rene Goupil, S.J., was killed. 

In 1642, Isaac Jogues and Rene Goupil were captured and tortured.  Expecting an imminent death, Rene, a layman, pronounced his vows as a Jesuit before Father Isaac Jogues.  Shortly afterwards, Rene was tomahawked to death for teaching a child to make the sign of the cross.  Despite the obvious dangers involved, Isaac searched (in vain) alongside a small creek and in a secluded valley where he believed his friend’s body had been deposited.  That creek and the small ravine, carpeted with thick green grass and sentried by tall trees, is still there.  Today excerpts from the letters of Isaac Jogues describing his ordeal, excerpted on wooden signs beside the creek, make a sort of modern-day way of the cross for pilgrims.  Here is an excerpt from one of his letters:

"At length, after I had found nothing, a woman known to me passed by and saw me in distress. When I asked her if she knew what they had done with the body, she told me they had dragged it to a river unknown to me about a mile distant...How many tears did I shed, tears which fell into that rushing water, and I sang, as best I could, the psalms which the Church chants for the dead...The woman’s story proved untrue. The young people pulled the body out of the water and had dragged it into a little wood nearby. All that autumn and winter it had become food for dog, crow and fox. In the spring, when I learned that they had dragged it there, I went to the wood several times without finding the body. On the fourth trip I discovered some half-eaten bones which I buried...I kissed these remains reverently several times since they were the bones of a martyr of Jesus Christ."

A Blessed Feast of the North American Martyrs

James Martin, SJ


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
13 years ago
'Sanctity does not consist in suffering. It is not even directly produced by suffering, for many have suffered and have be come devils rather than saints. Sanctity itself is a living solution of the problem of suffering. For the saint, suffering continues to be suffering, but it ceases to be an obstacle to his mission, or to his happiness, both of which are found positively and concretely in the will of God. The will of God is found by the saint less in manifestations of the divine good-pleasure than in God himself.' ~Thomas Merton
13 years ago
Lamentations are beautiful. Perhaps suffering can find some redemption in the beauty that it creates. Wrestling with the psalms can lead to silence, silence before God. In the monastic tradition this might be called a naked gaze or adoration.
13 years ago
Many thanks, Fr. Jim, for the marvelous and moving comment on today's feast of the North American Martyrs. Sorry it was eddged out by the Sunday liturgy. It brings back many memories for I was sacristan at Auriessville for seven years before entering the Jesuit novitiate almost 60 years ago, in 1949. May I make one small correction. We had always held that Rene Goupil was martyred on 'The Hill of Prayer,' between what are now the 4th and 6th stations. Jogues later buried the body in the ravine, after it had been desecrated, as you described. When I was a kid we dug eagerly throughout the whole ravine trying to find Goupil's body. Concerning the comments from Jogues' letters, one time reading them while leading a pilgrimage into the ravine I came to a point where I could no longer read them out loud, so moving is that experience. I had a seven year 'pre-novitiate' at Auriesville, and my own missionary career is clearly rooted there--38 years in the Philippines and nine years in Africa. My youngest brother Neil, who succeeded me as sacristan and who spent his 38 years as a Jesuit missionary on Yap Island in Micronesia, is now buried at Auriesville. Happpy Feast!
13 years ago
Thanks you for your comment, Fr. Martin. I still recall giving a report to my eighth-grade classmates at my Catholic elementary school about the martyrdom of St. Jean de Brebeuf and St. Gabriel Lalemant. The torture they endured was horrific, and most striking to me as a 12- or 13-year old was that Fr. de Brebeuf endured the torture without making a sound. His courage so impressed the Iroquois that they cut out his heart and ate it in the hope of absorbing such courage. That's the kind of story that is near impossible to forget, but over the intervening years, I've come to understand that the faith of all of the North American Martyrs is their true legacy to us.
13 years ago
Fr. Calvin H. Poulin, I have a friend who is a priest and whose last name is also Poulin. His name is Fr. Arthur Poulin, OSB Cam. I will tell him about you. Fr. Arthur is a native of San Francisco and lives at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, California. Incarnation is a dependent monastery of New Camaldoli Hermitage in the Big Sur, California. The Camaldolese are the oldest eremitic order in the Catholic Church. They even predate the Carthusians by about 50 years. Fr. Arthur is also a very respected artist. Through the centuries there have been many Camaldolese who were also artist. It was wonderful reading about your vocation and experiences. Lives like yours are certainly encouraging to know about. Happy Feast Day to you and your fellow Jesuits! http://iwolkgallery.com/artists/Father_Arthur_Poulin/index.html
13 years ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin. That was beautiful.
13 years ago
Fr. Jim, thank you very much for this reminder of the North American Martyrs. It allows me to reflect on the heroic sacrifices these martyrs to spread the Gospel and allow us the ability to practice the Catholic faith freely.

The latest from america

March for Life participants demonstrate near Union Station in Washington Jan. 29, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and sends the abortion issue back to the states, will there still be a need for the annual rally and march in Washington?
“Having the most powerful political leader in the world and the greatest moral voice of our time talking together about climate change is extremely powerful.”
Kevin ClarkeOctober 28, 2021
On "Inside the Vatican," Colleen and Gerry dig into the issues that President Biden, President Moon and Prime Minister Modi are likely to bring up with Pope Francis.
Inside the VaticanOctober 28, 2021
The Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square this year will have a distinctly Indigenous, Andean look to mark the 200th anniversary of Peru's independence.
Catholic News ServiceOctober 28, 2021