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October 19, 2005


Tim Ferguson

"celebration" counts - we're celebrating their victory over death, their completion of a faithful life, and our joy in the faith they died defending with their lives.


That's what Christianity means. Many Jews puzzle over, and lose their faith over, the deaths of Jews in the Holocaust; we celebrate our loses in the same event.


Although I've never delved into it, the story behind this group intrigues me.

Speaking of saints, I'm trying to organize an All Saints Festival for our CCD kids. It's mostly a fun party where we give them a goody bag with prayer cards, holy cards, treats, etc. I'm thinking I need to ramp up the "saint" aspect of the whole thing. As I read more about the NAM I wonder if showing the kids their route on a big map and telling the story at the same time would be interesting. And then, as a drawing prize, a children's book about the NAM?

I'm not up to speed on my saints. Can any of you Open Book readers suggest some saints whose stories would be particularly fascinating for children?

scotch meg

Hi midwestmom,
There are lots of resources on saints for children. Among those I would recommend most highly for children under 4th/5th grade are AMY's books from Loyola. The stories are short and to the point, and my kids have loved them. They run the gamut from self-sacrificing service to martyrs. Another resource for the pictures-matter crowd are books about saints from Tomie dePaolo, especially his books on the Lady of Guadeloupe and St. Francis. They are lovingly illustrated and not dumbed down. Plus (because of the author) you can usually find them at the public library. At least around here...
For slightly older children right through 8th grade, I would recommend the Vision Books series from Ignatius. Of particular interest are St. Therese (girls), St. Edmund Campion (boys), St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Katharine Drexel, St. Francis, St. Francis Xavier... well, actually, they're all good. The series is an investment, but you may even be able to get some of them through interlibrary loan, as they are reprints of 50's editions.
For high school students, I would recommend Louis de Wohl's books, which are taken very largely from the saints' writings. These also are available from Ignatius.
This sounds like fun! Good luck.


Depends on the kids.

If they like gross stuff, the martyrs are the way to go! I always liked St. Lawrence especially, both for the "death on a grill" aspect and his sense of humor about "Here are the treasures of the Church" and "Turn me over; I'm not done yet on that side."

St. Joan of Arc is great, too, and both boys and girls may like her bravery, her smarts, and the way she's not that much older than them but made a difference.

I also liked the Fatima kids.

Re: the Jesuits and non-martyrs

Why didn't anybody ever tell us in school about Father de Smet!? He was awesome! He went everywhere! He documented Indian languages! He wrassled grizzly bears, for goodness' sake!

And why on Earth aren't the Jesuits trying to get him at least made a Venerable? He's even got publications!


Oh, and you can also read Parkman's Jesuits... online, at Gutenberg:



Is this really called the feast of the North American martyrs outside of Canada? Did they spend any significant amount of time outside of territory that became Canada, or were any of them martyred somewhere that is not now part of Canada?

Because if so, the fact that this is called the feast of the Canadian Martyrs where I live is really, really funny and says a lot about our silly national inferiority complex.

Fr. Brian Stanley

I read St. John de Brebeuf's "Instructions" at Mass this morning. I gave away my copy, and then went back to my computer and had more copies printed. As Johnny Carson used to say, "Good stuff!" I particularly enjoyed the line, "Do not paddle in the canoe unless you intend on paddling the entire trip." The congregation enjoyed the observation shared by St. John de Brebeuf's contemporaries that the Indians were afraid to get in the canoe with Brebeuf, because he was so large -- they thought the canoe would overturn or sink.


I remember reading about Father de Smet back in grade school and thinking he was so cool.
He roamed all around the west and the Indians all respected him.

I remember reading about Sister Blandina who had an encounter with Billy the Kid. And Mother Joseph who was quite an architect in Washington state. There's so much out there and so many admirable saints and holy men and women.


"Did they spend any significant amount of time outside of territory that became Canada, or were any of them martyred somewhere that is not now part of Canada?"

There is a very large shrine near Albany, New York dedicated to the North American Martyrs (and is called the Shrine to the North American Martyrs).

The shrine is built on what was once a Native American village and what was most definitely the scene of many martyrs’ deaths. Today is a wonderful, peaceful place run by a woefully over-worked team of Jesuits (my personal favorite being Fr. Paret who is a wonderful homilist).

You can visit the shrine's Web site at www.martyrshrine.org. It's a great place to make a pilgrimage.




Shrine of the NA Martyrs in Auriesville, NY, where some of them were..martyred.


Fr. Stanley - I printed out Brebeuf's "instructions", too! I plan to read those to the kids at the festival.

Maureen - good tip on Fr. DeSmet. And we are not far from So. Dakota so his story might hit close to home, literally! And I'll definitely look into St. Lawrence.

Scotch Meg - thanks for the book suggestions. That's just what I needed since I've never read any of them. It's good to know which ones the kids like.

Now I have to look at Amy's books!


Um. I wrote two books of saints which discuss most of the figures cited here, as particularly appealing to children. The Loyola book of Heroes contains the story of Sr. Blandina.


Robert- My understanding is that the vast majority of missionary work was done in what is now Canada. At least one was carried off to be martyred in what is now upstate New York. However, even if I'm wrong, at the time "Canada" was used to refer to the whole of New France, which by the following century extended into what is now the American midwest. Given that Canada refered to French North America, it's entirely appropriate that Ss. Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, etc. be referred to as "The Canadian Martyrs".


A great way to remember the North American martyrs is to read "Death Comes For The Archbishop," which I think is a masterpiece and is by far the best "Catholic novel" that I have ever read (even though it was written by an Episcopalian who was probably a lesbian). Describing Cather's motivation for writing the novel, one critic has written that "it came to her one day when she was sitting in a gravelly, uncomfortable spot by the Martyr's Cross east of Santa Fe watching the Sangre de Cristo Mountains color with the sunset: the real story of the Southwest was the story of the missionary priests who came from France with cultivated minds, large vision, and a noble purpose."


The Shrine I mentioned is also very close to the birthplace of Kateri Tekakwitha. There is a smaller shrine close by dedicated to her.

John Murray


I believe they were generally known as Canadian martyrs before their canonization. An American Jesuit lobbied Rome to style them North American Martyrs for "inclusiveness" reasons. St. Isaac Jogues was martyred in New York, so there was some basis for this.

Donnelly's biography of Brebeuf is out of print but good. The Canadian shrine at Midland ON is worth a pilgrimage: http://www.martyrs-shrine.com/

St. Jean is my patron and his prayers have been efficacious.

Amy's _Saints_ and _Heroes_ books have been big hits with my kids as well.

John Murray


So the "North American Martyrs" do not include the French and Spanish missionaries that were in the southwest?


According to this account "Rene Groupil and his party were overrun by the Iroquois at Trois Rivières, where most of the men perished. The remaining few were taken to upstate New York and were tortured for days."

The Leper

"Celebrate" is the perfect word, IMO.

cel·e·brate ( P ) Pronunciation Key (sl-brt)
v. cel·e·brat·ed, cel·e·brat·ing, cel·e·brates
v. tr.

1. To observe (a day or event) with ceremonies of respect, festivity, or rejoicing. See Synonyms at observe.
2. To perform (a religious ceremony): celebrate Mass.
3. To extol or praise: a sonnet that celebrates love.
4. To make widely known; display: “a determination on the author's part to celebrate... the offenses of another” (William H. Pritchard).

v. intr.

1. To observe an occasion with appropriate ceremony or festivity.
2. To perform a religious ceremony.
3. To engage in festivities: went out and celebrated after the victory.

[Middle English celebraten, from Latin celebrre, celebrt-, to frequent, celebrate, from celeber, celebr-, frequented, famous.]

Just had a little run in over a funeral trying to explain to a relative that the funeral didn't "belong" to the family, that it is the entire community that worships and mourns as Mass is celebrated, and she just went off-- "You're CELEBRATING my uncle's death?"

It is so odd that this never seems to happen with practicing Catholics. It is only those who never darken the church door except fo weddings and funerals who "know" how things are "supposed" to be done.

I can predict with almost 100% accuracy, from the attitude in planning sessions whether the would-be liturgists will even know when to stand, kneel, bless themselves, etc. during Mass.


So sorry for going off on a tangent like that, wasn't thinking.


The collect for today's memorial begins:

You consecrated the first beginnings
of the faith in North America
by the preaching and martyrdom
of Saints John and Isaac and their companions.

Lovely theology, iffy history.


Just curious: what's so "iffy" about it?

Mary Kay

Since the history of these martyrs is in my backyard, it's always been a favorite and I've never paid any attention to whether it's been called Canadian Martyrs or North American Martyrs.

Robert, I think it has more to do with the human inclination to know best what is local. Here in upstate NY, the Auriesville shrine is better known. In Ontario, the Midland shrine is better known. I've never heard any blurb that focused on only one side of the border. Your question was great in that led to others being better informed about the history of this day.


One more thing....exactly how do you pronounce "Jogues"?

Mary Kay

midwestmom, my fractured French would make the O long and drop the last es.

Mary Kay

Interesting tidbit: my saints book says that Bl. Katei Tekakwitha, born into the Mohawk tribe (whose war party had captured the martyrs), anyway she was born 9 years after the martyrdom of Jogues and Brebeuf, became the first person born in North America to be beatified. (Although I’m not sure how realiable the book is, since it said that she’s the first to be canonized and she hasn’t been canonized yet.)

On another topic, leper, sounds like a grief reaction. You’re right that practicing Catholics “get” the celebration part. Might be a good opening (after she’s had some time to grieve) to clarify.


I'm going to hold out for "Canadian Martyrs": they were in what was, or was soon to become "Canada" (even though now part of that territory is in the USA); they were "Canadiens" because they were a) French and b) not in Acadia or Louisiana. "North American" says much less about who they were than the appellation "Canadian".

And lest you suspect I'm merely defending my national interest here, I'll be clear that the meaning of Canadian that pertains to St. Jean de Brebeuf et al is completely different from its current national identification.


what's so "iffy" about it?

For one thing, the Diocese of Mexico was formally erected more than sixty years before the first North American Martyr was born.



Because North America was missioned by others in advance of the French.

First, lest anyone forget, the first diocese in North America was established in Gardar, Greenland (yes, part of North America, NOT Europe) circa 1124. That diocese lasted for 3 or more centuries before depopulation stifled it.

Then the Spanish came to the West Indies (also part of North America, for the most part) and continental North America. A few generations before the French.

The history is rectified if you qualify it to refer to "Anglo-French North America" but I digress.


Gardar, btw, remains a titular see in use from time to time. Check the Annuario Pontificio.

Zhou De-Ming

From an editorial in the Jesuit magazine Company on "the other North American Martyrs."

Company is to be commended for focusing this issue on Jesuit apostolates in Canada and Mexico. For some errant reason we look upon these neighbor nations as if they were foreign missions that are only now feeling the impact of the Society. Our lack of knowledge of our own history impedes a proper evaluation of what the Society has stood for and what it stands for today in the Americas. Too often we are content to let labels and headlines distort the richness of reality, both past and present. Take the North American Martyrs, for example. The label leads us to believe no others died in service of the faith except at the hands of a few Indian tribes in the northeastern United States. Who today pays homage to Padre Segura and the missing Jesuit ministers of the Ajacán mission on the Chesapeake?

A score of Franciscan friars from coast to coast should also figure in the roster of martyrs, some of whom died more than a century before our Jesuit martyrs. Dominicans, Augustinians, Geronymites, and many other religious also spent their lives bringing the Gospel to North America. Knowing the history of New France, La Florida, Havana, and New Spain transforms our appreciation of the presence of the Company in the Americas. Without this historical perspective, we lose sight of the continuity of our commitment to the poor and to the spread of the Gospel. Neither Canada nor Mexico is a foreign mission; both are regions that carry on a near half-millennium of Ignatian endeavor.

Jesuits in Canada obviously tread a distinguished trail, especially of French Jesuits, who penetrated Indian territory from the interlaced lakes and dense woods of the north to the swollen river deltas of the Gulf of Mexico. They were not conquerors; they were servants of God hunting the welfare of people who had yet to hear the Word. The French companies wanted pelts; the Company of Jesus wanted converts.

No one wants to resurrect the political battles of those times, but our ignorance of the details of those difficult missions has allowed distorted presentations of our history by revisionist ideologues. The ruggedly raw portrayal of Jesuits in The Blackrobe twisted the heroism of sacrifice and the asceticism of the Society into a macabre, adolescent psychodrama. Who could take pride in that kind of historical plunder?

The spotlight falling on apostolic works in Mexico illuminates the plight of a nation racked by economic woes and social disorientation. It blinds us to the staggering record of constancy and service wrought by the Jesuits of the Province of New Spain for two centuries before their expulsion in 1767. From all over Europe and North America, courageous young men converged to offer their lives in service to indigenous peoples scattered over regions from the isthmus of the Western Hemisphere to the mountain fastnesses of the northern continent. They explored, they built, they planted, they harvested, they taught, they protected, they spent themselves in service, and they died often alone and now forgotten. But they succeeded in helping Native peoples form communities that could survive the grueling rigors of European expansion.

We in the United States pay so little tribute to the heroism of the French and Spanish missionaries. We teach our history in defiant ignorance, and in that same ignorance we often succumb to current trends of political correctness. Bereft of a historical context, we view the old apostolates of the Society as malevolent, misguided cooperation in the unethical conquest of the world. Yet a careful, detailed analysis of the work of Jesuits long since deceased reveals almost unparalleled service in education and in establishing systems of justice and charity. Remember, in those times the excesses of many European monarchs felt the stinging criticism of the Company to the extent that most Jesuits were exiled and finally suppressed. ...


What a blessing it is to have access to so many great Catholic minds. I love the Internet!

john c

Matthew, I'll be clear that the meaning of Canadian that pertains to St. Jean de Brebeuf et al is completely different from its current national identification.

Shocking! You mean Jean & Isaac weren't trying to spread the Gospels of Free Medical Insurance and Gay Marriage??!!


To provide a bit of an counterintuitive prospective:

Christianity was introduced to the New World (in Greenland) over two centuries before the last major pagan European country (Lithuania -- which was huge in th 14th century) was Christianized.


RE the No. American Martyrs, in addition to New York, I believe some may also have been active in parts of what is now Michigan.

And Parkman, notwithstanding his anti-Catholicism and complete inability to begin to comprehend what motivated the Jesuits, still makes for a terrific read.

Thanks for this post!



Years ago I found a 3-volume history of the Jesuits in the midwest and Fr. De Smet was one of the more active missionaries. He made long journeys to the Indians of the Rocky Mtns. to convert them, and the Indians called the Jesuits the "blackrobes." Sometimes when Protestant missionaries would work in tribes the Indians would object that they weren't being sent any of the blackrobes. He was truly an inspiring man, and it is amazing how little he is known.

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