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Thursday, October 18, 2007

St. Isaac Jogues & The Sparrow

Today is the Memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and as I read about him, I remembered (at least I think so) that I'd heard the The North American Martyrs were a reference for the science fiction novel The Sparrow.

Here's a little about Isaac Jogues from Wikipedia ....

Saint Isaac Jogues (January 10, 1607 – October 18, 1646) was a Jesuit missionary who traveled and worked among the Native Americans in North America ..... Born in Orléans, France, Jogues entered the Society of Jesus in 1624. In 1642, he was sent to New France as a missionary to the Huron and Algonquin allies of the French. While on his way by canoe to the country of the Hurons, Jogues was captured by a war party of Mohawk Iroquois, in the company of Guillaume Couture, René Goupil, and several Huron Christians. Taken back to the Mohawk village, they were tortured in various gruesome ways, Jogues himself having several of his fingers bitten or burned off. Jogues survived this torment and went on to live as a slave among the Mohawks for some time, even attempting to teach his captors the rudiments of Christianity. He was finally able to escape thanks to the pity of some Dutch merchants who smuggled him back to Manhattan. From there, he managed to sail back to France, where he was greeted with surprise and joy. As a "living martyr," Jogues was given a special permission by Pope Urban VIII to say the Holy Mass with his mutilated hands, as the Eucharist could not be touched with any fingers but the thumb and forefinger ....

He went back to Mohawk country and sadly was eventually killed there. In the science fiction novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, another Jesuit sets off as a missionary, this time to an alien planet, and though things seem to go well at first, his fellows are killed and his hands mutilated by those he came seeking. Here's a little from a a review by Richard Gray....


Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit Priest, is a master linguist who has been ordered by his superiors from place to place, learning languages and helping the poor and unfortunate for the glory of God. When he is allowed to return to his home town in Arecibo Puerto Rico he befriends a Anne Rice, a physician; her engineer husband, George; a young astronomer, Jimmy Quinn; and a former child prostitute turned computer expert, Sofia Mendez. On August 3rd, 2019 a radio transmission is picked up at Arecibo Puerto Rico from intelligent life on another planet. Jimmy Quinn is the first to hear it, and, against protocol, Jimmy's closets friends, including Sandoz, are next.

From the instant Sandoz hears the people of Rakhat singing from 4 light-years away he is convinced in the need to meet them for the glory of his God. He and his Jesuit order stop at nothing to put together the first mission to the planet and the crew includes himself, three other Jesuits, and his skilled friends from Arecibo.

Despite initial success, the mission goes horribly wrong. When a government led mission arrive several years later they find Sandoz with brutally mangled hands, living as a prostitute, and standing over the body of an alien child he had just murdered. Sandoz returns to earth, disgraced, and it is up to his Jesuit superiors to try and find out what happened.

The book is written from the point of view of two different time periods, alternating from chapter to chapter. One follows Sandoz as a broken man being questioned about the mission, and the other shows how the mission unfolded and what really happened. This approach to telling the story works perfectly for the plot and everything from chapter to chapter is masterfully paced.

The reader is immediately hooked by the question of what made Sandoz go from a devoted priest that believes his God is lovingly guiding his life to a man who is physically broken and has come to hate God. As the details of the mission are revealed the answer to that question may shock the reader ......


Both the novel and the life of the saint make me wonder about missionary work .... in a way it's a gift, both because it's perceived by the giver as good and because the one to whom it's given didn't ask for it ..... but I have mixed feelings about its merits.


Blogger Talmida said...

One of my all-time favourite books. It was a revelation to me. Tell me you've read the sequel, Children of God?

I thought it was very funny that we know St. Issac and his confrères as the "Canadian Martyrs" but other people know them as the "North American Martyrs".

I was also kind of ticked off at the fact that my Breviary is American, because apparently, Canada celebrated their feast day on Sept 26, but America celebrates it today. I wonder why that is (and how I find a better breviary!).

7:41 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Talmida,

Yeah, when I saw that it was the memorial of the "North American Martyrs" I was confused .... were there two groups of Jesuits and this one couldn't cross the border to Canada because they had fruit in their luggage? :-)

I haven't even read The Sparrow yet - just read "about" it. Is the sequel also good?

10:56 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

The Sparrow is great.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Jesuits in space! There's an idea... although, as you know, there's no shortage of people who will tell you that they're in outer space already. ;-)

Jogues was an intriguing guy. We've been to the Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville NY. It's pretty interesting. I wanted to get to the one in Huronia the summer before last when we were up there, but we didn't get the chance.

The story of Jogues and the way that book is described reminds me of the terrific book by Brian Moore, Black Robe. The movie was pretty good too, although some of the violence in it is pretty rough (there is some beautiful scenery of Canada, but man, it makes you feel COLD).

The priest in the story, Father Laforgue, is not likeable like the Jesuits in The Mission. He has a hard time connecting with the Native-Americans, doesn't like them, and isn't liked by them. He sees the New World as devil-possessed, and feels far from God. At the end, however, he finds a way to become pastor to a Huron village. They find that in the end, they need each other.

The movie and the book explore the huge cultural and communication chasm between the Native-Americans and the European missionaries, which was almost unbridgeable. I'm speaking from memory, but there was a scene illustrating it that went something like this.

Father Laforgue wants to impress the Algonquins with literacy. He figures he has an opportunity for a "teachable moment". He tells one of them:

"Tell me something I don't know."

An Algonquin says to him:

"My grandmother got sick last winter and died."

Laforgue writes it down and walks over to another Frenchman standing some distance away and asks him to read it aloud for everyone.

The Algonquins are clearly amazed. Laforgue, before striding away, says "There are many other wondrous things that I can teach you."

One Algonquin says to the first in their own language:

"He's a demon. You'd better kill him now."

2:13 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

OK so thats like the third or fourth time I've heard about this Jesuit's in space book The Sparrow. After the Steven King one I'm reading now, I have to find that book!

2:55 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam :-)

3:40 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

I thought of you when I was reading about Jogues - wikipedia said he died in the same area where that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was born.

I have to see that movie, Black Robes - it sounds interesting in a grim kind of way.

3:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Yeah, me too - still haven't read it myself.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Sparrow brilliant. Children of God very good (and it kind of explains some of The Sparrow, in case you're a bit confused, which I was).

I remember Black Robe -- very violent, I didn't finish watching it. Might give it another try now.

And Jeff, cold is beautiful! My Beloved and I notice the climate change because we no longer have the -40 degree winters of our childhood anymore.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Oh yeah, and the shrine is in Midland , Ontario, where there was a huge lumber industry. My ancestors were sawyers there before coming west.


5:22 PM  
Blogger victor said...

Hello Crystal,

It's about time I get back on the net. Summer is gone but with the weather that we're still having in Canada in the Gateway of The North where I live it's kind of hard to believe that summer is really over.
Anyway your topic brings back memories of the stories that I was told as a French child about the many missionaries being tortured and killed by The Indians of the pass. I remember being told stories that the heart of some of these priest who came from France had literally been eaten by certain Indian tribes because they believed that they might become as brave as they were. Some might say that it was just weard circumstances which brought these priest to come around but I believe that they were simply crazy for The Love of our Lord. Some might also say that they were simply puppets, dummies and/or even decoys for The Love of God.

What ever the reason, I believe that when these Christians seen the light, again I say that the honesty was so great that they had to follow their dream.

Called them whatever you like,Priest, Father or whatever else we might think of them, I believe that the honestly they feld was so great that nothing could stop them from going out to preach the good news to these people.

As a matter of fact one of my great, great grand father who was an alcholic use to drive some priest around so that they could preach to the Indians. I was also told that one priest got killed while doing so and as long as my great relative got his wine bottle he was happy. How he got away God only knows but God Bless His Soul just the same.
There's so much more that I could say about Indians and of their blood that might even be flowing through my vain but I better leave that for another chapter of my life.

God Bless

9:01 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor,

I don't mean to second guess the motives of the Jesuit missionaries - I'm sure they had the best of intentions. I especially admire the Jesuits that went to Japan.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

I know what you mean. I have that mixed reaction to missionary work too. I know it can't be all bad - my favorite aunt is a Sister of the Holy Cross and has worked in Mali - hope I spelled that right, it's in Africa - for maybe twenty years. She's so completely non-preachy I find it hard to imagine her doing anything but working hard to help people and setting a good example, which to me would represent missionary work at its best.

8:35 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Paul,

your aunt sounds like a great person. I think there are others like her who help and act as good examples rather than imposing themselves .... the Jesuit Refugee Service is an example.

11:21 AM  

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