Volume > Issue > The Final Journey of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America & the Birthplace of St. Catherine Tekakwitha

The Final Journey of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America & the Birthplace of St. Catherine Tekakwitha


By Richard Upsher Smith Jr. |
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).

Ed. Note: Part I of this two-part series appeared in our June issue.


Around 1950 hagiography began to demand the application of modern historical methods to the study of the lives of the saints. While in some hands this led to the “demythologizing” of the saints, concern for historical accuracy does not necessarily lead to the falsification of a saint’s miracles or to the diminution of a saint’s sanctity, even if some longstanding interpretations have to be changed. Similarly, other devotional literature should take historical study into account, including poetry, especially if it is about the saints.

The present article, of which this installment is the second and last, is an account of what I learned on a journey last summer about the places, people, and times in and among whom the Jesuit Martyrs of North America and St. Catherine Tekakwitha* did their work and lived their lives. I have sought historical accuracy and, I hope, achieved it.

In the first installment, we examined the geography and history of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes areas where Native Americans and Europeans came together in the 16th and 17th centuries. Trade emerged as the dynamic of the early intercourse among these peoples, and the Jesuit missionaries followed the trade routes from the St. Lawrence entrepôts to the land of the Huron on Georgian Bay, part of the Great Lakes system. The Jesuits struggled to cope with the Native American way of life, with its primitive living conditions, shamanistic religion, ritual torture and cannibalism, and the natives’ general distrust of Europeans.

In this installment, we will follow certain Jesuit captives on their voyages to Iroquoia and study the archeology and history of the shrines associated with them and St. Catherine. Finally, our various meditations will be drawn together, and we shall reflect on what we have learned.


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