Monthly Archives: June 2019

Missionary Epilogue


The Jesuits failed to convert the Huron to Christianity before destruction of the latter by the powerful Iroquois tribes.  They did not see any good in the Huron culture or spirituality that needed saving.  Instead they saw it as an obstacle to Christian conversion that must be undermined, if not destroyed.  They failed to see that God was already at work in the Huron and that they too were God’s children.  They accepted the failure of their mission as the will of God.

Nowadays, the missionary approach is much different.  A missionary, e.g., of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, still goes where the Church does not go.  But first, they seek to walk with the people, get to know them, their problems and needs and only then, adapt the Gospel message to their culture, belief system and circumstance.

Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1990 encyclical Redemptis missio:

“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.”

first nations

So did the Jesuits accomplish anything good in Huronia?  Yes, they were taking the gospel to the world which is what Christ told his apostles to do.  For the greater glory of God, souls are to be saved from the fires of Hell through conversion to Christian beliefs.  The cause of the Huron nation destruction was not the fault of the Jesuits, but of the warring Iroquois Confederacy who were bent on increasing commercial trade.

However Christ told his disciples (MT 10:14, MK 6:11LK 9:5) that if any place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and move on.  Clearly the Jesuits did not move on in the face of obvious resistance.  Instead, they sought to undermine the spiritual beliefs and practices of the Huron.  Christ did not give instructions to his apostles like this.  Indigenous people have human rights too.

It has been almost 30 years since George Erasmus, Chief of First Nations accused the Catholic Church of having destroyed native culture, language and traditions in Canada.  As Co-chair of the 1991 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, he erupted in an an emotional tirade after a presentation by the Catholic agency, Development and Peace.


Since then we have seen many apologies from Catholic Bishops and Religious Congregations for this and other abuses that have taken place against indigenous peoples of Canada in the name of God and the Church.

Francis Jennings in The Founders of America, (1993) said that all such mission systems as the Jesuit in Huronia were intended and functioned in their various ways, to establish colonial domination over the Indians involved (p188).  David Treuer in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee (2018), says the Jesuits were not as bad as the Franciscans and Dominicans.  Native American Trade Schools in the United States did a lot of good according to Treuer, an Ojibwe from Minnesota.  In addition to teaching trades and language skills, natives from historically warring tribes got to know each other for the first time, realized they had common interests and decided to bury the axe.

Hence much good has come out of Jesuit and subsequent missionary work and joint Christian initiatives in Canada.  Nevertheless we must not get complacent in our relationship with First Nations as the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Enquiry into Missing and Dead Indigenous Women reminds us.  Many of us harbour misconceptions, misunderstandings and mistrust of our First Nations brothers and sisters, who after all, are the original peoples of Canada.  Happy Canada Day!




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jesuits and the Huron Nation – Conclusion

As most know the story line I will paraphrase Proff. Eccles conclusion and also from Angus J. Macdougall, SJ’s excellent booklet on Brébeuf below.

Huron Wendat 2

Just as the fruits of the Jesuit mission to Huronia were bearing fruit, the menace of the Iroquois loomed larger again.  Recall that the Iroquois Confederacy, located in western NY and allied with the English colonists in Albany, sought to take over the Huron role of middlemen in the lucrative fur trade between western tribes and the colonial powers.


In 1648 a 250 strong party of Huron paddled to Trois Rivieres and enroute, routed an attacking  Iroquois war party.  However while they were gone, an even stronger Iroquois war party attacked St Joseph mission and a neighbouring village in Huronia.  Of a total population of 3000, about 700 Huron were killed or captured, mostly women and children.  Fr. Antoine Daniel, SJ was killed too.

That winter was a cruel one.  Over 6000 persons took refuge in St. Marie as starvation stared them all in the face.  On March 15, 1649, a war party of some 1200 Iroquois attacked St-Ignace in complete surprise, breaching the palisade and over running the village.  After two unsuccessful attacks on nearby St-Louis, the same result occurred the next day.  Frs. Jean Brébeuf, SJ and Gabriel Lalemant, SJ who were visiting St. Louis at the time, baptised catachumens at the breach, urging the Huron to die bravely.  They themselves refusing to flee, were captured.  Both villages were burnt to the ground.

Huron Wendat 3Not far away at the fortified St.-Marie mission, the French and Huron prepared for a last stand.  300 brave Huron from La Conception sortied out and inflicted severe losses on the Iroquois before being overwhelmed by much superior numbers.  Fearing the arrival of other large Huron relief forces, the Iroquois then withdrew.  This was on March 19 which was the Feast of St. Joseph.  The French attributed their deliverance to his special protection.  St Joseph is the patron saint of Canada

Jesuits of Huronia

Frs. Brébeuf and Lalement were martyred after being gruesomely tortured.  (In 1930, they along with six of their fellow Jesuit missionaries were canonized by Pope Pius XI.)  In the weeks that followed, 15 additional Huron villages were abandoned out of fear of further Iroquois attacks.  Two months later the missionaries would burn and abandon St.-Marie, their pride and joy.  The final withdrawl of the Jesuits occurred in 1650 as the Huron nation had been destroyed.  This they sadly believed was clearly part of God’s grand design.  The Jesuits then moved further west and established a new mission on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

The Iroquois themselves having suffered severe losses, negotiated a peace treaty with the French in 1653.  The Jesuits were then allowed to establish themselves in the villages of the Five Nations.  While free to trade in both Montreal and Albany, the role of middleman eluded them, as the Ottawa Nation centered around Michilimackinac took over this role from the Huron.  Remnants of the Huron survived, dispersing to the west and south

And so ends the story of the Jesuit and Huron Nation.  You can see all this amazing history by visiting the Canadian Martyrs Shrine and the neighbouring St.-Marie Among the Huron restored village in Midland, Ontario.  Here are a few pics from our visit there a few years back.  Thank you Proff. Eccles and Fr. Macdougall, SJ for your painstaking research and analysis.




1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jesuits and the Huron Nation – Part 2

Jesuit mission to HuronWe learned last time from W. J. Eccles in the The Canadian Frontier 1534-1760, that the Jesuits established themselves in missions in Huronia during the period 1632-39.  Their goal was to convert the Huron Nation, some 30,000 strong, to Christianity.

Prof Eccles continues: “The Indians found little that appealed to them in the Christian way of life.  Moreover, the attempts by the Jesuits to make them change many of their established customs did not sit well.  The Indians lived without laws and with very few restraints; each man or woman was free to live as he/she thought best, and crimes were punished by the victim or his kin, not by the collectivity.  The only restraint on action was the normal desire to be held in esteem by his/her community.

Women were the masters of their own bodies and from puberty until pregnancy they gave themselves to any male that pleased them.  To the Jesuits this was a carnal sin.  Some others of the French, the men sent by the fur trade companies to establish good trade relations, found the Indian moral standards very acceptable and took full advantage of the Indian girls lack of sexual inhibitions.  Thus when the Jesuits tried to persuade the Huron to lead chaste lives, they met a cool reception.  If chastity was such a good thing, why did all the French Christians not practice it, they asked.  To this the missionaries were hard pressed to find an answer.


Beaver WarsThe Jesuits found that before they could hope to enjoy and real success, they had to undermine the old beliefs of the Huron, and in so doing, they helped to destroy their culture.  One approach was to demonstrate that the Indians reliance on dreams to govern their future actions was inefficacious.  Once a few Huron had been converted and openly rejected the belief in dreams, and if they had as much luck in the hunt as the pagans, the latter began to doubt their old beliefs.

If the Huron were occasionally impressed by the efficacy of the Jesuit prayers, they were quick to blame them when something went amiss.  And amiss it did.  It appears about 15,000 Huron, many of them children, died in the 1630s when a European disease for which they had no resistance, attacked their villages.  The missionaries saw this as the work of Satan but were quick to take advantage.  Previously, they feared baptizing an Indian unless they were reasonably certain that henceforth, she/he would lead a Christian life.   The missionaries were now able to baptize the dying by the hundreds.  Because the Jesuits were blamed for the disease, they encountered more resistance than ever but took satisfaction that thousands had gone to heaven that otherwise would have been barred to them.


No sooner had the plague run its course and began to abate, than another, and even worse disaster stuck the Huron.  The Iroquois anxious to gain more control of the fur trade, negotiated a commercial alliance and peace treaty with the Huron and French in 1645.  However they gained nothing by this accord and soon embarked on a war of extermination against the Huron.

In 1647 their sudden assaults forced the Huron to abandon some of their outlying villages and withdraw to the more populous villages near St. Marie for protection.  At or near St. Marie Mission were some 13 Huron villages.  During that year, 3,000 persons had been given shelter and food.  Converts numbered in the thousands and over 2,000 in all had been baptized; however a large number of the last had been moribund.  Attempts were made to renew the peace treaty and to arrange a military alliance with the Andastes, a fierce Iroquois Nation in the Susquehanna Valley (in NY and PA) hostile to the Five Nations Confederacy.  The Jesuits remained confident that the Iroquois assaults could be curbed and they started to see some success to their missionary efforts at last.”

Huron Indians




(To be concluded next time…)


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jesuits and the Huron Nation – Part 1

Canadian Frontier

We celebrate National Indigenous History Month in Canada during June:

I thought I would share a few excerpts from a history book I am reading.  It concerns the first interactions of the Jesuits with the Huron Nation in New France during the first half of the 17th century.

Prof. Eccles writes:

“It was in the west in Huronia, a vast area bounded by Georgian Bay, Lakes Huron, Erie, Ontario, and Simcoe that the Jesuits concentrated their major effort to convert the natives to Christianity. The Huron, estimated to number some 30 to 35 thousand, had obtained a more advanced culture than the Algonkin nations.  Living in semi-permanent villages, they depended on agriculture for their main food supplies and traded their surplus of corn with the northern and western tribes for furs.  Between 1634 and 1639, the Jesuits established 3 missions here, the largest of which was called Ste. Marie… As many as 65 French resided there at one time, priests, lay brothers, servants, a surgeon, an apothecary, and a number of artisans…These tiny outposts separated from the settlements on the St. Lawrence by hundreds of miles of wilderness, formed a unique frontier, a frontier of the intellect.  There the products of the highly sophisticated Baroque civilization confronted the Stone Age.

Huronia map



…The Huron had a religion of their own which sufficed for their needs, and which they showed a great reluctance to abandon.  Theirs was a cruel world in which sudden death could come at any time.  In seeking to explain chance events and the phenomena of nature that affected their lives at every turn, they had developed a deep-rooted set of mystic beliefs.  For them, the natural world, inanimate objects as well as animals, were inhabited by spirits; some were benevolent, some malevolent, all had to be placated, appeased or at least acknowledged.  They believed that in their dreams they were in communication with the spirit world; thus, to dream of success in the hunt ensured it; to dream of disaster caused plans to be abandoned.  Some among them were able to induce conditions of hysteria in themselves, and in this way communicate with spirits.  These were the shamans, the wisemen, who healed the sick with simple remedies of magic, and gave advice on what action to take to cope with major problems.  They were the priests of the Huron culture. Others possessed supernatural powers but used them malevolently; these were the sorcerers, and they had to be appeased.

…One great difficulty in any attempt to understand the Huron religious beliefs was that their beliefs were passed from one generation to the next orally.  The Indians had developed a large body of myths and legends to account for the inexplicable in nature, and although some Jesuits sought to understand these beliefs, the language barrier and the desire to impose their own alien beliefs made real understanding virtually impossible.  Yet this primitive religion was intricately interwoven into the whole of Indian life and society.  The early Recollets and then the Jesuits discovered that the Indians appeared to believe in a supreme being and in an after life, hence in the immortality of the soul.  The problem than became whether these beliefs could be accepted in essence and amended in accord with Christian beliefs, or whether they had to be destroyed, eradicated, then replaced by a pure Christian creed.  Initially the Jesuits, appalled at the strange mores and practices of the Huron, sought to eradicate and impose.  As they came to understand these Indians better, they discovered how impossible such a task is so they came to accept much and seek to build on it.

…Fr. Paul Le Jeune writes in Vol. IV of the Jesuit Relations : Our lives depend upon a single thread; and if, wherever we are in the world, we are to expect death every hour and to be prepared for it.  Your cabin is only chaff that might be burned down at any moment, despite all your care to prevent accidents, the malice of the Savages gives special cause for almost perpetual fear; a malcontent may burn you down, or cleave your head open in some lonely spot.  And then you are responsible for the sterility or fecundity of the earth, under penalty of your life; you are the cause of droughts; if you cannot make rain, they speak of nothing less than making away with you.”

Huronia picture

Huron Chief Nicolas Arendanki by Marianne S L’Heureux

Such was the nature of the first interactions between the Jesuit missionaries and the Huron in New France.  Proff. William J. Eccles has done a superb job in capturing this encounter.  William (1917-98) was a professor of history at the University of Toronto who wrote extensively on the French era in Canada.

To be continued.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Five Iroquois Nations

This is a remarkable little book. It tells the very intimate story of the relationship between the Five Iroquois Nations of Western NY, the British and the French in 17th century colonial times. Written in 1727 and 1747 and often quoting first hand sources, makes it a very interesting  pre-confederation Canadian history read.

Covering the latter years of the Beaver Wars, 1663-1700, it starts and ends with interesting anecdotal facts:

–  the Iroquois or “longhouse people” were originally agricultural people raising corn, squash and beans, “the three sisters”.  Journeying north they were taught how to hunt and trap by the Algonquin peoples around Trois Riviere. On one of these early expeditions, the young Iroquois hunters faired very well outdoing their Algonquin hosts. In a fit of jealous rage the hosts murdered their visiting friends thus setting up a bitter war of retaliation that lasted almost 100 years.

– after peace was finally negotiated between the French and the Iroquois around 1700, there was an exchange of prisoners. Strangely enough most of the French and other native prisoners who were returned to Canada, freely chose to return to or remain with their Iroquois hosts for the rest of their days.

In between these bookends thousands of colonists, warring natives and indeed whole first nations were wiped out e.g., the Huron Nation in 1648, in an unrelenting series of attacks and brutal violence. The powerful Iroquois sought to become the middle men in the lucrative fur trade between the tribes near Lake Superior and the colonial powers in the east.  Although they greatly expanded their territory, they never quite succeeded as tribes further to the west took over once the Huron were gone..

The author spares no quarter in describing cannibalism and torture e.g., burning of prisoners alive that even the French succumbed to, to demoralize the other side. The British in Albany, always promising to come to the Iroquois aid in seeking to annihilate the French, never quite do setting the stage for the future abrogation of treaty rights that America became famous for. The Jesuits had a toe hold and counselled the Iroquois to break their relationship with the English in Albany. The Christian Mohawks in Caughnawaga near Montreal are called the “praying indians” and remained loyal to the French.

There are many detailed accounts of peace meetings between the Iroquois “sachems” or chiefs, the English and the French during which wampum belts and beaver pelts were laid down and gifted to signify honesty and commitment during negotiations. In the end. I was left with a sense of wonder and awe at the way the Five Nations conducted themselves with integrity throughout this violent period of our history.

I give it a 9 out of 10 rating and wished it were longer.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Honesdale, PA


It almost rhymes

Wayne CountyWe headed to Wayne County in Pennsylvania in the heart of the Pocono Mountains on the weekend.  We stayed at the beautiful Himalayan Institute just outside of Honesdale, the county seat.  Marie was on a wellness retreat so I had some time.  I headed into Honesdale for a look around on a sunny afternoon.  Honesdale I learned, is famous as the Birthplace of American Railroading.

I was looking for a Catholic church so I could establish Mass times for Sunday morning.  I immediately found two RC churches just a few blocks apart.

That was easy I thought. So I stopped for a coffee at the Black Brass Coffee Roasting Co. just across the street.  I had no US cash and asked to pay by credit card for a small coffee.  She smiled and said there is a $5 minimum but … we have a “pay forward” going on so it’s free.  Wow, so I sit down and as I was enjoying the coffee I started to feel like I should buy something here.  I noticed a sign “Pre-ground decaf coffee $2 off”.  I asked for some.  As she hands me the bag she says oh, this is not pre-ground, would you like it ground?  I said no since we actually prefer to grind our own.  She gave it to me for the sale price anyway.  These small graces had me wondering what is going on here?

I continued my exploration of the town noticing the large number of church spires.  I found a park with a memorial to the Civil War dead.  I heard some live jazz wafting out the window of a bar.  I found a small river and spotted a cross on the back of a pick up truck.  As I slowly wondered back to the car I saw the sign about the first steam engine here.  All in all a very interesting visit to a pleasant town that no one hears much about.

The next day I attended Mass at St John the Evangelist. The Priest was quite engaging and explained that we each are created as a new Christ and a priest, prophet and king thru our baptism as a Christian. Our lay priestly role is to live the Gospel and be a light that evangelizes others. He went on to explain that “ordained” priests have an additional role which is to call down the Holy Spirit to administer the sacraments such as Reconciliation and the Eucharist. This was very enlightening and timely given current debate in the American church about reform such as this piece in the Atlantic Monthly Abolishing the Priesthood.  I find this article somewhat unravels in its length and attack on Pope Francis.  It calls for the reclaiming of the Catholic Faith by lay people who have become exiled from the Church due to their disgust with clericalism and the abuse crisis.

Back at the Himalayan Institute we enjoyed our stay very much.  It was founded in the 1970s as a centre of Yoga Science and Holistic Health and offers retreats for yoga instructors and does humanitarian work.   Marie was on a retreat with Katherine Templeton.

Thank you Lord for this wonderful weekend of rich learning, continued graces, peace, tranquility, health and beauty.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized