North American Martyrs Isaac Jogues & John de Brebeuf

Between the years 1642 and 1649 eight members of the Society of Jesus were killed in North America after brutal torture by the Iroquois. These Jesuits had worked diligently to bring the native Americans of the region of what is now Upper New York and Canada to the Catholic faith. Saint Isaac Jogues died on October 18, 1647, and Saint John de Brebeuf on March 16, 1648. This following selection, taken from the Spiritual diaries of Saint John de Brebeuf, is read annually on the feast day of the North American Martyrs, October 19.

For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs suffered.

Jesus, my Lord and savior, what can I give you in return for all the favors you have first conferred on me? I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name. I vow before your eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, before your most holy Mother and her most chaste spouse, before the angels, apostles and martyrs, before my blessed fathers Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier-in truth I vow to you, Jesus my savior, that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if some day you in your infinite mercy should offer it to me, your most unworthy servant.

I bind myself in this way so that for the rest of my life I will have neither permission nor freedom to refuse opportunities of dying and shedding my blood for you, unless at a particular juncture I should consider it more suitable for your glory to act otherwise at that time. Further, I bind myself to this so that, on receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit. For this reason, my beloved Jesus, and because of the surging joy which moves me, here and now I offer my blood and body and life. May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and savior, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!

My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.

This excerpt from the spiritual journal of St. John de Brebeuf (The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, The Burrow Brothers Co, Cleveland 1898, 164, 166) is used in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings on October 19, the liturgical memorial of the North American Jesuit Martyrs including Saints Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and their companions.


St. John de Brebeuf

John [Jean] de Brebeuf, born in Normandy, entered the Jesuit novitiate in Rouen at age 24.  His health was so poor as a novice that he could not keep up with the normal pace of study or teach for any length of time.  It is remarkable that this feeble invalid, ridden with tuberculosis, would later become the intrepid apostle to the Huron.  He was among the first Jesuit missionaries to to come to the New World in 1625.  He immediately set himself to begin the arduous process of learning the Huron language.  Obstacle after obstacle arose.  With little to show for their efforts, John and his companions were forced to leave after the English took over New France.  A few years later, the colony that is now Canada was returned to France which made it possible for the Jesuits to return in 1633.  Wanting to attract the attention, prayers, and support of Catholics back in France, John began writing regular dispatches detailing the spiritual and social condition of the Native Americans.  These missives came to be known as the Jesuit Relations.  They awakened interest of Catholics not only in France but all throughout Europe.  Finally the Jesuits began to see conversions increase among the Huron.  The bitter enemy of the Huron, the Iroquois, became increasingly hostile to the Christianized native Americans and their missionaries.  In 1649, the Iroquois attached the Huron village in which John de Brebeuf was stationed.  The invaders were not content just to kill Fr. Brebeuf and his companions — they took pleasure in torturing them most horribly as a prelude to their execution.  John preached the gospel to them while being tortured until his captors finally gagged him.  His endurance so amazed his tormentors that they tore out his heart and ate it, hoping that his amazing courage would thereby pass to them.  John de Brebeuf was canonized, along with his fellow Jesuit martyrs, in 1930.  The feast day of John and his fellow North American martyrs is observed on October 19, the day after the martyrdom of one of the other Jesuits, St. Isaac Jogues.  (bio by Dr. Italy)