Today, October 19, marks the Feast of the North American Martyrs, officially the Feast of Saints Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, priests and companions, Martyrs. Today is the feast, that is, unless you are a Traditional Roman Catholic or a Canadian, both of which groups celebrate the feast on September 26.
SOURCE: Anonymous, Holy Card of the North American Martyrs (
: accessed 19 October 2011).
The Feast of the North American Martyrs commemorates the lives of eight Jesuit missionaries who were martyred in what are now southern Ontario and upstate New York:
- 1642: St. René Goupil (New York)
- 1646: St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean de Lalande (New York)
- 1648: St. Antoine Daniel (Ontario)
- 1649: St. Jean de Brébeuf, St. Noël Chabanel, St. Charles Garnier, and St. Gabriel Lalemant (Ontario).
All eight martyrs were canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI.
Ever since 1951, the Diocese of Albany, New York has joined with the local councils of the Boy Scouts of America to conduct an annual retreat to the National Shrine of North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York. This beautiful site along the Mohawk River was once the site of the Mohawk village of Ossernenon where the Jesuit priest Father Isaac Jogues and lay Jesuits René Goupil and John Lalande were martyred.
SOURCE: Auriesville Retreat Patches (San Francisco, San Francisco County, California), photographed by Stephen J. Danko on 18 October 2011.
In 1642, Father Isaac Jogues and René Goupil were captured by Mohawks while running supplies along the Mohawk River. They were taken to Ossernenon where they were tortured and enslaved.
Rene Goupil was killed on September 29, 1642 because he had blessed a boy with the sign of the cross. He died praying the rosary and his body was buried by Father Jogues in a ravine which is located on the present property of the Shrine of North American Martyrs.
Father Jogues managed to escape to France with the help of Dutch settlers, but he later returned to Ossernenon with John Lalande as peace ambassadors. John Lalande was just a teenager at the time.
Father Jogues was killed by the Mohawks on October 18, 1646 when a box of his belongings was blamed for crop pestilence. John Lalande was killed the next day when he tried to collect the corpse of Father Jogues.
Ten years later, a female child named Tekawitha was born in Ossernenon. As a child, she contracted smallpox and was left badly scarred and with poor eyesight. Her parents and brother died in the smallpox epidemic. At the age of 20, Tekawitha was baptized and took the name Kateri, a Mohawk pronunciation of the name Catherine, after Saint Catherine of Siena. Kateri Tekawitha died when she was 24 years old. Witnesses reported that, after her death, her smallpox scars disappeared. On June 22, 1980, Kateri Tekawitha became the first Native American to be beatified.
In 1884, Father Joseph Loyzance, pastor of Saint Joseph’s Church in Troy, New York purchased a piece of land at the former site of Ossernenon and established the Shrine of North American Martyrs in Auriesville. Additional land, including the ravine where Father Jogues buried the body of René Goupil, was purchased in 1895.
After the canonization of the North American Martyrs in 1930, a church capable of seating 6500 and standing room for 3500 was built and was called the Coliseum, after its resemblance to the Coliseum in Rome. The round church was completed in 1931 and includes 4 altars in the center.
SOURCE: User:LotR, Interior of the Coliseum at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs (
: accessed 19 October 2011).
Inside the Coliseum, there are 12 seating areas and 12 aisles, representing the 12 apostles. There are 72 doors representing the 72 disciples and 8 double doors representing the 8 North American Martyrs. The ceiling and roof have 3 tiers, representing the Holy Trinity. The altarpieces or reredos are constructed to resemble the palisades that surrounded the Mohawk village of Ossernenon. The columns in the Coliseum are marked with crosses and the name “Jesus” to remind worshippers that Father Isaac Jogues had carved the name of Jesus in the trunks of trees around Ossernenon.
In addition to the Coliseum, the site of the National Shrine of North American Martyrs includes a number of chapels, shrines, and museums. Stations of the Cross line the sides of the path down the ravine where René Goupil was buried and a Jesuit Cemetery is also located on the grounds. The entire site is a natural reliquary since the ground holds the blood and bones of the saints who were martyred there.
I attended at least 5 retreats at the Shrine of North American Martyrs with my Boy Scout troop, most of those with my father along as an adult troop leader. My father attended many more retreats there than I did because he became Scoutmaster of the troop after I left for college and, on one occasion, my entire family took a trip to the Shrine together. The National Shrine of North American Martyrs holds a special place in my memory, my religious upbringing, and my family history.