The Jesuits in New France

Historical & Social Background

The following is quoted from the Conclusion of Gannentaha: First Jesuit Mission to the Iroquois 1653-1665

"The word proto-agricultural describes the Iroquians during the 17th century.
On both sides of the Atlantic, an ocean that remained impassable for so long, the "hunter" (homo venator) eventually became the "farmer" (homo agrestis). The breeding of farm animals practiced in conjunction with agriculture, produced the civilization on the eastern side of the Atlantic. This activity, however, was almost entirely missing from North American man and that is what affected and considerably retarded technical and cultural development in the entire continent of North America...
Agriculture made them (the natives) very different from the hunters (other natives of the Algonquian group Ed.) and imprinted upon them these four main characteristics. First, stability of dwellings concentrated in villages that were often fortified and surrounded by parcels of land that have been cleared and cultivated. Second, an increased density of population in a more limited space. Third, a complexity of socio-political organization, assuming its forms from genetic succession: federation of tribes that retain their identity and intiative, regroupings of villages on distinct territories, longhouses with multiple fireplaces, containing families related by blood. Fourth, a pronounced social influence of women that was perhaps a passing phenomenon, from the fact that they alone were in charge of agricultural production.
The Iroquian agricultural economy had also "contaminated" some neighboring Algonquian groups, but at different degrees and much less profoundly, leading us to understand that the Iroquians are the source of this "contamination". The four traits mentioned above are also reflected in Iroguian mentality and contribute to their mythical conceptions, producing a mythical structure that differs from the Algonquins, although the content is essentially the same. Despite their proto-agricultural activity, the Iroquians remained mainly hunters. Hunting and fishing continued to be necessary because there was no cattle raising and were the occupation of the men, giving them a mobility that purely agricultural people had lost...

The European nations took possesion of the new contient with very differing intentions. The southern colonies were established in a context of conquest and exploitation. The colonies of anglophone America were used as a refuge from the oppression lothsome socio-religious forms of government in Europe, but in turn without much consideration for the displaced native populations. With the opening of the St. Lawrence, commercial interest attracted the French at first, but it was not enough to inspire them to settle there.

It was the French missionaries who undertook the leadership in the movement to settle in the land. They wanted to win the continent for Jesus Christ through voluntary conversion to the Faith. Far from being opposed to intermingling with the native people, they even made it their objective. The scarcity of an indigenous population of the St. Lawrence facilitated the French influx. Trusting in the peaceful success of their mission, and armed with only their own generosity, the missionaires gave no thought to assuring the military viability of their base of opeations. In any event, it is difficult to argue that garrisons of six to twelve solders in three remote posts in New France indicated any policy on the part of the French to conquer and to dominate the vast territory.

What the French could not know or foresee or measue was the cultural gap separating them from the peoples they wanted to befriend. They saw the natives as people with full rights; their own Christian faith had convinced them of that. But these natives were people whose cultural devlopment made them psychologically contemporaries of those people of the Neolithic age who had preceded the Celts and Iberians in Europe. The cultural gap was wider than ayone could have ever suspected, because the Bible takes it for graned that agriculture and cattle raising are natural to man.

A twofold surprise was in store for the French. On the one hand, the amiability and facility of communication on a purely human level. On the other hand, the difference between their hosts' behavior and their own -- so deeply integrated in themselves that they considered it to be "normal" human behavior. However, an entire stage of cultural development -- the Agricultural Age - separated them. Even though violence played no part in the French strategy of conquest, they found themselves enveloped by the violence in the very structures of the human continent they were entering. The French had not foreseen that they would need to act with discernment...

People will discuss for a long time to come the wisdom of embarking, individually or collectively, on a task (establishing missions in New France by the missionairies. Ed.) that was as dangerous as was this one (Gannentaha, Jesuit Mission to the Iroquois). When all is said and done, the whole question is to kow whether human dignity is better served by the Cross of Calvary or the mushroom over Hiroshima." (7)

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Father Paul RAGUENEAU (1608-1680)

Father Ragueneau was born in Paris on 18 Mar 1608. His background, prior to coming to Québec, included teaching grammar at a college in Bouges, France. He studied theology there and was ordained in 1636. He taught philosophy at Amiens for a year and left for New France in 1637, arriving in Québec on 30 June. He made his Profession at Saint-Marie-des-Hurons on 18 Sep 1644. He spent the next twenty years of his priestly life working in the Huron missions, especially at Ossossané. In 1645, he became the Superior of the Hurons mission. He wrote the Relations from 1646 to 1650 in which he recounted the martyrdom of his colleagues and the agony of the Hurons. He was the superior of five of the eight martyred Jesuit priests.

He was sent to Gannentaha among the Iroquois where he witnessed another massacre of the Hurons. In 1658 along with Zacharie Dupuy, he organized the escape of fifty Frenchmen who had been condemned to death by the grand council of the Iroquois. Shortly thereafter, he was recalled to France in 1662 to become the Procurator of the Canadian mission. He did this work for eighteen years.

Father Ragueneau was known as a great spiritual director both in New France and in France. He was the spiritual director and biographer of Blessed Catherine de Saint-Augustin. He was distinguished for his charity, goodness, detachment and serenity.

He died 3 Sep 1680 in France. (1)

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Jacques BUTEUX, S.J. (1599-1652)

Father BUTEUX was born at Abeville on 4 Sept 1599. He entered the novitiate at Rouen on 10 Feb 1620. He studied philosophy at the College of La Flèche from 1622 to 1625 before being sent to teach grammar at the College of Caen from 1625 through 1629. He returned to La Flèche for theology from 1629 through 1633 and was ordained in 1632, after which he spent a year at the College of Clermont. He arrived at Québec in the summer of 1634. Le Jeune invitied him to spend the first winter at Trois-Rivières, where he mastered the Montagnais and Algonquin languages. He spent some time at Tadoussac and Sillery where he worked with great zeal despite uncertain health. The Attikamègues, whom he had instructed at Trois-Rivières and at Sillery, were his most brilliant success. In 1639, he was name acting-Superior of the residence at Trois-Rivières. He supervised the consruction of a house and chapel in 1640, the firsts concessions at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, and a new house and chapel built in the village in 1650-1651. He visited the village of his faithful Attikamègues at the end of winter in 1651 and again in 1652. Upon his return, he and his two companions were attacked by the Iroquois. Father Buteux took two bullets in the chest and one in his right arm; he died shortly thereafter on 4 Sept 1652. The bodies of Father Buteux and of Fontarabie were stripped and thrown into the water. The Huron escaped and reported this tragedy. (2)

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Saint René GOUPIL, (1608-1642)

René GOUPIL was born at Saint-Martin in Anjou on 13 May 1608. At the age of 31, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Paris on 16 Mar 1639. The onset of deafness forced hiim to leave the novitiate. He could read and write, and was believe to be a surgeon. In 1640, he arrived in New France where he offered his services to the Jesuit missionaries. He was to remain with the Jesuits for the rest of his life. A doctor was needed at Sillery and he was assigned there to treat the sick. In 1642, the Huron mission decided to establish a hospital at Saint-Marie. René was invited to go there by Father Isaac JOGUES. He left with the Jesuit, celebrated the Feast of Saint Ignatius at Trois-Rivières and set out for Huronia. On 2 Aug 1642, the Huron flotilla was attacked by the Mohawks. René took part in the battle but was captured by the enemy. Joques gave himself up to the warrior who was guarding René. Guillaume COUTURE was also captured and the three were taken to the Richelieu River along with the captured Hurons. They were tormented and tortured by the Mohawks. The lives of the French were spared but Goupil and Jogues remained in the village of Ossernenon, without being adopted by a native family, which put them on a daily prospect of death. Goupil made the Sign of the Cross on the forehead of some children. While returning froma walk with Jogues, Goupil was killed with hatchet blows, the grandson having been ordered to do so by his grand-father. René Goupil died on 29 Sep 1642. He was canonized by Pope Piux XI on 29 Jun 1930. (3)

Web site dedicated to Saint René Goupil by Jean Quintal, en français & in English.

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Saint Isaac JOGUES, S.J. (1607-1646)

Father Isaac JOGUES was born on 10 Jan 1607 at Orleans, France, from a second marriage of Laurent JOGUES, a merchant, to Françoise de Saint-Mesmin. He entered the novitiate at Rouen on 24 Oct 1624. He studied philosoph for three years from 1626-1629; he taught grammar in the college of Rouen from 1629-1633. He studied theology for three years and was ordained in Jan 1636. He was assigned to New France; he set sail on 8 Apr 1636. He was able to celebrate Mass on the ship, which was a first. He arrived at Tadoussac on 2 Jul of that year. He went to Trois-Rivières and from there he left for Huronia on 23 Aug 1636. He took a young man of eleven, Jean AMIOT who fell ill on the trip. They reached Ihonatiriaon on 11 Sep. He was learning Huron at Ihonatiria; in October 1637, the Great Council held at Ossosané declared its intention to massacre the Jesuits and their domestic helpers because of the residence. After a stay at Ossosané in 1638, Fr. Jogues moved with the rest of the Jesuits in 1639 to Sainte-Marie and was put in charge of ther residence. In 1641, he was sent along with some Hurons to explore Sault-Sainte-Marie. In 1642, he was sent to Québec to deal with the affairs of the missions; he was accompanied with converts along with Guillaume COUTURE. The Huron groups were captured or scattered and robbed. Fr. Jogues was captured on his return trip on 2 Aug along with Guillaume COUTURE and René GOUPIL. In Iroquois territory, after the gauntlet tortures, Goupil was killed. Fr. Jogues survived the tortures and was able to escape to present-day Albany in 1643. He was put on a ship to France. However, he returned in 1644 and was appointed as Fr. Buteux's assistant at Montréal. He and Jean BOURDON were sent to Mohawk territory on an embassy in 1646. He returned to Montréal because it was no longer favorable to establish a mission among the Iroquois. In Oct 1646, he, along with Jean de Lalande was reassigned to the land of the Mohawks. On their arrival at Ossernenon, they were stripped and taken prisoners; both were then murdered. Both Fr. Jogues and Jean de Lalande were canonized "Saints" by Pope Pius Xi on 29 Jun 1930. (5)

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Additional Biographical Information: Send me an email at normlev at cox dot net requesting the data.


Saint Jean de LALANDE (d. 1646)

Jean de LALANDE, a Jesuit donné, has been in the country since 1638 at least, an employee of the seigniorial company. On 28 Apr 1639, he accompanied Louis COUILLARD in the search for the body of Pierre LAPORTE who drowned that day in the course of a hunting trip on the Cabane-aux-Taupiers River. He was a witness to the marriage of César LÉGER & Roberte GADOIS on 22 May 1644. Jean's residence was at the mission of Sillery. He worked for the Jesuits at Trois-Rivières, being a godfather there on 20 Aug 1646. There, he and Fr. Isaac JOGUES prepared their "Martyrs' Mission" to the Iroquois. They set out on 25 Sep 1646 with a few Hurons who abandoned them on the way. They were badly received and finally murdered one after the other, Father Jogues before his donné. Both were canonized "Saints" by Pope Pius XI on 29 Jun 1930. (6)

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Father Sebastian RALE, S.J. (d. 1724)

A Day Trip to Norridgewock
By Juliana L'Heureux

My husband and I took advantage of early spring Maine weather to search for a 175 year old historic monument dedicated to the French Jesuit and martyr, Father Sebastian Rale, located in the western Maine town of Madison. Although we began our day by looking for Norridgewock, it turned out, we were really looking for the town next door called Madison. Both towns are "lost colonies", but I was determined to find Father Sebastian Rale's monument, so we went there. We leisurely drove about 2 hours North of Biddeford, up Route 95 to Waterville, traveled about 15 miles west on route 139, crossing into rural Somerset County into the town of Norridgewock. When we arrived, we found ourselves looking for a remote Catholic cemetery in Madison where the monument is located. After asking several locals for specific directions, we eventually found the rustic cemetery situated on the banks of the Kennebec River. Now a protected Abnaki historic site, the area is remote, even by a modern definition. One can only imagine how difficult it was to locate in the middle 18th century.

In this place, Father Rale once lived and worked as a missionary. Throughout his long career, Father Rale evangelized, wrote lovely poetry and developed an Abnaki dictionary used by scholars to this day. It was in this serene location in Madison on August 23, 1724, where Father Rale was brutally murdered by the English who suspected him of inciting sedition among the local Abneki people. French Jesuits are the colonial heroes of the Franco-American culture. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the French Jesuits, some of them since canonized as saints, were the zealous group of intelligent religious men who bought some semblance of European civilization and fundamental Roman Catholicism to the wild territories of New France.

Father Rale is particularly remembered for his long career working as a missionary in Illinois as well as in Maine and because his prolific writing helped modern scholars to learn about colonial Abnaki culture. A tall cement monument peaks at the very back of "Saint Sebastian Catholic Cemetery", in Madison. At the cemetery entrance is a bright shiny granite stone marker engraved with a French fleur de lis and an image of Father Rale's monument carved into the polished façade. Actually, this massive but beautiful marker is a stark contradiction to the simple grounds in the cemetery. While listening to roosters crowing non-stop from a farm across the road, we walked about one-eighth a mile across grass and other gravesites, into the completely deserted cemetery, and found the wrought iron fence encasing the engraved monument. We were feeling pretty good about finally locating this antique monument, now marked as a national historic site. Framed by a cluster of pine trees, listening to the spring currents of the Kennebec River flowing briskly just a few yards away, is an obelisk adorned with a simple cross at the pinnacle. This imposing but simple cement monument was built in 1833, when it was dedicated with a religious ceremony led by the Bishop of Boston. The stone marker marks the spot where Father Rale was surprised by British solders that brutally murdered him, as well as other Abnaki, mutilated and scalped his body, on August 23, 1724. Unfortunately, nearby the marker was evidence of cemetery vandalism.

Visiting this quietly remote historic monument was an educational and a spiritual experience. Certainly, the trip is worthwhile for anyone interested in investigating the history of French culture in Maine. (8)

Petitions for Father Rale By Juliana L’Heureux

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Jacques FRÉMIN, S.J., (b. 1628 - d. 1691)

Father Jacques FRÉMIN was born at Reims, France on 12 Mar 1628. He entered the Jesuit novitiate of Paris on 23 Nov, 1646. After the novitiate, he taught Grammar for five years at Alençon. He was ordained a pries at Moulins in 1655 and soon left for Canada. He spent some time among the Hurons on Île-d'Orléans. On 17 May 17, 1656 he took part in an expedition to Gannentaha with Jesuit Priests François Le Mercier (see below) and Claude Dablon. He returned to Québec on 20 Mar 1658 after the remarkable escape from Gannentaha. For the next couple of years, he travelled back and forth to France. In autumn of 1660, he is mentioned at Miscou with André Richard. In 1665, he is the Superior of the Reduction at Cap-de-la-Madeleine and curate at Trois-Rivières, the last Jesuit to have charge of this old parish. In July 1667, he was named Superior of the mission being planned among the Mohawks and Oneidas. His companions were Fathers Jean Pierron and Jacques Bruyas. They arrived at Gandaouagué (Ed. note: Ossernenon - present day Auriesville, NY.), where Isaac Jogues had died, but they resided mostly at Tionnontoguen, a hamlet of the Wolf family, rebuilt after Tracy's destructive visit. (Ed. note: Fathers Frémin, Pierron and Bruyas stayed in the longhouse of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's uncle in 1667 and was attended to by Tekakwitha). The missionaries were well received by the people, but their initial efforts were directed towards the captive Hurons who were already Christian or had been catechized in the past. In 1668, they opened missions among the Onondagas and the Cayugas. In October 1668, Father Frémin went to the Senecas to establish the mission of Saint-Michel. In 1671, because of frail health, he returned to Cap-de-la-Madeleine. In 1672, he was the Superior at Laprairie, where many of the Christian Iroquois had fled to lead their Christian life. After his trip to France, he was granted land at Sault-Saint-Louis by Louis XIV. In 1682, he retired to the Collège de Québec and died there on 20 July 1691.(4)(10)

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François-Joseph LE MERCIER, S.J., (b. 1604 - d. 1690)

Father François LE MERCIER was born 10 Mar 1604 in Paris, the son of Paul Le Mercier, goldsmith and valet of the King's Chambers, and of Marie Dujardin. He entered the novitiate at Paris on 22 oct 1622. He studied philosophy and theology at the College of Clermont. He was ordained a priest in 1633. He arrived at Québec on 20 July 1635. Three days later, he left in a canoe for Huronia. He learned Huron at Ihonatiria under Jesuit Father Brébeuf, where he was a minister and infirmarian. After recovering from the disease and having mastered the language, he spent the following year ministering to the Bear Nation, caring for them and baptizing them during the great epidemic. He took up residence at Ossosané, then moved to Sainte-Marie. When the Iroquois began the destruction of the Hurons, the Jesuits were forced to abandon their residence, which they burned down in May 1649. The priests followed the Hurons to Ahouendoé Island where they had to rebuild, clear the land, provide lodging and food and to protect the thousands of refugees. Some of the Christian captains along with 300 of their people, decided to go and live with the French, which contributed to the construction of the village of Trois-Rivières. He became Superior in 1653, assuming the responsibility for creating the Iroquois mission of Gannentaha, which he personally established in 1656. He became Superior once more in 1665 and presided over the rebirth of the Jesuit missions in the west. He then became the Principal of the College of Québec, but was recalled to France in 1672. In 1673, the General appointed him as Visitor to the West Indian missions and he travelled throughout the whole area, resolving difficulties. He was then named Superior General of those missions in 1674, a post he held until 1681; he was also spiritual director and confessor. He died at La Martinique at the age of 86, on 12 June 1690. He wrote the Jesuit Relations for 1637 and 1638. (9)


Claude PIJART, S.J., (b. 1600 - d. 1683)

Father Claude PIJART was born in Paris on 1 Sept in 1600 or 1601, the son of Claude PIJART, merchant jeweler, and of Geneviève CHARON. He entered the novitiate at Paris on 7 Aug 1621. He was ordained a priest on 16 April 1631. For four years, he taught philosophy at Caen and at Rouen. In 1635, he was appointed assistant pastor for Québec and applied himself to studying Algonquin. In his ministry he taught the young girls of the native school and ministered to the sick who were crowding into the Hôtel-Dieu (Hospital) in the first year of its existence. Father Pijart and Father Charles Raymbaut were sent to instruct the nomadic peoples of Lake Huron by Father Jérôme Lalemant. The priests did not find the Nipissirinians on Lake Nipissing, but were forced to move on to Sainte-Marie. There, they encountered their Algonquins, for whom they were looking. The priests began to instruct them and accompanied them to their own country. Up to 1650, Father Pijart would be their "apostle", constantly traveling on Lake Huron, on the rapids of the French River, or living in birch bark tents, there instructing the nomads. Father Pijart never left his people during those ten years he spent there, gradually leading the Nipissirinians and their neighbors to the faith. His letters during this period express his sound judgment, his invincible and indefatigable faith. When the Hurons were destroyed and the mission abandoned in 1650, Father Pijart returned to the Saint Lawrence and was immediately appointed to serve in Montréal. They were hoping that the Algonquin bands, scattered by the Iroquois, would finally decide to settle in Montréal. But this post, abandoned since 1645 by its founders, was in a lamentable state. There were fewer than a hundred French people there and they were all billeted behind the palisades. The Algonquins finally left Montréal, despite the zeal of their pastor. Father Pijart, however, moved his residence there, as well as the liturgy and the cemetery at the Hôtel-Dieu. When Father De Queylus arrived in 1657, Father Pijart left for Québec where he was made pastor because Father de Poncet had to be moved. For the next few years, he was busily enganged in teaching at the college. In 1665, he was the regular professor of ecclesiatic courses. The first generation of pries in Canada owed their intelectual formation to him. Bouvart wrote of Father Pijard: "It is incredible to see the blessings he conferred on the city of Québec and in its surrounding regions, undertaking perfectly the functions of a missionary, of a pastor, of a preacher, or a catechist, of a Father of the Congregation, of a visitor to the sick in the hospital, to criminals in prison, to soldiers in their guard-house, to workers in their workshops...If, in the midst of the intensive occupations he had in the city, he felt the need at times for some relaxation, he so planned his outings that he made them little missions to various French settlements. It was in this guise that he had looked after the parish of Charlesbourg for quite a long time - a village four or five miles from Québec." On only one occasion, as he mentioned to his spiritual director, did he experience unbearable fear and horror. It was in the year 1649, at the sight of the burned and mutilated corpses of Fathers Jean de Brébeu and Gabriel Lalement, whom the Iroquois had tortured a league and a half from where he was living. But, when he started to pray, the pain disappeared the following night, and he never had to face it again. Fifteen months before his death, Father Claude Pijart became a helpless invalid, but bore, with patience and exemplary obedience to his infirmarian, the inactivity to which he was reduced. He died at the College of Québe on 16 November 1683. (11)

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References & Sources

(1) Biographical Dictionary for The Jesuit Missions in Acadia and New France: 1602-1654,
Lucien Campeau, S.J., translated by William Lonc, S.J. & George Topp, S.J., summer 2001,
pp. 367-368.
(2) Ibid., p. 93.
(3) Ibid., pp. 188-189.
(4) Ibid., pp. 172-173.
(5) Ibid., pp. 214-215.
(6) Ibid., p. 232.
(7) Gannentaha: First Jesuist Mission to the Iroquois 1653-1665, Lucien Campeau, S.J., translated by William Lonc, S.J. & George Topp, S.J., Summer 2001. Permission granted by Fr. Willaim Lonc, May 2002.
(8) Permission granted to post the article on this site in an email 2 Jun 2002 by Juliana L'Heureux.
(9) Biographical Dictionary for The Jesuit Missions in Acadia and New France: 102-1654, Lucien Campeau, S.J., translated by William Lonc, S.J. & George Topp, S.J., summer 2001,
pp. 249-250.
(10) A Litany to My Cousin, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, by Norm Léveillée, May 2002.
(11) Biographical Dictionary for The Jesuit Missions in Acadia and New France: 102-1654, Lucien Campeau, S.J., translated by William Lonc, S.J. & George Topp, S.J., summer 2001,
pp. 346-349.