The United States is a Land of Many Martyrs

If you asked the average well informed Catholic about martyrs in the United States, my guess would be that they would point you to the North American Martyrs of upstate New York. That would have been my answer until fairly recently. In fact, over a hundred martyrs have died within the modern boundaries of the United States (even if most of them died before our country existed).

Why does it matter that we are a land of martyrs? As Tertullian said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. We have a strong spiritual foundation to build upon in our country. We tend to think of the United States as a mostly Protestant country with later Catholic immigration. Actually, the United States expanded into territory already sanctified by the martyrs. We continue the legacy of these martyrs and we can draw upon the efficacy and merits of their deaths and prayers.

Bishop David Arias’ book, The Martyrs of the United States, has provided us with a remarkable service in putting together an account of these martyrs. It is truly amazing that nearly every region of our country has had martyrs (although one conspicuous absence is the Pacific Northwest). Bishop Arias gives a short description of 120 martyrs chronologically.

Here are a few points of analysis on the martyrs. They are overwhelmingly Spanish, but there are many Frenchmen as well. About five of them are Native American.  There are over 70 Franciscans, 24 Jesuits, and 8 Dominicans. Ten of them were martyred after 1776. New Mexico is the State with the most martyrs, because of the Pueblo revolts. I first encountered these martyrs through a large memorial cross in the northern part of Santa Fe, honoring 21 of them.

There has been a recent surge of interest and recognition of the importance of the heritage of these many martyrs. Causes have been opened for the martyrs of Florida (Servants of God Antonio Cuipa and Companions), Georgia, and Virginia.  There is also interest in the cause of Fr. Juan de Padilla, who traveled with Coronado and is considered the proto-martyr of the US, for his death in Kansas in 1542.

Here is a slightly edited list of martyrs by State as provided by Bishop Arias, with some of my notes in parentheses. You may be surprised that you are living near ground sanctified by the blood of these heroes of our faith.

Alabama

  • 1708 Fr. Jacques Gravier, SJ
  • 1921 Fr. James E. Coyle, OFM (native of Ireland; killed by the KKK)

Alaska

  • 1886 Archbishop Charles J. Seghers (Belgian missionary, founder of the Alaskan mission, killed by a travelling companion)

Arizona

  • 1632 Fr. Martin Arvide, OFM
  • 1633 Fr. Francisco Porras, OFM
  • 1680 Fr. José Espeleta, OFM; Fr. Augustin Santamaria, OFM; Fr. José Figueroa, OFM; Fr. José Trujillo, OFM
  • 1751 Fr. Enrique Ruhen, SJ

California

  • 1775 Fr. Luis Jayme, OFM
  • 1781 Fr. Juan Barreneche, OFM; Fr. Juan Diaz, OFM; Fr. Francisco Garcés, OFM; Fr. José M. Moreno, OFM
  • 1812 Fr. Andres Quintana, OFM
  • 1921 Fr. Patrick Heslin (native of Ireland; kidnapped and murdered in San Francisco)

Colorado

  • 1908 Fr. Leo Heinrichs, OFM (native of Germany; killed by an anarchist in St. Elizabeth’s Church in Denver)

Florida

  • 1549 Fr. Luis Cáncer, OP; Br. Fuentes, OP; Fr. Diego de Tolosa, OP
  • 1647 Three Franciscans
  • 1696 Fr. Luis Sánchez Pacheco, OFM
  • 1704 Fr. Juan Parga, OFM; Br. Marcos Delgado, OFM; Antonio Acuipa Feliciano, Indian; Luis Domingo (Cui), Indian; Fr. Tiburcio Osorio, OFM; Fr. Manuel Mendoza, OFM (martyred by colonists of South Carolina)
  • 1705 Fr. Domingo Criado, OFM; Fr. Augustin Ponce de Leon, OFM

Georgia

  • 1566 Fr. Pedro Martinez, SJ
  • 1597 Fr. Miguel Aunon, OFM; Fr. Antonio Badajoz, OFM; Francisco Berascola, OFM; Fr. Pedro Corpa, OFM; Fr. Blas Rodrigeuz

Illinois

  • 1680 Fr. Gabriel de la Ribourde, OFM

Kansas

  • 1542 Fr. Juan Padilla, OFM (the proto-martyr)

Louisiana

  • 1706 Fr. Jean F. Buisson de St. Cosme

Maine

  • 1724 Fr. Sebastian Rasle, SJ (killed by Puritan, English colonists)

Michigan

  • 1706 Fr. Constantine Delhalle, OFM

Minnesota

  • 1736 Fr. Jean Pierre Aulneau, SJ

Mississippi

  • 1702 Fr. Nicolas Foucault, SFM
  • 1729 Fr. Paul du Poisson, SJ; Fr. Jean Souel, SJ
  • 1736 Fr. Antonin Senat, SJ

Nebraska

  • 1720 Fr. Juan Minguez, OFM

New Mexico

  • 1542 Fr. Juan de la Cruz, OFM; Fr. Luis de Escalona, OFM
  • 1581 Fr. Juan Santamaria, OFM
  • 1582 Fr. Francisco López, OFM; Fr. Augustin Rodríguez, OFM
  • 1631 Fr. Pedro Miranda, OFM; Fr. Pedro Ortega, OFM; Fr. Francisco Letrado, OFM
  • 1672 Fr. Pedro Ávila, OFM
  • 1675 Fr. Alonso Gil, OFM
  • 1680 Fr. Juan Bautista Pío, OFM; Fr. Juan Bernal, OFM; Fr. Juan de Jesus María, OFM; Fr. Francisco Lorenzana, OFM; Fr. Lucas Mallonado, OFM; Fr. José Montes de Oca, OFM; Fr. Antonio Mora, OFM; Fr. Luis Morales de Baeza, OFM; Bartolomé Naranjo; Br. Juan Pedrosa, OFM; Fr. Matías Rendón, OFM; Br. Antoni Sánchez Pro, OP; Fr. Juan Talaban; Fr. Manuel Tinoco, OFM; Fr. Tomas Torres, OFM; Fr. Juan del Val, OFM; Fr. Domingo Vera, OFM; Fr. Fernando Velasco, OFM
  • 1696 Fr. José Arbizu, OFM; Fr. Antonio Carbonell, OFM; Fr. Francisco Casañas, OFM; Fr. Francisco Corvera, OFM; Fr. Antonio Moreno, OFM

New York

  • 1642 St. René Goupil, SJ
  • 1646 St. Isaac Jogues, SJ; St. Jean de Lalande, SJ
  • 1648 St. Antoine Daniel, SJ
  • 1690 Stephen Teganonakoa (Iroquois laymen and father of six)
  • 1692 Margaret Garangouas and her child (25-year-old, laywoman of the Onondaga tribe); Frances Gonanhetenha (laywoman of the same tribe)

Puerto Rico

  • 1529, 1582 Martyrs of Aguada (5 Franciscans martyred in 1529 and 3 in 1582; among the earliest martyrs of the Americas)

Texas

  • 1553 Fr. Diego de la Cruz, OP; Fr. Juan Ferrer, OP; Fr. Juan Mena, OP; Fr. Hernando Méndez, OP
  • 1688 Abbe Chefdeville; Fr. Maxime LeClerq, OFM; Zenobe Membré, OFM
  • 1721 Fr. Jose Pita, OFM
  • 1726 Fr. Luis Montes de Oca, OFM
  • 1749 Fr. Francisco Silva, OFM
  • 1752 Fr. José F. Ganzabal, OFM
  • 1758 Fr. Alonso Giraldo Terreros, OFM; Fr. Jose Santiesteban, OFM
  • 1834 Fr. Antonio Diaz de Leon, OFM (baptized Sam Houston; killed by American settlers)

Virginia

  • 1571 Juan Bautista Segura, SJ; Fr. Luis Quiros, SJ; Br. Gabriel Gómez, SJ; Fr. Sancho Zeballos, SJ; Br. Pedro Linares, SJ; Juan Bautista Méndez, SJ; Gabriel Solis, SJ; Cristóbal Redondo, SJ
  • 1697 Fr. Christopher Plunkett, OFM Cap. (native of Ireland; forced into slavery by English colonists)

Wisconsin

  • 1661 Fr. René Menard, SJ
  • 1672 Br. Jean Guerin, SJ
  • 1687 Br. Luis Le Boesme, SJ
  • 1715 Fr. Leonard Vatier, SJ

image: tishomir / Shutterstock.com

R. Jared Staudt

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R. Jared Staudt works in the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver. He earned his BA and MA in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and his PhD in Systematic Theology from Ave Maria University in Florida. Staudt served previously as a director of religious education in two parishes, taught at the Augustine Institute and the University of Mary, and served as co-editor of the theological journal Nova et Vetera. He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.

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