September 26, 2016
ON May 8, 1643, Noel Chabanel left his secure and comfortable position as a Jesuit priest and rhetoric teacher in Toulouse, France to travel to the Canadian wilderness to become a missionary among the Hurons.
He never was successful at his missionary work. Some say he never converted a single person among the Indians of North America.
Though he was an intelligent man, accomplished in other languages, he could not master the Huron language, no matter how hard he tried. Being a person of delicate sensibilities, he found the life of the Hurons, including the food, smells and customs, almost unbearably repugnant. It was so revolting and difficult for him that he vowed to spend the rest of his life uncomplainingly among these primitive people:
“I pray, then, 0 Lord, that You will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that You will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry.”
He was murdered when he was struck with a tomahawk on Dec. 8, 1649 by a Huron apostate and dumped in an icy river. His body was never found. Noel Chabanel, who died at the age of 36, succeeded in one thing in this wilderness: his desire to give his life for God.
Today is the feast of the eight men known as the North American Martyrs, who together did succeed in converting many hundreds of the natives. They also include Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues and Rene Goupil, who was tortured and later killed with a hatchet after he made the sign of the cross over a child. A full book on the life of St. Isaac Jogues, who lived among the Iroquois, can be found here. More on Noel Chabanel, a patron saint for misfits, can be found here.