Catholic World – Father Isaac Jogues, S.J.

detail of a Saint Isaac Jogues holy card, date unknown, artist unknownFather Isaac Jogues, the first of the missionaries to bear the cross into the interior of our country, and the first to shed his blood on its soil for the faith of Christ, was a native of Orleans, France. He was born on the 10th of January, 1607, of a family distinguished alike for their virtues and their worth. In the bosom of this pious family the young Isaac was reared up, surrounded by all the profound and pleasing practices of Catholic devotion. Lessons of religion and letters were imparted together, and the scholar from his earliest youth proved himself remarkably apt at both. As soon as he was old enough, he was sent, to his own great joy, to the college at Orleans, then recently established by the Jesuit Fathers, under whose instruction he made rapid progress in his studies. The virtues of his character so ingratiated him with his companions at college, that no thought of jealousy ever entered their hearts at the eminence he enjoyed as a student.

As the close of his collegiate course drew near, he began, more seriously than ever, to meditate on the greatest act of one’s life—the selection of a vocation. It was his extraordinary devotion to the Passion of Our Lord that settled this question for him. The cathedral church of his native city was dedicated to the Holy Cross, and there from his tenderest years he gazed daily upon that sacred symbol of the Passion and Redemption glittering from the spires of the temple, and it became the object of his warmest affection.

“O lovely tree whose branches wore
The royal purple of his gore!
Oh! may aloft thy branches shoot,
And fill all nations with thy fruit!”

Impelled by this devotion, he retired into himself in order to discover his vocation, and heard within his soul the voice of Heaven calling him to the Society of Jesus. Having applied for admission into the Society, and being received with alacrity by the superior, he entered upon his novitiate in October, 1624. To complete his studies he next went to the celebrated college of La Flèche, where he passed his examination in philosophy at the end of three years with great distinction. Then, in obedience to the discipline of his order, the young Jesuit went to teach in the college at Rouen, and for four years instructed the youth of that city in the elements of the Latin language, in the principles of religion and the practice of piety. So fruitful were his labors in this regard that his scholars were ever distinguished for the solidity and constancy of their virtues, and many of them became companions of their saintly preceptor in the Society of Jesus.

We now find him winning laurels in the flowery path of literature. It was, at the period of which we speak, the custom at the Jesuit colleges to test the qualifications of the teachers, by requiring them, at the opening of the year, to deliver an oration or poem, or read a lecture of their own production, in public. Simply in obedience to this rule, and without any desire of his own to gain distinction, the gifted Jogues participated in these exercises, and on one occasion produced a poem of rare excellence. But his heart was too thoroughly pre-engaged to covet the laurels of literary fame. He was intent on winning another crown—the glorious crown of martyrdom. Yet so obedient was the young scholastic to the will of his superior and to the spirit of his institute, that he, who only desired for himself the wigwam and council fires of the roving tribes of the Western wilds, went out with as much labor and zeal to acquire all the accomplishments of learning as though a professor’s chair in Europe was to be the field of his ambition. He was next sent to Paris, where he began his course of divinity at the college of Clermont.

He applied himself to these studies with the greatest zeal, since they constituted the last probation and delay preceding his elevation to the sacred ministry, and the realization of his fondest hope—a foreign mission. He seems not to have discovered his future plans to his family, to whom he was, however, most tenderly attached. Writing to them in April, 1635, on receiving their complaint at his not having joined them in one of their family festivals, he says: “The prayers which I offer up, as well afar off as near you, are the most affectionate marks I can give of my interest in you all.”

When the time for the reception of holy orders drew near, he prepared himself by a spiritual retreat, and was ordained in February, 1636. His family, who were extremely devoted to him, were not present at his ordination; but his fond mother obtained from his superior a promise that he might say his first Mass in his native city. He accordingly went to Orleans, and offered up the holy sacrifice for the first time in the church of the Holy Cross. Then, tearing himself away from his mother and sisters, never to see them again, he went to Rouen, and entered upon what is called the second novitiate in the Society of Jesus. But a fleet was soon ready to sail from Dieppe for Canada, and the young missionary must hasten to his chosen field of labor and love.

He was accompanied on the voyage by the Jesuit Fathers Garnier and Chatelain, and by M. de Chanflour, afterwards governor at Three Rivers. The vessel in which they sailed being leaky, the pumps were kept in constant motion, and the labor thus imposed upon the crew gave rise to a mutiny, which Father Jogues alone was able to quell. M. de Chanflour ever afterwards, in speaking of the voyage, attributed his safety to the influence of Father Jogues’ prayers with God, and of his persuasion with the men.

After words of pious affection and encouragement which this exemplary son knew well how to address to that excellent mother, he proceeds in one of his letters addressed to her:

“I write this more than three thousand miles away from you, and I may perhaps this year be sent to a nation called the Huron, distant nearly a thousand miles more from here. It shows great dispositions for embracing the faith. It matters not where we are, provided we are ever in the arms of Providence and in his holy grace. This I beg for you and all our family daily at the altar.”

By his short stay at Miscou he missed the Indian flotilla, and Fathers Garnier and Chatelain embarked without him; but, some canoes having come in later, the Indians, when about to return, asked, as if reproachfully, why there was no black-gown to be carried by them. Father Jogues, being then at Three Rivers, was summoned to embark, and at once joyfully entered the canoes.

We would gladly reproduce, did our space allow, a letter addressed to his mother, under date 5 June 1637, giving an account of this voyage. Suffice it to say that in nineteen days he accomplished what usually took twenty-five or thirty; joining Fathers Garnier and Chatelain, who had preceded him but a month, and three other missionaries who had been five or six years in the country.

Supported by his zeal, he accomplished his arduous and laborious passage, but no sooner arrived at Ihonitiria than his exhausted nature sank under a dreadful malady, which for more than a month threatened to terminate his existence. With four others he lay during all this time in a cabin, without medicines or food, except such food as was an aggravation to the disease. By the middle of October Father Jogues was so far recovered as to be able to take the ordinary food of the country, the sagamity.

In November he set out from Ihonitiria to join Father Brebeuf at the great town of Ossossané, where for a time they were companions on earth who were destined to be companions in heaven, in the enjoyment of the glorious crown of martyrdom. Sickness was raging over the land, and the missionaries hastened from town to town, and from cabin to cabin, baptizing the dying infants, and such of the adults as were willing to receive the words of eternal life. They even extended their visits to the neighboring Nipissings, who had been terribly afflicted with the prevailing maladies. The poor Indians, in most cases, would not listen to the voice of the fathers, because they could not promise, as their own sorcerers pretended, to cure their bodily afflictions. The horrid orgies of the medicine-men were consequently in great requisition, and one of them, a little deformed creature, offered his services to one of the fathers in his sickness.

There was another medicine-man, Tehoronhaegnon, who filled the land with dances and orgies of the most wicked and revolting character. The missionaries labored to banish these abominations from the country, and to introduce in their place the pure and holy rites of the Christian religion. Unacquainted with their language, Father Jogues labored under the greatest disadvantages, but by zealous and persevering application he was soon able to make himself well understood; and in a few years he was master of the Huron, the key-tongue to so many others. Remaining at Ossossané as his place of residence, he was incessant in his visits and ministrations in the cabins of the people, preaching the faith to all, and at the same time rapidly acquiring their language. Late in 1637 he returned to labor in the same way at Ihonitiria. On the ruin of this town and its mission, he went again to join his superior, Father Brebeuf, at Teananstayae.

In 1639, Father Jogues accompanied Father Garnier in his expedition to plant the cross among the mountains of the Petuns, or Tobacco Indians. They twice visited the Petun village of Ehwae, which they dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul. But their noble efforts were in vain; every door was closed against them, and menaces assailed them on every side; even the women reproached their husbands for not killing them, and the children pursued them through the streets. The sachems gave a feast to the young warriors in order to induce them to destroy the missionaries; but the providence of God saved his servants from the impending blow.

In the next year, Father Jogues was stationed with Father Francis Duperon at the new residence at S. Mary’s. Four towns partook of their care, and these they piously dedicated to S. Ann, S. John, S. Denis, and S. Louis. Obliged to select the worst season of the year for their labor, because then only were the neophytes drawn together, their time was incessantly occupied in conveying to the untaught natives the faith and its consolations. Next year Father Jogues was stationed permanently at Saint Mary’s. Here the fathers established a hospice, where the wayfarer was ever sure to find refreshment and relief for the body as well as the soul. To this sacred spot in the wilderness came Indians from distant villages to receive instruction in the faith, some to be baptized, some to prepare for the reception of Holy Communion, some to be trained in the duties of catechists, and others, like Joseph Chihatenhwa, to make a spiritual retreat.

But now a new enterprise for the Gospel drew Father Jogues away from Saint Mary’s. This was to plant the cross in the region now comprising the state of Michigan. The missionaries knew that beyond the Huron Lake another vast expanse of water lay which never yet had been visited by them. The strait which connected the two lakes had formerly been known by the name of Gaston, and was supposed to have been once visited by Nicholet, but no intercourse ever subsisted between the French and the tribes of those regions. In the summer of 1641, numerous delegations from all the nations and tribes, scattered over a great expanse of country, were attracted to the “Feast of the Dead,” now to be given by the Algonquins.

Thus, on the present occasion, the numerous branches of the vast Algonquin family were brought in contact with the Jesuit missionaries and the Christian Hurons, and the latter spread far and near in this vast assembly the fame of the black-gown chiefs. In the general interchange of presents, the missionaries presented to the strangers “the wampum of the faith.” The Panoitigoueieuhak, or Sauteux, as the French called them, a tribe inhabiting the small strip near the Falls of Saint Mary, were particularly friendly and earnest, and invited the black-gowns to come and bring the faith to their cabins as they had done for the Hurons. Father Raymbault and Father Jogues were named by the superior to visit this new and distant vineyard. Launching their canoes in the latter part of September at Saint Mary’s, they glided over the little river Wye, and were soon on the broad, clear bosom of the great “Fresh-Water Sea.” For seventeen days their frail canoes glided through the multitude of little islands that stud the water from the Huron promontory. They reached without accident the strait where Superior empties its waters into the lower lakes, and then they encountered Indians assembled to the number of two thousand. From these they learned of innumerable wild and warlike tribes stretching far to the west and south. Here, too, their eager ears were feasted with tidings of a mighty river rolling towards the south till it met the sea, whose shores were lined with numberless tribes and nations. Planting the cross at Sault Saint Mary’s, the two fathers turned it hopefully and prophetically towards this great mysterious river, whose vast and teeming valley they thus took possession of in the name of the Prince of Peace. Having opened the way to this immense mission-field by their visit, the two missionaries encouraged the Sauteux with the prospect of a future permanent mission, and, amidst the regrets of their new friends, again launched their canoes and returned to their mission-house at Saint Mary’s. “Thus,” says Bancroft, “did the religious zeal of the French bear the cross to the banks of the Saint Mary and the confines of Lake Superior, and look wistfully towards the homes of the Sioux in the Valley of the Mississippi, five years before the New England Eliot had addressed the tribes of Indians that dwelt within six miles of Boston Harbor.”

At Saint Mary’s, Father Jogues remained constantly employed at the hospice with Father Duperon in instructing and preparing the Indians for the reception of the faith. One hundred and twenty were baptized during the winter, and among these was the famous warrior, Ahasistari, a chief of the town of Saint Joseph’s.

This brave and chivalrous chief had been for some time receiving instruction in the faith, and he now came forward to ask for baptism. The fathers at first put him off, in order that he might become still better instructed; but his entreaties were so earnest, and his appreciation of the Christian truths so intelligent, that it was deemed no longer necessary or proper to postpone the boon. He accordingly received the sacrament on Holy Saturday, 1642.

It has been seen how, at Orleans, the ardent novice of the Society of Jesus was passionately devoted to the cross, the memento of our Saviour’s Passion. Like S. Peter, his heart was still for ever enamored with the sacred humanity of his divine Master. Thus his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was intense, and the Real Presence, the greatest of blessings, made the wilderness of America a paradise to Father Jogues. Father Buteux says of him that he was “a soul glued to the Blessed Sacrament.” His prayers, meditations, office, examens of conscience—in fine, all his devotions—were performed in the little chapel before the Holy Eucharist. Neither heat, nor cold, nor the swarms of mosquitoes, with which the chapel was infested, could induce him to forego the society of his Saviour. No wonder he was attracted thither; for it was in the little chapel that he was not unfrequently favored with heavenly visitations. It was there, too, that he breathed that heroic prayer, whose only petition was that he might be allowed to bear a portion of his Saviour’s cross. His prayer was heard—a warning voice fortified his soul for the approaching conflict.

The necessities of the Huron missionaries had now arrived at the point of extreme distress. They were reduced to procure the wine for the altar from the wild grape; at last, flour to make the sacred host was wanting for the holy sacrifice, and the missionaries themselves were in want of clothes and other necessaries of life. The perilous passage through various intervening hostile tribes to procure relief from Quebec for the pressing demands of the mission must now be undertaken by some one, and Father Jerome Lalemant, the superior, selected Father Jogues for the task, which, however, at the same time, he permitted him to accept or decline. His immediate preparation to depart showed that he did not hesitate about accepting. To his great joy, the faithful and noble chief, Eustace Ahasistari, came forward, and offered to become his escort and guide. A flotilla of four canoes, bearing the missionary, the Christian chief, four Frenchmen, and eighteen Hurons, started from Saint Mary’s on the 13th of June. The voyagers had to endure the usual portages at the rapids, and other hardships of such trips; but, by the exercise of great care and vigilance, they reached Quebec without harm from the savages. The faithful messenger, besides procuring books, vestments, and sacred vessels, had all things in readiness by the last day in July, the feast of S. Ignatius. He stopped to celebrate the feast of the great founder of his order, in which his companions united by approaching the sacraments in solemn preparation for their perilous return. The flotilla, now increased to twelve canoes, started from Three Rivers on the 1st day of August, and at first made slow progress against the impetuous current of the Saint Lawrence. They spent the night on a small island in Lake Saint Peter, twelve leagues from Three Rivers, and on the second morning they had not proceeded far when they discovered suspicious footprints on the adjacent shore. Nerved by the dauntless courage of Ahasistari, they pushed on, and had not advanced a league when suddenly a volley from a Mohawk ambush riddled their bark canoes. Panic-struck, the Hurons, whose canoes were near the shore, fled in all directions. Only fourteen rallied round the gallant Ahasistari, who had now to oppose a force of twice his numbers. The Mohawks, armed with fire-arms, and reinforced from the other shore, overpowered the Hurons, who broke and fled. Father Jogues, ever mindful of his sacred calling, in the heat of the attack calmly stopped to take up water for the baptism of his pilot, who was the only unbaptized Indian in his canoe. Seeing himself almost alone, he made to the shore; but he did not attempt to escape, which he might easily have done. “Could I,” he says, “a minister of Christ, forsake the dying, the wounded, the captive?” Advancing to the guard of the prisoners, he asked to be made a captive with them, and their companion in danger and in death. Well might the Mohawk guard, at the sight of such heroism, have been scarcely able to believe his senses! Well might the historian exclaim, “When did a Jesuit missionary seek to save his own life, at what he believed to be the risk of a soul?” Father Jogues at once began his offices of mercy among his fellow-captives. He encouraged and confessed his faithful companion, the good René Goupil; he instructed and baptized the Hurons, and as, one after another, they were brought in prisoners, the priest of God rushed to meet and embrace them, and to unite them to the fold of Christ.

In the meantime, Ahasistari, having got beyond the reach of his pursuers, looked round for Ondessonk. Finding that the black-gown was not there, the noble chief relinquished his freedom that he might share in the captivity of the father, whom he had promised never to abandon. While Father Jogues was engaged in ministering to the prisoners, the voice of Ahasistari struck upon his astonished ears. “I made a vow to thee that I would share thy fortunes, whether death or life. Brother, here I am to keep my vow.” Also a young Frenchman, one of those donnés who accompanied and aided the missionaries, returned to join the prisoners with the same exalted motive; and, as Father Jogues tenderly embraced him, all bleeding and mangled as he was, the savages could not restrain their fury. Rushing upon the father, they beat him with their fists and clubs till he fell senseless to the ground. Then, seizing his hands, they tore out most of his nails with their teeth, and inflicted upon him the exquisite torture of crunching his fingers, especially the two forefingers. But these tortures were only the first outbursts of savage rage and cruelty, the forerunners of more cruel ones in reserve.

The time consumed in collecting the prisoners, dividing the booty, and preparing for retreat enabled Father Jogues to complete the instruction and baptism of the remaining prisoners.

On Lake Champlain, another Mohawk war-fleet met the flotilla, and, drawing up on an island, the newcomers prepared to receive their countrymen and the prisoners. They erected a scaffold on the highest point of land for the prisoners; then offering thanks to the sun as the genius of war, they lined the shore, and welcomed the conquering fleet with a salute of firearms. The number of savages on the new flotilla was about two hundred, and, as their native superstition taught them that their success in war would be proportioned to their cruelty to the prisoners, sad indeed was the fate of the latter. Father Jogues closed the line of prisoners as they marched up to the scaffold, and so terrific was the shower of blows that assailed him that he fell exhausted to the ground: “God alone,” he exclaims—”God alone, for whose love and glory it is sweet to suffer, can tell what cruelties they wreaked upon me then.” Unable to proceed, he was dragged to the scaffold, when, on reviving, he suffered the ordeal of fire and steel. His closing wounds were reopened, his remaining nails were torn from their sockets, and the bones forced through the crushed fingers. Twice one of his tormentors rushed to cut off his nose—a certain prelude of death to follow—and was twice restrained by some invisible, some providential power. Falling repeatedly to the ground, the blazing brands and burning calumets forced him to rise. Thus tortured and fainting, the paternal eyes of Jogues still possessed tears of tenderest sympathy to shed for the sufferings of his fellow-captive, Ahasistari, who, amidst his own sufferings, cried aloud in praise of the father’s courage and love of his children. The night was spent without food, and in the morning the voyage was resumed. While passing over the lake, again they met a Mohawk fleet, and again the victorious Mohawks must honor their countrymen by fresh tortures of the prisoners. On the next day, the ninth of the captivity, the flotilla reached the extremity of the lake, where the entire party landed. The prisoners, weakened and suffering with wounds and hunger, were now loaded with all the luggage, and, in this plight, forced to commence a four days’ journey by land. Some berries, gathered on the wayside, constituted their only food, and the exhausted father narrowly escaped being drowned in crossing the first river. On the eve of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, they reached the river near the Mohawk village. Here again the captives became the objects of cruel tortures for the amusement of the crowds swarming from the settlement to see them. “And as he ran the gauntlet, Jogues comforted himself with a vision of the glory of the Queen of Heaven,” for it was the eve of her glorious Assumption into Heaven. Some Hurons, who met them at the river, exclaimed in compassion, “Frenchmen, you are dead!” Before going up to the village, Father Jogues was again cruelly beaten with clubs and sticks, especially on the head, which by its baldness excited the derision of the savages. Two remaining finger-nails, which had escaped their impatient cruelty before, were now torn out with the roots. “Conscious that, if we withdrew ourselves from the number of the scourged, we withdrew from that of the children of God, we cheerfully presented ourselves,” were the words of the martyr himself, relating how he advanced to receive new tortures.

The line of march was formed for the village, Father Jogues closing as before the procession. Again the scaffold was erected, again the heroic band ran the gauntlet in marching to the scaffold hill, and the signal for the tortures to begin was given by a chief, who struck each captive three times on the back with a club. An old man approached Father Jogues, and compelled an aged captive woman to sever his left thumb from his hand with a dull knife. Long and various were the tortures which Father Jogues and his companions now endured, and though exhausted from the loss of blood, he consoled them in their sufferings. As night approached, the prisoners were tied to stakes driven in the ground, and thus exposed to the maltreatment of the children, who threw burning coals upon them, “which hissed and burned in the writhing flesh, till they were extinguished there.”

On the following day the prisoners were led forth half naked through the broiling sun, to be exhibited and tortured in all the Mohawk towns. At the second village the same tortures were endured as at the first. On entering the last town the heart of Father Jogues was melted at the sight of a fresh band of Huron prisoners just brought in. Forgetting his own captivity and sufferings, he approached the captives with every expression of sympathy and kindness: he could not release their bodies from bondage; but he offered to their immortal souls the freedom of the Gospel. There was no water at hand with which to baptize these devoted captives; when, lo! the dews of heaven were supplied. An Indian at that anxious moment passed by with Indian corn, and threw a stalk at the father’s feet. As the freshly cut plant passed through the sunlight, dew-drops upon the blades were revealed to the eager eyes of the missionary, who, gathering the precious drops into his hands, baptized two Hurons on the spot. A little brook they afterwards crossed supplied the saving water for the others.

In this town, also, the tortures were repeated with many horrid additions. Father Jogues, ever tender and sympathetic for the sufferings of his converts, was compelled to look on, and see the fingers of one of his Hurons nearly sawed off with a rough shell, and then violently torn off with the sinews uncut. Father Jogues and his companion René Goupil were led to a cabin and ordered to sing. Availing themselves of the command, they devoutly chanted the Psalms of David. They were burned in several parts of their bodies. Then two poles were erected in the air, in the form of a cross, and Father Jogues was tied to it by cords of twisted bark, thus throwing the whole weight of his body upon his wounded and lacerated arms. He asked to be released in mercy, in order that he might prepare for death, which he thought would result from his tortures, but this was refused him. Begging pardon of God for having made such a request, he had already resigned himself to the mercies of heaven, when suddenly an Indian in the crowd, touched with compassion, rushed forward and cut the cords that bound him to the cross. During the night he was again tied to a stake driven in the ground, and his sufferings were prolonged without relief till morning. On the following day the prisoners were carried back to the second town they had entered. Here the council decided to spare the lives of the French for the present, and to put the Hurons to death.

Father Jogues and René Goupil lingered in suffering, and almost at the point of death, for three weeks, at Gandawagué, now Caughnawaga, in New York. The Mohawks had concluded to send them back when convenient to Three Rivers. In the meantime, the Dutch settlers in New Netherland, who were allies of the Mohawks, heard that their Iroquois neighbors and friends had taken some European prisoners. These generous Dutch, headed by their minister, the worthy Dominie Megapolensis, took the matter in hand, and raised six hundred guilders for the ransom of the French prisoners. Accordingly Arendt Curler set out with this sum, accompanied by two burghers from Rensselaerswyck, now Albany, for the Mohawk castles. The treaty between the Dutch and the Mohawks was renewed, but neither money nor diplomacy could move the chiefs to deliver up the prisoners, whose importance they began now to perceive from the effort made for their release. All that the Dutch could obtain was a promise to send them back to Three Rivers.

Afterwards, divisions arose among the savages as to what disposition should be made of Father Jogues and René. In the meantime their lives were suspended upon the capricious humors and passions of the cruel Mohawks. The master of the cabin on seeing this ordered a young brave to put René to death; that order was afterwards obeyed.

After the death of René, Father Jogues remained among the Mohawks, the sole object of their barbarous cruelty and superstitious hatred. Amidst the countless sufferings he endured, his consolation consisted in prayer and visits of religion to the Huron prisoners. In his poverty he was rich in the possession of a volume containing one of the Epistles of S. Paul, and an indulgenced picture of S. Bruno. These, his only possessions, he carried always about his person.

In the fall, he was obliged to accompany the tribe as a slave on a grand hunt, and then for two months inconceivable hardships and labors were his constant lot. When the chase was unproductive, he was accused as the demon of their ill success. When sacrifice was offered to the god Aireskoi, he refused to eat any of the food of the idolatrous sacrifice, and was thereupon repulsed and avoided as polluted and polluting; and every door was closed against him, food was denied him, and a shelter refused. After performing the menial and oppressive labors which they imposed upon him, he retired at night to his little oratory, with its roof of bark and floor of snow, to commune with his Heavenly Father, his only friend; even to that sacred spot, the arrows, clubs, and once the tomahawk, of his persecutors followed him. He was finally sent back to the village, loaded with venison, over a frozen country, thirty leagues in extent, and almost perished of cold on the way. But even such a journey possessed its consolations; for on the way, by an act of heroism, he saved an Indian woman and her infant from drowning, and, as the infant was on the point of expiring from its exposure and injuries, he poured the waters of regeneration on its head, and saved another soul for heaven.

On arriving at the village, he was ordered to return over the same road to the hunting-ground, but his repeated falls on the ice compelled him to abandon the journey and return to the village, to endure equal torments there. Obliged to become the nurse of one of the most inveterate of his enemies, who was lying devoured by a loathsome disease, the good Samaritan entered upon his task as a work of love, and for an entire month bestowed the most tender care and sympathetic attention upon his patient. In the spring of 1643, he was compelled to accompany a fishing party to a lake four days’ journey off, when he suffered over again the cruelties of the recent hunt. On the lake shore, as on the hunting-grounds, his cross and little oratory of fir branches were his only consolations. His mode of life in these wildernesses is thus described by Bancroft: “On a hill apart he carved a long cross on a tree, and there, in the solitude, meditated the imitation of Christ, and soothed his grief by reflecting that he alone, in that vast region, adored the true God of earth and heaven. Roaming through the stately forests of the Mohawk Valley, he wrote the name of Jesus on the bark of trees, graved the cross, and entered into possession of these countries in the name of God—often lifting up his voice in a solitary chant.”

Repeatedly during this period was the murderous tomahawk suspended over his head; and twice was he selected to be sacrificed to the manes of some Indian warrior who had gone on the hunt and had not returned. But his life was in the hands of an invisible Protector. A generous Indian matron adopted him as her son, in the place of her own son she had just lost; and now, when he mingled with the Mohawks as their brother, he spoke to them of God, heaven, eternity, and hell. Though he convinced them that his words were true, they were too much wedded to their idols to yield to the grace of conversion. On one occasion he was led out to be sacrificed to the manes of the braves who had gone on a war party, and, not having returned, were supposed to be lost; but before the ceremony proceeded too far, the warriors returned just in time to save his life. They brought with them some Abnaki prisoners whom they destined for the stake. Father Jogues secured the services of an interpreter, instructed them in the faith, and succeeded in converting several of them, whom he baptized at Easter.

It was shortly after this that Father Jogues was compelled to witness the horrid spectacle of human sacrifice offered to the demon Aireskoi. How wonderful are the ways of divine Providence! for it was in the midst of this act, the lowest point in the scale of human degradation and of insult to God, that a human soul is regenerated by one of the Christian sacraments, and that soul is the victim itself of the superstitious rite. A woman was chosen for the victim, and was tied to the stake. The savages formed a line, and as they approached the stake each one did his share in burning, cutting, or otherwise torturing the unhappy victim. Father Jogues had previously instructed the woman. He took no part, of course, in this awful and wicked sacrifice, but he availed himself of an opportunity to press forward in the crowd, and as the victim bowed to receive the sacrament from his hands, the missionary poured the baptismal waters on her head, in the midst of the raging flames of the heathen sacrifice.

An effort was now made by his friends in Canada to secure the release of Father Jogues. Some braves of the Sokoki tribe, living on the Connecticut, had been captured by the Algonquins, and were now led forth for torture. The French governor procured their liberation, committed them to the care of the hospital nuns, and, after their wounds were healed, sent them back to their own country, with a request that they would induce their tribe to send an embassy to their allies the Mohawks to intercede for the relief of Father Jogues. The embassy was accordingly sent, the Mohawks lit their council fires, the Sokoki presents were accepted, but the main question was parried, and finally the old promise to send him back to Three Rivers was the only result. Perceiving now more than ever the dignity and importance of their prisoner, the Mohawks led him forth in triumph to show their allies that even the powerful French nation was tributary to the Iroquois. This cruel journey, two hundred and fifty miles long, was over a rugged and barren country, and many were the sufferings our missionary had to endure. Yet this journey was not without its peculiar consolations to Father Jogues. On one occasion he baptized five dying infants; and as he passed through the cabins in search of souls, he heard the voice of a former benefactor, the Indian who had so generously cut loose the cords that bound him to the cross of logs hoisted in the air in the village of Tinniontiogen, crying to him from his bed of misery and death. Father Jogues embraced his benefactor with a burst of gratitude and sympathy. Unable to reward him with worldly goods or temporal relief, the father instructed him in the truths of eternal life, bestowed upon the willing convert the treasure of the faith, and shortly before his death sealed all with the sacrament of baptism.

After his return to the village he was rushed upon one day by an infuriated savage, whose club laid him almost lifeless on the ground. Every day he was thus exposed to some imminent peril. His life was suspended upon the merest chance or savage caprice or passion. The good old woman who had adopted him, and whom he called his aunt, was his only friend in that vast region. She advised him to make his escape, but he believed it to be the will of God that he should remain there.

In August, 1643, he had to accompany a portion of the tribe on a hunting and fishing party, during which he visited for the second time the Dutch at Rensselaerswyck, the present city of Albany. The inhabitants again made a generous effort to secure the liberation of Father Jogues, but their appeal to the savage Mohawk was in vain. It was here, too, amid the dangers and distractions that encompassed him at Rensselaerswyck, that he produced that beautiful monument of taste and learning, as well as of apostolic zeal and love, the relation of his captivity and sufferings to his superior, which has been so greatly admired for its pure and classic Latin. In this letter, he says: “I have baptized seventy since my captivity, children, and youth, and old men of five different tongues and nations, that men of every tribe, and tongue, and nation, might stand in the presence of the Lamb.”

While engaged in helping the Iroquois to stretch their nets for fish, he heard of more Huron prisoners brought to the village, two of whom had already expired at the stake unbaptized. Obtaining the permission of his good aunt who had adopted him, he at once dropped the fish-nets, and returned to the village in order that he might set his net for human souls. On his way to the village he passed through Rensselaerswyck. Van Curler insisted on his making his escape by flight, since certain death awaited him at the village, and offered a shelter and a passage on board of a ship destined first for Virginia and then for Bordeaux or Rochelle. It has already been related that Father Jogues had resolved to regard the Mohawk as his mission, he therefore hesitated to accept the generous offer of the Dutch, though inevitable death would soon remove him from that chosen field. But Van Curler and the minister of the settlement, John Megapolensis, pressed their appeal with such powerful arguments that the missionary promised to consider it, and asked one night for prayer and consultation with his soul and with God. After fervent supplication for the aid of heaven in deciding the matter with impartiality, and after much reflection, Father Jogues, knowing that if he returned to the village death would soon remove him from it, and convinced that his return to France or Canada would prove the only means of founding a regular mission in the Mohawk, resolved to attempt his escape, and went in the morning to announce his resolution to Van Curler and Megapolensis. They then arranged together the plan of escape. Returning to the custody of his guards, he accompanied them to their quarters. When they all retired at night to their barn to rest, the Iroquois slept around the father, in order to secure him closely within, while without the premises were guarded by ferocious watch-dogs. In his first attempt early in the night, the dogs rushed upon him and tore his leg dreadfully with their teeth, and he was obliged to return into the barn. Towards daybreak a second attempt was more successful; the dogs were silenced; the prisoner quietly escaped over the fence, and ran limping and suffering with his lacerated limb fully a mile to the river where the ship lay. But here he found the bark sent by Van Curler for his escape lying high and dry and immovable on the beach, and the vessel was not within hailing distance. In these straitened circumstances, he had recourse to prayer. In making another effort to move the bark he seemed to be gifted with renewed strength, and soon the boat was afloat, and thus he succeeded alone in reaching the vessel. He was immediately concealed in the bottom of the hold, and a heavy box was placed over the hatch. In the filth of this narrow and unventilated place he remained two days and nights, suffering extremely from his wound, from hunger and the noisome air.

Father Jogues was then carried into the settlement to remain until all was quiet and it was time to embark. He was confided to the care of a man who permitted him to be thrust into a miserable loft, where he remained six weeks crouched behind a hogshead as his only shelter, with scarcely food sufficient to keep him alive, enduring every discomfort, and exposed to detection and recapture by the Iroquois or Mohawks, who incessantly haunted the house.

After six weeks thus spent, Father Jogues, accompanied by the minister, Dominie Megapolensis, took the first boat for New Amsterdam, as the city of New York was then called. The voyage lasted six weeks, during which Father Jogues became a great favorite with all on board. As they passed a little island in their route, the crew named it in honor of Father Jogues amid the discharge of cannon, and the Calvinist minister honored the Jesuit by contributing a bottle of wine to the festivities of the occasion. After an agreeable voyage, they arrived at New Amsterdam. The germ of the present monster city consisted then of a little fort garrisoned with sixty men, a governor’s house, a church, and the houses of four or five hundred men scattered over and around the entire Island of Manhattan. There were many different sects and nations represented there. The director-general told Father Jogues that there were eighteen different languages spoken on the island. The Jesuit was enthusiastically received at New Amsterdam, for the people turned out in crowds to greet him. One of them, a Polish Lutheran, when he saw the mangled hands of Father Jogues, ran and threw himself at his feet to kiss his wounded hands, exclaiming, “O martyr of Christ! O martyr!” So practical, however, were the notions of the old Dutch inhabitants of the city about such matters, that they asked the missionary how much the company of New France would pay him for all he had suffered! Father Jogues made a vigilant search in New Amsterdam for Catholics. He found two: one, a Portuguese woman, with whom he could not converse, showed that she still clung to her faith by the pious pictures which were hanging round her room; the other, an Irishman, trading from Virginia, who availed himself of the father’s presence to go to his confession. It was from the latter that he learned that the English Jesuits had been driven from Maryland by the Puritan rulers of that colony, and had taken refuge in Virginia.

He remained there three months altogether in the old Dutch colony. Receiving commendatory letters from William Kieft, the governor of New Netherland, he sailed from the majestic harbor of New Amsterdam on the 5th of November, 1643. The little vessel possessed no comforts or accommodations. The father’s only bed was a coil of rope on deck, where he received severe drenchings from the waves breaking over him. A furious storm drove the vessel in on the English coast, near Falmouth, which was then in possession of the king’s party: two parliamentary cruisers pursued the Dutch vessel, but she escaped and anchored at the wharf. The storm-beaten crew went ashore to enjoy themselves, leaving only Father Jogues and another person on board, when the vessel was boarded by robbers, who pointed a pistol at the missionary’s throat and robbed him of his hat and coat. He appealed to a Frenchman, the master of a collier at the wharf, for relief, who took him on board his boat, gave him a sailor’s hat and coat, all his own poverty could spare, and a passage to France. In this plight, this celebrated missionary, whose fame filled all France, landed on his native shore on Christmas morning, at a point between Brest and Saint Pol de Leon.

He borrowed a more decent hat and cloak from a peasant near the shore, and hastened to the nearest chapel, to make his thanksgiving and unite in the glorious solemnity of Christmas. As it was early he had the consolation of approaching the tribunal of penance, and of receiving the Holy Eucharist, for the first time in sixteen months. The touching story of his captivity and sufferings among the savages subdued their hearts and drew floods of sympathizing tears from the peasants whose hospitality he shared. They offered him all they had to forward him on his journey. A good merchant of Rennes, then passing on his way, heard the thrilling incidents he related, and saw his mangled hands: touched with compassion, he took the missionary under his care, and paid his expenses to Rennes, where he arrived on the eve of the Epiphany. He went to the college of his order in that city, and as soon as it was known that he was from Canada, all the members of the community gathered round him to ask him if he knew Father Jogues, and whether he was yet alive and in captivity. He then disclosed his name, and showed the marks of his sufferings; all then pressed forward to embrace their saintly brother, and kiss his glorious wounds.

He reposed for a few days at the college at Rennes, and then pushed on towards Paris, to place himself again at the disposal of his superior, humbly and modestly intimating a desire, however, to be sent back to his mission in America. His fame had long preceded him, and, when he arrived at the capital, the faithful pressed forward in crowds to venerate him and kiss his wounds. The pious queen-mother coveted the same happiness, and he, whom we saw so recently the captive and slave of brutal savages, is now honored at the court of the first capital of Christendom. But the humility of Father Jogues took alarm at the honors paid to him. Throwing himself at his superior’s feet, he entreated that he might be sent back to the wilderness from which he had just escaped. The superior consented; but an obstacle here presented itself. So great were the injuries inflicted upon his hands by the Mohawks that he was canonically disqualified from offering up the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Application for the proper dispensation was made to the Sovereign Pontiff, upon a statement of the facts. Innocent XI. was moved by the recital, and, with an inspired energy, exclaimed, “Indignum esse Christi martyrem, Christi non bibere sanguinem”—”It were unjust that a martyr of Christ should not drink the blood of Christ!” Pronounced by the Vicar of Christ on earth to be a martyr, though living, he now goes to seek a double martyrdom in death. In the spring he started for Rochelle, and F. Ducreux, the historian of Canada, sought the honor of accompanying him thither.

He embarked from Rochelle for Canada, where he arrived on the 16th May, 1644. He found the Iroquois war still raging with unabated fury, and the colony of New France reduced to the verge of ruin. When his brethren in Canada heard and saw how cruelly Father Jogues had been treated in the Mohawk, and that his timely flight alone had saved his life, they felt the saddest apprehensions about the fate of Father Bressani, who had also fallen into the hands of the Iroquois. Finding it impossible to return to Lake Huron, Father Jogues joined Father Buteux in the duties of the holy ministry at the new town of Montreal, to which its founders gave the name of the City of Mary, in consecrating it to the Mother of God. It was during their sojourn together that the superior endeavored to draw from Father Jogues, by entreaty, and even by command, the circumstances of his sufferings in captivity; but his humility and modesty were so great that it was with the greatest difficulty that anything concerning himself could be drawn from him. In this spirit he avoided all the honors that were pressed upon him. After his return to Canada, he was so desirous of being unknown and unhonored that he ceased signing his name, and even his letters which he addressed to his superior after his return to Canada are without signatures.

Some Mohawk prisoners, kindly treated by the Governor of Canada and released, returned to their country, and disposed the Mohawks to make peace. A solemn deputation of their chiefs came to Three Rivers, and were received on 12 July 1645, with great ceremony and pomp. Father Jogues was present, though unseen by the deputies; so was Father Bressani, who, having passed the ordeal of a most cruel captivity among the Mohawks, had been ransomed by the Dutch of New York, sent to France, and had now, like Father Jogues, returned to New France to suffer again. When all was silent, the orator of the deputies arose, and opened the session with the usual march and chants. He explained, as he proceeded to deliver the presents, the meaning of each. Belt after belt of wampum was thrown at the governor’s feet, until at last he held forth one in his hand, beautifully decorated with the shell-work of the Mohawk Valley. “This,” he exclaimed, “is for the two black-gowns. We wished to bring them both back; but we have not been able to accomplish our design. One escaped from our hands in spite of us, and the other absolutely desired to be given up to the Dutch. We yielded to his desire. We regret not their being free, but our ignorance of their fate. Perhaps even now that I name them they are victims of cruel enemies or swallowed up in the waves. The Mohawk never intended to put them to death.”

The French had little faith in the sincerity of the Mohawk, yet they wanted peace. The past was forgiven, the missionaries buried the remembrance of their wrongs with the hatchet of the Mohawk, and peace was concluded. The deputies returned to their castles to get the sachems to ratify the peace, and Father Jogues to Montreal to prepare himself for the terrible ordeal which he foresaw a Mohawk mission would open to him. His preparation consisted in prayer, meditations, and other spiritual exercises. The peace was ratified; the Indians asked for missionaries; the French resolved to open a mission among them, and Father Jogues was selected for the perilous enterprise. When he received the letter of his superior informing him of his selection, Father Jogues joyfully accepted the appointment, and prepared at once to depart. His letter in reply to the superior contains these heroic words: “Yes, father, I will all that God wills, and I will it at the peril of a thousand lives. Oh! how I should regret the loss of so glorious an occasion, when it depends but upon me that some souls may be saved. I hope that his goodness, which did not forsake me in the hour of need, will aid me yet. He and I are able yet to overcome all the difficulties which can oppose our project.”

On arriving at Three Rivers, he ascertained that he and the Sieur Bourdon were to go to the Mohawk castle, in the first instance, merely as ambassadors, to make sure of the peace. They departed on this dangerous embassy on the 16th of May, 1646, and during their absence public prayers, offered for their return, testified the fears felt for their safety. As they were about to start, an Algonquin thus addressed Father Jogues: “There is nothing more repulsive at first than this doctrine, that seems to annihilate all that man holds dearest, and as your long gown preaches it as much as your lips, you would do better to go at first in a short one.” Thereupon the prudent ambassador parted for the time with the habit of his order, and substituted a more diplomatic costume.

They were accompanied by four Mohawks and two Algonquins. After ascending the Sorel, and gliding through the beautiful islands of Lake Champlain, they arrived at the portage leading to the Lake Andiatarocté on the 29th of May, which was the eve of Corpus Christi. Here Father Jogues paused, and named the lake Saint Sacrament; but by a less Christian taste that beautiful name, given in honor of the King of kings, has since yielded to one given in honor of one of the kings of earth. They suffered greatly for food on the way, but obtained a supply of provisions at Ossarane, a fishing station on the Hudson, supposed to be Saratoga. Then, gliding down the Hudson, they came to Fort Orange, where Father Jogues again, in the most earnest and sincere terms, expressed his deep gratitude to his liberators, the Dutch, whose outlay in his behalf he had already reimbursed to them from Europe. Not satisfied with expressing his thanks, Father Jogues endeavored to bestow upon his friend, Dominie Megapolensis, the greatest of possible returns—the true faith. He wrote from this place a letter to the minister, in which he used every argument that his well-stored mind or the unbounded charity of his heart could suggest to reclaim him to the bosom of that ancient church which his fathers had so unfortunately left.

After a short repose at Albany, they proceeded to the Mohawk, and arrived at the nearest town on the 7th of June. A general assembly of the chiefs was called to ratify the peace, and crowds came from all sides; some through curiosity to see, and others with a desire to honor, the untiring and self-sacrificing Ondessonk. Father Jogues made a speech appropriate to the occasion and the purposes of his visits, which the assembled chiefs heard with great enthusiasm; presents were exchanged, and peace was finally and absolutely ratified. The Wolf family in particular, being that in which Father Jogues had been adopted, exclaimed, “The French shall always find among us friendly hearts and an open cabin, and thou, Ondessonk, shalt always have a mat to lie on and fire to keep thee warm.” Father Jogues endeavored to impress favorably the representatives of other tribes who were there by presents and friendly words. Then remembering his sacred character as a minister of God, he visited and consoled the Huron captives, especially the sick and dying; he heard the confessions of some, and baptized several expiring infants. Before departing Father Jogues desired to leave behind his box containing articles most necessary for the mission, which he was soon to return and commence among them; the Mohawks, however, dreading some evil from the box, objected at first, but the father opened it, and showed them all it contained, and finally, as he supposed, overcame their superstitious fears, and the box was left behind among them.

The ambassadors and their suite set out on their return, on the 16th of June, bearing their baggage on their backs. They also constructed their own canoes at Lake Superior, and, having crossed the lake in safety, arrived at Three Rivers, after a passage of thirteen days, on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, to the infinite joy and relief of all their friends.

On the 28th day of September, Father Jogues was on his way to the Mohawk, accompanied by Lalande, a young Frenchman from Dieppe, an Iroquois of Huron birth, and some other Hurons. As they advanced, tidings of war on the part of the Mohawks became more frequent, and the Indian escorts began to desert. They passed Lake Champlain in safety, and had advanced within two days’ journey of the Mohawk when a war-party, marching on Fort Richelieu, came upon them. The savages rushed upon them, stripped Father Jogues and Lalande of their effects, bound them as prisoners, and turning back led them to the village of Gandawagué, the scene of Father Jogues’ first captivity and sufferings. Here they were received with a shower of blows, amid loud cries for their heads, that they might be set up on the palisades.

Towards evening, on the 18th of October, some of the savages of the Bear family came and invited Father Jogues to sup in their cabin. Scarcely had the shadow of the black-gown darkened the entrance of their lodge, when a concealed arm struck a well-aimed blow with the murderous tomahawk, and the Christian martyr fell lifeless to the ground. The generous Kiotsaeton, who had just arrived as a deputy of a council called to decide on his case, rushed to save him, but the blade had done its work, and now spent its remaining force by inflicting a deep wound in the arm of that noble chief. The head of Father Jogues was severed from his body, and raised upon the palisade. The next day the faithful Lalande, and a no less faithful Huron, shared the same fate.

Father Jogues was in his fortieth year when he received the fatal stroke. When the tidings of his death arrived, every tongue in Canada and in France was zealous in the recital of his many virtues, and in praise of his glorious death. His zeal for the faith, his courage in danger, his humility, his love of prayer and suffering, his devotion to the cross, were conspicuous among the many exalted virtues that adorned his life and death. While his brethren lamented the loss the missions had sustained, they envied him the crown he had won. “We could not,” says Father Ragueneau, “bring ourselves to offer for Father Jogues the prayers for the dead. We offered up the adorable sacrifice, indeed, but it was in thanksgiving for the favors which he had received from God. The laity and the religious houses here partook our sentiments as to this happy death, and more are found to invoke his memory than there are to pray for his repose.”

– text taken from the article “Father Isaac Jogues, S.J.” printed in the October 1872 edition of Catholic World, author not listed