Saint Jean de La Lande is the only layperson among the eight Canadian martyrs. Sometimes, as Catholics, it can be tempting to think that only priests, nuns, and other religious do great deeds. Many of our saints are indeed consecrated men and women, but many others are ordinary people like us. St. Jean de la Lande can inspire us as moms to serve in our small spheres and also support our local priests and missionaries in their work.
Jean (also known by the English spelling of his name, John Lalande) was born in Dieppe, France. Details of his early life are unknown. He is listed as being in New France in December 1642, when he bought two books at the auction of the possessions of the late Jean Nicollet. He might have been there since 1638. From 1642 until 1646, he apparently served at the Jesuit residence in Trois Rivieres.
La Lande’s Service as a Jesuit Donne
La Lande was a donne, a layperson who assisted the Jesuits. Leon Pouliot explains that “he was not bound to the Society of Jesus by religious vows, but by a contract under the terms of which he placed himself completely at the disposal of the missionaries, who in return guaranteed him lodging, food, and help in case of illness.”
Horatio Phelan adds that donnes “performed one or more of a wide variety of services: they hunted, fished and tilled the soil; they were masons, carpenters, tailors, cooks and doctors; they shared their dangers, hardships and fatigues; and in time of danger all were prepared to defend both men and missions by force of arms.”
The institution of a donne was unique to the Huron missions in New France. Phelan explains that La Lande’s superior, Jerome Lalemant, established them after his arrival in New France in 1638, because of the shortage of priests or trained missionaries.
By doing more of the mundane tasks of the mission, the donnes allowed the priests to focus on more priestly duties. The donnes also served as examples for the Natives, who saw in the donnes normal people practicing what the priests were trying to teach. Donnes worked with the Jesuits until 1727.
Jean de La Lande joines Isaac Jogues
In August of 1646, La Lande was assigned to go with Father Isaac Jogues on a mission to the Iroquois. Fr. Jogues had just returned to New France from France, where he had been for a few short months after having spent a year as a captive among the Iroquois. During that time, he learned the Iroquois language. On his return to New France, he asked for permission to go among the Iroquois again.
Given the Iroquois’ previous harsh treatment of Fr. Jogues, La Lande would have known that this was a dangerous mission. Fr. Jogues had made one brief trip to the Iroquois in June to seek peace, but the Iroquois were known for changing their minds frequently.
In June, Fr. Jogues had left with the Iroquois a box of “some pious articles” (John J. Wynne) in the hopes that he would soon return to evangelize the Iroquois. Unfortunately, crop failure and sickness among the Iroquois after Fr. Jogues’ departure was blamed upon him and his box.
Saint Jean de La Lande’s Death
La Lande, Fr. Jogues, and their party didn’t get very far before most of the Huron accompanying them turned back. Pouliot notes, “With Jean de La Lande the sense of duty prevailed over everything else; he had promised to follow Jogues, and he was going to keep his word.” The two continued into Iroquois territory, where they were captured by the Iroquois and tortured.
Fr. Jogues was killed on October 18. The next day, when La Lande attempted to retrieve the priest’s body, he was also killed. Their heads were stuck on poles in the village and their bodies thrown into the river. The Jesuits in New France did not hear about the missionaries’ death until the next summer.
La Lande’s superiors spoke highly of his service and his sacrifice. One noted that La Lande, “seeing the dangers in which he was involving himself in so perilous a journey, protested at his departure that the desire of serving God was leading him into a country where he surely expected to meet death. This frame of mind has enabled him to pass into a life which no longer fears either the rage of those Barbarians, or the fury of the Demons, or the pangs of death” (Pouliot).
Along with the other seven Canadian martyrs (all Jesuits), Jean de La Lande was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI. His feast day is celebrated on September 26 in Canada. Today there are schools and churches across North America named for this saint.
Saint Jean de la Lande, you did what you could as an ordinary man to support the work of the Jesuit missionaries. Pray that I too may seek ways to help and encourage missionary efforts in my local parish. May your life inspire me to do my daily tasks well, as for God. Amen.