Saint John de Brebeuf

Also known as

  • Jean

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French Jesuit. He wanted to enter the priesthood from an early age, but his health was so bad there were doubts he could make it. His posting as a missionary to frontier Canada at age 32, however, was a literal god-send. He spent the rest of his life there, and the harsh and hearty climate so agreed with him that the Natives, surprised at his endurance, called him Echon, which meant load bearer, and his massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear it would sink. Brebeuf had great difficulty learning the Huron language. “You may have been a famous professor or theologian in France,” he wrote in a letter home, “but here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse.” However, he eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.

According to histories of the game, it was John de Brebeuf who named the present day version of the Indian game lacrosse because the stick used reminded him of a bishop‘s crosier (la crosse).

Saint John was martyred in 1649, tortured to death by the Iroquois. By 1650 the Huron nation was exterminated, and the laboriously built mission was abandoned. But it proved to be “one of the triumphant failures that are commonplace in the Church‘s history.” These martyrdoms created a wave of vocations and missionary fervor in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.

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Brebeuf’s Instructions to the Missionaries: In 1637, Father Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Huron. They reflect his own experience, and a genuine sensitivity toward the native people.

  • You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.
  • You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking.
  • Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts.
  • Try to eat the little food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours.
  • Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun.
  • Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe.
  • Be the least troublesome to the Indians.
  • Do not ask many questions; silence is golden.
  • Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to appear cheerful.
  • Carry with you a half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish.
  • Always carry something during the portages.
  • Do not be ceremonious with the Indians.
  • Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle.
  • The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip.
  • Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.

MLA Citation

  • “Saint John de Brebeuf“. Saints.SQPN.com. 17 February 2014. Web. 11 July 2014. <>