Isaac Jogues: Missionary and Martyr - Martin J. Scott

Isaac Jogues and his fellow Jesuits were some of the earliest missionaries to the new world. Jogues life story tells much of the condition of the native Americans at the time of their first encounter with white men, and of the stunning bravery and dedication of the early missionaries. Isaac was tortured by the Iroquois but forgave his tormentors and returned to preach only to die a martyr.

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[Cover] from Saint Isaac Jogues by Martin J. Scott
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Isaac Jogues, apart from his sanctity, was one of the world's most heroic figures. It is doubtful if history presents a character that surpasses him in generous devotion to the welfare of his fellow men, and in heroic sacrifices in their behalf. The tortures he endured seem almost incredible. We are amazed that a human being could endure what he suffered and survive. But amazing as was his suffering, the spirit of fortitude, patience and forgiveness which animated him in it all is still more astonishing. No wonder that Anne of Austria, Queen Regent of France, declared on hearing the recital of his experiences, that it surpassed the most highly colored romances of fiction.

The story of Jogues is more than a narrative, no matter how thrilling. It is a graphic incentive to all who peruse it, to do manfully for God and country. The labors and sufferings of Jogues had, for the most part, no other witness than the eye of God. But surely he who has God for witness has enough. Jogues lived in the presence of God. God was as much a reality to him as the very people by whom he was surrounded. Hence, he was never alone even when most alone. He never suffered without a companion by his side whose divine complaisance more than sustained him in torments that made even his torturers marvel at his power of endurance.

Some may wonder why God allowed one who served Him so loyally as Jogues, to become the victim of such malice and cruelty as he experienced. They forget that God is Lord not only of Time but also of Eternity. God has His own time and His own way of rewarding those who are faithful to Him. Man has only this life to repay service. God has forever. God does not want us to serve Him for wages like hirelings, or for favors bestowed in this life, but because He is Our Lord and Master. He wants us to serve Him in faith. He will not be outdone in generosity. He allowed His Only Divine Son to be the victim of the malice and injustice of wicked men. But from the Sacrifice of Calvary sprung Christendom.

So, frequently, since that Good Friday, has He permitted evil to work its course in order that His faithful followers might manifest their love by sacrifice, the true test of love. And always, as from Calvary, has He drawn good out of evil. When they tortured and slayed Jogues, the Mohawks were animated by hatred of the Faith which he practiced and preached. When they split his skull they thought they had made an end not only of him but also of his cause. But it was rather the beginning. Where Jogues shed his blood for Christ there is now a shrine of devotion to him and to the Faith for which he died. The valley of his captivity is now dotted with churches dedicated to the God whom he preached to the savages.

On the hill, overlooking the ravine by which, according to the tradition of the place, he made his painful way of escape to the Hudson, now stands the Convent of the Sacred Heart. This ravine is part of the convent grounds. Thus it has come about that where once were heard the blasphemies of those who reviled Christ, may now be heard the solemn chant of saintly nuns whose lives are consecrated to His service. The heathen land painfully traversed by Jogues from Quebec to Albany is now Christian land. Thus the sacrifice of Jogues was not in vain. Nothing done for God is lost. Martyred in a lonely spot in the heart of a primeval forest, Jogues is now in greater honor than many of the renowned men of his day, no matter how celebrated their achievements. It is thus that God glorifies those who serve Him for Himself.

Jogues as a Christian martyr is venerated the world over. Raised to the honors of the altar his name is sacred. He is now Blessed, but before long we hope to salute him as Saint. This biography is an attempt to make Blessed Jogues better known in the United States where he shed his blood for the Faith. He, and his companions, Goupil and Lalande, together with the five Jesuits martyred in Canada, are the first beatified martyrs of the Catholic Faith in the New World. New York State has the distinction of holding somewhere in its soil the sacred remains of Jogues and his fellow martyrs, Goupil and Lalande. At Auriesville, forty miles from Albany, New York, is the shrine which hallows the spot where these Christian heroes confessed Christ in their blood.

In preparing the life of Blessed Jogues the author has had constant recourse to what is known as the Jesuit Relations. These documents comprise forty-one small volumes. One was published each year from 1632 to 1673. They embrace letters sent by Jesuit missionaries in America to their brethren in Europe, and form the most important, and often the only material for the history of Canada for that period. Some of these volumes became so rare that they could not be found even in the great libraries of Europe. The Canadian Government, realizing the historic value of the Relations, assembled and reprinted them in three large octavo volumes in 1848. A further tribute to the value of these documents is the Thwaites edition of the Jesuit Relations  and Allied Documents, 73 volumes, published in 1896.

Referring to the Jesuit Relations, no less an authority than Parkman speaks as follows: "The sources of information concerning the early Jesuits of New France are very copious. During a period of forty years, the Superior of the Mission sent, every summer, long and detailed reports—embodying or accompanied by the reports of his subordinates—to the Provincial of the Order at Paris, where they were annually published, in duodecimo volumes, forming the remarkable series known as the Jesuit Relations. Though the productions of men of scholastic training, they are simple and often crude in style, as might be expected of narratives hastily written in Indian lodges or rude mission houses in the forest, amid annoyances and interruptions of all kinds. In respect to the value of their contents, they are exceedingly unequal. Modest records of marvelous adventures and sacrifices, and vivid pictures of forest-life, alternate with prolix and monotonous details of the conversion of individual savages, and the praiseworthy deportment of some exemplary neophyte. With regard to the condition and character of the primitive inhabitants of North America, it is impossible to exaggerate their value as an authority. I shall add, that the closest examination has left me no doubt that these missionaries wrote in perfect good faith, and that the Relations hold a high place as authentic and trustworthy historical documents."'

The Relations for the years 1647 and 1648 give very detailed accounts of the missionary labors, tortures and martyrdom of Jogues.

In procuring material for the present work, the author found that the Life of Father Jogues by Felix Martin, S.J., translated by John Gilmary Shea, contained data of the highest historical value, and of appropriate selection. He has accordingly followed the outline of that work. The English translation of the letters of Jogues and of the Relations is that of John Gilmary Shea. As virtually all of the documents which concern the life of Jogues are drawn from the Jesuit Relations, no detailed references to them will be made in the body of the work. Scholars will know how to verify the various abstracts by reference to the Jesuit Relations  of the specified year. The average reader will prefer an uninterrupted narrative. The aim of the author is to reach the general public, for which reason he has omitted whatever might confuse or distract or lessen the interest.

The author is under deep obligation to Rev. John J. Wynne, S.J., the foremost authority in the United States on matters concerning the Jesuit martyrs, for valuable suggestions and assistance in the preparation of this volume. Acknowledgment is also made to the Universal Knowledge Foundation for its translations of various important documents herein embodied. Jogues is only one of eight Jesuit martyrs of North America recently beatified by Pius XI. All these blessed heroes of the cross underwent experiences very similar to his before meeting their fate. The author confines himself mainly to Jogues because he desires to keep within reasonable limits. Those who desire further information on the subject may consult the bibliography at the end of this work.