The trials of a missionary martyr

To me, the very least of all the holy ones,
this grace was given,
to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ…
Ephesians 3: 8

Noël Chabanel was among the seven French Jesuits missionaries who are remembered today as the North American martyrs. St. Noël was killed in what is now Canada on December 8, 1649.

I didn’t know much about him before I came across this remark on his life in Franciscan Father Leonard Foley’s Saint of the Day:

Fr. Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Native Americans revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.

St. Noël wasn’t dumb; he had been a teacher of rhetoric in his native France but for some reason he could not master the native languages – and was mocked for this, even by children. His fastidious tastes found the food revolting. He experienced dryness in his spiritual life.

But he persevered, even making a vow to remain in mission in 1947:

“My Lord, Jesus Christ, who, by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to cooperate with the de-signs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversion of these Hurons to the faith; I, Noel Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the Testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron Mission; it being understood that all this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray, then, 0 Lord, that You will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that You will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen.”

He like many of his fellow Jesuits had a desire to give his life for the native peoples, even to the point of martyrdom. He endured the difficulties, until death.

In the face of difficulties in mission, I find it encouraging to know of a saint who suffered while on mission – and a suffering that in part came from within himself. All is not joy and roses and the presence of God, even in mission. There is tasteless or salty food; there are customs of the people that drive one crazy (especially the way people drive); and there is dryness of spirit. God sometimes seems so far away, so silent.

But St. Noël offers an example of perseverance, presence, and openness to the will of God.

Shortly before his death, before being sent to another mission site, he told one of the other Jesuits:

“I am going where obedience calls me, but whether I stay there or receive permission from my superior to return to the mission where I belong, I must serve God faithfully until death.”

When I was asked how long I’d be here in mission in Honduras, I responded (when asked in English), “Until God calls me somewhere else.” In Spanish it’s “Hasta que Dios quiere”.

St. Noël, help me be faithful in my mission.


An interesting account of St. Noël Chabanel can be found here.

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