lundi 16 mars 2015

Saint JEAN de BRÉBEUF, prêtre jésuite, missionnaire et martyr


Saint Jean de Brébeuf, martyr

Chez les Hurons au Canada, en 1649, fut martyrisé saint Jean de Brébeuf, prêtre de la Compagnie de Jésus, qui avait été envoyé de France comme missionnaire auprès de ce peuple et qui, après bien des travaux apostoliques, fut massacré par quelques païens du lieu et succomba pour le Christ, ayant fait le vœu de ne jamais fuir l’occasion du martyre.


Saint Jean de Brébeuf

Prêtre s.j. et martyr

Né le 25 mars 1593 à Condé-sur-Vire en Normandie, Jean de Brébeuf est un des premiers pères jésuites à aller en Nouvelle-France. Il arrive à Québec en juin 1625, s'installe chez les Montagnais et plus tard, chez les Hurons.

Dans ses mémoires, il relate de façon admirable le mode de vie et les mœurs de ces peuples. Ces notes furent par la suite reproduites dans les « Relations des Jésuites » et sont aujourd'hui des sources d'information précieuses pour nous aider à comprendre la vie des Hurons avant les guerres et les épidémies qui décimeront leurs populations.

Il traduit un catéchisme et plusieurs prières dans la langue des Hurons et entreprend même la rédaction d'un dictionnaire et d'une grammaire. Brébeuf établit plusieurs missions en Huronie dont celle de Ihonatiria (Saint-Joseph). Peu après l'arrivée des Européens, les Hurons sont victimes de plusieurs épidémies de variole, de grippe et de dysenterie.

Le travail de conversion de Brébeuf est difficile et peu efficace. Lors d'une émeute en 1640, Brébeuf et d'autres Jésuites sont battus et la chapelle est détruite. C'est en 1642 que les vrais problèmes commencent. Soutenus par les Anglais dans leur entreprise, les Iroquois amorcent une vaste offensive contre leurs anciens ennemis les Hurons et leurs alliés français. Ils bloquent les routes commerciales en multipliant les pillages et les massacres sanglants. En 1647, la menace iroquoise est devenue telle que les Hurons refusent d'entreprendre des voyages vers Québec.

Le 4 juillet 1648, alors que les guerriers hurons sont absents, les Iroquois attaquent les missions de Saint-Joseph et Saint-Michel en Huronie. Plusieurs habitants sont massacrés dont le père Antoine Daniel qui sera criblé de flèches. Les Iroquois prennent 700 prisonniers.

Le 16 mars 1649, plus de 1000 Iroquois attaquent les missions de Saint-Ignace et de Saint-Louis où se trouvent alors les pères Brébeuf et Lalemant. Les deux hommes sont faits prisonniers et emmenés dans un village dans l'actuelle région de Midland, en Ontario.

Le père Jean de Brébeuf subit alors une des plus atroces tortures. Ces actes furent rapportés par Christophe Regnault qui put observer le cadavre. Le corps a été sauvagement battu et a reçu au moins 200 coups de bâtons. On avait arraché la chair des bras et des jambes de Brébeuf jusqu'aux os et on l'avait aspergé d'eau bouillante pour ridiculiser le sacre du baptême. Les Iroquois avaient également placé un collier de haches incandescentes autour de son cou et de son ventre et lui avaient arraché les lèvres pour qu'il cesse de parler de Dieu. Son crâne avait été scalpé et son cœur, arraché. Il est possible que les Iroquois l'aient dévoré, croyant ainsi absorber les qualités de leurs ennemis.

La nation huronne entière est bientôt décimée. Quelques survivants se réfugient chez des nations alliées du nord ou encore près de Québec où leurs descendants vivent toujours. Brébeuf fut proclamé Saint Patron du Canada en 1940.

Jean de Brébeuf, et ses compagnons martyrs (mémoire 19 octobre) ont été béatifiés le 21 juin 1925, par le « Pape des Missions » Pie XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, 1922-1939) et canonisés, par le même pape, le 29 juin 1930.
Source principale : echo.franco.ca (« Rév. x gpm »).
©Evangelizo.org 2001-2015



Carte de Nouvelle France, Jésuites, 1657 Novae Franciae accurata delineatio,
Bressani, Francesco Giuseppe (1612-1672),1657

Saint Jean de Brébeuf

Martyr au Canada ( 1649)


Fête en France le 19 octobre

Au Canada, solennité le 26 septembre. (4 février ailleurs)


Né en 1593 à Condé-sur-Vire, Jean de Brébeuf désira très tôt devenir missionnaire, au Canada. Il entra dans la Compagnie de Jésus et fut envoyé en pays Huron, où il fonda une mission. Mais en 1649, les Iroquois, entrés en guerre contre les Hurons, pillèrent et envahirent les villages de la mission. Jean de Brébeuf fut torturé deux jours complets, sans cesser de soutenir les siens et de prier pour ses bourreaux. Pleins d'admiration, ces derniers lui arrachèrent le cœur et le dévorèrent pour hériter de son courage...


Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Charles Garnier, Antoine Daniel, Noël Chabanel, Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, Jean de La Lande, canonisés en 1930, patrons secondaires du Canada depuis 1940, ils sont devenus des figures nationales proposées en exemples à l'Église universelle. Avec nos découvreurs et nos fondateurs, ils sont nos architectes: leurs courses ont tracé nos routes d'eau et de fer; ils ont fixé le site de maintes de nos cités et donné leurs noms à d'innombrables institutions (hôpitaux, universités, collèges, écoles), à des villages, des paroisses, des routes et des rues du Québec. Davantage, c'est jusqu'au cœur même du sol qu'ils ont pénétré par leur sang répandu. (Les saints martyrs canadiens - diocèse d'Edmundston)

Au 16 mars au martyrologe romain: Chez les Hurons au Canada, en 1649, la passion de saint Jean de Brébeuf, prêtre de la Compagnie de Jésus, qui fut envoyé de France dans la mission chez les Hurons et, après bien des travaux apostoliques, fut massacré par quelques païens du lieu et succomba pour le Christ, ayant fait le vœu de ne jamais fuir l’occasion du martyre. Sa mémoire est célébrée avec ses compagnons le 19 octobre.


Martyrologe romain



Sanctuaire des Martyrs, Midland, Ontario, Canada. 
Statue de Jean de Brébeuf.

BRÉBEUF, JEAN DE (surnommé Échon par les Hurons), prêtre, jésuite, fondateur de la mission huronne, né à Condé-sur-Vire, en Basse-Normandie, le 25 mars 1593, mort martyr le 16 mars 1649 au bourg Saint-Ignace, en Huronie (région de Midland, Ontario), canonisé le 29 juin 1930 par Pie XI et proclamé, avec ses sept compagnons martyrs, patron du Canada, le 16 octobre 1940, par Pie XII.

Il y aurait, parmi les ancêtres de Jean de Brébeuf, des compagnons d'armes de Guillaume le Conquérant et du roi saint Louis, et sa famille, dit-on, serait alliée aux comtes anglais d'Arundel. De ses parents immédiats, nous ne savons rien. L'histoire a cependant retenu le nom de deux de ses neveux : Georges de Brébeuf (1617–1661), poète mineur du xviie siècle, et Nicolas de Brébeuf (1631–1691), prieur de Saint-Gerbold, dans la banlieue de Caen.

À 24 ans, Brébeuf entra au noviciat des Jésuites de Rouen. Après deux années (1617–1619) sous la direction du père Lancelot Marin, il fut nommé professeur de sixième (1619–1620) au collège de Rouen, puis de cinquième (1620–1621). Au cours de cette seconde année d'enseignement, la maladie l'immobilisa, lui laissant cependant assez de force pour se préparer au sacerdoce, qu'il reçut à Pontoise en 1622. De 1622 à 1625, il demeura au collège de Rouen, où il remplit la charge d'économe. Il fut ensuite désigné par le provincial de France, le père Pierre Coton, pour les missions de la Nouvelle-France. Parti de Dieppe en avril 1625, il débarqua à Québec en juin, en compagnie des pères Charles Lalemant, Énemond Massé et de deux frères coadjuteurs, François Charton et Gilbert Burel.

Cinq mois de vie errante (20 octobre 1625–27 mars 1626) avec un groupe de Montagnais, voisins de Québec, dans le froid et la neige, constituèrent son apprentissage à la vie missionnaire. Il était à peine initié à la langue et aux coutumes algonquines que son supérieur, cette même année 1626, le désignait, avec le père Anne de Nouë, pour le pays des Hurons. En juillet, pour la première fois, Brébeuf franchit en canot les 800 milles qui séparaient Québec de la Huronie. Les pages qu'il écrivit plus tard sur les conditions de ce voyage font de lui, avec Champlain, Sagard, Chaumonot et Allouez, l'un des principaux chroniqueurs de cette grande route de l'Ouest que suivirent longtemps missionnaires, trafiquants et explorateurs. Cette route conduisait les voyageurs, par le Saint-Laurent, l'Outaouais (Ottawa), la Mattawa, la rivière à la Vase, le lac des Népissingues (Nipissing) et la rivière des Français, jusqu'à la baie Georgienne et aux Grands Lacs. Voyage de 20 à 30 jours que rendaient souvent épuisant les nombreux portages, la marche dans les forêts, le fléau des moustiques, les difficultés du ravitaillement, l'absence d'hygiène des Amérindiens, etc.

Des liens déjà anciens, datant des premières explorations de Champlain, unissaient Hurons et Français. Dans une colonie dont l'existence et le développement reposaient principalement sur le commerce des fourrures, les Hurons constituaient de précieux alliés. Champlain l'avait compris. Les Hurons, en effet, formaient un groupe compact, sédentaire, agricole, doué d'un réel génie commercial. Leur économie, relativement équilibrée, fondée sur la culture du sol, avec l'apport saisonnier de la cueillette en été, de la pêche et de la chasse en automne, leur conférait une incontestable supériorité sur les tribus avoisinantes. Dès leurs premiers contacts avec les Français, les Hurons comprirent que ceux-ci cherchaient d'abord des fourrures. Ils élargirent aussitôt leur commerce. Profitant de leur situation, économiquement et géographiquement privilégiée, ils jouèrent un rôle d'intermédiaires entre des populations au type d'économie différent. Ils concentraient chez eux d'énormes quantités de fourrures qu'ils achetaient aux nomades chasseurs de la Népissingue, du Témiscamingue, de l'Outaouais, du Saint-Maurice et même des territoires de la baie d'Hudson ; en retour, ils offraient à ces derniers maïs, farine, tabac, citrouilles, filets, qu'ils trouvaient chez eux ou chez les tribus du Sud et de l'Ouest appelées Neutres, Pétuns, Chats (Ériés), Puants (Népissingues), Cheveux-Relevés (Outaouais), etc. Les Hurons devinrent ainsi les grands trafiquants de l'époque. Dès que les semailles étaient achevées, ils chargeaient leurs canots et partaient pour la traite avec les Français, dont ils obtenaient en retour des marchandises européennes : fers de flèche, chaudières, haches, aiguilles, hameçons, couteaux, couvertures et surtout porcelaine, matière plus précieuse que l'or aux yeux des Amérindiens.

L'alliance avec les Hurons offrait d'autres avantages : facilité d'exploration à l'intérieur du pays, établissement de postes de colonisation dans le bassin du Saint-Laurent et, avant tout, évangélisation des Amérindiens. Pour les missionnaires, l'évangélisation de populations sédentaires et amies était incontestablement plus prometteuse que celle des nomades Algonquins. Cette alliance, toutefois, avait sa contrepartie qui, avec les années, apparaîtrait redoutable : en s'unissant aux Hurons, les Français s'engageaient à les soutenir militairement contre les Iroquois, leurs ennemis héréditaires. Pendant des années, le commerce des fourrures, le développement de la colonie et l'évangélisation dépendraient de l'assistance que la France donnerait à la coalition laurentienne (Algonquins, Montagnais et Hurons) contre les Iroquois. Pour le moment, cette alliance décuplait le commerce des fourrures et facilitait l'entreprise missionnaire.

À son arrivée chez les Hurons, Brébeuf s'établit à Toanché I, dans la tribu de l'Ours, la plus importante des quatre grandes familles de la confédération huronne (tribus de l'Ours, de la Corde, de la Pierre et du Cerf). De ce premier séjour en Huronie (1626–1629), le plus grand profit, pour Brébeuf, fut sans doute, avec l'apprentissage de la langue, une meilleure connaissance du milieu huron. Sur le plan de l'évangélisation, aucun succès apparent. En 1629, Brébeuf était rappelé d'urgence à Québec. Il assista à la prise du poste par les Kirke, en juillet, et dut ensuite repasser en France avec les autres missionnaires du pays. Nommé à Rouen, il fut affecté au service de l'église en qualité de prédicateur et de confesseur. C'est à ce moment (janvier 1630) qu'il prononça ses derniers vœux de jésuite. De 1631 à 1633, nous le trouvons, au collège d'Eu, économe, ministre et confesseur à la fois. Brébeuf revint en Nouvelle-France en 1633 et, dès l'année suivante, accompagné des pères Antoine Daniel et Ambroise Davost, il remontait en Huronie.

Cette fois, il était chargé par le père Paul Le Jeune, son supérieur, de fonder et d'organiser une véritable mission. Dès le début, les Jésuites de la Nouvelle-France mirent dans cette mission le plus vif de leurs espoirs. Aux yeux de Le Jeune, elle représentait un terrain d'essai privilégié pour l'évangélisation des Amérindiens, et devait constituer une sorte de prototype dont il entendait s'inspirer pour les autres missions. Le premier acte de Brébeuf, comme supérieur, fut de choisir un centre de rayonnement pour la mission. Après mûres réflexions, il se fixa, le 19 septembre 1634, à lhonatiria (Saint-Joseph I), bourg voisin de Toanché, où il avait séjourné de 1626 à 1629. Jusqu'au 9 juin 1637, la mission huronne était confinée dans cette seule résidence. Le travail d'évangélisation, après une phase assez réconfortante, rencontra bientôt, chez les Hurons, une résistance obstinée et croissante. Brébeuf attribue cette résistance à trois facteurs : l'immoralité des Hurons, leur attachement à la coutume du pays, c'est-à-dire à tout ce qui jusque-là constituait leur univers de croyances et de plaisirs, et enfin les épidémies qui ravagèrent le pays.

Ce dernier facteur, notamment, retarda beaucoup le mouvement des conversions. Les épidémies de 1634 (petite vérole accompagnée de dysenterie), de 1636 (grippe maligne) et de 1639 (petite vérole) firent tomber à 12 000 une population que Sagard, Brébeuf et Champlain estimaient à 30 000 âmes. Le contact avec les Européens a été funeste aux Amérindiens, pris au dépourvu par les virus apportés d'Europe. À cet égard, les Iroquois ont été mieux protégés que les Hurons. Les colons hollandais et anglais se mêlaient peu aux Iroquois et se contentaient de les attendre derrière leurs comptoirs. En Huronie, ces fléaux répétés rendirent odieuse la présence des missionnaires. L'épidémie de 1636–1637 souleva toute la nation contre Brébeuf et ses compagnons. Ce fut, durant des mois, dirigé par les sorciers, un jeu savant d'insinuations hypocrites, puis de menaces ouvertes et brutales accompagnées de tentatives de meurtre. À l'automne de 1637, toute la mission faillit sauter. Brébeuf, en cette circonstance, adressa au père Le Jeune une sorte de lettre-testament dans laquelle il annonçait le massacre possible de tous les missionnaires.

Après avoir fondé un troisième poste, à Téanaostaiaé (Saint-Joseph II), Brébeuf remit, à la fin d'août 1638, le gouvernement de la mission aux mains du père Jérôme Lalemant, récemment débarqué de France. Lui-même devint supérieur de la résidence qu'il venait de fonder. C'est dans ce ministère que Brébeuf eut à subir les plus dures persécutions de sa carrière. À la suite d'une épidémie de petite vérole, le drame de 1637 se renouvela, mais avec une mise en scène plus tapageuse encore : croix abattues, jets de pierres sur la chapelle, bastonnades, menaces de haches et de tisons enflammés. Brébeuf, au cours de cet orage, vit même une partie de son troupeau déserter la foi qu'il venait d'embrasser. En avril 1640, une sédition s'éleva au cours de laquelle Pierre Boucher* fut blessé au bras, tandis que Brébeuf et Chaumonot étaient battus de coups. Au mois de mai, l'agitation des Amérindiens décida Lalemant à abandonner la résidence.

À l'automne de 1640, les missionnaires, après s'être concertés, jugèrent bon de commencer deux nouvelles missions : l'une chez les Algonquins, l'autre chez les Neutres. Brébeuf et Chaumonot furent désignés pour cette dernière. Précédés par des agents secrets hurons qui représentaient les missionnaires comme les plus maléfiques des sorciers, tous deux circulèrent à travers une région violemment hostile, partout repoussés, outragés, injuriés. Ce furent cinq mois de travail stérile (novembre 1640–mars 1641). Pour comble de malheur, au retour de cette mission, Brébeuf, en traversant un lac gelé, tomba sur la glace et se brisa la clavicule gauche. Le père Lalemant jugea qu'il était de son devoir de renvoyer Brébeuf à Québec et de le confier aux soins d'un médecin ; il pourrait en même temps y remplir la charge de procureur de la mission qu'occupait le père Ragueneau. Au printemps de 1642, Brébeuf arrivait à Québec après sept années consécutives chez les Hurons.

La fonction de procureur de la mission huronne consistait à pourvoir les missionnaires de tout ce qui pouvait leur manquer (livres, papier, objets de culte, etc.) et à organiser pour eux des convois de marchandises. Pénible épreuve pour Brébeuf : à deux reprises, en 1642 et en 1643, les convois préparés par lui furent saisis par les Iroquois et complètement perdus. Outre cette fonction, Brébeuf, durant son séjour à Québec, eut à s'occuper de l'instruction de six jeunes Hurons confiés à ses soins (septembre 1642–juin 1643). Il remplit aussi, auprès des Ursulines et des Hospitalières, les offices de confesseur, de directeur spirituel et de conseiller. Enfin, les dimanches et jours de fête, il prêcha et entendit les confessions des Français de Québec.

Le 7 septembre 1644, Brébeuf est de retour en Huronie, définitivement cette fois. Il reprend son poste au moment même où commence l'agonie de la Huronie. En effet, le conflit depuis longtemps engagé entre Iroquois et Hurons est sur le point de se dénouer. En 1628, la victoire des Agniers sur les Loups (Mohicans) a fait des Iroquois les fournisseurs en pelleteries des Hollandais de Fort Orange. Désormais, les Iroquois commencent à bénéficier des avantages de la traite avec les Européens. Leur convoitise s'allume. Ils empêchent les autres tribus de traverser leur pays pour échanger des fourrures avec Fort Orange. Ils ambitionnent de jouer auprès des Hollandais le rôle des Hurons auprès des Français. Mais voici que les fourrures, sur leur territoire, se font plus rares. Les Iroquois songent alors à capturer les riches convois des Hurons. À partir de l'année 1637, les Agniers deviennent les pirates de la pelleterie. Pour progresser dans leur lutte, ils demandent aux traiteurs hollandais et réussissent à obtenir des armes à feu. En 1641, ils disposent de 39 mousquets ; en 1643, de 300. Naturellement agressifs, ils sont encore stimulés par la faiblesse de leurs adversaires dont les effectifs, de 1634 à 1640, ont été réduits des deux tiers par l'épidémie. Les Iroquois rêvent donc d'exterminer les Hurons. Cette politique reçoit l'appui de la Nouvelle-Hollande, consciente que la ruine des Hurons signifie celle du commerce français et, du même coup, de la Nouvelle-France. « On nous a escrit de France, note le père Vimont, que le dessein des Hollandois est de faire tellement harceler les François par les Iroquois, qu'ils les contraignent de quitter & abandonner tout, & mesme la conversion des Sauvages ».

En 1641, l'insécurité devient telle en Nouvelle-France et sur la route de la Huronie que le père Vimont, à la demande du gouverneur, M. Huault de Montmagny, et des habitants, charge le père Le Jeune d'aller en France exposer la situation au roi et à Richelieu. En 1642, commencent les désastres qui vont aller se multipliant chaque année. Agniers et Tsonnontouans déclenchent une vaste offensive qui s'étend de la Nouvelle-France à la Huronie. Divisés en petites bandes, ils bloquent systématiquement les avenues du Richelieu, de l'Outaouais et du Saint-Laurent. La colonie française est faible : elle n'a que 400 habitants et ne dispose que de 100 soldats. Les Relations, auparavant gonflées de faits relatifs aux conversions et aux épidémies, ne parlent plus que de massacres et de pillages. L'année 1642, qui voit la fondation de Ville-Marie, est marquée aussi par la prise d'Isaac Jogues, de René Goupil et de Guillaume Couture*. En deux ans (1642–1643), les convois de la mission sont pris par trois fois, en montant ou en descendant. En 1644, le père Bressani est capturé et mis à la torture. Le traité de 1645 ne constitue, dans ce cauchemar, qu'une trêve éphémère puisque, en octobre 1646, Jogues est assassiné. Durant l'été de 1647, la crainte des Iroquois est si vive que les Hurons ne descendent pas à Québec.

Les années 1647–1648 marquent le commencement de l'extermination de la Huronie. Jusque-là, les Iroquois s'étaient contentés de surprendre les convois de traiteurs sur les routes du Saint-Laurent et de l'Outaouais. Maintenant, ils sont au cœur de la Huronie. En 1647, ils massacrent un village des Neutres. Le 4 juillet 1648, profitant de ce que les Hurons sont partis pour la traite, une troupe d'Iroquois se jette sur les villages de Saint-Joseph et de Saint-Michel et fait 700 prisonniers. Le père Antoine Daniel tombe le corps percé de flèches. Le bourg de Saint-Joseph II (Téanaostaiaé) formait, avec Ossossané (La Conception) et Sainte-Marie, le triangle de la résistance huronne. Le 16 mars de l'année suivante (1649), plus de 1000 Iroquois attaquent Saint-Ignace (Taenhatentaron), puis Saint-Louis, où travaillent Brébeuf et Gabriel Lalemant. Ceux-ci, faits prisonniers et conduits à Saint-Ignace, y subissent l'un des martyres les plus atroces des annales du christianisme. Ce que fut le supplice de Brébeuf, le donné Christophe Regnault, spectateur de ses restes, nous l'a dit avec une émouvante simplicité :

« Le Père de Brebœuf avoit les jambes, les cuisses et les bras tous decharnez jusqu'aux os ; Jay veu et touché quantité de grosses ampoules qu'il avoit en plusieurs endroits de son corps ; de l'eau boüillante que ces barbares lui avoient versé en dérision du St Baptesme. Jay veu et touché la plaie d'une ceinture d'écorce toute plaine de poix et de raisine qui grilla tout son corps. Jay veu et touché les bruleures du Collier des haches quon luy mist sur les épaulles et sur l'estomach ; Jay veu et touché ses deux levres quon luy avoit couppées à cause qu'il parloit tousjours de Dieu pendant qu'on le faisoit souffrir.

« Jay veu et touché tous les endroits de son corps, qui avoit receu plus de deux cents coups de baston Jay veu et touché le dessus de sa teste ecorché Jay veu et touché louverture que ces barbares luy firent pour luy arracher le cœur.

« Enfin, jay veu et touché toutes les playes de son corps, comme les sauvages nous l'avoient dit et assuré ».

Devant l'assaut iroquois, les Hurons, au lieu de se ressaisir, furent pris de panique. La tribu de l'Ours, presque au complet, s'enfuit chez les Pétuns. D'autres demandèrent asile aux Neutres, aux Ériés, aux Algonquins, ou s'enfuirent dans les îles voisines. La confédération huronne se disloqua toute. La résidence de Sainte-Marie-des-Hurons ne disposant que de 8 soldats, 22 donnés et 7 domestiques, les Jésuites décidèrent de l'abandonner. Le 14 juin 1649, ils livrèrent aux flammes la construction et se transportèrent, avec quelques centaines de Hurons, à l'île Saint-Joseph (Christian Island), située à quelques milles de là, dans le lac Huron. Le nouvel établissement était à peine terminé qu'un nouveau malheur s'ajoutait aux précédents : en décembre, le village de Saint-Jean, chez les Pétuns, était attaqué et saccagé. À l'île Saint-Joseph, la situation devint bientôt désespérée. La famine, les maladies contagieuses, de nouvelles attaques de la part des Iroquois contraignirent missionnaires et Amérindiens au départ. Le 10 juin 1650, 300 Hurons, accompagnés des Jésuites et de leurs domestiques, s'embarquèrent pour Québec. Au printemps de 1651, ces débris de la nation huronne s'établirent dans l'île d'Orléans ; ils furent bientôt 600, sous la direction du père Chaumonot.

L'apostolat de Brébeuf en Huronie dura 15 ans. La mission huronne s'éteignit avec celui qui l'avait commencée. Mais, par un contraste saisissant, en même temps que s'accomplissait l'écrasement de la nation, s'opérait sa régénération spirituelle. Les Relations qui, longtemps, ne purent compter les conversions que par unités, parlent des centaines et même des milliers de baptêmes des dernières années. Pour la seule année 1649–1650, le père Ragueneau donne le chiffre de 3 000 baptêmes. La dispersion de la nation huronne a eu pour effet de répandre la foi chrétienne parmi les nations du bassin des Grands Lacs et sur les bords de la rivière des Hollandais (Mohawk). Ces convertis formeront les éléments des chrétientés que les Jésuites iront fonder chez les Iroquois et chez les nations de l'Ouest.

Ce que nous connaissons de Brébeuf nous vient des Relations des Jésuites et surtout de ses propres écrits. Ces écrits, de nature fort différente, couvrent une période de 18 ans, soit de 1630 à 1648. On y trouve deux Relations (celles de 1635 et 1636), un journal spirituel composé de 44 fragments, 15 lettres adressées au supérieur majeur de la Compagnie de Jésus ou à des supérieurs locaux, des instructions ou catéchismes, un dictionnaire, une grammaire, et même deux textes hurons. Plusieurs de ces écrits sont perdus. Ce qui en reste, une vingtaine, totalisant quelque 300 pages, nous permet de reconnaître en Brébeuf le fondateur de mission, l'ethnographe, le mystique et l'écrivain.

La nécessité, pour Brébeuf, de bien comprendre le milieu qu'il cherchait à évangéliser, a été l'occasion d'une précieuse contribution à l'ethnographie amérindienne ; 15 ans de vie chez les Hurons lui ont permis de connaître, mieux que personne, leurs mœurs et leurs coutumes. Avec Champlain et Sagard, Brébeuf reste le témoin le plus important de la période de contact. Pour sa part, il insiste sur la vie sociale, politique et religieuse des Hurons ; en cela il complète Champlain et enrichit Sagard. Sur ces trois aspects, la Relation de 1636 demeure un document unique, cité en première place dans toutes les monographies concernant les Hurons. Le témoignage de Brébeuf est d'autant plus précieux, du point de vue de l'ethnologie, qu'il fixe le portrait des Hurons au moment où ils sont encore eux-mêmes, avant que des épidémies successives, la guerre et les massacres ne les aient réduits à l'état de débris humains ; son témoignage a tout l'intérêt et l'intensité d'une sorte d'instantané.

Comme fondateur de la mission huronne, Brébeuf se trouvait appelé à lui donner sa première orientation. Son gouvernement fut consacré à diverses tâches. Premièrement, à l'établissement des premières résidences. Durant sa supériorité, il fonda Saint-Joseph I à Ihonatiria (19 ou 20 septembre 1634), puis la résidence de l'Immaculée-Conception (9 juin 1637) à Ossossané et enfin celle de Saint-Joseph II, à Téanaostaiaé (25 juin 1638). Ces postes, situés au cœur des deux principales tribus (celles de l'Ours et de la Corde), lui permirent de s'intégrer profondément au milieu huron. Deuxièmement, il s'appliqua à la conquête de la langue. Une première fois, en 1626, Brébeuf avait été choisi comme apôtre de la Huronie, par le père Charles Lalemant, à cause de son talent pour les langues. Après un premier séjour de trois ans, Brébeuf savait assez de huron pour traduire le catéchisme du jésuite Ledesma. Lorsqu'il revint en Nouvelle-France, en 1633, Brébeuf se constitua professeur des pères Daniel et Davost. Une fois en Huronie, en 1634, l'initiation se poursuivit, l'équipe se complétant des pères François Le Mercier, Pierre Pijart, Pierre Chastellain, Charles Garnier et Isaac Jogues, tous travaillant sous la direction de Brébeuf à la compilation d'un dictionnaire et à l'élaboration d'une grammaire. En 1639, la conquête de la langue était chose accomplie. Cette étude, représentant huit ou neuf ans de labeur austère et assidu, fut surtout l’œuvre de Brébeuf. Troisièmement, initié au milieu huron et maître de la langue, Brébeuf entreprit l’œuvre capitale de l'évangélisation. Après avoir d'abord travaillé auprès des enfants, il comprit bientôt que la partie allait se jouer avec les adultes, notamment avec les capitaines et les anciens, en qui résidait la vraie source d'influence. L'œuvre des conversions progressa au début à un rythme très lent. La première conversion d'un adulte en santé eut lieu en 1637. Quatre années plus tard, en 1641, il n'y avait encore que 60 chrétiens.

La correspondance de Brébeuf et, plus encore, son journal spirituel, nous révèlent une âme manifestement engagée dans les voies de l'oraison supérieure et depuis longtemps familière des communications divines. Trois engagements importants marquent l'ascension spirituelle de Brébeuf : en 1631, la promesse de servir le Christ jusqu'au sacrifice de sa vie ; en 1637–1639, le vœu de ne jamais refuser la grâce du martyre ; en 1645, le vœu du plus parfait. Plusieurs textes du journal spirituel manifestent que Brébeuf, comme Jogues, fut gratifié d'une vocation spéciale à la croix. De 1636 à 1641, insulté, battu, lapidé, bafoué, meurtri dans sa chair, Brébeuf a été en Huronie, comme saint Paul, la « balayure » du monde. Engagé dans l'action apostolique, il a été purifié dans l'action et par l'action. Si, en 1645, quatre ans avant son martyre, il a pu prononcer le vœu du plus parfait, c'est que depuis longtemps déjà son âme était toute docilité à Dieu. Le couronnement de cette sainteté vint à Brébeuf par le martyre. Parmi les influences qui ont contribué à former l'âme de Brébeuf, il faut souligner en premier lieu les Exercices spirituels de saint Ignace de Loyola, le livre de l’Imitation de Jésus-Christ, les lettres de saint Paul ; puis l'influence probable du père Louis Lallemant, grand spirituel français du xviie siècle.

Enfin, Brébeuf se révèle un écrivain sans prétention, mais bien doué. Les deux Relations, notamment, où Brébeuf a consigné ses observations de voyageur, d'ethnographe et de missionnaire, sont écrites dans une langue très ferme, d'une étonnante vitalité, riche de mots et d'images, que n'a pas encore touchée l'influence épuratrice, mais appauvrissante, des salons français. Cette langue évoque la saveur et le sourire de Montaigne. Rien de plus délicieusement observé, ni de plus coloré que les chapitres où Brébeuf décrit les conditions de vie en Huronie, les mœurs des Hurons, la grande fête des morts. Rien de plus hautement lyrique que l’Avertissement dimportance adressé aux jeunes religieux de France. La langue de Brébeuf n'a pas vieilli. Plus humbles, mais combien précieuses les quelques notes qui nous restent de son journal intime : ces fragments constituent les toutes premières pages de la littérature mystique du Canada.

Dans le groupe des missionnaires de l'époque, la personnalité de Brébeuf se détache comme l'une des plus hautes en couleur. Toutefois, si Brébeuf s'impose, ce n'est pas d'abord par les dons de l'intelligence, bien qu'ils soient en lui remarquables. Tous ceux qui l'ont approché reconnaissent en effet qu'il était d'un jugement excellent. Sa correspondance en particulier et ses deux Relations révèlent un observateur très fin, pratiquant volontiers une certaine forme d'humour. Ses lettres aux supérieurs de la Compagnie de Jésus restent des modèles de clarté, de composition et de sagesse pratique. Mais on ne trouve pas chez lui de ces conceptions hardies à la manière de Lalemant, ou de ces initiatives toujours rebondissantes à la manière de Le Jeune. Brébeuf se distingue plutôt par un bons sens très robuste, par une sorte d'empirisme surnaturel : il unit toujours en ses entreprises prudence humaine et sagesse d'en haut. Ses dons magnifiques restent ceux du cœur et de la volonté. Il n'y a point de petitesses en cet homme, point de mesquinerie. On chercherait en vain dans ses écrits l'indice d'une rancœur, d'un jugement amer, d'une jalousie secrète. Sa douceur résiste à tous les mépris. L'audace, qui signe quelques-unes de ses démarches, est moins un trait de son caractère qu'une forme de son zèle apostolique. Deux extrêmes s'harmonisent en lui : d'une part, l'homme réaliste, ami de la tradition, qui apparaît dans l'économe de collège, l'organisateur de mission, l'humble religieux, et, d'autre part, l'apôtre ardent, énergique, s'offrant à tous les martyres et à toutes les folies de la croix. Tel fut celui qu'on a surnommé « le géant des missions huronnes », et, plus récemment, « l'apôtre au cœur mangé ».


ACSM, Mémoires touchant la mort et les vertus des pères Isaac Jogues, etc. (Ragueneau), repr. RAPQ, 1924–25 : 3–70 passim.— JR (Thwaites), VIII, X.— Positio causæ.— Desrosiers, Iroquoisie.— Jésuites de la N.-F. (Roustang).— A. E. Jones, "ȣendake Ehen" or Old Huronia, PAO Annual Report, V (1908).— R. Latourelle, Étude sur les écrits de saint Jean de Brébeuf, (2 vol., Montréal, 1952, 1953).— Félix Martin, Hurons et Iroquois. Le P. Jean de Brébeuf, sa vie, ses travaux, son martyre (Paris, 1877).— Pouliot, Étude sur les Relations des Jésuites.— J. Robinne, LApôtre au cœur mangé, Jean de Brébeuf : étude sur lépoque et sur lhomme (Paris, 1949).— Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle.— Francis Xavier Talbot, Saint among the Hurons : the life of Jean de Brébeuf (New York, 1949).— André Vachon, L'Eau-de-vie dans la société indienne, CHA Report, 1960 : 22–32 ; Mgr de Laval et la Menace iroquoise, BRH, LXVII (1961) :36–46.




Statue de St-Jean de Brébeuf à Trois-Rivières

Jean de Brébeuf
Jesuit missionary, born at Condé-sur-Vire in Normandy, 25 March, 1593; died in Canada, near Georgian Bay, 16 March, 1649. His desire was to become a lay brother, but he finally entered the Society of Jesus as a scholastic, 8 November, 1617. According to Ragueneau it was 5 October. Though of unusual physical strength, his health gave way completely when he was twenty-eight, which interfered with his studies and permitted only what was strictly necessary, so that he never acquired any extensive theological knowledge. On 19 June, 1625, he arrived in Quebec, with the Recollect, Joseph de la Roche d' Aillon, and in spite of the threat which the Calvinist captain of the ship made to carry him back to France, he remained in the colony. He overcame the dislike of the colonists for Jesuits and secured a site for a residence on the St. Charles, the exact location of a former landing of Jacques Cartier. He immediately took up his abode in the Indian wigwams, and has left us an account of his five months' experience there in the dead of winter. In the spring he set out with the Indians on a journey to Lake Huron in a canoe, during the course of which his life was in constant danger. With him was Father de Noüe, and they established their first mission near Georgian Bay, at Ihonatiria, but after a short time his companion was recalled, and he was left alone.

Brébeuf met with no success. He was summoned to Quebec because of the danger of extinction to which the entire colony was then exposed, and arrived there after an absence of two years, 17 July, 1628. On 19 July, 1629, Champlain surrendered to the English, and the missionaries returned to France. Four years afterwards the colony was restored to France, and on 23 March, 1633, Brébeuf again set out for Canada. While in France he had pronounced his solemn vows as spiritual coadjutor. As soon as he arrived, viz., May, 1633, he attempted to return to Lake Huron. The Indians refused to take him, but during the following year he succeeded in reaching his old mission along with Father Daniel. It meant a journey of thirty days and constant danger of death. The next sixteen years of uninterrupted labours among these savages were a continual series of privations and sufferings which he used to say were only roses in comparison with what the end was to be. The details may be found in the "Jesuit Relations".

In 1640 he set out with Father Chaumonot to evangelize the Neutres, a tribe that lived north of Lake Erie, but after a winter of incredible hardship the missionaries returned unsuccessful. In 1642 he was sent down to Quebec, where he was given the care of the Indians in the Reservation at Sillery. About the time the war was at its height between the Hurons and the Iroquois, Jogues and Bressani had been captured in an effort to reach the Huron country, and Brébeuf was appointed to make a third attempt. He succeeded. With him on this journey were Chabanel and Garreau, both of whom were afterwards murdered. They reached St. Mary's on the Wye, which was the central station of the Huron Mission. By 1647 the Iroquois had made peace with the French, but kept up their war with the Hurons, and in 1648 fresh disasters befell the work of the missionaries — their establishments were burned and the missionaries slaughtered. On 16 March, 1649, the enemy attacked St. Louis and seized Brébeuf and Lallemant, who could have escaped but rejected the offer made to them and remained with their flock. The two priests were dragged to St. Ignace, which the Iroquois had already captured.

On entering the village, they were met with a shower of stones, cruelly beaten with clubs, and then tied to posts to be burned to death. Brébeuf is said to have kissed the stake to which he was bound. The fire was lighted under them, and their bodies slashed with knives. Brébeuf had scalding water poured on his head in mockery of baptism, a collar of red-hot tomahawk-heads placed around his neck, a red-hot iron thrust down his throat, and when he expired his heart was cut out and eaten. Through all the torture he never uttered a groan. The Iroquois withdrew when they had finished their work. The remains of the victims were gathered up subsequently, and the head of Brébeuf is still kept as a relic at the Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec.

His memory is cherished in Canada more than that of all the other early missionaries. Although their names appear with his in letters of gold on the grand staircase of the public buildings, there is a vacant niche on the façade, with his name under it, awaiting his statue. His heroic virtues, manifested in such a remarkable degree at every stage of his missionary career, his almost incomprehensible endurance of privations and suffering, and the conviction that the reason of his death was not his association with the Hurons, but hatred of Christianity, has set on foot a movement for his canonization as a saint and martyr. An ecclesiastical court sat in 1904 for an entire year to examine his life and virtues and the cause of his death, and the result of the inquiry was forwarded to Rome. [He was canonized in 1930. –Ed

Campbell, Thomas. "Jean de Brébeuf." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 14 Mar. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02751b.htm>.


St. John de Brébeuf, SJ (1593-1649)By Bert Ghezzi From Voices of the SaintsHow I grieve, my God, that you are not known, that this savage country is not yet wholly converted to faith in you, that sin is not yet blotted out!—John de BrébeufSome saints I feel I know a little better because I have met someone like them. But I have never met anyone like St. John de Brébeuf, the Jesuit missionary and martyr. Large and handsome, his presence commanded attention. A brilliant student, gifted linguist, and competent manager, he could make things happen. I have met others like that, but none like this saint who 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 evangelized 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 humor 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, baptized 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 baptized.My God and my savior Jesus, what return can I make to you for all the benefits you have conferred on me? I make a vow to you never to fail, on my side, in the grace of martyrdom, if by your infinite mercy you offer it to me some day.

—John de Brébeuf. Excerpt from Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi.



BRÉBEUF, JEAN DE (called Échon by the Hurons), priest, Jesuit, founder of the Huron mission; b. 25 March 1593 at Condé-sur-Vire in Lower Normandy; martyred 16 March 1649 at the village of Saint-Ignace in the Huron country (in the region of Midland, Ontario), canonized 29 June 1930 by Pius XI and proclaimed by Pius XII on 16 Oct. 1940 patron saint of Canada along with his seven martyred companions.

Among Jean de Brébeuf’s ancestors are said to have been companions-in-arms of William the Conqueror and of St. Louis, king of France, and his family, it is said, may be related to the English earls of Arundel. We know nothing of his immediate family. History has, however, preserved the names of two of his nephews: Georges de Brébeuf (1617–61), a minor poet of the 17th century, and Nicolas de Brébeuf (1631–91), prior of Saint-Gerbold, on the outskirts of Caen.

When he was 24 Brébeuf entered the Jesuit noviciate in Rouen. After two years (1617–19) under Father Lancelot Marin’s direction he was appointed teacher of the first form in the secondary school (1619–20), then of the second form (1620–21) at the Collège in Rouen. During his second year of teaching he was incapacitated by illness, but he had enough strength left to prepare for the priesthood, which he received in 1622 at Pontoise. From 1622 to 1625 he stayed at the Collège of Rouen, where he held the office of steward. Then he was chosen for the missions in New France by the provincial of France, Father Pierre Coton. He sailed from Dieppe in April 1625 and landed at Quebec in June, along with Fathers Charles Lalemant and Énemond Massé and two lay brothers, François Charton and Gilbert Burel.

Five months of a roving existence in the cold and the snow (20 Oct. 1625–27 March 1626) with a group of Montagnais Indians who lived near Quebec constituted his apprenticeship for the missionary life. Scarcely had he been initiated in the language and custom of the Algonkins when in the same year, 1626, his superior designated him, with Father Anne de Nouë, for the Huron country. In July for the first time Brébeuf travelled by canoe the 800 miles that separated Quebec from the Huron territory. The pages that he wrote later about conditions on this trip make of him, along with Champlain, Sagard, Chaumonot, and Allouez, one of the principal chroniclers of this great route to the West which missionaries, traders, and explorers long followed. This route led the travellers via the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, the Mattawa, the Rivière à la Vase, Lake Nipissing, and the French River to Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes. This was a 20- to 30-day trip which the numerous portages, the tramping through the forests, the plague of mosquitoes, supply difficulties, lack of hygiene among the Indians, etc., often made exhausting.

Ties which were already very old, dating from Champlain’s first explorations, linked the Hurons and the French. In a colony the existence and growth of which depended principally upon the fur trade, the Hurons were precious allies. Champlain had realized this. Indeed, the Hurons formed a compact, sedentary, agricultural group gifted with a real genius for trade. Their economy, which was relatively balanced and which was based upon the cultivation of the soil, supplemented in season by picking of fruit in summer, by fishing and hunting in the autumn, conferred upon them an undeniable superiority over the neighbouring tribes. From the time of their earliest contacts with the French, the Hurons realized that they were primarily interested in obtaining furs. Immediately they increased their trade. Taking advantage of their situation, which was economically and geographically privileged, they played the role of middlemen between populations with different kinds of economies. They accumulated in their villages huge quantities of furs that they bought from the nomadic hunters of the regions of Lake Nipissing, Lake Timiskaming, the Ottawa and St. Maurice rivers, and even the Hudson Bay territories. In return they offered these hunters corn, flour, tobacco, pumpkins, nets, which they obtained from their own district or from the tribes to the south and the west – the Neutrals, the Tobacco nation, the Eries, the Nipissings and the Ottawas. The Hurons thus became the great traders of the period. As soon as seeding was ended, they would load their canoes and go off to trade with the French, from whom they received European goods in exchange: metal arrow-heads, pots, hatchets, needles, fish-hooks, knives, blankets, and above all porcelain, a material more precious than gold in the Indians’ eyes.

The alliance with the Hurons presented other advantages: it facilitated exploration of the interior of the country and permitted the establishment of settlement outposts in the St. Lawrence basin, and above all it furthered the evangelizing of the Indians. For the missionaries, the evangelization of fixed and friendly populations was incontestably more promising than that of the nomadic Algonkins. There was, however, another side to this alliance, which with the years was to prove to be formidable: in allying themselves with the Hurons the French were committing themselves to lend them military support against the Iroquois, their hereditary enemies. For years the fur trade, the development of the colony, and the evangelizing of the Indians would be dependent upon the assistance that France would give the Laurentian coalition (Algonkins, Montagnais, and Hurons) against the Iroquois. Initially this alliance brought about a great increase in the trade in furs and facilitated the missionary enterprise.

Upon his arrival among the Hurons, Brébeuf took up residence at Toanché I, among the Bear tribe, the most important of the four great families in the Huron confederacy (the Bear, the Cord, the Rock, and the Deer tribes). The greatest benefit that Brébeuf derived from this first stay in the Huron country (1626–29) was no doubt, along with his apprenticeship in the language, a better knowledge of the Huron milieu. His efforts at evangelization met apparently with no success. In 1629 Brébeuf was recalled in haste to Quebec. He was present when the post was captured by the Kirkes in July and subsequently had to return to France with the other missionaries in the colony. He was appointed to Rouen and was assigned to serve the Church as a preacher and confessor. It was at this time (January 1630) that he took his final vows as a Jesuit. From 1631 to 1633 we find him at the Collège in Eu, acting as steward, minister, and confessor all at the same time. Brébeuf returned to New France in 1633, and the following year he went into the Huron country again, accompanied by Fathers Antoine Daniel and Ambroise Davost.

This time he was entrusted by his superior, Father Paul Le Jeune, with the task of founding and organizing a real mission. From the outset the Jesuits of New France pinned their greatest hopes on this mission. In Le Jeune’s eyes it represented a privileged testing-ground for the evangelizing of the Indians and was to constitute a sort of prototype which he intended to use as a model for the other missions. Brébeuf’s first act as superior was to choose a centre from which the work of the mission would radiate. After careful consideration, on 19 Sept. 1634 he settled at Ihonatiria (Saint-Joseph I), a village near Toanché, where he had stayed from 1626 to 1629. Until 9 June 1637 the Huron mission was confined to this one residence. After a relatively satisfying phase the work of evangelization soon met obstinate and increasing resistance among the Hurons. Brébeuf attributed this resistance to three factors: the immorality of the Hurons, their attachment to the custom of the country, that is, to everything that until then had made up their world of beliefs and pleasures, and finally the epidemics that ravaged the country.

This last factor in particular greatly delayed the flow of conversions. The epidemics of 1634 (smallpox combined with dysentery), 1636 (malignant influenza), and 1639 (smallpox) reduced to 12,000 a population that Sagard, Brébeuf, and Champlain estimated at 30,000 souls. Contact with the Europeans was disastrous for the American Indians, taken by surprise by the viruses that had been brought from Europe. In this respect the Iroquois were better protected than the Hurons, since the Dutch and English settlers mixed little with the Indians and were content to wait for them in the shelter of their factories. In the Huron country these repeated scourges made the missionaries’ presence odious. The epidemic of 1636–37 roused the whole nation against Brébeuf and his companions. For months on end, under the direction of the witch doctors, a clever campaign was carried on, made up of hypocritical insinuations, then of open and violent threats, which were accompanied by attempts at murder. In the autumn of 1637 the whole mission almost collapsed. In this emergency Brébeuf sent to Father Le Jeune a sort of letter-testament in which he announced the possibility that all the missionaries might be massacred.

At the end of August 1638, after founding a third post at Teanaostaiaë (Saint-Joseph II), Brébeuf handed direction of the mission over to Father Jérôme Lalemant, who had recently arrived from France. He himself became the superior of the residence that he had just founded. It was in this ministry that Brébeuf had to suffer the harshest persecution of his career. After a smallpox epidemic the dramatic events of 1637 were repeated, but staged even more riotously: crosses were torn down, stones were thrown at the chapel, there were beatings and threats with hatchets and flaming embers. During this storm Brébeuf even saw part of his flock desert the faith that they had just embraced. In April 1640 an uprising broke out, in the course of which Pierre Boucher* was wounded in the arm, while Brébeuf and Chaumonot were beaten. In the month of May the Indians’ tumult led Lalemant to give up the residence.

In the autumn of 1640, after taking counsel together the missionaries decided to start two new missions: one among the Algonkins, the other among the Neutrals. Brébeuf and Chaumonot were appointed to the latter. Preceded by secret Huron agents who depicted the missionaries as the most maleficent of witch doctors, the two of them travelled throughout a violently hostile region, rejected, abused, reviled everywhere. These were five months of fruitless labour (November 1640–March 1641). As a crowning misfortune, on the way back from this mission Brébeuf fell on the ice while crossing a frozen lake and broke his left clavicle. Father Lalemant felt that it was his duty to send Brébeuf back to Quebec and entrust him to a doctor’s care; at the same time he could fill there the post of mission procurator which Father Ragueneau held. In the spring of 1642 Brébeuf reached Quebec, after seven consecutive years with the Hurons.

The task of procurator of the Huron mission consisted of supplying the missionaries with everything that they might need (books, paper, religious objects, etc.) and of organizing supply convoys for them. This was a painful trial for Brébeuf; twice, in 1642 and 1643, the convoys he prepared were seized by the Iroquois and were a complete loss. In addition to this function, during his stay at Quebec Brébeuf had to attend to the teaching of six young Hurons who had been entrusted to his care (September 1642–June 1643). He also served as confessor, spiritual director, and adviser to the Ursulines and Religious Hospitallers. And finally, on Sundays and feast days he preached and heard the confessions of the French inhabitants of Quebec.

On 7 Sept. 1644 Brébeuf was back in the Huron country, this time for good. He took up his post again at the very moment when the death-struggle of the Huron country was beginning. In fact, the conflict that had been going on for a long time between the Iroquois and the Hurons was on the point of coming to an end. In 1628 the victory of the Mohawks over the Mahicans made the Iroquois the suppliers of pelts to the Dutch at Fort Orange. From then on the Iroquois began to enjoy the advantage of trading with the Europeans. Their cupidity was aroused. They prevented the other tribes from crossing their territory to exchange their furs with Fort Orange. They aspired to play vis-à-vis the Dutch the same role that the Hurons did with the French. But then furs began to be scarce in their territory. Consequently, the Iroquois thought of capturing the Hurons’ rich convoys. From the year 1637 on, the Mohawks became the pirates of the fur trade. To help them in their struggle they asked the Dutch traders for fire-arms, and succeeded in obtaining them. In 1641 they had at their disposal 39 muskets; in 1643, 300. Aggressive by nature, they were spurred on further by the weakness of their adversaries, whose numbers had from 1634 to 1640 been reduced by two-thirds as a result of epidemics. The Iroquois dreamt therefore of exterminating the Hurons. This policy was supported by New Holland, aware that the ruin of the Huron meant that of the French trade and by the same token of New France. “We have had letters from France,” wrote Father Vimont, “that the design of the Dutch is to have the French harassed by the Iroquois, to such an extent that they may constrain them to give up and abandon everything – even the conversion of the Savages.”

In 1641 the insecurity in New France and on the route to the Huron country became so great that Father Vimont, at the request of Governor Huault de Montmagny and of the settlers, sent Father Le Jeune to France to set forth the situation to the king and to Richelieu. In 1642 began the disasters which were to go on increasing each year. The Mohawks and Senecas launched a vast offensive which extended from New France to the Huron territory. Divided into small bands, they systematically blockaded the routes along the Richelieu, the Ottawa, and the St. Lawrence. The French colony was weak; it had only 400 inhabitants and had available only 100 soldiers. The Relations, which previously had been crammed with details concerning conversions and epidemics, no longer spoke of anything but massacres and pillage. The year 1642, which saw the founding of Ville-Marie, was marked also by the capture of Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, and Guillaume Couture*. In two years (1642–43) the mission convoys were captured three times, on the way either up or down. In 1644 Father Bressani was captured and tortured. The treaty of 1645 constituted only a short-lived truce in this nightmare, since Jogues was murdered in October 1646. During the summer of 1647 fear of the Iroquois was so great that the Hurons did not go down to Quebec.

The years 1647–48 marked the beginning of the annihilation of the Huron nation. Until then the Iroquois had restricted themselves to surprising the traders’ convoys on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa routes. Now they were in the heart of the Huron country. In 1647 they massacred the population of a Neutral village. On 4 July 1648, taking advantage of the fact that the Hurons had gone trading, a band of Indians threw themselves upon the villages of Saint-Joseph and Saint-Michel and took 700 prisoners. Father Antoine Daniel fell, riddled with arrows. The village of Saint-Joseph II (Teanaostaiaë) formed with Ossossanë (La Conception) and Sainte-Marie the triangular base of Huron resistance. On 16 March of the following year (1649) more than 1,000 Iroquois attacked Saint-Ignace (Taenhatentaron), then Saint-Louis, where Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were carrying on their work. They were taken prisoner and carried off to Saint-Ignace, where they suffered one of the most atrocious martyrdoms in the annals of Christianity. Brébeuf’s torture has been told us with moving simplicity by the donné Christophe Regnault, who saw his remains: “Father de Brébeuf had his legs, thighs, and arms stripped of flesh to the very bone; I saw and touched a large number of great blisters, which he had on several places on his body, from the boiling water which these barbarians had poured over him in mockery of Holy Baptism. I saw and touched the wound from a belt of bark, full of pitch and resin, which roasted his whole body. I saw and touched the marks of burns from the Collar of hatchets placed on his shoulders and stomach. I saw and touched his two lips, which they had cut off because he constantly spoke of God while they made him suffer.

“I saw and touched all parts of his body, which had received more than two hundred blows from a stick. I saw and touched the top of his scalped head; I saw and touched the opening which these barbarians had made to tear out his heart.

“In fine, I saw and touched all the wounds of his body, as the savages had told and declared to us. . . .”

In the face of the Iroquois attack, instead of recovering themselves the Hurons were seized with panic. Almost the entire Bear tribe took refuge with the Tobacco nation. Others sought asylum with the Neutrals, the Eries, the Algonkins, or fled to the nearby islands. The Huron confederacy fell completely to pieces. As the residence at Sainte-Marie-des-Hurons had at its disposal only 8 soldiers, 22 donnés and 7 servants, the Jesuits decided to abandon it. On 14 June 1649 they set fire to the building and betook themselves with a few hundred Hurons to the Île Saint-Joseph (Christian Island), located a few miles from there in Lake Huron. The new establishment had scarcely been finished when a new misfortune was added to the previous ones; in December the village of Saint-Jean, in the territory of the Tobacco nation, was attacked and pillaged. On the Île Saint-Joseph the situation soon became desperate. Famine, contagious maladies, new attacks by the Iroquois, forced the missionaries and the Indians to leave. On 10 June 1650, 300 Hurons, accompanied by the Jesuits and their servants, set out in canoes for Quebec. In the spring of 1651 these fragments of the Huron nation settled down on the Île d’Orléans; soon there were 600 of them, under Father Chaumonot’s direction.
Brébeuf’s apostolate in the Huron country lasted 15 years. The Huron mission died with him who had begun it. But by a striking contrast, at the same time as the nation was being crushed, its spiritual regeneration was taking place. The Relations, which for a long time could count the conversions only one by one, speak of hundreds and even of thousands of baptisms in the latter years. For the year 1649–50 alone, Father Ragueneau gave the figure of 3,000 baptisms. The consequence of the dispersion of the Huron nation was to spread the Christian faith among the nations of the Great Lakes basin and on the shores of the Rivière des Hollandais (Mohawk River). These converts were to form the elements of the Christian communities which the Jesuits were to go to found among the Iroquois and the nations of the west.

What we know of Brébeuf comes to us from the Relations des Jésuites and especially from his own writings. These writings, very varied in nature, cover a period of 18 years, that is from 1630 to 1648. Among them are two Relations (those for 1635 and 1636), a spiritual diary composed of 44 fragments, 15 letters addressed to the superior general of the Society of Jesus or to local superiors, instructions or catechisms, a dictionary, a grammar, and even two Huron texts. Several of these writings have been lost. Those that remain, about 20, amounting to some 300 pages, enable us to recognize in Brébeuf the founder of missions, the ethnographer, the mystic, and the writer.

The necessity for Brébeuf to understand thoroughly the milieu in which he was trying to evangelize resulted in a precious contribution to the ethnography of the Amerinds; 15 years of living with the Hurons allowed him to become better acquainted with their manners and customs than anyone else. Along with Champlain and Sagard, Brébeuf remains the most important witness of this period of first contacts. He lays stress for his part on the social, political, and religious life of the Hurons; in this respect he completes Champlain and enlarges upon Sagard. On these three points the 1636 Relation remains a unique document that is mentioned in first place in all the monographs concerning the Hurons. Brébeuf’s testimony is all the more valuable from the ethnological point of view in that it establishes the picture of the Hurons at the time when they were still themselves, before successive epidemics, war, and massacres had reduced them to the state of human wrecks; his testimony has all the interest and the intensity of a snapshot, so to speak.

As the founder of the Huron mission Brébeuf was called upon to give it its earliest orientation. His administration was devoted to different tasks. First of all, there was the setting up of the first residences. During his superiorship he founded Saint-Joseph I at Ihonatiria (19 or 20 Sept. 1634), then the residence of L’Immaculée-Conception (9 June 1637) at Ossossanë, and finally that of Saint-Joseph II at Teanaostaiaë (25 June 1638). These posts, which were situated in the midst of the two main tribes (the Bear and the Cord), enabled him to become deeply assimilated into the Huron environment. Secondly, he applied himself to mastering the language. Brébeuf had been chosen the first time, in 1626, by Father Charles Lalemant to be the apostle to the Huron country because of his talent for languages. After his first three-year stay Brébeuf knew enough Huron to be able to translate the catechism of the Jesuit Ledesma. When he returned to New France in 1633, Brébeuf became Father Daniel’s and Father Davost’s teacher. As soon as they had arrived in the Huron country in 1634, their initiation continued, the team being completed by Fathers François Le Mercier, Pierre Pijart, Pierre Chastellain, Charles Garnier, and Isaac Jogues, all of them working under Brébeuf’s direction on the compilation of a dictionary and the preparation of a grammar. In 1639 mastery of the language had been achieved. This study, representing eight or nine years of austere and assiduous toil, was above all Brébeuf’s work. As a third task, when he had been initiated into the Huron milieu and was master of the language, Brébeuf undertook the major work of evangelization. After first working with the children, he soon realized that all depended upon the adults, in particular the chieftains and elders, who were the real sources of influence. The work of conversion advanced very slowly at first. The first conversion of an adult in good health took place in 1637. Four years later, in 1641, there were still only 60 Christians.

Brébeuf’s correspondence and still more his spiritual diary reveal to us a soul that had manifestly entered upon the paths of higher prayer and that had long been familiar with divine communications. Three important commitments mark Brébeuf’s spiritual ascension: in 1631, the promise to serve Christ even to the sacrifice of his life; in 1637–39, the vow never to refuse the grace of martyrdom; in 1645, the vow of perfection. Several passages from the spiritual diary reveal that Brébeuf, like Jogues, had been favoured with a special vocation for the cross. From 1636 to 1641 insulted, beaten, stoned, jeered at, subjected to physical injury, Brébeuf was in the Huron country, like St. Paul, the “sweeping” of the world. Engaged in apostolic action, he was purified in that action and by that action. If in 1645, four years before his martyrdom, he was able to take the vow of perfection, it was because his soul had by that time long been completely submissive to God’s will. The consummation of this saintliness came to Brébeuf through martyrdom. Among the influences which contributed to the shaping of Brébeuf’s soul one must mention especially St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the Imitation of Jesus Christ, St. Paul’s letters, and then the probable influence of Father Louis Lallemant, a great 17th-century French master of the spiritual life.

Finally, Brébeuf shows himself a writer without any pretentions, but a very gifted one. The two Relations in particular, in which Brébeuf recorded his observations as a traveller, ethnographer, and missionary, are written in very firm language of astonishing vigour, with a wealth of words and images, which had not yet been affected by the refining but impoverishing influence of the French salons. This language recalls the zest and the smile of Montaigne. Nowhere will one find more delightful observation or richer colour than in the chapters in which Brébeuf describes the conditions of life in the Huron country, the manners of the Hurons, the great Feast of the Dead. Nothing is more nobly lyrical than the Avertissement dimportance addressed to the young religious of France. Brébeuf’s language has not grown old. Humbler, but how precious are the few notes that remain to us from his private diary; these fragments represent the earliest pages of mystical literature in Canada.

Among the missionaries of the period Brébeuf’s personality stands out as one of the most colourful. However, if Brébeuf stood out, it was not primarily because of his qualities of intelligence, although they were remarkable. All those who came into contact with him recognized indeed that his judgement was excellent. His correspondence in particular and his two Relations reveal a very discriminating observer, who readily indulged in a certain type of humour. His letters to the superiors of the Society of Jesus remain models of clarity, composition, and practical good sense. One does not, however, find in him the bold conceptions typical of Lalemant or the constantly renewed initiatives of Le Jeune. Brébeuf is characterized rather by very robust good sense, by a kind of supernatural empiricism; in his undertakings he always combined human prudence and wisdom from above. His magnificent gifts always remained those of the heart and the will. There was no pettiness in this man, no meanness. One would look in vain in his writings for any sign of rancour, of bitterness in judgement, of secret jealousy. His mildness was proof against all scorn. The audacity which marked some of his actions was less a trait of his character than a form of his apostolic zeal. Two extremes were blended in him: on one hand, the realistic man, a friend of tradition, who appeared in the college steward, the mission organizer, the humble religious, and on the other hand the ardent, energetic apostle, courting all occasions for martyrdom and all the irrationality of the cross. Such was he who has been called “the giant of the Huron missions,” and more recently “the apostle whose heart was devoured.”


ACSM, “Mémoires touchant la mort et les vertus des pères Isaac Jogues . . .” (Ragueneau), repr. APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 3–70 passimJR (Thwaites), VIII, X. Positio causae. Desrosiers, Iroquoisie. Jésuites de la N.-F. (Roustang). A. E. Jones, “‘ȣendake Ehen’ or Old Huronia,” PAO Annual Report, V (1908). R. Latourelle, Étude sur les écrits de saint Jean de Brébeuf (2v., Montréal, 1952, 1953). Félix Martin, Hurons et Iroquois. Le P. Jean de Brébeuf, sa vie, ses travaux, son martyre (Paris, 1877). Pouliot, Étude sur les Relations des Jésuites. J. Robinne, LApôtre au cœur mangé, Jean de Brébeuf: étude sur lépoque et sur lhomme (Paris, 1949). Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siècle. F.-X. Talbot, Saint among the Hurons: the life of Jean de Brébeuf (New York, 1949). André Vachon, “L’eau-de-vie dans la société indienne,” CHA Report, 1960, 22–32; “Mgr de Laval et la menace iroquoise,” BRH, LXVII (1961), 36–46.



Jean de Brebeuf / 1593-1649

By ANGUS MACDOUGALL
 


     We know very little of the early years of Jean de Brebeuf. He was born at Conde-sur-Vire on March 25, 1593, fifteen years before the founding of Quebec by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Brebeuf himself would see this Quebec on June 19, 1625.

     At the age of twenty-four, Jean entered the Jesuit novitiate at Rouen, and ill-health seemed to dog one who later would be remem-bered as the most robust of the blackrobes. Such poor health shortened somewhat his course of studies and brought on an early ordination to the priesthood in February 1622. Three years later he sailed off to Canada, a land that would never forget him.

     Brebeuf's initial contacts with the Indians he had come to convert to Christianity were with the Algonkian Montagnais close to Quebec. In his first winter in Canada, 1625-1626, he learned something about the Algonkian language and perhaps still more about Indian ways. He was a shrewd observer and learned quickly and well.

     We know that in time this affable Norman would become an expert in the Huron language and culture. He would also write long detailed reports that set him apart as Canada's first serious ethnographer.


HURONIA 1626-1629


     Longing to do missionary work among the promising Hurons, he left for their country on July 25, 1626. His companions were a fellow Jesuit Anne de None and a Recollet Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon. Anne de None was forced to withdraw in 1627; la Roche Daillon followed suit in 1628; and Brebeuf himself was recalled by his superior to Quebec in June 1629. The occasion was the imminent capitulation of Quebec to the Kirke brothers fighting on behalf of English interests.


     Brebeuf left his mission field with much knowledge of the Huron language and the Huron people but also with a heavy heart. His Huron friends were no less downcast at his - for them - inexplicable depar-ture.


     Paul le Jeune, in his Relation of 1633 describes Brebeuf's break with his beloved Hurons in these terms: "When Father Brebeuf was begin-ning to make himself understood, the arrival of the English compelled him to leave these poor people, who said to him at his departure: 


'Listen, you have told us that you have ~ Father in heaven who made all, and that he who did not obey Him was cast into the flames. We have asked you to instruct us. When you go away, what shall we do?'"
     Most Frenchmen and all missionaries were repatriated to France in this year of 1629. Brebeuf, unaware of the future, now began a round of minor administrative duties in Jesuit houses of Normandy. Actually, he was only marking time. Canada would soon beckon once again!


RETURN TO HURONIA


     With the signing of the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632, France regained control of New France and the blackrobes could resume their interrupted labors. This time Brebeuf set out with two fellow Jesuits, Anthony Daniel, the future martyr, and Ambroise Davost. They arrived in Quebec on May 23,1633. Br6beuf had been away four years.


     These three blackrobes set out on the arduous canoe trip to Huronia in July 1634. They did not have an easy time of it, especially Davost who traveled with a surly crew of Hurons. Brebeuf has preserved for us an excellent account of this trip to Huronia in his Relation of 1635. The whole of this Relation which he sent to Le Jeune at Quebec is a mine of information about the trip, the Hurons and the land of Huronia. One simply has to marvel at the direct, forceful and entertaining narrative skill of Brebeuf.

     The trip itself from Three Rivers to Huronia covered roughly 800 miles. The route followed by Brebeuf and his companions was the Ottawa river route, for the St. Lawrence river and Lake Ontario pas-sage had been successfully blockaded by the hostile Iroquois bent on destroying both the Huron fur trade and the Hurons themselves.


THE LONG VOYAGE


     Paddling their light bark canoes, for hours at a stretch, the Hurons traveled up the St. Lawrence from Three Rivers to the point where this great river met the Ottawa. They then ascended the Ottawa to where it joined, well to the north, the Mattawa which took them to Mud Lake. Further along they crossed large and, at times, rough Lake Nipissing, the region of their friendly allies the Algonkian Nipissings. From the western end of Lake Nipissing they descended the French River until they came to Georgian Bay, a rather large inlet of Lake Huron.


     Once they had reached Georgian Bay, the Hurons were back in home waters and at the north-northwest boundary of Huronia.

     This long trip, some 800 miles, was not a smooth one, for the rivers were full of dangerous rapids and impassable waterfalls. These natural barriers called for wearisome portages when canoes and equipment had to be laboriously carried or dragged, often long distances over rugged terrain. On this trip, his second to the upper country, Br6beuf counted the number of such portages and noted that the party carried their things thirty-five times and dragged them at least fifty!

     As for their food on the way, Brebeuf mentioned that this usually consisted of corn ground somewhat coarsely between two stones. By mixing it with water they made a kind of gruel. Sometimes they ate a bit of fish caught by chance, but usually it had to be purchased from some Indian tribe along the way.

     The trip was never a pleasant one, for all had to sleep on the bare earth or on hard rock, and this after trudging often in water, mud and through the dark, entangled forest, where swarms of mosquitoes and black flies made life completely miserable. At night, the missionaries had to sleep beside the exhausted Hurons and endure the inevitable stench of sweaty and unwashed bodies.

     Brebeuf also mentioned the long, tiresome silence one was reduced to, especially when ignorant of the Indian tongue.

     The paddling, of course, was grueling and prolonged, and could last from shortly after sunrise to sunset. This and the constant portaging left the unaccustomed European bone-weary and exhausted and scarcely made the new day a welcome one. It was indeed a sobering introduction to the mission land of Huronia.

     Brebeuf described his own experience of 1634 as follows: "To be sure, I was at times so weary that my body could do no more. But at the same time my soul was filled with great happiness as I realized that I was suffering this for God. No one can know this feeling unless he has experienced it."


A REAL PSYCHOLOGIST!


     A few years later, in 1637, Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Hurons. These reflect his own true and tried experience and a special sensitivity towards the Indians themselves: you must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers; you must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking; carry a tinder-box or a piece of burn-ing-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp, as these little services win their hearts; try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours; eat as soon as the day breaks, for Indians, when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun; be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe; be the least troublesome to the Indians; do not ask questions: silence is golden; bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to be and to appear cheerful; share little gifts with them; always carry something during the portages; do not be ceremonious with the Indians; do not paddle unless you intend always to paddle; the Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip; always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.


     Echon, the name by which Brebeuf was known among the Hurons, arrived safely in Huronia on August 5th. He was warmly welcomed by his friends of 1626-1629, and at first he lodged with a leading Huron, benefiting from the traditional Indian hospitality. Later, Brebeuf de-cided it would be wiser for the missionaries and their French domestics to build a cabin of their own. Accordingly, they erected a simple but solid cabin, Indian style, in the village of Ihonatiria.


THE DIFFICULT YEARS


     In the years that followed, the blackrobes had to contend with all the reluctance of the Hurons to accept new ways and especially new religious beliefs. Illnesses that afflicted the Hurons because of their con-tacts with the whites and because of their lack of basic hygiene com-plicated the missionaries' dealings with the Hurons. Superstitious as a group the Hurons readily blamed the newcomers for any disaster that occurred.


     So progress and evangelization were slow. It would be only in June 1637 that Brebeuf would succeed in making his first adult convert in good health, a leading Huron by the name of Pierre Tsiouendaentaha. Because of this man's example and that of the famous Joseph Chiwatenha, a convert two months later, Christianity began to make slow but sure headway.

     Yet in 1637 everything nearly ended in total disaster. Dejected by recurring epidemics, crop failures and defeats in battle, those Hurons opposed to the presence of the blackrobes persuaded the council to condemn them to death. The missionaries even drew up a sort of last will and testament. But, even with death staring them in the face, Brebeuf and the others, much to the astonishment of the Hurons, carried on calmly and bravely and finally overcame the crisis.


     In 1638, Brebeuf was replaced as superior in Huronia by Jerome Lalemant. He moved to the Huron village of Teanaostaiae. At first, he succeeded admirably, but disaffection set in and Brebeuf and his com-panion Father Chaumonot were severely beaten in an uprising. 


Later, after a fruitless mission to the distant Neutral nation, Brebeuf was sent for a respite to Quebec; for one thing, he had a broken left clavicle as a reminder of that dangerous and disheartening trip.



     From 1641 to 1644 Brebeuf had to serve his beloved Huronia from Quebec where he acted as provisioner for the missions of Georgian Bay. But even here he was not spared persecution and suffering, in the form of the increasingly bold Iroquois marauders. These "pirates of the fur trade" and of the Huron supply convoys interrupted and pillaged a number of his precious shipments. 


The great man finally returned to Huronia in September of 1644. For him it was a moment of profound joy.



THE GOLDEN YEARS


     In a way the next few years would be the golden years for the Christian faith in Huronia. More and more the Hurons listened to their black-robes, followed instructions with rapt attention and then asked for baptism. The numbers of the baptized increased steadily and by 1647 could be counted in the thousands.



THE GATHERING STORM


     In 1648 Huronia began to crumble under the incessant attacks of the well-armed Iroquois now determined to destroy their long-standing enemy the Huron nation. The Hurons, for all their bravery, were very negligent in maintaining vigilance and allowed themselves time and time again to be ambushed and overrun.



     We know that in 1647 no Huron convoy dared go down to trade at Three Rivers. On July 4, 1648 a large force of Iroquois surprised and destroyed Teanaostaiae~, a large Huron outpost to the south. It was a crushing blow. The Iroquois swiftly withdrew before any counter-attack could be mounted against them.  On March 16, 1649, 1200 well-armed Iroquois, escaping all notice, 


attacked the village of St. Ignace at dawn and seized it and its inhabi-tants with ridiculous ease. A few hours later they besieged the neigh-boring village of St. Louis and, after a short hut fierce struggle, over-whelmed it too. It was here that they laid hands on Brebeuf and his younger companion Gabriel Lalemant. These were dragged off in great triumph to St. Ignace.



MARTYRDOM


     Fastened to stakes and summarily subjected to brutal torture the two blackrobes now faced their moment of martyrdom, and it had come suddenly and without warning.


     Brebeuf was assailed with blows to his head, face, shoulders, loins and legs. Yet all he thought of was his beloved Hurons now fellow captives. "My children," he said to them, "let us lift our eyes to heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be our exceeding great reward. Let us die in this faith; and let us hope from his goodness the fulfillment of his promises. I have more pity for you than for myself; but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives. The glory which follows them will never have an end."

     "Echon," these said to him, "our spirits will be in heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that he may show us mercy. We will invoke him even until death."

     For the next few hours it was torture by fire, necklaces of red-hot hatchets, burning-coals, mutilation, mock baptism with boiling water and scalping. "Father Jean de Brebeuf," writes his friend Paul Ragueneau, "suffered like a rock, insensible to the fires and the flames, with-out uttering any cry, and keeping a profound silence, which astonished his executioners themselves. No doubt, his heart was then reposing in his God. Then, returning to himself, he preached to those infidels, and still more to many Christian captives, who had compassion on him."

     Death came for this stalwart blackrobe about four p.m., on that March 16, 1649. He who could be described as an apostle, a brave adventurer, a skilled writer, a careful ethnologist, a man of vision had now become a martyr. His goodness was legendary with all who had known him - Champlain, his Jesuit brethren who loved and admired him, Mere Marie de l'Incarnation and thousands of unknown Hurons.


A MAN OF GOD


     In a tale briefly told, it is so easy to leave much unsaid. We must under-stand, however, that this man was a real apostle and a man of "eminent holiness." God for him was a huge, pressing reality and he longed to share his faith and deep happiness with others, especially those who had never heard of Him. For him, the Indians were his brothers and sisters in the Lord.


    Simple and straightforward, Brebeuf possessed a gentleness that won hearts. No one could question his courage, his love of the cross and his dedication. He was also one of those quiet, effective leaders among men. Yet, like all the saints, he was so unsure of himself before God. With disarming simplicity he wrote on one occasion: For fear that God should cut me off at the root, as a fruitless tree, I have prayed him that he still suffer me to stand, this year; and I have promised Him that I would yield Him better fruits than in the past."

     Brebeuf died at the age of fifty-six years by the kind of death fitting for the first apostle to the Hurons. Church authorities recognized this officially on June 29,1930, when Jean de Brebeuf and his companions were canonized by Pope Pius XI. 


ST. JEAN DE BRÉBEUF (1593 - 1649)

St. Jean was born in Condé-sur-Vire, on March 25th, 1593; and little is known about him until 1617, when he was 24, and entered the Jesuit mission at Rouen. He devoted these two years to prayer and reflection, and worked hard to become humble and holy. He decided to become a lay brother in the Order, but his Superiors told him to accept whatever position he was asked to take in the Jesuit Order.
At the end of his novitiate, Jean taught grammar in the college at Rouen. He taught for two years and after getting tuberculosis, he completed his priestly studies privately. After his ordination in 1623, his health improved rapidly and he was named bursar of the college at Rouen.

The Recollects who had been labouring in New France (Canada) since 1615, invited the Jesuits to help them. So in 1625, three priests, Charles Lalemant, Ennemond Massé and Jean de Brébeuf, were chosen for the missions in New France.

Fr. Brébeuf reached Quebec in the summer of 1625. He wanted to go to the Huron country to study their language. But when news came, that some Hurons had killed a Recollect priest on the route he would have to pass, Fr. Lalemant, his Superior, held Jean back and waited for a more favourable time. Meanwhile, our saint spent the winter of 1625-1626 among a tribe of Montagnais Indians, learning their language and their customs.

Early in 1626, Fr. Brébeuf and two priests set out for the Huron country. They travelled the Ottawa River and after thirty days of painful effort they reached Otouacha, the landing place of the Huron village. Here Jean built a shelter and his first weeks were passed in learning the Huron tongue and writing the language down as it sounded to his ears. In a short time Jean acquired a good knowledge of the Huron tongue, but his two priest companions who were less gifted, returned to Quebec a year later.

Our saint began his lonely life by planting a large cross before his home. He visited the homes of the Hurons and gathered them together to explain to them about God and the truths of the Catholic faith. But the hearts and minds of the Hurons were hardened by centuries of superstition. Fr. Brébeuf struggled on patiently during the winters of 1627-1628 and 1628-1629, but had very little success. He baptized a few infants in danger of death, and some sick adults. And just when he had hopes of forming a church among his little group of converts, Fr. Lalemant summoned him back to Quebec.

When Fr. Brébeuf reached Quebec, he found that the people of the colony were starving. Ships carrying goods had either sunk at sea, or had been taken by English pirates on the St. Lawrence Seaway. In 1629, the English captured Quebec and expelled Champlain and the French missionaries. Back in France, Jean again became bursar at Rouen College. In 1630 he took his final vows as a Jesuit. In 1631, he made this offering to God: "Lord Jesus my Redeemer, Thou hast saved me with Thy Blood and precious Death. In return for this favour, I promise to serve Thee all my life in the Society of Jesus, and never to serve anyone but Thee. I sign this promise with my own blood, ready to sacrifice it all as willingly as I do this drop."

England restored New France to the French in 1632, and in 1634, Fr. Brébeuf, Fr. Daniel, and Fr. Davost journeyed to Huronia. After many days of travel, they reached Ihonatiria. Here Jean began to visit the Hurons, instructing adults and baptizing children. Little gifts given to the children gave them a great desire to learn and they learned quickly. Fr. Brébeuf also visited two other Indian tribes and in 1635, he baptized eighty Indians. Every summer the Hurons brought up a couple of Jesuits, who as soon as they had a little knowledge of the Huron tongue, began to instruct and baptize in many of the hamlets throughout the surrounding areas. The future looked promising but time would tell.

In 1637, a strange illness caused hundreds of Hurons to die. The Huron sorcerers who feared to lose respect among their people, blamed the illness on the "Blackrobes", as the Indians called the missionaries. Some Hurons said that Fr. Brébeuf himself was the most dangerous sorcerer in the country, and he was held responsible for: the deaths of the Indians, crop failure, and poor hunting. More than once, the Indians threatened to split Jean's head with a tomahawk. One day our saint threw a "farewell feast", a custom of the Hurons for those who were to die. Jean preached at the feast and warned the Indians about the crime they were about to commit. Later he said a novena of Masses to St. Joseph, and the Hurons had a change of heart.

Fr. Jerome Lalemant arrived in 1638 to replace Fr. Brébeuf as Superior of the Huron mission, and this gave our saint greater freedom to go from village to village. There were numerous striking conversions, and sorcery and native superstition were losing their hold on the Hurons. The devil was watching and encouraged the Iroquois to hate the Hurons and the missionaries. So in 1639, the converted Hurons and missionaries built Fort St. Marie to protect themselves from the dreaded Iroquois. The work of catechizing the Hurons was progressing when suddenly smallpox swept through a few Huron villages. As usual the Blackrobes were held responsible for the disease and Fr. Brébeuf was again accused of being the chief sorcerer.

In 1641, Fr. Brébeuf broke his shoulder blade and had to return to Quebec for treatment; he did not return to Huron country until 1644. Many changes had occurred in those three years. The Iroquois had attacked often, and everywhere they left a trail of blood. The terrified Hurons protected their villages as best as they could against the Iroquois. Fearing their coming doom, they flocked around the priests to hear the teachings of Jesus.

There were now eighteen Jesuits working among the Hurons, one of these being Fr. Gabriel Lalemant, who arrived in September 1648. He had been sent to live with Fr. Brébeuf at St. Ignace, a village near Fort St. Marie.

On March 16, 1649, 1000 Iroquois secretly approached St. Ignace, throwing themselves without mercy on the surprised Hurons, and murdering or making prisoners of them all. Only three escaped and hurried to nearby St. Louis, to warn Fr. Brébeuf and the other people. But the Iroquois rushed behind them and another massacre took place at that village. Fr. Brébeuf and Fr. Lalemant were seized and bound, and dragged back to St. Ignace where the Iroquois had already made preparations for their torture and death. Some Huron Christians secretly witnessed the terrible event.

The Iroquois stripped the two priests naked and tied each one to a pole. They tied both of their hands together and tore the nails from their fingers; then with sticks they beat the entire bodies of the poor missionaries. During this torture, Fr. Brébeuf did not cease to preach about God, to encourage his fellow captives, crying out: "My children, raise your eyes to Heaven in this affliction; remember that God is watching your sufferings and will soon be your exceeding great reward. Let us die together in the Faith, and hope from His goodness the fulfillment of His promises. I pity you more than I do myself. Keep your courage up in the few remaining torments; these will end with your lives; the glory which follows will have no end! "

While our saint was encouraging his people, a wretched Huron traitor who had remained a captive with the Iroquois, and whom Fr. Brébeuf had formerly instructed and baptized, taunted the poor priest, "…I am about to baptize thee and make thee suffer well, in order that thou mayest go sooner to thy Paradise!" Then the wretch took a huge kettle full of boiling water, which he poured on the priest's head three different times! The Iroquois then heated hatchets, red hot, and applied them to the loins and under the armpits. Then they made a collar of six of these red-hot hatchets and hung it around the neck of the poor priest. After that they put on Fr. Brébeuf a belt of pitch and resin, and set fire to it, thus roasting his whole body. The priest's zeal was so great that he preached constantly to the Iroquois during his torments, to try to convert them. Enraged at hearing our saint constantly speaking about God, the Iroquois cut out his tongue and cut off his lips! Burning torches were applied to Jean's body, his eyes were gouged out, and burning coals were inserted in the empty sockets! After three hours of this torture, seeing that the good priest would soon die, they made him sit down and cut off his scalp. Fr. Jean de Brébeuf was 56 years old.

Later, Fr. Bonin and several Frenchmen went to St. Ignace and gave all the bodies they found, a Christian burial. In 1650, when the Huron missions were abandoned, the bones of Fr. Brébeuf were taken to Quebec and held in great veneration. Brébeuf's gentleness won all hearts and he poured out a generous courage in all his undertakings. He was long suffering and patient, enduring everything he did for the greater glory of God. Let us all try to follow Fr. Brébeuf by bearing our little crosses lovingly and patiently.

St. Jean de Brébeuf Pray for Us!