Friends of God The Early Native Huron Church in Canada

by Bruce Henry
Illustrated by Don Ense Ojibwa Artist

This book is dedicated to the canonization of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, Marie Aonetta and their family and friends



 This biograpby is based on The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, edited by Reuben C. Thwaites (Cleveland. Ohio: Burrows Brothers 1896- 1900(. Passages quoted have been adapted into English from the original French texts.

 Additional sources of information included An Ethno-graphy of the Huron Indians, by Elizabeth Tooker (Huronia Historical Development Council, 19671: The Huron: Farmers of the North, by Deuce C. Trigger (Toronto: Holt. Rinehart and Winston. 1969(, and Huronia: A History and Geography of the Huron Indians, 1600-1690, by Conrad Heideurreiech (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1971).

 Also valuable were Friend and Foe: Aspects of French Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Cornelius J. Jaenen (Toronto: MeClelland and Stewart Limited, 1973); The People of the Center American Indian Religion and Christianity, by Carl Starkloff S.J. (New York: Seabury Press, 1975); The Sacred Tree, by Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown, and Phil Lane (Lethbridge, Alberta: Four Worlds Development Press, 1985(; Le Premier Retraitant du Canada: Joseph Chiouatenhoua, Huron (d. 1640), by Leon Pouliot, sj. (Montreal: Les Edihons Bellarmin, 1958(, and an unpublished translation ofFather Pouliot's work by Lawrence Braceland, S.J,

 Thanks are due to Marcel Gervals, former Bishop of Sault Ste. Marle, and to Wffliam Addley, N.J., provincial of the Jesuit province of Upper Canada, for their encouragement of this work.

 Particular thanks to Nadine Roach of the Ojibway people for pointing out that portraying Christian missionaries as heroes who sacrificed to save Natives perpetuates stereotypes of dependency and inadequacy which continue to oppress Native people in Canada today.

List of Chapters


Christ is Himself Indian

 The people who lived in Canada before Europeans came were intimate with spirits and powers that surrounded them in all the forms of creation. When white people began to settle in Indian lands, French missionaries came to introduce Christian faith. In the 1620's Jesuits started to spread the good news of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection among the Wendat, the Huron people.

 It may seem that the Jesuits brought "white religion" as if it were superior to Native culture and spirituality. However, Jesus came into the world so all human beings of every culture could experience more complete unity with the Great Spirit who created us.

 The warrior Chiwatenhwa was one of the first to respond to an attraction to Jesus. He became an enthusiastic leader in the new Native church.  His wife Aonetta and some of their relatives also came to love Jesus and bravely faced opposition to Christian faith in their community.  We know about them from the Jesuits' reports to their friends in France.

 Pope John Paul II honoured the spirituality of Chiwatenhwa and his family
when Native Canadians gathered in Huronia to meet him in September 1984. The Pope said that Joseph Chiwatenhwa and his wife, Marie Aonetta, with his brother and other relatives, "lived and witnessed to their faith in a heroic manner.

 "These men and women," he continued, "not only professed their faith and embraced Christ's love, but they in turn became evangelizers and provide even today eloquent models for lay ministry."

 The Pope acknowledged the Native tradition and expressed his joy in the Native Canadian church. "These new Christians," he said, "knew by instinct that the gospel, far from destroying their authentic values and customs, had the power to purify and uplift the cultural heritage which they had received."

 "Christ," said the Pope at Huronia, "in the members of his body, is himself Indian.


The Feast of the Dead

 We first hear of Chiwatenhwa in 1636. It was spring. The earth that mothers us brought new life as the blanket of snow melted into it. Women were taking corn, bean, squash, and sunflower seeds from storage bins in the longhouses to get them ready to plant. Men cut saplings for bows and gathered birchbark, cedar strips, and pitch to make canoes for a new season of trade, hunting, and war. Some of the men went to catch fish from the spring migration of sturgeon, pike, and musky. Fish were abundant in the territory of the Huron confederacy, which stretched between Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe in Ontario.

 In the town of Ossossane the council of the Bear tribe decided to have a feast for the dead. It would honour everyone who died since the last feast, about ten years before.

 The Huron told the Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf a story showing their strong attachment to relatives who were gone to the next life. Once when a young woman died her brother could not stop mourning. He journeyed toward the setting sun to bring her back from the village of souls. He did not eat or drink for a week. She appeared for a moment. She gave him some crushed corn and water. He hiked for three more months to the land of the dead. A man at the gate told him
where he would find his sister and gave him a pumpkin in which to hold her soul. He found her dancing with other souls around a fire in a longhouse. When she saw him she hid for a while, and then she let him place her soul in the pumpkin. They returned to the guardian, who gave him her brain in another pumpkin.

 Back in their village the brother had a feast. He danced with his sister's skeleton over his shoulders and one of the pumpkins in each hand. After only a few steps life began to return to her bones. But no one could look while he danced. When someone stared at her the sister fled back to the dead.

 In fact, the Huron understood a dead person to have two souls. One stayed with the body at the burial platform until the feast of the dead when the people mourned and prayed for the dead by dancing and chanting. They took down the  bodies. They put them together in a large grave, lined with the best deer skins and beaver pelts. They gave them wampum beads and all kinds of treasures to keep them happy on their journey to the land of souls. Then the spirits of the dead would say goodbye and go to their own village. The other soul would stay with the bones at the burial place. That is why it is sacred ground.

An Invitation

 The Bear Council invited the Jesuits to show their love for the Huron at the feast of the dead. The French visitors could dig up the remains of two French explorers from their graves in the forest and bury them with the Huron dead.

 They expressed their beliefs carefully. Sometimes they spoke loudly, sometimes softly. Everyone listened.

 Jean replied. He knew the Huron language and understood the way people talked in a council. Jean described what he believed about the dead.  He explained his conviction that the experiences we have in our lives on earth are just hints of joy to come after we die. We can let the dead go, with prayers to the Great Spirit for their safety. Death can be a doorway.  It does not mean exile and distance from family and friends, but love and prosperity. Jesus has promised.  Jesus-the God who suffered so that all people might experience life in a full way.

 However, a while later the question of moving the Frenchmen's graves became unimportant because some Bear villages decided they did not want to be part of the feast so it was postponed.

Taking Root

 Every Indian knew the sound of Spirit voices. Sometimes people could hear unhappy souls screaming in the wind. One member of the council, the warrior Chiwatenhwa, heard through Jean's lips the voice of the Holy Spirit, the One, the Creator. As he listened, God's word took root in his heart.

 Who can explain why? Perhaps the customs of his people left questions in his mind. Or it could be that in a vision quest or a dream Chiwatenhwa was prepared for the Creator to come to him in a special way.


Chiwatenhwa Catches Fire

 The Jesuits travelled among the Huron towns. The priests wanted to meet all the Hurons so they could tell everyone of the birth, death, and resurrection of God's son. They wanted to share their belief that by God's sacrifice our spirits are made free from the power of evil. They walked through miles of cornfield and forest. The Indians called them "blackrobes" because they wore coarse black cloth covering their entire bodies from the neck down, even when it was hot.

     In the summer of 1636 a terrible epidemic struck the Huron people. The missionaries wanted to help. They offered white people's medicine and tried to comfort people by speaking of the Creator's love. They invited people to pray to Jesus, because, they said, Jesus' death on the cross opens the way for our spirits to pass through death into the experience of unending life in heaven. If a person was close to death, the priest would ask him or her to make a commitment to Jesus by receiving the sacrament of baptism.

 Each longhouse was the home of about 50 people, all related through the mothers, with one elderly woman in charge.

 They feasted and prayed to persuade the demons to stop causing the illness. The herbalists and shamans were there.  People danced and chanted to help the sick person strengthen the life force. It was a scene of chaos to European eyes and ears and one full of meaning and caring to the Natives.

 Chiwatenhwa listened as Jean and the others spoke of the life-giver and his child who let himself be sacrificed to save us from the demons.  Suddenly it seemed a shadow was torn away from Chiwatenhwa's inner eye.  Perhaps he had the experience of baptism of the spirit.  For he began to manifest gifts of praise, thanksgiving, and intercession for other people's needs. He uttered prayer spontaneously. He thought about God's desires for us, and had a deep understanding of God's laws. People noticed a difference and started to call him "the Christian".

A New Baby Is Baptized

 In 1637, a year after Chiwatenhwa's first encounter with Jesuits, Aonetta gave birth to a baby boy. When he was a few days old his father took him to the priests to be baptized.

 The Huron carried babies in cradle boards covered with coloured quills and beads, as some Natives continue to do. No wonder people started calling Chiwatenhwa "the Christian".

 They saw the warrior carrying a newborn infant among the houses, the canoes, and the racks of pelts and fish. He prayed out loud as he went, offering this gift of new life to the Creator in a way the Natives had not known
before. As they watched him, some people wondered, "Is our brother Chiwatenhwa making a mistake? Do the French priests really love us?" Some shamans believed that the white priests were bad medicine men who served a demon that wanted to devour the Huron. They said the blackrobes wanted to kill them with diseases carried by their talismans, to stop them from going to their own village of souls when they died.

 Chiwatenhwa wanted his son to experience the touch of Jesus in the sacrament of baptism with water poured from a bark bowl and signs made on his body with oil. The Jesuits christened the little boy and gave him the baptismal name Thomas.

A Hunger To Learn

 On May 17, 1637 there was a meeting of the Band Council of Ossossane. The Jesuits had asked if they could set up a permanent house there. In the council house wood-smoke from the fire blended with tobacco smoke from the pipe. Despite the reservations of some, most people trusted the blackrobes and the council decided- Yes, they may join the village.

 The people of Ossossane worked with the Jesuits' French helpers to build a longliouse for the mission. A Huron longhouse was usually about seven metres wide and twice as long. The walls were made of saplings, standing side by side upright in the ground. They were bent and joined at the top to form a roof with smoke holes about six or eight metres above the earth floor. There were storage bins at the sides and poles along the top for hanging corn and fish. The Jesuits' house was different. It had a wall inside to create a special worship space. In honour of Mary, the mother of Jesus, they called it the chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

 In June 1637 about 40 people from Ossossane helped the Jesuit group settle in their new house. It attracted people not only because of the enclosed chapel area, but also because it had an altar where the blessed sacrament was reserved. On the altar were candles the Jesuits brought from Quebec. Life-size oil paintings from France, representing Jesus and Mary, also amazed people. The Huron knew how to paint. They used dye mixed with sunflower seed oil or bear
fat to paint pictures of people, animals, and various objects on their pipes and on stone, wood, bark, or leather. Sometimes they placed large paintings at the entrance of the longhouse. Their artistic skills were well developed, but they had never seen European-style representational oil paintings on canvas.

 The Natives were not shy; they were openly curious. Their questions let the Jesuits explain Christian faith.

 The most frequent visitor was Chiwatenhwa. He made friends with the
missionaries because he believed they truly brought good news. He was glad they came to Ossossane to stay because he hungered to learn more about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.


A Test Of Faith

 That summer another epidemic swept through Huronia. At the same time as Ossossane welcomed the missionaries, more people were beginning to believe the shamans could be right that the blackrobes brought illness with them. There were incidents of public abuse by men and women who suspected the Christians' prayers were chants to devils. The priests knew things could get worse. Among the Huron the reputation of being a sorcerer in communication with evil spirits "inevitably drags death after it," wrote the Jesuit Francois LeMercier.

 The sad fact is that the Europeans did bring new diseases. But they did not do it knowingly; it would be two centuries before scientists would understand the immune system well enough to know how the Jesuits could carry disease organisms to which the Natives were still vulnerable. There is no doubt that the Jesuits intended only to do good. They hoped to help the Native peoples develop a fuller relationship with the God who created and redeemed us.

 Chiwatenhwa and Aonetta, among others, continued to trust the Christians. Chiwatenhwa explained to other Indians the attraction he felt to Jesus and, through Jesus, to the Great Spirit. Unfortunately we do not know much about how he handled the tensions between the Native tradition and his faith life as a devotee of Jesus Christ. There was growing opposition to Christianity from traditionalists, and it is a testament to the power of God's love for those, on both sides who opened themselves to it, that Chiwatenhwa and the Jesuits could witness to their friendship with Jesus in the face of opposition.

Chiwatenehwa Receives Baptism

 Then Chiwatenhwa got the fever; it had killed many people and it looked like he might die.

 Traditional Indian healing was more religious than white medicine, although some would say this was because the spiritual roots of European medical science had grown invisible. However, even before he got sick Chiwatenhwa thought deeply about the law of God, "You shall have no other gods before me." Because of his interpretation of that law, he refused Native shamanic healing. He did not want to offend Jesus.

 Jean de Brebeuf visited him several times a day and helped Aonetta and other relatives look after him. The Jesuits prayed for him. But his fever got worse.

 In the past he had often asked for baptism. The Jesuits held back because there was so much reluctance among the people that they wanted his desire for this commitment to God to be tested. Now they asked Chiwatenhwa if he wanted to join Christ in the mystery of the sacrament as a sign of his faith that he would rise with Christ to new life. He was too weak to stand up. But he found energy to say how frustrated he was that they had denied his previous requests for

     "Since I got sick," he said, "every time you came to see me I said to myself, Why don't they baptize me? Well, I'll leave it up to them since they know that I deeply desire it?" They baptized him on August 16, 1637. He
took the baptismal name Joseph, after the earthly father of Jesus who is the protector of the church in Canada.

 As the waters of baptism flowed over his feverish brow, Joseph Chiwatenhwa experienced peace and love deep in his heart. He thought of the life of the soul with God, and of heaven, where we will know how to respond fully with love, to love. He spoke of these things as he lay with death near.


 He went to the Jesuit chapel. He repeated his promise to live as a disciple of Jesus. He knelt before the blessed sacrament and offered his being and all his action to the Lord. His determination to give everything to
God was beyond anything the Jesuits had suggested. He was directly inspired by the example of Jesus, who lived completely to do the will of his father. The Jesuits were grateful to see in Joseph Chiwatenhwa a manifestation of God's work.

Joseph Recovers

 The Jesuits asked Saint Joseph to intercede with God for the recovery of Josephm Chiwatenhwa. Their prayers were answered; in a couple of days he started to get better. As he rose from his mat, he thanked God. He promised to stay faithful as long as he lived. His strongest desire now was to act in a way
that would make others know he lived for Christ.

A Public Profession

 At the same time, rumours were taking root among the people that the blackrobes wanted to destroy the Huron nation. The elders met to decide whether the priests were evil sorcerers. If they were, then anyone who wanted to avenge a lost relative could legally kill a Jesuit.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa believed the blackrobes were good. To prove it he took advantage of an Indian custom-he had a feast to celebrate getting better. He opened the festivities by saying a blessing over the food.  He prayed in thanksgiving to the Creator for being able to gather people to celebrate his decision to live wholly for the Great Spirit who created and redeemed all of life. He made a public profession of his vow. He began to talk more openly about his faith experience. He was a teacher of the way of peace.

The Creator Fills His Life

 For the Huron people every form of life had a spiritual essence and some people had special gifts for communicating with these beings. Everyone believed that fish and game animals like the deer, fox, or rabbit consciously gave themselves to humans so people would have robes for the dead as well as meat and clothing for the living.

 Most Huron houses had a fish-preacher. He had power to attract fish into the nets. Fish preachers discouraged people from burning fish bones or giving them to dogs, so the fish would feel respected and allow themselves to be caught. The Huron would also throw some tobacco into the water as an offering when they fished, for an abundant catch would mean they would have some extra to preserve for the winter.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa prayed before he hunted or fished. However, now he did not so much revere the spirits of the game or fish, but the Great Spirit who created them.

 "You who made everything that exists," he would say, "you are master of the animals. If you make some fall into my traps, may you be blessed. If not, I wish only what you wish."

 His friendship with Jesus gradually embraced his whole life.

Friends With God

 Whenever Joseph Chiwatenhwa went away from Ossossane to hunt, fish, or trade, he would go alone into the woods each day to spend some time alone with God. When he was at home he walked over to the chapel morning and evening to spend about 15 minutes in conversation with the Creator.  During the day he prayed in the house, without letting people's activities distract him.

 He spoke with God as a friend that he loved more than anyone else. He asked God to bless the Huron.  He prayed that they would be spared from attack by their enemies and from epidemics.  He prayed for the dead.  He asked for the forgiveness of his sins.  He thanked God for all the gifts of faith.

 He knew that Jesus, the child of God, became flesh and blood and then died and rose again so that we might have life more abundantly.  Through Jesus Christ we can truly relate to the Great Spirit who is our father and mother.  Joseph Chiwatenhwa experienced the risen Jesus as a brother and intimate friend.  He felt himself to be in the hands of God.  He lived in God's house.

Strong Faith

 He changed so much that people started making fun of him.  He would not join in the feasts they held to chase away the demons of illness.  People saw his refusal to follow their tradition as a threat, because it meant that he might be moving to the side of the demons.  In fact, many Indians believed the Christian way was not compatible with their traditions.  Some called him and his family "the believers" as if the word meant "idiot" or "scum."  He simply persisted in explaining to people what he was experiencing.

 The peace he felt in his heart was the only sign he needed that the blackrobes preached a spirituality that could enrich the Native tradition.  He did not waver.  One day he said to the Jesuits, "I am so determined to stay faithful to God, that if any one wanted to make me go back to my old ways, they would have to kill me."  He knew it could happen, for more and more people believed that he had joined the blackrobes in a plot to destroy the nation.


 Huron men were proud of their skills as hunters.  Once when the people wanted meat for a feast, Joseph Chiwatenhwa and some of his friends hiked many days in the forest with dogs they had trained to track game animals.  All the hunters came home with meat and skins from the animals they killed except Joseph Chiwatenhwa.  The others said their good-luck charms and dreams guided them, but his prayers caused him the humiliation of returning with nothing for the community.  He put up with the sneers; he accepted God's will.

 Sometimes it was hard.  He talked with the priests about Job in the Old Testament.  Job suffered great trials.  Through them all he never stopped loving God.  At first Joseph Chiwatenhwa prayed to Jesus never to hide his face.  He did not want to experience doubt about God's love for him.  As he grew in trust, he became more open.


The Hardest Kind of Letting Go

 Trust in God was a blessing especially when another contagious fever attacked the family of Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Aonetta.  Some of his relatives were so sick they might die; the priests baptized them as a sign of their faith in Jesus.  Three little nieces received the baptismal names of great Christian saints: Agatha, Cecily, and Theresa.  The teenage son of Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta joined them; his baptismal name was Ignatius, after the founder of the Jesuits.  A nephew was named Peter, after the apostle who became the first pope.  A sister in law and her baby were baptised.  The woman's baptismal name was Anne, after the grandmother of Jesus.

     Then Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Aonetta's new baby boy got sick. His father picked him up in his arms and quieted him by whispering that he did not have to fear to die.

 "You are safe, my little one," he would say. "You are already in the protective hands of God."

 The Jesuits compared him to Abraham in the Old Testament, who was prepared to return his only son to God. Joseph Chiwatenhwa prayed that he and Aonetta would be able to let go of their natural desire for the baby to cling to life in the flesh. In a few days the little baby died. Right away Joseph Chiwatenhwa went to the chapel.  In front of the blessed sacrament he poured out his prayers that the child might indeed rest in peace, in the Lord. His faith was firm that his infant son would pray for them all in heaven.

 As summer passed into autumn, the epidemic stopped.


 In the Jesuit Relation of 1638-39, Francois LeMercier talks about a letter that Joseph Chiwatenhwa wrote. Perhaps one day it will turn up in archives in Quebec or France.

Explaining  The Mysteries

 During the winter of 1637-38 Joseph Chiwatenhwa helped the missionaries perfect their ability to speak the Huron language. He and the priests began to work out how to write the language; up to that time it had only been spoken. He pronounced the words slowly so the priests could figure out how to spell them. He wanted to write the story of his people.  He started a journal to help him be more conscious of his own personal growth in the Spirit.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa received the gift of so deep an understanding of Christian faith that he could dictate speeches in Huron to the priests. They used them to instinct people about Christ. Together they translated French prayers and songs into Huron, changing not only the words but also the images so the people could understand them from their everyday experiences.

Cultural Differences

 One of the Jesuits, Father Jerome LaLemant, wrote about cultural differences.

     "Neither the Gospel nor the holy scripture has been composed for them," he said. "Our Christian mysteries are not expressed in their words, and even the parables and the teachings of Jesus seem foreign to them."

 He listed things he had noticed that were not part of the experience of the woodland Native North Americans: salt, leaven or yeast, pearls, prison, mustard seeds, casks of wine, lamps, candlesticks, and torches.  Even basic biblical images like kingdoms, kings, and majesty, shepherds, flocks, and sheepfolds were not part of the Huron culture.  That explains why the Jesuits were so grateful for Joseph Chiwatenhwa's skilled and generous help in reinterpreting the Christian gospels.

 In Europe one could use concepts and images from the history of the Middle East and Europe itself. Lalemant recognized that they had a lot of work to do to discover where the faith could enter Indian minds. But he did not despair because, he wrote, 'The blood of Jesus Christ has been shed for all people." Joseph Chiwatetenhwa knew this and devoted his life to introducing Christian faith to people in terms they could understand.

Christian Witness

 Winter was not an unpleasant time for the Huron.  When it stormed outside, they loved to fill a longhouse and hear the stories of their creation and the adventures of their ancestors.  Each story lasted for hours.

 People would gather to sing and dance.  They also played games. Someone might bring out the plum-stones, black on one side, white on the other, so they could play the bowl game.  Each player would pick up the bowl with its six stones and hit it hard on the ground to make the stones bounce. You won if they fell either all white or all black.  Sometimes they played snowsnakes.  They threw long, smooth carved sticks like javelins along an icy track-maybe a frozen creek bed-to see whose would go furthest.

 One day in January 1638 the Jesuits came to a party at the chiefs longhouse in Ossossane.  After the meal, the chief gathered the band council and invited everyone to stay, so they could listen to Jean de Brebeuf, who was becoming famous among the Indians for his public-speaking skill.  He talked about the difference between traditional Huron spiritual life and Christian faith experience. He encouraged them to be open to let Jesus come into their lives.

 Afterwards, an elder - one of Joseph Chiwatenhwa's cousins-asked how come none of the French died during the epidemic last summer.  Joseph Chiwatenhwa answered.  He honestly believed the Jesuits did not come to cause the disease; they came to show the love of Jesus Christ for the Indians.  A lot of people found that what he said rang true for them.  He and his family convinced a few to trust the priests.  The Ossossane Christian community began to expand.

 Often people came to the Jesuits' house.  They liked to watch them in their colourful vestments, especially when they sang and prayed in Huron.  After worship Joseph Chiwatenhwa would ask questions that he sensed were in the Indians' minds so the priests could answer them.  He listened to people's statements about how they felt and told them how he experienced Christ so they could relate it to their own perceptions.


Marie Aonetta Receives Baptism

 In time Aonetta too came to believe in the one God. She waited until she felt she could blend Christian faith with her heritage as a Native woman. When she was ready she asked if she could be baptized.

 The family had a feast the night before the baptism. Chiwatenhwa prayed a blessing and spoke of his joy that his whole family was Christian. The sacrament took place in the chapel on March 19,1638, the day Christians everywhere remember Saint Joseph. 

 The Jesuits decorated their longhouse. It filled up with people who came to watch the liturgy of baptism. Aonetta received the name Marie after the Blessed Mother, as her baptismal name.

 Joseph Chiwateunwa's brother Teonderchorren and his wife were there. They were with a baby boy, still at the breast, and a girl about five years old. Both children had already been baptized during the epidemic. Now Teondechorren's wife seemed to be touched by the Holy Spirit. She walked up to the priests who had just baptized Marie Aonetta. She asked them to baptize her. They agreed that she was ready and performed the sacrament. She died unexpectedly a few days later. Her death confirmed the skeptics' suspicion that baptism could cause disease and death.


A Christian Wedding

  Immediately after the baptism Jean talked about marriage. As a woman and man commit themselves to each other, their love generates new life. They create a nurturing home for their children. Marriage commitment is a sign of the way God loves us. The attraction that men and women feel for each other is like the feelings Jesus has for his church, for we are the people for whom he gave himself. He desires to unite with us in eternity.

 Jean asked Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa how they felt about their marriage. They had always been uncomfortable about the Indian way of having different partners and divorcing easily. They had agreed to stay together for life and to be each other's only lover. They asked if they could receive the blessing of the church on their relationship, so right after the baptism the chapel became the scene of a wedding. They joined in offering their relationship and themselves and their family to God.

 It was the first Christian wedding in Ontario. After the wedding, the Christians celebrated a Eucharist. Then the Jesuits made a feast.

 Today people who stay in the summer cottages along Ossossane Beach on the Penetang peninsula perhaps have a hint of what it was like for an Indian couple at the time prior to white settlement. In love with each other and in love with God, Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta walked on the same ground three and a half centuries ago. At night the stars shine over the wide water in the clear open sky and the ripples gently lap on the beach that trails between the forest and the water.


Leaven Of The Gospel

 Jesus helped people imagine what the kingdom of God is like by comparing it to yeast or leaven that someone stirs through bread dough to make it rise.

 Jerome Lalemant wrote to France that Joseph Chiwatenhwa was "the leaven of the gospel that makes the dough of this new Huron church rise," for he went to all the Villages with the missionaries as one of their helpers.

 A lot of people enjoyed listening to him tell the story of his faith experiences. He talked with the same familiarity with Jesus that the Huron people already had with the spirit world they knew. He was in love with God, the Creator. Sometimes when he spoke it seemed as though his heart was on fire, and the Holy Spirit supplied the words. He praised God and blessed God all the time, whether he was at church, talking with people, or walking alone in the forest.

Joseph Prepares Others

 In June 1638 Joseph Chiwatenhwa helped the priests open a house where some of them would live in the village of Teanaustaye. He helped them teach there. Together they talked with people about the Creator and his child, and about Mary, who agreed to be Jesus' mother. They talked about prayer and the Holy Spirit. Joseph Chiwatenhwa told the story of his own personal relationship with Jesus.

 The elder Aochiati, a master of the society of the dance in Teanaustaye, responded to the call of the Holy Spirit that he heard through the Christians. Aochiati was about 70 years old. when he asked for baptism, Joseph Chiwatenhwa helped him get ready. They talked about how a Huron could live for Jesus. Aochiati had two granddaughters he loved very much. He and his granddaughters acted against the belief of the people who thought that baptism caused death, especially to children.

 They followed their desire to commit themselves to the one God. They received baptism on December 20,1638. They were the first members of the church of Teanaustaye.

An Act Of Charity

 An Indian Nation called the Neutrals lived southwest of the Hurons. In the summer of 1638 people from one of the Neutral tribes, the Wenrohronon, came to ask if Joseph Chiwatenhwa's tribe, the Bears, would adopt them. The Wenrohronon were mostly women and children, for the men were killed in war. The Bears accepted the people and Joseph Chiwatenhwa and some other men generously went to help them move to Huronia.

 When they got home, he came down with a fever. It lasted 40 days and more than once everyone thought he would die. Sometimes he was delirious. He would get up and dance around the fire without any clothes on.

 He cried out, 'Let them come! Let them burn me! Then they'll see if I really believe in God or if I am just talking that way!"

 Even when he was sick he was full of consciousness of Jesus Christ. Once again he recovered.

A Minor Miracle

 Sometimes it seemed there were miracles in Joseph Chiwatenhwa's life. His healing from illness could be considered miraculous, since many others died during the epidemics. Of course it could have been coincidental, but the Indians knew that coincidence could be a sign of the action of the Spirit.

 An amazing event happened at fishing time. Each fall a group of men went to stay on the islands in Georgian Bay for about two weeks to catch whitefish as they came into the shallows to feed. In the fall of 1638 it rained heavily all around except where Joseph Chiwatenhwa and a few others were fishing. They were the only ones to catch anything.

 An answered prayer? Perhaps.

The Moon Of Wintertime

 At Christmas Christians everywhere celebrate God's great act of love in sending his son to be one with us. The missionaries decorated their cabin by putting burning coals in different places so they looked like candles glimmering in a dark church. The people were fascinated by the way they used these sparkling lights to represent the coming of light from God into the world.

 By Christmas 1638 Joseph Chiwatenhwa understood Christian teaching so well that he spoke for a long time as a lay-preacher at the Christmas celebrations. He said Jesus' birth was like the fire shining around them in the cabin: it shattered and chased away the shadows of sin and ignorance, as it does today when Jesus is reborn by faith in a person's heart.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa loved to go to mass, and that Christmas day he knelt through five eucharistic celebrations. He and Marie Aonetta and the other baptized Hurons went to confession and made their communion. He was growing as an apostle, living in imitation of the twelve who were sent by Jesus to spread his word among people. The apostolic zeal of Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta equaled that of the Jesuits. We see from the written records that the priests believed God had rewarded them with the privilege of knowing a man and woman of exceptional holiness.

Holding Onto A Pet Goose!

 The Huron loved their pets. Most houses had dogs. They shared the people's food. Sometimes the people in a longhouse raised a bear from a cub in a cage made of saplings. Eventually they would kill it for a feast.

 In their longhouse Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa had a Canada goose that they looked after since it was little. They fed it grain, grass, and insects. Their plan was to keep it for a feast. However, the people had a custom that made this difficult. The Huron believed that one reason people might get sick was that their souls had unsatisfied desires.

Knowledge of what they wanted could come in a dream. Or a shaman might use intuition to penetrate the depths of the soul to see the desires that the sick person had dreamed of and forgotten. According to the old custom, the sick person could ask the people of the village to give him or her anything. It might be presents. a feast, or a ritual celebration; anyone would gladly give what the sick person wanted. It was the Huron way. However, Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa decided to refuse to give the goose to anyone who asked for it to fulfil a soul desire, because the custom now seemed superstitious to them. If someone wanted it for a good reason, they could have it. But if it was to fulfil a superstitious wish, they would be stubborn and hold onto it!


Taking Care Of God's House

 All the Jesuits moved into a central mission in 1639. when they left Ossossane they asked Joseph Chiwatenhwa to be the parish administrator there.

 Father Paul LeJeune had come to Huronia to be the new superior of the Jesuit community in the autumn of 1638. He believed it would be better for the Jesuits to have one main mission centre. Jesuit brothers and lay workmen built the village of Ste-Marie-Among-the-Hurons. It was surrounded by a Huron-style stockade of pointed poles with watch towers at the corners. Ste-Marie was about three hours on foot from Ossossane.

 Destroyed in 1649, it has been restored at its original site on the Wye River near Midland. At Ste-Marie today pilgrims can pray at the graves of Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant who, with many Huron, were killed in the area. In one section of the village people can walk into an authentic longhouse and talk with Indian guides who tend the fire and do crafts in the traditional way.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa became Canada's first lay parish administrator looking after the Jesuits' longhouse and chapel at Ossossane.  He took responsibility for the faith life of the small Christian community there. He continued to spend much time in the chapel.  He loved to meditate by focusing his thoughts on Jesus and letting the Lord carry his mind and imagination wherever he wanted them to go. He would sit and feel Jesus' love.  We do not know if Joseph Chiwatenhwa had the charismatic gift of tongues, but his heart overflowed with such strong feelings that his prayers usually came tumbling aloud from his lips.

 Some of his actual words are given in the Relation of 1640.

 "My God," he said, "I'm looking after your house; please take care of mine. I watch your temple; please take care of my soul. I want you to let me be as close to you as a saint, because to look after one of your holy places a person has to be a saint. Please sanctify me."

 He often prayed that Jesus would show mercy to his people because he wanted everyone to experience the spiritual consolation he received.

Another Child

 Around this time Marie Aonetta gave birth to a baby girl. Her baptism was the first done in Huron country by a newly-arrived Jesuit whose name was not recorded in the Relations. He had made a promise to Saint Genevieve that he would name his first baptized person for her. Her parents agreed. Little Genevieve would only live to be three years old when she would fall victim to smallpox.


Premonitions Of Death

 When Mary, Jesus' mother, became pregnant with him, she was engaged to marry Joseph. He decided to break off the engagement because he believed she had been unfaithful to him. However, God's angel came to Joseph in a dream to set him straight. As we read in Matthew's gospel, "An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary to be your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins'." when Joseph woke up, he decided to follow the angel's request. He married Mary. when she gave birth, they named the child Jesus." (Mt 1:20-25)]

 Like the Jews of biblical times, the Huron Indians believed the Creator sometimes speaks to them in dreams. Spirits might appear in dreams to foretell the outcome of war. They might ask to be honoured in a particular way. One person told the Jesuits he dreamed that the war god appeared to him as a woman. She asked for a set of Huron armour, a wolf s muzzle, and other war equipment. Sometimes a person would fast for a dream to get guidance in hunting, fishing, war, or trade. Ideas for ritual celebrations, songs, and even friendships came in dreams.  Some people had premonitions about the death of a relative, or their own death.

 For a few days in the spring of 1639 Joseph Chiwatenhwa was fishing with an old friend, newly baptized, whose name was Rene Tsondihwane. Joseph told Rene about a dream he had... Three or four enemy raiders snuck into Huron country. while they were prowling in the area around Ossossane, they spotted him in the bush. They jumped him by surprise. when he moved to defend himself, they threw him to the ground. They scalped him and then killed him by driving a hatchet into his skull.

 He said, "My friend, if we weren't Christians now would be the time when we would need to ward off the demons by our magic songs and feasts. But these demons are not the masters of our lives. Our lives are in the hands of the Creator. We believe in him, and we know that he alone will call us to him when it is time for us to behold him face to face."


 The same dream returned several times. Some of his family heard him cry out as he awoke, "You don't have the power to kill me. God alone controls my life and death."

 People who did not have Christian faith believed that the spirits in the dream were demanding a feast or sacrifice of two dogs. They thought it was dangerous to refuse such a demand. Joseph Chiwatenhwa was not afraid to die because he knew he was safe in God's hands. But his dream was preparing him to be ready for anything. He understood that each of us honours Jesus by following him to our own cross and resurrection.

To Quebec City

 The Huron people travelled for war and trade through Ontario, Quebec, and New York. They traded with the Ojibway, Oddawa, and Pottawatami who lived north and west of their territory, the Algonquin who lived northeast of Huronia, and the Petun (Tobacco), Neutral, and Erie, who lived in the southern part of Ontario. when the French came the Huron began to make annual trips to Quebec City to trade beaver pelts for glass beads, blankets, kettles, hatchets, jewelery, wooden plates, and other objects that they

 A trading party-usually a group of men from one village would go along the river to Georgian Bay, through the Thirty Thousand Islands, along the French River, across Lake Nipissing, and then along the Mattawa, Ottawa, and Saint Lawrence rivers. The route aimed to avoid contact with enemies. Several canoes usually travelled together. Each carried five or six men plus supplies and beaver skins. They had treaties with the tribes they encountered along the way.  The trip took about 20 days.  Every man had to paddle all the time.

 There were many portages around rapids and waterfalls, some of them several kilometres long. At each portage they took the bundles and the canoes on their backs through the woods and over the rocks. Each required a few trips in order to carry everything. Some of the rapids were traversed by jumping into the water and walking the canoe through the rocky passage rather than portaging. At night they slept under the stars.

 In the summer of 1639, Joseph Chiwatenhwa and the Jesuits Francois LeMercier went to Quebec alone. During the trip the priest was struck by the intensity of his companion's devotion to God. In a natural way, he prayed all the time. He offered all his labours-the paddling and the portages-to the Lord.

 The trip was a pilgrimage, for he considered it a privilege to accompany the Jesuit to Quebec and he looked forward to meeting the people in the Christian community there. In Quebec he got to know other Jesuits, as well as other priests and religious including the Ursuline nun Marie of the Incarnation. She wrote about Joseph Chiwatenhwa in letters to her son which were later published as a book in France.

New Arrivals

 One day great excitement swept through Quebec as word came that a ship sailing from France was making its way up the Saint Lawrence River to dock in the harbour. Everyone ran to the shore. Joseph Chiwatenhwa was caught in the excitement.  He watched the ship land.

 A group of French nuns disembarked.

They kissed the soil of the country where they would serve God in the Native people by opening hospitals and schools. Their desire to help the Natives-to bring God's love-made a deep impression on Joseph Chiwatenhwa. He imagined how hard it would be for a Huron to go to France to teach or nurse people.

Holy Relics

Joseph Chiwatenhwa's spirit of Thanksgiving did not fall him on the return to Ossossane. Francois said, "He is always and everywhere in a mind for God."

 Going back was harder because it meant paddling upstream along the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. For food on the trip the Natives would bring enough ground corn so that each day they could have two helpings of cornmeal boiled in water. The Huron staple, this dish is called sagamite.

 On the way down, Joseph Chiwatenhwa hid seven caches of corn so they could retrieve them on the way back. They discovered, however, that five of the seven had been stolen. Although there were plenty of fish in the waters, time did not allow the men to do more than trail a line behind the canoe as they travelled. They experienced hunger.  Joseph Chiwatenhwa offered it to God, in faith that Jesus would look after them. His joy was greater because he was bringing a few bundles of supplies for the Christian community at Ste-Marie. Among them were some heavy relics of saints that he prayed to along the voyage.

No More Talismans

 The Indians perceived spiritual essences in almost everything that lived around them. Even inanimate objects like stones might have spirits residing in them. Philosophers would say their traditional spirituality gave them a natural metaphysical awareness. They valued certain objects as talismans or good luck charms much the same way as the Christian community in Huronia would appreciate the holy relics Joseph Chiwatenhwa was carrying from Quebec. A charm might be a small stone or caning, a piece of snake skin, a bear claw, or some bone found in the entrails of an animal killed in the hunt. Talismans could bring luck in hunting, fishing, gambling, trading, or growing crops.

 The Jesuits tell of a man who rubbed the ashes of a bird on his nets to appease the spirits of the fish so he could catch them.  Because Joseph Chiwatenhwa feared that the spirit in a talisman his father gave him when he died might not be pleasing to Jesus, he never used it. He felt it was God's will that he simply accept what was meant for him. He did not want to change his fortune by attempting to manipulate the powers. His action was in the spirit of the prayer of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, "Grant me only your love and your grace; they're enough for me."

The Power Of The Rosary

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa believed that what gave an object power was prayers to God the Creator, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Many Christians also express devotion to Mary. the mother of Jesus, because she responded with total generosity to God's request that she bear his son. Her free "Yes" to God has given us the opportunity to know Jesus.

 For centuries Christians have prayed the rosary. Rosary prayers express devotion to Mary and, through Mary, to Jesus. The  joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries guide us through meditation about Jesus as we ponder the events of his time on earth. For Joseph Chiwatenhwa, the rosary replaced the
talismans of his forebears.

 At one time one of his nieces was sick. She seemed hysterical, for at night she would cry out as if she had seen a ghost. He put his rosary around her neck. He calmed her by telling her to remember that she was a Christian. He told her not to be afraid because the demons could not affect her any more.


Without Moving His Lips

 God is all around us in our everyday lives.  Even so, Christians have always gone to be alone from time to time to deepen their prayer.  Even Jesus used to move away from people to pray to the Creator.  Long before they heard of Jesus, Native North Americans cherished the tradition of going into solitude on a vision quest to let the Creator speak.  One reason the Jesuits built Ste-Marie was so they and other Christians could take time apart.  However, they did not expect the first Canadian retreatant to be a lay person from the mission territory.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa wanted to experience his friendship with Jesus as deeply as he could. The Jesuits talked to him about the guided meditations and prayers they call the Spiritual Exercises. The exercises could fine-tune his ability to discern movements of the Holy Spirit in his inner life. The deep prayer experience of a retreat would strengthen him for the storms he would pass through as he continued to spread the good news in a skeptical community. when they suggested the possibility, Joseph immediately replied, "why have you held back on something that could do me so much good?

 "A thousand times I have thought of asking why you didn't teach me the type of prayer I see the Jesuits do. You pray for a long time without moving your lips. I kept quiet because I figured you would show me when I was ready. I just had to wait."

 They set a date, but things got in the way; there were delays. Joseph Chiwatenhwa decided that a spirit of evil might be lurking underneath what looked like urgent family matters. They could wait. God would look after his relatives. Just when the Jesuits least expected to see him, he turned up at Ste-Marie, ready to make his retreat.

The Retreat Journal

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa gave his retreat director permission to tell people the story of his retreat. He recognized this time as sacred.  "All my life," he said, "I have been busy. But why? Most of my activity has not helped my soul. Now I am spending some time that will do me good for eternity.  I must be serious about this."

 He wrote down some of his prayers.  "God," he prayed, "I'm here to learn what you want for me. I promise to do it, even if it costs me my life. But I can only serve you if you let me know what you want."

 As the days went by he became even more conscious of God's love. He prayed, "How can I depend on other people? My father and mother, the ones who loved me and taught me the most, are gone. Now God in his goodness serves me as mother and father. Even when I wasn't thinking about the Creator, he was thinking of me. I have been like a child at its mother's breast, biting and tormenting her when she was trying to nourish me.

 "God," he wrote," has called people from the other side of the world to come here for me, and almost for me alone. 0, my God, how great is your love! How can I place my faith in anyone other than you?"

Spiritual Desolation

 Nearly everyone has dry periods in prayer. One day during the retreat Joseph Chiwatenhwa got distracted whenever he tried to pray. His mind wandered. On his daily visit to his spiritual director he said, "My brother, I am all mixed up. I haven't been able to pray very well. Every time I try, my mind starts racing. It goes out of control."

 The priest asked him bow he reacted to these torments.

 "I pray to the Creator," he replied. "I ask him to recognize my nothingness and to speak to the depth of my heart. I am here to listen."

 Then, he said, he would pray to the Blessed Virgin: "Holy Mary, mother of my Saviour Jesus, here I am, in the chapel of your house.  Who will help me if you don't? Have pity on me. I've come here to learn God's will, but now I'm all mixed up, and if he speaks, I'm not sure I'll even hear. I am nothing. You are all-powerful. Pray for me to your beloved son Jesus."

 He addressed the saints whose relics he carefully carried by canoe from Quebec. "Great saints, I don't even know your names, but you must know I carried your relics here all the way from Quebec. Take pity on me. Pray for me to your chief and mine, Jesus."

 "Then," he told his director, "I thought of the pictures in the chapel, and prayed to those saints, especially Saint Joseph, whom I'm named after."

 He had learned from the Spirit how to persevere and storm heaven with his prayers.

Meditating On Paradise

 One of the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises invites the retreatant to imagine what heaven is like. Joseph Chiwatenhwa hesitated to imagine all the beautiful things we can expect.

 "Lord," he said, "I don't want to try to decide what good things you have in store for your friends after they die. I can't get my mind into it. It's enough that you have said that we will always be content. You know how to make us happy better than we do.

 "If I try to picture heaven as a place where there are beautiful longhouses, fine beaver skins, plenty of venison and bear to eat, I would only be making you as rich as some of us people are," he prayed.

 "Other parts of the world have different kinds of treasures than we do. Why shouldn't heaven be different from anything we know? No human riches can compare with yours.

 "It is enough that you have promised that we will be happy there forever."

A False Distraction

 One day someone brought news that one of Joseph Chiwatenhwa's nieces was sick. It turned out to be a false rumour.  But even before that was clear, he refused to let it distract him from his prayer and meditation.

 "Even if I learn that my wife and children are sick," he said, "I will not leave here until the eight days are up.  I don't have to worry.  God sees everything that happens with my family.  I am not the head of it, God is.  If it is his will that they die, what can I do about it?  I could not help them.  I can do more for them here, where I am close to God.

 "A spirit of evil tried to keep me from starting these exercises, and now it tries to make me stop. I will follow the wise advice of those who direct me. If they say I should go to help the sick, I will."

In The Middle Of The Night

 while on retreat he woke up at night and prayed. One night he thought about God's providence and how he guides our lives. God has power over us, but even when we abuse his favours to us he does not fail to love us. He loves us with more tenderness than a father loves his children.

Drawn To God's House

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa lost all fear of death.  "I no longer fear death at all," he said. "I would thank God if I saw that I was near the end. My hope is in heaven. I don't fear the death of any of my relatives any more, as long as they die in God's grace."

 He spoke in a kind of parable to explain his feelings.

 "Say a young woman lives in her father-in-law's house. She gets an invitation from her father, who is rich, to come and visit him. The father-in-law rejoices that her father will share his wealth with the woman. She will be comfortable.

 "So if someone in our family dies, I will believe that God draws her to his house. I will rejoice, because I know she will be better off there than with me."

A Deep Movement Of Prayer

 The movements within the Spirit of Joseph Chiwatenhwa were so deep that sometimes when he finished a prayer period he could not find words to express what was in his heart. "Taouskeheati iatacan," he would murmur. It's strange, my brother..."

 He was amazed at the way his knowledge and understanding of God could grow. "We people have no sense!" he said in exasperation. "Only now am I beginning to know God, why is he not known? what are people thinking about? where was my mind?

 "And," he added, "when you know God, how can you possibly commit serious sin?"

 In prayer he frequently offered his blood and his life for his nation. He made a commitment that he would never lose an opportunity to speak to people of Jesus. He promised he would not be ashamed to witness to his Christian faith, even if it meant death.

 He found the retreat experience so positive that he asked if he could come back and make retreats a few times a year.

The Power Of The Story

 God was increasing Joseph Chiwatenhwa's power. One day while he was taking a break and warming himself at the fire, about ten Huron elders came into the house to talk to the priests.

 "You are destroying our country," they said. "Your religion is not for us."

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa listened to their fears and then he spoke. "I am a Christian," he said. "Please listen to my story." With gentleness and the respect due to elders he told them about his life with Jesus. He reassured them.
 "They had come in as wolves," wrote the Jesuits, "but they left as lambs."

 Some time later, one of the people came back to the Jesuits' cabin. He was the youngest, a man in his forties. He had stood back while the others complained. In fact, he had been paying attention to the Jesuits for a while. He meditated on what they'd been saying. He asked Joseph Chiwatenhwa if he could talk to him alone. They spent three or four hours together. The elder came back the next day, and the next. The time passed quickly because for him it was not just a person talking, but the Holy Spirit.

 He asked the priests to baptize him. His request was so deeply sincere that they agreed he was ready for the sacrament. It took place eight days after Epiphany, the day after the retreat ended. They gave the new Christian the name Louis. They hoped that he, along with Joseph Chiwatenhwa, would be a leader of the Huron church.


Joseph Chiwatenhwa's Prayer

 The Jesuit Relations give in Huron and French a wonderful prayer dictated by Joseph Chiwatenhwa to Father Jerome Lalemant. It shows the beautiful and deep understanding of God's love that Joseph Chiwatenhwa received. It also shows his desire to return God's gift of love with love.

O God, at last I start to understand you.
You made the earth which we live in. You made
    the sky which we see above us. You
    made us, we who are called people.
Now you let me start to know who you really are.
I know how to make a canoe, and how to enjoy
    it I know how to build a cabin and how to
    live in it. But you... you made us, and you
    live in us.
The things we make last for a few seasons. We
    only use the canoes we create for a short
    time. We only live in the houses we build
    for a few years. But your love for us will
    endure so long that we cannot count the
    time. You will comfort us forever.
As long as we live, how can anyone not
    acknowledge you? You are the one who
    protects us.
The time we feel your presence the most is
    when we face death You are the one with
    the power to keep our souls alive, because
    only you know how to love us in the
    deepest part of ourselves.
Not even a mother or father can love a human
    being the way you do. Your love for us is
    so strong that it makes evil spirits lose
    their power.
Now I begin to see that the reason you made us
    is because you want to share your love.
Nothing attracts you as much as your
Thank you for letting me understand you
    You love us so deeply that all I can do in return
    is offer myself to you I claim you as my
    elder and chief There is no one else.
Ask me for anything you want Just let me
    always hold you in my heart. I always
    want to feel you watching and protecting
I offer you my family. If any evil strikes them
    when I am away, I know you will take
    care of them Your love is more than I can
    ever give them
Thank you ... from my heart.
I see the loving way you lead us along the path
    of life. You want what is best for us.
If we have poverty, let us feel your love in it.
If we get rich, do not let comfort make us forget
    that we need you Never let us turn into
    selfish people. Never let us think we are
    better than others who have less.
You love us equally, rich and poor. We are
    people, your people, and you love us as
    we are.
It fills me with joy to know you. I can feel the
    presence of your love.
Thank you for letting me give you myself just
    as I am
The more I thank you, the more I find I can give
    myself to you
Help me let go of the things I used to place my
    faith in. All I ask is to be yours.
It would have been enough to give us ~ and
    the gifts of the earth Thank you for them
But you've given us much more. In you,
    we live forever.
I can hardly imagine what heaven is like, but it
    is enough for me to know your love and to
    believe in you with all my heart.
You have promised to let us be free spirits in
    you, and because I know you love us,
    your promise gives me hope.
Help us to welcome suffering fit means we will
    know our need of you more deeply. In our
    suffering, help us give ourselves to you
We don't have to be afraid to die, because
    death is the new birth that lets us live
    fully in you
Life is a journey, and with
    you as our companion and our
    destination, it will end with great joy.
Lord, I am not afraid of death anymore. I will
    rejoice when I know the time has come for
    me to die.
I do not even want to mourn the passing of my
    relatives. All I need to remember is you
    are bringing them to be with you in
    paradise. You want to take them away so
    they can have perfect happiness.


Brother Talks To Brother

 When he left Ste-Marie after his retreat Joseph Chiwatenhwa dropped in on some relatives who lived in a village near the mission. He acted like the apostles when they went forth after receiving the Spirit at Pentecost. He sat down with his brother Teondechorren for a heart-to-heart conversation. Teondechorren's first wife had died in an epidemic soon after she was baptized, so he was skeptical. However, he listened as Joseph Chiwatenhwa spoke.

 "You're older than I am," he said, "but the grace God gave me in baptism and the feelings that I have for him make me senior to you. I want to tell you how to handle the rumours that are flying around about me. And I want to tell you what the priests have taught me about Jesus and about our souls.

 "The things people were saying about me before will get worse now," he explained, "because I'm really starting to know God and I'm not going to spare anything to serve him. I just spent eight days on retreat with the Jesuits. I learned that we owe everything to the Creator, who loves us as his own children. I will do whatever he wants of me, no matter what it costs. I will never be shy to admit that I am a Christian. Even the fear of death will not make me stop talking about the greatness of God.

 "Get ready to expect anything, because I'm going to do whatever God asks me to do. Soon people will start up again telling you I am part of the cause of the ruin of the country," he warned his brother. "They'll say the French taught me their secrets and initiated me into their spells."

The Honour Of Martyrdom

 He told his brother what to expect and how to act in the face of opposition to his faith. "You're going to hear rumours that people have made a resolution to kill me. You may even hear that they have already split my head open. When they say these things, just listen without getting upset. Keep your head down, and stay silent in case you are tempted to say something that will aggravate the situation, since you don't yet have faith.

 "Keep in your mind that the one that I acknowledge as my chief and elder will make sure that everything that happens is for my good," Joseph Chiwatenhwa assured Teondechorren. "It's not the same as making me an outcast for practicing witchcraft. Someone accused of being a witch stands alone. I have on my side the all-powerful God. With the Creator's protection, no human and no evil spirit can hurt me.

 "I am brave because I know that the angels and saints and our own people who have gone to heaven are praying for me. I have courage because fearing God, I fear nothing."

"Don't Be Upset If I Die"

 With great love for his elder brother, Joseph Chiwatenhwa prepared him for the possibility that people might actually kill him because of his faith.

 "I know you think the worst that could happen is that they crack my skull like they do to people accused of witchcraft. But I would be happy to give my life for the one who has loved us so much. Don't worry about it bringing disgrace to our family if I am killed. If God gives our whole nation the faith, then my memory will be honoured," he explained. "People will say that I was the first who preferred to die rather than lose the freedom to live openly as a Christian."

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa even asked his brother to rejoice with him in the possibility of his death. "I know you love me, and if you had a little faith, you'd be able to feel good about it if you heard that I died, because you'd know that it means I now possess every good thing that the Creator can give.

 "And you would want the same for yourself," he said. "God offers much more than I do, and I love you. I pray to God for you and your wife and children. I hope you will begin to let Jesus come into your lives. If I am in heaven, I will be able to do more for you than I can here. Now I know a lot about you, but then my understanding will be deeper. Also I'll be free to feel more compassion for you. I will know better how to beg God to give you the grace of knowing him."

 His brother listened without saying a word. He was surprised by what he was hearing. When Joseph Chiwatenhwa finished, his brother said it was tine, in feasts and councils they were talking a lot about him and the French. People were getting more frustrated. They were planning how to get rid of him.  "Don't worry," responded Joseph Chiwatenhwa. "Our lives are in the hands of God."

An Exhortation

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa spent several hours explaining Christian faith to his brother. He tried to pierce Teondechorren's heart with the message of God's sacrificial love for us.

 He saw that he was getting nowhere, so he said, "It is clear that you are not taking seriously what I'm saying to you. Some day you will understand. Now we are like kids. We don't know very much, and we waste a lot of our time. If we don't have faith, our understanding is really limited. When we die, we will see things clearly. We will wake up.

 The Spirit blows where it wills. As Joseph Chiwatenhwa got up and started to walk out of the house, he said that no one would force them to become Christian. God, he said, simply sent him to try to help them open their eyes.


 The next day Joseph Chiwatenhwa visited other longhouses. In one he found a gathering of some of the elders. In spite of their suspicions, they admired the way he spoke. He could talk for hours with a type of confidence that they were not used to.
 "Truth and reason come with faith," he explained. "I am only a child, and my words do not come from me alone. The Great Spirit is giving me these thoughts. The Holy Spirit is helping me speak."

 The elders asked him questions, and he answered to their satisfaction. Finally one man raised his voice and said, "It sounds like the French have taught you something reasonable. I can see why we should all think about becoming Christians. But the chief has to decide, because he is the one who runs things."

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa replied, "If your chiefs are closed to God, why should you suffer?"

 He was on fire with the Spirit. Although his words seemed to fall on hearts of stone, they were seeds planted for the Holy Spirit to nourish.

A New Epidemic

 Men who went to Quebec for trade in the summer of 1639 brought smallpox back with them. Once again horrible contagious disease swept through the Huron villages. Many people died. The Jesuit Relation for the year describes scenes of desolation.

 In one house in Ossossane everyone died except a grandmother. Her baptismal name was Anne. The only help she had in her old age was two granddaughters and a niece, and they were dead. Now she tried to look after three small orphaned babies. Because she was Christian, no one would help her. She had almost no food and little firewood, and she too was sick. The Jesuits helped her as she comforted the dying infants.

 A page or two later, the Relation describes the suffering of a French teenager who had come to Canada as a volunteer to help the Jesuits. His name was Robert LeCoq. First he lived in Quebec and then he came to Ste-Marie. In the summer of 1639 he went back to Quebec with the traders. He was on some errands for the Jesuits. On the return trip he broke out with smallpox. His head and body were covered with running sores. He was almost unconscious. He was left for dead on a rock at the place where the French River opens into Georgian Bay.

 Some people picked him up, but they too abandoned him because they were afraid he would make them sick as well. A Huron whom Robert had nursed back to life the previous year in Quebec happened to pass. He took him to Ste-Marie, where Robert recovered.

 As the disease consumed people, hatred of the French and of Christian faith spread throughout Huronia. The medicine men and women persuaded the chiefs and elders not to let Christian believers into band council meetings. They gathered for several days to decide what to do about the crisis.
 After the meetings were over, Joseph Chiwatenhwa made a point of talking to the chiefs. "I honour all of you," he began. "I call you all my uncles. However, I have to say that you're acting like children who don't have the ability to think.

 "You're following a shaman who is misleading you. He does not have the power to cure this disease. Jesus does not lie. He keeps his promises.

 "Yes, I am on the side of the blackrobes. But it is not to destroy the country. I want to help spread the truths that they bring. I'll gladly die for this. I am ready to be burned for it. All I want is to honour the Creator. I don't hope for any good from this world, but only in heaven. Please tell everyone that I am not afraid to die. It is an honour to die for the truth."

 He was not ashamed of the gospel. He believed, like Saint Paul, that it is the power of God which leads to salvation.

Upholding The Faith

 By now, people were ridiculing Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta and their family whenever they saw them. Their neighbours mocked them for refusing to take part in traditional rituals. They accused them of committing treason. In spite of these difficulties, their days were filled with the sense of the wonder of God's grace. When Joseph Chiwatenhwa prayed out loud his words flowed beautifully. He particularly enjoyed talking with God after he received communion. Over and over, he blessed the Creator for the way God made himself known through Jesus Christ.
 When one of the children in their house got sick, he prayed, "God, this whole house is yours. I know you love us and care for us. I know you have our good in mind all the time, whether we are sick or well. May your will be done, Lord, and may your will be ours."

 Wherever he was, he prayed that he would always be conscious of God's presence and act according to God's will.


The Purification - A Sweat

 Pope John Paul II preached in Huronia in 1984 that the gospel has the power to strengthen and enrich Native traditions. One of those traditions is the ritual known as the sweat. It is a purification rite still practiced in Native communities today.

 To prepare a sweat lodge, the Huron would heat large stones in a roaring fire. They would dig a pit and place sticks upright in the ground in a circle around the pit. They bent the sticks toward the middle of the pit and joined them at the top to form a structure about waist high which they covered with skins. They put the hot stones in the centre of the pit. They covered the ground with cedar boughs so the people could sit together. Then their friends outside would close the sweat lodge completely to keep the heat in.

 It was dark in the sweat lodge. It was like returning to the womb for a rebirth. When it got too hot the keeper of the lodge would take one of the skins off the top for a while. The people doing the sweat would sing, chant, and pray. The sweat might last as long as two or three hours. After the sweat they usually had a feast.

 Once after he came back from a trip to another village, Joseph Chiwatenhwa asked some of his friends in Ossossane to join him in a sweat. During the sweat he prayed to Jesus. He prayed to prepare himself for the possibility of dying in defense of his faith. He made a promise to Jesus to continue announcing his holy name. Thoughts of God filled his heart and came tumbling out in his words and his songs.

Joseph And Marie Inspire Others to Pray

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta naturally had a strong influence on their family. Many nieces and nephews were now followers of Christ. During this time of epidemic, almost all of them had smallpox. They prayed to the Creator, offering their lives and their suffering.

 One of the Jesuits tells how even one of their little nieces, eight years old, had the courage and freedom to pray, "Lord, you are Master of our lives. I place mine in your hands. All I ask is that I may go to heaven to be with you when I die."


Marie Aonetta

 If European women had lived with the Huron we might know more about the lives of Huron women than we do. The written historical records we have today arc mostly by men who naturally view life from a male standpoint. It is unlikely that Native women would permit male outsiders to glimpse their private rituals.

 The Jesuits could not have had much of a sense of the role of Native women at its deeper levels in Huron society. They did note, however, that Marie Aonetta was as active a Christian as her husband.

On Shrove Tuesday, 1640, Father Paul Ragueneau learned that a woman in Ossossane lay near death. He rushed to her and as soon as he started to talk of Jesus Christ she embraced the faith and begged for baptism. But at this point her husband barged in.

"I'll never let my wife be baptized," he yelled. "I detest the faith and I curse the God of the believers. Shut up and leave."

 The priest tried to reason with him. After all, his wife had the right to be baptized. The man started looking around for his hatchet. He couldn't find it so he grabbed a piece of wood from the fire and began to beat Ragueneau. His stick broke, but he kept bashing the priest with the stub left in his hand. The woman shouted at him to stop, but he was deaf to her cries. Father Paul fled.

 The woman was one of Marie Aonetta's cousins. Marie Aonetta visited her a few times, and talked to her about Jesus and Christian faith. She encouraged her to go ahead against her husband's wishes. The faith commitment she would make in baptism, Marie Aonetta said, would be a sign of love that is eternal.

 When she saw that a good time had come for the priest to visit she rushed out to get one to come. One of the Jesuits arrived to baptize her cousin. Others in the longhouse did not approve. They believed baptism would cause the woman to die.

 "Is that what you want?" they said to Marie Aonetta.

 "If she does die," she replied, "it will be a great blessing. I love her as much as myself, my husband, my children, and the others who have received baptism and will profess the faith until they die."

"But what business is it of yours?" they said.  "Her salvation is my business," she replied.

 'Then take care of her body as well," they told her. They ordered her to take the woman away. They did not want baptized Christians in their house.

 "With pleasure," she answered. "When she was healthy my home was always open to her. Now that she is sick, it will not be closed to her. Her brothers are also welcome. If they get really sick, I will arrange their baptism. We'll be one family in heaven, as we are on earth."

The Rock People

 The Arendahionon -the Rock People- were one of the tribes that made up the Huron confederacy; They lived in the eastern part of Huron territory around Lake Couchiching. They had been the first to encounter the French and they owned the rights to the Huronia-Quebec trade routes. In the spring of 1640 the Jesuits began a mission to the Arendabronon. The Natives in the first town they entered warmly greeted Fathers Antoine Daniel and Simon LeMoine.

 A young hunter and warrior named Onourouten lay dangerously ill with smallpox. He asked for baptlsm. Soon after he received the sacrament he was restored to health except that his eyes were still infected and he was blind. He told the priests that he was grateful to God for being healed, but wished he could see.

 One of them applied some holy water to his eyes, with the words, "May he whom you have chosen as Lord, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, cure you."

 His eye infection and pain cleared up and his sight came back. There were still some sores on his face. The Jesuits left him some holy water to put on them. They told him to invoke the name of the Lord for nine days in honour of the nine choirs of angels. His face cleared up. He held a feast and told everyone that he was grateful to God for his health, his sight, and his life.

 There were other healings in the village. One day while a man from this town was fishing he had a vision of a tall handsome young man.

 "Don't be afraid," said the young man. "I am the lord of the earth, whom you Hurons honour under the name of Ioueskeha. I am the one the French call Jesus, but they don't truly recognize me. I have pity on your country. I want to protect it. I am coming to teach you the causes and remedy of your epidemic. The foreigners are the cause. Now they are traveling in pairs all over the country to spread the disease. After the smallpox there will be cholics which will carry off everyone who isn't already dead. To prevent further illness, get rid of the blackrobes. Then make a potion and tell the elders to give it out all night, while the kids and the war chiefs run and yell around all the longhouses. Keep this up until dawn."

Then the young man disappeared.  The fisherman spread the word and suddenly in spite of the healings the whole village except the man who hosted the Jesuits in his longhouse-turned against them. As if in panic, they went wild. Even those who were cured got carried away.

 One explained to a priest, "It didn't cost God anything to restore my sight. I don't owe him anything." They lost consciousness of God's greatness and generosity.

 Atironta, the one remaining hospitable member of the community (he was the first Huron ever to see a Frenchman) used his influence to call together an assembly of the elders so the Jesuits could give their side of the story.
 By a stroke of good fortune, just at this time Joseph Chiwatenhwa came to the town to help the priests. First, Antoine spoke to the gathering. His speech was so forceful that no one could reply. Then Joseph Chiwatenhwa spent over two hours talking about the mysteries of Christian faith. The elders were surprised to hear a young man, one of their own, speak of these things. They admired him. But although they claimed to recognize what he said as the truth, they only returned to the faith half-heartedly. They did, however, seek baptism for the dying.

From Village To Village

 As Antoine and Simon moved from town to town, they encountered a wall of hostility. Within a day or two of their arrival at each place someone from a town they visited earlier would come and set everyone against them. Sometimes they were awakened in the middle of the night and told to leave. Another time a man stood at the door of the longhouse while everyone slept. He cried out that the Jesuits better not be around come daybreak. They experienced joy because they were being rejected in the name of Jesus who was rejected by the people he tried to help.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa supported the missionaries with zeal and courage. He shared in their suffering. Whenever they  decided to travel to another village, he came with them, leaving his wife and family in God's hands, even though the epidemic was afflicting a lot of people in Ossossane. The village considered the whole family to be in league with bad spirits. Marie Aonetta was afraid that her children might be killed, especially if their father went away. Or they might die from illness. If they did, it could be a couple of weeks before he would know it.

 He told her, lovingly, "But I am nothing. If my kids get sick, I can feel upset and grieve. But that is nothing. God alone can keep them healthy or restore them to health, as he pleases. We must try to return his love by pleasing him in our action.

 "That is why I am leaving now. It is his will. He will look after the family. And besides, some of the Jesuits are staying here with you. Be at peace."

 Before he left he made the sacrament of reconciliation and received communion. Then he knelt in his longhouse and prayed to God to protect his family. He literally placed them in God's loving hands.


More Opposition

 In weather so cold that all he could hear as the cracking of frozen trees and the snow crunching under his snowshoes, Joseph Chiwatenhwa went with the missionaries. In one village after another doors would close in their faces. Even Joseph Chiwatenhwa's relatives asked them to leave after only a day.

 In one town a young man became so enraged that he threw burning sticks from the fire at everyone. People hid from him. He came after the missionaries, but they had moved into another house. He followed them there, and they left. People who on an earlier visit had felt attracted to the Christian faith now rejected them.

 A woman said, "Where are the guys who promised to split the blackrobes' heads if they returned?"  Children screamed at them as if they were evil medicine.

 At dusk they left the village.  Some young men followed them. Their hatchets were out, ready to follow the chiefs' order and kill the Christians.

 Jerome wrote that the Christian group stayed ahead of the posse. "However," he added, "I'm not sure whether it was good fortune or bad. Perhaps our blood would do more for the conversion of these peoples than all our sweat." He meant that a person who died for the faith would be a martyr. The blood that martyrs drop on the ground, like the blood and water that flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross, is said to be the seeds from which the church grows.

 The chief of that village found the missionaries the next day. He apologized for the threats, but he did not seem sincere. He suggested that the Christians were causing unnecessary trouble. "Maybe," he said, "the things of faith are not all that important."

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa replied: "You chiefs are really the ones who don't know what's important." he said.  "You have destroyed our country by separating us from the teachings of our own ancestors.  I'm the one people call the believer. They think they curse me, but that name is my greatest honour."

 He explained what it means to live for the things that are important in the kingdom of God. "Our thoughts," he said, "usually only go as far as this life. Believers base their hopes on an eternity of good things. You're driving out people who love you more than they love themselves. Their lives are less precious to them than your salvation."

 The Christians knew that they could be killed anytime. Someone bringing food could easily poison them.  Or someone could kill them on the trail and make it look like the work of an enemy, for during the summer and fall it was common for enemy warriors to lie in wait in the bush outside the villages.


Called Home

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa's dream that he would die a violent death came true. It happened in August 1640, just a few days beforehe was to leave on a trip to Quebec.

 Jerome Lalemant wrote about it to his superior in Quebec. He was sad to lose this friend who served his beloved Lord with such great commitment. Yet he knew that his power to bring others to Jesus would grow now that he was with God.

 Jerome's letter honours the heroic devotion and holiness of Joseph Chiwatenhwa.

Dear Father,

 The last of the trading canoes are about to leave

 They're just waiting so we can send you some shocking news which fills us with wonder at the workings of divine Providence.

 I was getting ready to write a letter for our good Christian Joseph Chiwatenhwa to bring to you in person, but now it happens that the letter he was to bring in fact bears the news of his death.

 Yesterday evening he was working out in the field, cutting wood. Two Iroquois enemies of the Huron jumped out of the bush where they were hiding. They rushed him and stabbed him with a javelin.

 They knocked him out with a couple of blows from a hatchet. They cut off his scalp to carry to their country as a trophy. Then they fled.

 When he was late getting home people became suspicious. They went to look for him.

 They found his body lying on the ground, covered with blood.

 He was dead.

 It looks like he put up a struggle. The elders of the village went to the spot. They judged by the footprints and the way the corn was trampled that he had fought. It seems the enemy would not have been able to kill him without the long spear.

 His death was sudden, but he was spiritually prepared for it.

 He was continually in the grace of God. This is confirmed by his spiritual guides and confessors.

 They were astonished at the insights God gave him about sin. They admired the sensitivity of his conscience and his faithfulness in responding to God's grace.

 The very morning of his death he had knelt in his long house and as usual he commended his soul to God. He offered himself and his whole family to do whatever the Lord might want.

 He left his house around noon with three of his little nieces to go out to the fields. Along the way he was telling them stories of the faith when they got to the field they were all struck by how abundant the harvest was.

 "Let's kneel," Joseph Chiwatenhwa said, "and give thanks to God for these good things that God gives us. It is the least we can do, since he pours out his blessings on us all the time."

 After they prayed he got them to harvest some squash and then right away he sent them to carry it back home. He warned them that it wasn't safe around there.

 He said he was going into the bush to cut some cedar so he could finish making the canoe that would take him to Quebec.

 He said he'd stay out the rest of the day.

 That is where he met death a few hours later.

 Last Sunday he had come to our house, now about five kilometres from his, with Aonetta and their two remaining children, to offer devotions. They went to confession and received communion. Then they offered to the Lord the first products of the harvest from the field where he would be killed.

 God no doubt accepted both the gift and Joseph. For he found him ripe for heaven, and a few days later gathered him from the garden of the church on earth and put him with the communion of saints in heaven.

 Anyone who has read earlier Relations and the one for this year won't have any trouble believing that God will continue to shower his mercies as much and more, at the hour of death, as he had done during Joseph Chiwatenhwa's life.

 Those who knew this Christian best tell me that he had an almost continual sense of the presence of God, that in everything he acted with intentions worthy of a heart that is truly Christian.

 They say that if at any time his mind strayed in the least from the path of the saints, he quickly found himself again and was upset by slight faults as if they were crimes against the love of the Creator without whose love he
would not be able to so much as draw breath for a single moment.

 As for me, I can honestly say that I admired in him from day to day the powerful effects of the grace which totally took over his heart. All I want after this life is to be in the place where I certainly believe his soul is.

 It is true that we had high hopes for him as a teacher of the Christian faith among the Native people. In this past year he has made himself their apostle.

 But since the saints have more power when they are in heaven than they do while on earth, we should believe that his death is a gift rather than a loss. In time we shall see what it will produce.

 Time is pressing as the canoes are about to leave so I will break off here.

 I'll say no more, even though there is lots I could add which would not have been appropriate to make public about a person before his death. Since Joseph's death was crowned with the gift of perseverance in the faith, I wish I had time to add them here so all the world could see that God deserves to be admired in his saints, here as anywhere else.

 But even if these things are not known on earth they will be in heaven.

 There we shall not cease to bless God for his mercies on this country and its spiritual teachers.

 Please continue to say mass for us and to pray for us.

 Your humble and obedient servant in God,
 Jerome Lalemant
 Huron Country
 August 3, 1640.

A Martyr's Death: A Witness To Life

Joseph Chiwatenhwa knew God as Creator and Redeemer, the source and centre of all that is. He lived out of a deep faith and continually grew in intimacy with the Lord. Yet many members of his community actively opposed his life as a Christian. There was strong resistance to his teaching about the God who became human to bring all people and cultures to their fulfilment.

 He knew Jesus as a person, and his personal life witnessed to his friendship with the Lord. His response to Christ was not only generous but total. Like Jesus, he incarnated the truth in his whole being. He was conscious of God because of the life-changes he experienced within himself.
 Always a loving man, he grew in the capacity for sacrifice and devotion. His heroic service to the Word incarnate showed how God awakened his capacity for selfless love and the freedom to give of himself to others. He responded to God as a whole person, with his feelings, his spirit, his mind, his body, and
ultimately his life itself.

Marie Mourns

 From the time Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa began to share a blanket their commitment to each other was total. They weathered great storms and endured incredible suffering together. They were persecuted by friends and neighbours they had grown up with. Yet they freely chose to believe in Jesus,
the God who challenges people to new life.

 They supported each other not only as believers but as catechists and teachers of the new way that had come into the lives of the Natives with the power to uplift and purify their spirituality. Their love had endured the toughest suffering anyone can experience- watching helplessly while not one but several children wasted away, devoured by horrible diseases Natives had never known before. They stood by each other, strengthened by their faith in Jesus and their conviction that the teachings of their elders were to be fulfilled in the new age of Christian faith.

 When people broke the news of her husband's death to Marie Aonetta she went into shock. Her mind went blank and she could not speak. But as soon as she started to come to herself she received a wonderful gift.

 She heard her beloved husband's voice say to her, "This is the will of the Lord for our lives. What will our response be?"

 It was almost as if her husband was playing with her mind in a familiar act of love to help her stay calm. For she knew the answer to his question. Like her husband, her will was to accept the mysterious will of God as the most loving fulfillment of their lives. She offered her grief to the Lord. She was strong. She did not waver in her devotion to Jesus.

The Funeral

 The Huron had great respect for the dead. If a village caught fire the first place they would try to save was the cemetery. Huron people encouraged each other to think about their own deaths. Sometimes if a man or woman was very sick, he or she would dress in their burial clothes. They wanted to practice dying bravely. A dying person might even have a feast for friends and relatives to show that they did not fear to make the journey. It was a way of saying "I love you" to everyone.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa did not have time for a death feast. We do not know whether there was a wake service. It is certain that he had a Catholic funeral on the day after he died. He was buried in ground consecrated by the priests for the burial of Christians. Unfortunately we do not know where the grave is.  His spirit, we can be sure, is with God.

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa had seemed destined for a long life of service to God in the new Native church. His death at about the age of 38 seemed a tragic loss. Jean de Brebeuf, who himself would later be recognized as a saint, was at his funeral. Jean wrote about it in his journal. It was, for him, an occasion of deep mystical prayer. He believed that in spirit Joseph Chiwatenhwa had found a home with God.

 On the 4th of August, having returned from the burial of our zealous Christian, during my evening prayer of examen, I had several visions. I don't recall the first one at all. The second made me see a pavilion or dome de-
scend from the sky and settle on the grave of our Christian. Then it seemed that people rolled up the ends of the pavilion and drew it upwards as if they wanted to raise it to the sky. I did not see it rise nor the persons who lifted it.
The vision lasted a while and ended there. I felt then that God wanted to let us know his will for the soul of this good Christian.

Martyr Or Confessor?

 The Missionaries doubted the report of the elders that enemy raiders had killed Joseph Chiwatenhwa. They knew that Huron men might have attacked him because of the widespread fear that Christians were demon worshippers. If a Huron killed a person in circumstances which made it look like an enemy attack, then it wouldn't be necessary for their family to make reparation. But the elders also feared that if they did declare that an unidentified Huron was responsible for the murder of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, it might seem like permission for open war on the small group of Christians at Ossossane.

 So there will always be uncertainty about his death. With the evidence long shrouded in the mists of history, the most we know is that he confessed faith in Jesus without fear of losing his life for his faith. Perhaps the mystery is for the best. Joseph Chiwatenhwa knew the lesson Jesus taught on the cross. The road to God is the way of forgiveness. He would have forgiven his murderers even before they killed him, and he would not want their names, whether Iroquois or Huron, to live on in infamy.


An Apostle In Heaven

 The Missionaries were discouraged. The Jesuits imagined their efforts to help the Natives start a new Christian church would fall apart now that the local leader was gone. As Jerome wrote:
  "We looked on him as an apostle of this country. He existed only for the glory of God, having love only for him, relying only upon the truth of the faith, which constantly illuminated his mind and animated his desires. He had the characteristics of an apostle and even acted as one at the risk of his life."

 Joseph Chiwatenhwa had walked all over Huron country encouraging devotion to the Creator. It was natural to think his death would be a setback. But it seems God had other plans.

 For, Jerome continues, "far from the faith having received harm from this blow, in the hearts of believers it seems to have become stronger than before."

 Other people in the family found that Joseph Chiwatenhwa's voice came back to them. They mulled over the conversations they had with him while he lived. His death affected them. Now they seemed to understand better what he said about Christian faith.

 Three days after his murder, Joseph Chiwatenhwa's brother Teondechorren had a change of heart. He came to the Jesuits and begged them to baptize him! He had learned his lessons well six months earlier, even though he rejected them at the time. Now he was ready; he acknowledged that the Holy Spirit moved within him and he sought to grow in friendship with Jesus. A few days later, on the feast of the birth of Our Lady, he embraced Christ in the sacrament of baptism.

A New Joseph

 At the suggestion of the Jesuits Teondechorren also took the baptismal name of Joseph. All the Christians hoped with him that he would reincarnate the apostolic spirit of his brother and take his place as a leader of the new church. And indeed from the start of his new life as a Christian, he had his brother's gift of zeal.

 He had come to his faith from a different life story, however. Years before, when he was about twenty, he had become fascinated by the firewalkers. They were a society of Hurons who could handle burning coals and even put them in their mouths without injury. They could walk through fire or plunge their hands into boiling maple sap or water without pain or blisters. When he first tried touching live coal he got burned, so he learned to avoid touching anything too hot. But he kept trying so he could pretend that he too had the gift of the firewalkers.

 Then he dreamed that he was at a medicine ceremony where he handled fire like the others. In the dream he heard a song. He remembered it when he woke up. At the next fire ritual he sang it. Slowly he moved into a trance. He picked up burning embers and hot stones with his hands and his teeth. To his surprise he suffered no injury or pain. He stuck his bare arm into a boiling kettle without getting scalded. He had become a master of this medicine. He could use his power to heal the sick.

 His initiation into the mysteries of Christian faith meant that from now on his prayers to God, the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit, would be the source of his power.

The Native Church Grows

 "It is not only upon the family of the deceased Joseph Chiwatenhwa that the blessings of heaven have fallen," wrote Jerome, "but we see its effects, full of consolation, on all the other Christians who compose this little

 His death had come at a time when the village council of Ossossane decided they should move. About every ten or twelve years the fields would begin to lose their fertility. By moving to a new site they gave the forest time to regenerate and restore the power of the soil to grow good crops. Each village had about five sites they occupied in a rotation of roughly fifty years.

 When the Christian community had begun to prepare for the move Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa had offered to put the new Christian chapel in their longhouse. It had been under construction when he died. The first mass was celebrated there October 14, 1640. Joseph Teonderchorren took on the job of parish administrator. Whenever the priests were away at Ste-Marie or at another village he held the key to the chapel. The Christians gathered there every morning and evening to pray.

Rene' Tsoridihwane

 They were led in prayer by Rene Tsondihwane, the friend to whom Joseph
Chiwatenhwa had told his dream. The community met on Sundays, for mass if there was a priest and for prayer and the rosary if not. Whenever they found out that there would be no priest on a particular Sunday, some of them would walk to Ste-Marie for mass.

 Rene Tsondihwane made several eight-day retreats at the mission. He, llke his friend Joseph Chiwatenhwa, showed by his life that he was being taught by the Holy Spirit.

 "Sometimes I have trouble sleeping and I wake up at night," he told one of the Jesuits. "I think of God. Then I find I don't even notice the hours go by. I feel better than if I had slept soundly. I don't know who puts in my heart
the thoughts I find there, but I couldn't put into words what my heart tells me.

 Rene Tsondihwane would spend hours in the chapel. If he found that his body distracted his mind and spirit while he was conversing with God, he would practice small mortifications to gain self-control.

A New Christian Family

 Joseph Teonderchorren had remarried. His wife asked for instruction in Christian faith when he was baptised after Joseph Chiwatenhwa died in 1640. The next Easter she was baptized and took the name Catherine; we do not know her Native name. After her baptism the couple, like their in-laws a few years earlier, asked if their marriage vows could be solemnized and blessed in the chapel. They offered their marriage to God and asked God's blessing upon it at a eucharistic liturgy.

Death And Faith

 Smallpox continued to ravage Huron country. Several months later Joseph Teonderchorren's daughter, about ten years old, died suddenly. People swore to him that it was because he had become Christian. They reminded him of the fate of the girl's mother, his first wife who had died soon after being baptized.
 'The demons are destroying your family," people told him.

 One of the priests went to offer consolation when he heard the little girl died. He was too late, for God had already touched Joseph Teondechorren's heart in his grief.

 "It seems to me," he said, "that I see my daughter in front of me. She is full of joy. Her death consoles me even more than her life. My mind is not upset, because a while ago I gave her to God. She belongs to him more than me.
This life on earth is just a shadow of our union with the Creator in eternity."

 His faith, spirit, and zeal were so much like his brother's that the Christians came to believe that his conversion was a gift from heaven. His changed way of life and his talks about the things of faith made people wonder
what had happened to him.

 He would reply, 'Just believe for yourselves and your experience will show you better than my words. God and I seem to be as one. Either he follows me, or I find him wherever I go!"

Marie Loses Another Child

 The Angel of Death continued to hover over the Huron people. On January 3, 1643, Marie Aonetta's three-year-old daughter Genevieve also died. She had had a calm spirit while she was sick. She used to point to heaven and say that she was looking for her father and wanted to be with him.

 She died on the feast day of the saint she was named after. At the funeral her mother noticed some of their relatives stop at the grave of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, now dead for two and a half years. They were weeping. Marie Aonetta got upset.

 "What good are these tears?" she asked. "Let's try to follow these people to heaven and gather there as a whole family of saints. If we serve God well and show our Christian faith to people who don't have it yet, our hope of heaven will be all we need to dry our tears."

Charles Tsondatsaa

 One of the chiefs of Ossossane had a son named Tsondatsaa who had started to explore Christian faith around the time Joseph Chiwatenhwa died. In the summer of 1641 he and Joseph Teondechorren took Jean de Brebeuf to Quebec. Jean had broken his collarbone in an accident and needed a doctor. As they travelled they talked about God and Jean noticed how well Tsondatsaa understood Christian faith. He did not offer to baptize him right away, however, because he knew that it was a struggle for a Native to integrate Christian faith with the Native tradition.

 In Quebec Tsondatsaa met the governor, Charles de Montmagny, who liked his lively mind and offered to be his godfather. Jean agreed it was time for his baptism. He took the baptismal name of his sponsor, Charles.

 Upon returning to Ossossane Charles Tsondatsaa invited people to a feast. He made a speech, focusing especially on the chiefs.

 "My brothers," he said, "I would rather die than give up my faith. I have committed myself totally to the Creator. The spirit of evil shall have no power over me."

 He had some challenges to face. One of his nephews became seriously ill. Another drowned. A niece started having hysterical seizures. Some of his relatives quarrelled so violently they nearly killed each other. Through these trials he simply continued to pray and trust God. The quarrels got settled.
The niece's hysteria calmed down. The news of the nephew's drowning turned out to be false. The sick nephew got better. Charles Tsondatsaa promised to build a larger chapel in OSsossane as a way of thanking God for these favours.

 He showed his devotion in many ways.

One evening he came home to the longhouse and found his five-year-old niece was seriously sick. People were weeping because she seemed to be dying. She had not been baptized. This upset Charles Tsondatsaa. She could die before the morning and there was no priest who could baptize her in Ossossane that night.

 He gathered the Christians. "Doesn't anybody know the words for a baptism?" he asked them.

 "I remember them," Joseph Teondechorren said.

 "Let's go," said Charles Tsondatsaa.

 They went to the longhouse and prayed. Then Joseph Teondechorren baptized the little girl.

 "Let's stop weeping," he said. "She is safe. If she dies she will pray for us in heaven. I have four children in paradise. I invoke their names with consolation."

 The next day as the Christians gathered for morning prayer they learned that she had started to recover. The believers praised God for this manifestation of his power.

 Charles Tsondatsaa was a catechist. Once as he finished talking with some people about God's goodness and power, he looked at one of the chiefs who had listened to him. "If I gave myself to you," he said, "would you have the courage to throw me into danger, knowing it could destroy me? Christians tell God every day in their prayers to dispose of their souls and their lives according to his will. His heart is greater than yours. How could he betray us? He protects and preserves us.

The Christians Journey To Quebec

 On June 13, 1642, people from the Christian Communities of Ossossane and Teanaustaye set out in canoes for Quebec. They were taking the Jesuit priest Charles Raymbault because he needed to see a doctor. They also wanted to pick up supplies from Quebec. It was a time of war. The tribes to the south were moving to attack the Huron. So they chose an experienced warrior, Eustace Ahatsistari, to lead them. He had entered the church with baptism the previous Easter.  Before dawn the day they left they had mass and then smoked a pipe around the council fire. Joseph Teondechorren spoke.  "Here we are about to leave you," he said to those staying behind. "We may never have the happiness of seeing each other again on earth. I am speaking the truest words in my heart. Listen as if I were at the moment of death. No matter what happens to us, let's remember we are Christians. Our hope is in heaven."

 He urged them to remain faithful. "Let's never lose the grace we received in the sacred waters of baptism. It is the pledge of our salvation and the beauty of our spirits. It removed the stain of sin. It drove away evil spirits. Pray for help from heaven and the angels. If we are attacked, let's not forget to pray."
 He invited everyone in the group that was making the voyage to offer themselves to the Creator once again. "Here and now, offer everything to God, that he may turn all to his glory," he said.

 The people clapped. Then they got on their knees and with one heart offered their whole lives to Jesus Christ. The priest Jerome Lalemant made a sign of blessing over them.

 They reached Quebec about five weeks later.

Therese Oinhaton

 The Christian Hurons were anxious to see their young friend Therese Oionhaton. She was the daughter of Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa. She was thirteen years old. She had come to live with the Ursuline nuns in Quebec City in 1640, around the time of Joseph Chiwatenhwa's death.

 Therese Oionhaton was a high-energy girl with a lot of talent. She spoke excellent French and she picked up the skills of reading and writing from the nuns without any trouble. She was also highly spiritual; she would spend whole days in silent prayer. The nuns could see that God had given her a special gift
of faith. The Indians agreed; she was already considered an elder. People came to her for spiritual advice.

 Now it was time for her to go back home. On July 28 she set out with the men who had come from Ossossane and Teanaustaye to return home.

A Disastrous Return Trip

 They met some traders in Three Rivers who were also going back to Huron country. The whole group included 40 people in 12 canoes. They had picked up about 20 big bundles of trade goods to carry. They met in council the morning they embarked. They celebrated mass. Eustace Ahatsistari asked his friend Charles Tsondatsaa to do him a favour if the enemy captured him.

 "Tell my family," he said, "that if they love me I want them to accept Jesus as their saviour and to give praise to the Creator. He is invisible to our eyes, but we experience him in the depth of our souls when we let him come
into our lives. Tell them that I am totally convinced about this. Tell them I want to be united with them forever as followers of the God that I want to live for, and die for."

 Less than a day after they left Three Rivers Iroquois warriors rushed out of the reeds along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River and overpowered the whole group. They killed some of the Huron. They captured Eustace Ahatsistari, Joseph Teonderchorren, Charles Tsondatsaa, and Therese Oionhaton, as well as the Jesuit priest Isaac Jogues.

 As the summer wore on into fall, the people waiting for them in Huronia knew they would not come back. The Huron church seemed to be doomed.

 A year later Joseph Teondechorren escaped from his captors in New York state. He walked back to his own land. He told the Christians about his experience as a prisoner.

He lived in a Mohawk village with several other Huron captives. They kept their friendship with Jesus secret from their captors.

 They would gather in the street and pray the rosary in their own language without anyone else noticing.

 "I used my fingers to recite the rosary," he said. "I used to examine my conscience and confess to God just as if a priest were there."

 Joseph Teondechorren's suffering seemed to bring him closer to the Creator. "In my heart I conversed with God all the time as if we were a couple of friends carrying on a conversation together. This kept me from giving up. God saved my life."

 He travelled to Quebec City and visited the nuns once again. They wanted news of Therese Oionhaton.

 "She is okay," he told them. "She prays all the time. She is sad but she manages to endure."

 In 1646 she was forced to marry a man of the village that had adopted her.

 Isaac Jogues was also able to escape, but he returned to Iroquois country as a free man a year or so later. He tried to negotiate the release of Therese Oionhaton on behalf of the governor of Quebec, but the Mohawks said, "No way.
 She remained devout. Another Jesuit missionary, Simone LeMoine, saw. her in 1654. She told him that she had been talking about Jesus to a Neutral girl who had recently come to the village as a prisoner. Simon asked if she baptized the girl.

 "I didn't know I could unless she was dying," she replied. "Baptize her yourself and give her my name." He did. It was the first baptism in that village.

 A year later, we read in the Jesuit Relations, she walked about six kilometres with a baby in her arms because she had heard that two Jesuits, Pierre Chaumonot and Claude Dablon, were in the area and she wanted to meet them.

 At that point this heroic woman with her great gift of Christian faith fades from the records of written history.

The Huron Winter

 By 1650 the Hurons' enemies had moved right in and destroyed entire villages. They cut off the food supply and caused famine. They killed many people and captured the traders along the trade routes. The Huron nation was nearly wiped out.

 Some people moved for safety to Christian Island in Georgian Bay. Others went further on to Manitoulin Island. Eventually they split up and left the area completely.

Some Hurons moved to Ancienne Lorette near Quebec City, and others went to Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

 They were a spiritually powerful people. Christian faith took root among them, and it grew into today's Native church. It was watered by the suffering and the blood of the Huron people.


Recognition Of Great Holiness

  The time has come for the world to recognize the early Canadian Native Christians. Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta and their relatives and companions in the faith such as Joseph Teondechorren, Therese Oionhaton, Charles Tsondatsaa, and Rene Tsondiwhane, were unusually gifted in their strong faith. They were the first members of the Native church which today is flourishing in Canada.

 Their contribution to our lives deserves recognition because more than ever the world needs the gifts of the Native people.

 In his travels around the world the Pope gives special attention to aboriginal peoples. He has acknowledged that the spirituality of Native Canadians was richer than the early missionaries perhaps realized. And, like many people today, Pope John Paul has  said that the world needs to learn from the Native peoples the reverence for nature and community that more "developed" societies have lost.

Holy Lay Men and Women

 Marie Aonetta and Joseph Chiwatenhwa and their companions were lay Christians. Today they serve as models for lay apostles. In 1989 the Pope presented to the world an Apostolic Exhortation entitled On The Lay Members Of Christ's Faithful People. It emphasizes
that the natural Christian community for most people is their community of lay persons, served by priests and religious. Such a community was the Huron church.

 When the early Natives opened their hearts to Jesus, they did it in a total way.  They served him fully in the lay state. They are the seeds from which not only the Native church of today has grown, but also the whole church in North America.


 We can believe that Marie Aonetta, Joseph Chiwatenhwa, Joseph Teondechorren, Therese Oionhaton and their Christian relatives and friends have found a place with God. They joined God's holy people in heaven who, pray for us on earth. God hears their prayers for us.

 People who struggle to allow Christian faith to blossom within revitalized Native cultures may find help and support by asking these people to intercede with God for them. Non-Native Christians who find healing qualities in Native cultures may find their intercession fruitful. Perhaps Joseph Chiwatenhwa and his family and friends will help people get healed from disease.

 As devotion to these holy people grows the Holy See under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints will examine their lives from the historical record. They will also look at any reports that people have been helped by their prayers.

 Eventually the church may bestow its greatest honour on the early Huron Christians by bestowing on them the title of "Blessed" or "Saint". Such recognition of these Natives would be a way for the church of the whole world to honour all the Native people of Canada. It is recognition that the person received special spiritual gifts and performed great acts of devotion to God while he or she lived on earth. And it is recognition that the person  hears our petitions and intercedes for us with God.

 Saints will be remembered long after rock stars, politicians, and sports heroes are forgot ten. For they are people who undeniably participated in God's kingdom of love, peace, and justice while they were with us on earth. We believe that as they wait to greet us in heaven, they continually pray to the great three-in-one God for our benefit.

 Please send details about petitions granted through the intercession of Joseph Chiwatenhwa, Marie Aonetta, and companions to:

 The Director,
 Anishinabe Spiritual Centre,
 P.O. Box 665,
 Espanola, Ontario