Saint Isaac Jogues was a merchant’s son born in Orleans, France in 1607. His father died just after his birth, leaving his education to his mother, a strong Catholic. From his letters home to his mother during his missionary work in New France, it’s obvious that Saint Isaac maintained a close relationship with her.
As moms, St. Isaac’s life can inspire us to invest in our children’s education and to maintain close ties with them. Even when they are adults, they still need our prayers and influence in their lives. He was also likely inspired in his missionary work by meeting other great men of faith, who were serving in New France. As moms, we can share stories of the saints with our children and endeavor to help them meet and form relationships with others who will nurture their faith and vocation.
Saint Isaac Jogues Early Life and Education
Isaac was ten when he entered the new Jesuit college in Orleans. Donal O’Sullivan says he
“showed early that quality of gentle strength that was to mark the man. A steady student, courteous in manner and expert in swimming and running, he entered into the strong stream of his school’s religious life with the same zest with which he plunged into his native Loire.”
He began his novitiate training with the Jesuits in October 1624. The following year, he met Father Jean de Brebeuf, who was about to sail for New France. From 1625-1628, he studied philosophy at La Fleche. Louis Lalemant was one of the teachers there, and had two brothers and a nephew serving as missionaries in Canada. From him, Jogues may have heard stories that turned his heart towards the mission in New France.
He then taught literature for three years before studying theology at the College of Clermont, University of Paris. He was ordained in February 1636. That April, he sailed for New France with the new governor. Lives of the Saints records, “He was already recognized as an able scholar, with talents for writing and teaching.”
Saint Isaac Jogues in New France
Father Jogues wrote often to his mother from New France, asking for her prayers. On his arrival, he told her, “It is difficult to experience in this world a joy more excessive and more overflowing than that I felt on my setting foot in New France, and celebrating my first Mass here.” He was also realistic about spending the rest of his life in New France, saying, “I have no hope of seeing you in our lifetime. May God in His goodness unite us both in His holy abode!”
In August, he met Fr. Antoine Daniel, who brought a report of the missionaries’ work among the Huron. Fr. Jogues was chosen to replace Fr. Daniel, who went to Quebec for a sabbatical. In September, he joined Fr. Brebeuf near present-day Georgian Bay.
Of their work, O’Sullivan notes, “Much of the missionaries’ life was spent either on the trail with the Indians or, in winter, in their hovels.” Despite this, Fr. Jogues’ letters to his mother convey great excitement: “I have always felt a great love for this kind of life, and for a profession so excellent, and so akin to that of the Apostles.”
Saint Isaac Jogues Among the Huron
Immediately after arriving at Fr. Brebeuf’s mission (which had been established ten years earlier), Fr. Jogues fell ill of the fever. The missionaries had little food and lived in “crude huts” (Lives of the Saints). When they recovered, the epidemic broke out among the Huron, who blamed the priests. Fr. Brebeuf managed to placate them, but the Huron swung between favour for the priests and suspicion of them.
In 1639, another epidemic swept through the mission. The missionaries did what they could to help the Huron, but they were blamed for the illness again. When the priests recovered without assistance from the village sorcerer, Wynne says the sorcerer “was convinced that they were greater sorcerers than himself.” The priests’ belongings (books, letters, crucifixes), because they were strange to the Huron, became objects of suspicion.
The six years that Fr. Jogues spent among the Huron were years of constant danger. In the Catholic Encyclopedia, Thomas Campbell says, “Though a daring missionary, his character was of the most practical nature, his purpose always being to fix his people in permanent habitations.” He traveled great distances with his fellow missionaries and was likely the first white man to reach Sault Ste Marie.
Saint Isaac Jogues, pray that I may help my children to attain a good education and to read the lives of saints like you. May your life inspire me to maintain a close relationship with them and always keep them in my prayers, even when they are grown and on their own. Amen.