Physically strong, psychologically fit for an ex-acting apostolate in the new world, and deeply imbued with the spirit of Christ and the love of his neighbor, Brebeuf in time became the first and outstanding apostle of the mission to Huronia.
Death, or rather an excruciating martyrdom, crowned his heroic and tireless labors among his beloved Hurons on March 16th, 1649. It took place in Saint-Ignace II, a small village roughly six miles distant from the remarkable central mission residence of Ste-Marie (1639-49).
The mission to Huronia began with his arrival and, rather fittingly, came to a close with his death. What follows tells the story of the years between.
Brebeuf, could be described as an apostle, a brave adventurer, a skilled
writer, a careful ethno-logist, a man of vision, and, more simply, as a
saint and martyr. It all adds up to one thing: he was a giant in the land
of Huronia, and we still need his inspiration in our day.
1593 March 25, birth of Brebeuf at Conde-sur-Vire. 1617 November 8, enters the Jesuit Novitiate at Rouen. 1622 February, ordination to the priesthood at Pontoise. 1625 April 26, departure from Dieppe for New France. June 19, arrival at Quebec. 1626 July 25, leaves for Huronia. 1629 June, returns to Quebec. July 19, capitulation of Quebec to Kirke brothers; all the missionaries forced to return to France. 1633 March 23, second voyage to New France; arrival at Quebec on May 23. 1634 July 7, the second trip to Huronia; arrives there on August 5. September 19, establishment of first residence at Ihonatiria (St. Joseph I) 1635 May 27, finishes his Relation of 1635. 1636 July 16, completes his Relation of 1636; 1637 June, foundation of the second mission resi-dence at Ossossane' (La Conception). 1640 November 2 - March 19, 1641, mission to the Neutral nation; Brebeuf breaks left clavicle. 1641 Spring, sent to Quebec and named procura-tor of the Huron mission. 1644 September 7, Brebeuf returns to Huronia; apostolic work at Ste-Marie, St. Ignace I, St. Ignace II and St. Louis. 1649 March 16, captured at St. Louis by the Iro-quois and put to death at St. Ignace II. 1930 June 29, canonization by Pope Pius XI. 1940 October 16, Brebeuf and his fellow martyrs proclaimed patrons of Canada by Pope Pius II. 1638 June, erection of third mission residence at Teanaostaiae (St. Joseph II). August, Jerome Lalemant replaces Brebeuf as superior of the Huron mission; Brebeuf in charge of Teanaostaiae.
The trouble was that the village of Toanche', his first home in Huronia, had moved during his en-forced absence (1629-1634)! But, when at last Brebeuf reached the new site, a couple of miles distant, his heart must have warmed to the cry that went up: "Here is Echon (his Indian name) come back!" And how pleased he must have been to see all the villagers turn out to greet and welcome him and to call out to him, in true Indian fashion, "What, Echon my nephew, my brother, my cousin, have you really come back?"
So, after all, it was a reassuring reentry into the lovely land of Huronia for one who loved the Hurons as brothers and sisters and who ardently longed to bring them the stirring and saving mes-sage of the gospel.
But, only minutes before, Bre'beuf had passed the very spot where Etienne Brule, the adventuresome but unruly coureur-de-bois, the previous year, had been treacherously murdered by this same Bear tribe. This made him reflect a bit latet "that some day they might well treat us in the same manner." What a premonition! His death, however, would not be at the hands of his Hurons nor would it be quite so sudden.
Brebeuf and Huronia
In many ways, Brebeuf was the apostle of Huronia. He spent more time on and in the service of this mission than any of his brethren and, despite In-dian resistance and periodic hostility, he endeared himself to the Hurons. The other missionaries look-ed to him for inspiration and held him in great admiration.
The Hurons themselves called him Echon, prob-ably the Huron equivalent of his name Jean, and eventually made him a great chief who could hold councils in his own cabin.
But here we are getting slightly ahead of our story.
When Brebeuf arrived in Huronia in 1634, it was his second visit to this isolated land. He had first come with Joseph de la Roche Daillon, a Recollet Father, and Anne de Noue~, another Jesuit, in the summer of 1626. Having established himself at Toanche, he lived there for three years and mastered the language so well that Champlain re-marked on his proficiency in it as early as 1629. The Bear clan of the Hurons among whom heworked grew fond of him and were genuinely saddened by his departure in June of 1629.
The Kirke Brothers
New France, of course, in the 17th century beckoned as an attractive prize for England, or rather for the London merchants bent on making new gains. So, during the prolonged French-English hostilities of the period, it was no surprise when the Kirke brothers, after a few successful naval engagements in the St. Lawrence river, in which they captured the French supply ships, finally forced Champlain to surrender Quebec. This happened on July 19, 1629.
Father Enemond Masse, the acting Jesuit supe-rior in Quebec, in the face of the imminent capitula-tion, had had no choice but to recall Brebeuf from Huronia. Brebeuf explained as best he could to the puzzled Hurons that he had to return to Quebec. When they begged him to stay, Brebeuf, as Cham-plain says in his autobiography, assured them that he would come to them again and would bring whatever was necessary for teaching them to know God and to serve Him.
Brebeuf and the other Frenchmen who had been with him in Huronia returned to Quebec in June and were on hand for the actual capitulation in July. Brebeuf himself was among the missionaries forcibly returned to France by the English and would not see New France again till 1633.
Paul Le Jeune, in his Relation of 1633, gives a more vivid account of Brebeuf's break with the Hurons in 1629. "When Father Brebeuf was beginning to make himself understood, the arrival of the English compelled him to leave these poor people, who said to him, at his departure: 'Listen, you have told us that you have a Father in heaven who made all, and that he who did not obey Him was cast into the flames. We have asked you to instruct us. When you go away, what shall we do?' "
Le Jeune also speaks of an old chief who worried about losing his soul, without Brebeuf's help, and who begged him to return to Huronia before he died.
The return to Quebec
It was actually in 1632 that France, by the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, regained possession of New France. Brebeuf managed to return to Quebec with some other missionaries the following year but had to wait till the early summer of 1634 be-fore setting out once again for Huronia.
As a matter of fact, the missionaries had been ready to leave with a Huron flotilla in early August of 1633, but, just before they were to leave, a commotion arose over the detention of an Indian who had killed a Frenchman. Rather than risk a serious falling-out between French and Indians, especially the Algonquins along the Ottawa river, the missionaries decided to put off their trip to Huronia till the following summer.
Champlain, who had insisted strongly that the Hurons take the three
Jesuits and who had sharply warned the Ottawa Algonquins against any inter-ference
or treachery, finally agreed with the mis-
sionaries not to force the issue any further. The Hurons then departed and the quarrel subsided.
Brebeuf and his fellow Jesuits simply returned to other work at Quebec and Three Rivers and patiently looked forward to the early summer of 1634.
The years of preparation
Brebeuf was born on March 25,1593 at Conde-sur-Vire, a small village in Lower Normandy. We know little of his family background. Some would trace his ancestry back to William the Conqueror and relate him to St. Louis king of France. Others connect his family with the English Earls of Arundel.
Of his immediate family we know little or nothing. Ragueneau his biographer simply says that he was born of good parents. We hear of two nephews, one a Georges de Brebeuf (1617-61), a minor poet, and a Nicolas de Brebeuf, prior of a monastery on the outskirts of Caen.
Brebeuf entered the Jesuit Order in 1617, at the age of 24. Because he had completed his studies in the humanities before entering the Jesuits, after the usual two years of novitiate training, Brebeuf was sent to teach at the Jesuit secondary school in Roueu He who later enjoyed the reputation of having a rugged constitution fell seriously ill in 1620. Then, seemingly because of his poor health, he studied theology privately and was ordained a priest in 1622. He then spent the next three years in Rouen in administrative duties.
Although he had expressed earlier a strong desire to work among the Indians of New France, it was only in April of 1625 that he left Dieppe with a small group of Jesuits for the new world. He tra-velled with Fathers Charles Lalemant and E'ne-mond Masse and two lay-brothers Francois Char-ton and Gilbert Burel. The five of them reached Quebec in June.
The great adventure for the future apostle of Huronia had begun.
Brebeuf spent half of this first year in New France working among the Montagnais Indians, an Algonquin tribe, in the general region about Quebec. It was a good introduction for the work to come. His initial labors so impressed Father Le Jeune that he wrote later: "Father Brebeuf is a man chosen by God for these lands."
In the summer of 1626, Brebeuf finally made the trip he longed for. But it was only the influence and cajoling of Champlain that induced the trading Hurons to take Biebeuf, another Jesuit (De Noel), and Joseph de la Roche Daillon, a Recollet father, with them on their return trip to Huronia, not that the Hurons were unacquainted with missionaries in their midst.
In 1615, Father Joseph Le Caron, a Recollet, had reached Huronia in early August, a few days ahead of Champlain himself, and established himself at a village called Carhagouha. He spent the next ten months among the Hurons before returning to Quebec shortly before Champlain who had also wintered among the Hurons. There was, however, no further missionary activity in Huronia till 1623 when Le Caron returned with Father Nicolas Viel and Brother Gabriel Sagard, two other Recollets.
Le Caron and Sagard stayed only a year. Sagard, the first historian of Canada, has left us in Le grand voyage du pays des Hurons an interesting record of his stay in Huronia. It is to him and Champlain and Brebeuf that we must look for our key source of information about Huronia and its inhabitants in those first years of French contact.
Viel left Huronia for Quebec, the following year, 1625 but was apparently drowned by his unfriendly Huron companions in Riviere des Prairies to the north of Montreal Island at a spot called today, in his memory, Sault-au-Recollet.
Brebeuf's first visit
The missionary interest in Huronia continued the following year with the arrival of another Recollet, Daillon, and two Jesuits, de Noue and Brebeuf. The Jesuits, at the invitation of the Recollets, had entered the mission field of New France the pre-vious year and would now be closely associated with the particular mission of Huronia until its tragic end in 1649-50.
De Noue quit the mission in 1627 because of difficulties with the language; Daillon, in poor health, returned to Quebec in 1628; and Brebeuf seemed ready to stay on as long as possible.
However, events beyond his control forced his recall to Quebec and his eventual return to France, in the following year. In anticipation of the surrender of Quebec to the demands of the Kirke brothers, Enemond Masse asked him to return to Quebec. Brebeuf obeyed promptly and without demur, as was his wont, and so left a land and an apostolate he had grown to love with a heavy heart. He also left his Hurons, as Champlain remarked, in great grief over his departure.
Actually Brebeuf left Huronia without a single adult convert to boast of. Yet these three years had been profitable ones. For one thing, he had learned the Huron language so well that Champlain in admiration noted in his diary: "This good Father had, in fact, a remarkable gift for languages, and would learn and master them in two or three years more thoroughly than others could do in twenty." His fellow Jesuit, Paul Ragueneau, would say much the same thing in 1649.
In addition, Brebeuf had studied his Hurons closely, their living habits, their social structures, their characters, their religious beliefs, their basic psychology. He also made generous efforts to adapt himself to the customs of the people. Because of such obvious respect for them and deep interest in them he had endeared himself to the Hurons, and thus they sincerely regretted seeing him go away at the end of three years.
In this way, then, Brebeuf, had laid the founda-tions for the Huron mission and his own future apostolate there.
Back in France
On his enforced return to France in 1629, Brebeuf spent the first year serving as preacher and con-fessor at Rouen. We can imagine how he must have drawn on his experiences in Quebec and Huronia to enliven his sermons and stir up in the hearts of his congregations a deeper sense of fra-ternal concern and Christian love.
In 1631 Brebeuf was appointed to the Jesuit College in Eu. There he fulfilled a number of various jobs. In reality, Brebeuf was marking time, waiting for the moment when he could return to Huronia. With the signing of the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye the way was clear once again. In the spring of 1633 he sailed for the new world and arrived at Quebec on the 23rd of May.
This time, Brebeuf had as companions and fel-low missionaries Antoine Daniel, the future mar-tyr, a dynamic young man with a keen and delight-ful sense of humor, and Ambroise Davost. Brebeuf became their teacher of the Huron language and Indian ways and shared with them his zeal and much of his experience. These new missionaries for Huronia could not have had a better mentor at this time. Later, Daniel would rival Brebeuf in his mastery of the Huron language and knowledge of Huron ways.
Davost had to wait another week for his passage, and the other Frenchmen, probably two young men and two young boys, were embarked a week later still.
Brebeuf has preserved for us an excellent ac-count of this trip to Huronia in his Relation of 1635. This whole Relation which he sent to Le Jeune is a mine of information about the trip, the Hurons and the land of Huronia. One simply has to marvel at the direct, forceful and entertaining narrative skill of Brebeuf.
The trip itself from Three Rivers to Huronia covered roughly 800 miles. The route followed by Brebeuf and his companions was the Ottawa river route, for the St. Lawrence river and Lake Ontario passage had been successfully blockaded by the hostile Iroquois, those "pirates of the fur trade,"bent on destroying the Huron fur trade and the Hurons themselves.
Details of the journey
Paddling their light bark canoes, for hours at a stretch, the Hurons travelled up the St. Lawrence from Three Rivers to the point where this great river met the Ottawa. They then ascended the Ottawa to where it joined, well to the north, the Mattawa which they followed to Mud Lake. Further along they crossed large and, at times, rough Lake Nipissing, the region of their friendly allies the Nipissirinians or Bissirinians, an Algonquin tribe. From the western end of Lake Nipissing they descended the French river until they came to Georgian Bay, a rather large inlet of Lake Huron.
Once they had reached Georgian Bay, they were back in home waters and at the north-northwest boundary of Huronia.
This long trip, some 800 miles, was not a smooth one, for the rivers were full of dangerous rapids and impassable waterfalls. These natural barriers called for wearisome portages when canoes and equipment had to be laboriously carried or dragged, often long distances over rugged terrain. On this trip, his second to the upper country, Brebeuf counted the number of such portages and noted that the party carried their things thirty-five times and dragged them at least fifty!
As for their food on the trip, Brebeuf mentioned that this usually consisted of corn ground somewhat coarsely between two stones. By mixing it with water they made a kind of gruel. Sometimes they ate a bit of fish caught by chance but usually it had to be purchased from some Indian tribe along the way.
The Hurons normally made food caches on the way down to Three Rivers, but occasionally these were missed on the return trip and all had to go hungry. The missionaries remarked at different times on the ability of the Indians to go without food for days at a time and still remain cheerful and energetic.
The trip was never a pleasant one, for all had to sleep on the bare earth or on hard rock, and this after trudging often in water, in mud and through the dark, entangled forest, where swarms of mosquitoes and black flies made life completely miserable. At night, the missionaries had to sleep beside the exhausted Hurons and endure the inevitable stench of sweaty and unwashed bodies.
Brebeuf also mentioned the long, tiresome silence one was reduced to, especially when ignorant of the Indian tongue.
The paddling, of course, was gruelling and prolonged, and could last from shortly after sunrise to sunset. This and the constant portaging left the unaccustomed European bone weary and exhausted and scarcely made the new day a welcome one. It was indeed a sobering introduction to the mis-sion land of Huronia.
Brebeuf described his own experience of 1634 as follows: "To be sure, I was at times so weary that my body could do no more. But at the sametime my soul was filled with great happiness as I realized that I was suffering this for God. No one can know this feeling unless he has experienced it."
A few years later, in 1637, Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Hurons. These reflect his own true and tried experience and a special sensitivity to-wards the Indians themselves:
you must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers you must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians, when on the road, eat only at the rising and the se-ting of the sun be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe be the least troublesome to the Indians do not ask many questions; silence is golden bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to be and to appear cheerful carry with you a half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives (lambettes), a hundred or so fish-hooks, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and he sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish always carry something during the portages do not be ceremonious with the Indians do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle the Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.
Other Frenchmen suffered much at the hands of the Hurons on such trips, with stealing almost being taken for granted! One of the young men who went up that summer of 1634 took two months to rejoin Brebeuf, and another finally saved what possessions he had left by threatening his Huron companions with his firearm.
Brebeuf mentioned incidentally that he could not swim. This was an additional hazard for him on his journeys over water, and he remarked that on one dangerous occasion he would probably have lost his life except for the quick action of the Hurons with him.
Arrival in Huronia
Despite all the difficulties and hazards of the trip, Brebeuf arrived safely in Huronia on August Sth~ The journey had taken thirty days, a bit longer than usual. He expressed his appreciation of the Hurons he had travlled with by saying of them:
"My Indians showed me so much affection and said so many good things about me to the others that they made all the Hurons we met anxious to embark one of our people."
We shall recall that at first Brebeuf had difficulty finding his old Huron friends of 1629, for the original village of Toanche had been moved during his absence in France. However, he was soon among his friends and caught up in the practical details of adjusting himself to a fresh start among the Bear tribe of the Hurons. The other tribes were called the Cord, the Deer and the Rock.
Brebeuf, warmly welcomed by his friends of 1626-29, lodged at first with a leading Indian, with whom he and the other Fathers and one young Frenchman remained for a month and a half. During this time they had a new cabin built for themselves and the others.
Hospitality towards all kinds of people, even complete strangers, was remarkable among these Hurons. Indeed, they would keep such guests for as long as they cared to stay, expecting only a shout of thanks when these guests left. However, from the French they expected some kind of re-muneration, and some little gift would suffice.
Shortly after his arrival, Brebeuf made the deci-sion to build the missionaries' cabin in the neigh-boring village of Ihonatiria which promised better apostolic advantages. They moved to the new site in September, and this residence, called St. Joseph, would be the centre of the Huron mission till 1637. Brebeuf recounted the story of one Frenchman who made his way to him by mentioning to the Hurons he met along the way the only two Huron words he knew: Echon, Brebeuf's Indian name, and Ihonatiria!
Brebeuf's new home
The new house at Ihonatiria, 32 feet long and 16 feet wide, was built along Indian lines. As dwel-lings went, it was a modest realization, for, as Bre-beuf said with obvious good humor, "the habita-tions of this country are neither Louvres nor palaces, nor even like the smallest cottages." Yet, in the eyes of the Hurons, the mission residence was a huge improvement on their own rather flimsy structures.
Still the actual comforts were few and far be-tween. Jerome Lalemant, a few years later, de-scribed the style of living: "A mat upon the ground, or upon a piece of bark, is your bed; the cabin's fire your candle; the holes through which the smoke passes, your windows, which are never closed; bent poles, covered with bark, your walls and your roof, through which the wind enters from all sides."
Brebeuf mentioned that they had to keep a sharp eye on their Huron visitors who, he said, had thievish hands and would remove any object they had taken a fancy to! Paul Le Jeune had noted ear-lier, in his Relation of 1632-33, "to steal, and not to be discovered, is a sign of superior intelligence among them."
Le Jeune also added this observation: "I learn that the Hurons consider a man very clever who can escape the hand of a thief, or who knows how to steal without being caught. But if he is discovered, you may whip him as much as you like and he will say nothing. He suffers his punishment patiently, not as a penalty for his crime, but for his awkwardness in being caught."
Brebeuf tells an amusing story in this regard about the family of Louis de Ste-Foy, a young Indian who had been educated for a while in France. Louis helped some of the missionaries explain to members of his own family the various Christian commandments. When, while explaining the com-mandment not to steal, Louis mentioned that in France thieves were put to death, his father asked him whether, when he became chief, he would also put them to death. Louis answered that if he were to do so the whole country would soon he depopulated, as it would be necessary to kill everyone, Huron and thief almost being synonymous!
The "Chief of the Day"
In the house at Ihonatiria the missionaries had a fine clock which struck the hours. The Hurons never ceased to marvel at it, believing it to be a living thing. The young Frenchmen, of course, used it to play various tricks on them. The Hurons, in awe at the clock's movement, referred to it, as the "Chief of the Day," and, when it sounded the hour, they said it was speaking. They were also amazed at how messages could be communicated by writing.
Implicit in all this was the Hurons' admiration of the intelligence of the French. Indeed, they called them Ondaki, a word for "demons."
The land of Huronia
It was after mentioning such details that Brebeuf gave a rough description of Huronia itself. It was not a large country, for at its greatest width it could be crossed in three or four days. It had a fine natural situation with a lot of plains and was well watered with streams, lakes and the large body of water called the "fresh-water sea" (Lake Huron). Its soil was, in general, rather sandy and produced, with suitable moisture, a quantity of very good In-dian corn which supplied the needs not only of the Hurons but also of their neighbors, the nomadic Algonquins.
Brebeuf also pointed out that there were twenty towns with roughly a population of 30,000. He mentioned that the Huron language was not too difficult to learn for one who had a good teacher. He himself, of course, became a master at the language, as did also others like Daniel, Garnier and Chaumonot. We know from other sources that at least two of the missionaries, Anne de Noel and Chabanel the martyr, found it a very difficult language and failed to make any practical headway in learning it. At least these two would vouch for Brebeuf's statement that "the Huron language is as different from our European language as heaven is from the earth."
The power of dreams
Dreams had a profound influence on the Hurons. It was not unusual to find individuals going to great lengths in order to fulfill the promptings of their dreams, especially when interpreted by the sorcer-ers. The Relations are full of instances of the in-fluence of dreams on the Indians.
Brebeuf mentions in his Relation of 1636 that the Hurons had a faith in dreams that surpassed all belief. If only Christians could follow their divine inspirations with the same devotion, he added, they would become saints in no time. For the Hurons the dream was an oracle that had to be acted upon at once.
Some dreams predicted for them future events, others warned them about imminent misfortunes. The dream could also preside at council meetings. It could prescribe their feasts, their dances, their songs, their games. Brebeuf refers to dreams as the principal god of the Hurons.
However, he carefully explains that only the dreams of people of some standing and credibility, with some past success to their credit, would attract serious attention. These kind of people, he writes, are careful to distinguish between false and true dreams. Moreover, when in doubt about the mean-ing or the application of some dreams, the people consulted interpreters. These experts usually mitigated the demands of the dreams. Even at that, says Brebeuf, a dream can take from them their whole year's provision.
Actually their faith in dreams led the Hurons into countless absurdities. Most of the dreams dealt with ways and means of chasing away sick-ness, and the remedies were usually related to a feast, or to a song, or to a dance, or a game, or to a kind of mania called ononharoia, a "turning the brain upside down."
This ononharoia is to help those who are mad. Others, on their behalf,
visit cabins and say they have dreamed, and those in the cabins must guess
what the dream is and offer the group various ob-jects until the thing
dreamed is finally guessed! Bre-beuf said that you could see such bands
coming out of cabins loaded down with hatchets, kettles, porce-lain and
so much else. After someone had finally guessed what they were looking
for, off these people went to the woods and cast out, so they said, the
madness. It may have been a rather absurd practice, but the people had
to go along with it.
Allied to dreams was the hold of sorcerers or medicine-men upon them. By the use of their charms some claimed to be able to command the rain and the wind; others, to predict future events: and others, to find lost objects; and others, to re-store health. Brebeuf saw the devil at work among these sorcerers. He also spoke of the Arendewane who, after a feast or a sweat, would undertake to tell a sick person the seat and nature of his illness and then abandon him.
Brebeuf recounts one instance involving a par-ticularly famous medicine-man by the name of Tehorenhaegnon. This man, in return for a present of ten hatchets, and a multitude of feasts, promised to bring a much needed rain. But all his dreaming, fasting and dancing was to no avail. As Br6beuf remarked, "there fell not a drop of water." The sorcerer then, in his chagrin, attributed the drought to the presence of the French and a cross before the door of the missionaries' residence. As a result, there were a few tense moments.
However, the men and women of Ihonatiria did not resort to this sorcerer
but consulted Brebeuf instead. He gave them eminently practical advice:
"I told them that neither we nor any man could control the rain or the fine weather; that he who made heaven and earth was alone their master and distributed them according to his inclination. Pray to him, I urged them."
Actually all turned out very advantageously, for their prayer, says
Brebeuf, seemed to have been answered, as the rain fell soon after, and
came from neighboring villages to acknowledge the blessing of the rain.
Sorcerers and gifted people in general would always fascinate these people, notes Brebeuf, for "these peoples greatly admire and esteem those persons who have any quality that raises them above the common level. Such people they call oki, the same name they give to demons."
A worker of miracles, he adds, in the spirit of the gospel, would rapidly convert all these people to the true faith, so impressed are they by wonders of any kind.
The Hurons were strongly attached to their feasts. Too much so to Brebeuf's way of thinking, for these distracted them from more serious thoughts and supernatural truths, keeping their minds on baser appetites.
The Hurons seemed to celebrate all kinds of feasts: of farewell; of thanksgiving and collective enjoyment; for singing as well as for eating; and those for deliverance from a special kind of sick-ness. Such feasts could last whole days and nights, and people would gorge themselves.
The most important feasts were the singing ones which were provided for on a lavish scale and fea-tured various kinds of fish along with venison and bear-meat. Several villages would be invited to at-tend, and, at times, even the whole country. "In this case," remarks Brebeuf, "the master of the feast sends to each chief as many sticks as the number of persons he invites from each village."
Huron dances and games
We are told that the Hurons had twelve different kinds of dances, usually remedies for sickness. They also played three kinds of games, namely, the games of crosse, dish, and straw. Crosse was much like our modern la crosse and was considered a game to help a person regain his health. Dish was played with six plum-stones, white on one side and black on the other. The object of the game was usually to succeed in getting all the stones of one color to face the person who banged the dish against the earth. Other combinations could be called for and agreed upon. This game too was played to re-store a person's health, and often village played against village, with much betting on both sides.
The game of straws, based on straws of varying length and involved with various numbers and combinations of straws, was another gambling game which often set village against village and lasted for two and three days at a stretch. The stakes could be high. Brebeuf tells of an incident involving the son of Chief Aenons who lost in such a game a beaver robe and a collar of 400 porcelain beads, an expensive article for an Indian. Too ashamed to face his family after such a loss, the young man, in despair, hanged himself from a tree.
The gambling itself often led to quarrels, fights and even murders. Naturally, the missionaries could only deplore its abuses and the folly of it.
The Hurons had only very vague ideas of their origin. They called the head and source of their
nation a certain woman by the name of Eataentsic. She had been living above the heavens in an area much like the terrestrial one, and, one day, while pursuing her dog who was pursuing a bear, she saw both of them fall into a hole and disappear. In despair at losing them like this she plunged in after them and so fell from the sky into the water.
Little by little, so went their tale, the waters dried and earth appeared, and Eataentsic, who apparently was pregnant, finally came to this island - Huronia - and was delivered of a daughter. She, in turn, almost at once became pregnant and later gave birth to two boys. From them the present Hurons were descended. This account, as we may expect, tends to be somewhat sketchy and vague.
The Hurons believed in a soul which lived on after death, but the soul did not abandon the body immediately after death. The Hurons told Brebeuf that, when the body was carried to the grave, the soul walked in front and remained in the cemetery until the Feast of the Dead. This solemn feast was held about every twelve years, and, after the cere-mony, the souls left the cemeteries and went off to a big village that lay toward the setting sun.
It was also clear that the Hurons acknowledged some divinity and had a certain idea of a creator. However, their religious belief was rather rudi-mentary. They invoked the sky in almost all their needs and, as we saw, placed great faith in dreams and in their interpretations.
Brebeuf tells us of the great reverence and honor which the Hurons showed towards their dead. No expense was too great in order to pay the dead relative a fitting farewell. They would dispose of large quantities of robes, hatchets and porcelain, the actual riches of the country, as if these were really of little account.
Those dying were aware of this generosity and probably took some consolation from the thought of this kind of attention. Actually they displayed a seeming indifference to death. But this was all a part of the great Indian impassiveness in times of sickness and suffering.
The mourning that followed death was reason-able. Burial usually took place on the third day and there was a fine meal prepared for the guests. The body was wrapped in a beaver robe, carried to the cemetery and laid on bark sepulchres raised above the ground on posts. A few gifts were placed along-side of the body. Other gifts were then given to the family and to those who had directed the funeral ceremonies.
The great mourning period lasted only ten days, but the lesser mourning went on for a year, and during this year it was understood that remarriage was out of the question.
The Feast of the Dead
Brebeuf has left us a wonderfully descriptive chap-ter dealing with the solemn Feast of the Dead at which he assisted in the spring of 1636. The Feast itself, held once every twelve years, abounded in ceremonies, including games for men and women,
but featured above all a special and prolonged meal.
When the old men and important Hurons of the village or neighborhood had decided on the time of this Feast, all the bodies had to be transported to the carefully selected grave site, normally a huge pit capable of holding all the bodies. Each family had to see to its own dead. The Indians spared themselves no trouble in going and fetching the bodies from any part of the country. They would then cover them with the finest robes and bear them on their shoulders to the site.
On a fine day all proceeded to the particular burial ground, exposed the bodies of the dead, and, after a suitable mourning, they stripped them of their remaining flesh, and, after cleaning the bones, wrapped them up in parcels which were then cover-ed with fine robes. Then, as the day of common burial drew close, all carried the bones on their backs and the bodies of those who had died re-cently on litters to the great open pit.
Everything was carefully organized around the pit so that all the Indians could gather according to families and villages. They placed the corpses on the bottom of the pit but hung the packages of bones from a light scaffolding stretched across the pit. They also hung up the various presents which they had brought, hundreds and hundreds of them.
After a suitable time for display, the presents were distributed in the name of the dead to certain specified persons. After this ceremony, they cover-ed the bottom and sides of the pit with beaver skins; in this instance, forty-eight robes were needed to complete the job. Then the corpses were placed in the pit along with three large kettles for the use of the "souls."
Finally, on the next day, the packages of bones were emptied into the pit with great rapidity, accompanied by much shouting, jostling, singing and lamentation. Brebeuf said it struck him as nothing less than a picture of hell. At last the robes from the sides were pulled over the bones and corpses, and then the pit was filled with sand, poles, and wooden stakes. A lot of corn was also thrown into the pit.
The beaver robes which had contained the bones were then cut into pieces and thrown among the crowd from the height of the temporary staging.
Brebeuf observed, rather shrewdly, that it was only the wealthy who lost nothing, or only very little, in this Feast. Those of moderate means and the poor brought and left their most valuable posessions, out of a desire to appear as liberal as anyone else. In this way, they often impoverished themselves.
For Brebeuf, the attitude of the Hurons towards their dead indicated their hope of a future life and made them susceptible to the Christian teaching about the kingdom of heaven. As he said, the In-dians feared the judgments of God in a future life and began to esteem more and more the value of Christian baptism, especially for those in danger of death. And so more and more they offered their children for instruction in Christianity.
The Huron Councils
In the second part of his Relation for 1636 Brebeuf
has a section that describes the working of the Huron Councils or Assemblies. These would usual-ly meet in some chief's cabin in a village, or occasionally, for greater secrecy, in the forest. The head of the Council would be the chief who had called it. They would meet only to decide more im-portant matters and would often pass whole nights in discussion.
Those who participated in such Councils had the best places at feasts, were sure to receive presents and often, because of their influence with the others, had their palms greased by strangers desir-ing something from the nation.
The Councils were representative enough and allowed for serious deliberations. Delegates from various villages sat together and would confer pri-vately before casting their vote. Matters were al-ways decided by a majority vote.
Brebeuf was impressed by the orderliness with which the meetings were conducted. The gentleness and courtesy of the Hurons in their exchanges and their prudence and moderation in speech, as well as the wise conduct of the whole meeting never failed to fill him with astonishment. But he could not help remarking how some of the Hurons, being born actors, used such occasions to display their his-trionics to good effect!
Brebeuf himself was later recognized as one of the principal chiefs of his village, an honor which gave him the right to assemble the Council in the Jesuit cabin whenever he deemed it opportune.
Even from the rather cursory review we have given here it is apparent that Brebeuf had a real sense of cultural anthropology. His two lengthy re-ports or Relations covering the years 1634-36 are indispensable sources of information and give an accurate picture of the people and milieu that the missionaries had to face and understand. It is to Brebeuf's credit that he never lost sight of this con-text in all his apostolic dealings with his beloved Hurons and their neighbors.
This important baptism took place on the feast of the Trinity, June 9, 1637.
In the years that followed, the number of adult conversions among the healthy, while never striking, nevertheless grew steadily and brought much joy and satisfaction to the patient, hardworking blackrobes. Two items of the Christian belief posed special problems for the adult Huron: the Christian attitude towards sex and the Christian concept of marriage.
However, there was an increasing number of baptisms among the children and most Indians when dying readily accepted instruction and baptism.
But so often it was just touch and go for the success or failure of the mission. In October of 1637, the hostility towards the missionaries, particularly at Ossossane, had grown intense and thedeath of the five Jesuits there seemed imminent. In a letter about this time, Brebeuf mentioned that stories were spread about blaming the French and the blackrobes, in particular, for the cause of all sickness and contagion.
When the Indian hostility reached a peak in October of 1637, Brebeuf wrote a dramatic letter to his superior at Quebec, Paul Le Jeune. The letter described the perilous situation of the missionaries, and his four companions appended their signatures to the letter as an act of resignation to God's will.
The text of this letter is as follows:
Reverend Father,The trials of an apostle
The Peace of Christ!
We are perhaps on the point of shedding our blood and of sacrificing our lives for the ser-vice of our good Master Jesus Christ. It seems that in His goodness He wishes to accept this sacrifice of myself in expiation of my great and countless offenses, and to crown at this time the past services and the great, burning desires of all our good Fathers here. But I think it will not turn out so. For one thing, the excess of my former misdeeds makes me completely unworthy of so signal a favor. For another, I do not believe that the divine goodness will allow His workers to be put to death, since by His grace there are al-ready some good people who welcome warmly the seed of the gospel, despite the calumnies and persecutions of everyone against us.
Furthermore, I am afraid that the divine justice, seeing the stubbornness of most of these Indians in their follies, will not allow quite justly these people to succeed in destroying the corporal life of the very ones who with all their heart wish and provide the life of their souls.
Whatever may happen, I can assure you that all our Fathers await the outcome of this affair with calm and untroubled spirits. And, for my-self, I can tell Your Reverence in all sincerity that I have not had yet the slightest apprehen-sion of dying for such a cause. But we are all saddened that these poor Indians, by their evil ways, close the door to the gospel and to grace.
Whatever conclusion they may reach and however they treat us, we shall try, by the grace of Our Lord, to endure it patiently for His service. It is a singular sign of his good-ness to have us bear with something for His love. It is now that we esteem belonging to His Company. May He be blessed forever to have destined us, from among others better than us, for this country to help Him carry His cross.
In everything, let His holy will be done. if it is His will that we die at this moment, what happiness for us! If He wills to keep us for other labors, may He also be blessed.
If you hear that God has crowned our small labors, bless Him, for it is for Him we desire to live and die, and it is He who gives us this grace.
For the rest, if some survive, I have laid down everything they must do. It is my view that our Fathers and lay helpers should withdraw and take shelter with those whom they will con-sider their better friends. I have charged them to bring to Pierre, our first Christian, every-thing that pertains to the sacristy, and that they take particular care to put in a safe place the dictionary and our other material on the language.
As for me, if God gives me the grace to go to heaven, I shall pray for them, for the poor Hurons, and I shall not forget Your Rever-ence.
Finally, we beg Your Reverence and our Fathers not to forget us in your holy sacrifices and prayers, so that in life and after death God may have mercy on us.
We are, all of us, in life and in eternity, Your Reverence's humble and affectionate servants in the Lord.Jean de BrebeufFrancois Joseph le MercierPierre ChastelainCharles GamierPaul Ragueneau.The Residence of La Conception, at Ossossane, this 28th of October.
P.S. I have left at the Residence of St. Joseph Fathers Pierre Pijart and Isaac Jogues in these same sentiments.
This moment of danger passed. There had been, for this or that missionary, and would be, for others, similar tense moments, close brushes with death, ever present on this mission.
At first he was popular and successful with the Hurons at Teanaostaiae~, but the constant epidemics and increasing hostility of the enemies of the black-robes turned the people against Bre'beuf and his companions. In April of 1640, Brebeuf and Chaumonot were severally beaten in an uprising. Later that year the residence had to be abandoned.
In order to spare Brebeuf further humiliation and to free him from the impasse that had set in -even his very name came to strike fear into the hearts of Indian children - Lalemant sent him and Chaumonot in November of 1640 on a special mis-sion to the Neutral nation, so called because of its policy of maintaining peace with the Hurons and Iroquois on either side of it. But even here Bre'-beuf's efforts at obtaining good will and of evan-gelization met with coldness, rejection and even downright hostility. Huron agents had already pre-judiced the minds of these Indians against Brebeuf and the blackrobes.
So it was a dispirited Brebeuf who in March 1641 had to make the trek back to Huronia. It seemed that God was trying and purifying His servant. On the return trip Brebeuf slipped on the ice and broke his left clavicle and, without any proper medical attention, had to continue the jour-ney in intense pain.
Brebeuf returns to Quebec
It was now obvious that Bre'beuf, the great apostle of Huronia, the man whose heart beat with such constant love for his Hurons, was no longer a persona grata in the Huron villages. For the mo-ment, his enemies, or rather the anti-Christian forces, had gotten the upper hand. The only solu-tion was to send the Father of the mission back to Quebec.
Accordingly, in the spring of 1641, with heavy heart and deep disappointment Brebeuf returned to Quebec for a respite and to seek attention for his badly mended shoulder. But his work for Huronia went on. He was given the demanding job of procu-rator or supplier of the Huron mission.
Brebeuf threw himself into his new job with great enthusiasm and thoroughness. He knew exactly the needs of his brethren in Huronia. But even in this new work disappointment would also be his lot. Twice, in 1642 and 1643, the Iroquois intercepted his shipments to Huronia and stole everything After the convoy of 1643 fell into the hands of the Iroquois, Brebeuf commented in a letter that this showed the very bad state of affairs in Canada.
Back to Huronia
After three years of exile, Brebeuf returned to
Huronia in September of 1644. We know it was a moment of great joy for him when he stepped once again upon the soil of Huronia and took up the final challenge of this difficult yet attractive aposto-late. To recall the words of Le Jeune a decade ear-lier, he was a man chosen by God for these lands.
In a way the next few years would be the golden years for the Christian faith in Huronia. More and more the Hurons listened to their blackrobes, fol-lowed instructions with rapt attention and then asked for baptism. The numbers of the baptized increased steadily and by 1647 could be counted in the thousands.
The Iroquois shadow
But the hereditary and relentless enemies of the Hurons were growing bolder and more powerful. Gradually the Iroquois moved closer to Huronia itself, no longer being content just to waylay and harass the Huron canoe convoys on the St. Law-rence.
Jogues would be captured with other Frenchmen on the St. Lawrence in 1642, and Father Bressani, while on his way to Huronia, was also captured and cruelly treated by the Iroquois in 1644. Both Jogues and Bressani were rescued later by the Dutch of New Holland. In 1646, Jogues and his companion Jean de la Lande, a donne' or lay apostle, were taken prisoner by the Iroquois and summarily put to death. The following year, 1647, the fear of the Iroquois was so great that no Huron convoy risked the journey to Three Rivers.
Things were really bad, and the Iroquois sensing ultimate and complete victory were closing in. Bre beuf, in a letter dated June 2, 1648, mentioned that the Iroquois both closed the roads and obstructed trade and devastated the region by frequent mas-sacres.
The fall of Teanaostaiae
Then a huge blow struck Huronia. On July 4, 1648 a large force of Iroquois surprised and seized Teanaostaiae, a large Huron outpost to the south. Father Antoine Daniel, like a good pastor, fell defending his flock.
With this key defensive position gone, it now seemed only time before other destructive attacks would follow. Actually, the Iroquois withdrew for the time being but they would return the following spring with a large well-armed force to deal the death blows to an already staggering Huronia.
In 1648, Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, nephew of Jerome and a relative newcomer to the mission, served the mission of Saint-Ignace. Ragueneau, the new mission superior and much admired by Bre-beuf, tells us that five closely neighboring villages made up this particular mission.
On June 2nd of this year, Brebeuf wrote in his official letter to Rome that their work was now bearing much fruit. Conversions had increased greatly and all the smouldering hostility that pla-gued the missionary efforts for years had apparently vanished.
Indeed there were signs on all sides that the christianization of Huronia, the very meaning of the mission to that land, was rapidly taking place. And yet just when the mission effort was being crowned with success, destruction of the mission itself was only months away. For the moment, then, it was a blessed yet ominous calm before the storm.
Ossossane, or La Conception, one of the Bear nation villages evangelized earlier by Brebeuf, by this time had become a model Christian village. In the words of Ragueneau, "Men, women and chil-dren there have made so open a profession of what they wished to be till death, that often neighboring nations gave them no other name save that of 'the nation of Christians'." Chaumonot, the last mis-sionary to serve Ossossane before its abandonment in March 1649, said the Indians called the place "the believing village."
Then, on March 15, a war party of some 1,200 well-armed Iroquois arrived completely undetected at the frontier of Huronia. It was so unsual to be on the warpath far from home at that time of year. These Iroquois, as a matter of fact, through clever strategy, had left home in autumn and had hunted throughout the winter in order to be ready to pounce upon the Hurons in early spring.
They approached Saint-Ignace during the night of March 15-16 and attacked it stealthily at day-break from its weak side. Having made a breach in the palisade they quickly overran the village while the inhabitants were still asleep and, in this way, took the village with ridiculous ease. 400 Hurons were lost in this sweep and only 10 Iroquois lost their lives in the sporadic fighting.
The Iroquois massacred a number of the Hurons, men, women and children, there and then. Others were made captives, several of whom would be re-served for "cruelties more terrible than death." Only three men managed to escape, and these ran almost naked across the snows to break the news to the Indians at Saint-Louis, a village just a league away. Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were at Saint-Louis, having just left shortly before the central mission residence of Ste-Marie.
The capture of Brebeuf and Lalemant
As soon as word of the capture of Saint-Ignace reached Saint-Louis, 500 women and children fled the village at once, while the men prepared to face the enemy. They numbered only 80, a pitifully small force to meet the Iroquois onslaught. Some of these begged the two Fathers to escape while they could, but, as Ragueneau wrote later, "their zeal could not permit them, and the salvation of their flock was dearer to them than love for their own lives."
A 1,000 Iroquois arrived at the village before sunrise and launched an attack immediately. One of the Fathers was at the breach, baptizing the cate-chumens, the other (likely Brebeuf) giving absolu-tion to the neophytes, and both encouraging the Hurons to die bravely. The Hurons loved them so much for their support and encouragement. One Christian Indian rallied another non-Christian In-dian who was thinking of flight with: "could we ever abandon these good Fathers who for us have exposed their lives . . . let us die with them."
The Hurons repelled the first assault, and then a second. But on the third assault the Iroquois broke through the palisade of stakes and the village was theirs.
At nine o'clock that morning smoke from the burning cabins at Saint-Louis caught the attention of those at Ste-Marie, just a league distant. Thea two Christian Indians who had escaped reached Ste-Marie with the distressing news of its capture and of the seizure of Brebeuf and Lalemant.
Meanwhile at Saint-Louis the cabins were soon burned to the ground and the prisoners, including Brebeuf and Lalemant, were dragged off to Saint-Ignace where an Iroquois party had stood guard.
Flushed with victory the Iroquois, later that evening, sent their scouts to reconnoitre the condi-tion of the fortified residence of Ste-Marie where all the French had readied themselves for the battle to come. After listening to the report of their scouts, the Iroquois decided to attack Ste-Marie on the following morning, the 17th.
A last-ditch stand
However, 300 brave warriors, mostly from La Conception, on hearing the news of the sacking of Saint-Ignace and Saint-Louis, assembled quickly in front of Ste-Marie and set themselves in ambush between Ste-Marie and Saint-Louis. When the van-guard of the Iroquois, about 200 strong, moved against Ste-Marie the next morning, they were intercepted by these Huron warriors who, after a violent encounter, chased them back to the smoul-dering remains of Saint-Louis and there killed or captured them. But the main body of Iroquois, alerted by this action, rushed to Saint-Louis and finally by sheer weight of numbers overwhelmed these brave Hurons of whom only a score were left, and these wounded.
In this fierce engagement, the Iroquois lost heavily: over 100 killed of their bravest warriors and their chief seriously wounded. Probably dis-couraged by this costly victory and alarmed at the prospect and rumors of the arrival of other large Huron relief forces, the Iroquois withdrew from the neighborhood in haste and confusion. This was March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, patron of the mis-sion. The French at Ste-Marie attributed their deliv-erance to the special protection of this great saint.
In the meantime, the remaining inhabitants of La Conception hearing a rumor - and a false one, at that - that the Iroquois were moving against them, left their village during the night and fled across the ice to take refuge in the distant woods. They never returned to their village.
Destruction of the mission
Other Huron villages were abandoned, one after the other; fifteen all told, and in the weeks that followed thousands of Hurons had to be cared for at Ste-Marie. Within two weeks, Ragueneau would write later, "our House of Ste-Marie has seen itself stripped bare on every side, and the only one which remained standing in these places of terror, most exposed to the incursions of the enemy."
The collapse of the mission to Huronia had taken place.
Two months later, the missionaries would destroy and abandon Ste-Marie, their pride and joy, and they would withdraw to Christian Island, called by the Jesuits St. Joseph Island.
What took place in the year that followed, until the final withdrawal in June 1650, would only show the inevitable result of this sad collapse.
We know from the Jesuit Relations that the In-dians inflicted the worst kind of tortures upon those of the enemy they singled out for their "caresses." The Hurons tortured captured Iroquois warriors with the same thoroughness and cruelty practised by the Iroquois on their captives. So, in a way, we must not be surprised that the victorious Iroquois reserved the two French priests, considered special prisoners indeed, for cruel and agonizing tortures. What marked the torments of Brebeuf and Lale-mant in a special way was the particular role of certain renegade Hurons serving with the Iroquois. These incited the Iroquois against the blackrobes.
The definition of a Christian martyr is one who is put to death out of hatred for the faith. Martyrdom is also rooted in the gospel text which says: "A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends" (Jo. 15:13). We see all this verified in the suffering and death of Brebeuf and Lalemant.
We know from various records that Brebeuf and Lalemant had to suffer excruciating torments. Paul Ragueneau, in his Relation of 1648-49, has left us a memorable account based on Huron eye-witnesses and on the state of the missionaries' bodies recovered from the ruins of Saint-Ignace after the sudden departure of the Iroquois.
Ragueneau's vivid account runs as follows:
As soon as they were taken captive, they were stripped naked, and some of their nails were torn out; and the welcome which they re-ceived upon entering the village of St. Ignace was a hailstorm of blows with sticks upon their shoulders, their loins, their legs, their breasts, their bellies, and their faces - there being no part of their bodies which did not then endure its torment.
Father Jean de Brebeuf, overwhelmed under the burden of these blows, did not on that ac-count lose care for his flock; seeing himself surrounded with Christians whom he had in-structed, and who were in captivity with him, he said to them: "My children, let us lift our eyes to heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be our exceeding great reward. Let us die in this faith; and let us hope from his goodness the fulfillment of his promises. I have more pity for you than for myself; but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives; the glory which follows them will never have an end."
"Echon," they said to him . . . "our spirits will be in heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that he may show us mercy; we will invoke him even until death."
Some Huron infidels - former captives of the Iroquois, naturalized among them, and former enemies of the Faith - were irritated by these words, and because our Fathers in their cap-tivity had not their tongues captive. They cut off the hands of one, and pierce the other with sharp awls and iron points; they apply under their armpits and upon their loins hatchets heated red in the fire, and put a necklace of these about their necks in such a way that all the motions of their bodies gave them a new torture... They put about them belts of bark, filled with pitch and resin, to which they set fire, which scorched the whole of their bodies.
. Father Jean de Brebeuf suffered like a rock, insensible to the fires and the flames, without uttering any cry, and keeping a pro-found silence, which astonished his execu-tioners themselves. No doubt, his heart was then reposing in his God. Then, returning to himself, he preached to those infidels, and still more to many good Christian captives, who had compassion on him.
His tormentors, indignant at his zeal, in order to hinder him from speaking any further of God, slashed his mouth, cut off his nose, and tore off his lips. But his blood spoke much more loudly than his lips had done, and, his heart not being yet torn out, his tongue did not fail to render him service until the last sigh, for blessing God for these torments, and for animating the Christians more vigorously than he had ever done.
In derision of holy baptism. . . those enemies of the faith, conceived the idea of baptizing them with boiling water. They poured it over the Fathers' bodies in great quantities, two or three times, and more, with biting jibes, which accompanied these torments. "We baptize thee," they said, "to the end that thou mayest be blessed in heaven; for without proper bap-tism one cannot be saved."...
These were infidel Hurons, former captives of the Iroquois, and, of old, enemies of the faith - who, having previously had sufficient in-struction for their salvation, impiously abused it - in reality, for the glory of the Fathers. But it is to be feared that it was also for their own misfortune.
. . Their tortures were not of the same duration. Father Jean de Brebeuf was at the height of his torments at about three o'clock on the same day of the capture, the 16th day of March, and rendered up his soul about four o'clock in the afternoon. Father Gabriel Lale mant endured longer, from six o'clock in the evening until about nine o'clock the next morning, the 17th of March.
Before their death, both their hearts were torn out, by means of an opening above the breast; and their tormentors feasted on them . While still quite full of life, pieces of flesh were removed from their thighs, from the calves of their legs, and from their arms - which these executioners placed on coals to roast, and ate in their sight. They had slashed the bodies of the Fathers in various parts; and, in order to increase the feeling of pain, they had thrust into these wounds red-hot hatchets.
Father Jean de Brebeuf had had the skin which covered his skull torn away. They had cut off his feet and torn the flesh from his thighs, even to the bone, and had split, with the blow of a hatchet, one of his jaws in two...
But let us leave these objects of horror, and these signs of cruelty, since one day all those parts will be endowed with an immortal glory, the greatness of their torments will be the measure of their happiness, and, from now on, they live in the repose of the saints, and will dwell in it forever (cf. Thwaites ed., vol.34, with slight modifications).
Ragueneau carefully notes the marks of true Christian martyrdom as evidenced by (1) the great charity of Brebeuf and Lalemant who exposed themselves to death on behalf of others; (2) the hatred for the faith and contempt for the name of God, the powerful incentives which inspired the Iroquois and the renegade Hurons to inflict so many cruelties. Especially was this manifest in the baptism with boiling water in derision of the sacra-ment. The Huron infidels, of course, knew of bap-tism and were familiar with the preaching of the missionaries.
A real apostle
Brebeuf, says Ragueneau, was chosen by God to be the first apostle to the Hurons. He had devoted nearly twenty-five years of his life to them, and, although he had to wait seven years to see his first Huron in good health ask for baptism, by the time of his death nearly 7,000 had professed christianity.
When he first went to Huronia in the summer of 1626, "he devoured the difficulties of the languages with a success so felicitous that he seemed to have been born for these countries." And he adapted himself so well to the customs of the Hurons and with such ability that he ravished the hearts of this people and became singularly loved among them.
"For so high an enterprise," adds Ragueneau, "was required an accomplished man, and especially one of eminent holiness. This is what he did not see in himself, but what all those who have known him have always admired in him."
Brebeuf the mystic
We know from his writings and from what he told his superiors out of obedience that Brebeuf had a deeply spiritual life. He experienced visions of the Lord, usually carrying the cross. And such visions ifiled him with ardent desires to suffer with Christ. The only complaint he made in the midst of his own constant and great suffering was that he suffered so little for God.
Brebeuf tried hard to be a man of God in all things. As his friend and confidant Ragueneau wrote: "This good Father felt himself so inclined to procure the glory of God, and to have only that in sight, that, more than eleven years before his death, he bound himself by a vow to do and suffer all that, during the remainder of his life, he might recognize as requisite to the greater glory of God - a vow which he renewed every day at the altar, at the time of the most holy Communion."
We also know from Brebeuf's memoirs that he was possessed of a strong, abiding desire to die for the glory of God. This prompted him to make an-other vow never to fail, on his side, in the grace of martyrdom, if the Lord deigned to offer it to him some day. This is the action of a man of intense faith for whom indeed Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Half measures will never do for such men.
It was also part of Brebeuf's humiliation and suffering to experience rejection by those whom he loved and longed to help. For many years the blackrobes, and especially Echon, were blamed for the misfortunes of the Hurons. His enemies pointed the finger at Brebeuf and charged him with the pestilence, the contagious diseases, the famine and the defeats in battle. Even his name was used for years to terrify the children. And so his life was threatened more than once.
But our apostle bore with all this courageously and patiently. He always
had tremendous con-
fidence in God's protective care and drew much strength from prayer to which he gave much time~ His was the prayer of the heart. He truly relished the eternal truths and his familiarity with God brought him serenity, love and joy.
We know from others that he slept little and often prayed late into the night. Sleep occasionally overcame him and he succumbed to it laying down upon the ground fully clothed as he was with a piece of wood serving as his pillow.
His writings indicate a high state of union with God. He seems to have enjoyed apparitions of Our Lady, St. Joseph, the angels, and the saints. But he kept quiet about such experiences which were, in truth, a source of humiliation for him. Ragueneau assures us that "he guided himself solely by the principles of faith, through the operations of obe-dience and the light of reason."
A simple greatness
His spirit of obedience was remarkable. He saw God in the person of his superior and always re-mained extremely docile. He claimed that he was fit only to obey and that this virtue came naturally to him. He said that being without great intelligence and great prudence and being incapable of guiding himself, he had as much pleasure in obeying as a child. "And yet," adds Ragueneau, "he possessed excellent judgment and a holy prudence." Certainly his conduct of ordinary affairs was beyond re-proach.
Brebeuf, of course, was unnecessarily hard on himself in appraising his own particular talents. Actually he was blessed with great common sense and quite capable of great things. As a superior, first of the whole Huron mission, and then of separate mission stations, he performed admirably. Ragueneau, who had served under him, admired the way he managed things, and noted "his gentleness which won hearts; his courage, truly generous in enterprise; his long-suffering in awaiting the mo-ments of God; his patience in suffering everything; and his zeal."
He was always ready for the humblest and most painful duties. On canoe trips with the Hurons he always bore the heaviest burdens, paddled from morning to evening, was the first into the water when there was a need, was the first to rise, to make the fire and to cook, and the last to retire at night, and this only after he had attended to his prayers and various devotions. With good humor and allud-ing to his name, he said he was an ox and sofit only to bear burdens.
Marked by the cross
To his prayer and charitable service Brebeuf added voluntary mortifications and penance and vigils. He was always looking for the cross and felt that he shared so little of it. And yet Ragueneau assures us that his life was one continuation of crosses and sufferings.
In all the ups and downs of his apostolic career and amid the various sufferings and personal morti-fications Brebeuf ever displayed remarkable self-control. Ragueneau, in obvious admiration, men-tions that in the twelve years he knew Brebeuf he had never seen him either in anger or even in the appearance of any indignation. Some people made a special effort to annoy him or disturb this poise, but Brebeuf only smiled and carried on with patience and mildness. And he made effective use of these qualities to preach the gospel.
One day, says Ragueneau, when someone asked him if he had a horror of death by fire, Brebeuf answered: "I would fear it, if I contemplated my weakness, for the sting of a fly would be able to vex my patience. But I hope that God will always assist me, and, aided by his grace, I no more fear the terrible torments of the fire than the pricking of a pin." This was borne out by the extraordinary serenity he showed amid his dreadful torments at Saint-Ignace.
The marks of holiness
For Brebeuf nothing was unimportant in the service of God. He tried to respond faithfully to all the graces God continued to offer him. He practised a severe poverty. His chastity was very manly and holy and he always strove to maintain a great purity of conscience. One might say that his aim was to live out in his life, as best he could, the spirit of the bea-titudes and the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.
Yet, like all the saints, he was so unsure of him-self before God. With disarming simplicity he wrote on one occasion: "For fear that God should cut me off at the root, as a fruitless tree, I have prayed him that he still suffer me to stand, this year; and I have promised him that I would yield him better fruits than in the past."
He did not fear death, for it meant life with God forever. In his memoirs, there is a passage written some fifteen years before his actual death. In it he says: "I feel in me a great desire to die, in order to enjoy God . . . it is in God alone that my heart rests, and, outside of him, all is naught to me, ex-cept for him."
Perhaps we should leave to Ragueneau, the chronicler of his life, the final word. "His death has crowned his life, and perseverance has been the sea of his holiness. He died at the age of 56 years . . He died while preaching, and exercising truly apos-tolic offices, and by a death which the first Apostle to the Hurons deserved. His martyrdom took place on the 16th day of March, 1649."