The North American Martyrs 


In 1611, Jesuit missionaries first set foot on our continent. Within forty years eight of them, (whose feast day is October 19th) gave up their lives near the Georgian Bay and in upstate New York. This quadricentennial of the Jesuit mission gives us cause to look to our spiritual roots. 

Much like the setting sun, we often see the full beauty of the Saints as their mortal light exits this world. This is especially true of martyrs. The following is a brief summary of a few of the deaths of these Jesuits, which sums up the heroism with which they lived. 

When St. Isaac Jogues was received into the Jesuits his superior asked what he desired. His response: “Ethiopia and Martyrdom.” “Not so.” was the reply. “You will receive Canada and martyrdom.” 

After years of ministry among the Huron, St. Isaac Jogues was captured and tortured by the Mohawk Indians. On the verge of execution, he escaped and was smuggled back to France by the Dutch. He quickly rose to “stardom.” Everyone regarded him as a living Saint and national hero. The Queen of France even stooped to kiss his mangled hands, fingers missing, having being cut or gnawed off by his torturers. St. Isaac could have retired in the safety of France but returned to his mission as soon as he was able. He was killed by a Mohawk brave with a tomahawk.

St. Charles Garnier was ministering to his Huron village when it was attacked. He ran from one burning cabin to another, baptizing and comforting his people when he was shot in the upper chest and lower abdomen. After regaining consciousness he saw a wounded Huron writhing across the room. He pulled himself up and struggled toward the dying man to help him. An Iroquois brave noticed and killed him with his hatchet. He died with hand outstretched, reaching to minister to the wounded. 

St. Rene Goupil was a layman who worked side by side with the Jesuits. When St. Isaac Jogues was captured there was a time when St. Rene could have easily escaped but chose to stay with his friend. He endured weeks of disfiguring tortures, during which he comforted and converted fellow captives who were suffering a similar fate. He was tomahawked while walking side by side with Jogues for teaching a child how to make the sign of the cross. He fell to the ground saying the name of Jesus. 

St. Anthony Daniel had just finished celebrating Mass with his Huron friends at sunrise when the war cries of the Iroquois rang out through his village. He went to those who had been butchered to comfort and baptize them in their last moments. When the Iroquois were headed toward his church to burn it down he sprinted toward them and commanded them to stop. They did for a moment, stunned by this unarmed man’s courage. Then they brought him down with muskets and arrows. 

St. John de Brebeuf was a huge man with amazing courage. Though he lived under constant threat of death, a fellow missionary wrote, “Nothing could upset him during the twelve years I’ve known him.” 

He was the first missionary to enter Huronia. In time he became like one of them. He wrote instructions to those who wanted to join his mission starting with, “You must love these Huron, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.” 

Though he could have escaped, he chose to die with them when Iroquois raided their village. The younger St. Gabriel Lalemont, who had looked up to St. John, remained and died with him as well. Together they underwent some of the most gruesome tortures of any martyr in history for endless hours. Through it all they comforted their fellow captives. John reminded them, “The sufferings will end with your lives. The grandeur which follows will never have an end.” 

Seven years after their deaths, the daughter of an Iroquois chief was born in the very tribe that killed them. She is known today as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified, proving true the words spoken by Tertullian 1,400 years before these martyrs entered paradise, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church!”   

These men set out into nations where a violent, gruesome death was constantly before them. We set out into an increasingly anti-religious culture where we might lose a few friends for standing up for the truth, or at worst, get mocked or sued, but probably not tomahawked. They set out on canoes into uncharted waters filled with tribes who were hunting them down. We set out in our cars to work or the supermarket to bump shoulders with a world that needs to be reminded of God through our words and our charity.   

If only we had a little of the courage of our founding fathers in faith.

4 thoughts on “The North American Martyrs 

  1. The end note of this post was totally right. In America, we have a comfortable safeguarded Christianity with out first amendment , but abroad it’s a death sentence to carry a bible, profess the faith publicly, or even be a Christian. We’ve seen these acts committed in the last decade by ISIS and affiliated groups. Even during the 20th century, Christians faced extreme martyrdom in many ways by religious persecution under dictators and Communism. I’m reminded of St. Maximiliam Kolbe (Marty of charity) and St. Edith Stein under Nazi control.

    When I read this post, I’m reminded of the common narrative of secularist “those missionaries came hostile to convert innocent people” but their martyrdom shows the counterclaim of their objection. These missionaries came in peace and died in peace by those that were hostile.

    Thanks for the post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes you are absolutely right!You see that with St.Teresa of Calcutta’s critics where people criticized her saying she only took care of the dying to convert them and in that way she “victimized” them.Anyone who spent any time with this great Saint knew this was a lie.She saw Jesus in them and loved them.That was her sole motivation….her motivation was not even to convert them to Catholicism.Its interesting how her critics did nothing to save the dying of Calcutta while mother Teresa picked them up off the streets sometimes in very bad crime areas but they criticized her for it while they did nothing.The anti God agenda will never make sense because they are lies from the Father of Lies!Thanks for your comment!God Bless You!

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  2. I heard St. Theresa was one of the first to care for patients inflected with AIDS in N.Y. . So many times the Church is criticized for its stance on homosexuality, but the Church has been very caring and approaching these individuals with love. Mother Teresa has just been attacked by many since her canonization. She’s the “face of white supremacy ” as some would say. Her impact of the world is immeasurable.

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    • Yes that’s very true!We know why the world attacks her…look who they worship!As one priest put it:”If Mother Teresa is not in heaven then no one has any chance of going to heaven”.I met her when I was very young and I was truly in awe of her…she had a presence I had never experienced and even as a child I knew she possessed Jesus.

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