In the Ravine With Isaac Jogues

Although only an optional memorial, today’s feast of the North American Martyrs has special significance for us here in the United States and Canada.

 If ever you are in the vicinity of Albany, NY, don’t miss the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville.  It was built on the actual site of the Mohawk village of Ossernon where several of these martyrs–St. Rene Goupil, St. Isaac Jogues, and St. John LaLande–were martyred. Although shrine itself is kind of Standard issue Catholic shrine (Church, outdoor stations of the cross, gift shop, various statues) there is one very moving feature: the Ravine. Kept in its natural state of forest and grassy glades, this is the spot where the body of St. Rene Goupil was thrown after he was tomahawked. St. Isaac returned at night to locate the body and try to preserve it from carrion eaters and/or further insult by the Indians.

As the pilgrim descends the path into the ravine, there are stations for meditation: excerpts from St. Isaac’s account of that night are tacked on signboards to the trees. (At least that is how it was on my last visit 20 years ago.)  It’s an opportunity to follow a via dolorosa  of sorts. The quotations on the signboards are taken from the following account, so as you read this, imagine yourself with St. Isaac, climbing and slipping down a steep woodland path with a stream at the bottom:

 

“After René and I had been captives in Ossernenon (Auriesville, New York) for six weeks (September 1642) we lost all hope of again seeing Three Rivers (the Jesuit mission). We consoled one another at this decree of Divine Providence and kept preparing ourselves for anything that God might ordain. René evidently did not perceive as clearly as I our present peril. For this reason I kept warning him to be prepared for the worst…

“One evening with sad hearts, René and I went beyond the village stockade to pray more reverently apart from its noise. Two Indian youths came after us ordering us to go back to our long house. I sensed some foreboding of what would happen and said to René: ‘My dear brother, let us commend ourselves to our Lord and to our dear Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am afraid these Indians have some evil design…

“A few minutes earlier René and I had offered ourselves to Our Lord with intense devotion. We begged God to accept our lives and our blood, and to unite them to His life and His blood for the salvation of these pagan tribes. We were returning to the village, praying our Rosary, of which we had already said four decades…

“We paused at the gate of the stockade to hear what the two Iroquois had to say. One of them drew a tomahawk from under his blanket, and dealt René a blow on the head. René fell prostrate to the ground, uttering the holy Name of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. We had often reminded each other to end our speech and our lives with that most holy Name…

“At the sound of the blow I turned around and beheld the tomahawk dripping with blood. I fell to my knees to receive the blow that would unite me to my dear companion. The Iroquois delayed. I rose again and rushed to René’s side as he lay expiring, but not before I had given him absolution. Since our captivity I had absolved him regularly every other day after his confession…

“It was the Feast of St. Michael, September the 29th, 1642, that this angel in innocence and martyr of Jesus Christ, René Goupil, gave his life for Christ Who had offered His life on the Cross for him. The Indians ordered me to go back to my long house. There I awaited that day and the next the same deadly tomahawk. Everyone believed that I would not have to wait long. But Our Lord averted this…

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Daria Sockey

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Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at thesockeys@gmail.com

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