-“Battle of Lepanto”, by Andrea Vicentino, 1603, oil on canvas, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. Please click on the image for greater detail.
-original Ensign which flew on the Flag Ship of the Supreme Commander of the Holy League, Don Juan of Austria, at the Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571 A.D.
This reproduction shows the Battle Flag of Lepanto designed by Pope Saint Pius V: with a Crucifix supported by the Shields of the members of the Holy League of 1571: King Philip of Spain, Saint Pius V, the Republic of Venice, and Don Juan of Austria, all united by the Chain of the Rosary. The Pattern symbolizes the Fleets of the Holy League in formation, and the woven border recalls the power of the Chain of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary protecting all the ships and sailors.
Originally celebrated liturgically as Our Lady of Victory, Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573. The purpose was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto—a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.
The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a galley fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of the Republic of Venice, the Papacy (under Pope Pius V), Spain (including Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller and others, decisively defeated the main fleet of Ottoman war galleys.
The five-hour battle was fought at the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the Holy League forces, which had come from Messina, on the morning of Sunday, 7 October. Their victory gave the Holy League temporary control over the Mediterranean, protected Rome from invasion, and prevented the Ottomans from advancing into Europe. This last major naval battle fought solely between rowing vessels was one of the world’s decisive battles “in history, inasmuch as ‘after Lepanto the pendulum swung back the other way and the wealth began to flow from East to West, a pattern that continues to this day'”, as well “as a ‘crucial turning point in the ongoing conflict between the Middle East and Europe, which has not yet completely been resolved.'” -Serpil Atamaz Hazar, “Review of Confrontation at Lepanto: Christendom vs. Islam,” The Historian 70.1 (Spring 2008): 163.
– by Fernando Bertelli, Die Seeschlacht von Lepanto, Venedig 1572, Museo Storico Navale, (550×500), this particular painting occupies a prominent position at one end of the Hall of Maps, in the Vatican Museums, Rome. Please click on the image for greater detail.
The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who had not lost a major naval battle since the fifteenth century. In total, the Turks lost some 210 vessels – 80 sunk and 130 captured. The Turks lost thirty thousand men, with another 3500 captured. The Holy League had suffered around 7,500 soldiers, sailors and rowers dead, but freed about as many Christian prisoners. On the Christian side 20 galleys were destroyed and 30 were damaged so seriously that they had to be scuttled. One Venetian galley was the only one kept by the Turks. All others were abandoned by them and recaptured.
Prior to the battle, the Christians having lost twice before at this same location, made special processions in Rome to the Blessed Virgin. Christians were asked to pray the Rosary for victory. The triumph was credited to Our Lady of the Rosary.
Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.
As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.
The Holy League
In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.
The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.
He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.
Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”
The Divine Breath
It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.
As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.
And, then the Blessed Mother intervened…
Our Lady of Victory,
Victorious daughter of the Father,
Victorious Mother of the Son,
Victorious Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious servant of the Holy Trinity
Victorious in your Immaculate Conception,
Victorious in crushing the serpent’s head,
Victorious over all the children of Adam,
Victorious over all enemies,
Victorious in your response to the Angel Gabriel,
Victorious in your wedding to St. Joseph,
Victorious in the birth of Christ,
Victorious in the flight to Egypt,
Victorious in your exile,
Victorious in your home at Nazareth,
Victorious in finding Christ in the temple,
Victorious in the mission of your Son,
Victorious in His passion and death,
Victorious in His Resurrection and Ascension,
Victorious in the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious in your sorrows and joys,
Victorious in your glorious Assumption,
Victorious in the angels who remained faithful,
Victorious in the happiness of the saints,
Victorious in the message of the prophets,
Victorious in the testimony of the patriarchs,
Victorious in the zeal of the apostles,
Victorious in the witness of the evangelists,
Victorious in the wisdom of the doctors,
Victorious in the deeds of the confessors,
Victorious in the triumph of all holy women,
Victorious in the faithfulness of the martyrs,
Victorious in your powerful intercession,
Victorious under your many titles,
Victorious at the moment of death,
-martyrdom of St Hippolytus, Boston Museum of Fine Arts (please click on the image for greater detail)
I love the story of Callistus & Hippolytus. It is a story of schism, of fracture, of falling out, of bad feeling, of denial of authority, and of ultimate reconciliation.
Hippolytus was one of the most prolific writers of the early Church, an early Christian theologian and scholar, writing against the heresies of Gnosticism and Montanism. He is noted especially for his work “The Apostolic Tradition”, which describes the liturgical customs of the early Roman Church from the third century AD and before.
Hippolytus was a rigorist, meaning he did not believe that sins after baptism could be forgiven. The Emperor Constantine himself had delayed his own baptism until his death bed for this reason. As an extension of this thinking, Hippolytus opposed readmitting those Christians who had committed heresy or who had apostatized under persecution back into the Church.
Callistus was a slave in the imperial Roman household. Put in charge of the bank by his master, he lost the money deposited, fled and was caught. After serving time for a while, he was released to make some attempt to recover the money. Apparently he carried his zeal too far, being arrested for brawling in a Jewish synagogue. This time he was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia. He was released through the influence of the emperor’s mistress and lived at Anzio (site of a famous World War II beachhead).
After winning his freedom, Callistus was made superintendent of the public Christian burial ground in Rome (still called the cemetery of St. Callistus), probably the first land owned by the Church. The pope ordained him a deacon and made him his friend and advisor.
Callistus was elected pope by a majority vote of the clergy and laity of Rome, and thereafter was bitterly attacked by the losing candidate, Hippolytus. Hippolytus was very upset with the popes of his day that they were so lenient on returning heretics and apostates, who had denied the faith, said anything and done anything to save their own skin during the Roman persecutions up to that time. Hippolytus attacked Callistus on two fronts—doctrine and discipline.
Hippolytus seems to have exaggerated the distinction between Father and Son (almost making two gods) possibly because theological language had not yet been refined. He also accused Callistus of being too lenient, for reasons we may find surprising: (1) Callistus admitted to Holy Communion those who had already done public penance for murder, adultery, fornication; (2) he held marriages between free women and slaves to be valid—contrary to Roman law; (3) he authorized the ordination of men who had been married two or three times; (4) he held that mortal sin was not a sufficient reason to depose a bishop; (5) he held to a policy of leniency toward those who had temporarily denied their faith during persecution. Hippolytus had his followers elect him anti-pope, and began to appoint his own bishops, trying to establish a counter, parallel church.
Ultimately, Callistus was martyred during a local disturbance in Trastevere, Rome, and is the first pope (except for Peter) to be commemorated as a martyr in the earliest martyrology of the Church.
Ironically, Hippolytus was arrested during the following Roman persecution for being a Christian, albeit a schismatic one, and sentenced to hard labor in the mines of Sardinia. Those men so sentenced, and only men were sentenced to such a cruel fate, had their left Achilles tendon cauterized so they could not escape, had their right eye plucked out, and were castrated. Not only imprisoned, but also mutilated, the many Christian men sentenced to this cruel fate continued to share their faith with their fellow prisoners.
Also condemned to this cruel fate was the current Pope at the time, Pope St. Pontian. Pontian and Hippolytus met in their mutual misery. Hippolytus recanted and repented of his former schism. St Hippolytus, the only anti-pope ever canonized by the Church, died a martyr for the faith alongside his friend and confessor, Pope St Pontian.
-“The Torture of St. Hippolyte”, by Dieric Bouts the Elder, after 1468, oil on wood, 90 x 89.2 cm, St Salvator Cathedral, Bruges, Belgium
-crypt of Pope St Callistus I
“Christ, like a skillful physician, understands the weakness of men…He is easily found by those who live by faith.” -St. Hippolytus
“The world is a sea, in which the Church is set, like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed. For she has with her the skilled Pilot, Christ.” -St Hippolytus of Rome
Prayer to St Callistus
O slave become Shepherd of the Universal Church,
firmly you defended her teaching
and recognized that all sins may be forgiven by the Lord, through her.
Martyr for the faith, pray we too remain firm
through all the difficult trials and temptations of this life.
O that by such incorrupt faith and unshaken courage,
may we be raised from the dust,
to rejoice with you before the Lord. Amen.
Easter Prayer of St. Hippolytus
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen – indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are His forever and ever. Amen.
I love the zeal of St Anthony Mary Claret. The “spiritual father of Cuba” was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council.
In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: the future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers.
He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. His rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians.
He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for stamping out concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: Reflections on Agriculture and Country Delights.
He was called back to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony.
All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets.
At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, “There goes a true saint.” He died in exile near the border of Spain at the age of 63.
Jesus foretold that those who are truly his representatives would suffer the same persecution as he did. Besides 14 attempts on his life, Anthony had to undergo such a barrage of the ugliest slander that the very name Claret became a byword for humiliation and misfortune. The powers of evil do not easily give up their prey. No one needs to go looking for persecution. All we need to do is be sure we suffer because of our genuine faith in Christ, not for our own whims and imprudence.
Queen Isabella II once said to Anthony, “No one tells me things as clearly and frankly as you do.” Later she told her chaplain, “Everybody is always asking me for favors, but you never do. Isn’t there something you would like for yourself?” He replied, “Yes, that you let me resign.” The queen made no more offers.
“Driven by the fire of the Holy Spirit, the holy apostles traveled throughout the earth. Inflamed with the same fire, apostolic missionaries have reached, are now reaching, and will continue to reach the ends of the earth, from one pole to the other, in order to proclaim the word of God. They are deservedly able to apply to themselves those words of the apostle Paul: “Caritas Christi Urget Nos! – The love of Christ drives us on!” (2 Cor. 5:14)
The love of Christ arouses us, urges us to run, and to fly, lifted on the wings of holy zeal. The zealous man desires and achieve all great things and he labors strenuously so that God may always be better known, loved and served in this world and in the life to come, for this holy love is without end.
Because he is concerned also for his neighbor, the man of zeal works to fulfill his desire that all men be content on this earth and happy and blessed in their heavenly homeland, that all may be saved, and that no one may perish for ever, or offend God, or remain even for a moment in sin. Such are the concerns we observe in the holy apostles and in all who are driven by the apostolic spirit.
For myself, I say this to you: The man who burns with the fire of divine love is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and wherever he goes, he enkindles that flame; he deserves and works with all this strength to inflame all men with the fire of God’s love. Nothing deters him: he rejoices in poverty; he labors strenuously; he welcomes hardships; he laughs off false accusations; he rejoices in anguish. He thinks only of how he might follow Jesus Christ and imitate him by his prayers, his labors, his sufferings, and by caring always and only for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
-from L’egoismo vinto (Rome: 1869, p. 60) by St Anthony Mary Claret. It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the feast (optional liturgical memorial) of St. Anthony Mary Claret.
Prayer to St Anthony Marie Claret
Saint Anthony Mary Claret, during your life on earth you often comforted the afflicted and showed such tender love and compassion for the sick and sinful. Intercede for me now that you rejoice in the reward of your virtues in heavenly glory. Look with pity on me and grant my prayer, if such be the will of God. Make my troubles your own. Speak a word for me to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to obtain by her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently, and a blessing to strengthen me during life, assist me at the hour of death, and lead me to a happy eternity. Amen.
I LOVE MARRIED SAINTS!!!!! And, Kelly, don’t be nervous, I know you’re not the nervous type. I used to be desperately in love with a girl from Charlotte, NC, named Marguerite. One of my many broken hearts. (Ahhhhhhhhh) 🙂 Thank God things work out God’s way and not ours! Thank GOD for unanswered prayers I say the older I get. His will is perfect. I LOVE YOU SOOOO MUCH Kelly Marie! 🙂 XOXOXO!!!!
Marguerite d’Youville, the first native Canadian to be elevated to sainthood, was born October 15, 1701 at Varennes, Quebec. Marguerite was baptized the next day at St. Anne’s parish church. After her baptism, her father placed her on the knees of her maternal great-grandfather, Pierre Boucher, for the traditional blessing: “May God bless you, my little one, as I bless you!”
Marguerite was the eldest of six children born to Lieutenant Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie-Renée Gaultier. Lieutenant Lajemmerais was promoted to the rank of Captain, in June 1705. This was the highest rank that a soldier of the French colonial troops could attain. He was promoted because of his fidelity to his duty, his spirit of self-sacrifice, his prompt willingness to take any assignment.
On June 1, 1708, Marguerite’s childhood was tragically disrupted by the death of her father. This was a time of insecurity. The salary of Captain de Lajemmerais had been large enough to keep his growing family but not sufficient to provide savings for the future. Marguerite learned very early how to think of others as she helped her mother provide for her destitute family. Marie Renée now had to depend on the charity of others for the needs of her children. And worse still – it would be another six years before she would receive a widow’s pension. This was due to complex formalities and slow communication between France and her colony of Canada.
Because she was extremely intelligent, Marguerite was greatly admired by her great-aunt, Mother St. Pierre, an Ursuline nun, and several other persons. So in 1712, in order to pursue her studies, Marguerite was taken in a little rowboat to the boarding school at the Ursuline Convent, in Quebec City; some hundred and fifty miles away.
There she received a good education from the nuns and also a good spiritual training. At the convent school, Marguerite was a strong young girl with an attractive personality and she was admired for a goodness and a maturity, well beyond her age. She acquired the habit of meditating daily on some page of a little book dealing with the “Holy Ways of the Cross”.
In 1714, at the age of almost 13, after two years at the boarding school, Marguerite received her First Holy Communion. But the girl could not stay in the convent for a lengthy time. Mme. Lajemmerais could not afford to leave Marguerite in Quebec any longer, even with the help of relatives and friends. There were still five other children to be educated. So our friend was obliged to go back to Varennes that same year, to help at home and to teach her brothers and sisters. Marguerite was an invaluable help to her mother. By her handiwork, she contributed skillfully to the support of the family and often, as she was making fine lace, she would tell wonderful stories to her brothers and sisters.
As a young woman, Marguerite became very popular in the social life of Varennes. At 18, she got engaged to a young man whom she deeply loved. But the promise of a happy marriage ended abruptly when her mother remarried beneath her social class one Timothy Sullivan, an Irish doctor who was seen by the townspeople as a disreputable foreigner, an act that was unacceptable to the family of Marguerite’s fiancé. We can imagine the heartbreak of the frustrated betrothed. Marguerite’s family fell out of favor with people in their home town and so two years later moved to Montreal.
In Montreal, Marguerite became associated with the aristocracy of old Montreal who in time noticed that she was graceful, well mannered, serious and reserved. Before long, Marguerite met François d’Youville and once again, fell in love.
-François d’Youville (1700-1730)
Marguerite married François d’Youville 12 August 1722 and the young couple made their home with Francois’ mother, an avaricious and domineering woman who made life miserable for Marguerite. During the frequent absences of her husband, Marguerite’s mother-in-law was most unsympathetic towards her.
Marguerite soon came to realize that her husband had no interest in making a home life. François was indifferent, selfish and covetous; he was interested only in making money! His frequent absences, bootlegging, and illegal liquor trading with the Indians for furs caused her great suffering, making her endure the slurs and taunts of her neighbors. He was even absent at the birth of their first child.
But in spite of all these sorrows, Marguerite remained faithful to the her duties of state, always treating François with respect, and favoring him with all kind of delicate attentions. It was during these sorrowful times, in 1727, that the holy woman received a special grace from God. She came to a deep realization that God is a Father who has every human being in His providential care and that all are brothers and sisters. Through her whole life Marguerite kept this thought in her mind: “I leave all to Divine Providence, my confidence is in it; all will happen which is pleasing to God.”
She was pregnant with her sixth child when François became seriously ill. She faithfully cared for him until his death in 4 July 1730, leaving her with his enormous debts. By age 29, she had experienced desperate poverty and suffered the loss of her father and husband. Four of her six children had died in infancy. In 1734, she started to suffer from a mysterious ailment in her knees. It would only get worse through the years, and would make her suffer greatly, but would not stop her from doing her charitable work.
In all these sufferings Marguerite grew in her belief of God’s presence in her life and of His tender love for every human person. She, in turn, wanted to make known His compassionate love to all. She undertook many charitable works with complete trust in God, Who she loved as a Father.
She provided for the education of her two sons, who later became priests, by opening a small dry-goods storefront on the first floor of her home where she sold her own handiwork and household goods. She paid off all her inherited debts. On November 21, 1737 Marguerite welcomed a blind woman into her home. She spent much of her profits helping those even poorer than herself. She begged for money to bury criminals who had been hung in the market place.
One day, Marguerite’s spiritual director, Fr. Dulescoat, told her, “Be comforted my child, God destines for you a great work and you will raise up a house from its ruins!” God would make His plans fully known to her at a later time. Providence. The trust in Providence.
Seeing Marguerite selflessly caring for the poor, inspired three women to join her. On December 31, 1737, Catherine Cusson, Louise Thaumur la Source, and Catherine Demers joined Marguerite. They consecrated themselves to God, promising secretly to serve Jesus in His poor.
Completely dedicated to her mission of charity, Madame d’Youville rented a larger house to receive the poor. She and her three companions entered this house on October 30, 1738. As they stepped into their new place, their first act was to kneel before the statue of Our Lady of Providence. They placed their work of helping the poor under the protection of Our Lady, and consecrated themselves to God, to serve the poor and most destitute members of her Divine Son, till the end of their lives. Marguerite was 37 years old. They received the help of Father Louis Normant du Faradon. Marguerite, without even realizing it, had become the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of the General Hospital of Montreal, “Grey Nuns”.
Like other saints, the members of the little society were persecuted and contradicted. People were even more disturbed over the opening of this house. Two days after its opening, on All Saints day, they threw stones at Madame d’Youville and her companions on their way to church! Their maliciousness went even further when they heard rumors that Fr. Louis Normant, the Superior of the Sulpicians – and Marguerite’s new spiritual director, wanted her and her companions to take over Montreal’s General Hospital for the poor, established in 1693 by the Charon Brothers! The people had other plans for the dilapidated hospital.
Even Marguerite’s own relatives and friends were shocked by what she was doing and questioned her motives – her two brothers-in-law even signed a petition addressed to the Secretary of State, opposing such a move. Class-consciousness was strong in her culture, in those days, and Marguerite had started something that was just not done by persons of her standing.
Even the local parish priest believed in the calumnies made against the little community, and refused to give its members Holy Communion! But despite these persecutions, Mother d’Youville and her companions remained peaceful, and continued working devotedly and courageously, finding their best support through prayer. It was when things looked the most desperate that Marguerite was most trusting in God’s help, and felt most His closeness to her.
Marguerite always fought for the rights of the poor and broke with the social conventions of her day. It was a daring move that made her the object of ridicule and taunts by her own relatives and neighbors. Even though her husband had passed away, the society Marguerite lived in still judged her by the illegal actions of her deceased husband. Some called Marguerite and her companions “Les Soeurs Grises”, which can mean “the grey women/nuns”, but which also means “the drunken women/the tipsy nuns”. “Grises”, in French, can mean “grey” or “drunk”. This was in reference to d’Youville’s late husband. The neighbors suspected the small community of manufacturing alcohol in their home. Love thy neighbor? How about the neighbors let the dead bury their dead and let the dead past die?
But, as is so often the case with God, the slur of ridicule, with His grace, is transformed into the adulation of praise, respect, and reverence. Later, when the work of these women became well respected, Mother Marguerite chose grey as the color of their habit to remind those who slandered them of their verbal abuse.
Marguerite persevered in caring for the poor despite many obstacles. On February 20, 1741, Sr. Catherine Cusson died of tuberculosis at the age of 32. During the three short years of her religious life, she was distinguished by her charity to the poor and by her exact observance of the rule.
To Marguerite, the loss of this spiritual daughter was as painful as that of her natural children had been. And even while the weight of Sr. Catherine’s death weighed in the hearts of the nuns, another threatened loss of far greater weight sent the Sisters to their knees in urgent prayer. Fr. Normant, their Superior, had become so dangerously ill that any hope of his recovery was almost abandoned.
Pounding on the doors of Heaven, Marguerite solemnly promised that if Fr. Normant were restored to health, she would have a votive light burned before the Blessed Sacrament every year on the Feast of the of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a feast of deep significance to the Sulpicians. Moreover she promised to have a special painting made of the Eternal Father by an artist in France. This was a promise that would be quite costly for the struggling community, but no sacrifice was too great for the life of their beloved director. Fr. Normant recovered his health – and since then, a beautiful painting of the Eternal Father, painted by Challe in 1741, hangs in the vast community room in the Motherhouse in Montreal. For some time our friend was also praying for the healing of her knees, not because of the suffering, but rather of the impossibility she had to continue to work. Here again, she was miraculously healed one day.
Marguerite and her companions were now sharing their home with three boarders and ten destitute persons. All were living happily in their cramped quarters but suddenly their joy turned to sorrow when during the night of January 31, 1745, a fire completely destroyed their home. It was devastating to the residents, but Marguerite promised them that she would not abandon them. With unwavering trust in Divine Providence, she resolved to start over. While the fire was raging, a group of bystanders were heard to shout: “Look at those purple flames! … Those women are drunk!” By humility, and to show her nuns should be inebriated by the love of God and neighbor, Marguerite kept that nickname for her community. This tragedy only served to deepen her commitment to the poor. Marguerite asked herself, “What can we learn from this? … Perhaps we have been too well off. Now we will have to live more poorly!”
Two days later, on February 2, 1745, she and her two early companions pledged themselves to put everything in common in order to help a greater number of persons in need. At age 44, Marguerite and the other Sisters, signed the “Original Commitment”. Part of this founding document reads: … “for the greater glory of God … for the relief of the poor … we are united in pure charity to live and die together … to consecrate without reserve our time, our days, indeed our entire life, to labor … to receive, feed and support as many poor as we can take care of …” And since that day, every Grey Nun has signed her name to this commitment!
Two years later, this “mother of the poor” as she was called, was asked to become director of the Charon Brothers Hospital in Montreal which was falling into ruin and deeply in debt. On October 7, 1747, a small procession made its way toward the General Hospital of Montreal. Marguerite had been appointed temporary director of the General Hospital, which was falling into ruins. It was a last resort; as nobody could be found to administer this neglected institution. Marguerite, who was too weak to walk, was seated on an old mattress in a cart. She had to travel this way as she was exhausted after the stress of the recent fire and the frequent moves that followed. Her companions, some aged people and an orphan followed her on foot. And at the same time poor Marguerite had to endure the laughing of the people they passed by. Arriving at the hospital, Marguerite found that four elderly men and two aged Brothers were living there under deplorable conditions. After attending to their urgent needs, Marguerite’s creative ingenuity and the energetic activity of her sisters made the hospital livable. After only three years as Director of the General Hospital, Marguerite had completely renovated it. Marguerite would live in this hospital for the rest of her life. It became a beacon for outcasts.
A new difficulty for the foundress would soon make its appearance; the work still had enemies, and in 1750 plans were made, without consulting her, to merge it with another of similar nature, staffed by the nursing nuns of Quebec City. Marguerite was therefore sadly surprised when she was in the market place one day, and heard by a public announcement that the General Hospital was to be merged with the one in Quebec, where its poor people were to be transferred!
The authorities had decided that there was need for only one hospital of this kind. But Marguerite is convinced: The General Hospital belongs to those who need it badly: the poor! She therefore tried all she humanly can to have the decision changed.
-Bishop Henri de Pontbriand (1708-1760)
But the opposition of Intendant François Bigot, representative of the King of France, and the disapproval of Bishop de Pontbriand of Quebec, was a heavy blow to Marguerite. She tried to soften the impact of this news on her sisters and their charges: “If God calls us to govern this house, His plan will succeed; the impediments and opposition of men should not trouble us.” She will also write: “Divine Providence is truly admirable. God has a way of comforting those who depend on Him, no matter what happens. I place all my trust in Him!”
And Marguerite’s hope was not in vain… prominent citizens joined her in filing objections to the Ordinance. Among them were many who had put their names to the earlier document repudiating “Les Soeurs Grises.” The Sulpicians who had always supported Marguerite’s work, asked their members in France to appeal to the Royal Court and on May 12, 1752, the Ordinance of October 1750 was retracted. And in 1753, King Louis XV of France, signed the “Letters Patent” which sanctioned the appointment of Marguerite d’Youville as Directress of the General Hospital of Montreal. More importantly, the document also established, for the civil part, the new institute of the Sisters of Charity, known as the Grey Nuns. Another great joy was soon to follow these…
Indeed, Bishop de Pontbriand, although for some time an admirer of the nuns, hesitated to approve officially their Constitutions and costume: he thought the sisters were so fervent they would never need such rigid rules. But two years later, in 1755, he went along with their wishes and gave his canonical approval. That same year on August 25th, Fr. Louis Normant, co-founder of the Institute, bestowed on Mother d’Youville, who was now 54, and her companions, the religious habit – a simple grey dress and black head covering, similar to a widow’s bonnet. They also wore a silver cross with a heart in relief, at the centre. A fleur-de-lis at each corner of the cross commemorated their French origin. Because of their grey habit, the Sisters were now affectionately called: the Grey Nuns.
They were now respected by the people and were regarded as Mothers and Sisters to the poor, the elderly, orphans, and prostitutes, the mentally ill, physically handicapped, chronically ill and abandoned infants. Their work was now recognized for what it was: a mission of charity and love. In this same year, Mother d’Youville and her companions began their work as nurses during an epidemic of chicken pox. The disease also spread to the Indian missions around Montreal. Since they were not cloistered nuns, Marguerite and her companions would go into homes and take care of the sick that could not be hospitalized.
The hospital was nearly closed several times due to financial problems and armed conflict between the English and French for the region; Mother Marguerite and her sisters made clothes which were sold to traders in order to raise money, and her care for sick English soldiers caused them to avoid damage to the building. The hospital became known as the Hotel Dieu (House of God). In time, a proverb grew among the poor of Montreal and Church officials, “Go to the Grey Nuns, they never refuse to serve.” Their hospital set a standard for medical care and Christian compassion.
In 1765 a fire destroyed the hospital but nothing could destroy Marguerite’s faith and courage. She asked her sisters and the poor who lived at the hospital, to recognize the hand of God in this disaster and to offer Him praise. Marguerite knelt in the ashes of the hospital and led all there gathered in the Te Deum, a hymn to God’s Providence in all things.
At the age of 64 Marguerite undertook the reconstruction of this shelter for those in need. She fought with government officials seeking to restrain her charity. Totally exhausted from a lifetime of self-giving, Marguerite died on December 23, 1771, around 8:30pm, aged 70 years, and will always be remembered as a loving mother who served Jesus Christ in the poor.
During the autumn of 1771, Marguerite’s health began to fail, and in early December she suffered a stroke. When later she had another stroke and became paralyzed, she knew that her service to the poor would soon come to an end. She also knew that her last words would make a permanent impression on those whose lives were intertwined with her own. To her spiritual daughters, she bequeathed her great spirit of charity, recommending that they should “remain faithful to the duties of the life they have embraced… and always follow the paths of regularity, obedience, mortification, but most of all, the most perfect union should always reign among them.”
Marguerite was one woman, but this daughter of the Church had a vision of caring for the poor that has spread far and wide. Her sisters have built schools, hospitals, and orphanages and have served on almost every continent. Today, her mission is courageously carried on in a spirit of hope by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, “Grey Nuns” and their sister communities: the Sisters of Charity of St. Hyacinthe, the Sisters of Charity at Ottawa, the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart (Philadelphia) and the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (Pembroke). They are especially known for their work among the Eskimos.
Pope John XXIII beatified Marguerite on May 3, 1959 and called her “Mother of Universal Charity” – a well-merited title for one who continues to this day to reach out to all with love and compassion. Marguerite d’Youville can sympathize with the unfortunate and painful situation of so many orphans, with adolescents worried about the future, with disillusioned girls who live without hope, with married woman suffering from unrequited love and with single parents. But most especially, Marguerite is a kindred spirit with all who have given their lives to helping others. The power of Marguerite’s intercession before God was clearly evidenced when a young woman stricken with acute myelobastic leukemia in 1978 was miraculously cured. This great favor opened for Marguerite the door to the official proclamation of sainthood.
St Marguerite d’Youville is patroness against the death of children, for difficult marriages, for in-law problems, for loss of parents, of those opposed by Church authorities, of people ridiculed for their piety, for victims of adultery, for victims of unfaithfulness, and for widows, among other causes.
-The mortal remains of Saint Marguerite d’Youville were transferred to St. Anne de Varennes Basilica on December 9
-by Sr. Diane Beaudoin, SGM
Maison Généralice, Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec
“On December 7 – 9, 2010 we lived an extraordinary event; the transfer of the remains of St. Marguerite d’Youville from the Grey Nuns of Montreal motherhouse to St. Anne Basilica in Varennes, her place of birth.
The journey began with a Mass at the Grey Nuns’ motherhouse chapel, where the remains of St. Marguerite were ceremoniously removed from the altar and placed on a portable altar prepared for its reception. The remains were then brought to the infirmary, so that the elderly and infirmed sisters could say farewell and venerate their beloved mother and foundress. The remains were then returned to the chapel for an official sending off by Sr. Jacqueline St.-Ives, General Superior of the Grey Nuns of Montreal. With a great sense of loss, but with much gratitude and joy, the journey of transfer began. The remains were taken to a waiting hearse and with a cortege of about a dozen limousines and with police escort, St. Marguerite’s remains travelled the short distance from the motherhouse to Maison Mère d’Youville.
Here at Maison Mère d’Youville, the original General Hospital of Montréal, where St. Marguerite cared for the poor, her remains were brought to the very room where she lived and died and for the next 24 hours, we could pray, venerate her holy remains, and just be with her. It was a powerful experience.
The second day of the journey found us in procession again from Maison Mère d’Youville to Notre-Dame Basilica, for a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal. It was heart warming to see so many people who came to offer their tribute to St. Marguerite. For the people of Montreal, this was an opportunity to remember Marguerite’s life and mission and give recognition to the Grey Nuns for their continuing mission toward those most in need today.
Upon leaving the Basilica, our cortege, again with police escort, travelled to Boucherville, a city founded by Marguerite’s great-grandfather Pierre Boucher, and where her son Charles was pastor. Following an inspiring celebration where we listened to the story of Marguerite’s life, we left for our final destination, St. Anne’s Basilica in Varennes. As we entered the city we noticed a large billboard, with St. Marguerite’s picture and the words “Welcome Home.” The journey was now complete!
On the third and final day of this journey, we again celebrated a magnificent liturgy in the Basilica of St. Anne, with standing room only, presided over by the Bishop of the Diocese. At the end of the celebration, St. Marguerite’s remains were brought to their final resting place, to a tomb especially made to receive her and where for years to come we will be able to come, venerate, and pray to this Mother of Universal Charity.
Sr. Jacqueline St. Yves beautifully expressed the significance of these 3 days. “We have brought you our most prized possession, that which we hold closest to our hearts, and we trust you will take good care of her! St. Marguerite now belongs to the people, to the whole Church. There in Varennes, she awaits all who will come to her!”
“St. Marguerite d’Youville has come a long way before returning to Varennes, the city where she was born there 309 years. The mortal remains of the first person to be canonized in Canada have indeed left the mother house of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the Grey Nuns, to be transferred to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne de Varennes on December 9, the day even the 20 th anniversary of his canonization. A Eucharistic celebration presided by Jacques Berthelet, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, highlighted the event.
The basilica filled to overflowing with the faithful here and elsewhere, the ceremony was attended by many dignitaries, including the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Pierre Duchesne, the bishop of the diocese elected Saint-Jean-Longueuil Lionel Gendron, bishops colleagues from Canada and abroad and representatives of the Grey Nuns. “You know Varennes is rich with the legacy of its history and its religious heritage. We owe much of our development to the builders that were clergymen and all the parish staff, “said Mayor of Varennes, Martin Damphousse, at a cocktail reception prior to the celebration.
A choir of forty people, accompanied by a violin and an organ, scored Mass grandiose songs and a procession opened and closed the ceremony. Bouquets of daisies were placed here and there. Like Marguerite d’Youville, the remains were contained in a simple wooden box, placed in the middle of the aisle.
Claude Lafortune, former host of The Gospel of paper , and a member of sacred art committee of the diocese, described the chapel, located in the transept of the basilica, which was to house the tomb of the holy woman.The tomb granite is decorated with a bouquet of daisies in bronze. A processional cross similar to that worn by Marguerite d’Youville, with lily flowers at the ends and the Sacred Heart, was forged. The statue of the saint, already in the basilica, was placed beside the grave.
The mass was of an international character occurring in French and English. A prayer inspired by the life of the one we called Mother of Universal Charity has even been made in several languages, including French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. “The mission of the church is to shine here and elsewhere. The deeper meaning of this passage of the mortal remains of St. Marguerite d’Youville of the parent company Grey Nuns at the Basilica is the return to God’s people. We must go to the people in whom Christ is present, “said Bishop Berthelet.
At the end of the celebration, the Sisters Grey handed the key to the tomb of “this flower a heart of gold,” as it is called Sister Jacqueline St-Yves, superior general of the Grey Nuns of Montreal, Raymond Fish, pastor the Sainte-Anne Basilica in Varennes. Then, the documents authenticating the translation of the remains were signed and deposited in the tomb with the remains of Saint Marguerite d’Youville. This is the first time in North America that a saint is buried in a place of worship.
“The first result of this translation is that the life and work of Marguerite d’Youville does not lapse with the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity. Her memory will live on in a more vibrant place thanks to the prayers, “says Fish. Visitors will get to Sainte-Anne Basilica in Varennes throughout the year to pray at the tomb of the holy woman.
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
“For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs suffered.
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 some day you in your infinite mercy would offer it to me, your most unworthy servant.
I bind myself in this way so that for the rest of my life I will have neither permission nor freedom to refuse opportunities of dying and shedding my blood for you, unless at a particular juncture I should consider it more suitable for your glory to act otherwise at that time. Further, I bind myself to this so that, on receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit. For this reason, my beloved Jesus, and because of the surging joy which moves me, here and now I offer my blood and body 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!
My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.” -from the spiritual diary of St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ
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
-St John of Capistrano’s pulpit, St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria
On a business trip, I was fortunate to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, of swallows fame, in California. A married saint, sort of.
It has been said the Christian saints are the world’s greatest optimists. Not blind to the existence and consequences of evil, they base their confidence on the power of Christ’s redemption. The power of conversion through Christ extends not only to sinful people but also to calamitous events.
Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade with the Hungarian military commander John Hunyadi.
Imagine being born in the 14th century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times.
John Capistrano was born in 1386, the son of a German knight, his father died when John was still young. His education, however, was thorough. His talents and success were great. The young man studied law at the University of Perugia, and worked as a lawyer in Naples. He became a highly successful judge and magistrate in Perugia.
In 1412, when he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia by King Ladislaus of Naples, and was a great political reformer of that city. War broke out between Perugia and the House of Malatesta from Rimini in 1416. John tried to broker a peace, but when his opponents ignored a truce and he was betrayed, John was imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas.
During his imprisonment, John resolved to change his way of life completely. He had married just before the war, but the marriage was never consummated, and with his bride’s permission, it was annulled. He joined the Franciscans at Perugia on 4 October 1416. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later.
His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion.
The Franciscan Order itself was in turmoil over the interpretation and observance of the Rule of St. Francis – the Fratricelli. Through John’s tireless efforts and his expertise in law, the heretical Fraticelli were suppressed.
John helped bring about a reunion with the Greek and Armenian Churches, unfortunately only a brief arrangement. As the Eastern Church began to realize the Turks would triumph, it sought reconciliation with Rome – its only possible hope. It is conjectured by scholars that the genesis of the Renaissance was the flight of Eastern Christian scholars, artists, and thinkers to the West occasioned by the final collapse of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, direct descendant of the ancient Empire of Rome itself. Two thousand years – not a bad run, actually.
When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II threatened Vienna and Rome. John was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General John Hunyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. St John of Capistrano led his own contingent of soldiers into battle. Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to the infection bred by the refuse of battle. He died October 23, 1456 of bubonic plague.
John Hofer, a biographer of John Capistrano, recalls a Brussels organization named after the saint. Seeking to solve life problems in a fully Christian spirit, its motto was: “Initiative, Organization, Activity.” These three words characterized John’s life. He was not one to sit around, ever. His deep Christian optimism drove him to battle problems at all levels with the confidence engendered by a deep faith in Christ.
On the saint’s tomb in the Austrian town of Villach, the governor had this message inscribed: “This tomb holds John, by birth of Capistrano, a man worthy of all praise, defender and promoter of the faith, guardian of the Church, zealous protector of his Order, an ornament to all the world, lover of truth and religious justice, mirror of life, surest guide in doctrine; praised by countless tongues, he reigns blessed in heaven.” That is a fitting epitaph for a real and successful optimist.
-statue of János Kapisztran (Saint John Capistrano) in Kapisztran Tér, Budapest, Hungary
“Those who are called to the table of the Lord must glow with the brightness that comes from the good example of a praiseworthy and blameless life. They must completely remove from their lives the filth and uncleanness of vice. Their upright lives must make them like the salt of the earth for themselves and for the rest of mankind. The brightness of their wisdom must make them like the light of the world that brings light to others. They must learn from their eminent teacher, Jesus Christ, what he declared not only to his apostles and disciples, but also to all the priests and clerics who were to succeed them, when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But what is salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? Then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Jesus also said: “You are the light of the world.” Now a light does not illumine itself, but instead it diffuses its rays and shines all around upon everything that comes into its view. So it must be with the glowing lives of upright and holy clerics. By the brightness of their holiness they must bring light and serenity to all who gaze upon them. They have been placed here to care for others. Their own lives should be an example to others, showing how they must live in the house of the Lord. – from the treatise Mirror of the Clergy by Saint John of Capistrano
Richard Gwyn (anglicized “White”) was born at Llanilloes, Montgomeryshire, Wales. He studied at Oxford and then at St John’s College, Cambridge, but his studies were interrupted in 1558 when Elizabeth I ascended the throne and Catholics were expelled from the universities.
He returned to Wales and became a teacher, first at Overton in Flintshire, then at Wrexham and other places, acquiring a considerable reputation as a Welsh scholar. He married and had six children, three of whom survived him. He was pressured to become an Anglican and succumbed briefly, but returned to the Catholic faith after a sudden illness and remained steadfast in it thereafter, about the same time as Catholic priests came back to Wales.
His adherence to the old faith was noted by the Bishop of Chester, who brought pressure on him to conform to the Anglican faith. It is recorded in an early account of his life that:
“…[a]fter some troubles, he yielded to their desires, although greatly against his stomach … and lo, by the Providence of God, he was no sooner come out of the church but a fearful company of crows and kites so persecuted him to his home that they put him in great fear of his life, the conceit whereof made him also sick in body as he was already in soul distressed; in which sickness he resolved himself (if God would spare his life) to return to a Catholic.”
He frequently had to change his home and place of work to avoid fines and imprisonment, but he was finally arrested in 1579 and imprisoned in Ruthin gaol (jail). He was offered his freedom if he would conform. After escaping and spending a year and a half on the run, he spent the rest of his life in prison. He was fined astronomical sums for not attending the Anglican church services (recusancy), and was carried to church in irons more than once; but he would disrupt the service by rattling his irons and heckling, which led to further astronomical fines, but was not otherwise useful. Furious at him, his jailers put him in the stocks for many hours where many people came to abuse and insult and spit on him.
Taunted by a local Anglican priest who claimed that the keys of the Church were given no less to him than to St. Peter. “There is this difference”, Gwyn replied, “namely, that whereas Peter received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the keys you received were obviously those of the beer cellar.” The queen’s men wanted him to give them the names of other Catholics, but Richard would not do so.
Gwyn was fined £280 for refusing to attend Anglican church services, and another £140 for “brawling”, while in chains, when they took him there. When asked what payment he could make toward these huge sums, he answered, “Six-pence”. Gwyn and two other Catholic prisoners, John Hughes and Robert Morris, were ordered into court in the spring of 1582 where, instead of being tried for an offence, they were given a sermon by an Anglican minister. However, they started to heckle him (one in Welsh, one in Latin and one in English) to the extent that the exercise had to be abandoned.
In 1580 he was transferred to Wrexham, where he suffered much persecution, being forcibly carried to the Church of England service, and being frequently taken to court at different assizes to be continually questioned, but was never freed from prison; he was removed to the Council of the Marches, and later in the year suffered torture at Bewdley and Bridgenorth before being sent back to Wrexham. There he remained a prisoner till the Autumn Assizes, when he was brought to trial on 9 October, found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed. At his trial, men were paid to lie about him, as one of them later admitted. The men on the jury were so dishonest that they asked the judge whom he wanted them to condemn.
Richard Gwyn, John Hughes and Robert Morris were indicted for high treason in 1584 and were brought to trial before a panel headed by the Chief Justice of Chester, Sir George Bromley. Witnesses gave evidence that they retained their allegiance to the Catholic Church, including that Gwyn composed “certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers” and “[T]hat he had heard him complain of this world; and secondly, that it would not last long, thirdly, that he hoped to see a better world [this was construed as plotting a revolution]; and, fourthly, that he confessed the Pope’s supremacy.” The three were also accused of trying to make converts.
Again his life was offered him on condition that he acknowledge the queen as supreme head of the Church. His wife, Catherine, and one of their children were brought to the courtroom and warned not to follow his example. She retorted that she would gladly die alongside her husband; she was sure, she said, that the judges could find enough evidence to convict her if they spent a little more money. She consoled and encouraged her husband to the last. He suffered on 16 October 1584, where he was hung, drawn, and quartered. On the scaffold he stated that he recognised Elizabeth as his lawful queen but could not accept her as head of the Church in England.
Just before Gwyn was hanged he turned to the crowd and said, “I have been a jesting fellow, and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God’s sake to forgive me.” The hangman pulled on his leg irons hoping to put him out of his pain. When he appeared dead they cut him down, but he revived and remained conscious through the disembowelling, until his head was severed. He cried out in pain, “Holy God, what is this?” To which he was replied, “An execution of her majesty the queen.” His last words, in Welsh, were reportedly “Iesu, trugarha wrthyf” (“Jesus, have mercy on me”). The beautiful religious poems, four carols and a funeral ode, Richard wrote in prison are still in existence. In them, he begged his countrymen of Wales to be loyal to the Catholic faith.
We can greatly admire St. Richard for his bravery. His willingness to suffer for what he believed in is inspiring. Let’s ask St. Richard to make us as strong in our convictions as he was. Relics of St Richard Gwyn are to be found in the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, seat of the Bishop of Wrexham and also in the Catholic Church of Our Lady and Saint Richard Gwyn, Llanidloes.
The incident of the birds mentioned in Richard’s “Early life” here is one of several strange events in Richard Gwyn’s life. Once when he was brought before a court, the clerk who read the indictment suddenly lost his vision and had to be replaced before the proceedings could resume. The judge cautioned those present not to report the incident, so that Catholics could not claim that it was a miracle. On another occasion, the judge, who later sentenced Richard to death, became inexplicably speechless in court.
St Richard Gwyn, faithful husband, father, and Catholic, pray for us!
Kelly & I, ESPECIALLY Kelly, are learning A LOT about children, having a daughter of our own. It used to be people would utter the number of children they have, and it would be a number. And I would think or say, “Isn’t that nice!”, or pay some other innocuous compliment. From the experience of one, now, my eyes ever widen wider and my jaw drops ever further given the same number! And, I stop breathing. What a gift! What a commitment!
With Mara, for me, one was easy, two was a breeze, THREE IS STILL GOING ON!!!! Whatever I say about my experience as a father multiply by a million, or more, for Kelly! It is and always will be MUCH harder for her, as a mother! Praise her! Praise YOU, Kelly!
My own respect for my own parents has reached unimaginably profound levels I never could have conceived of or fantasized about before. Six! w/twins! Life has many realities you have to actually experience to begin to appreciate. Parenthood and marriage are some of those.
One child, alone, certainly MAKES an impression! We can always immediately tell the waiters or waitresses who DO NOT have children! They place the food immediately in front of Mara! Yikes! We HAVE TO create an area, a “buffer zone” around her, clearing away any possible projectile from within her reach! Having children is a joyful, Divine gift and vocation! Praise Him! I love being a father and hope to be again, if I play my cards right! 🙂
At seven, Teresa and her brother Rodrigo loved to read the lives of the saints and martyrs. It seemed to them that the martyrs got to heaven an easy way. The two children set out secretly to go to a faraway land, where they hoped they would die for Christ, being beheaded by the Moors. But, fortunately, they had not gotten far when they met an uncle! He took them back to their worried mother at once. Next the children decided to be hermits in their garden. This didn’t work out either. They could not get enough stones together to build their huts! Foiled, again!
Born 28 March 1515 at Avila, Castile, Spain as Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada, Teresa herself wrote down these amusing stories of her childhood. She was born to Spanish nobility, the daughter of Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and Doña Beatriz.
In 1528, when Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children. Teresa was the “most beloved of them all.” She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years. Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, as exemplified by her and Rodrigo’s adventures. Seeing his daughter’s need of prudent guidance, her father entrusted her to the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia in 1531.
The fact is that when she became a teenager she changed. Teresa read so many novels and foolish romances that she lost much of her love for prayer. She began to think more of dressing up to look pretty. She gave some thought to marriage. But after she recovered from a bad illness, Teresa read a book about the great St. Jerome. Then and there, she made up her mind to become a bride of Christ. She entered the Carmelite Order in 1536. Her father opposed this, but Teresa prevailed.
As a nun, Teresa often found it very hard to pray. Besides that, she had poor health. Teresa wasted time every day in long, foolish conversations. But one day, in front of a picture of Jesus, “the sorely wounded Christ”, she felt great sorrow that she did not love God more. She started then to live for Jesus alone, no matter what sacrifice had to be made. In return for her love, the Lord gave St. Teresa the privilege of hearing Him speak to her. She learned to pray in a marvelous way, too. These mystical experiences caused much controversy. Teresa’s conduct was more relaxed than the common ascetical practices of the time. Many of her acquaintances and friends accused her visions of being occasioned by the devil.
One confessor was so sure that the visions were from the devil that he told her to make an obscene gesture called the “fig” every time she had a vision of Jesus. She cringed but did as she was ordered, all the time apologizing to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t seem upset but told her that she was right to obey her confessor. In her autobiography she would say, “I am more afraid of those who are terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.”
I love Church technical terms: exegesis, hermeneutical arch, etc. One of Teresa’s most famous mystical experiences was the transverberation of her heart, immortalized by Bernini in marble in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.” –Chapter XXIX; Part 17, Teresa’s Autobiography
Teresa felt that the best evidence that her delights came from God was that the experiences gave her peace, inspiration, and encouragement. “If these effects are not present I would greatly doubt that the raptures come from God; on the contrary I would fear lest they be caused by rabies.”
Sometimes, however, she couldn’t avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends” Teresa responded, “No wonder You have so few friends.”
St. Teresa of Avila is well known as a great reformer of the Carmelite order and for having opened sixteen new Carmelite convents. When plans leaked out about her first convent, St. Joseph’s, she was denounced from the pulpit, told by her sisters she should raise money for the convent she was already in, and threatened with the Inquisition. The town started legal proceedings against her.
She was called “a restless, disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as though she were a professor” by the papal nuncio. When her former convent voted her in as prioress, the leader of the Carmelite order excommunicated the nuns. A vicar general stationed an officer of the law outside the door to keep her out. The other religious orders opposed her wherever she went. She often had to enter a town secretly in the middle of the night to avoid causing a riot.
And the help she received was sometimes worse than the hostility. A princess ordered Teresa to found a convent and then showed up at the door with luggage and maids. When Teresa refused to order her nuns to wait on the princess on their knees, the princess denounced Teresa to the Inquisition.
To Teresa, spiritual life was an attitude of love, not a rule. Although she proclaimed poverty, she believed in work, not in begging. She believed in obedience to God more than penance. If you do something wrong, don’t punish yourself — change. When someone felt depressed, her advice was that she go some place where she could see the sky and take a walk. When someone was shocked that Teresa was going to eat well, she answered, “There’s a time for partridge and a time for penance.” To her brother’s wish to meditate on hell, she answered, “Don’t.”
In another town, they arrived at their new house in the middle of the night, only to wake up the next morning to find that one wall of the building was missing.
Why was everyone so upset? Teresa said, “Truly it seems that now there are no more of those considered mad for being true lovers of Christ.” No one in religious orders or in the world wanted Teresa reminding them of the way God said they should live.
Teresa looked on these difficulties as good publicity. Soon she had postulants clamoring to get into her reform convents. Many people thought about what she said and wanted to learn about prayer from her. Soon her ideas about prayer swept not only through Spain but all of Europe. She also left a significant legacy of writings, which represent important benchmarks in the history of Christian mysticism. These works include the “Way of Perfection” and the “Interior Castle”.
“God, deliver me from sullen saints”. – Saint Teresa of Avila
“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“To be humble is to walk in truth.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“Oh my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for You is paid in
troubles! And what a precious price to those who love You if we understand its value.” – Saint Teresa of Avila
“There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” – Saint Teresa of Avila
“We need no wings to go in search of Him, but have only to look upon Him present within us.” – Saint Teresa of Avila
“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass
away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough.” – Saint Teresa of Avila
“Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.” -Saint Teresa of Avila
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one.” – Saint Teresa of Avila
“Truth suffers, but never dies.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“The important thing is not to think much but to love much; do, then, whatever most stirs you to love.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that as we expect to please Him and receive an abundance of His graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through His most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding His life we find that He is the best example.
What more do we desire from such a good Friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, He will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves Him and always keeps Him near. Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led Him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of His love; for Love calls for love in return.
Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love Him. For soon the Lord will grant us the grace of impressing His love on our hearts, and all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.” – Saint Teresa of Avila
“While in a state like this the soul will find profit in nothing, and hence, being as it is in mortal sin, none of the good works it may do will be of any avail to win it glory; for they will not have their origin in that First Principle, which is God, through Whom alone our virtue is true virtue. -St Teresa of Avila, “Interior Castle”, about when the soul is in mortal sin.
-Ecstasy of St Teresa, (1647-1652), Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
–Teresa of Ávila, 1827, by François Gérard (1770−1837)
Prayer to Saint Teresa of Avila
Dear wonderful saint, model of fidelity to your vows, you gladly carried a heavy cross following in the steps of Christ, Who chose to be crucified for us. You realized that God, like a merciful Father, chastises those whom He loves – which to those who love this world seems silly indeed. Grant to those who suffer like you relief from their affliction, if this be the will and the plan of God. 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, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "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, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine