North American Martyrs

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The North American Martyrs, eight Jesuits and their associates were killed by warring Indian tribes in the 17th century. They’re the first saints of North America and we celebrate their feast October 19th.. I’ve visited Auriesville in New York State and the Midlands in Canada where they were martyred; in both places their heroic faith and bravery are remembered.

The missionaries came to the New World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples of this land, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of the foreigners and the seed of the gospel seemed to fall on hard ground. The martyrdom of the eight Jesuits witnesses that resistance.

Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment  over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.

Not far from Auriesville, near Fonda, NY, is the Indian village called Caughnawaga.  In the spring of 1675, after the Jesuits were killed in Auriesville in 1646, Father Jacques de Lamberville visited Caughnawaga . The priest entered a lodge where a young Indian girl Kateri Tekakwitha was alone because a foot injury prevented her from working in the fields. She spoke to him of her desire to receive baptism and on Easter, 1676, the young Indian girl was baptized and took the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic and a favorite patron of Christian Indian women. She was 20 years old.

Her uncle and relatives in the long house opposed her conversion to Christianity and pressured her to marry and follow their ways. The early Jesuits considered it a miracle that Kateri resisted  family and tribal pressure.  Her early biographer says “She practiced her faith without losing her original fervor and her extraordinary virtue was seen by all. The Christians saw her obeying their rules exactly, going to prayers everyday in the morning and evening and Mass on Sunday. At the same time she avoided the dreams feasts and the dances,” practices endangering her belief.  (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Father de Lamberville finally recommended that Kateri escape to the newly-established  Indian Christian village in Kahnawake near Montreal, where she could live her faith freely.  In 1676, aided by other Christian Indians, she made the dangerous journey northward. There she lived a fervent life of prayer and faith;  she died and was buried on April 17th, 1680.

Kateri was canonized  October 21th in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” (Tertullian)

5 thoughts on “North American Martyrs

  1. vhoagland Post author

    Thanks for all the comments. The reading on the Bread of life are particularly important. Fr.Victor

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  2. cenaclemary12

    Your message reminded of my visit eleven years ago to Fonda,NY where my sister and husband celebrated 50th Wedding Anniversary during Mass. We enjoyed learning about Kateri while there.

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  3. Gloria

    The lovely statue of St. Kateri against the background of rich green trees and the intense blue, cloudless sky takes me back to May 1955 when Ted and I stopped there our way home from
    Canada and Niagara Falls at the end of our honeymoon. Niagara Falls had gone out fashion at
    that time as a honeymoon destination, but I wanted to see them. To paraphrase part of Abraham Lincoln’s remark, “How could anyone look up at the sky and not believe in God?” — How could
    anyone look at the Falls and not believe in the God? Except for Friday, it rained the whole week. We sat in the rain at Welland Locks in Ontario and watched huge ships pass through. We went everywhere in the rain. Then Friday brought the sun. As we drove down the NY State Thruway, we saw a sign for Auriesville,which we had never heard of and decided to stop. It was a place that spoke to our hearts and spirits. We went to Mass, we made the life-size Stations which go up a hill and visited all the grounds and buildings. The statue of St. Kateri against the green trees, blue sky, in bright sunshine is a taste of all that is beautiful at Auriesville.

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