The Vine and the Branches
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Christmas Day on the coast of France. A tired traveler kneels in adoration in a little village
church and pours out his thanks to the newborn King. He has had a long and weary journey across the sea, and now he is once more in his native land. Six years ago he had left home and country to
work among the Indians of North America, expecting to lay down his life there. And here he was, back in France! No wonder his heart was glad.
A journey of five days brought him to the house of the Jesuits at Rennes. He knocked at the door and asked for the Superior.
“Father Superior cannot see you now,” answered the porter; “he is getting ready to say Mass.”
“Tell him,” answered the traveler, “that a poor man from Canada would like to see him.”
The superior came at once.
“Do you know Father Jogues?”
“He was captured by the Iroquois Indians. Is he alive?”
“He is alive, Father. I am he.”
We can imagine with what joy the people of France welcomed the holy Jesuit. Everybody wanted to see and hear him. Even the Queen of France asked him to come to the Court that she might speak to him.
After a short time with the Jesuit Fathers in France, Father Jogues went to Rome. It was only natural that he should long to kneel at the feet of the Holy Father, for was not the pope the head of that glorious Church for the spread of which Father Jogues was ready to lay down his life? And in Rome a happy surprise awaited him. During his stay with the Indians, he had been shamefully treated. Whenever anything had gone wrong, the “Blackrobes,” as the missionaries were called, were blamed. At one time, when he was taken captive and cruelly tortured, the Indians chewed off and later burned off some of his fingers. Therefore, it was not possible for him to say Holy Mass, the greatest happiness a priest has on earth. But when the Holy Father saw his crippled hands, he said: “It is not fitting that Christ’s martyr should not drink Christ’s blood,” and gave him permission to say Mass, in spite of the missing fingers.
Father Jogues had the heart of an apostle. He longed to go back to his dear Indians in the hope of gaining more souls for Christ. And so, after a few short months at home, we see him once more on his way to America.
The first Jesuit missionaries who were later honored by the Church as martyrs, came to Canada in 1625. They were Father John be Brèbeuf and Gabriel Lalemant. They worked principally among the Hurons, a tribe that lived in that part of Canada just east of Lake Huron. It took years of hardship and sacrifices to reach the hearts of these ignorant and superstitious men. In 1636 Father Isaac Jogues came from France to join Father Brèbeuf and the other Jesuits in their work of saving souls. For six years he labored among the savages in the country around the Great Lakes. He was the first Catholic priest to travel down into the United States as far as Manhattan Island.
In the year 1646 Father Jogues visited a village where Auriesville, New York, now stands. He wished to meet the Iroquois Indians, the greatest enemies of the Hurons, in order to make terms of peace with them. He was captured at Lake George, tortured, and finally put to death. With him were Renè Goupil, a lay brother, and John Lalande, a layman, who were both martyred about the same time with Father Jogues.
Two years after the death of Father Jogues, Fathers Brèbeuf and Lalemant also became victims of the fierce Iroquois. To this list of glorious martyrs are added the names of three other Jesuits. They are Fathers Charles Garnier, Noel Chabanel, and Anthony Daniel, who gave up their lives as the others had done, so that the poor Indians, too, might become children of the Church and branches of the true Vine. They were all canonized on June 29, 1930. The feast of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America is celebrated on September 29.
We know from the early history of the Church that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity. Shortly after the death of Father Jogues 3,000 Hurons were converted. The very ground which received the blood of the martyrs was the birthplace of the holy Indian girl, Catherine Tekawitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, whom the Church will some day perhaps honor as the first saint born in our own United States.