The move by these French priests was spearheaded by an observation made by Samuel Champlain as he traveled the breadth of the St. Lawrence River, which then broadened out to Lake Ontario. He noticed as he sailed past all the Indian villages, there were so many children of God who knew nothing about Our Lord Jesus, our Savior. He wrote, in his journal, how sad it was that most of these people would live their entire lives never having heard the name of Jesus and would die without the grace of having known Him or being a part of His Church through Baptism.
When this word came back to the Church of France, an avalanche of fervor swept across the country. But it was the newly-formed army of Ignatius Loyola, the Company of Jesus, the Jesuits,1 who took it as a call to spiritual arms. The French contingency of that order accepted the challenge put to them. They embraced St. Paul’s plea to the Christians of another time, the early days of the Church, as a call to arms. They used his words as their battle cry.
“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach unless they are sent?”2
They came over to New France, as Canada was called at that time. They came with hearts burning to spread the word of God to the Indians and to die as Martyrs for Evangelization to the New World. By the thousands they came. They set up missions, worked in the wilderness, learned the language and customs of the Indians and gently, very gently taught them about Jesus. Their progress ranged from slow to full stop. But they persevered! They had many obstacles to overcome, many of which were caused by their own people. Before the Blackrobes ever got to Canada and upper New York State, they were preceded by trappers and fur traders who cared little or nothing for the people who lived on the lands, the natives of our country. They represented nothing but a way to satisfy their greed.
These were followed by the Military, whose only purpose was to obtain and maintain control and keep the Indians in their grip. Neither group would have won any popularity contests among the Indians. What they did manage to accomplish was to create an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust for any white men. The Blackrobes became victims because of the iniquities their countrymen and others3 had inflicted upon the natives of America.
Add to that the Indians’ own culture, which was so completely different from the French settlers. Both the French and the Indians focused on the things which separated them, rather than try to find a common denominator- those qualities which could unite them. The Iroquois, who were the strongest of the Indian tribes, hated the Hurons, who traded with the French; therefore, the Iroquois hated the French. They were friendly with the Dutch and the British who were at odds and sometimes at war with the French. That could account for a great deal of the hostility between the Iroquois and the French.
But the real victims had to be the Blackrobes, the Jesuit Evangelists. They were blamed for everything. If the Iroquois attacked the Hurons, it was the fault of the Blackrobes. If the Hurons suffered drought, it was the fault of the Blackrobes. If the
crops failed, it was because of the black magic of the Blackrobes. If illness were to take its toll on the Indian population, because of strains of bacteria, brought into the continent by the French, Dutch and British, it became strangely enough the fault of the Blackrobes. To this day, there are those in Canada who blame the Jesuits for the rampant disease to which the Indian population was subjected, and because of which they died in great numbers.
But what was the justification to blame the Jesuits? They were no more responsible for spreading the viruses than any other foreigner who emigrated to the country. However, they were the most vulnerable. They were the easiest to attack and the least able to defend themselves. There came a time in 1649, after the torturous execution of John de Brebuf, Gabriel Lalemant, and others in Huronia, when the wholesale slaughter of the Blackrobes became too much for the Superiors in Quebec to accept, and so they closed down the missions, burned to the ground Saint Marie of the Hurons, the settlement which they had built as a headquarters for the missionaries, and left to go back to Quebec. The mission venture to Huronia was a failure. The wilderness reclaimed the lands in which the Blackrobes had labored and died, their blood left as fertilizer for the growth of the new missions, the fruit of the Martyrs.
In Ossernenon, which is modern-day Auriesville, New York, the first of the North American Martyrs René Goupil was martyred in 1642, tomahawked for making the Sign of the Cross on a young Indian’s forehead. At that same place, St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean Lalande, a lay Donné,4 were martyred also. The Missionaries left and the cause seemed lost. But on that soil, in that place, the Lord was to plant the seeds of Evangelization into the blood-soaked earth, which would grow into what would be the first Native American Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, the Mystic of the Wilderness. And when she is canonized, finally brought into the Communion of Saints, she will be the first Native American, first fruit of the North American Martyrs.
Kateri is born – the Seed Bears Fruit
In Trois-Rivieres, today a part of French Canada, in the province of Quebec, a young Indian Maiden of the Algonquin tribe was raised under the mantle of the French Jesuits.
She was baptized in Trois-Rivieres and lived with French settlers for a time.
When the Jesuits pulled their missions back to Quebec in 1649, as a result of violent raids by the Iroquois and the outrageous executions of the Blackrobe missionaries, the Algonquins were left on their own and came under the domination of the Iroquois.
Kateri’s mother was taken prisoner and brought down the Mohawk river with the rest of the Indian captives.
She landed in Ossernenon, a beautiful Mohawk village in what is today, Auriesville, in upstate New York.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha – Lily of the Mohawks
Family, we went to Canada to make a program on the North American
Martyrs. There are two shrines, we found out, one in Ontario Canada, and
one in New York State, near Albany. Penny felt that the program could not
be complete until we went to New York State to make the program on the
three martyrs who were tortured and killed in an Indian camp called
Ossernenon, which is today Auriesville, near Albany. The expense was going to be high, and we had just spent a great deal of money financing the trip to all the Shrines in Canada. So, we as a community prayed on it, and Penny decided that we were going to New York State.
The custodian priest there at Ossernenon was very helpful, and told us that although the Blackrobes pulled their evangelization efforts out of those two areas after the deaths of St. Isaac Jogues, St. René Goupil and St. John Lalande, there was one bright light that rose up from the blood of the martyrs, Kateri Tekakwitha, who has since become the first Native American Saint. She was born at Ossernenon, and lived a peaceful, joy filled life there, being taught about Jesus until a smallpox plague ravaged the village. It took the lives of most of the villagers, including Kateri’s mother and father, and disfigured her for life. Her face was pock marked and her eyes almost blinded. She walked the rest of her life in a bent position, trying to see where she was going.
The chiefs moved the camp away from Ossernenon because of what had happened. They settled in a village called Caughnwaga (by the rapids), which is today called Fonda, New York, about a mile from Auriesville. We went there to make the program on the little Lily of the Mohawks, as she was called.
Now, because we had not planned on making this program, we had not contacted the shrine for permission. They had no idea we were coming. We went to the gift shop to ask for the priest in charge, and told them why we were there. Naturally they were in a dither, because they did not feel the place was ready for TV cameras. However, the Lord felt it was just the way He wanted it. The priest was another story completely. He was a very young Franciscan, Fr. Jim Plavcan. He didn’t believe for a minute anything we told him. We talked about Mother Angelica. We even talked about Fr. Groeschel, who was a Capuchin Franciscan from New York and was also on EWTN. He said he would check on all these things. He agreed to be interviewed on camera with us, which made for what turned out to be a good half a program.
At the end, our priest, Fr. Jim told us that Kateri fled this camp when her uncle, who was the chief and took control of her life when her parents died, refused to allow her to learn the Catholic Faith. She was baptized here clandestinely, but then left in a boat with a group of other believers who went to what was called the Village of Prayer in Kahnawake, an area of Montreal, Canada. Our program wouldn’t be finished until we went to Canada. Oh, a
P.S. on the priest, Fr. Jim Plavcan. He sent us a letter a few weeks after we had been there, apologizing for doubting us and who we were. He had checked us out thoroughly and his face was red. He ended his letter with a beautiful thought. “Keep up your prayer life. You can’t give what you don’thave.”
A sad PPS – He was traveling to New Mexico to a convention for the Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha. He was traveling by bicycle. He was run off the road by an 18 wheeler and died. He was very young. We dedicated our program to his memory.
We had to wait a few years before we could go back to Canada. However, our wait was well rewarded. We met a French or French Canadian monsignor who was really pushing for the Canonization of Kateri. By this time she had been declared Beatified by St. Pope John Paul II. His name was Msgr. Broussard. He was very helpful. We were able to interview him for the camera, which was very helpful for the program. He shared something with us which we later wrote in our biography of Kateri. He said:
“As Kateri was leaving New York for the voyage to Kahnawake, an interior turmoil was going on. She was leaving her homeland of twenty years. She loved the Mohawk Valley, so breathtakingly beautiful. She would miss the river and the streams. She would even miss her family, although they had been so cruel to her. She thought about all that, and then she thought about what she would be receiving in return. She just turned her whole life over to Jesus.”
When she arrived at Kahnawake, she brought letters from the priest who had baptized her in New York. He had also given her instruction for First Holy Communion. She was not able to receive in New York. The priest, Fr. Cholenec, read the letter addressed to him.
“Catherine Tekakwitha will live at the Sault. I ask you to take charge in directing her. It is a treasure that we are giving you, which you will soon realize. Guard it well and make it bear fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of a soul which is certainly very dear to Him.”
Kateri arrived at the mission in October 1677. Some months later, in the winter of 1677, Fr. Cholenec wrote his own observations.
“There is one who walks with a limp; she is the most fervent of the whole village. I believe, and though she is cripple and always sick, she does some amazing things.”
Kateri lived a peaceful, joy-filled life at the mission. She received her First Holy Communion, which was the highlight of her life. She experienced some difficulties at the village, but the Lord protected her from any problems.
Kateri moved through the levels of mystical life. She had gone through the first, personal special relationship, then the level of purging herself, shedding herself of anything that was not of God, or would not lead her to God; and finally the level of union, unity with God, a mystical marriage with Jesus.
From that level, there was only one place to go, Paradise.
She was an innocent girl. Everyone was aware of that. She was also a very sickly girl. From the time of her Smallpox attack, she never quite recovered.
From the middle of the summer of 1679 to Holy Week of 1680, she began to suffer terribly. She kept a smile on her face, and continued her devotions.
However, around Easter of that year, it was obvious to all that she was preparing to go to the Father. On Wednesday, April 17 1680, she gave her soul to God.
Miracles began to happen immediately. Although they were chronicled, they were not submitted to the Holy Office. It took until June 22, 1980 that Pope St. John Paul II beatified her. On October 21, 2012 she was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. She was the first Native American Saint, truly fruit of the
blood of the Martyrs. Praise God.
We love you!
Bob and Penny Lord’s Ministry