In order to conquer for Jesus Christ this vast Canadian continent, entirely submitted to Satan’s rule, France sent a battalion of elite souls thirsty for the salvation of the barbarians and with a desire for martyrdom. Quebec City is the center of operations for this heroic phalange that was afraid of nothing, not even famine, exhaustion, cruel tortures, or death.
Among the heroic ecclesiastics who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on frail boats, risking their lives before even landing on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, to evangelize the native Indians and sustain the Faith of our valiant ancestors; we must name our holy martyrs:
Saint Jean de Brebeuf, Saint Gabriel Lallemant, Saint Isaac Jogues, Saint Charles Garnier, Saint Jean de Lalande, Saint Noel Chabanel, Saint Antoine Daniel, Saint Rene Goupil. In this brief resume we cannot give the details of their glorious martyrdom, for each is as admirable as the other. We will only relate that of Jean de Brebeuf:
Born on March 25th, (Feast of the Annunciation) 1593, at Conde-sur-Vire in Normandy, Jean de Brebeuf was one of the first Jesuit Fathers to come to New France. He arrived in Quebec City in June 1625 and went to live near the Montagnais and later on near the Hurons. In his journal he wrote wonderful explanations about the way of life and the morals of these early people. His notes that were later reproduced in "Relations des Jesuites" are precious today to help us to understand the life of the Huron Indians before the wars and epidemics that decimated their populations. Jean de Brebeuf translated a Catechism and several prayers into the Huron language and even undertook the writing of a dictionary and a grammar.
Upon his arrival in Canada, Father de Brebeuf wanted to penetrate into the territory of the savages. The Huron sorcerers, ministers of the devil, bared his path into their country. Father broke their resistance and headed for the Great Lakes territory. Difficulties harassed him. Death sometimes menaced him: "What a consolation," he writes, "to see oneself abandoned on the wayside by the savages, languishing in sickness or dying of hunger in the woods…"
Why flee death? He promised God never to fail the grace of martyrdom. This hero nevertheless feared his own weakness. He clutched the arm of God. All day long, he kept in communication with the Almighty. He filled him with consolation, showed him symbolic visions that gave him new courage: one day he saw a large cross hanging over the Huron country, an omen of his martyrdom that our saint welcomed with joy. Not long after, he died in the name of Jesus and for the salvation of souls.
On July 4, 1648, when the Huron warriors had left to trade with their neighbors, the Iroquois attacked the Saint Joseph and Saint Michael Missions in Huron territory. Many inhabitants were massacred including Father Antoine Daniel who was riddled with arrows. The Iroquois took 700 prisoners. March 16, 1649, more than 1000 Iroquois attacked the missions of Saint Ignace and Saint Louis where Father Brebeuf and Lalemant were staying. The two men were made prisoners and brought to a village in the area that is now Midland, Ontario. Father Jean de Brebeuf suffered one of the most horrible and cruel martyrdoms in the annals of Christianity.
That same night he was tortured. Upright, both arms tied to the post, he underwent awful torments without flinching. Awls were forced into his forearms up to the elbow. They split his mouth, cut off his nose, and scalped him. The savages cut from his trembling body, strips of flesh which they ate with appetite. They poured boiling water on his skull to ridicule the sacrament of Baptism. The Iroquois had also placed a necklace of red-hot axes around his neck and his stomach and had pulled off his lips because he would not cease talking about God while they tortured him. Finally, he was scalped and they ripped his heart from his chest, to eat it (the Iroquois hoped in this way to acquire the courage of this "Lion of the Canadian Missions."
Christopher Regnault, who was able to view the body, reported these tortures. The body had been savagely beaten and had received at least 200 strikes with sticks. The entire Huron nation was soon decimated. A few survivors took refuge with the allied nations to the North or went to seek refuge near Quebec where their descendants live today. Pope Pius XII proclaimed Saint Jean de Brebeuf the Patron Saint of Canada in 1940.
(Taken from "Nos Gloires", by Br. Gerard Champagne)