Since becoming a Catholic, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the saints of the Church. I find it easy to connect with these men and women who lived their love for God in big and little ways. Often, when facing a certain struggle or role in my life, I’ve turned to particular patron saints who can identify with and intercede for me. As we celebrate Canada’s birthday, I found myself wondering about the patron saints of Canada.
Canada claims not one but ten patron saints—two traditional, New Testament-era saints and eight of her own native saints. These are powerful intercessors for our country who can still inspire us in our faith today. Here are the patron saints of Canada.
St. Anne is Jesus’ grandmother. She was venerated by the early Canadian fur traders, many of whom were Catholic. One thinks of the many mothers who were praying for their sons so far from home, exploring the wilds of Canada in the 1700s and 1800s.
Explorer Alexander Henry the Elder wrote that “Saint Anne is the patroness of the Canadians, in all their travels by water.” Peter Pond (a rather fiery and infamous fur trader, and founding partner of the North West Company) and John Macdonnel (a clerk in the North West Company) both mention Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec, a last stop for voyageurs setting out down the river.
Today, the Basilica at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is still a popular place for pilgrimage. The first chapel was built here in 1658, after a settler donated two acres of his land for a shrine. The first reported miracle happened here during the shrine’s construction, when a man hired to help build the church was cured of his rheumatism. The local First Nations people called St. Anne “the grandmother of the faith.”
St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, is a popular patron saint for many causes and places. He was chosen as the patron saint of Canada by the first Recollect Franciscan missionaries in 1624. Pope Urban VIII confirmed St. Joseph as Canada’s patron in 1637.
The New Testament depicts Joseph as a resourceful individual, who earned his living as a tradesman, as a carpenter or stone-mason; he was someone who worked shaping materials. He was a person who struggled as he sought to know God’s will. And once he learned God’s will, Joseph did it promptly and completely, even when this disturbed his own plans. He is shown as a parent who cared deeply about Jesus, both rejoicing in awe at the marvels attending his birth and sorrowing when Jesus was lost. ~ Archbishop Terry
The Jesuit missionaries who followed the Franciscans named several of their missions for St. Joseph. Many of the Huron converts also took the name of St. Joseph after their baptism. Joseph Chiwatenhwa was a Huron convert and ambassador for the priests, whose assistance greatly aided their work.
The Jesuit missionaries had a fervent devotion to both Our Lady and St. Joseph, as they expressed many times in the Jesuit Relations. In a letter written in May of 1635, St. Jean de Brebeuf said,
“We owe much also to our glorious St. Joseph, Spouse of Our Lady and Protector of the Hurons, who has rendered us tangible aid several times. It was a remarkable thing that on the day of his feast and during the octave accommodations came to us on all sides.”
In 1637, when threatened with martyrdom, St. Jean and his fellow missionaries “had recourse to the great St. Joseph” (see “Canada’s Patron Saint” by John O’Gorman). They made a vow to say Masses every day for nine days in his honour. Each day passed with no threat from the Hurons; by the time the Masses finished, they enjoyed peace again.
St. Joseph’s feast day on March 19 was celebrated in Quebec by the early settlers with fireworks, bonfires, and Benediction. It was considered a holy day of obligation until 1793, when the number of holy days of obligation were reduced.
Many of the Canadian Catholic saints also had a special devotion to St. Joseph. St. Andre Bessette’s life is an example of relying on the intercession of Jesus’ foster father. St. Andre asked for St. Joseph’s help in building a church in Montreal. Today, St. Joseph’s Oratory is the largest church in Canada.
St. Jean de Brebeuf
St. Jean de Brebeuf was a missionary in New France (now Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes) from 1625-1649. A giant in stature, he was given the nickname “Echon” or “strong one” by the Hurons, who couldn’t say his French name.
He was one of the first Jesuit missionaries to serve in North America. Learning the Huron language quickly, he wrote a dictionary and grammar for his fellow priests, as well as general advice about serving the Hurons. He also wrote the popular Huron Christmas Carol, telling the Nativity story in a way that the Hurons would relate to it.
He was martyred on March 17, just two days before St. Joseph’s feast day, in 1649. The other missionaries expected to be martyred as well. As they were celebrating the vigil of St. Joseph, they asked again for his help and protection. On the 19th, the Iroquois fell into a panic and withdrew without attacking further.
The Canadian Martyrs
The Canadian martyrs, as a group, are also the patrons of Canada. These men gave their lives for love of God and the people of North America. Both St. Jean de Brebeuf and St. Isaac Jogues returned to France after several years as a missionary. They could have remained there in comfort and ease for the rest of their lives, but instead chose to return to what is now Canada.
Known also as the North American Martyrs, these men longed to God’s word spread to every person in North America. They endured great trials and sufferings to live the Gospel among the Hurons, Iroquois, French settlers, and other people they met. I have no doubt that today they are still praying for this country and its people.
COMING SOON! The North American Martyrs Kids’ Activity Book will bring the lives of these holy men alive for your children. Brief bios tell the stories of each of the saints. Colouring pages by Katherine Babcock help children picture each of the martyrs. There are also quotes from the saints, hands-on activities, and suggestions for applying what kids have learned from each saint to their own lives.