The Most Amazing Saint You’ve Probably Never Read About – St. Isaac Jogues

I’ve been a full-time missionary for more than 10 years — and yet, sometimes I fail to share Jesus with people I know I ought to. Whether it’s out of fear or a desire for comfort, I can hesitate to answer or ignore His call to tell others about Him.

Have you ever experienced this?

Sometimes the best way to overcome our fears is by watching the example of others. St. Isaac Jogues proclaimed the name of Jesus in the Americas without fear, and his story is one of the most amazing tales I’ve ever heard. Take a look at his life story — you won’t regret it!

Jogues was born in Orleans, France, on January 10, 1607, to a wealthy family. At the age of 17, he finished college and decided to enter the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). When asked why he sought enter the Society, the response from this slender and wiry young man was this: “Ethiopia and martyrdom.” The priest overseeing his entrance replied, “Not so my son. You will die in Canada.”

After spending 12 years in formation, Jogues was ordained at the age of 29 and set his sights on being a missionary in the New World. The world that Isaac Jogues entered was truly a wilderness. He was the first white person to stand on the shores of Lake Superior and the first priest to enter New York State. Life in the New World was hard. The Jesuit mission that Jogues joined was in poor shape, rife with poor sanitation, terrible food, vermin and filth.

Then there were the Native Americans who the missionaries ministered to. While the Hurons who they worked with sometimes threatened to kill the Jesuits, the Iroquois posed the biggest threat. Jogues was quite aware of the danger. Once, Jogues wrote in a letter, “These Iroquois swore if they ever took another Frenchman captive, they would burn him alive over a slow fire, in the same way that they inflict the direst tortures on their other prisoners.”

Captured and Attacked

On August 1, 1642, Fr. Jogues traveled with some fellow Jesuits and Hurons to retrieve more supplies. During their journey, they were attacked by 70 Mohawks, members of the Iroquois tribe. Upon grabbing ahold of the priest, they beat him with fists, clubs and sticks until he was unconscious. When he woke, they bit off his fingernails and chewed the two forefingers on each of his hands.

During 17 months in captivity, Jogues faced unspeakable torture numerous times and was made a slave of the chief, where he was treated worse than an animal. All the while, he still carried out his missionary work. During this time, the priest estimated that he baptized 70 people, all of whom were at the point of death. He also cared for the sick, including one of the men who had bitten off his fingers.

Living Martyr

Jogues would finally escape to safety. When he encountered civilization again, people identified him as a living martyr. In Manhattan, where no priest had ever been before, a young man saw Jogues, knelt at his feet and raised the priest’s mangled hands to his lips. The man exclaimed, “Martyr of Jesus Christ! Martyr of Christ!” In an era just after the Reformation, where Catholic and Protestant relations were often hostile, a surprised Jogues asked, “Are you Catholic?” The man replied, “No, I am Lutheran — but I recognize you as one who has suffered for the Master.”

Was There Ever Such a Romance as This?

Fr. Jogues reached France just in time for Christmas that year and attended his first Mass since his captivity. Because of the state of his hands, he could not say Mass himself, but he was delighted to hear it and receive the Eucharist. He then traveled 200 miles to the nearest Jesuit college. Upon arrival, Jogues told the doorman that he had news about the Canadian missions and asked if he could see the rector. At the time, Catholics in France were enamored with the Canadian missions, and the rector rushed toward the visitor. The rector immediately asked Jogues, “Do you know Fr. Jogues?” He responded: “I know him very well.” The rector then replied, “Is he dead? Have they murdered him?” To which the living martyr replied, “No, he is alive and at liberty…and it is he who speaks to you!”

Fr. Jogues quickly became a national hero in France. The country admired his bravery and were curious about his experience. Even the Queen of France wished to see and talk to him. Upon meeting Jogues, she remarked, “People write romances for us, but was there ever such a romance as this?”

Jogues Returns

Jogues’ love of the Native Americans couldn’t keep him away from his mission to them. Just four months after his return, the missionary set off to the New World with the understanding that he would not return again. Despite the hesitations of his superiors, they allowed Jogues to lead an expedition with the Hurons to talk peace terms with the Mohawks. On their way, the Mohawks found his party and took Jogues and his lay companion. This time, the Mohawks wanted to make sure that he was a killed so he could serve as an example to the French and their allies. The next day, Jogues died from a blow to the head with a hatchet.

Some of Fr. Jogues last words to the Mohawks were, “I do not fear death or torture. I do not know why you would kill me. I come here to confirm the peace and show you the way to Heaven.”

St. Isaac Jogues’ life and death remind us of what he was willing to endure to share the Gospel with others.

Here are some questions to think about:

  • What motivated St. Isaac Jogues to tell others about Jesus?
  • What keeps you from telling others about Jesus?
  • What can you do to overcome these fears? St. Isaac Jogues, pray for us.
Kevin Cotter
Kevin Cotter
Kevin Cotter is the Executive Director of Programming at Amazing Parish. He previously served with FOCUS for 11 years as a missionary and Sr. Director of Curriculum. Kevin holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Benedictine College and a master’s degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute. He is the author of numerous FOCUS resources and Bible studies and several books, including Dating Detox with his wife Lisa and Called: Becoming a Disciple in a Post-Christian World. Kevin currently resides in Denver, CO with his wife, Lisa, and their children.

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