Isaac Jogues / 16O7 - 1646


     Even among martyrs Isaac Jogues is somewhat unique, for he under-went one long drawn-out martyrdom years before he actually met his death from the blow of a tomahawk. In a sense, we could say that Jogues' martyrdom lasted from 1642 to 1646. This is why the story of his life is such a moving and memorable one.

     The true greatness of Jogues emerged only under the stress of cap-ture and incredible suffering. It was as if his brethren had never really known the depth of his faith and love until these were literally tested in the fire of Iroquois torture and captivity. That occurred in 1642 when Jogues was taken prisoner near modern Sorel on the St. Lawrence.

     Isaac Jogues, born in Orleans, January 10, 1607, was the fifth of nine children. From the age of ten he attended Jesuit schools, and, when he was seventeen, decided to become a Jesuit. Once accepted, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Rouen and had the privilege of being directed by Father Louis Lalemant, a master of the religious and spiri-tual life and a relative of the three Lalemants who served the mission of New France.

     After two years of novitiate Jogues pursued his studies at the College of La Fle che and then, in 1629, began to teach the humanities to young French boys at Rouen. He was a successful teacher, for he was a gifted humanist himself with a remarkable grasp of language and expression. Four years later he turned to the study of theology at Clermont in Paris, and, after three years, he was ordained a priest in the chapel at Clermont.

     This was 1636, and Jogues was deemed ready for missionary work in New France, an apostolate he had yearned for.

     His Jesuit brethren had launched the mission in New France in 1625 while Jogues was still a novice. In 1626, they had sent the famous Jean de Brebeuf to open up another mission among the Hurons, 900 miles inland. This was a very difficult and demanding apostolate, yet Jogues aspired to it.

     Of Jogues' early years as a Jesuit, Father Jacques Buteux, a friend, said: "he was loved by Ours as being most gentle and as being very observant of our way of life."
The young Jesuit priest sailed from Dieppe, April 8, 1636 and eight weeks later his ship dropped anchor in the Baie des Chaleurs. He reached Quebec only several weeks later on July 2nd.
Paul le Jeune, the superior at Quebec, noted in the Relation for 1636, written that August, "On the second of the same month (July) Father Jogues and Father du Marche came to add to our great joy, which we felt all the more deeply, as our Lord had brought them to us in good health."

     In a letter to his mother, dated August 20,1636 and sent from Three Rivers, Jogues described his arrival, state of health and initial impres-sions. He also added a brief but significant postscript: "I have just received orders to get ready to go to the mission of the Hurons in two or three days."
On August 24th, Jogues embarked in a canoe with five Hurons who had come to trade and were now returning to the upper country. It would be quite a trip for a new missionary unfamiliar with the Huron language. Indeed, this first trip up must have been one of the memor-able events in the lives of all the blackrobes and any others who eventually voyaged to the land of the Hurons. Jogues has left us some of his impressions of the trip.

     He mentioned that their only food for the journey was Indian corn, crushed between two stones and boiled in water without any seasoning whatever; that sleep overcame them perched on high cliffs bordering the Ottawa river, out in the open and under the gaze of the moon; the awkwardness of travelling in a crowded canoe, unable to change posi-tion or relieve cramped muscles; the enforced silence because one could not speak a word of Huron; and the strange and brusque ways of one's Indian companions.

     There were also the interminable portages around rapids and water-falls so plentiful on the Ottawa river. And yet, despite all the usual hazards of the trip, Jogues' group made excellent time. They took only nineteen days to cover a distance that normally took twenty-five to thirty. Jogues disembarked from his canoe at Ihonatiria on September 11th.

     After an early bout of sickness that nearly killed him, Jogues applied himself to learning the Huron language and then did his missionary apprenticeship under older Jesuits like Brebeuf and Le Mercier. Called by the Hurons "Ondessonk" (bird of prey) he labored mainly among the Tobacco Indians, the friendly neighbors of the Hurons to the west, and later in and around Sainte-Marie, the important centre of the whole mission begun under Jerome Lalemant's direction in 1639.

     The apostolate with Charles Garnier among the Tobacco Indians was, in human terms, a completely unrewarding one. Despite all their good will, generosity and patience, they encountered nothing except hostility and minor persecution. The Tobaccos, victims of infectious diseases, blamed the blackrobes and shrank from them as from death itself. As Jerome Lalemant remarked so well, "These missionaries see themselves the abomination of those whose salvation they seek, at the peril of their own lives."

     After Jogues left the Tobacco country, he ministered to the Hurons around Sainte-Marie. He also directed some of the new building at the rapidly developing mission centre.

     Then, in 1641, at the request of his superior Jerome Lalemant, he joined Father Charles Raymbaut on a hurried trip to a distant Indian nation called the inhabitants of the Sault. These Indian visitors to Huronia lived mainly where modern Sault Ste. Marie stands today at the juncture of Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

     The party started from Sainte-Marie about the end of September and took seventeen days to reach their destination. The missionaries were warmly welcomed. They calculated that 2,000 Indians lived in the area. From their hosts they learned that other Indian nations, who spoke neither Algonkian nor Huron, lived in good numbers to the west and northwest. The apostolic possibilities were intriguing.

      The two missionaries, however, because of the lateness of the season did not linger very long at the Sault. With their Huron companions they paddled back to Sainte-Marie, arriving probably in early November.

     When the following summer had restored the good weather, Jogues was assigned to make the trip to Three Rivers and Quebec. Supplies were urgently needed, and it was clear that Raymbaut, now critically ill, needed someone to accompany him on the long journey to Quebec.

     They set out in the middle of June, and little did Jogues realize that this would be the last he would see of his beloved Huronia. Dark and dramatic days lay ahead.

     The trip to Quebec was made without mishap. On August 1st, Jogues' group, forty in number, laden with goods and supplies for the hard pressed mission, left on the return trip to Huronia. They did not get very far. On the following day they were ambushed by the waiting Iroquois. Most of the Hurons fled, a few were killed or captured, and Jogues and two donne's Rene' Goupil and Guillaume Couture were taken prisoner. Among the captured Hurons was Ahatsistari, the greatest of their warriors, and several other prominent Christians. What a blow to the Huron mission!
As soon as the engagement was over, the nightmare of torture began. The enemy fell upon their captives in a great rage, ripping out their finger nails, chewing their fingers and beating them with clubs. They then hustled off their victims to Mohawk country south of the St. Lawrence. En route the poor captives were "caressed" by 200 Iroquois setting out on the warpath. All, except a few small children, were savagely beaten and mutilated.

     And yet there was still so much more to come.

     On the 18th day, weak from lack of food, loss of blood and the agonizing pain of their bruised, broken and mutilated members, the prisoners arrived in the first Iroquois village. Here again the same ordeal had to be faced: running the gauntlet, beating, cutting, whip-ping, burning, scratching. It was an incredible experience to be under-gone again in two other villages. One wonders how the captives could survive such brutal and inhuman treatment.

     Jogues seemed to be singled out for the refinement of this cruelty since the Iroquois considered him a kind of leader. They hacked off his left thumb; and yet he was grateful they had spared the right thumb so he could write to his brethren! He also received some terrible blows to his body, especially with a big lump of iron attached to a rope, and, as he said, "the only thing that kept me from fainting and that sustained my strength and courage was the fear that my tormentor would hit me with it a second time."

     And even at night there was no respite for the poor victims. It was then the turn of the adolescents and children who delighted in throwing hot coals and burning cinders on their tortured flesh, in tearing open their wounds and in inflicting other senseless barbarities. And as Jogues himself remarked, "patience was our physician."

     Although the Iroquois had vowed to end their lives by fire, a deliberation of the elders decided on sparing the lives of the French and of all the Hurons except three - Ahatsistari, Paul Ononhoraton and Etienne Totiri. These were burned alive in the Mohawk villages.

     On September 7th, a leading member of the neighboring Dutch colony came with two others to arrange for the freedom of the French cap-tives. Although the Dutch offered a handsome ransom, the Iroquois flatly refused to surrender Jogues, Goupil and Couture.

     The days of captivity slipped by, but always the threat of death lay over the heads of Jogues and Goupil now separated from Couture. Mohawk hotheads longed to finish them off. Finally on September 29th, Jogues and Goupil, out for a walk and some seclusion, were intercepted by two young Iroquois just outside of the village of Osser-nenon. Sensing something sinister, both commended themselves to God's mercy. As they entered the village the young men struck Goupil with their hatchets and killed him. Jogues, fully expecting the worst for himself, knelt for a death blow that never came. He was left to mourn the death of this valiant Christian to whom he had become so attached.

     Autumn gave way to winter and Jogues, treated like a slave, some-how or other eked out a miserable existence among this inhospitable throng. No one seemed to care about him. However, about mid winter, living conditions improved slightly, and some of the elders even listened for a time to his teaching about christianity. Having thus gained a measure of freedom, he visited the sick, comforted captive Hurons and even succeeded in baptizing some dying Iroquois.

     With the arrival of summer Jogues was often taken on various fishing expeditions by his Mohawk captors. In August, 1643, the group to which he was attached had to pass through a Dutch village in order to do some trading. The Dutch commander of the settlement, Arendt van Corlaer, managed to draw him aside and urged him to take this oppor-tunity to escape. There was a boat at anchor in the Hudson waiting to carry him downstream to safety. Jogues, only anxious to follow God's will in everything, asked for the night to pray over the decision. In his prayer he weighed all the reasons for fleeing and for staying, and he finally decided that it was God's will for him that he now escape. He had done all he could for his French companions and the christian Hurons among the Iroquois.

     And so with the connivance of the Dutch, Jogues, that night, gave his Iroquois escort the slip and found a hiding place on the boat at anchor in the river. The Dutch for Several days had to brave the fury of the outraged Iroquois, incensed at being robbed of their prey. It was touch and go for a while whether the Mohawks would turn on the Dutch themselves, and Jogues, aware of the commotion, was ready to give himself up. However, the Dutch rode out this storm and finally pacified the Indians with various gifts.

     Once the crisis had passed and the Iroquois had moved away, the Dutch sent Jogues downstream to their main colony, that of New Am-sterdam (New York). From there, after excellent hospitality, Jogues obtained passage on a Dutch vessel bound for La Rochelle, France.

     Freedom was his now once again, but he bore on his body and in his countenance the unmistakable marks of incredible tortures.

     Jogues arrived in Lower Brittany on Christmas Day, 1643. Through the kindness of a merchant from Rennes he reached that city early in the morning of January 5, 1644, and presented himself at the Jesuit residence there, asking to see the Rector.

     As we might expect, the porter, at that early hour, rather put off by his miserable and strange appearance, demurred a good deal, until finally Jogues appealed to him to say to the Rector that a poor man from Canada was asking for him. The porter thought it wise to deliver this message. The Rector who was vested to say Mass came at once to see this poor person, believing him to be someone in dire need.

     The Rector welcomed the stranger with kindness and, while extend-ing hospitality, plied him with questions about the New World and about various Jesuits there. Finally, he asked him about Father Isaac Jogues; there had been some dreadful rumors. Was he alive? or had he been put to death, or . . .? Jogues quietly answered: "He is at liberty and it is he, Reverend Father, who speaks to you."

     We can well imagine the Rector's astonishment at this revelation and the consternation of the Jesuit community as the news rapidly spread. Jogues alive and right here in our house in Rennes? One can almost hear the Gallic "Impossible!" As one of these Rennes Jesuits wrote later, all the brethren regarded Jogues as a Lazarus raised from the dead.

     Naturally, Jogues' presence had a profound effect on all he met. His Jesuit brethren were deeply moved at the sight of him. One recorded his impressions of the man in this fashion: "He is as cheerful as if he had suffered nothing; and as zealous to return among the Hurons, amid all those dangers, as if perils were to him securities. He certainly expects to cross the ocean once again, in order to succor these poor people, and to finish the sacrifice already begun."

     Jogues, the living victim, created a sensation in France. Everyone from the Queen down wished to meet and talk with him. For a man so conscious of his own shortcomings and indebtedness to God, all this proved extremely mortifying. He simply longed to return to New France and his beloved Hurons. His superiors, recognizing the true situation, readily concurred in this design, and a happy Jogues sailed off to New France in that spring of 1644.

     Strangely enough, his brethren in Canada learned of his escape from the Iroquois only when he re-appeared on the St. Lawrence that June of 1644! In those days communications left something to be desired.

     Mere Marie de l'Incarnation, "mother of the Canadian Church" and good friend of Jogues, wrote to her son Claude in France to say that "God has restored to us a true living martyr." She also mentioned that she had questioned Jogues about his experiences and was struck by his "wondrous simplicity, which shows his great saintliness."

     Although he was back in Canada, Jogues would never see the land of Huronia again. His superiors assigned him to ministry at the young colony of Montreal and employed him in various dealings with the Iroquois, at that time a bit more tractable. The French were then more hopeful of arranging some kind of lasting peace with their bitter foe and needed the services of a man like Jogues so well versed in the language and ways of these Iroquois.

     In May 1646, Jogues went as an ambassador of peace to the Mohawks, his erstwhile captors. It was not a long affair and he re-turned to Quebec by early July.

     All that summer an uneasy truce continued, but in September the French believed it necessary to make further overtures for peace, and so once again they proposed sending Jogues among the Iroquois. He, for his part, was most willing to go, even though he felt a premonition of impending death. While awaiting confirmation of his appointment he penned a few lines to a fellow Jesuit and ended with: "My heart tells me that, if I am the one to be sent on this mission, I shall go but I shall not return. But I would be happy if our Lord wished to complete the sacrifice where he began it. Farewell, dear Father. Pray that God unite me to himself inseparably."

     Jogues, accompanied by a young donne' Jean de la Lande and a few Hurons, left Three Rivers on this embassy September 27th or 28th. At first all went smoothly. But some Iroquois they met on the way advised them that all was not well. Certain malcontents were all for breaking the truce and attacking the French. At this news all Jogues' Huron companions but one left him. Jogues, however, felt he must push on, and de Ia Lande stayed with him.

     Whether they sensed it or not - and possibly they did - they were heading for death, but the death of martyrs.

     No news of their fate reached Quebec until June 1647. Letters from the Dutch governor Kieft and Jan Labatie, an interpreter at Fort Orange (Albany), announced the deaths of Jogues and de la Lande. Both had been beaten and tomahawked to death by certain Mohawks angry with the French and full of hate for Jogues whom they blamed for so many recent misfortunes. It was a sad but not unexpected message.

     Jerome Lalemant, in the Relation for 1647, refers to Jogues as a true martyr. He then paid a warm tribute to his fellow missionary. One can detect in Lalemant's words his deep appreciation and love of this heroic brother. He praises his rare humility, his strict poverty, his great purity of heart, and his love of the Cross.

     Never, says Lalemant, did Jogues condone in himself the slightest aversion towards his persecutors, and, even though by nature endowed with a hasty temper, he controlled it admirably. True, he spoke out boldly when any of the Iroquois mocked the faith, but that was only because God meant everything to him and he could not brook any seeming slight to the divine majesty.
Jogues' obedience, extraordinary prayerfulness and deep attachment to the Blessed Sacrament were bywords with his fellow Jesuits. Father Buteux described him as a soul glued to the Blessed Sacrament.

     Nor must we forget his remarkable sensitivity, his deep concern for others, his tormentors included, and his love so full of tenderness. All this he manifested so strikingly in his dealings with Goupil, the Hurons and the Iroquois themselves. Parkman, that begrudging admirer of the early blackrobes, was profoundly impressed by the life of Jogues. In him he saw "one of the purest examples of Roman Catholic virtue."

     It is rare for any man to suffer two martyrdoms in a single lifetime. This was Jogues' holy fate. "Our Lord prolonged his life," wrote Lale-mant, "that he might come and present it to him another time, as a burnt offering, at the place where he had already begun his sacrifice." Jogues' accomplishment, then, is, in a dramatic and unforgettable manner, that of any man or woman who unswervingly loves God with the whole heart and the whole mind and the whole strength, and the neighbor as oneself, even if this must lead to unspeakable suffering and death.

     It would take three centuries before the Church officially recognized what Jogues' fellow Jesuits and friends, what so many Hurons and Algonkins, and Iroquois too, simply took for granted. On June 29, 1930, at Rome, in the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, Isaac Jogues, along with Jean de Brebeuf, Rene Goupil, Jean de la Lande and four others of New France, was declared a martyr and saint.