Dominic Collins was born in the seaport town of Youghal, in County Cork, Ireland. His family was well established and respected and both his father and brother were mayors of Youghal. It was in the time of Queen Elizabeth and Anglicanism was the official religion and Irish Catholics were subjected to persecution from time to time.
Although the situation was not yet critical in Youghal, Dominic felt that he did not have much future in the town. Like many others, he decided to leave Ireland and make a better life in Europe. So at the age of twenty, Collins arrived in France. He had dreams of joining the cavalry but for that he needed a horse so he worked for some time in various hostelries in Brittany, north-west France. Eventually, he was enlisted in the army of the Duke of Mercoeus, who was a member of the Catholic League fighting against the Protestan Huguenots in Brittany. Dominic had a distinguished military career lasting nine years.
He was promoted to captain of the cavalry and later military governor when he managed to recover land from the Huguenots.
Although he had a good pension following his service to the King of Spain, he began to realize that being a soldier was not the future he wanted. In the Lent of 1598, he met an Irish Jesuit, Thomas White, who introduced him to the Jesuit superiors in Salamanca, Spain, after hearing Dominic’s desire to do something better with his life. Although he was now 32 years old, the Jesuit provincial thought it was wise to delay his entrance, perhaps to test the strength of his vocation. There were doubts too about his sufficiently educated to become a priest but he was willing to be a Jesuit brother. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain in December 1598. When the Jesuit College was struck by a plague, Dominic tended the victims, nursing some of them back to health and comforting the others in their last hours. A report from that time describes him as a man of sound judgement and great physical strength; mature, prudent and sociable, though inclined to be hot-tempered and obstinate. He was allowed to profess temporary religious vows in the Society in February 1601.
Soon after his profession, an expedition was organized by King Philip III of Spain to assist Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in their attempt at revolt against English rule. Seven months after his profession, Brother Dominic Collins was assigned as companion and assistant to Fr James Archer, an Irish Jesuit who was being sent by the king as chaplain to the expedition. Fr Archer has specifically asked for Collins as his assistant due to his extensive military background.
The two Jesuits sailed in September 1601 on different vessels which became separated during a storm. When Bro Collins finally reached Ireland in December, two months after Fr Archer; Castlehaven in southwestern Cork on 1 December, the main squadron with Fr Archer having reached Kinsale more than two months earlier.
The Irish attacked Kinsale at dawn on Christmas Eve but were defeated. Bro Collins was reunited with Fr Archer in February 1602 and together the two Jesuits proceeded to Dunboy Castle, which the Irish had recently regained. Some months later Bro Collins found himself (Fr Archer had left for Spain to persuade the king to send reinforcements) besieged inside Dunboy Castle with 143 defenders. With the landing on 6 June of huge English forces, Dunboy Castle fortifications began to crumble under the heavy bombardment. Many of the Irish defenders were killed and the Castle surrendered. With the exception of Dominic Collins and two others, all the remaining 77 defenders were executed by hanging in the castle yard.
Dominic was later imprisoned in Cork, tortured for three months, and, despite several offers to spare his life if he would divulge information about Catholics and to renounce his vocation as a Jesuit and join the established Church, he flatly refused. He also rejected the offer of an honorable position in the English army and Protestant offers of ecclesiastical preferment if he would renounce his Catholic faith. Even his own relatives tried persuading him to renounce the faith publicly while inwardly remaining faithful to Catholicism. But this he would not do.
He was finally condemned to death and on 31 October 1602 he was taken to Youghal, his hometown and hanged. Before climbing the scaffold, he spoke to the crowd in Irish, Spanish, and English, saying he was happy to die for his faith. He was so cheerful that an English officer remarked, “He is going to his death as eagerly as I would go to a banquet.” Bro Collins overheard him and replied, “For this cause I would be willing to die not one but a thousand deaths.” So moved was the crowd that the hangman fled and a passing fisherman was forced to do the job.
Blessed Dominic is remembered for his constancy in the faith. Though freedom and advancement were set before him, he chose to “endure the cross, despising its shame” (cf. Heb 12:2).
Dominic’s martyrdom is commemorated in a carving at St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co. Cork. Liturgically his feast is celebrated on 20 June, or 30 October (in the Society of Jesus). Today a Jesuit residence in Dublin is named for him.
Left hanging on the gallows, the rope eventually broke and Dominic’s body fell to the ground. Under cover of darkness, local Catholics took his body away and buried him with respect in a secret place. From that day he was venerated as a martyr in Youghal and his fame quickly spread throughout Ireland and Europe. In the Irish Colleges of Douai and Salamanca the Jesuits showed his portrait and many favors and cures were attributed to his intercession. Although used to the rough life of the army camp, Dominic always kept a strange innocence and gentleness. He is one of the most attractive of all the Irish martyrs.
All powerful and ever-living God, You gave us an example of marvelous courage in the blessed martyrs Dominic and his companions. For the joy that was set before them they endured the cross, despising its shame. Grant by their prayers that, faithful to Your commandments, we may bring forth the fruits of unity and peace.
-Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester, England
There is a very special communion between the laity and the ordained. Not merely too many calories delivered to rectories at holidays, or generous gifts for Father from time to time; one priest who received a new car famously quipped, “All THIS!!!! AND eternal life, too!!!”
It is recorded, often, in history, when oppressed, persecutors believed by destroying the priesthood, they would succeed in in destroying the faith. Untrue, time and time, again. When Asian missionaries returned, it is recorded, to Far Eastern missions where once they evangelized after several hundred years of absence, the clandestine faith still survived, albeit adapted to life without clergy, but it persisted. It is stronger than that. It always has been. So, “though the mountains fall into the sea”, yet shall we trust in His promises. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against us.
Persecution in England in the late 17th century was part of a crackdown by the Elizabethan government after the Decree of 1585, which made it an offense punishable by death to seek ordination to the priesthood oversees and return to England. This story, like others just like it, is of Catholic laity and that special communion with the ordained.
John, Thomas, John and Patrick were executed together at Dorchester on July 4, 1594: John Cornelius, who trained for the priesthood at Douai and Rome, was arrested in April; his companions were arrested for assisting him. John became a Jesuit while imprisoned in London. All of them were from Ireland:
Father John Cornelius, their leader, was born in 1557 to Irish parents who had moved to Great Britain. A Dorsetshire Catholic knight, Sir John Arundel, sent him to Oxford University to study. But John was too Catholic in his convictions to be pleased with the “new religion” that dominated the University. Feeling called rather to the Catholic priesthood, he crossed the Channel and enrolled at the English college in Rheims for holy orders. From Rheims he went on to the English College in Rome to complete his theology, and it was at Rome that he was ordained a priest.
Return to England as a Catholic priest was at that time forbidden under pain of death. But Father John, a man of prayer and zeal, saw in that law a challenge rather than a deterrent, as did the rest of the contemporary English priests who set service to persecuted Catholics as their top priority. His assignment was to the Catholics of Dorset. These priests’ ministry was a “cloak-and-dagger” operation, since they were always in danger of discovery and arrest. Their capture could mean also the arrest and punishment of anybody who assisted them.
Naturally, the missionaries’ terms of service were usually short, for the police were alert and aggressive. Cornelius (he also went by the alias of Mohun, although his real surname seems to have been O’Mahony) was finally seized by the sheriff of Dorset on April 24, 1594, at the Chideock Castle of Lady Arundel.
Having seized the priest by surprise, the Sheriff was about to hurry him off hatless. Now, in that hat-conscious age, to be hatless was to appear uncivilized. Thomas Bosgrave, a gallant young Cornish nephew of Sir John Arundel and a witness to the arrest, stepped forward and offered Father John his own hat. “The honor I owe to your function,” he declared, “may not suffer me to see you go bareheaded!” It was a simple gesture of charity to a priest, but he was to pay for his piety. The Sheriff promptly arrested Bosgrave, too, for “aiding” a Catholic clergyman. He likewise arrested two serving-men of this Catholic household, Dubliners John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Content, no doubt, with the day’s work, the county official then led his catch off to jail.
Cornelius, the most important of them, was taken to London to be examined by Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. The Council had him stretched on the rack to force him to name all those who had given him shelter or assistance. Torture would not open his lips, however, so he was sent back to Dorchester for trial, along with the three lay captives. On July 2, the court declared the priest guilty of high treason under the law that forbade Catholic priests to enter England and remain there. Bosgrave, Carey and Salmon were pronounced guilty of felony for aiding and abetting Father John. The sentence was the same for all: hanging, drawing, and quartering.
After the court had published its judgment, it offered all four men a reprieve if they would give up their Catholic faith. All four refused.
The execution took place at Dorchester two days later. The three laymen were hanged first. John Carey is reported to have said as the noose hung before his face, kissing the rope, “Oh! Precious collar!” Each made a Catholic profession of faith before the trap was sprung. Father John then kissed the feet of his hanging companions. He then kissed the gallows with the words of Saint Andrew, “O Cross, long desired.” He was not allowed to make any formal statement; but he did manage to state that he had been lately admitted into the Jesuits, and would have been en route to the Jesuit novitiate in Flanders had he not been arrested.
Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester
The Dorset Martyrs Memorial at Gallows Hill on South Walks, Dorchester was created by Dame Elisabeth Frink and was erected in 1986. It was funded by institutions and individuals of all denominations and the Arts Council of Great Britain through South West Arts.
The memorial represents two martyrs facing Death and commemorates all Dorset men and women who suffered for their faith and, in particular, seven known Catholics who were executed where the Memorial now stands, including —
John Cornelius SJ, Priest, executed 4 July 1594
John Cornelius was born in Bodmin of Irish descent and was sent to Exeter College, Oxford by Sir John Arundell. He was ordained in 1584 at the English College in Rome.
John Cornelius was a Chaplain to the Arundell family at Chideock Castle where he was arrested after a search of the castle and sent to Dorchester to be tried for high treason along with
Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Executed on 4 July 1594, along with Fr Cornelius, SJ.
Thomas Bosgrave was the son of Leonard Bosgrave and the grandson of Sir John Arundell, making him the great-great-grandson of Thomas Gray, 1st Marquis of Dorset and half-brother to Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of King Henry VII.
Thomas Bosgrave, together with John Carey and Patrick Salmon, servants at Chideock Castle, was arrested and taken with John Cornelius to Dorchester where they were charged with harbouring a priest contrary to the statute of 1585.
-please click on the image for a more detailed view
John Speed’s map of Dorchester was published in 1610. It shows the position of the gallows on Gallows Hill on the bottom of the map towards the right,close to the modern junction of Icen Way and South Walks. The gallows was made of two uprights and a crossbeam connecting them with enough space for a two-wheeled cart to pass through and enough space for multiple hangings. At that time the County Gaol wa son High East Street near Icen Way, which used to be called Gaol Lane.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the penalty for high treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered. The victim was tortured, imprisoned, then taken to the gallows. He or she would be cut down after a short hanging, sometimes still alive, and cruelly butchered, with the limbs being torn from the body. The dismembered corpse was often placed on gateways. This is how John Cornelius, SJ and many more died.
The gallows was removed to Maumbury Rings around 1703, which means that many of the 74 prisoners condemned to death during the ‘Bloody Assize’ following the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 will also have been executed there.
For 800 yrs Dominicans have lined the hallways of their priories, where they have buried their dead, and sung the De Profundis, in remembrance. Very moving to experience. I also have the pleasure of owning and having read Fr. Ciszek’s, SJ, book He Leadeth Me.
Profound sinner though I am, I pray, Lord, if it be Your holy will, allow me the privilege and grace to suffer and die for You!! Better yet, let me despise my many sins, and live instead in faithfulness to You and Your will. Amen.
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine!
Out of the depths, I cry to You, O Lord!
“After years of interrogation at the hands of the Soviet secret police, the American Jesuit Walter Ciszek reached a breaking point. He had been falsely accused of spying for the Vatican and was subjected to isolation and near starvation. As he records in his autobiographical account He Leadeth Me, under this strain his prayer life and mental stability both collapsed in a moment of despair: “I knew that I had gone beyond all bounds, had crossed over the brink into a fit of blackness I had never known before.” The cause of this crisis? He had always conceived of his “role—man’s role—in the divine economy as an active one,” but now, brought to destitution & desolation, he hadn’t the strength to go on. Thus for “one sickening split second,” he gave up on his life and on his salvation.
He came out of this experience only after being stripped of all trust in his own strength: “I realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong.” He discovered that he had to see that every action, every impulse, was a moment for cooperation with the directive love of God.
While Ciszek came to understand what it meant to rely on God’s grace through extraordinary suffering, it’s something we all have to learn. And for all of us, it involves suffering—primarily, the suffering of dying to self. How do we let go of that trust in ourselves that makes us so defensive when challenged, so worried when we’re uncertain about the future, and so frustrated when things don’t go according to our plans? So much of our mental and spiritual energy goes into protecting that center of false self-reliance that its removal seems impossible for us. And, for man, it is impossible.
The psalmist tells God, “It was good for me to be afflicted / to learn Your will.” That’s fairly easy to say in a moment of contentment, but if someone told that to me during the miseries of the stomach flu, let alone in a Soviet prison camp, I’d find it much harder to believe. But notice that the psalmist says it was good—he’s reflecting on the past. He didn’t necessarily see or appreciate the point of afflictions while they happened, but in retrospect he can begin to see why God had allowed the difficulties in his life. His understanding came from a habit of reflecting about what had happened to him, what God had allowed. [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]
I’m reminded of the title character in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila. She spends much of the book musing: “I just been wondering lately why things happen the way they do.” It sounds like a simple question, but the very phrasing of it implies a deep insight—things happen. Like the psalmist and Ciszek, Lila, too, had suffered. She had known what it was to be powerless. She had lived a childhood that would have been disorienting and traumatizing to the steadiest disposition. If someone told her she was the maker of her own destiny, it would have sounded a farce to her. As a result, she lives a posture towards her own life that is one of wonder—“I just been wondering”—even if it’s a wonder that is often confused and frightened.
Things happen to us and we don’t know why. We don’t create our lives; we haven’t chosen many of their events. We both participate in the story of our lives and observe them. As we live, and suffer, we have the opportunity again and again to wonder and ponder why things happen the way they do. Over time, we can hope with Ciszek “to see [God’s] will in all things, … to accept every situation and circumstance and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust.” [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]
Love & trusting in the the Divine Will. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!!!
When making the Stations of the Cross, particularly in stations 3, 7, 9, where Jesus falls, I meditate on this truth most fully. Why not stay down? The release of not carrying the full weight must be welcome, but the fall hurt, too. The Roman soldiers will beat Him to death where He lay if He does not move. He still has His most important work to do, as do we. Jesus, help me rise as You did, when I fall from the exhaustion, horror, and great burden of my own crosses. I have work to do, Lord. Be my help, my strength, and my salvation.
The Jesuit priest St. Noel Chabanel, SJ was one of the North American Martyrs; he worked among the Huron Indians with St. Charles Garnier. Missionaries often become very sympathetic toward those to whom they minister, but this was not the case for Fr. Noel; he felt a strong repugnance for the Indians and their customs. This, along with difficulty in learning their language and similar challenges, caused him a lasting sense of sadness and spiritual suffocation. How did he respond? By making a solemn vow never to give up or to leave his assignment — a vow that he kept until the day of his martyrdom.
-by PETER AMBROSIE
A CALL TO COURAGE
“I am going where obedience calls me, but whether I stay there or receive permission from my superior to return to the mission where I belong, I must serve God faithfully until death.” These, perhaps his last recorded words, Rev. Noel Chabanel, SJ spoke on the very day of his death, Dec. 8, 1649 to the Fathers in charge of St. Matthias mission among the Petuns. They give us the measure of this unique Martyr and Saint. Mere Marie de l’Incarnation in a letter to her son dated Aug.30, 1650 said of him, “Whatever may be, he died in the act of obedience.”
What kind of man was Noel Chabanel? From the viewpoint of the length, intensity and success of their missionary activities the eight North American Martyrs fall into two groups: the “big four” and the “little four.” Brebeuf, Daniel, Garnier and Jogues belong to the first class; Lalemant, Goupil, de la Lande and Noel Chabanel, to the second. The “little four” suffer by contrast with the herculean labors of the “big four.” But all of them equally shed their blood in witness to Christ and His message.
Noel Chabanel was the youngest of the priests and the last of the band of eight to suffer martyrdom in the new world. His birthplace in south-eastern France, the village of Saugues about a hundred miles northwest of the port of Marseilles, nestled in hill country which was the source of four rivers, the Loire, Seine, Garonne and Rhone. Here on the banks of the Lozere, a tributary of the Loire, Chabanel was born on Feb. 2, 1613, the feast of the Purification of Our Lady. His father, a notary, and his mother sprung from merchant stock, raised their four children, Pierre, Claude, Antoinette and Noel, the youngest, in comfort, yet in the firmness of the traditional Catholic upbringing of early 17th century France.
Though the details of his boyhood are somewhat scanty, we know that Noel was first educated in the basic humanities in the Chapter school in Saugues and then as a teenager in higher studies at an unknown college. His brother Pierre entered the Society of Jesus in 1623 and Noel, just past seventeen years old, entered the Jesuit novitiate in Toulouse on Feb. 8, 1630. After a two years novitiate and his first vows he taught rhetoric quite successfully in the college of that city from 1632-1639.
From 1639 to 1641 he did his studies in theology there, followed by his Tertianship, a third probationary year, still in Toulouse, 1641-1642. In 1641 he was ordained a priest. His years of training ended in a classroom teaching rhetoric again, this time at the college of Rodez The Jesuit catalogue for the Province of Toulouse leaves this pointed portrait of Chabanel: “Serious by nature – energetic – great stability -better than average intelligence.”
BIRTH OF A MISSIONARY
During his twelve years as a Jesuit the young Society of Jesus knew its golden age in France, multiplying into five Provinces or territorial divisions between the years 1545 and 1616. Jesuit foreign missionary activity, too, spread east, west and south. From the famous Jesuit Rela-tions Noel learned of the heroic work of his fellow Jesuits in New France. In the seventeenth century sophisticated France was thrilled with the tales graphically written each year by the Jesuits in New France. These were the Jesuit Relations – one of the world’s most famous records of adventure, history and heroic sanctity, unique be-cause they were history written on the spot in the hour of its making.
Especially during his Tertianship the tiny flame of his ambition to become a missionary fanned into a fierce desire. In the words of his chief chronicler, Paul Ragueneau, “God gave him a strong vocation for this country.” Twice he wrote to the General of the Society of Jesus in Rome, Mutius Vitelleschi. The first time requesting that his studies be curtailed and that he be sent immediately to answer the urgent call for missionaries in New France. The reply of the General on November 15, 1642, though negative, left the door open. Finally on April 4, 1643 his obedient patience was rewarded when a reply from the General to his second letter allowed him to leave for New France.
On May 8,1643 Noel’s dream became a reality. As he stood aboard-ship in the port of Dieppe, this young priest, thirty years old, looked west across the Atlantic with its bright promise of adventure for Christ. Little did he suspect how strange, how mysterious, how demanding the adventure in New France was to be for a sensitive young man raised and schooled in the comparative comfort, shelter and luxury of old France.
With Noel travelled two Jesuits, Gabriel Druillet and Leonard Garreau, a native of Limoges of the Province of Aquitaine. Could Noel suspect that Father Garreau would be the last Jesuit he would see and confide in, on the eve of his death?
ARRIVAL IN QUEBEC
The perilous crossing of the Atlantic in the early 17th century with its many hazards has often been described in the Jesuit Relations. This was Noel’s special introduction to the new world and a presage of what was in store for him. After a three months’ voyage they landed in the settlement of Quebec on August 15. Ironically, the Relation of that year records that his confreres in Quebec were overjoyed at the arrival of “three worthy workers, Religious of our Society, and very apt for the language.” The life of Chabanel was to prove how unprophetic these words were to be for him! For, of the five Jesuit Martyrs killed in Canada, Noel was the only one who had no flair for the native languages.
INSECURITY OF THE FRENCH SETTLEMENTS
The picture in New France was anything but bright the past year. 1642 was a year of great crisis for the missionaries in Huronia. The Huron mission had been cut off from Quebec by the Iroquois blockade. No flotilla of Huron canoes had come down to Quebec for the yearly trade. By the same token no provisions had made their way back to the isolated mission in Huronia. Finally in the summer of 1642 Isaac Jogues, a veteran of six years in the Huron missions, was picked to break through the blockade for desperately needed supplies. Miraculously he made the journey to Quebec after thirty-five days canoeing. On his return trip to Sainte-Marie Jogues and Rene’ Goupil were am-bushed and taken captive into Iroquois territory, where Goupil, sur-geon and saint, suffered martyrdom on September 29,1642, the first of the band of eight to die a martyr. Even the inhabitants of Quebec, Three Rivers and the recently founded settlement of Ville Marie (Montreal) did not escape the cruel and daring raids of the prowling Iroquois. It was during this period of fear and uncertainty that Noel landed in Quebec. Although warmly welcomed by his Jesuit brothers -and this compensated somewhat for the crude conditions he found – he could feel the atmosphere of danger, fear and insecurity.
A highlight of Noel’s winter stay in Quebec was meeting the senior veteran missionary, Rev. Jean de Brebeuf,SJ who had left Huronia in 1641 suffering from a broken left clavicle sustained while on a mission among the Neutrals. In Quebec during his recuperation period Brebeuf served as procurator or supplier for the Huron mission. Because of the hazard of journeying that fall of 1643 to the Huron mission, Noel Chabanel had to stay in Quebec that winter getting his first initiation of missionary work in and around the settlement. Like all newly arrived blackrobes, his ignorance of the difficult Indian languages – so different from his polished French – would curtail his initial apostolate among the native people. So Father Noel would do chaplain duty at the Ursuline Convent and work with the colonists and soldiers of the little settlement.
HURONIA BOUND -1644
When the ice went out of the St. Lawrence in the spring of 1644, Father Bressani made a desperate attempt to carry aid to the isolated Fathers in distant Huronia. He and his party were ambushed and taken captive by the lurking Iroquois. In late spring a few christian Hurons managed to arrive in Quebec from Huronia with word of the dire needs of the blackrobes there. On their return trip after trading they too were seized by the enemy. Finally, Governor Montmagny decided to send an armed escort of a score of French soldiers to Sainte-Marie, the black-robe missionary centre on the Wye River in Huronia. So in midsummer of 1644 Fathers Brebeuf, Chabanel and Garreau left Quebec in an attempt to reach Huronia.
ARRIVAL AT STE-MARIE AMONG THE HURONS
The treacherous northern water route via the Ottawa was another cruel initiation for Noel. The party reached the Residence of Ste-Marie on the Wye on September 7, 1644. Almost at once Noel Chabanel took up the study of the Huron language. For the next five years of his life Chabanel’s world was to be encompassed by his life at Ste-Marie and a few missionary excursions, working first with Jean de Brebeuf and finally with Charles Garnier.
Here at Ste-Marie, face to face with the harsh realities of the coun-try, Noel’s zeal was spurred when he met the veteran missionaries of Huronia. From time to time they returned from their mission outposts to Ste-Marie which served as their base of operations, their council chamber, their refuge and place of recollection, their haven for spiritual and social comfort.
THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
The Relation for this year informs us that Noel was destined at first to work with the nomadic Algonkins who were resident in the Huron dis-trict. After a winter’s hard work at learning the Indian language he came to a shocking realization. Try as he would, he could not master the intricate Indian tongue. Paul Ragueneau, his superior at Ste-Marie, best describes this tragedy. “Once here, even after three, four, five years of study of the Indian language, he made such little progress that he could hardly be understood even in the most ordinary conversation. This was no small mortification for a man burning with the desire to convert the Indians. Besides, it was particularly painful, for his memory had always been good, as were his other talents, which was proven by his years of satisfactory teaching of rhetoric in France.”
In one of the most touching documents of the Jesuit Relations, Ragueneau gives a poignant picture of the struggles of this heroic man who wrote of himself as a “bloodless martyr in the shadow of martyrdom.” To make matters worse his tastes were so delicate and sensitive that he found everything about the Indian customs and culture crude, foreign, even revolting. One would think that this is more than enough suffering for one man to bear. But there is more. “When in addition God withdraws His visible graces, and remains hidden, although a person sighs for Him alone and when He leaves the soul a prey to sadness, disgust and natural aversions; these are trials which are greater than ordinary virtue can bear.” Certain it is that, without the strength of God which Chabanel incessantly prayed for, his courage would have broken under the severe strain.
For five frightful years Chabanel had to endure this desolating martyrdom. During this agony Noel saw Brebeuf, Daniel, Garnier and others of his brothers competent and successful at their work. Here he was, frustrated before he could begin, denied the one essential tool for success – the ability to communicate with his native flock. Perhaps, though, the most bitter pill of all was the scorn and ridicule the natives heaped on him for his courageous but abortive attempts to speak their language – this, even from the children! He seemed easy prey to the subtle temptation assailing him again and again to leave this primitive country and return to France where there was plenty of work more suited to his character and talents.
Yet, Noel, though severely tested, refused to come down from the cross on which God had placed him. In fact to bind himself more irrevocably to his cross he made a vow to remain on it for life. The Relation of 1650 preserves for us the wording of this vow which he pronounced at Ste-Marie on June 20, 1647 on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It is worth quoting in full as it reveals the steely quality of this person who, though sensitive by nature, by God’s grace persevered to the bitter end.
“My Lord, Jesus Christ, Who, by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to cooperate with the designs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversion of these Hurons to the faith; I, Noel Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of Your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the Testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron Mission; it being understood that all this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray, then, 0 Lord, that You will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that You will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen.”
That heroic vow won for Chabanel, in this life, strength to endure every hardship, and, on the day of the canonization of the Martyrs, the distinction of standing as an equal beside those whom he regarded as his superiors. As Christ did in His passion, Noel repeated in his life the struggle against the powers of darkness, a struggle sustained only through persevering prayer.
Despite his crucifixion of loneliness and discouragement, with the support of his superior, Father Ragueneau, and his spiritual guide, Father Pierre Chastelain, Noel carried on, day by day, as best he could, serving in whatever way he could, but always in a secondary role, in the shadow of his more successful brother missionaries. While residing at Ste-Marie, 1644 to 1645, Chabanel found innumerable tasks to keep him busy, ministering to the many needs in the European residence and the Indian compound. Was a companion needed to go to one of the missionary stations? To help in the Indian hospital, to baptize, to assist the dying, to catechize the children? Chabanel was always ready to do his humble best.
OSSOSSANE’, MISSION OF LA CONCEPTION
In 1646 Noel was sent to the mission of the Immaculate Conception at Ossossane’, called La Rochelle by the French, on Nottawasaga Bay south west of Ste-Marie. So Christian was this Huron village that it was called the “believing village” by the natives. In three years time, 1649, from this village some three hundred Huron warriors were to put up a courageous last ditch stand against a thousand Iroquois before they were eventually wiped out at the village of St. Louis. Working here under Simon le Moyne, Chabanel found a model mission well advanced in Christianity. Besides, he could visit from time to time his “oasis of peace,” Ste-Marie, a short distance away where he could consult with his spiritual adviser, Pierre Chastelain, SJ.
On Oct. 21,1646 Noel pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit, promising before Paul Ragueneau the superior his “perpetual obedience in the Society of Jesus.” While Chabanel was making his spiritual immolation to his Lord, unknown to him and his brothers, a mere two days before in New York State Isaac Jogues and John de la Lande had already offered their life’s blood to the same Christ Noel was serving in a bloodless martyrdom. Only too soon the shadow of the cross which had already enveloped three martyrs of that glorious band of eight would reach into Huronia to claim yet five more victims for the sacrifice.
During his stay at Ossossane’ Noel met Charles Garnier on his way to establish a new mission, the farthest outpost, among the Petun nation about fifty miles south west of Ste-Marie. Little did Noel think that one day he would join Garnier in that mission and finally gain the coveted palm of martyrdom for which he longed and of which he deemed himself so unworthy.
BACK TO STE-MARIE
In the spring of 1647, he was recalled to Ste-Marie to help with the stream of Huron refugees who fled there panic stricken from the invading Iroquois. It was while here in June that he made his annual retreat and pronounced his heroic vow of stability in the Canadian mission. Though he did not possess the gift of the Huron tongue as did Brebeuf, though he did not have the charm to attract the Indians as did Garnier and Daniel, Noel asked but the grace to persevere till death as a helper of these holy missionaries.
From 1647 to 1648 Chabanel humbly and obediently carried out his appointed tasks both at Ste-Marie and in the various mission villages dependent on Ste-Marie. That year of 1648 the shadow of the Iroquois menace darkened the skies of Huronia. The enemy were closing in taking first the outlying missions. On July 4th, tragedy struck closer to home base. Teanaostaiae, the mission of St. Joseph, eleven miles south east of Ste-Marie was seized and destroyed by the Iroquois. Anthony Daniel, its amiable pastor fell defending his flock. Panic spread throughout Huronia. St. Ignace I, because of the Iroquois danger was moved closer to Ste-Marie about six miles to the east on the Sturgeon River. Brebeuf was the master builder of St. Ignace II and was put in charge of this station along with its sister mission, St. Louis, half way between the new St. Ignace II and Ste-Marie. He asked for missionary help. Father Ragueneau sent him Noel Chabanel.
AT ST. IGNACE II
In the autumn of 1648 Noel left Ste-Marie to join Brebeuf at St. Ignace. He worked with Brebeuf until February, 1649, considering it a great privilege to be associated with this giant so courageous by nature and so endowed by grace. There was work to be done that fall and winter to put the finishing touches to St. Ignace II. The weeks flew by. In February, 1649, Father Chabanel was replaced by the frail and delicate Gabriel Lalemant, a novice of but a few months in Huronia. Chabanel, more robust in health was needed in the hardy mission of the Petuns, St. Jean, to the south west near modern Stayner, to help Charles Garnier. Accustomed by now to these quick changes Noe~~l left for his new mission post on February 17, sad to leave Bre’beuf, but without a murmur.
As Noel took his last leave of Ste-Marie, his final farewell to Father Chastelain betrayed a premonition of martyrdom. “This time I hope to give myself to God once and for all and to belong to Him entirely.” Shortly after, Chastelain remarked to a friend, “I have just been deeply moved. That good Father spoke to me with the look and voice of a victim offering up his sacrifice. I do not know what God has in store for him, but I can see that He wants him to be a great saint.”
ST. JEAN AMONG THE PETUNS
Hardly had Noel spent a month at his new post when the shocking news reached him that the Iroquois had attacked and ravaged St. Ignace and St. Louis on March 16. Both Brebeuf and Noel’s replacement Gabriel Lalemant, were martyred. In a touching letter to his Jesuit brother, Pierre, Noel wrote betraying his wistful yearning: “Father Gabriel Lalemant. . . had replaced me at the village of St. Louis just a month before his death, while I, being stronger, was sent to a more distant and more difficult mission, but one not so fertile in palms and crowns as the one for which my laxity rendered me unworthy before God.” Robbed of the martyrdom he coveted when it was within his grasp! Surely this was the supreme test of his complete obedience to God’s pleasure. But no, a second time this was to happen, and soon!
COLLAPSE OF HURONIA
Tragedy and complete collapse came to Huronja that fatal year, 1649. With village after village pillaged by the Iroquois, with the total breakdown of Huron morale, with the mass hysteria and exodus of the Hurons from Huronia, the Jesuit missionaries came to a painful decision: without a flock what purpose was there in their staying! On May 15, Ste-Marie, the work of ten years, was abandoned and deliberately destroyed by the missionaries themselves. They and the remnant of their sheep resettled temporarily on St. Joseph (Christian Island). The new home was called Ste-Marie II.
All fall of 1649 Chabanel labored among the Petuns with Charles Garnier at St. Jean. On December 5th., he again received orders from his superiors, this time to leave St. Jean and make his way to Christian Island. There were two reasons for this decision: first, the extreme famine conditions among the Petuns, and secondly, his superiors felt they should not expose two missionaries in this dangerous outpost..
Obedience was by now second nature to Chabanel. He bade farewell to Garnier on December 5th., and immediately headed north towards Christian Island. Two days later he feared that St. Jean had fallen to the Iroquois and that Garnier had won a martyr’s crown. A second time was Chabanel cheated of martyrdom! But this time he was not to be denied for long.
The day following Garnier’s death, December 8th., Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Noel Chabanel’s life of “bloodless martyrdom” ended in a martyrdom of blood.
INITIAL MYSTERY SURROUNDING NOEL’S DEATH
At first the details of Noel’s disappearance were vague and uncertain. But thanks to the painstaking care and precision of his chief chronicler, Paul Ragueneau, we are now able to reconstruct the sequence of events leading up to Noel’s martyrdom. There are two accounts of Noel’s death written by Ragueneau. The first, in the 1650 Relation, written shortly after Noel’s disappearance, recounts his death but reveals no knowledge of the motives for the slaying. Only months later did the real story come to Ragueneau. This more accurate information was the basis of his second account.
THE FIRST ACCOUNT
The first account as given by Ragueneau in the 1650 Relation goes as follows. On Dec. 5th., 1649 Noel, as ordered, left St. Jean to proceed to Christian Island. On his way north he stopped at the village of St. Matthias, a Petun mission where two Fathers, Greslon and Garreau were stationed. It was here Noel spoke his last recorded words to Father Garreau who had sailed to New France with him six years previously. On the morning of Dec. 7th., he left them accompanied by seven or eight christian Hurons. After covering a distance of six long leagues over difficult wintry roads night came upon them. While his companions slept, Noel remained awake to pray. Suddenly the silence of the night was pierced by shouts and noises. Some of these came from the victorious Iroquois who had ravaged St. Jean; some came from the prisoners taken there. Noel quickly awakened his companions who immediately scattered in flight leaving Chabanel alone. The Christians who had escaped from danger reached the Petun nation and reported that Noel tried to follow them, but when he could no longer keep up with them, fell on his knees saying: “What difference does it make if I die or not? This life does not count for much. The Iroquois cannot snatch the happiness of heaven from me.”
At daybreak (December 8th.) Chabanel continued north towards his destination, Christian Island. (From this point on the testimony becomes garbled and untrustworthy, as Ragueneau suspected and was to confirm later.) One of the Hurons said he saw Father Chabanel standing on the bank of a river which lay across his path (the Notta-was aga). This witness added that he had passed Chabanel in his canoe and that he saw Noel throw away his coat, sack and blanket in order to expedite his escape. Ragueneau remarks, “Since that time we have not been able to get news of the Father. We cannot be sure how he died.” He then gives three possibilities: Noel fell into the hands of the enemy who killed him; perhaps he lost his way and died of hunger and cold; or, more probably, he was killed by the Huron who was the last to see him. This man had been a Christian and had since become an apostate who was quite capable of killing Noel to rob him of his little possessions.
Ragueneau concludes his first account by saying that he felt it wiser in this time of public calamity to stifle their suspicions – their only concern being the service of God. Prudent, sober man that he was, he strongly doubted the testimony of this apostate Huron who was known to be no angel.
THE SECOND ACCOUNT
Now for the second, more informed account, of Chabanel’s death, written in 1652 from Quebec. This is found in an autograph note of Paul Ragueneau, appended to the precious MS of 1652, and affirmed under oath. This testimony clears up the first obscurity of Noel’s death. Ragueneau testifies that he obtained from most trustworthy witnesses the following details. The Huron apostate named Louis Honareenhax finally publicly confessed, and even bragged that he had killed Father Noel with a hatchet blow and thrown his body in the half frozen Nottawasaga river, out of hatred for the faith.
For, ever since he and his family had embraced the faith, all kinds of misfortunes had befallen them. These he blamed on Chabanel and in his superstition believed he had rid his people of a menace. It was also a known fact that Louis had been a trouble maker and had previously tried to stir up his tribesmen to get rid of Chabanel and Garnier.
This clear testimony made under oath by a man of Ragueneau’s integrity leaves no doubt as to the real slayer of Noel and the true motivation for his crime, namely out of hatred for the faith on which he blamed all his troubles. Ragueneau himself was certain his friend Chabanel had died a martyr.
Thanks to Raguencau the long silence shrouding the greatness of Noel Chabanel has been broken.
Only in the twentieth century is Noel Chabanel’s poignant life and unique martyrdom coming to be appreciated. Like the life of the suffering Christ he served so faithfully, Noel’s life seemed one of apparent failure. Noel Chabanel is the silent hero of the hard trail, a patron of misfits, patron of the lonely, disappointed and abandoned, the patron of all square pegs in round holes. In the official picture (iconography) of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, the closed book in his hand is a grim symbol of his life.
Because of Noel’s heroic obedience to and generous acceptance of God’s will, God, Who is never outdone in generosity, rewarded him with the glory of martyrdom. Like his Master, Noel died as he lived, a lonely man, a man in the shadows. Somewhere along the snow-covered path by the Nottawasaga river, Noel’s grim trail merged into the green pastures of eternity. He was struck down in the dark night by an apostate Huron’s tomahawk and his body thrown into the Nottawasaga River. There perhaps somewhere along its murky bottom lie the bodily remains of this unique man. And so at the age of thirty-six years, nineteen as a Jesuit, five as a Huron missionary, Noel Chabanel, one of the “little four” merited to be crowned a martyr and saint alongside the “big four.”
Our modern world, shocked with the rapidity of constant change, needs more saints of the calibre of Noel Chabanel.
Noel Chabanel, obedient throughout life, persisted obedient unto death because he was a man of unshakable faith and persevering prayer, a man, therefore, who refused to quit in the face of overwhelming odds. The call to faith is a call to obedience, a call to adjust to the new and trying situations God is continually moving man into, a call to resist the powers of darkness that subtly tempt man to come down from the cross of his human condition.”
Saint Noël Chabanel, whose heart burned with the desire to sacrifice all for the glory and honor of God, obtain for me a right appreciation of the trials and sufferings of this life.
Let not disappointments discourage me nor crosses weigh me down, so that strengthened by the example of your heroic constancy and perseverance in the service of God on earth, I may some day share your reward in heaven. Amen.
“I will praise you, O God my Savior; I will give thanks to Your Name, for You have been … my helper and have delivered my body” (Sir 51: 1-2).
The two episodes of the martyrdom of Bl. Andre de Soveral, Bl Ambrosio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions occurred in this context. In Rio Grande do Norte there were only two parishes: Our Lady of the Presentation in Natal, of which Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro was parish priest, and Our Lady of the Purification in Cunhau, directed by Fr Andre de Soveral. These two parish communities were victims of harsh religious persecution by the Calvinists.
Bl. Andre de Soveral was born around 1572 in Sao Vicente, Brazil, the principal town on the island of Santos. He most likely studied at Children of Jesus College in his home town and it is there that his Jesuit vocation began. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1593 and made his novitiate in Bahia. After studying Latin and moral theology and learning the Indios’ language, he was sent to the College of Olinda, a catechetical centre for the Indios throughout the region. He had his first missionary experience in Rio Grande do Norte in 1606 among the Potiguar Indios. On that occasion he entered a native village headed by an indigenous woman, Antonia Potiguara, whom he converted and baptized along with other Indios, and blessed her marriage. By 1614 he was parish priest of Cunhau and a member of the diocesan clergy.
The martyrdom of Fr Andre Fr Ambrosio and their faithful parishioners occurred on different days but in the same historical context. The first took place at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel in Cunhau. On Sunday, 16 July 1645, Fr Andre de Soveral had gathered for Mass about 69 of the faithful, mostly farmers and workers employed in Cunhau’s sugar cane factory.
The Dutch sent one of their emissaries to Cunhau, an unscrupulous and cruel German named Jakob Rabe, who presented himself as the envoy of the Supreme Dutch Council of Recife, saying that he would communicate its orders at the end of Mass. But this was merely a pretext, for after the consecration a band of Dutch soldiers, accompanied by Indios, burst into the chapel, blocked the exits and ferociously attacked the defenseless faithful. Fr Andre realized the gravity of the situation and interrupted Mass to urge the faithful to prepare for death. Although he had told the tyrants not to touch the minister of God and the sacred vessels, he was killed by an axe hurled at him by an Indio.
The second episode of martyrdom occurred on the banks of the Uruaqu River, about 20 kilometres from Natal, on 3 October 1645. Here the victims were the city’s parishioners, led by their parish priest, Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro. Terrorized by the bloodshed that had occurred at Cunhau, the Catholics of Natal took refuge in several places, but in vain. The Dutch authorities forced them to go to a pre-arranged site where they were awaited by soldiers and a group of 200 Indios. Many of the faithful were tortured with their priest in various ways until they died. The chroniclers of the time describe the means of torture: their limbs were severed, their heads cut off; they were burned, their eyes, tongues and noses were torn off. A child was pinned to a tree trunk and another sliced in half with a sword. Mateus Moreira had his heart ripped out through his back, as he cried: “Praised be the Blessed Sacrament”. Those martyred include 27 Brazilians, one Portuguese, one Spaniard and one Frenchman.
Homily of John Paul II, Mar 5, 2000, In Celebration of Brazil’s Quincentennial of Catholic Faith
“You, Lord, have been my helper! I hear these words from the Book of Sirach echoing in my heart as I contemplate the wonders God has wrought in the lives of these brothers and sisters in the faith who have won the palm of martyrdom. Today I have the joy of raising them to the glory of the altars, presenting them to the Church and to the world as a shining witness to God’s power in the frailty of the human person.
You, Lord, have delivered me! This is the cry of André de Soveral, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions, diocesan priests, lay men and women…
Yes, the Almighty was their powerful help in their time of trial and now they are experiencing the joy of eternal reward. Although these humble servants of the Gospel, whose names are for ever written in heaven, lived in different historical periods and in very diverse cultural contexts, they are linked by an identical experience of fidelity to Christ and to the Church. They are united by the same unconditional trust in the Lord and the same deep passion for the Gospel.
I will praise you, O God my Saviour! With their lives offered for the cause of Christ, these new blesseds, the first of the Jubilee Year, proclaim that God is “Father” (cf. ibid., v. 10), God is “protector” and “helper” (cf. v.2); he is our Saviour who listens to the appeals of those who trust in Him with all their heart (cf. v. 11).
2. These are the sentiments that fill our hearts as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of Brazil, which occurs this year. In this immense country, the implanting of the Gospel encountered many difficulties. The Church’s presence was gradually strengthened through the missionary activity of various orders and religious congregations and by priests of the diocesan clergy. The martyrs beatified today came, at the end of the 17th century, from the communities of Cunhaú and Uruaçu in Rio Grande do Norte. Fr André de Soveral, Fr Ambrósio Francisco Ferro and 28 lay companions belong to this generation of martyrs who watered their homeland, making it fertile for a generation of new Christians. They are the first fruits of the missionary work, the protomartyrs of Brazil. One of these, Mateus Moreira, had his heart ripped out through his back while he was still alive, and yet he had the strength to proclaim his faith in the Eucharist, saying: “Praised be the Blessed Sacrament”…
7. “Fear not, therefore” (Mt 10: 31). This is Christ’s invitation. It is also the exhortation of the new blesseds, who remained steadfast in their love of God and of their brothers and sisters, even in the midst of trial. This invitation comes to us as an encouragement in the Jubilee Year, a time for conversion and profound spiritual renewal. Let us not be afraid of trials and difficulties; may we not be hindered by obstacles from making courageous decisions consistent with the Gospel!
What do we have to fear, if Christ is with us? Why doubt, if we remain on Christ’s side and accept the commitment and responsibility of being his disciples? May the celebration of the Jubilee strengthen our determination to follow the Gospel. The new blesseds are an example to us and they offer us their help.
May Mary, Queen of Martyrs, who at the foot of the Cross shared fully in her Son’s sacrifice, sustain us in courageously bearing witness to our faith!”
Edward Oldcorne was born in York, England of a non-Catholic father and a Catholic mother. He gave up medical studies and enrolled at the English College in Rheims, France in 1581 before going on to Rome to complete his studies and was ordained. Soon after, he joined the Society of Jesus and was allowed to complete his novitiate in a very short time because of the difficult conditions he would face upon his return to England.
Fr Oldcorne stayed with Fr Garnet, the superior of the English Jesuits upon arrival but after a few months he was assigned to Hinlip Hall outside Worcester where he was to spend sixteen years. The master of Hinlip Hall was an ardent Catholic who was in prison and had left the property in the care of his sister, Dorothy, a Protestant who had been at the court of Elizabeth. While priests still found hospitality in Hinlip Hall, she merely tolerated their presence. Many priests had tried to reconcile her to the Church without success. It was left to Fr Oldcorne to find the way. She listened to his instructions and sermons, unconvinced; but when she learned that he had been fasting for days to bring about her conversion, she finally yielded to God’s grace and her conversion led many others in Worcester to return to the faith of their ancestors. The Hall became the Jesuit’s base of operations where many came to seek the sacraments and hear Fr Oldcorne’s preaching. His health was poor ever since he returned to England and he had throat cancer that left him with a hoarse and painful voice, but did not keep him from preaching. His cancer was healed following a pilgrimage to St Winifred’s shrine in 1591.
Catholics in England were looking forward to the end of persecution when Queen Elizabeth died and James I ascended the throne in 1603 as he had promised to be more tolerant, but in fact, the persecution increased. This angered some Catholics who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the king’s visit on Nov 5, 1605. The plot was discovered and with that the hatred for Catholics intensified. The government was determined to implicate the Jesuits in the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” despite the capture of the men behind it. The Jesuit superior Fr Garnet decided to leave London and seek shelter at the Hall, which had more hiding places than any other mansion in England. Bro Nicholas Owen, the person who constructed all the priest-hiding places was with him and they joined Frs Oldcorne and Ashley.
The sheriff of Worcestershire and 100 of his men arrived at the Hall and spent several days searching for priests together with a certain Humphrey Littleton who betrayed Fr Oldcorne. The sheriff stationed a man in each room of the house and ordered others to tap on the walls in the hope of locating concealed priest-holes. By the end of the third day they found eleven such hiding places, but no priests, On the fourth day, starvation and thirst forced Br Ashley and Br Owen to emerge from their hole. Some say the religiously professed brothers real motive was to surrender themselves, focus attention on themselves and their capture, and distract the persecutors long enough for Frs Oldcorne and Garnet to escape. They had hoped the sheriff would think that he had finally caught his prey and end the search, leaving the two priests in safety. But the sheriff was determined and his men continued their close examination of the house. Finally on the eighth day, Jan 27, 1606 Frs Oldcorne and Garnet were discovered when they emerged white, ill and weak. All four were taken to the Tower of London.
When the prison officials failed in their efforts to eavesdrop and record any conversation which could link the two priests to the Gunpowder plot, Fr Oldcorne was tortured on the rack five hours a day for five consecutive days. Yet he refused to say anything. When they were put on trial, Fr Oldcorne denied the charge of being involved so well that the charge against him was changed to simply being a Jesuit priest. On this new charge, Fr Oldcorne was found guilty and ordered to be executed. Just before he was hanged, his betrayer asked for pardon, which Fr Oldcorne readily granted, and he also prayed for the king, his accusers and the judge and jury who condemned him. He was pushed from the ladder and was cut down before he was dead and then beheaded and quartered.
-Edward Oldcorne; Nicholas Owen, by Gaspar Bouttats, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.
Martyr’s eye returns to Worcester for school anniversary celebrations
“Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College in Worcestershire, UK will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this month with Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Birmingham and the veneration of a relic of the Jesuit martyr after whom the college is named – his right eye! The college is also planning to erect a memorial plaque on the site of his execution and to publish a history of the school… It is said that the force of the executioner’s blow was so extreme when he was decapitated that one of his eyes flew out of its socket. It has since been preserved in a silver casket and kept at Stonyhurst College.”
Henry Morse, born in Brome, Suffolk, England, in 1595, was raised a Protestant. He enrolled as a law student in London’s Inns of Court. While there, however, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the established religion and more convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith.
Crossing the English Channel, he went to Douai, France, which was then an English Catholic center. Once received into the Church, he decided to study for the priesthood, and made his studies first at Douai, then at the English College in Rome, as Douai had too many students. Although ordained in Rome as a secular priest, he secured permission from the Father General of the Jesuits to be admitted to the Society of Jesus once he got back to England.
Father Morse had scarcely landed in Britain and been accepted as a Jesuit candidate when he was arrested and imprisoned in York Castle. Upon arrival at a port in England, he was asked by the English port authorities to take the oath of allegiance acknowledging the king’s supremacy in religious matters. The recent convert resolutely refused and was arrested and imprisoned for four years and was released in 1618 when the king decided to get rid of hundreds of religious dissenters by banishing them to France. He was ordained in 1623.
He had not yet had time to make the novitiate required of those who aspired to Jesuit vows. Providentially, however, he found another Jesuit imprisoned in York Castle. This Father Robinson supervised his novitiate in prison! Therefore, when his three-year term was up, he emerged a full-fledged junior member of the Society.
Banished to the Continent on his release, Father Morse spent some time as a chaplain to English soldiers who served the King of Spain in the Low Countries. Then in 1633 he returned to England secretly, using the name “Cuthbert Claxton,” and he spent the next four years ministering in London.
Now, in 1636-1637 the dread “Black Plague” again became epidemic in London. Morse was kept doubly busy taking care of bodies as well as souls. He made up a list of 400 infected families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, whom he regularly visited. He himself caught the disease three times, but each time he recovered. His zeal and thoughtfulness were deeply appreciated and nearly 100 families on his list eventually asked to be reconciled to the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, the police also learned about Morse’s activities, and arrested him on February 27, 1636. The charges were that he was a priest and that he had “perverted” several hundred of “His Majesty’s Protestant subjects.” Put on trial, he was acquitted of the second charge but not of the first. However, he was bailed out through the intervention of Charles I’s Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Then, in 1641, the king was forced to decree the exile of all Catholic priests. Father Henry, unwilling to embarrass his bail bondsmen, returned to Flanders and resumed his work as chaplain of the English soldiers there.
In 1643 Father Morse’s Jesuit superiors sent him back to the mission, this time in northern England, where he was less known. He accidentally walked into a group of soldiers late one night who suspected he was a priest. He was arrested and held overnight in the home of a local official. He escaped with the aid of the Catholic wife of one of his captors. He enjoyed freedom for 6 weeks but one day he and his guide lost their way in the countryside and innocently knocked on the door of a house to ask for directions. The man who answered was one of the soldiers who had recently apprehended him and remembered him well and there would be no fifth escape. Tried once more, he was sentenced to death in accord with the law that forbade exiled priests to return to Britain. He was visited in prison by the ambassadors of other Catholic countries.
On the day of his execution, February 1, 1645, Father Morse was able to celebrate Mass. Then four horses were harnessed to the wicker hurdle on which he was dragged to the gallows that stood on Tyburn Hill. As usual, there was a crowd of the curious on hand to see the show. But also in attendance, to pay their respects, were the French ambassador and his suite, the Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors, and the Flemish Count of Egmont.
As was customary, the condemned priest was allowed to make some final remarks. “I am come hither to die for my religion……I have a secret which highly concerns His Majesty and Parliament to know. The kingdom of England will never be truly blessed until it returns to the Catholic faith and its subjects are all united in one belief under the Bishop of Rome.” He ended by saying: “I pray that my death may be some kind of atonement for the sins of this kingdom.” Then he said his prayers and asked that the cap be pulled over his eyes; beat his breast 3 times, giving the signal to a priest in the crowd to impart absolution. He then said: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” After he was dead his body was torn open, his heart removed, his entrails burned and body quartered. In accordance with the custom that followed executions, his head was exposed on London Bridge and his quartered body was mounted on the city’s four gates.
Egmont and the French ambassador had their retainers dip handkerchiefs in the martyr’s blood. Later on, these relics were the occasion of cures.
St. Henry Morse, pray that we may be as resilient and resolute in our duty to serve the King of the Universe as you were while you were here on earth, and beset by the injustices of your day and age. Pray that our priests will serve Our King as you have done. Pray that we too will serve the King, and our brethren, with such charity, tenacity, and fortitude, as labor in spreading the Good News while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As February is thought of as a month of love, it is terribly fitting, IMHO, to remember this great lover and poet, and most importantly, as always, The Object of his love.
Robert Southwell was born at Horsham St. Faith’s, Norfolk, England, in 1561, the third of eight children. His grandfather, Sir Richard Southwell, had been a wealthy man and a prominent courtier in the reign of Henry VIII, and the family remained among the elite of the land. He was so beautiful as a young boy that a gypsy stole him. He was soon recovered by his family and became a short, handsome man, with gray eyes and red hair.
It was Richard Southwell who in 1547 had brought the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, to the block, and Surrey had vainly begged to be allowed to “fight him in his shirt”. Curiously enough their respective grandsons, Robert Southwell and Philip, Earl of Arundel, were to be the most devoted of friends and fellow-prisoners for the Faith. On his mother’s side the Jesuit was descended from the Copley and Shelley families, whence a remote connection may be established between him and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Despite their Catholic sympathies, the Southwells had profited considerably from King Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries.
Even as a child, Southwell was distinguished by his attraction to the old religion. Protestantism had come to England, and it was actually a crime for any Englishman who had been ordained as a Catholic priest to remain in England more than forty days at a time. In order to keep the faith alive, William Allen had opened a school at Douai, where he made a Catholic translation of the Bible, the well-known Douai version. Southwell attended this school and asked to be admitted into the Jesuits. At first the Jesuits refused his application, but eventually his earnest appeals moved them to accept him. He wrote to the Jesuits “How can I but waste in anguish and agony that I find myself disjoined from that company, severed from that Society, disunited from that body, wherein lyeth all my life, my love, my whole heart and affection.” (Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Anglia 14, fol. 80, under date 1578). He was ordained a priest in 1584. Two years later, at his own request, he was sent as a missionary to England, well knowing the dangers he faced. A poet and a scholar, his poetry would have a profound influence on the moral climate of the age.
A spy reported to Sir Francis Walsingham the Jesuits’ landing on the east coast in July, but they arrived without molestation at the house at Hackney of William Vaux, 3rd Baron Vaux of Harrowden. For six years they kept him under surveillance. He assumed the last alias “Cotton” and found employment as a chaplain to Ann Howard, Lady Arundel, her husband being accused of treason for being a Catholic and in prison. Southwell wrote a prose elegy, Triumphs over Death, to the earl to console him for a sister’s premature death. Although Southwell lived mostly in London, he traveled in disguise and preached secretly throughout England, moving from one Catholic family to another. His downfall and capture came about when he became friendly with a Catholic family named Bellamy.
Southwell was in the habit of visiting the house of Richard Bellamy, who lived near Harrow and was under suspicion on account of his connection with Jerome Bellamy, who had been executed for sharing in Anthony Babington’s plot, which intended to assassinate the Queen and place Mary, Queen of Scots, on the English throne.
One of the daughters, Anne Bellamy, was arrested and imprisoned in the gatehouse of Holborn for being linked to the situation. Having been interrogated and raped by Richard Topcliffe, the Queen’s chief priest-hunter and torturer, she revealed Southwell’s movements and Southwell was immediately arrested. When Bellamy became pregnant by Topcliffe in 1592, she was forced to marry his servant to cover up the scandal.
Southwell was first taken to Topcliffe’s own house, adjoining the Gatehouse Prison, where Topcliffe subjected him to the torture of “the manacles”. He remained silent in Topcliffe’s custody for forty hours. The queen then ordered Southwell moved to the Gatehouse, where a team of Privy Council torturers went to work on him. When they proved equally unsuccessful, he was left “hurt, starving, covered with maggots and lice, to lie in his own filth.” After about a month he was moved by order of the Council to solitary confinement in the Tower of London. According to the early narratives, his father had petitioned the queen that his son, if guilty under the law, should so suffer, but if not should be treated as a gentleman, and that as his father he should be allowed to provide him with the necessities of life. No documentary evidence of such a petition survives, but something of the kind must have happened, since his friends were able to provide him with food and clothing, and to send him the works of St. Bernard and a Bible. His superior St Henry Garnet, SJ, later smuggled a breviary to him. He remained in the Tower for three years, under Topcliffe’s supervision.
Tortured thirteen times, he nonetheless refused to reveal the names of fellow Catholics. During his incarceration, he was allowed to write. His works had already circulated widely and seen print, although their authorship was well known and one might have expected the government to suppress them. Now he added to them poems intended to sustain himself and comfort his fellow prisoners. He wrote “Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live; Not where I love, but where I am, I die.” He was so ill treated, his father petitioned the Queen that he be brought to trial.
February 21, 1595, Southwell was brought to Tyburn, where he was to be hung and then quartered for treason, although no treasonous word or act had been shown against him. It was enough that he held a variation of the Christian faith that frightened many Englishmen because of rumors of Catholic plots. He addressed the crowd gathered, “I am come hither to play out the last act of this poor life.” He prayed for the salvation of the Queen and country.
Execution of sentence on a notorious highwayman had been appointed for the same time, but at a different place — perhaps to draw the crowds away — and yet many came to witness Southwell’s death. Eyewitness accounts, both Catholic and Protestant, are unanimous in describing Southwell as both gracious and prayerful in his final moments.
When cut loose from the halter that tied him to the cart, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and tossed the “sudarium” into the crowd, the first of what would become his relics. When asked if he would like to speak, Southwell crossed himself and first spoke in Latin, quoting Romans 14:8:“Sive uiuimus, Domino uiuimus, sive morimur, Domino morimur, ergo uiuimus, sive morimur, Domini sumus.” (If we live, we live in the Lord. If we die, we die in the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or we die, we are in the Lord.) The sheriff made to interrupt him; but, was allowed to continue for some time. He then addressed himself to the crowd, saying he died a Catholic and a Jesuit, offenses for which he was not sorry to die. He spoke respectfully of the Queen, and asked her forgiveness, if she had found any offense in him.
Then, after the hangman stripped him down to his shirt and tightened the noose around his neck, Robert Southwell spoke his last words (found in both Psalm 30 and the Gospel of Luke),“In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Redemisti me, Domine Deus veritatis,” while repeatedly making the sign of the cross. “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, Lord God of truth.”
At the third utterance of these words, the cart rolled away and Southwell hung from his neck. Those present forbade the hangman cutting him down to further the cruelties of drawing and quartering before Southwell was dead. He hung in the noose for a brief time, making the sign of the cross as best he could. As the executioner made to cut him down, in preparation for disembowelling him while still alive, Lord Mountjoy and some other onlookers tugged at his legs to hasten his death. Yet, despite their efforts, according to one account, he was still breathing when cut down. When the hangman lifted Southwell’s head up before the crowd, no one cried “Traitor.” Even a pursuivant present admitted he had never seen a man die better.
Southwell’s writings, both in prose and verse, were extremely popular with his contemporaries, and his religious pieces were sold openly by the booksellers though their authorship was known. Imitations abounded, and Ben Jonson declared of one of Southwell’s pieces, The Burning Babe(below), that to have written it he would readily forfeit many of his own poems. Mary Magdalene’s Tears, the Jesuit’s earliest work, licensed in 1591, probably represents a deliberate attempt to employ in the cause of piety the euphuistic prose style, then so popular. Triumphs over Death, also in prose, exhibits the same characteristics; but this artificiality of structure is not so marked in the Short Rule of Good Life, the Letter to His Father, the Humble Supplication to Her Majesty, the Epistle of Comfort and the Hundred Meditations. Southwell’s longest poem, St. Peter’s Complaint (132 six-line stanzas), is imitated, from the Italian Lagrime di S. Pietro of Luigi Tansillo. This with some other smaller pieces was printed, with license, in 1595, the year of his death. Another volume of short poems appeared later in the same year under the title of Maeoniae. Perhaps no higher testimony can be found of the esteem in which Southwell’s verse was held by his contemporaries than the fact that, while it is probable that Southwell had read Shakespeare, it is practically certain that Shakespeare had read Southwell and imitated him.
-Line engraving by Matthaus Greuter (Greuther) or Paul Maupin, published 1608, frontispiece to St Peter’s Complaint.
“The Chief Justice asked how old he was, seeming to scorn his youth. He answered that he was near about the age of our Saviour, Who lived upon the earth thirty-three years; and he himself was as he thought near about thirty-four years. Hereat Topcliffe seemed to make great acclamation, saying that he compared himself to Christ. Mr. Southwell answered, ‘No he was a humble worm created by Christ.’ ‘Yes,’ said Topcliffe, ‘you are Christ’s fellow.'”—Father Henry Garnet, “Account of the Trial of Robert Southwell.” Quoted in Caraman’s The Other Face, page 230.
Southwell: I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times. I had rather have endured ten executions. I speak not this for myself, but for others; that they may not be handled so inhumanely, to drive men to desperation, if it were possible.
Topcliffe: If he were racked, let me die for it.
Southwell: No; but it was as evil a torture, or late device.
Topcliffe: I did but set him against a wall. (The “Topciliffe Rack” was vertical, against a wall, not horizontal, adding the victim’s own weight to his pain, with never a relief.)
Southwell: Thou art a bad man.
Topcliffe: I would blow you all to dust if I could.
Southwell: What, all?
Topcliffe: Ay, all.
Southwell: What, soul and body too?
The Burning Babe
As I in hoary winter’s night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat,
Which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye,
To view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
With which His tears were fed.
“Alas,” quoth He, “but newly born,
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts,
Or feel my fire, but I;
“My faultless breast the furnace is,
The fuel, wounding thorns:
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
The ashes, shame and scorn;
“The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defiled souls,
“For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in My blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight,
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind,
That it was Christmas day.
-Robert Southwell, SJ
A VALE OF TEARS.
By Robert Southwell, SJ
A vale there is, enwrapt with dreadful shades,
Which thick of mourning pines shrouds from the sun,
Where hanging cliffs yield short and dumpish glades,
And snowy flood with broken streams doth run.
Where eye-room is from rock to cloudy sky,
From thence to dales with stony ruins strew’d,
Then to the crushèd water’s frothy fry,
Which tumbleth from the tops where snow is thaw’d.
Where ears of other sound can have no choice,
But various blust’ring of the stubborn wind
In trees, in caves, in straits with divers noise;
Which now doth hiss, now howl, now roar by kind.
Where waters wrestle with encount’ring stones,
That break their streams, and turn them into foam,
The hollow clouds full fraught with thund’ring groans,
With hideous thumps discharge their pregnant womb.
And in the horror of this fearful quire
Consists the music of this doleful place;
All pleasant birds from thence their tunes retire,
Where none but heavy notes have any grace.
Resort there is of none but pilgrim wights,
That pass with trembling foot and panting heart;
With terror cast in cold and shivering frights,
They judge the place to terror framed by art.
Yet nature’s work it is, of art untouch’d,
So strait indeed, so vast unto the eye,
With such disorder’d order strangely couch’d,
And with such pleasing horror low and high,
That who it views must needs remain aghast,
Much at the work, more at the Maker’s might;
And muse how nature such a plot could cast
Where nothing seemeth wrong, yet nothing right.
A place for mated mindes, an only bower
Where everything do soothe a dumpish mood;
Earth lies forlorn, the cloudy sky doth lower,
The wind here weeps, here sighs, here cries aloud.
The struggling flood between the marble groans,
Then roaring beats upon the craggy sides;
A little off, amidst the pebble stones,
With bubbling streams and purling noise it glides.
The pines thick set, high grown and ever green,
Still clothe the place with sad and mourning veil;
Here gaping cliff, there mossy plain is seen,
Here hope doth spring, and there again doth quail.
Huge massy stones that hang by tickle stays,
Still threaten fall, and seem to hang in fear;
Some wither’d trees, ashamed of their decays,
Bereft of green are forced gray coats to wear.
Here crystal springs crept out of secret vein,
Straight find some envious hole that hides their grace;
Here searèd tufts lament the want of rain,
There thunder-wrack gives terror to the place.
All pangs and heavy passions here may find
A thousand motives suiting to their griefs,
To feed the sorrows of their troubled mind,
And chase away dame Pleasure’s vain reliefs.
To plaining thoughts this vale a rest may be,
To which from worldly joys they may retire;
Where sorrow springs from water, stone and tree;
Where everything with mourners doth conspire.
Sit here, my soul, main streams of tears afloat,
Here all thy sinful foils alone recount;
Of solemn tunes make thou the doleful note,
That, by thy ditties, dolour may amount.
When echo shall repeat thy painful cries,
Think that the very stones thy sins bewray,
And now accuse thee with their sad replies,
As heaven and earth shall in the latter day.
Let former faults be fuel of thy fire,
For grief in limbeck of thy heart to still
Thy pensive thoughts and dumps of thy desire,
And vapour tears up to thy eyes at will.
Let tears to tunes, and pains to plaints be press’d,
And let this be the burden of thy song,—
Come, deep remorse, possess my sinful breast;
Delights, adieu! I harbour’d you too long.
St Robert Southwell, SJ,’s Prayer for the Church:
“We therefore are under an obligation to be the light of the world by the modesty of our behaviour, the fervour of our charity, the innocence of our lives, and the example of our virtues.
Thus shall we be able to raise the lowered prestige of the Catholic Church, and to build up again the ruins that others by their vices have caused. Others by their wickedness have branded the Catholic Faith with a mark of shame, we must strive with all our strength to cleanse it from its ignominy and to restore it to its pristine glory. Amen.”
The word martyr comes from the Greek μάρτυς, or mártys, which translates as “witness”. This is in as to witness, to give proof of one’s conviction and commitment to what one holds to be the Truth. This proof is given in one’s dying and suffering torment rather than apostatizing that Truth, or living under extremely difficult circumstances, or counter-cultural ways, or even just inconvenience/unpopularity/what is generally considered the minority opinion/way rather than make life easier for oneself/make oneself more popular by apostatizing that Truth.
Jean de Brébeuf was born in Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy, France on 25 March 1593. He was the uncle of the poet Georges de Brébeuf. He studied near home at Caen. Jean could have elected a life of comfort near his family in France, but wanted to join the Society of Jesus from an early age. In humility, Jean’s desire was to become a Jesuit lay brother, but, in contrast to that, his superior convinced him to study for the priesthood. He entered the Society of Jesus as a scholastic, 8 November, 1617, aged 24 years.
Though of unusually robust physical strength, massive in physical stature his contemporaries describe him, his health gave way completely when he was twenty-eight to tuberculosis, which interfered with his studies and permitted only what was strictly necessary, so that he never acquired any extensive theological knowledge. He was almost expelled from the Society because his illness prevented both his studying and instruction for the traditional periods.
After teaching at a secondary school-college in Rouen, on February 19, 1622 Jean de Brebeuf was ordained. He became the treasurer of the college.
The tall, rugged Jesuit responded to an appeal made two years later by the Franciscan Recollects who asked other religious orders to help with the missions in New France. Against the voiced desires of Huguenot Protestants, officials of trading companies, and some native North Americans, he was granted his wish and in 1625 he sailed to Canada as a missionary, arriving on June 19, and lived with the Huron natives near Lake Huron, learning their customs and language, of which he became an expert (it is said that he wrote the first dictionary of the Huron language). He has been called Canada’s “first serious ethnographer.”
Arriving 19 June, 1625, in Quebec, with the Recollect, Joseph de la Roche d’ Aillon, and in spite of the threat which the Calvinist captain of the ship which had transported him made to carry him back to France, he remained in the colony. Jean overcame the dislike of the colonists for Jesuits and secured a site for a residence on the St. Charles, the exact location of a former landing of Jacques Cartier, the famous original French explorer of New France.
During that summer came a group of Hurons to Cap de la Victoire to barter for trade goods. Brébeuf, another Jesuit and a Franciscan went to meet them and asked to accompany them back to their homelands. The Hurons were willing to take the first two, but not Brébeuf who towered over them and was much too big for their canoes; they were afraid he would be too much work to carry. The missionaries offered enough gifts to overcome reluctance, and Brébeuf was permitted into a canoe on the condition he would not move. On July 26, 1626 Brébeuf began his journey to Huronia. When the travelers came to cascades or places where they had to carry the canoes and all the gear overland, Brébeuf’s great strength won his hosts’ admiration.
He immediately took up his abode in the Native American wigwams, and has left us an account of his five months’ experience there in the dead of winter. In the spring he set out with the Huron on a journey to Lake Huron in a canoe, during the course of which his life was in constant danger. With him was Father de Noüe, and they established their first mission near Georgian Bay, at Ihonatiria, but after a short time his companion was recalled, and he was left alone.
Brébeuf met with no success. The only converts he made during the winter of 1628 were the dying whom he baptized.
Because of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in which France was engaged, Brébeuf was forced to return to France. He was summoned back to Quebec because of the danger of extinction to which the entire colony was then exposed, and arrived there after an absence of two years, 17 July, 1628. An English blockade had kept the French from resupplying the colony, so Brébeuf took 20 canoes loaded with grain to Quebec.
On 19 July, 1629, Champlain surrendered to the English, and the missionaries returned to France. For two years Brébeuf resumed his work at the college in Rouen. Four years after its fall, the colony was restored to France, and on 23 March, 1633, Brébeuf again set out for Canada. While in France he had pronounced his solemn vows as spiritual coadjutor.
As soon as he arrived, viz., May, 1633, he attempted to return to Lake Huron. The Indians refused to take him, but during the following year he succeeded in reaching his old mission along with Father Daniel. It meant a journey of thirty days and constant danger of death. The next sixteen years of uninterrupted labors among the Native Americans were a continual series of privations and sufferings which he used to say were only roses in comparison with what the end was to be. Brébeuf told many of his experiences in Canada in the “Jesuit Relations”, an invaluable source of early Canadian history.
He was head of the Huron mission, a position he relinquished to Father Jérôme Lalemant in 1638. His success as a missionary was very slow and it was only in 1635 that he made his first converts [Jesuit Relations, p. 11, vol. X]. He claimed to have made 14 as of 1635, and as of 1636 he said the number went up 86 [Jesuit Relations, p. 11,vol. X]. The Jesuits were frequently blamed for disasters like epidemics, battle defeats, and crop failures and once Brébeuf was condemned to death and another time beaten.
In 1640 he set out with Father Chaumonot to evangelize the Neutres/Neutrals, a tribe that lived north of Lake Erie. It is reported while there, in prayer, Jean de Brebeuf witnessed a large cross in the night sky over Iroquois territory. After a winter of incredible hardship the missionaries returned unsuccessful. Jean had to flee to Quebec after he was accused of plotting with Huron enemies, the Seneca Clan of the Iroquois, to betray his hosts.
Jean was given the care of the Indians in the Reservation at Sillery for three years. He returned to the Huron in 1644 and finally experienced some success. By 1647 there were thousands of converted Huron. In 1643 he wrote the Huron Carol, a Christmas carol which is still, in a very modified version, used today.
Brébeuf’s charismatic presence in the Huron country helped cause a split between traditionalist Huron and those who wanted to adopt European culture. Montreal-based ethnohistorian Bruce Trigger argues that this cleavage in Huron society, along with the spread of disease from Europeans, left the Huron vulnerable.
However, the Iroquois began to win their war with the Hurons. About the time the war was at its height between the Hurons and the Iroquois, Jogues and Bressani had been captured in an effort to reach the Huron country, and Brébeuf was appointed to make a third attempt. He succeeded. With him on this journey were Chabanel and Garreau, both of whom were afterwards murdered. They reached St. Mary’s on the Wye, which was the central station of the Huron Mission.
-Wyandot (Huron) warrior
By 1647 the Iroquois had made peace with the French, but kept up their war with the Hurons, and in 1648 fresh disasters befell the work of the missionaries — their establishments were burned and the missionaries slaughtered. On 16 March, 1649, 1200 Iroquois captured the mission of St Ignace. They then attacked St. Louis and seized Brébeuf and fellow Jesuit, Fr. Gabriel Lallemant, SJ. A renegade Huron among the attackers let the Iroquois know that they had captured the mighty Echon, most powerful of the Jesuit medicine men. Both could have escaped. The Hurons at St Louis knew of the attack at St Ignace. They sent their women and children into the forest to hide and could have left, but remained. The Jesuit Fathers remained with their flock. All the men knew exactly what that meant. The two priests were dragged back to St. Ignace.
After some preliminary torture, the Jesuits and the Huron captives were forced to run naked through the snow. On entering the village, they were met with a shower of stones, cruelly beaten with clubs, and then tied to posts to be burned to death. Brébeuf is said to have kissed the stake to which he was bound. The fire was lighted under them, and their bodies slashed with knives. One of his Iroquois tormentors, crying out, ran towards him. “You have always told people it was good to suffer,’ he shouted. “Thank us for this!” And he dropped over Brebeuf’s head a cumbrous necklace of tomahawks, red-hot. Sputtering and hissing they began to eat their way into his flesh. His tormentors covered him with resinous bark which they set aflame. He continued encouraging his fellow Christians to remain strong. Then the Jesuit’s captors cut off his nose and forced a hot iron down his throat to silence him. The Jesuit priests were then tortured by scalping, mock baptism using boiling water, their feet were cut off, and their hearts were torn out. The torture-to-death went on for three hours.
Brébeuf did not make a single outcry while he was being tortured. It is recorded when Jesuits in New France would muse together if they should receive the crown of martyrdom, how would they stand it? Brebeuf commented, “I wouldn’t be thinking of myself. I would be thinking of God.” As every Saint before his time and since, John de Brebeuf knew well, you can’t put limits on love. If you succeed, all you really know is that love is dead.
The bravery the Iroquois witnessed that day from Brebeuf astounded even his most ardent tormentors and executioners. They admired courage during torture as witnessed by the silence of victim. Jean Brebeuf knew this. The Iroquois ate his heart in hopes of gaining his courage. A highest gallows compliment? Brébeuf was fifty-five years old. The Iroquois withdrew when they had finished their work.
Brébeuf’s body was recovered a few days later. His body was boiled in lye to remove the flesh, and the bones were reserved as holy relics. His flesh was buried, along with Lalemant’s, in one coffin, and today rests in the Church of St. Joseph at the reconstructed Jesuit mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons across Highway 12 from the Martyrs’ Shrine Catholic Church near Midland, Ontario. These martyrdoms and those of the other North American Martyrs created a wave of vocations and missionary fervor in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.
A plaque near the grave of Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant was unearthed during excavations at Ste Marie in 1954. The letters read “P. Jean de Brébeuf /brusle par les Iroquois /le 17 de mars l’an/1649” (Father Jean de Brebeuf, burned by the Iroquois, 17 March 1649). The skull of St Jean Brébeuf, SJ, is still kept as a relic at the Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec.
-St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ
St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ’s memory is cherished in Canada and has a pre-eminent position more than that of many of the other early missionaries. Their names appear with his in letters of gold on the grand staircases of public buildings in Canada. His memory is held sacred due to his heroic virtues, manifested in such a remarkable degree at every stage of his missionary career, his almost incomprehensible endurance of privations and suffering, and the conviction that the reason of his death was not his association with the Hurons, but hatred of Christianity.
15 September 1985, Pope John Paul II prayed over Brebeuf’s skull before saying an outdoor Mass on the grounds of the Martyrs’ Shrine, www.martyrs-shrine.com, one of nine National Shrines in Canada to the martyrs of North America in, including, among others, St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, and other shrines in the territory of the United States. Thousands of people came to hear the Pope speak from a platform built especially for the day.
-Groupe Huron-Wendat Wendake, 1880.
The Huron People
(Ouendat/Wyandotte Nation/Wyandot/Wendat), “Dwellers of the Penninsula/Islanders”, as Wendat historic territory was bordered on three sides by the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. Early French explorers referred to these natives as the Huron, either from the French huron (“ruffian”, “rustic”), or from hure (“boar’s head”). According to tradition, French sailors thought that the bristly hairstyle of Wendat warriors resembled that of a boar. They called their traditional territory Wendake/Quendake.
A Roman cassock often has a series of buttons down the front – sometimes thirty-three (symbolic of the years of the life of Jesus). A Jesuit cassock, although Jesuits have no official habit or distinctive religious garb, in lieu of buttons, has a fly fastened with hooks at the collar and is bound at the waist with a black cincture knotted on the right side. It was the common priestly dress of St Ignatius’ day, who founded the Society of Jesus. During the missionary periods of North America, the various native peoples referred to Jesuits as “Blackrobes” because of their black cassocks.
The Wendat called St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ, “Echon”. [“Echon” pronounced like “Ekon” – this name meaning “Healing Tree”, as a representation of how much Brébeuf had helped the Hurons and of the medicines he brought them from Europe. An alternate definition for “Echon” is “he who bears the heavy load”, as Brébeuf was massive in stature and carried more than his share when working with the Ouendat people. John Steckley wrote that Jean de Brébeuf was the first of the Jesuits (hatitsihenstaatsi’, ‘they are called charcoal’) due to their coal black cassocks, to become fluent in their language.
The Huron were surprised at his endurance in the harsh and hearty climate of what is now Ontario. His massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear it would sink. Brebeuf had great difficulty learning the Huron language.
“When you come to us (Brebeuf wrote to Jesuits in France) we will receive you with open arms into the vilest dwelling imaginable. A mat, or at best a skin, will be your bed and often enough you will not sleep at all because of the vermin that will swarm over you. If you have been a great theologian in France, you will have to be a humble scholar here and taught by an unlearned person, or by children, while you furnish them no end of amusement. Here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse. The Huron tongue will be St. Thomas and Aristotle, and you will be happy if after a great deal of hard study you are able to stammer out a few words.
The winter is almost unendurable. As for leisure time, the Hurons will give you no rest night or day.
You may expect to be killed at any moment, and your cabin, which is highly flammable, may often take fire through carelessness or malice. You are responsible for the weather, be it foul or fair, and if you don’t bring rain when it’s needed you may be tomahawked for your lack of luck. And there are foes from without to reckon with. On the 13th of this month a dozen Hurons were killed at Contarea, which is only a few days’ distance from here; and a short time ago a number of Iroquois were discovered in ambush quite close to the village.
In France you are surrounded by splendid examples of virtue. Here, all are astonished when you speak of God. Blasphemy and obscenity are common things on their lips. Often you are without your Mass, and when you do succeed in saying it the cabin is full of smoke or snow. Your neighbors never leave you alone and are continually shouting at the top of their voices.
The food will be insipid, but the gall and vinegar of Our Blessed Saviour will make it like honey on your lips. Clambering over rocks and skirting cataracts will be pleasant if you think of Calvary; and you will be happy if you have lost the trail, or are sick and dying with hunger in the woods…
There is no danger for your soul, if you bring into this Huron country the love and fear of God. In fact I find many helps to perfection. For in the first place, you have only the necessaries of life, and that makes it easy to be united with God.
As for your spiritual exercises you can attend to them; you have nothing else to do except study Huron and talk with the Indians. And what pleasure there is for a heart devoted to God to make itself a little scholar of children, thereby gain them for God!
How willingly and liberally God communicates Himself to a soul who practices such humility through love of Him. The words he learns are so many treasures he amasses, so many spoils he carries off from the common enemy of mankind. And so the visits of the Indians no matter how frequent cannot be annoying to such a man. God teaches him the beautiful lesson he taught of old to St. Catherine of Siena to make of his heart a room or temple for Him where he will never fail to find him as often as he withdraws into it so that, if he encounters people there, they do not interfere with his prayers, they serve only to make them more fervent; from this he takes occasion to present these poor people to His Sovereign Goodness, and to entreat Him warmly for their conversion.
Of course you have nothing in the way of externals to increase your devotion, but God makes up for it. Have we not the Blessed Sacrament in the house? Moreover, we have to trust in God: there is no other help available.
And now, if after contemplating the sufferings that await you, you are ready to say “Amplius, Domine! Still more, Lord!” then be sure that you will be rewarded with consolations to such a degree that you will be forced to cry: “Enough, O Lord, enough!”
Jean Brebeuf, SJ, eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.
The total population of the Huron at the time of European contact has been estimated at about 20,000 to 40,000 people. From 1634 to 1640, the Huron were devastated by Eurasian infectious diseases, such as measles and smallpox, to which they had no immunity. Epidemiological studies have shown that beginning in 1634, more European children immigrated with their families to the New World from cities in France, England, and the Netherlands that had endemic smallpox. Historians believe the disease spread from the children to the Huron and other nations. Numerous Huron villages and areas were permanently abandoned. About two-thirds of the population died in the epidemics, decreasing the population to about 12,000.
Before the French arrived, the Huron had already been in conflict with the Iroquois nations to the south. Several thousand Huron lived as far south as present-day central West Virginia along the Kanawha River by the late 16th century, but they were driven out by the Iroquois’ invading from present-day New York in the 17th century.
Once the European powers became involved in trading, the conflict among natives intensified significantly as they struggled to control the trade. The French allied with the Huron, because they were the most advanced trading nation at the time. The Iroquois tended to ally with the Dutch. Introduction of European weapons and the fur trade increased the severity of inter-tribal warfare, “Le Longue Carabine”.
In James Fenimore Cooper’s Feb 1826 novel, “The Last of the Mohicans”, first published in Philadelphia, set in 1757 in what is now New York state, the antagonist, Magua, is a Huron chief.
Surviving Jesuits burned the mission of St Ignace after abandoning it to prevent its capture. The Iroquois attack shocked the Huron. By May 1, 1649, the Huron burned 15 of their villages to prevent their stores from being taken and fled as refugees to surrounding tribes. About 10,000 fled to Gahoendoe (Christian Island).
Most who fled to the island starved over the winter, as it was a non-productive settlement and could not provide for them. Those who survived were believed to have resorted to cannibalism to do so. After spending the bitter winter of 1649-50 on Gahoendoe, surviving Huron relocated near Quebec City, where they settled at Wendake. Absorbing other refugees, they became the Huron-Wendat Nation. Some Huron, along with the surviving Petuns, whose villages were attacked by the Iroquois in the fall of 1649, fled to the upper Lake Michigan region, settling first at Green Bay, then at Michilimackinac. The western Wyandot eventually re-formed across the border in the area of present-day Ohio and southern Michigan in the United States. Some descendants of the Wyandot Nation of Anderdon still live in Ohio and Michigan.
In the 1840s, most of the surviving Wyandot people were displaced to Kansas through the US federal policy of forced Indian removal. Using the funds they received for their lands in Ohio the Wyandot purchased 23,000 acres (93 km2) of land for $46,080 in what is now Wyandotte County, Kansas in the Kansas City, Kansas area from the Delaware who were grateful for the hospitality the Wyandot had shown them in Ohio. It was a more-or-less square parcel north and west of the junction of the Kansas River and the Missouri River.
In February 1985 the U.S. government agreed to pay descendants of the Wyandot $5.5 million. The decision settled the 143-year-old treaty, which in 1842 forced the tribe to sell their Ohio lands for half of its fair value.
In 1999, representatives of the far-flung Wyandot bands of Quebec, Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan gathered at their historic homeland in Midland, Ontario. They formally re-established the Wendat Confederacy.
Each modern Wyandot community is an autonomous band:
Huron-Wendat Nation, at Wendake, now within the Quebec City limits, approximately 3,000 members
Wyandot Nation of Anderdon, in Michigan, with headquarters in Trenton, Michigan, perhaps 800 members
Wyandot Nation of Kansas, with headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas, perhaps 400 members
Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized tribe headquartered in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, with 4,300 members.
The approximately 3,000 Wyandot in Quebec are primarily Catholic and speak French as a first language. They have begun to promote the study and use of the Wyandot language among their children.
St Jean de Brebeufs, SJ’s Legacy
Many Jesuit schools are named after St John de Brebeuf, SJ, such as Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal, Brébeuf College School in Toronto and Brebeuf High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. There is also St. John de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada; and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. There is also Eglise St-Jean de Brebeuf in Sudbury, Ontario.
St John de Brebeuf’s feast day in Canada is celebrated on September 26, while in the United States it is celebrated on October 19.
It is said that the modern name of the Native North American sport of lacrosse was first coined by Brébeuf who thought that the sticks used in the game reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (crosse in French, and with the feminine definite article, la crosse).
Brebeuf’s Instructions to the Missionaries: In 1637, Father Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Huron. They reflect his own experience, and a genuine sensitivity toward the native people.
You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.
You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking.
Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts.
Try to eat the little food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours.
Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun.
Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe.
Be the least troublesome to the Indians.
Do not ask many questions; silence is golden.
Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to appear cheerful.
Carry with you a half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish.
Always carry something during the portages.
Do not be ceremonious with the Indians.
Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle.
The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip.
Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.
The Huron Carol
The “Huron Carol” (or “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”) is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada’s oldest Christmas song), written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song’s original Huron title is “Jesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, he is born”). The song’s melody is based on a traditional French folk song, “Une Jeune Pucelle” (“A Young Maid”). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton.
The English version of the hymn uses imagery familiar in the early 20th century, in place of the traditional Nativity story. This version is derived from Brebeuf’s original song and Huron religious concepts. In the English version, Jesus is born in a “lodge of broken bark”, and wrapped in a “robe of rabbit skin”.
He is surrounded by hunters instead of shepherds, and the Magi are portrayed as “chiefs from afar” that bring him “fox and beaver pelts” instead of the more familiar gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The hymn also uses a traditional Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God. The original lyrics are now sometimes modified to use imagery accessible to Christians who are not familiar with Native-Canadian cultures.
The song remains a common Christmas hymn in Canadian churches of many Christian denominations. Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn has also recorded a rendition of the song in the original Huron. It was also sung by Canadian musician Tom Jackson during his annual Huron Carole show. The group ‘Crash Test Dummies’ recorded this hymn on their album “Jingle all the Way” (2002). In the United States, the song was included as “Jesous Ahatonia” on Burl Ives’s 1952 album Christmas Day in the Morning and was later released as a Burl Ives single under the title “Indian Christmas Carol.” The music has been rearranged by the Canadian songwriter Loreena McKennitt under the title “Breton Carol” in 2008.
The Hurons who escaped the Iroquois attacks preserved the hymn. Father Étienne de Villeneuve, SJ recorded the words of the hymn, which were found among his papers following his death in 1794.
We see in this carol a fine instance of genuine inculturation, as St. Jean de Brébeuf, SJ, strove to express the universal truths of Christian faith in an idiom intelligible to the Hurons among whom he preached.
Guide to Pronunciation:
e – like ‘eh’
8 = ‘w’ before vowel
‘u’ before consonant
i – like ‘ee’ in ‘freeze’,
a – like ‘ah’
th = t followed by an aspiration
on – as in the French word ‘bon’ en – as in the French word ‘chien’
an – as in the French word ‘viande’
Accents tend to fall on the 2nd last syllable
Iesous Ahatonnia (ee-sus a-ha-ton-nyah= Jesus, he is born)
Estennia,on de tson8e Ies8s ahatonnia
eh-sten-nyah-yon deh tson-weh ee-sus a-ha-ton-nyah
Have courage, you who are humans, Jesus, he is born
“His death has put the crown upon his life.” So Father Ragueneau, SJ, as on that distant April day at Fort Ste. Marie he concluded. He closed the little spiritual diary of the Saint which had lain open before him. It was difficult to brush away the haunting recollections of this man who just a few weeks ago had died a martyr at St. Ignace a mere six miles away. Sternly he set himself to completing the more prosaic details of his 1649 report to his superior back in France. Father Ragueneau, SJ, who had lived intimately with Father de Brefeuf for the last twelve years and who knew him well, was right. Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, SJ, by deliberate choice had worn the red, regal robes of a martyr ever since he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Rouen thirty-one years before, and for love of Him who had previously passed that way had trodden, the rest of his days, down the long Royal Road of the Cross. On March 16, 1649, he found shining at its end the reward the crown accorded Paul and Lawrence and Sebastian and legions of Christ’s nobility before him. The fitting culmination of a martyr’s life was a martyr’s death.
Although he came from a France then in spiritual ferment, Brebeuf’s inner life remained to the end simple, direct, resolvable into one or two easily recognized elements. Its fibrous centre was the Jesuit Rule, its inspirational source the Passion of Our Lord, its overall characteristic daily, hourly martyrdom.
For almost twenty years before his death, Brebeuf’s resolution had been: “I’ll burst rather than voluntarily break any rule.” Such a resolve, if kept (and on the testimony of Ragueneau we know that it was kept), would alone be enough to make a man a Saint. It had been enough already to make a Saint of his fellow Jesuit, the Belgian John Berchmans, who died at Rome 1621, the year that Brebeuf became a sub-deacon.
Brebeuf’s forced return to France in 1629, his hopes for a missioner’s life and for a martyr’s death apparently dashed forever, was a spiritual milestone. He spent three brief years in France at this time, pegged to the distracting job of Bursar in a busy college. Yet for him these years were what a near lifetime passed in desert solitude might have been to some early eremite. They were fruitful years of probing self-knowledge, of, deepening and of simplification. During this period, his inner life assumed characteristics that would remain and single him out, among a hundred apparently similar saints, to the end of his days. This was the time when he set the perfect observance of the Rule of the Society of Jesus at the very centre of his spiritual life. It was during this period, as well, that he began really to lay bare the inexhaustible riches of Our Lord’s Passion. Now too came more sharply into focus his program of daily, hourly, self-inflicted martyrdom, since the possibility of that other martyrdom seemed forever removed. And at this time he was initiated, briefly, into the mystical life.
When David Kirke forced the French regime and the Jesuit missionaries temporarily out of New France he was doing a better thing than he knew. He was instrumental in providing strong impetus to the formation of a mystic and a saint.
Brebeuf was a giant, physically and spiritually, and so we are not surprised when he goes forward with great strides where other men, even other saints, appear to creep. But the reason for his swift progress lay ultimately in the motive which prompted him, the Love of God, the strongest as well as the highest of all possible motives. This is especially apparent when he starts earnestly and methodically to weave the red strands of the Passion into the pattern of his life. Many a holy man has, at least in the beginning, been impelled to a life of reparative suffering at the thought of his own earlier sins. Not so Brebeuf. With him it was love for Love. In his heart the pained cry of the first St. Ignatius, “My Love is crucified!” found true and responsive echo.
“I feel a great longing to suffer something for Christ,” he wrote in January, 1630 simply that, without further qualification except to say that God is treating him so gently these days that he is beginning to fear that he must be lost. Later in the same month he speaks of his sins, but only to balance them off against God’s goodness to him, and ingratitude to ask, “Lord, make me a man after Thine own Heart.” And paraphrasing that other great lover, St. Paul, he goes on to protest: “Nothing henceforward shall separate me from Thy love, not nakedness, not the sword, not death.”
-The Inner Flame of St John Brebeuf”, Elmer O’Brien, SJ
Prayer of St John de Brebeuf, SJ:
“Jesus, my Lord and Savior, what can I give You in return for all the favors You have first conferred on me? I will take from Your hand the cup of Your sufferings and call on Your name. I vow before Your eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, before Your most holy Mother and her most chaste spouse, before the angels, apostles and martyrs, before my blessed fathers Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier–in truth, I vow to You, Jesus my Savior, that as far as I have the strength, I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if someday You in Your infinite mercy should offer it to me, Your most unworthy servant…My beloved Jesus, here and now I offer my body and blood and life. May I die only for You, if You will grant me this grace, since You willingly died for me. Let me so live that You may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Savior, I will take from Your hand the cup of Your sufferings and call on Your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”
Father, You consecrated the first beginnings of the faith in North America by the preaching and martyrdom of Saints John and Isaac and their companions. By the help of their prayers may the Christian faith continue to grow throughout the world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-Brebeuf & Lalemant gravesite
Saint Jean de Brébeuf, obtain for me, through your intercession, courage to overcome all human respect, resignation in times of trial, confidence in God’s power and goodness, and zeal for my spiritual welfare; so that, raised above the things of earth, I may lead a truly Christian life and gain merit for eternity. Amen.
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand over my body to be burned so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” -1 Cor 13:1-3
Son of Christopher & Margery, from a large family of boys, witty & bon vivant, in his early twenties, Henry Walpole was indifferent to sufferings of his fellow Englishmen for their beliefs until he attended the execution of the well known Edmund Campion, SJ, and blood from the martyr fell upon him. A baptism? Surely. Of the most profound kind. Henry Walpole was inspired by the courage of the Jesuit martyr to become a priest for his native England. A conversion had begun…deep and profound. Falling in love.
He was arrested, however, almost as soon as he set foot on English soil and spent more time being tortured in prison than some Jesuits spent ministering the sacraments. Walpole had been born Catholic but was not sure which direction to follow in the religious controversy that roiled England. He attended the discussions that Campion held with Anglican divines and been impressed with the Jesuit’s zeal and preaching. He was also present at the Jesuit poet’s execution. A drop of Campion’s blood fell on his clothes from the martyr’s quartered body, confirming his sense that God was calling him to follow in Campion’s footsteps. He even wrote a poem honoring the dead Jesuit.
“Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?
Or call my wits counsel what to say?
Such memories were made for mortal man,
I speak of saints, whose names cannot decay.
Angel’s trump were meter far to sound
Their glorious deaths, if such on earth were found.
His native flowers were mixed with herb of grace.
His mild behavior tempered well with skill.
A lowly mind possessed a learned place.
A sugared speech, rare and virtuous will.
A saint like man set in earth below.
The Tower says the truth he did defend,
The Bar bears witness of his guiltless mind.
Tyburn doth tell, he made a patient end.
In every gate his martyrdom we find
In vain you wrought, that would obscure his name,
For heaven and earth will still record the same.
You thought perhaps when learned Campion dies,
His pen must cease, his sugared tongue be still.
But you forget how loud his death it cries,
How far beyond the sound of tongue and guile.
You did not know how rare and great and good,
It was to write his precious gifts in blood.”
Walpole studied at Cambridge and then moved to London to study law, but then changed direction and decided to become a priest. Described a year later after witnessing Campion’s execution as “discreet, grave, and pious”, he entered the English College in Rheims, France in July 1582 and then moved to Rome nine months later. On Feb. 4, 1584 he joined the Society of Jesus and completed his studies at the Scots College at Pont-à-Mousson, France. After he was ordained in Paris, he was assigned to be chaplain to English Catholic refugees serving in the Spanish army in the Low Countries.
He spent a year in prison after he was captured by the Calvinists in 1589, and then worked at the English seminary in Valladolid, Spain until he was finally asked to return to England in 1593. The Jesuit, his brother and an English soldier sailed together on a French ship headed for Scotland because the southern ports of England were closed because of the plague.
On Dec. 4, 1593, the three passengers were put ashore at Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, after 10 days of stormy sailing, but separated on land. Father Walpole was resting at an inn 10 miles inland when he was arrested for being a priest; he had been betrayed by a fellow passenger who was earning money to buy his way out of prison.
One night of freedom in England was followed by 16 months of imprisonment. Walpole admitted during his first interrogation that he was a Jesuit and had come to England to convert people. He was transferred to York Castle for three months, and was permitted to leave the prison to discuss theology with Protestant visitors. Then he was transferred to the Tower of London at the end of February, 1594, so that the notorious priest-torturer Richard Topcliffe could wrest information from him. Walpole was tortured brutally on the rack and was suspended by his wrists for hours, but Topcliffe stretched the tortures out over the course of a year to prevent an accidental death. While still able to write, Henry wrote to a fellow Jesuit at a monastery in Yorkshire about his ordeal, he wrote: “…I hope, through the merits of my most sweet Saviour and Lord, that I shall be always ready, whether living or dying, to glorify Him, which will be for my eternal happiness.”
Walpole endured torture 14 different times before being returned in 1595 to York to stand trial under the law that made it high treason for an Englishman simply to return home after receiving Holy Orders abroad. The man who had once aspired to be a lawyer defended himself ably, pointing out that the law only applied to priests who had not given themselves up to officials within three days of arrival. He himself had been arrested less than a day after landing in England, so he had not violated that law. The judges responded by demanding that he take the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging the queen’s complete authority in religion. He refused to do so and was convicted of high treason.
On April 7, Walpole was dragged out of York to be executed along with another priest, Bl. Alexander Rawlins of the Diocese of Gloucester, who was killed first. Then the Jesuit climbed the ladder to the gallows and asked the onlookers to pray with him. After he finished the Our Father but before he could say the Hail Mary, the executioner pushed him away from the ladder; then he was taken down and dismembered. In St Henry Walpole, SJ, Catholics received yet another example of fidelity and courage.
When asked to join in prayer with Protestants for his own peaceful death he said “that by the grace of God he was in peace with all the world, and prayed God for all, particularly those who were the cause of his death; but as they were with them; yet he heartily prayed for them, that God would enlighten them with His truth, bring them back to His Church, and dispose them for His mercy” …he also prayed: “…may His Divine Majesty never suffer me to consent to the least thing by which He may be dishonored, nor you to desire it of me, and God is my witness, that to all here present, and particularly to my accusers, I wish as to myself the salvation of their souls, and to this end they may live in the true Catholic Faith, the only way to eternal happiness.”
-inscription left by St Henry Walpole, SJ, in his prison cell in the Salt/Beauchamp Tower, Tower of London. Below his name, more lightly inscribed, he imprinted the Latin names of Sts Paul & Peter, along with those of Sts Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, & Gregory, four Doctors of the early Church.
Almighty and everlasting God,
Who kindled the flame of Your love in the heart of Your holy martyr
St Henry Walpole, SJ,
Grant to us, Your humble servants,
a like faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville