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Saint John de Brebeuf
Born: March 25, 1593 in Conde-sur-Vire, Normandy, France
Died: March 16, 1649 in Huron village of Saint Ignace, near Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland, Ontario, Canada
Venerated: Catholic Church
Canonized: June 29, 1930 by Pope Piux XI
Feast Day: October 19
John de Brebeuf 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.