“Pray that God unite me to Himself inseparably.”
Name: St. Isaac Jogues, S.J.
Feast day: October 19
Isaac, a young Jesuit in formation, first heard of the perils and opportunities of the New World from Jesuit missioners who had returned from North America to France.
Soon after his ordination he was assigned to North America. The Jesuit mission to Huron and Algonquin people was headed by future saint Father Jean de Brebeuf, and it was perilous. The Europeans unwittingly brought smallpox, which was wiping out the tribes. They were received well in some quarters, and fearfully, violently rejected by others as the “blackrobes,” sorcerers responsible for the deaths.
Wrote Jogues of those who would receive them, “There is scarcely a village that has not invited us to go to it… And at last it is understood from our whole conduct that we have not come to buy skins or to carry on any traffic, but solely to teach them, and to procure them their souls’ health.
A missioner to the core, he learned how to speak like the people, and ate with them a food that was nothing like his own. The Jesuits meant to affirm the culture they encountered, and to bring to it the saving news of Jesus Christ.
Ultimately fear and politics got the upper hand. As tensions increased, the Jesuits suffered mistreatment and torture, and Isaac returned to France to recover. Yet he insisted on returning. In a war among the tribes, in some ways a proxy for warring Europeans, St. Isaac and the other Jesuits were murdered. They are collectively known as the North American Martyrs.
St. Isaac, pray for us as we encounter people of cultures different than our own. Help us to see in them the person of Christ. Inspire in us a desire to be in a dialogue of way, truth and life with everyone we encounter.
Image of St. Isaac Jogues from Mosaic in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Cropped from photo by Andrew Balet.