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On the Trail of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America & St. Catherine Tekakwitha


By Richard Upsher Smith Jr. | June 2019
Richard Upsher Smith Jr. is retired from teaching classics and honors at Franciscan University of Steubenville. After serving for 19 years in the Anglican ministry, he converted to Catholicism in 2001. He recently published “Jacques Maritain’s ‘Integral Education’: Its Context, Content, and Feasibility Today (Part I)” in The Catholic Social Science Review (vol. 22; 2017), and “Part II” (vol. 23; 2018). The translations in this article from the French are found in Sr. M. Renelle’s rendition of Jesuit Missionaries to North America: Spiritual Writings and Biographical Sketches by François Roustang, S.J. (Ignatius, 2006).

In late August and early September 2018, I drove 2,845 miles from my home in eastern Ohio to many of the sites associated with the eight Jesuit Martyrs of North America and Jesuit convert St. Catherine Tekakwitha.* As well as I could by automobile, I also followed the canoe routes they traveled. As doubt has been cast on the site of the Martyrs’ Shrine at Auriesville, New York, and on St. Catherine’s residence there and at the Caughnawaga Site across the Mohawk River in Fonda, I tried to form my own judgment on the locations of the true sites as well as I could from published archeological reports and my own desultory investigations.

My thoughts along the way, here recounted and elaborated, were not unlike certain of the preludes (los preámbulos) and points (los puntos) of an Ignatian meditation. After the initial prayer, St. Ignatius’s meditations generally start with three preludes and continue with several points. The meditation ends with one or more colloquies (los coloquios), in which the exercitant asks for graces associated with the meditation that will promote his praise of God and salvation. The first prelude generally recalls the story (la historia) being meditated, the second is a taking stock of the place (la composición viendo el lugar) where the story happened, and the third is a request for what the exercitant wants from the meditation. The points of the Ignatian meditation generally require contemplation of the persons (las personas) or application of the five senses of the imagination (los cinco sentidos de la imaginación) to the mystery being meditated.

The investigations reported herein are preludes and points to the composition and revision of hymns and poems I have been writing on the Jesuit martyrs and St. Catherine. Historians and poets have to “get inside” their subjects if they are to understand and represent them well. Such a penetration into the minds and hearts of my subjects through a contemplation of their circumstances is what I have attempted here.


Preliminary Considerations

The Great Lakes are each the size of a sea. Lake Ontario debouches into the St. Lawrence River southwest of the islands that form the present metropolis of Montreal. This great river flows north-northeast to the Atlantic, forming the enormous Gulf of St. Lawrence at its mouth. Important native entrepôts, later exploited by the French, existed at Trois-Rivières and Tadoussac. The Ottawa River, flowing down from the west-northwest through the Canadian Shield, adds itself to the St. Lawrence at Montreal. Between Trois-Rivières and Montreal, the river widens for a stretch to form Lac Saint-Pierre, at the western end of which, at the present Tracy-Sorel, cluster many islands. The Richelieu River, draining Lake Champlain, joins the St. Lawrence at Tracy-Sorel. From the head of Lake Champlain, portages existed to Lake George and the Mohawk River and to the Hudson River.

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On the Trail of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America & St. Catherine Tekakwitha

Historians have to “get inside” their subjects if they are to understand and represent them well. 2,845 miles' worth of investigations are reported here.