Saint of the Day – 16 March – St Jean de Brebeuf SJ (1593-1949 aged 55) Priest, Martyr, Missionary “Apostle to the Hurons” – Patron of Canada. Additional Memorial – 19 October as one of the Martyrs of North America.
St Jean was a French Jesuit missionary who traveled to New France (Canada) in 1625. There he worked primarily with the Huron for the rest of his life, except for a few years in France from 1629 to 1633. He learned their language and culture, writing extensively about each to aid other missionaries. In 1649, Brébeuf and another missionary were captured when an Iroquois raid took over a Huron village (referred to in French as St. Louis). T ogether with Huron captives, the missionaries were ritually tortured and killed, being martyred on March 16, 1649. Brébeuf was beatified in 1925 and among eight Jesuit missionaries canonised in 1930.
In 1649, Brébeuf and another missionary were captured when an Iroquois raid took over a Huron village (referred to in French as St. Louis). Together with Huron captives, the missionaries were ritually tortured and killed, being martyred on March 16, 1649. Brébeuf was beatified in 1925 and among eight Jesuit missionaries canonized as saints in the Roman Catholic Church in 1930.
St. John de Brébeuf was large and handsome, his presence commanded attention. A brilliant student, gifted linguist and competent manager, he could make things happen. He was willing to endure anything if only he could thank Christ by giving his life for the salvation of others.
Even though weakened by tuberculosis, John joined the Canada mission in 1625. For a quarter of a century with only a four-year interlude, he evangelised the Hurons in Quebec. He lived with them, embraced their customs, mastered their language,and wrote a catechism for them.
At first he had little success because the odds were stacked against him. The Indians viewed him as member of a conquering race. They also blamed him for rampant diseases and everything else that went wrong. But John persevered with the good humour you see in this letter inviting other Jesuits to join the mission:
“When you reach the Hurons, you will find us with hearts full of love. We shall receive you in a hut, so mean that I have scarcely found in France one wretched enough to compare it with. Fatigued as you will be, we shall be able to give you nothing but a poor mat for a bed. Besides you will arrive when fleas will keep you awake most of the night.
Instead of being a great theologian as you may be in France, you must reckon on being here a humble scholar and then good God! with what masters—exposed to the laughter of all the savages. The Huron language will be your St. Thomas and your Aristotle. Glib as you are, you must decide for a long time to be mute among the barbarians.
Without exaggeration, you will pass the six months of winter in almost continual discomforts—excessive cold, smoke, the annoyance of the savages who surround our fireplace from morning until evening looking for food.
For the rest, thus far we have had only roses. As we have Christians in almost every village, we must expect to make rounds throughout the year. Add to all this that our lives depend upon a single thread. Your cabin might burn down at any moment or a malcontent may cleave your head open because you cannot make it rain.
Here we have nothing that incites toward good. We are among peoples who are astonished when you speak to them of God.”
In 1649, the Iroquois attacked the Huron village where John was living. They brutally martyred him, Gabriel Lalement, his companion and their converts . Their suffering is indescribable: bludgeoned, burned with red-hot hatchets, baptised with boiling water, mutilated, flesh stripped off and eaten, hearts plucked out and devoured. But John de Brébeuf had his prayer answered. He traded his life for the seven thousand souls he had converted and baptised.