Jesuit priest and martyr of Canada. Born in Normandy, Brébeuf became a Jesuit at Rouen in 1617. His health was so affected by tuberculosis that he could neither study nor teach for the customary periods. But he offered himself for the Canadian mission and sailed in 1625. He worked among the Huron Indians, unsuccessfully at first, but with considerable reward from 1633 until his death. At their request he lived among them, sometimes with companions and sometimes alone, preaching and catechizing in their own language. Superstition, violence, and cannibalism were among the obstacles to the apostolate; equally important was the fact that Brébeuf and his companions, however disinterested and spiritual, belonged to an alien, conquering race. He founded schools and baptized over 200 neophytes in one year. Once he was condemned to death, but spoke so eloquently about the after-life that he was reprieved. In 1646 his companion, Isaac Jogues, was killed by Iroquois tomahawks. In 1649 the Iroquois, deadly enemies of the Hurons, attacked the village where Brébeuf and his companion Gabriel Lalemant were. They were captured, mutilated, tortured, burnt, and eventually eaten. Their passion was one of the most horrifying in the records of martyrdom.
These Canadian Jesuit martyrs were canonized in 1930; their cult was extended world-wide in 1969 as the proto-martyrs of North America. Feast: 19 October (formerly 26 September).
R. G. Thwaites, Jesuit Relations (1897–1901);H. Fouqueray, Martyrs du Canada (1930);R. Latourelle, Étude sur les Écrits de S. Jean de Brébeuf (1953).
Subjects: Christianity — History of the Americas.