Isaac Jogues (1607-1646)


We miss the historical writings of Pierre Berton. In one of his books he tells the story of the Jesuit Isaac Jogues who was killed in New York state (Auriesville) through treachery in 1646. He was one of the six eventually canonized as the martyrs of Huronia, most notable being Brebeuf and Lalemant (1649).

As Berton tells the story (The Wild Frontier) this young Frenchman entered The Society of Jesus with visions of martyrdom, almost chronically so. His early stay in Huronia around Midland was fraught with misunderstanding. The black robes seemed to hover around death giving baptism and last rites to doomed sick babies and elderly. The very act of prayer and sprinkling was regarded as a form of witchcraft by the natives. Nothing was more loathsome than a witch. This earned Jogue his first near-death experience - running the gauntlet and suffering crushing or amputation of most fingers.

The black robes also had the unenviable position of bringing with them strains of disease such as influenza and TB. Jogues' life reads as a string of mission travels through tortuous environments and captures, at one point enslaved by the Mohawks and ultimately adopted through sympathy. Meanwhile the trade strife between French and Dutch continued with alliances involving the Hurons, Iroquois, Mohawk and Algonkian.

The Dutch were ultimately instrumental in securing his freedom and shipping him back to France via Cromwell's England (an unenviable passage for a Catholic). Jogues was almost unwilling to leave because of his new convert charges:

'...who in his absence would console the French captives, who absolve the penitent, who remind the christened Huron of his duty, who baptize them dying, encourage them in their torments, who cleanse the infants in the saving water, who provide for the salvation of the dying adult? Divine Providence had placed him in the hands of the savages for these specific purposes...'

It is interesting to note that Jogues always made it a practice to carry on his person a crude wooden cross and a copy of the Epistle to the Hebrews. With these he felt well equipped for any emergency.

Back in France he reported with his memoirs to the Jesuits and to the Monarchy, but longed for a return to the New World, renewed in supplies and the hope of leverage to effect a lasting peace among the aboriginals. He set sail in 1644.

Jogues' travels thereafter appear unceremonious. He had so toughened to the wilderness experience that the wild was no longer an aspect of daily martyrdom to him. He longed for the great and final expression of his love for the cause of Jesus.

Sadly it came in the midst of vacillating peace negotiations, near the source of the Richelieu River, and a questionable dinner invitation and sudden assault with tomahawk.

The experience of evisceration and burning was to be that of Brebeuf and Lalemant three years later.

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