The universal call to holiness, stressed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, was admirably foreshadowed by the Jesuit donne's of 17th Century New France. They were a group of exemplary Christians who voluntarily bound themselves by contract to serve the Mission for life in whatever capacity and place the Jesuit superior might assign to them. The record shows that they rendered "invaluable services."
Representative of this gallant band was Jean de la Lande, canonized by Pius XI in 1930. Born in the Norman seaport of Dieppe and mar tyred in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon - now Auriesville, N.Y. -in October 1646, he is described in the Jesuit Relations five times as a "young man" and once as a "young lad." His recorded purchase of two books of devotion, once the property of Jean Nicolet, places him in the Colony in 1642. From that year till 1646, the time of his departure for Iroquois country, he appears to have been on the staff of the Jesuit residence in Three Rivers, of which Anne de Noue was the superior.
In the hope of safeguarding the precarious peace and establishing a christian mission, Isaac Jogues, accompanied by Jean de Ia Lande, two or three Hurons and a Huron-Iroquois, set out from Quebec on Sep-tember 24, 1646 for the Mohawk Valley. Soon after they had passed Three Rivers, all but one of the Indians left the party.
A MARTYR WITH JOGUES
Since Jogues' successful peace-making visit that same summer, there had obviously been a change of mind and attitude among the Mohawks. While still on their way to the Valley and in violation of the treaty, the two Frenchmen were captured "beaten, robbed, stripped naked and led to the next village." At the divided council meeting in Ossernenon, the moderate Turtle and Wolf Clans prevailed and the prisoners were re-leased. Some fanatical members of the Bear Clan, however, treacher-ously tomahawked Jogues on October 18th and Jean de la Lande on the 18th, or perhaps more probably on the 19th.
News of the death was slow in reaching Quebec. It seems to have come from several sources. The first word seems to have been for-warded to Quebec from Three Rivers following the return of an Indian from Iroquois country on June 4, 1647. More officially, Wilhelm Kieft, the Governor of New Amsterdam, wrote Governor de Montmagny on November 14, 1646, to warn him of an imminent Iroquois attack on the French colony and to report the two murders. He enclosed a letter written by Jan Labatie, the interpreter at Fort Orange, and addressed according to Lalemant's 1647 Relation to Sieur Bourdon, Jogues' fellow peace commissioner on the 1646 summer visit to Mohawk coun-try. It was dated October 30, 1646. The letters reached de Montmagny only in June 1647.
The Dutch Governor wrote that Jogues had been
killed on October 18th and Jean de Ia Lande on October 19th. He fixed the
blame square-ly on the Bear Clan and exonerated the Turtle and Wolf Clans
of all responsibility. He stated further that the heads of both men had
been placed on the palings of the village and their bodies thrown into
the river. The interpreter gave more details and described how de la Lande
had been met in a clearing, stripped, threatened and killed.
Some confirmation may, perhaps, be found in Jerome Lalemant's account, in his 1647-48 Relation, of the Iroquois who had voluntarily surrendered to the French near Three Rivers, claiming that after his capture by an Algonkin chief, he had been ransomed and freed by Governor de Montmagny. He further claimed that at some cost to himself he had tried in vain to save the lives of both Jogues and de la Lande.
Jean de la Lande's strong sense of commitment was clearly evidenced by his acceptance of this dangerous assignment, by continuing the jour-ney with Jogues after they had been abandoned by their guides and by his steadfastness in the face of death. In his 1647 Relation, Lalemant underlines the donne's apostolic motivation. De la Lande, he wrote, "seeing the danger involved in this perilous journey, protested at his departure that the desire of serving God was leading him into a country where he expected to meet certain death." Bressani, in his 1653 Rela tion, singles out the donne's christian fortitude: "On the following day, they killed his companion, a young Frenchman, native of Dieppe in Normandy, called Jean de la Lande, who though he foresaw the same danger, had courageously exposed himself to it, hoping for no reward but Paradise."
THE DONNES OF NEW FRANCE
In assisting the missionaries, the donne's performed one or more of a wide variety of services: they hunted, fished and tilled the soil; they were masons, carpenters, tailors, cooks and doctors; they shared their dangers, hardships and fatigues; and in time of danger all were pre-pared to defend both men and missions by force of arms.
INTRODUCED BY LALEMANT
The donne's were first established in New France by Jerome Lalemant, soon after his arrival in 1638. Their life style and form of commitment evolved gradually to meet the needs of the Mission and the judgment of superiors. Initially they were recruited for the Huron Mission but sub-sequently spread throughout the entire territory of the Jesuits in New France.
In a time when coadjutor brothers were few, the French Jesuit Province of Champagne had temporarily and by way of exception made use of a similar expedient. In his remarkable Memoir to Father Vitel-leschi, the Jesuit General, written in 1643, Je'rome Lalemant gives rea-sons for the need of donne's in Huronia: mission personnel was re-stricted in number by difficulties of travel and supply as well as by the paucity of suitable and willing candidates; secular domestics, he claimed, could do all that coadjutor brothers could and more, and he instanced the bearing of arms; hence the general preference for donne's.
Before leaving France, Lalemant had discussed the matter with his Provincial, Etienne Binet, and obtained his approval. In addition, Father Binet accorded a large latitude to the mission fathers in fixing the nature of the relationship of the donnes to the Society.
In Quebec, Paul le Jeune, the Mission Superior, concurred, suggest-ing that if the Huron missionaries agreed, he was of the opinion that the donne's should take some kind of vow, following the approved Cham-pagne experiment and because of their association with the paid employees and Indians.
The Huron missionaries unanimously welcomed the new institution. After due consideration they decided that any layman, currently at-tached to the Mission, who wished to make a life commitment, could do so on the following terms: they would publicly take conditional vows of devotion, using a formula similar to the simple vows of the Jesuits and should renew these vows twice a year; the commitment would be accepted on behalf of the Society and the Society, in turn, would undertake to provide for the donne"s needs until death.
In 1639, six or seven employees of proven virtue at Sainte-Marie, as the founding group of donne's, committed themselves for life to the Mission. In addition to a civil contract, for those who wished to make their gift of self more complete, a form of self-donation, relieving the Society of all obligation, was prepared.
When this procedure was submitted to Father Vitelleschi, he re-minded Lalemant that the Champagne experiment had been allowed by way of exception, that he disapproved of the taking of vows and wearing a religious habit by the donne's and of obligating the entire Society to provide for them for life. In consequence he felt constrained to instruct Lalemant to accept no more donne's on the stipulated conditions and to release those already received.
REVISED LIFE STYLE
This was a major blow to the Mission that could ill afford to lose the donne's. Jerome Lalemant assembled his Mission consultors. The result of long and serious consideration was a modified life style for the donne's. They submitted the changes to Father Vitellesehi with a cover-ing letter, signed by all six of them, J. Lalemant, C. Pij art, F. le Mercier, C. Garnier, P. Ragueneau, P. Chastelain, earnestly soliciting his ap-proval and stressing the impossibility of replacing the donne's by either coadjutor brothers or paid employees. Writing three years earlier to the Superior General, Garnier had stated explicitly that without the donne's "this mission would collapse."
The proposed changes were: no vows or religious habit; a life long commitment without remuneration by the donne'; acceptance of the commitment by the Superior of New France, with the obligation of providing food, clothing, shelter and care in sickness and old age; no distinction between donne's and paid employees and the right to dismiss any donne' who failed to live up to his agreement.
The amended life style and covering letter were forwarded to Rome on April 2, 1643, and twenty-one months later, a favorable answer, dated December25, 1644, was returned to the Mission. The subsequent history of the donne's abundantly demonstrated how right were the in-sistance of the missionaries and the revised judgment of Father Vitel-leschi.
The donne's were a remarkable group of men. Two of them, Rene' Goupil and Jean de la Lande were canonized in 1930 together with the six martyred Jesuit priests of North America. At least three donne's became Jesuit coadjutor brothers: Christophe Regnaut, Francois Mal-herbe and Jacques Largilier.
In the annual lists of the Sainte-Marie-aux-Hurons
staff during its brief ten years of existence, Jones names thirty-three
donnes, a few for the entire time, most for shorter periods. Charles Boivin,
the building foreman, Christophe Regnaut and Jacques Levrier, both shoemakers
and Joseph Mole re, pharmacist, were on staff for ten years. Robert Le
Coq, the business man, surnamed "the good," moved continuously to and from
Quebec and throughout the mission territory, negotiating its business,
and Jean Guerin, an unusually saintly man, were there for nine
Striking, indeed, is the willingness and frequency with which the missionaries, moderate and well balanced men, some of them canon-ized saints, testify to the selfless service, personal holiness and complete loyalty of the donne's.
Writing to Father Vitelleschi in 1640, St. Charles Garnier said: "As to our domestics who have given themselves to us for life, we cannot sufficiently praise the divine will for having sent them to us." He describes them as "very pious, most prompt in obedience and an out-standing example to our Indians." He implies that their example helped to neutralize, in the minds of the Indians, the bad example shown by many Europeans. In another place, Garnier speaks of the "many bles-sings accruing to the Mission because of them . . . laymen in dress, religious in heart."
"Our Indians speak of them (donne's) with admiration," wrote Paul le Jeune, and when they see persons who do not wear our costume, practicing so exactly what we teach, they place a higher value on our faith; this may some day be a motive for them to embrace it."
In the Relation of 1641-42, St. John Bre'beuf wrote: "Indeed all of our household strive towards perfection according to their ability, chiefly, of course, those who have given themselves as donnes."
"And what seems to me still more surprising," wrote Jerome Lalemant, "is that, on such occasions, young men are to be found who, moved by the example of the fathers, wish to run the same risks, and protest that zeal for souls, not hope of gain, makes them undertake such long, rough and dangerous journeys."
Describing the spirit of Sainte-Marie-aux-Hurons in 1647-1648, Paul Ragueneau wrote: ". . . while the remainder are chosen persons; most of whom have resolved to live and die with us; they assist us by their labour and industry, with a courage, a faithfulness and a holiness that assuredly are not of earth. Consequently they look to God alone for their reward, deeming themselves only too happy to pour forth not only their sweat, but, if need be, all their blood to contribute as much as they can toward the conversion of the Indians."
Perhaps we can emphasize what Ragueneau said by only a brief reference to a donne' who assisted the missionaries of New France from Quebec to Wisconsin for more than twenty years. Jean Gue'rin worked among the Iroquois, Hurons, Abenakis and Algonkins. He made his last mission journey with Father Menard in August 1660 to what is now the state of Wisconsin, where both died. Jerome Lalemant eulo-gized him at considerable length in his Relation for 1662-1664, from which we quote only a few words. "He was a man of God, of eminent virtue and a very ardent zeal for the saving of souls . . . showing throughout evidences of a rare holiness . . . He was preeminently a man of prayer... His humility was quite extraordinary."
No one, then, can doubt the important contribution made by these donne's to the mission, especially in the decade of Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons, 1639-1649.
As we might expect, in the years that followed the demise of old Iluronia, the donnes, as an institution, declined. A few of them we know, like Largilier, Regnaut and Malherbe, became Jesuit coadjutor brothers; many like Boucher and Couture, simply resumed a full lay life; while several, like Jean Guerin, continued to serve the missionaries in other parts of North America.
In time the donne's ceased as an institution
in New France, although we hear of a donne' as late as 1727. Obviously
there no longer existed the same compelling reasons that had created the
need and encouraged such a remarkable response in 17th century New France.