Our Glorious Catholic Heritage:
The True Origins of North America
THE MISSION TO THE HURONS
St. Jean De Brébeuf
Long before the Dutch and British established their Freemasonic Republic in 1776, the first foundation of American settlements (after, of course, the tribes of the native Indian population) were the Catholic missions and cities established by the zealous French, German, and Italian missionaries in the North and Midwest of the continent, and the equally zealous Spanish missionaries throughout the Southern and Western parts of the continent.
The Society of Jesus had been founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola during the turbulent times following the Protestant Revolution. By the dawning of the seventeenth century the Jesuits had won renown as zealous missionaries and ardent defenders of the Catholic Faith.
Father Jean De Brébeuf, a giant of a man in stature and in holiness, was destined by God to be the impetus, the strength and the inspiration of the new Jesuit mission efforts in North America.
Brébeuf was born on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1593, at Condé, about seven miles from Sainte Lô in Eastern Normandy. In his youth he was a strong, outdoor-loving boy and an industrious worker on his family's extensive farm. The young Brébeuf towered above his peers. He often referred to his family name, which means "ox" in French, and jokingly professed that he was meant only to carry heavy burdens. But Jean had been blessed with a pious nature and a good mind as well as broad shoulders, and instead of gathering crops from the fields of Normandy, it was God's will that he should reap the harvest of souls abounding in New France. He responded to God's calling and was received into the Society of Jesus in 1617. Before long, he became very ill. The sickness reduced Jean's huge frame to that of a skeleton, and it was believed that the young Jesuit had not long to live. Following his ordination to the Priesthood in 1622, however, his health seemed to return miraculously, and he soon regained his former vigor.
The newly ordained Priest had often dreamed of becoming a missionary, and upon recovering his health, his desires of being sent to the New World increased. He was very much aware of the recent attempts to evangelize the North American Indians. Through the assistance of the devout Catholic explorer Samuel de Champlain, the Franciscan Recollets had arrived at Quebéc in 1615. The Recollets had labored heroically for over ten years, but had encountered many problems from the rabidly anti-Catholic Huguenots (French Calvinists), who controlled the settlement. In addition to this, the Recollets were far too few in number to effect any lasting result in the conversion of the savages. Therefore, in 1624 they had petitioned help from the Jesuits, who were eager to accept the invitation to that part of North American known as "New France."
Arrival in the New World
It was in June, 1625, that the future martyr first set foot on the shores of the New World. The thirty-two year old missionary was the youngest of the three Jesuit priests on the expedition. Upon arrival they joined the Recollets at their little friary on the Saint Charles River, not far from the settlement of Quebéc.
Brébeuf knew that his formal education offered little, if any, of the training needed for the work he was about to undertake. He spent his first days in New France acquiring from the Recollets as much knowledge as he could about the savages he had come to convert. Among other things, he learned that the largest Indian nation was the Algonquin, which inhabited an extensive territory, including Nova Scotia, and the area north of the Saint Lawrence River. They were a nomadic people, and it was clear to the Recollets that such tribes as the Algonquins could be converted only when induced to stop their wandering.
There was a good possibility, however, of evangelizing the Hurons, who lived in permanent well-fortified settlements in the distant western regions north of Lake Ontario. The Hurons, thus named by the French expression hure, meaning a "disheveled head of hair", called themselves the "Wyandot" nation. They were more docile than the Indians who frequented Quebéc. Their population was about thirty thousand.
Greatly impressed were the Indians with the size and bearing of the bearded "Blackrobe" who smiled so amiably at them. Unable to properly pronounce his name, they dubbed him "Echon", and "Echon" he would be from that time on among all the Indians.
Father Brébeuf spent the following winter with a tribe of Algonquins known as the Montagnais, in order to grow more accustomed to the Indian way of living. During this five-month hunting venture the saint beheld everything the Recollets had related about these primitive people. The suffocating fires and foul odors within made the huts most uncomfortable. The savages were rough, impatient, and thoroughly given over to every impurity. Their "divinities" were the sun, the moon, and almost any material object. Sorcerers led wild feasts and orgies to appease the evil spirits, and superstition accompanied all that they did. Father Brébeuf, convinced of Satan's dominion over these poor souls, prayed fervently for their conversion to the True Faith.
To The Hurons
Rather than dampening his spirit, the events of Father Jean's winter sojourn only increased his already ardent zeal. His desire now was to live with the Hurons. To his great delight, in the summer of 1626, Father Brébeuf and a Franciscan Recollet, Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon, were selected for the important assignment of establishing a Mission in the midst of this distant tribe. In July, the two priests met a Huron trading party at Cap de la Victoire, and departed with them on their homeward journey to Huronia.
With "Echon", the Hurons were very pleased. With the diligence and zeal of a disciplined Religious, he paddled the canoe and shouldered heavy burdens as well as any Indian brave. In order to gain the advantage in converting them, it was important to win the savages' respect on the journey for, as Father Brébeuf would one day write to inform future missionaries, "...the savages will retain the same opinion of you in their own country that they will have formed on the way..."
After they had navigated the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, the French River, and numerous smaller waterways in between, the weary travelers, having covered nine hundred miles in one month, finally arrived at the land of the Hurons.
The Huron villages offered a striking contrast to the crude, temporary dwellings Father Brébeuf had seen while living with the nomadic Algonquins. A typical Huron settlement contained many well-built cabins, and was usually surrounded by a palisade fence. Each cabin or long-house, as it was called, was from thirty to ninety feet long and up to thirty feet wide. Constructed of poles lashed together and covered with bark, it curved up to a height of about twenty feet.
A monumental task confronted Father Brébeuf and those who would one day follow him to the Huron mission. Great obstacles had to be overcome before an effective apostolate could be launched.
First, the language barrier had to be broken down. This was quite a challenge to any European, especially since the Indians completely lacked a written language. Moreover, their words were uttered without the use of the lips, and required voice inflection, as well as sound, to convey their proper meaning. To the untrained ear an Indian sentence resembled nothing more than a series of guttural grunts. Nor did they have words to describe abstract thoughts. This meant that the truths of the Faith would have to be taught in terms of material things alone. The Recollets had made remarkable progress in compiling a valuable list of Huron words and phrases, which gave Father Brébeuf hope that, through perseverance, the language could be mastered.
Then, too, there were the more serious problems of diabolical superstition, sorcery, promiscuity, war, and cannibalism. It would require more than perseverance alone to deliver these savages from such complete dominance by the powers of Hell.
When Father Daillon was recalled by his Superiors to Quebéc in 1628, Father Brébeuf remained an entire year longer among the Hurons, becoming virtually an accepted member of the tribe. Despite the frantic opposition of the demonic "medicine men," the saintly missionary aroused the interest of many of the savages in the One True God. As he became more fluent in the Huron language, he was able to speak at their councils, promising them happiness after death, if they were Baptized.
But towards the end of his third year among the Hurons, Father Brébeuf's great hopes for the future were suddenly dashed. He received word that Quebéc had been cut off from all supplies by an English fleet-commanded by the Kirk brothers, who were little more than marauding pirates-under the flag of the British Protestant Crown. The colony was on the verge of starvation and there was imminent danger of an English attack. He was ordered to return to Quebéc as soon as possible. In obedience to his Superiors, "Echon" made immediate preparations for his departure. He was keenly disappointed that he had to leave the Hurons but he accepted the distressing news as the permissive will of God. The seed of the Faith had been planted and he was certain that, in due season, it would bring forth fruit a hundredfold.
A Brief Interruption, 1629-1633
By July, 1629, Father Brébeuf was back in Quebéc, having brought with him a good supply of Huron corn for the starving colony. More than food was needed, however. Champlain's militia was far too small and ill-equipped to withstand an attack. The only alternative was to hand over the Catholic settlement to the British. With the assurance of safe passage back to France for everyone in the colony, Champlain formally surrendered. The threat of starvation and of an English massacre were both over, but unfortunately, so were the present mission labors in New France. Heartbroken, Brébeuf and the other Religious were forced to board English ships and to sail the great Atlantic home to France.
Much to the frustration of the British marauders, it was discovered upon returning to England, that their seizure of Quebéc had come months after both France and England had signed the Treaty of Susa, which prohibited it. Even then they refused to relinquish possession of the Catholic settlement. However, thanks to the militant zeal of the redoubtable Samuel Champlain, who began arming warships to retake the colony, by the spring of 1632, an agreement had been reached allowing the French to reoccupy Quebéc.
Meanwhile, Father Brébeuf, in the peace of his daily religious exercises at the College of Rouen, deepened his inner life through constant prayer and mortification. He also pronounced his final religious vows at this time, which made him, until death, a son of Saint Ignatius. He added to these solemn vows, the oblation to Our Lord of everything he possessed, including life itself, if it so pleased God to accept it.
In 1633 he left France for the last time to commence again the labors he had been forced to abandon. The remaining sixteen years of his life would be spent in the arduous task of evangelizing the savages of New France.
O my Divine Jesus, Whose silence before Thy persecutors caused their wonder and admiration, look from Thy Tabernacle as I kneel before Thee to honor Thy holy Martyr, St. Jean De Brébeuf, who in the midst of most terrible tortures maintained a profound silence so that he astonished the savage fiends who, screaming hate and vengeance, found that they could invent no torture terrible enough to make him show even one sign of pain. It is said of thee, O Martyr of Christ, that thou didst suffer like a rock, and when red-hot tomahawk blades were strung and placed about thy neck in imitation of the Rosary, the only effect was to make thee preach with almost thy last breath to the Christian captive Indians to encourage them in their suffering -- to wait just a moment in patience till they would see the face of Christ, their reward for all eternity.
Through thy intercession, O Martyr of Christ, may I love the Rosary that thou didst love so much. As our Blessed Mother has ever been a Tower of Strength to protect those who have faith in Her Divine Son, so obtain for me the blessing of a childlike affection for Her, and may the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of Her Rosary be always my comfort and consolation. Amen.
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