Isaac Jogues: Missionary and Martyr - Martin J. Scott

The Return to Europe

The crew of the vessel which carried Jogues homewards was vastly different from the kindly populace of the Dutch settlement at Manhattan. Although the sailors had witnessed the respect in which the priest was held by the Governor, and had received instructions from him to treat with kindness and consideration the returning missioner, they nevertheless acted towards him with unbelievable harshness, and at times with positive cruelty. His cabin was the bare deck; his bed a coil of rope. Thus exposed to the wintry blasts was chilled through most of the time. During storms his only refuge was the hold of the vessel, filled with foul odors and over-run with pests. In his enfeebled condition he was unable to eat the coarse food given him, with the result that he grew constantly weaker.

When the vessel neared Europe a violent storm forced them to seek protection in an English port. They anchored at Falmouth towards the end of December, having been on the high seas nearly two months. At this port an unfortunate incident occurred which eventually turned to the advantage of Jogues. The ship's crew went ashore for the night, leaving but one sailor in charge. Some thieves, watching for just such opportunities, boarded the vessel and ransacked it in search of plunder. They found little or nothing to lay their hands on, except the baggage of the crew. From Jogues they took his hat, perhaps the only thing about him worth taking.

The next day Jogues went ashore early in search of the captain, in order to report what had happened. By good luck he met a French sailor, who gave him an old coat and a sailor's cap. Learning that Jogues was a priest, a Jesuit missioner from America, and that he was trying to get back to France, he immediately interested himself in securing him passage home. Making inquiries he found a small vessel, a collier, which was about to start for Brittany, whose captain consented to give free passage to the priest.

It was the eve of Christmas when the vessel set sail for France, and on Christmas day, 1643, the holy missioner again found himself on his native soil, on the coast of Lower Brittany, near Saint-Pol de Leon. His first object after landing and thanking God for his return, was to hear Mass and receive Holy Communion, of which for over a year he had been deprived. He inquired where the church was at the first cottage he came to. The good people, thinking he was a pious pilgrim and being impressed by his devout bearing, on hearing that he wished to receive Holy Communion, loaned him a hat and cloak that he might be suitably attired. As it was the great festival of Christmas they were in holiday dress, prepared to attend the celebration of Mass. Their guest was invited to accompany them and to return afterwards for breakfast.

His emotions on entering the church, and beholding the pious Catholic folk at their devotions, almost overcame him. What a contrast to the scenes he had been witnessing the past year and a half! But his sentiments when he advanced to the altar to receive His Lord in Holy Communion were the 'culmination of spiritual joy. "At that moment," he said afterwards, "I seemed to begin once more to live and to enjoy all the happiness of my deliverance"

On his return to the good people after Mass, they noticed his mutilated hands when he was at table. Their curiosity aroused, he related to them in reply to their inquiries, the events of his captivity. Perhaps there are no people who surpass the Breton peasants for faith and piety. As these simple folks listened to the relation of capture, torture and slavery endured by the missioner, their hearts thrilled with religious emotion, and their faith found expression in veneration of the martyr of Christ.

When Jogues returned to the vessel after satisfying his devotions, he met on board a merchant from Rennes where there was is Jesuit college. Approaching the merchant he asked him to take pity on him. Thinking he was a beggar he gave him a sou, which Jogues declined. He then offered him two, which again were refused. Jogues decided to hesitate no longer but to declare himself. "Sir, I am a Jesuit Father; take compassion on me." The merchant was surprised and deeply affected on hearing this and engaged to take him to the college at Rennes, which was the nearest Jesuit establishment, and which numbered some fifteen hundred students.

Accordingly on January 5, 1644, early in the morning, Jogues knocked at the door of a house of his own Order. When the porter opened he saw before him a wretched man in shabby and grotesque clothes, his head covered by a sailor's cap. On being informed by the stranger that he had news from Canada for the Rector, the porter hastened to inform his Superior, who at the moment was vesting for Mass. On hearing the word, Canada, he was all attention.

The European Jesuits, by means of the annual Relations, were in close touch with the events transpiring in Canada, and keenly interested and affected by the heroic achievements of their brethren in that far-off savage land. Every bit of news from New France was eagerly devoured. The hardships of that mission instead of repelling candidates for it, fired their zeal to greater desire to share its toils and inspired them with the hope that they might find there a martyr's crown. Jogues, although pitied as a captive was envied for his apostolic sufferings. The Rector, thinking that the stranger might be the bearer of news from Canada, or in urgent need of aid for the brethren there, left off vesting and hastened to meet him, saying to himself: "Perhaps this poor man is in great need; perhaps he brings us some important intelligence from the noble apostles of those savage lands."

As the rector approached, Jogues handed him the commendatory letters from the Dutch Governor. Without looking at them the rector asked eagerly about the mission and especially about Father Jogues. "Do you know him?" "Very well," replied the stranger. "We have learned," continued the rector, "his capture by the Iroquois, his captivity and sufferings; but we do not know what fate has befallen him. Is he dead, or is he still alive?" "He is alive; he is free; and it is he, himself, who is addressing you." The rector embraced his ragged and emaciated brother in Christ, tears of emotion filling his eyes.

Conducting Jogues into the assembly room he summoned the community to see and, hear the missioner from the Indian country. They kissed his mutilated hands and listened with rapt attention and deep reverence to the briefest mention of his capture, torture and slavery. He was too weak, and too much overcome by emotion, to do more than give the barest outlines of his frightful experiences. The whole community then proceeded to the chapel and there, at the foot of the altar, Jogues still in his sailor garb, fervently thanked God for his return to his brethren and for all the dispensations of Providence in his regard.

On the day of his arrival Jogues wrote the following letter to one of his friends:

"At last my sins rendered me unworthy to die among the Iroquois! I am still alive, and God wills it so for my amendment. At least I recognize it as a great favor that He has permitted me to do something. 'It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me; that I may learn Thy justifications.'

"I sailed on the 5th of November, from the Dutch settlement on a barque of fifty tons, which brought me to Falmouth, England, on Christmas eve, and I reached Lower Brittany, between Brest and Saint-Pol de Leon, on Christmas day, in time to have the consolation of hearing Mass and performing my devotions. A good merchant who met me brought me to Rennes, paying my expenses, and I arrived here today, Feast of the Epiphany. What a happiness, after living so long among savages, and being thrown among Calvinists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Puritans, to find myself among the servants of God in the Catholic Church, and to see myself in the Society of Jesus! It is a slight idea of the joy we shall one day enjoy in heaven, if it please God, when 'He will gather together the dispersed of Israel.'

"When will God withdraw His hand from our poor French and our poor Indians? 'Woe is me: why was I born to see the ruin of my people?' My sins and the infidelities of my past life have made weighty indeed the hand of God's majesty justly incensed against us. I beg Your Reverence to obtain for me of our Lord a perfect conversion, and that this little chastisement which He has given me may serve, as He designed, to render me better. Father Raymbault, Father Dolebeau, and Father Davost are then dead! They were ripe for heaven, and New France has in one year lost three persons who had labored greatly there.

"I do not know whether a copy of the 'Relation of the Hurons' has been received this year. It was sent down to the French in the month of June, and was given to me in the Iroquois country with a large package of letters which our Fathers on the Huron Mission were sending to France. Had I thought that God designed to deliver me, I would have brought it with me when I went to visit the Dutch. All was left in the cabin where I lived. The next time I will write a longer letter; let this suffice for the first day of my arrival.

"Rennes, January 5, 1644."

The day after sending the foregoing letter he wrote to Father Charles Lalemant:

"Rennes, January 6, 1644.

"'Now I know in very deed that the Lord hath sent His angels and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.' The Iroquois came to the Dutch post about the middle of September, and made a great deal of disturbance, but at last received the presents made by the captain who had me concealed. They amounted to about three hundred livres, which I will endeavor to repay. All things being quieted, I was sent to Manhattan, where the Governor of the country resides. He received me very kindly, gave me clothes, and passage in a vessel which crossed the ocean in midwinter.

"Having reached England, I got on a collier's vessel, which brought me to Lower Brittany, with a nightcap on my head, in utter want of everything, as you landed at St. Sebastian, but not after two shipwrecks."

On the same day he wrote to his mother, but this letter, unfortunately, has been lost. We may be sure that her motherly heart, which must have been pierced by grief at the news of his capture, was thrilled with joy on hearing that her boy was now restored to her.

After a short stay at Rennes, Jogues received word from his Superior to come to Paris. Every Jesuit community at which he stopped on his way repeated the demonstrations of interest and veneration which he met with at Rennes. On his arrival at Paris, Queen Anne of Austria wished to see him, and was affected to tears when she beheld his mutilated hands, and heard the recital of the frightful ordeals of his capture and captivity. In the presence of the court she said: "Romances are written every day which are a tissue of fictions; here is one that is true, and which combines what is wonderful with the most sublime heroism."

The greatest sorrow of Jogues was that he could not say Mass, on account of his maimed hands. Not that he was unable to perform the various acts of the ceremony, but that the Church does not permit a priest to say Mass if his forefingers and thumbs are not intact. Reverence for the Holy Sacrifice is so great that in offering it the priest must be able to hold the sacred host as the rubrics prescribe, that is with thumb and forefinger which, at ordination to the priesthood, are particularly consecrated to handle the Body of the Lord. Jogues' forefingers were crunched at his capture, and his left thumb was hacked off during his subsequent y torture at the Indian village. His great sorrow therefore was that he could not say Mass.

Knowing this, his Superiors petitioned the Holy Father to grant Jogues the very unusual favor of saying Mass in his maimed condition. The details of his capture and torture had preceded this petition to Rome. The Holy Father, Urban VIII, had already expressed the greatest admiration for the courage and sanctity of the holy missioner. Consequently when the petition was presented to him he did not hesitate to grant a favor so exceptional in the history of the Church, saying: "It would be unjust that a martyr for Christ should not drink he blood of Christ."

It was with inexpressible joy that the servant of God received word of this unexpected favor. We can imagine his transports of fervor as he ascended the altar of God to offer the holy sacrifice, after being deprived of that consolation so long. People flocked to the church where he said Mass, realizing that the Blood of Christ was being offered in sacrifice by one who had shed his own blood in the cause of Christ. Everyone admired his humility and piety, openly manifesting the esteem in which they held him. This was very painful to the modest servant of God, who seemed to dread the reverence shown him as if it were torture. He shunned publicity in every possible way, and when on certain occasions persons asked to see his distorted fingers, and in their veneration wanted to kiss them, his embarrassment was painful to witness. Finally his superiors interfered in his behalf, and, at his earnest request, saved him from the pious importunity of the faithful.

The greatest affection existed in Jogues for his family, particularly for his mother. The exchange of letters between mother and son continued all during his missionary expeditions. The day after his arrival at Rennes he wrote to her as we have seen, and we regret that the correspondence has been lost. Jogues was naturally most desirous of seeing his mother, but when he reflected on the suffering it would cause her to see him in his mutilated condition, he denied himself his heart's desire. Also deep in his mind was the purpose of returning again to labor among the savages, and he wished to spare his beloved mother the pain of another parting.

Jogues' soul yearned for that mission which had been the scene of his many labors and sufferings. His zeal for the conversion of the savages seemed to be in proportion to the injury they had done him. Even the knowledge that a frightful death might be his portion, if he returned to the Iroquois, did not deter him from his determination to offer himself again for that field. Accordingly in the spring of 1644, after a sojourn in his native land of only a few months, he embarked a second time for New France, arriving at Quebec late in June.

His superiors assigned him to the settlement of Ville Marie, now Montreal, one hundred and fifty miles above Quebec. Indians in considerable numbers frequented this colony, and it was hoped that Jogues, on account of his knowledge of the language, would be of great assistance there. Montreal was the western frontier post of the French, founded only two years previously. It was first seen by Europeans in 1534, when Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence. He named the mountain which rose majestic at this place Montroyal. Here there arrived on May 17, 1642, forty settlers, who took possession of the place in the name of France by erecting the cross and unfurling the banner of France.

When Jogues arrived, the settlement contained besides substantial wooden houses a small hospital, a chapel, and a house for the missioner. Jogues did not confine his work to the Indians, although that was very considerable, but extended it to the colonists also, among whom he cultivated a piety which he found on his arrival deep and strong.

Meanwhile the Iroquois had terrorized the whole colony of New France. Their roving bands were everywhere. Encouraged by frequent successes they carried the war to the very portals of the French towns. In bands of ten or more they lay in numerous ambushes hard-by the rivers, and lurked at intervals along the forest trails. Choosing points of observation which enabled them, though concealed themselves, to see an enemy miles or, they assembled their forces so as always to out-number their foe and thus succeeded in killing or capturing them, and finally driving them off all the lines of traffic both by land and water.

The French did not have strength enough to meet them in the open, with the result that they were confined almost entirely to the vicinity of their forts. The Algonquins no longer dared to come down to Quebec. "I would almost as soon be besieged by phantoms as by Iroquois;" wrote Father Vimont, "one is scarcely more visible than the other. When they are at a distance, we suppose them to be at our very doors; and they pounce on their prey when we imagine them to be in their own country"

On account of this condition of affairs the Superior of the mission at Quebec had not been able to send supplies to the Huron mission for the past three years. He judged that by now they must be without the most essential requisites for personal and mission needs. Accordingly he decided in the spring of 1644, to take the risk of sending them supplies. Father Bressani, a missioner lately arrived, was chosen for this perilous expedition. Attended by a young Frenchman and some Christian Hurons, they set out on their voyage after having prepared for it as if going to their death. On the banks of Lake Saint-Pierre they were suddenly set upon by the Iroquois, who surprised them so completely that they had time neither to defend themselves nor to take to flight. One Huron was killed, and all the rest of the party were captured and condemned to frightful tortures.

The news of their disaster, which quickly spread through the settlements, filled the colonists with alarm. The Governor was powerless to retaliate, as he feared to leave the colony unguarded, and had not troops enough to take to the field and at the same time to protect the posts. If the Iroquois had suspected the weakness of the French they could have annihilated them. Fortunately for the colonists the Indians were deceived by the display of force which the French always managed to make. Under the circumstances, Governor Montmagny realized that the salvation of the settlements depended on making peace with his bold and wily foe, if he could do so without compromising the honor of his country.

As good fortune would have it, the Iroquois just at this period found themselves involved in a war with a nation to the south of them, whose strength and audacity seriously threatened them. In consequence, there was a considerable party among the Iroquois that advocated peace with the French. This came to the knowledge of the Governor, who determined to take advantage of the situation to make an honorable peace with them.

He began his negotiations by an act which manifested goodwill towards the enemy. Two Iroquois prisoners were in the hands of the Algonquins, who had made preparations for their torture and death. The Governor requested his allies to hand over these captives to him, that he might return them to their tribe, and thus use them in the first step of making peace. The Algonquins, who were as desirous of peace as the French, readily acceded to his wishes.

He next made a similar request of the Hurons, who also had an Iroquois captive who was awaiting torture and death. But they would not yield their prisoner, neither for presents nor promises. One of the chiefs thus replied to the Governor's proposals: "I am a man of war and not a trader; I have come to fight, not to barter. It is my glory to take back not presents, but prisoners. I will not touch your hatchets and kettles. If you are so anxious to have this prisoner, take him. I am strong enough to go and capture another. If I lose my life they will say in my country, 'Onontio took their prisoner, and they doomed themselves to death to capture another.'"

Another Huron, a Christian, observing the disappointment and chagrin of the Governor said: "Be not angry, Onontio; it is not to thwart you that we act so, but our honor and our life are at stake. We have promised our sachems to place in their hands any prisoner whom we took. As the soldiers around you obey your command, so we must obey those who command us. What reply could we make to the reproach of the whole country, if when they knew we had made prisoners, they should see in our hands only hatchets and kettles? We should be condemned as men of no sense to decide a matter of this kind without the direction of the sachems. You wish peace; so do we; and our sachems do not oppose it. If we released our prisoner, our life would be compromised. The Iroquois are everywhere on our route. If we meet them we need fear nothing, as we can show our prisoner unharmed, whom we wish to deliver to our sachems as a means of securing peace."

In the event, the Huron sachems sent the captive back to his people, and as a result of this and the other friendly deeds, the Iroquois, on their part, liberated Couture, the Frenchman, who had been taken captive with Jogues. Accompanying Couture were three Iroquois, who were commissioned to make overtures for peace. This embassy arrived at Three Rivers July 5, 1644. On its approach the French and Hurons crowded the shore.

Kiotsaeton, the chief of the delegation, was arrayed in true Indian grandeur. Before stepping ashore he addressed the assembled multitude from his canoe: "I have left my country to come and see you. I was told that I came to seek death, and that I should never again see my native soil: I fear naught. I have willingly exposed my life for the sake of peace. I come in all confidence to bring you the thoughts of the Iroquois" As he ended and stepped ashore, the cannon from the fort boomed a welcome, the military fired a salute, and made an impressive display of power. Everything that ingenuity could devise was done to impress the embassy with the power and dignity of France.

The first welcome over there was a rush for Couture who had been given up for dead long ago. Everyone rejoiced with him on his liberation. He had in fact become quite a personage among the Mohawks, who after torturing him so frightfully had made him a slave. But his courage and sagacity so impressed the savages that he rose to be a man of distinction among them, enjoying the dignity and influence of a chief, so that near the end his captivity was virtually nominal.

The peace overtures now begun, required to be prudently followed up. For this purpose it was deemed advisable to send as ambassador to the Mohawks, someone who was conversant with their language, and who would be capable of upholding the honor and safety of the French in the terms of peace. Jogues was designated for this delicate and perilous mission.