Saturday, October 24, 2009

October 24 - Isaac Jogues, Twice Captured, Slave, Missionary

Isaac didn't struggle. The Mohawks had captured him--again--and they were busy tying his hands so that he couldn't struggle or resist. They didn't need to but they did anyway. Perhaps it helped them do what they were doing to imagine him fighting back. After all, their accusation was that he was a sorcerer. They feared the magic he might work on them and were confident that it was he who had brought the plague and bad weather. Isaac had seen this before when he had first been captured and, so, he knew what was coming as they secured him to a tree and walked away.

Isaac had been born in France and had studied to become a Jesuit. They had accepted him as a priest and given him an assignment in New France in the French colonies of North America. He was to be a Christian missionary to the Huron and Algonquin tribes of native Americans. These peoples were allies of the French even if it didn't always serve them well to be so. Consequently, the French felt a need to bring Christendom with them and provide opportunities for the Huron and Algonquin to convert.

One morning, he was canoeing with some other missionaries across a lake on their way to some of the Huron people. As they drifted across the lake with mist rising from the lake as the sun broke through the trees, they noticed that there were people in various spots around the lake. When they landed, they were seized by the Mohawk people who were furious with their intrusion. They were dragged back to the Mohawk camp and beaten. They were further tortured in a variety of painful ways. Some were slowly put to death. Isaac was hurled to the ground by a nearby tree and his hand was lashed to the trunk. One Mohawk took a hatchet and buried its blade in the trunk of the tree--severing some of Isaac's fingers. They didn't cut off all his fingers but they did leave him noticeably scarred and disfigured. He was forced into slavery to the Mohawk. As he served them and was abused, he tried to teach them about Christianity. Surely, some of it was heard and comprehended but he was not freed for his attempts.

Finally, he was smuggled from the camp by Dutch merchants who had come to deal with the Mohawk and seen a battered Jesuit serving them and trying to offer them the faith that kept him going. Under the cover of night, they secreted Isaac away and helped him get back to friendlier territory. He found a place on a ship headed back to France and left the colonies behind. When he arrived in France, people greeted him joyously and listened to his story with rapt attention. When he said the mass, people flocked to hear him and to watch him lift the host and cup with disfigured hands. They began calling him a "living martyr" but his new life in France did not make him happy or comfortable. Rather, he felt out of place. A few months later, he sailed back to the colonies in better health.

Peace had been brokered between the French and other native tribes and it became the order of the day. Having spent time among them, Isaac was called to go to the Mohawk people with other missionaries to serve an ambassador for peace between the French and the Mohawk. Regardless of any fear that may have dwelt within his heart, Isaac went where he was called. When he arrived, he saw that not only had he not forgotten the Mohawk but the Mohawk had not forgotten him. They whispered among each other that he was a worker of magic and could not be trusted. They had seized him out of distrust and fear.

This was how Isaac ended up tied to another tree among the Mohawk. He watched them approach with their war clubs and recalled his memories of seeing others executed in this fashion. With a yell, they began to beat him ruthlessly with the clubs until he died. He had not resisted them--not when they had disfigured him, not when they had enslaved him, and not when they planned to kill him--because he was gripped and held by a higher and more hopeful power: a slain King who forgave his captors.


Pastor Dan said...

It looks like you have a great site here. I will be checking back often. I think you would enjoy my website (
so please check it out.

Once again, Great website, and great writing.

God Bless,
Pastor Dan

Anonymous said...

Being a descendant of one of those Mohawks, I find it intriguing how after everything that has been brought to society’s attention as to the treatment and assimilationist practices never mind the countless stories of abuse at the hands of the church I must add, you still continue to make the First Nations people and in this case, MY people out to be villains. Why don’t you add what the church use to do to the First Nations people? Tell both sides of the story. And by the way, this so called event took place how many hundreds of years ago, and what happen to First Nations CHILDREN took place decades ago. Were our children supposed to find solace in YOUR king?


JHearne said...

Please understand that I lament the mistreatment of people by the Church. I told Isaac's story because I feel that a part of his story is educational for how the Church should live and be.

Let me be clear: I oppose all coercion and manipulation done in the name of the Church. What we have done to the First Nations people supposedly in the name of Jesus is atrocious and worthy of condemnation.

Please accept my apology if my story has upset or offended you. I stand behind Isaac's story where it mirrors and reflects a slaughtered savior who loved all peoples and where his story departs from that image I pray for God's grace and mercy--God knows we need it.

Please feel free to email me ( if you want to talk further. Perhaps you could help me learn to tell this story better--I'd be very interested.