Saint Isaac Jogues was a Jesuit missionary to the Huron and Iroquois of New France. He can inspire modern-day children and parents who are facing judgement and bullying. St. Isaac was tortured by the Iroquois people for his faith, but he loved them so much he learned their language and returned to serve them. While his example of turning the other cheek may not always been the best way to deal with bullies, his life can still encourage us to pray for our enemies and those who mistreat us.
After studying under the Jesuits for twelve years, Isaac Jogues was ordained as a priest. He traveled to New France in 1636 to serve as a missionary to the Huron. There, he spent six years serving at Ste. Marie with Fr. Jean de Brebeuf and other Jesuits, despite constant dangers and great difficulties.
The Iroquois Capture Isaac Jogues
In the summer of 1642, the mission at Ste. Marie was again faced with a bad harvest and much sickness, among both the priests and the Huron. Fr. Jogues went to Quebec to meet with his superiors and pick up supplies, despite the fact that the Iroquois were once again on the war path.
Historian John J. Wynne explains that the “Iroquois were the fiercest Indian tribes in the east . . . bitterly opposed to the French, implacable to the Hurons, hateful of the Black Robe, as the missionary was called on account of his clerical garment” (The Jesuit Martyrs of North America).
Fr. Jogues made it safely to Quebec and was returning with Rene Goupil, a layman and several Huron when the Iroquois attacked on August 2. Most of the Huron fled into the forest and Goupil was captured, but several of the Huron converts tried to defend themselves.
Fr. Jogues had opportunity to escape, but says in a letter to his superior (written a year after the event), “I, who was barefoot, would not and could not flee,—not willing, moreover, to forsake a Frenchman and the Hurons, who were partly captured without baptism.”
The Iroquois tortured their French prisoners, biting off their fingers and tearing out their nails. Fr. Jogues continued to instruct the Huron captives (who were for a time spared the torture) and baptized many of them. The Iroquois then conducted their prisoners back to their villages.
Isaac Jogues Among the Iroquois
Over the next month, Fr. Jogues and Goupil were subject to various tortures as they were led from village to village. O’Sullivan says of these tortures, “The details of these torments are too revolting for description. Some measure of their horror may be gauged from the fact that, when they were over, only two finger-nails remained to Fr. Jogues; all his fingers were crushed, his left index finger was a stump, his left thumb was gone.”
Fr. Jogues spent thirteen months as a prisoner and slave of the Iroquois. Despite this, he continued to secretly minister to other Huron prisoners. He even learned the Iroquois language so that he could preach to his captors. Finally, after much prayer, Fr. Jogues took an opportunity of escape offered by Dutch traders at Fort Orange (Albany).
On Christmas Day in 1643, he landed back in France, and returned to the Jesuits in Rennes and then to his mother in Orleans. She must have been overjoyed at seeing him again, for he hadn’t expected to leave his missionary work.
Isaac Jogues Returns to New France
In France, Fr. Jogues received a hero’s welcome. The Catholic Encyclopedia records that he was even “allowed by Pope Urban VII the very exceptional privilege of celebrating Mass, which the mutilated condition of his hands had made canonically impossible; several of his fingers having been eaten or burned off.” He was also called a martyr by the pope.
However, Fr Jogues found himself homesick for New France. In the spring of 1644, he returned to New France and was stationed in Quebec and Montreal, but requested to be sent to the Iroquois. Two years later, he went back briefly as a peace ambassador. Then, since the “Iroquois had promised to bury the hatchet” (O’Sullivan), he was given permission to return. Along with Jean de Lalande, a layperson, he traveled into Iroquois territory in September.
Isaac Jogues’s Death
After Fr. Jogues’ peaceful visit to the Iroquois, the tribe fell ill and their crops failed. Campbell explains, “This double calamity was ascribed to Jogues whom the Indians always regarded as a sorcerer.” Warriors were sent to capture and kill Fr. Jogues. He received news of this, but continued on his journey. He was deserted by everyone except Lalande.
He met the Iroquois near Lake George and was captured. On October 18, 1646, Fr. Jogues was murdered while entering an Iroquois cabin for a feast. Lalande was murdered the next day when he tried to retrieve Jogues’ body. Both their heads were stuck on poles and their bodies were thrown into the river.
Isaac Jogues was canonized, along with the other seven Canadian martyrs, in 1930. His feast day is celebrated on September 26 in Canada.
Saint Isaac Jogues, pray that I may love my enemies as you did. Help me to live the love of God for them. May your life inspire me and my children to face those who treat us badly and to seek reconciliation and renewed relationships with them. Amen.