Saint Jean de Brebeuf
By Tasha Benevides
St. Jean de Brebeuf was born in Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy, France; on March 25th 1593. Physically Brébeuf was said to have been large in body, tall and husky, and noticeably strong. His character was that of a gentle man, he was charismatic, warm and inviting. St. Brebeuf studied and expanded his knowledge of his faith at home in France. St. Jean entered the Jesuits after he finished his university studies. By his own request de Brebeuf, asked to be admitted as a brother, but his superior convinced him to rise higher and study to become a priest. De Brebeuf taught at a secondary school-level college in Rouen. It was at this time when he was ordained a priest on Feb. 19, 1622. That same year he became the treasurer of the college in which he spread the word of God.
In 1625 St. Jean de Brebeuf set sail to Canada to preform and act as a missionary. He arrived on June 19 and lived near Lake Huron amongst natives. While de Brebeuf spent his time with the people of Huron he adapted to their culture and learned their language, customs, and ways of life. De Brebeuf fought relentlessly to spread the word and the love of God to populations across Canada. In his first year of trying to convert the natives in 1635 he was able only to convert 14 individuals. However, in just one year his number increased to 86 conversations. After other failed attempts to convert small groups, de Brebeuf ventured to Québec where he stayed for three years. After some time went by, St Jean de Brebeuf felt in his heart that the people of the Heron were ready to embrace the love of God and returned to them once again preaching the true words of Jesus Christ. In 1647 de Brebeuf saw true success when the number of his conversations came in masses; thousands were reported to be converted.
A war was steadily at hand between Native American tribes. By 1647 the Iroquois tribe attacked the Heron, capturing and overpowering various villages, one in which de Brebeuf occupied. He was captured by the Iroquois, along with his fellow Jesuit, Gabriel Lalemant. They were tortured and killed in a horrendous fashion. Brebeuf was fastened to a stake and was scalped. He endured mock baptism in which his assailants used boiling water; he was subjected to fire and was firthur tortured by having necklaces made of burning hot hatchets placed on him and used to mutilate him. The story of his courage is one yet to be surpassed; it is told and admired not only by the Heron tribe, but as well as the Iroquois, the very tribe who condemned him to death. The remains of this brave, virtuous man lie within Saint Joseph’s Church in Ontario, Canada.
Brébeuf was canonized in 1930; he is known as a patron saint of Canada. In the United States we celebrate his life and generous contributions to our Faith on October 19th, however in Canada it is celebrated September 26th. Brebeuf leaves behind an immense amount of schools, universities and other institutions inspired by his life’s work: Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal; Brébeuf College School in Toronto; Brebeuf High School in Indianapolis, Indiana; St. John de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada; and Eglise St-Jean de Brebeuf in Sudbury, Ontario are only some of the institutions named after him.
Very little was known about de Brebeuf’s early years. What he is best known for is his impeccable courage and will to spread the message of God to others. He was educated, motivated, and could map out the way to the gates of Heaven better than any missionary of this time. With his powerful words and convincing tones he didn’t just convert people of various denominations to Catholicism but he changed their lives.
St. Jean de Brebeuf was killed by the Iroquois who, upon killing their enemies would eat their heart with the belief that they would receive the same good qualities as the one they had killed. Similar to today’s society, the heart was seen as the center of the person’s being. After killing de Brebeuf, they consumed his heart in hopes of obtaining the same courage that he had. It is a powerful notion to be recognized that your enemy will go to such lengths just have the same will, the same power and the same bravery as you once did. What the Iroquois did not understand however was that this bravery and courage was not a matter of the heart or mind, it was the sheer matter of faith in our God. The men who condemned St Jean and his fellow Jesuit will never obtain the courage it took to walk down a path such as Brebeuf did, simply because they do not have a true love of God in their hearts.
The greatest contribution St. Jean has left behind on this earth is not only the conversion of thousands to the true Faith but his story of bravery, and how much of an example he is to Catholics everywhere. This man was a gift from God to the people of Heron, to the people of the Iroquois, to the people of then, and to the people of now. As Catholics we always ask ourselves if we are truly listening to what it is God is asking of us, and if we are willing to do what God wants of us. In our hearts we say of course, we are instruments of the Lord but in our mind are we fully ready to physically carry out the will of God? It is a beautiful thing to believe that we would allow our faith to embody us whole, in any situation. I know personally in reading this biography of St. Jean it made me think of what lengths I would go to defend our God, to spread his love, and to protect his sacred Name. I know I’m not half the person St. Jean was; my faith would not match up to the caliber of his. After studying about him I firmly believe any Catholic would be moved and undeniably touched by his amazing faith. I do not know if I would have to same courage to live out my Faith as he did, even to the point of torture and death. Every night I say one Our Father, and two Hail Mary’s. The last Hail Mary I say is dedicated to my Godchild Adrianna. I pray that I can be the Catholic model she will need as she grows older; I pray that I will become as close to God as humanly possible and that my Adrianna will see me as an example. I have prayed for her since the day she was conceived. Because of this prayer, I have a love for that child that is unable to be comprehended through words or through text. I am sure it is through God that this love has grown. Now every day not only will I pray for my godchild, but I will pray to become more and more like St. Jean, in hopes of one day obtaining the courage and righteousness he possessed. We all can be like St. Jean de Brebeuf because we all know of God’s love and that we are all called to be saints. It takes true determination and desire to be like St. Jean de Brebeuf, and I will always pray for this.