St. Isaac Jogues, SJ (1607–1646)

One of the eight North American Martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues, SJ, was inspired to become a missionary after reading The Jesuit Relations. 

Europe in the 17th century received its first detailed information of the expanding world through The Jesuit Relations, the record sent back by Jesuit missionaries from their distant outposts. 

As a Jesuit novice, Isaac Jogues read these enthralling letters from the missionaries in Ethiopia and the Indies. He was especially moved by the account of the martyrdom by fire of Carlo Spinola, SJ, in Japan in 1622. Thereafter Isaac Jogues always carried Spinola’s picture with him. This also inspired Isaac’s own desire to be sent to the missions. After his ordination in 1636, Isaac Jogues was assigned to be a missionary to the native peoples of New France (Canada). 

Isaac entered a world of perpetual conflict and few of the amenities of Europe. Especially violent were the wars between the Hurons and the Mohawks. In the eight years of his initial ministry, Jogues spent six with the Hurons and had considerable success with many conversions. Then in 1642 he was captured by the Mohawks and was brutally tortured. Jogues lost two of his fingers in the torture and spent 13 months as a slave. Isaac Jogues was finally ransomed by Dutch merchants in Albany. He was given passage to New Amsterdam (New York) and then to France, where he landed absolutely destitute. 

Through The Jesuit Relations, all of France had heard of Jogues’ capture. Expecting to hear of his death, France instead witnessed the return of a living martyr. He was courted by royalty and could have remained and continued to be celebrated as a hero. But Jogues’ principal concern was to receive canonical permission to celebrate the Mass in spite of his mutilated hands. This permission was given to him by Pope Urban VIII. At his first opportunity, Jogues returned to continue his work with the Mohawks. 

At first Isaac Jogues was able to establish peaceful relations with the Mohawks; the Mohawks, however, considered him a sorcerer and blamed Jogues for the famine and disease that struck their homes in 1646. They invited Jogues to visit them and crushed his skull with a tomahawk as he entered the chief’s cabin. His head and that of his companion John de la Lande were placed on poles facing the trails on which they came. 

Isaac Jogues was canonized as one of the eight North American Martyrs in 1930. 


Related Links

St. John de Brébeuf, SJ 

Read The Jesuit Relations online. 

Isaac Jogues, SJ: Discover of Lake George
By Thomas J. Campbell, SJ
A vivid account of Isaac Jogues’ mission to Native American peoples in Canada and upper New York. Jogues was apparently the first European to traverse Lake George, which he named Lake of the Blessed Sacrament. It was later named Lake George by Sir William Johnson. Full text of book from 1911, available in several formats.