Saints of the Day: Jean de Brebeuf and companions

Saint Jean de Brebeuf and Companions

Jesuit priest and martyr of Canada. Born in 1593 in Normandy, Jean de Brebeuf became a Jesuit in Rouen in 1617. His health was so weakened by tuberculosis that he was not able to study or teach for long periods. But he offered himself for the Canadian mission and sailed for Quebec in 1625.

The Huron Indians invited him to live with them. He learned their language and spent the rest of his life preaching and teaching, sometimes with other missionaries, sometimes alone. The missionaries faced immense difficulties. The climate was harsh and however spiritual they were, the priests were often seen by the native people as members of an alien, conquering race. Brebeuf composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron and set up schools. With his companions, he persuaded the Hurons to give up cannibalism and converted many thousands to the Catholic faith.

Throughout the time the Jesuits were with the Hurons, there was great hostility between them and the Iroquois tribe. This was aided and abetted by French settlers who supplied the Iroquois with weapons.

One of Brebeuf's collegues, Fr Isaac Jogues was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois, but managed to escape back to France where he was greeted as a hero. Although he had been badly mutilated and could have remained at home, he returned to Canada in 1646, where he was captured again, tortured and killed by the Iroquois. In 1649, Fr Brebeuf and his companion Fr Gabriel Lalemant were also captured by a Iroquois raiding party. They were tortured, burnt to death and eventually eaten. In the next few years the entire Huron tribe was wiped out.

Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and Gabriel Lalemant were canonized in 1930, and in 1969 given the title of protomartyrs of North America.

 

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