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Sacred seeds: the French Jesuit martyrs in American Catholic historiography.

FEW PEDAGOGICAL TOOLS annoy a student more than the trick question, and just such a question perplexes any student of American Catholicism, namely, who is the first canonized saint of the United States? The astute undergraduate might name Mother Francesca Cabrini (1850-1917), who in 1946 became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. The saintly convert Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the first native-born American canonized in 1975, might also come to mind. Alas, neither answer is correct. In 1930, on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Pius XI canonized six French Jesuit missionaries and their two lay companions. Three of these men, the famous Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and his two donnes, or lay assistants, Rene Goupil (1608-1642) and Jean de la Lande (d. 1646), endured a violent death near Albany, New York, between 1642 and 1646. The other five Jesuits included Jean de Brebeuf (1593-1649) and his confreres Gabriel Lalemant (1610-1649), Antoine Daniel (1610-1648), Charles Garnier (1605-1649), and Noel Chabanel (1613-1649).

These priests eventually met their death as the Iroquois advanced into present-day Ontario in late 1648 and early 1649. These men, America's first saints, are better known collectively as the North American Martyrs.

This question of the origins of American Catholic sainthood is more than a matter of pedantic trivia. Whereas a secular historian might find this fact worthy of a footnote, a Catholic theologian should recognize a clear allusion to the history of Christianity's development. Behind countless petitions from U.S. Catholics to canonize the Jesuit martyrs was the unmistakable intention to heed Tertullian's "semen est sanguis Christianorum"--the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. (1) For generations of Catholics in the United States, these saints stood as the sacred origins of the American Catholic story and the mystery of an ostensible failure transformed into a vibrant modern church. In their eyes, what the violence of Christ's cross had done for human history, the violence of the Jesuits' martyrdom did for American Catholic history. The emergence of this view of the martyrs' story in American Catholic historiography represents the meeting of history, hagiography, and theology, a convergence overlooked by most scholars. Most literature on the martyrs is devoted either to the seventeenth-century records of their deaths or to devotional reflections on their spiritual significance. (2) The present study rises above this literature to demonstrate how American Catholic historians, in recovering the story of the North American Martyrs, created a distinctly Catholic narrative of U.S. history through a theology of martyrdom. Nineteenth-century American Catholic scholarship, especially through the work of John Gilmary Shea, renewed interest in the Jesuit martyrs, inspiring a host of popular and devotional histories to champion the martyrs' canonization in the twentieth century. In light of the recent canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the historical and theological significance of the martyrs in American Catholic scholarship is worth rediscovering.

The Story

In 1625 the Jesuits arrived in New France, joining the Franciscan Recollects. The missionaries focused on the native tribes in present-day Ontario, an area commonly known as Huronia. Overshadowing these missions was the ongoing hostility between, on the one hand, French and Huron interests around the Great Lakes and, on the other hand, Iroquois and Dutch prospects in present-day New York State. Despite initial setbacks, the Jesuit "blackrobes" eventually won the hearts of the Huron, so much so that several Jesuits were given Huron names. (3) Although the French Jesuits created reductions (mission complexes) similar to those in South America, the French were more successful in learning Huron culture, compiling a dictionary of its language, and providing intimate details to their superiors and compatriots. The missionaries respected native customs to the degree that they conformed to the gospel, recognizing some inherent good in the native culture. (4) Of course, the Jesuits were not without a sense of romance and biblical idealism, seeing themselves as following in the footsteps of the apostles as they baptized a "savage" land and dispelled demons.

The French Jesuits' missionary zeal was so fervent that by 1639 the Jesuit superior lamented that no missionary had yet died for the faith. (5) A few years later, these worries were calmed. In 1642 Jogues and Goupil were captured by the Iroquois and carried off to Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. There they underwent severe torture. Upon reportedly teaching children the sign of the cross, Goupil was killed with a tomahawk, earning him, in Jogues's sestimation, the first martyrdom of the missions. Jogues himself survived a gruesome torture with mangled hands only to become a slave for the next nine months. Ironically, it was the Protestant Dutch who secured his freedom, allowing Jogues to return to France. His story stunned European ears and secured a papal dispensation to celebrate Mass, the pope proclaiming that it would "be an indignity for a martyr of Christ not to drink the blood of Christ." (6) Jogues returned to Canada in less than a year only to seek out his former Mohawk persecutors and establish a formal treaty between the Iroquois and the French. Jogues also left behind sacred objects for a mission, giving the Iroquois evidence to accuse him later of bewitching their settlement. When he returned to Ossernenon in 1646, a tomahawk struck him dead and his head was severed for display. A similar fate followed for Jogues's confreres in Huronia as the Iroquois overran the missions near the Georgian Bay in late 1648. The first Jesuit to fall was Daniel, frantically distributing the sacraments as the Iroquois swarmed the mission of St. Joseph. Three months later the same Iroquois overran St. Ignace and St. Louis, capturing and torturing Brebeuf and Lalemant with the rack and "baptism" by boiling water. December of 1649 witnessed the martyrdom of two more Jesuits, Garnier and Chabanel, thus ending the Huronia missions.

One notices that this outline of events lends itself to hagiography, a characteristic stemming from the sources themselves. Two main documents comprise the bulk of modern knowledge about the Jesuit martyrs. The first is the Quebec superiors' annals, known better as the Jesuit Relations, published annually in France between 1632 and 1673. (7) The other primary source is the so-called "Manuscript of 1652," officially entitled Memoires touchant la mort et les vertus des peres. (8) The Relations were read throughout France, inspiring other Jesuits to join the missions and soliciting the financial support of patrons. (9) For the Relations, superiors Jerome Lallemant (1593-1673) and Paul Ragueneau (1608-1680) had compiled eyewitness testimonies along with the personal letters of the martyrs. They then arranged this material into a narrative. For instance, Ragueneau speaks of how he "saw and touched" the remains of Brebeuf, echoing the opening line of the First Epistle of John. (10) In France, these Relations spurred church hierarchy to seek the canonization of the martyrs. If New Spain had its patron saint in St. Rose of Lima, why not allow New France to have its celestial heroes? To aid this task, Ragueneau ordered a revised compilation of the material from the Relations to create the Manuscript of 1652. Whereas the Relations referred to the missionaries generically as "one of our own," the manuscript identifies each martyr by name, forming a detailed narrative that bridges the relationship between the martyr and the witnesses of their martyrdom. Julia Boss notes that the Manuscript of 1652 reflects "a process of repersonalization" and that unlike the Relations, the manuscript is kept to this day in a vault of relics in the Jesuit archives in Quebec. (11) In a sense, the Manuscript of 1652 is a relic itself, a verbal medium by which the French Jesuits could communicate with the heroic lives of their predecessors. The manuscript reads like the Gregorian Dialogues or a medieval Acta Sanctorum, mixing in various stories of miracles and visions to augment the "odor of sanctity." The original text even leaves blank pages for the addition of future miracles. Consequently, any historian of the martyrs encounters two different sources and by extension two different genres. The Relations stand more or less as an official report; the Manuscript of 1652 forms a poetic narrative for spiritual edification. Both presume some degree of hagiography, based in part on historical documentation.

Hagiography, however, does not in itself ensure canonization. If, as Boss argues, the "project of canonization was inescapably a project of publication," (12) then the Relations and the Manuscript of 1652 failed like the Huronian missions. Copies of the Relations were rare, and a complete collection was impossible to locate. Moreover, the Manuscript of 1652, as a mixture of text and relic, was never reproduced and remained beyond the reach of most scholars. By 1763 New France had fallen into English hands, and with the suppression of the Jesuits a decade later, the memory of the French Jesuit martyrs faded into historical obscurity. Nevertheless, the forgotten texts remained, and it is the complex story of how these French texts reached American Catholic consciousness to which I now turn.

Americanizing the Story

Looking to nineteenth-century America, one discovers that history is not without a little irony. Early American Catholic interest in the Jesuit martyrs ultimately stemmed from the intrigue of Protestant historians. As with most narratives of U.S. history, one begins with the Unitarian historian, George Bancroft (1800-1891). In 1840, the third volume of his monumental A History of the United States appeared. (13) Bancroft was able to collect several volumes of the Relations for this work and was one of the first American historians to cite them. Considering that embers of anti-Catholic nativism were still aglow, Bancroft's description of the Jesuit missionaries in the text seems charitable if not generous. It is Bancroft who famously remarks, "Not a cape was turned, nor a river entered, but a Jesuit led the way." (14) This line, albeit inaccurate, was to be repeated throughout the century and into the next. Despite the "superstition" of the Jesuits, Bancroft admires the heroism of the order and, oddly enough, its sense of equality with the natives: "Beautiful testimony to the equality of the human race! The sacred wafer ... offered to the princes and nobles of the European world, was shared with the humblest of the savage neophytes." In glowing terms he describes Jogues as the martyr to the Mohawks, the "victim to the heroism of charity." Despite the murder of its "troops," the Jesuits "never receded one foot ... in behalf of the cross." (15) Such language intimates that something in the Relations captured the imagination of Bancroft. As a Romantic searching for the "genius" of the American people, the hagiography of the Relations offered Bancroft a story of heroism marking the foundation of American civilization. (16)

In his admiration for Jesuit contributions to the New World, Bancroft was not alone among Protestant historians. In 1846 the Episcopalian clergyman William Ingraham Kip (1811-1893) published a book entitled The Early Jesuit Missions in North America. (17) Kip introduces his book as a product of an accidental discovery of the French work Edifying and Curious Letters, published between 1702 and 1776 as the chronicles of Jesuit missionary work in the Americas and Asia. Kip's book translates selections from this work, allowing the missionaries to speak for themselves. Although none of the selections concern the martyrs themselves, Kip nevertheless prefaces his work with an account of their significance based on the writings of Bancroft. (18)

If Bancroft places the French Jesuits on a pedestal, Kip adds a halo. In the preface Kip remarks, "There is no page of our country's history more touching and romantic, than that which records the labors and sufferings of the Jesuit Missionaries ... the earliest pioneers of civilization and faith." He portrays the martyrdom of Jogues as a hallowed corpse with the shrieks of vultures as his "only requiem." (19) However, no sooner does Kip bestow a halo than he proceeds to remove it. He laments that Tekakwitha (1656-1680) buckled under the weight of Jesuit superstitions. As if such an insult does not suffice, he closes his preface with a most provocative point:
   Look over the world and read the history of the Jesuit missions.
   After one or two generations they have always come
   to naught.... For centuries the Jesuit foreign missionaries
   have been like those "beating the air." And yet, greater devotion
   to the cause than theirs has never been seen since the
   Apostles' days. Why then was this [the] result? If "the blood of
   the martyrs be the seed of the Church," why is this the only
   instance in which it has not proved so? Must there not have
   been something wrong in the whole system-some grievous
   errors mingled with their teaching, which thus denied them a
   measure of success proportioned to their efforts? (20)

Kip's theological point could not be clearer. The book, far from being an innocent reproduction of Jesuit history in America, serves to show how Catholic superstitions lead only to failure. The shedding of Jesuit blood, in other words, was in vain. This charge compelled American Catholics to formulate an answer.

A Catholic Story for the American Republic

Turning to American Catholic historians, one immediately encounters John Gilmary Shea (1824-1892), arguably Bancroft's equivalent in American Catholic history. In 1854, Shea produced a work entitled History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of the United States. His preface immediately credits the labors of Bancroft, Kip, and Edmund O'Callaghan, the latter a Catholic historian of New York State who had produced a study of the Relations in 1847. (21) Although he lauds his Protestant colleagues, he cautions against their "preconceived ideas of the Catholic Church." He counters that, whereas the tribes of the French and Spanish missions "subsist to this day," the tribes of colonial England have "perished without ever having had the gospel preached to them." In particular, it is the French Jesuit missionary who with "crucifix in hand" created missions in which "tribes remain tribes-the Indian free in his idolatry was free as a Christian." Thus, in Shea's estimation, Catholic missionaries preserved human liberty alongside apostolic zeal. Such zeal, moreover, surpassed that of any Protestant, the heroic Jogues preaching the gospel in Michigan long before John Eliot did on the fringes of Boston. (22) Shea goes on to provide a detailed account of the martyrdom of Brebeuf, Jogues, and their companions, citing at length the Relations.

Although he designates Brebeuf's martyrdom as "one of the most glorious in our annals," Shea reserves the climactic end of his section on the French missions for the hallowed Jogues: "Founder of the Mohawk mission, his sufferings rather than his labors give him a place in its annals.... After his death miracles were attributed to him and duly attested; and the missionaries, who, at a later date, saw a fervent church arise at the place of his glorious death, and those who saw it produce that holy virgin, Catharine Tagahkwita, ascribed these wonders of grace only to his blood." (23)

Beyond supporting this claim with additional citations from the Relations, Shea rewrites American history with Catholic theology. It is the efficacious suffering of Jogues and shedding of his blood-first as a captive and later as a martyr-that mysteriously secured the conversion of the Iroquois a generation later. The symbolism of Catharine ("Kateri") crowns this reading of history, adorned with numerous contemporary testimonies attesting to Jogue's intercession. One doubts that Kip's criticism would yield to such a claim, yet Shea's interpretation would set the tone for future American Catholic histories. For instance, a 1907 popular history, The Trials and Triumphs of the Catholic Church in America, reproduces this very quotation from Shea, adding that beyond Jogues "few seem better entitled to the honors of the altar and the devotion of the faithful." (24) It is moreover curious that four years after Shea's book, the first American martyrology was published in the American Catholic Almanac of 1859. (25)

However, if one is to grasp Shea's contribution to an evolving American Catholic historiography, one must also note how his scholarship borrowed Canadian Catholic historiography. In 1885 Shea translated The Life of Father Isaac Jogues, the work of a French Canadian friend, Felix Martin (1804-1886). (26) With the return of the Jesuits to Canada in 1842, Martin had been named the new superior. The Canadian government quickly commissioned Martin to retrieve Jesuit documents on the French history of Canada from archives in Europe. Martin discovered several forgotten letters and missing sections of the Relations, prompting Ottawa to publish a new French collection of the Relations in 1848. In addition to his research on the Relations, Martin also produced several "Lives" of the martyrs, including this one on Jogues in 1873. (27) In the introduction, Martin notes that his primary source for this vita of Jogues is the Manuscript of 1652. As such, he designates the book as "better fitted to interest the pious than the learned." (28) It is a narrative of a saint with minimal citation. In a way, Martin's Life marks the first North American use of the Manuscript of 1652 for a personal, hagiographical narrative complementing other professional histories.

Nevertheless, Shea's translation of Martin's Life is intriguing for additional reasons. If Martin had published other vitae for the other Jesuit martyrs, why did Shea select only this particular work? By 1885, American Catholics were becoming more aware of Jogues's story and the significance of his martyrdom on American soil (i.e., New York State). The previous year, in 1884, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore had formally petitioned Rome for the canonization of Jogues, Goupil, and Tekakwitha. In doing so, the American hierarchy blessed the view that the martyrdom of Jogues and Goupil had sown the seeds to produce the great Iroquois convert. An article in the CatholicWorld from 1885 capitalizes on this gesture of the council, rejoicing that America's lack of "national saints and [a] shrine" has finally been remedied. (29) The translation of Martin's Life for the American Catholic populace indubitably served to foster a newly found devotion to Jogues and Goupil as the first saints on the American scene. To this end, Shea inserts a note at the conclusion of Martin's text on the recent dedication of a shrine for Jogues and his companions near Auriesville, New York, in 1884. He adds that there "are reasonable grounds" that such popular devotion will soon result in the martyr's canonization. (30) Thus in the first volume of his monumental A History of the Catholic Church within the Limits of the United States, published the following year in 1886, Shea writes that "in the Catholic body that now permeates the great population of the Republic, devotion to this early priest has become general." (31) In the same volume, Shea ends his section on the French Jesuits by outlining the sudden conversion of the Iroquois after 1653, stating that "blood of the martyred missionaries had pleaded, and not in vain, for the conversion of the Iroquois." (32) One wonders if Shea had Kip in mind as he penned this closing line.

From Symbol to Saints

Leaving Shea and entering the next century, one discovers a sudden surge of interest in the martyrs' history. Between 1895 and 1896, the French scholar Camille de Rochemonteix (1834-1923) produced a three-volume work on the Jesuits of New France. (33) The Auriesville shrine's publication, The Pilgrim of Our Lady of the Martyrs, translated this work as a running series between 1898 and 1903. The most significant step in scholarship, however, was Reuben Gold Thwaites's (1853-1913) seventy-three-volume collection and translation of the Relations in 1896. (34) For the first time in history, American Catholic scholars had complete access to the Relations, further aiding efforts to canonize the martyrs. Even the press took interest. The New York Times reported the participation of New York Jesuits in the official canonization hearings between 1904 and 1916. (35) The two American Jesuits at the forefront of the cause were Thomas Campbell (1848-1925) and John Wynne (1859-1948). A former president of Fordham, Campbell had circuited New York City at the turn of the century giving lectures on Jogues. In 1908, he published a three-volume work entitled Pioneer Priests of North America, at one point comparing the Pharisees' killing of Christ for possessing a devil to Mohawk accusations against Jogues. (36) Wynne was a leading figure behind the compilation of the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1912) and became the first editor and founding figure of the Jesuit weekly, America, in 1909. (37) Wynne's approach to the Jesuit martyrs was much like his vision for the new magazine, namely, the interaction of Catholic intellectual principles with social and cultural affairs. When Rome finally announced that the martyrs would be beatified in 1925, the year marking the tercentenary anniversary of the Jesuits' arrival in New France, a tide of new publications on the martyrs flooded American Catholic literature. With Campbell's death the same year, Wynne assumed a prominent role in the rise of hagiographical literature on the martyrs.

In anticipation of the beatification in June, Wynne published two works on the martyrs. The first was entitled The Jesuit Martyrs of North America. (38) In the very first line of the preface Wynne boldly states, "Neither myth nor legend is needed by our country for the heroic story with which every people loves to immortalize its origins." Rather, Americans have documentation of martyrs who "excelled in love" and stand as "heroes of the invisible, the spiritual, the supernatural." (39) Wynne casts his books as the first attempt to blend the lives of all the martyrs into one narrative. For his sources he credits Martin, Shea, Campbell, Parkman, Thwaites, and others, providing a page-by-page reference for his sources at the conclusion of the book. The final chapter, entitled the "Fruits of Martyrdom," offers a theological climax. Here Wynne employs a host of quotations from the Relations that explicitly apply Tertullian's maxim to the story of Jogues and the sudden rise in baptisms among the Iroquois. Wynne also points to the throngs of pilgrims who flock to the martyrs' shrine in upstate New York as well as the devotion and respect of "writers of every creed" for these men, naming Bancroft, Kip, and Parkman as examples.

Wynne ends his book in the same manner that it begins, arguing that "the blood of these Martyrs was to be Christian seed" for the rise of the faith on this continent. (40) Later the same year, Wynne produced an article in America to a similar effect noting that the Jesuit martyrs are "the first in this part of the world to receive [the] exalted honor" of beatification. (41) He repeats his emphasis on baptism as that which the natives abhorred until the shedding of Jogues's blood. Like Shea before him, he focuses on the figure of Jogues: "The capture of Jogues began an era of martyrdom." Jogues and the martyrs "faced death not once or twice, but continually. Their very mode of life was a living martyrdom." Here Wynne stresses that their model of holiness remains valid for the present. Moreover, they are the gateway to the canonization of America's pantheon of holy men and women: "No doubt, North America will soon add to the blessed roll her Neuman, Andreis, Seton, Duchense, Tekakwitha ... and countless others." (42) While the present-day scholar is hesitant to adopt Wynne's triumphalist tone, his overarching point is worth considering: in rediscovering the story of the martyred Jesuits, the violence of the past presents a poignant invitation for the heroic witness of present-day generations. Sainthood, in other words, is not an individual, private affair. Rather, it begins with a communal story, a supernatural history.

Wynne's presentation of the martyrs on the eve of their canonization further prompted an American fascination with their story in the 1920s and 1930s. After the canonization of the martyrs in 1930, American Catholics began to focus even more on Jogues as the quintessential American saint. The work of Francis Talbot (1889-1953) is a prime example of this trend. In the early 1930s, Talbot wrote several articles on Jogues in America and published a biography of the martyr entitled Saint among Savages: The Life of Isaac Jogues. (43) If one reads beyond the limitations of the era's rhetoric as well as its melodramatic patriotism, one discovers an intriguing interplay between history and theology, a bond between historical event and Catholic doctrine that succumbs neither to stale fact upon fact nor devotional dribble. In a manner similar to Martin and Wynne before them, many authors of this era include epilogues on the historical and theological significance of the martyrs' canonization. One such example is Hugh Donlon's The Story of Auriesville, "Land of Crosses" (44) Donlon's purpose behind the little work is simple: the story of the martyrs of Auriesville and Canada offers something to both the historian and the theologian: "The historian finds in it epoch-making action, with profound cause and remarkable effect; the theologian views the sufferings and death of the missioners from a supernatural angle-the glorious triumph of faith over the powers of darkness." (45) For Donlon, the "true meaning of Auriesville" resides in a Christian understanding of the "spirit of sacrifice" as found in solidarity with Christ's Cross. (46)

A more academic example of such an approach is further evident in Theodore Maynard's 1941 book, The Story of American Catholicism. (47) The work reveals a new direction in American Catholic historiography. Maynard explicitly states that he is departing from the histories of Shea and others, focusing less on institutions and more on the faithful of American Catholic history since "the Catholic body, which is part of the Mystical Body of Christ, does not consist solely of churchmen." (48) Here the story of the martyrs fits prominently into his project. He quotes the Relations, Thwaites, Parkman, and Bancroft in his account of their heroism. In doing so he is faced with the haunting question present in Kip's work above, and indeed Maynard admits, "One may call the missions among the Hurons a failure if one chooses." For his own position, he turns to Campbell's claim that the success of the Church in New York is connected to the blood of the martyrs. Maynard concludes, "The failure was only that of the cross." He proceeds to extol Jogues as the greatest of the North American Martyrs if only to prove that, while others were more gifted, "fortunately for everybody, the world rests upon the shoulders of commonplace men-or of men who seem to be commonplace." For Maynard, the theological significance of Jogues is the story of a simple man who bore the cross of Christ. In approaching the martyrs, one realizes that "their greatness was not of natural talents ... but of grace." (49) It would appear that Maynard not only departs from a purely institutional history; he also seeks to reclaim the supernatural element in a Catholic understanding of American history, the mingling of nature and grace through the work of the incarnate Savior.

Although other popular and devotional accounts of the martyrs continue into the 1950s, (50) the place of the martyrs in American Catholic memory seems to fade as one approaches Vatican II. In his 1956 collection of lectures, American Catholicism, John Tracy Ellis pays only passing tribute to Brebeuf and Jogues. (51) Histories after the council tend to focus on how American Catholics anticipated the council's aggornimento in their own spirit of accommodation to American values. Thus Andrew Greeley begins his 1967 sociological interpretation of American Catholicism with the history of the Carrolls and not French and Spanish colonialism. (52) In a similar vein, Thomas McAvoy's 1969 history goes so far as to claim that "American Catholicism begins in the seventeenth-century Maryland colony," since Catholicism is to be "expected" in the history of the Spanish and French colonies. (53) Some American Catholic scholars also begin to criticize the martyrs' interaction with native cultures. For instance, in a 1975 article in America, Patrick Ryan contrasts the French "ethnocentrism" and "clerical prissiness" of Jogues with the more enlightened labors of Matteo Ricci in China. (54) Chester Gillis's 1999 book, Roman Catholicism in America, presents a similar view of the martyrs' story, suggesting that the massacres were a result of "unholy alliances" between missionaries and certain tribes. (55) For Gillis, one must also keep in mind that "non-Christians suffered ... the destruction of their culture as well." (56) While it is imperative for the Catholic scholar to foster cultural sensitivity and incorporate the experience of Native Americans into American Catholic history, Alan Greer reminds scholars that one must not import ahistorical categories of "ethnocentrism" when assessing the Jesuits' seventeenth-century world. (57)

Of course, the Jesuit martyrs have not completely disappeared from American Catholic discourse. The histories of Jay Dolan, James Hennessey, and Patrick Carey continue to place the martyrs' story within the context of colonial America. (58) Nevertheless, one senses that the theological significance of the martyrs has all but disappeared from American Catholic memory, a product reflecting the separation of history and theology in modern Catholic scholarship.

An Enduring Theological Value?

The foregoing survey of scholarly and popular literature on the North American Martyrs reveals how American Catholic historians forged a distinctly Catholic narrative of American history through a theology of martyrdom. However, if the story of the martyrs has indeed faded into the shadows of history, how ought one reclaim the theological significance of the martyrs in American Catholicism? If the Christian tradition continues to affirm Tertullian's insight, how ought the Catholic scholar of the present appropriate the theological value of the story of the martyrs? One cannot simply return to the days of Shea, Wynne, and Maynard, and indeed, one should not. Nevertheless, the history of how American Catholics have engaged the story of the martyrs over time invites the contemporary scholar to reflect on the essence of American Catholic thought and culture. The history of American Catholicism is, in the words of Arnold Toynbee, more than "one damn fact after another." Rather, American Catholicism has inherited a narrative that begins not only with saints but martyrs. In fact, championing these martyrs as the nation's first canonized saints was a significant milestone in the development of American Catholic identity. Thus the historian of U.S. Catholicism must take note of the historiography behind the martyrs in order to grasp the devotional and intellectual life of American Catholics at the turn of the last century. Likewise, American Catholic theologians can engage the use of martyrdom in American Catholic thought both in terms of its origins with the Jesuit martyrs and its meaning for U.S. Catholics today.

In conclusion, I offer an artistic metaphor. One of the most prominent representations of the North American Martyrs in American Catholic art is an eight-pane rose window in the north transept of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. The cathedral, a magnificent granite edifice towering over Minnesota's capital, was the creation of John Ireland (1838-1918), one of the most prominent figures in American Catholic history. The window was designed in the interwar period at the time that the martyrs were canonized. (59) A figure of each of the eight canonized martyrs surrounds the enthroned Virgin, symbolizing the sowing of the seeds for the Church. In the opposite transept to the south, one finds an identical rose window of the eight beatitudes circling Christ as king. Curiously, each beatitude is paired with a saint of the New World. Among these are Kateri Tekakwitha for the clean of heart, Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852) for the meek, and Mother Frances Cabrini for those who thirst for justice. Like Wynne, it appears that the artist anticipated the eventual canonization of these figures of American Catholic history by virtue of the recently canonized martyrs in the opposite rose window. If one takes a step back, one sees how these windows illuminate the grand sanctuary below. These models of sainthood in glass recall the work of God in American history, the transformation of simple human hands into agents of a sacred calling. However, one cannot understand the stones and colorful hues that make up Catholic history in America without the light of theology, radiating through the lives of its saints and illuminating an otherwise dim interior. Moreover, the Christian cannot grasp this interplay of stone and story, glass and light, without also noting the giant bronze cross crowning the cathedral's dome. After all, the Cross is the true crown of martyrdom, the symbol that the story of the martyrs exemplifies, the transformation of a violent shedding of blood into seeds for the Tree of Life.


(1.) Tertullian, Apologeticus, 50; CSEL 69.

(2.) Most historiographical scholarship looks to the Jesuit Relations (see below) as an invaluable historical record. Since 1967 the work of Lucien Campeau has provided an ongoing critical edition of the Relations. See Lucien Campeau, Biographical Dictionary for the Jesuit Missions in Acadia and New France: 1602-1654, trans. William Lonc and George Topp (Hamilton, ON: W. Lonc, 2004). Numerous collections of selected material from the Relations exist, including Allan Greer, ed. The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000); see especially Greer's introduction. One of the more original studies of early Jesuit annals in New France is Julia Boss, "Writing a relic: The uses of hagiography in New France," in Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas, 1500-1800, ed. Allan Greer and Jodi Bilinkoff (New York: Routledge, 2003), 211-33. An intriguing reconstruction of Jesuit missionary's worldview, based on the Relations, is James T. Moore, Indian and Jesuit: A Seventeenth Century Encounter (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1982). For recent examples of spiritual biographies of the martyrs, see George Anderson, "Two Martyrs Remembered: Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant," America 178, no. 8 (March 14, 1998): 13-14; Lillian Fisher, The North American Martyrs: Jesuits in the New World (Boston: Pauline Books, 2001); and Paul Thigpen, Blood of the Martyrs, Seed of the Church: Stories of Catholics Who Died for their Faith (Ann Arbor, MI: Charis Books, 2001), 132-37.

(3.) John Wynne, "Our American Martyrs," America 33, no. 10 (June 20, 1925): 224. The following summary of events is drawn primarily from Wynne's chronology.

(4.) Moore, Indian and Jesuit, xi.

(5.) Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America (Boston: Little & Brown, 1897), 216. Patrick W. Carey references this insight from Parkman in Catholics in America: A History, updated ed. (New York: Sheed & Ward, 2004), 9, 255nn11.

(6.) John G. Shea, History of the Catholic Church in the United States, vol. 1, The Catholic Church in Colonial Days (New York: John G. Shea, 1886), 232. My translation of Shea's quotation: "Indignum esse Christi martyrem Christi non bibere sanguinem" Shea also mentions this event in his earlier, 1854 history of the missionaries (drawn from the Relations), only he mistakenly attributes the quotation to Innocent XI (reigned 1676-1689). Rather, the pope was Urban VIII (reigned 1623-1644). See John G. Shea, History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of North America: 1529-1854 (New York: P. J. Kennedy, 1881), 215.

(7.) Greer, introduction to The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries, 1.

(8.) Boss, "Writing a Relic," 211. The full title is "Memoires touchant la mort et les vertus des peres Isaac Jogues, Anne de Node, Anthonie Daniel, Jean de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lallemant, Charles Garnier, Noel Chabanel et Un seculier Rene Goupil." Notice that the manuscript title omits Jogues's second "secular" companion, Jean de la Lande, who died with Jogues in 1646. Although revered by his confreres as a missionary of exceptional zeal, Anne de Noiie was not included among the other eight canonized martyrs due to his death from natural causes (it appears he froze to death); thus, he did not die from a violent, direct martyrdom.

(9.) Greer, The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries, 15. See also Stephanie Dragonas, "'The Blood of Martyrs Is the Seed of Christians:' Jesuit Representation of Seventeenth-Century New France" (master's thesis, Queen's University [British Columbia], 1994), 23. Dragonas's art history study focuses on Francesco Bressani's 1657 map of New France and its curious depictions of martyrdom.

(10.) Anderson, "Two Martyrs Remembered," 14. A full quotation can be found in Boss, "Writing a relic," 228.

(11.) Boss, "Writing a relic," 223.

(12.) Ibid., 215.

(13.) M. A. De Wolfe Howe, The Life and Letters of George Bancroft (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1908), 333.

(14.) George Bancroft, History of the United States: From the Discovery of the American Continent, vol. 3, History of the Colonization of the United States (Boston: Little & Brown, 1840), 122.

(15.) Ibid., 123, 139, 141.

(16.) I am indebted to Patrick Carey for this insight into Bancroft's Romanticism. For the effect of the Romantic revival on American Catholic thought, see Carey's "American Catholic Romanticism, 1830-1888," The Catholic Historical Review 74, no. 4 (1988): 590-606.

(17.) William Ingraham Kip, The Early Jesuit Missions in North America: Compiled and Translated from the Letters of the French Jesuits, with Notes (New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1846).

(18.) Kip explicitly cites Bancroft for his narrative of Isaac Jogues (The Early Jesuit Missions, 84). The citation is from Bancroft, History of the United States, vol. 3, History of the Colonization, 138.

(19.) Kip, The Early Jesuit Missions, vii, viii.

(20.) Ibid., xiii-xiv.

(21.) Shea, History f the Catholic Missions, 15. See also E. B. O'Callaghan, Jesuit Relations of Discoveries and Other Occurrences in Canada and the Northern and Western States of the Union. 1632-1672 (New York: Press of the Historical Society, 1847).

(22.) Shea, History of the Catholic Missions, 16, 28, 128, 184.

(23.) Ibid., 190, 218.

(24.) P. J. Mahon and J. M. Hayes, The Trials and Triumphs of the Catholic Church in America During Four Hundred Years, From the Landing of the First Missionary to the Present Time (Chicago: J. S. Hyland, 1907), 306.

(25.) Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Sanctity in America (Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1941), xvii. See Dunigan's American Catholic Almanac (1859), 38. This publication's "Martyrologium Americanum" offers only a basic list of "priests and religious put to death for the faith" within the borders of the contemporary United States. At about the same time, Shea produced a much more thorough "American Martyrology: Lives of Catholic Missionaries Killed on the Indian Missions in Canada and the United States from the Earliest Times." However, Shea never published this 634-page, handwritten manuscript, which remains in the University of Notre Dame Archives. However, Shea did share the document with a Swiss-Benedictine monk in Indiana, who translated and published the manuscript in German in 1864. On this discovery, see my work, "Stabilitas in congregatione: The Benedictine Evangelization of America in Life and Thought of Martin Marty, O.S.B." (Diss., Marquette University, 2014), 167-79.

(26.) Felix Martin, The Life f Father Isaac Jogues: Missionary Priest of the Society of Jesus, trans. John G. Shea (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1885).

(27.) The history of Martin's scholarship is taken from Anna Sadlier, "Father Felix Martin, SJ," CatholicWorld 45, no. 265 (April 1887): 112-13 .

(28.) Martin, Life of Father Isaac Jogues, 10. Earlier in the introduction he also cites an American Unitarian, Francis Parkman (7). Parkman's 1867 classic, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, served as another piece of Protestant scholarship that Catholics would cite well into the next century.

(29.) R. H. Clarke, "Beatification Asked for American Servants of God," CatholicWorld 40, no. 240 (March 1885): 808.

(30.) John G. Shea, "Note," in The Life of the Father Isaac Jogues, 263.

(31.) Shea, History, vol. 1, The Catholic Church in Colonial Days, 234.

(32.) Ibid., 244.

(33.) Camille de Rochemonteix, Les Jesuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVIIe siecle d'apres beaucoup de documents inedits, 3 vols. (Paris: Letouzey et Ane, 1895-96). The gradual cause for the canonization of the French Jesuits inspired not only Canadian and American scholars but also French Catholic interest in Europe.

(34.) Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791, 73 vols. (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1896-1901).

(35.) See, for instance, "Father Jogues, The Martyr: Story of his Life to be Told, Incidental to Canonization," New York Times (January 22, 1905): 9; the author of this report also notes the "great interest" of a "large number of Protestant ministers and laymen in the canonization of the martyr Jogues." The Times also provided a detailed biography of Jogues when it was announced in 1916 that the canonization process had moved from Quebec to Rome. See "Church May Make New York Martyr a Saint," New York Times (August 27, 1916): SM4.

(36.) T. J. Campbell, Pioneer Priests of North America, 1642-1710, vol. 1, Among the Iroquois, rev. ed. (New York: The America Press, 1913), 46. "For the Iroquois, Jogues had a "manitou, or devil; for the Pharisees, Christ had a devil also, and for that they put Him to death. The servant was indeed very like his Master." Although culturally insensitive, Campbell's comparison is intriguing since a direct correlation with Christ augments Jogues's death as one of undeniable martyrdom. It is also worth noting that on the following pages (49), Campbell goes on to quote Kip's description of a "requiem" of vultures after Jogues's death (quoted and cited above).

(37.) Patrick W. Carey, ed., American Catholic Religious Thought: The Shaping of a Theological and Social Tradition, 2nd ed. (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2004), 69-70. Thomas Campbell was also editor of America between 1910 and 1914.

(38.) John J. Wynne, The Jesuit Martyrs of North America (New York: Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1925).

(39.) Ibid., vii.

(40.) Ibid., 230, 234.

(41.) John J. Wynne, "Our American Martyrs," America 33, no. 10 (June 20, 1925): 223.

(42.) Ibid., 224-25. In terms of rhetoric, Wynne's article is even more racially charged than his book, at times describing the Iroquois as "savages" and "cannibalistic demon worshipers" (223). While the contemporary scholar regrets such bigoted language, it is important for the reader to bear in mind that such a tone was commonplace since the histories of Bancroft and Parkman.

(43.) See Francis Talbot, "The Bloodstained Trail of Isaac Jogues," America 47, no. 24 (Sept. 17, 1932): 565-67; "Where Father Jogues Was Ambushed: Located but not Found," America 47, no. 25 (Sept. 24, 1932): 589-91; "Jogues' Torture on Crown Point," America 50, no. 1 (October 7, 1933): 8-10. See also Francis Talbot, Saint Among Savages: The Life of Isaac Jogues (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935). Later on, Talbot would also publish a biography of Brebeuf as Saint Among The Hurons, The Life Of Jean De Brebeuf (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1949).

(44.) Hugh P. Donlon, The Story of Auriesville, "Land of Crosses": Where the Indian Trail of the Jesuit Missioner Ended-And the Path to Heaven Began (Auriesville, NY: Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, 1932).

(45.) Ibid., "Foreword."

(46.) Ibid., 165.

(47.) Theodore Maynard, The Story of American Catholicism (New York: MacMillan, 1941).

(48.) Ibid., xii.

(49.) Ibid., 55-56.

(50.) A prominent example is John O'Brien, The American Martyrs: The Story of the Eight Jesuit Martyrs of North America (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953).

(51.) John Tracy Ellis, American Catholicism (New York: Rand McNally, 1956), 11. Ellis does the same in his revised edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969). See also John Tracy Ellis, Catholics in Colonial America, Benedictine Studies 8 (Baltimore: Helicon, 1965), 148, 471.

(52.) Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Experience; An Interpretation of the History of American Catholicism (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967). Greeley's omission of colonial history in his interpretation stems from his thesis that American Catholic history can be divided into "Americanizers" and "anti-Americanizers" (ii-13). Overall, one might say that the majority of U.S. Catholic historians of the martyrs fit Greeley's "Americanizers," especially in their adulation of Jogues.

(53.) Thomas McAvoy, A History of the Catholic Church in the United States (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969), 7.

(54.) Patrick J. Ryan, "Indians and Martyrs Reconsidered," America 133, no. 11 (Oct. 18, 1975): 227. Ryan presents a strong case for canonizing the Huron converts who also died with Jogues and Brebeuf. It is further interesting that Felix Martin includes brief biographical sketches of these Huronian Christians as an appendix to his The Life of lather Isaac Jogues (233-54). It appears that Martin's primary source is the Relations.

(55.) Chester Gillis, Roman Catholicism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 51.

(56.) Ibid.

(57.) Greer, introduction to The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries, 17.

(58.) Jay P. Dolan, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 35-38, 44-45; James Hennesey, American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 25-26; Carey, Catholics in America, 6-10.

(59.) Eric C. Hansen, The Cathedral of Saint Paul: An Architectural Biography (St. Paul, MN: Cathedral of St. Paul, 1990), 87-90. Dia Boyle provides a more detailed description of the windows, as well as a theological study of the cathedral's architecture, in Stone and Glass: The Meaning of the Cathedral of Saint Paul (St. Paul, MN: Cathedral of St. Paul, 2008), 156-70.
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Author:Monson, Paul G.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
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Date:Sep 22, 2014
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