Jesuit history

We observe that the French in America, through the influence of the Jesuits, made a powerful impression upon the minds of the Indians of this country, and easily persuaded them to become the friends of Frenchmen in peace and their allies in war. We have seen how the seeds of French dominion in America were planted by Champlain at Quebec. He had selected for his companions and spiritual co-workers some of the mild and benevolent priests of the Franciscan Order, who, he said, were "free from ambition," except to be instrumental in the salvation of souls. But these priests were not sufficiently aggressive to suit the ambitious Gallican Church, nor worldly-wise enough to serve the state in carrying out its political designs for enlarging its dominions in America. They were withdrawn, and the task of converting the heathen of Canada and serving the church and state at the same time was entrusted to the Jesuits. With their help Champlain established an alliance with the Hurons on the St. Lawrence and in the country westward; and so began that wide-spread affiliation of the French and Indians that became so disquieting to the English colonists.

So early as 1636 there were fifteen Jesuit priests in Canada--a band of zealous, obedient, self-sacrificing men, ready to endure every privation and encounter every danger in the service of their church. At an assembly of Huron chiefs and sachems at Quebec, Champlain introduced three of these black-robed missionaries to his Indian allies as men who were to teach good things for themselves and their children. These were Brebeuf, Daniel and Davost. With faith that never forsook them, these men followed the barefooted Indians through the dreadful forests of the Huron dominions stretching along the northern borders of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to the shores of Lake Huron, near which they established the first mission-house of the Jesuits among the dusky barbarians. It was a journey full of fatigue and peril. The priests shared in all the toil. They waded streams and swamps; climbed rocks; plied the oar when on the waters; assisted in carrying the canoes around almost forty waterfalls; slept on the bare earth with no covering but the sky, and for daily bread ate pounded Indian corn mixed with water. In the script of Brebeuf were materials for the administration of the Holy Communion; and around the neck of each was a cord that held a heavy breviary or order of the daily service in the Roman Catholic Church. The devotion of Brebeuf, in particular, was marvellous in the eyes of the wondering Indians. Twice a day, often, he whipped his own bare back with hard cords; he wore a bristling hair-shirt next to his skin, and under it an iron girdle studded with sharp points; and while others slept, he "watched and prayed." The barbarians regarded him with reverence and awe, as the greatest "medicine man" they had ever known: and when he told them of visits he had received from the Mother of God, and how he had battled with foul fiends, they believed him; and it was not long before whole tribes bowed at altars in rude Jesuit chapels in the forest, and became nominal Christians. They were taught to believe in Jesus as the guardian spirit of their lives; and that it was he, and not one of the many deities with which they had peopled earth, air and water, that had all along afforded them protection in great perils. so the Jesuits took a firm grasp of the Indian minds, and held a controlling influence over the children of the forest far and near, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. The Church in France, and the Pope, took a deep interest in the work; and a year before Massachusetts provided for the establishment of a college in that province, one was founded in Canada for the education of Indian boys. And very soon afterward a young and rich widow of France established the Ursuline Convent at Quebec for the education and religious training of Indian girls. She came with three nuns. They were received on the shore at Quebec by the governor and garrison of the fort. As they touched the ground when stepping from the boat, these devoted women stooped and kissed the earth in token of their adoption of the country as their home. Then they were escorted to the church, followed by a crowd of Indian men, women and children, where the Te Deum was chanted in the midst of thanksgivings.

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