This was without a doubt one of the most powerful, the most moving and the most edifying book I have ever read. I read it during an all time low and crisis of faith in Carmel; this book was placed in my hands by my Novice Mistress and it became for me a true source of consolation for the weeks ahead. In this book I found within it a true friend reaching out to me through the pages, a saint. When I read the horrific suffering he endured, my small trials paled in comparison. Saint Isaac Jogues taught me to embrace my cross; when I stumbled and was being crushed by the weight of it, he showed me his story and it gave me courage to fight.
No imaginary hero ever ran more terrible risks or saw more hair-raising sights than Father Isaac Jogues. ~Book-of-the-Month Club News~
Few books -if any- have ever made me weep, but this one moved me to almost uncontrollable tears. I remember struggling in the choir trying to hide my emotion, because I didn’t want the nuns to notice; other novices who had already read it knew it had some gory parts. Later at recreation one of the sisters said she saw my body get tense while reading the book before mental prayer (her spot was directly behind me in the Divine Office Choir) and she said “Poor Sister, it must be that Saint Isaac Jogues”. The book was called “Saint Among Savages” by Father Francis Talbot S.J. Through these pages, Isaac became my hero and his presence stuck with me for many months even after I returned the book to Mother. It was more than moving, it was heart- rending:
Back of the book (description):
America was a savage and mysterious wilderness when Isaac Jogues, fresh from the elegant life of Renaissance France, landed there in 1636. He came fervent in his priestly zeal to devote his life to spreading the Catholic Faith and civilizing the Indian nations that stalked the trackless forests of this unknown world- savages he was prepared to love, sight unseen, for the love of God and to serve with no reward but God’s favor. For six years he lived among the Hurons, a thousand miles from the last French outpost, enduring hunger, thirst, disease and humiliation at their hands. Captured by the Iroquois, he underwent diabolical tortures, enslavement by the Mohawks, and the constant threat of death.
Through the help of the Dutch, he escaped and returned to France, but in three months he yearned to return once more to his fearsome apostolate in the New World. “I go, but I shall never come back again,” (A statement I will never forget) were his words on the eve of embarking again for America. Shortly afterward, a skull splitting Mohawk tomahawk made him a martyr. A vast canvas unrolls in this suspenseful and swift-moving story of heroic sacrifice in the earliest days of New York and Canada. Against a background of bloody wars between great Indian nations and between savages and the first European settlers in America passes the magnificent figure of Jesuit, Isaac Jogues, intrepid pioneer, adventurer, victim of unbelievable cruelties, saint.
This is a book of violent action that appalls and horrifies, but that testifies to the faith and heroism of Isaac Jogues and his fellow martyrs.
My favorite part of the book was the ultimate climax for me; Saint Isaac had finally escaped and made it back to New France on Christmas Day. After going seventeen months without being able to celebrate Mass, receive Our Lord in Holy Communion or receive the sacrament of penance he was able to go to Christmas Mass. It was as though I could feel his childlike joy through the book, even though he was thirty six years old, he seemed to me a child when he found out he would be united to his God again sacramentally. I must warn you though, at this point when his ship docked his appearance was something startling to those awaiting at the port. He was stripped of his priestly cassock and his hands, particularly his fingers…were gone. The only torture I will allude to is the Indians essentially mutilated his hands, in fact- he no longer had thumbs and the rest of his fingers were nothing but stubs.
The section which deals with the torturing of Father Jogues and his colleagues stands as one of the most vivid pieces of literature this reviewer has been privileged to consider in a long, long time. ~ Montreal Star ~
Jogues received special permission from the pope to keep celebrating Mass, because holding the Sacred Host means using your thumbs. If you want to picture his suffering just imagine how much you can’t do without your thumbs. One Example: you wouldn’t be able to write. However, this glorious saint saw all these tortures as a gift from God; it was truly refreshing for me to see one embrace their cross so fearlessly and heroically. When he was finally able to go to confession and receive Our Lord on Christmas Day, I suspect my reaction will be similar to his own when this Coronavirus is over and the Church’s are open; like Isaac I will most likely weep with gratitude. Something else that touched me was the compassion he was shown by his citizens of New France, it was obvious to them he had been through a great ordeal. Before letting him enter the Church they gave him fresh clean clothes and restored his priestly dignity.
The fruit of Saint Isaac Jogue’s suffering is overwhelming and before his death two extraordinary things happened to him. He begged Our Lord for the grace of martyrdom- to be used to save the souls of the tribes he served; in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament he received a confirmation by none Other than Our Lord Himself- that this would be accomplished. Second, he had vivid dreams of the Iroquois and saw how the conversion of that particular tribe was HIS responsibility. In this dream he saw that he had to die and that his own blood (united to the Most Precious Blood of Christ) was necessary for the Iroquois to receive the grace of conversion. What was most incredible was after his glorious death, not too far in the distant future arose from the violent tribe of the Iroquois, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
Even when our sufferings seem fruitless or “non-redemptive”, Saint Isaac showed me that through the ashes came future saints that he laid the groundwork for. I hope his story inspires you to pick up this book, take up your cross and follow Our Crucified Lord, because eventually it will lead us to eternal life.