Category Archives: Canada

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.

Sober up!

How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself?
Sober up!
1 Samuel 1: 14
(Tanakh translation)

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys was a woman with vision.

As a young woman in France she tried to join the Carmelites and the Poor Clares but was rejected by these cloistered communities.

A local priest suggested that she had a mission beyond the cloister and she formed a group of women who taught poor children in her hometown of Troyes. But church authorities looked down upon this effort to form a community of non-cloistered women. Just a few years earlier the Vatican had suppressed the “galloping girls,” the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded by Mary Ward.

But it was not a church leader but the French governor of Ville-Marie in Canada who opened up the way for her vocation. He invited her to come and teach children in the settlement that would later become Montreal.

She went and ministered to children, to the sick, and to the small village. She went back to France to recruit more teachers and eventually these women sought to establish a religious community, the Congregation of Notre Dame, Our Lady.

They again ran up against church authorities who were wary of non-cloistered religious women and Montreal’s first bishop, Msgr. Laval, tried to get them to join the Ursuline sisters. But St. Marguerite prevailed, noting that

True it is that the cloister is a protection, but could we find a more powerful guardian than the Mother to whom the Eternal Father confided the Sacred Humanity of his Divine Son?

The community flourished and more women joined them, including two Iroquois and a New England convert to Catholicism.

St. Marguerite died on January 12, 1700.

As I read her story I thought of Hannah in today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 1: 9-20 who had a great desire to have a child. She prayed so intensely before God that the priest thought she was drunk. (I also thought of another Canadian saint, Marguerite d’Youville, who founded the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart,  whose name in French soeurs grises could also be translated as the tipsy nuns.)

How many people, especially women, are considered drunk or crazy because they have dreams that they bring before God, longing for their fulfillment.

May we not stifle them but support them in their efforts to make their dreams a reality so that God may be praised by their works of love.