Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions, Jesuits who were killed by the Indian tribes between the years of 1642 and 1649. They were the first recognized martyrs of the North American continent.
Isaac Jogues is someone whose story captivated me when I learned about him in my Catholic grade school. Jogues gave up his position as a teacher of literature in France to come to America to work among the Huron Indians, who were constantly at war with the Iroquois. Several years later, he was captured by the Iroquois, who tortured him and his companions for the thirteen months of their imprisonment. (What I remember from my school days, was the story of his fingers being chewed or cut off. What I didn’t remember was that Pope Urban VIII gave him special permission to offer Mass, notwithstanding his mutilated fingers, which would normally have made his celebration of the Mass a canonical impossibility.)
After his escape, Jogues returned to France, and certainly no one would have thought less of him if he stayed there. However, he insisted on returning to North America and asked to return as a missionary to the Iroquois. Blamed by the Indians for a sickness in the tribe and a blight on the crops, he was beaten and killed.
We celebrate Isaac Jogues as a man of zeal, a man of strength, and a man of incredible faith. A month before his death, Jogues wrote to a Jesuit friend of his in France, “My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings.”
St. Isaac Jogues, pray for us.