December 8th : St. Noel Chabanel, SJ

St. Noel Chabanel, SJ

Born : Feb 2, 1613
Died : Dec 8, 1649
Beatified : Jun 21, 1925
Canonised : Jun 29, 1930

Noel Chabanel was born in Sagues, southern France. He entered the Society of Jesus at Toulouse at the age of seventeen and followed the prescribed course of studies for Jesuits and was ordained in 1640 at the age of twenty-eight. After his ordination, Fr Chabanel taught rhetoric for several years in the Jesuit College in Toulouse.

Fr Chabanel was a successful professor and humanist in France but had a strong desire to serve in the Canadian missions. He arrived in Quebec in 1643 and could not set out for Huronia as the Iroquois Indians were on the warpath against the French. He spent the year learning the native language at Sillery where Fr John de Brebeuf was in charge. Fr Chabanel finally joined the Hurons in their territory arriving at Sainte-Marie in Sep 1644.

Although Fr Chabanel was intelligent and an excellent teacher, he had difficulty learning the Huron language which he found very guttural and offensive, having been so accustomed to the refined sounds of French. He could not adjust to their customs and their filthy ways and much against his will, he developed a dislike for them and wished he were elsewhere. Whenever he pined for France, he responded by affirming his decision to remain in Huronia, even though it meant another excruciating day for him. Fr Chabanel’s superior understood the state of mind he was in and was willing to send him home to France but he chose to remain. It was through this gloom, this dark night that enveloped his soul, that God was trying the future martyr’s fidelity. This internal torture lasted for a few years and on June 20, 1647, he generously promised God: “I vow perpetual stability in this Huron mission.” He knew it was God that brought him there and hence he would remain.

Fr Chabanel traveled with Fr Brebeuf through the Indian villages and from the winter of 1647 onwards, he worked among the Algonquins at Sainte-Marie until the fall of 1649 when he was sent to assist Fr Charles Garnier in his works among the Petuns in Etarita. Before he left for Etarita, he wrote to his closest friend: “This time I hope to give myself to God once and for all and to belong entirely to him.” His stay with Fr Garnier was short-lived as the threat of the Iroquois was growing. The latter planned to annihilate the Petuns and burn their villages. In view of this threat, Fr Garnier instructed Fr Chabanel to return to the mission’s centre of operation. In obedience, Fr Chabanel left on Dec 5, 1649 after visiting the Petun village of Saint-Matthias, spending the night with the two priests stationed there.

On the morning of 7 Dec, he walked a difficult eighteen miles with his Huron companions through thick woodland. At nightfall while his companions slept, Fr Chabanel stayed awake and prayed. At midnight he heard noises in the distance which he soon recognized as the victory songs of the Iroquois mingled with the sad cries of their captives. Unknown to him, Etarita had been attacked by the Iroquois and Fr Garnier was also massacred. Fr Chabanel awakened his companions who then decided to return to Saint-Matthias. As Fr Chabanel was so worn out from fatigue, he could not keep up with his companions. At daybreak he continued his way to the headquarters as he had been ordered. He came to a river and waited for help as it was too deep to cross. An Indian found him and took him into his canoe. Poor Fr Chabanel never made it across because the Indian, formerly a Christian but now an apostate, robbed him of his belongings, tomahawked him, and threw his body into the river. It was only two years later that the murderer admitted to the killing of Fr Chabanel and that he killed the priest because of his hatred for the missionaries and their faith.

Fr Chabanel died on Dec 8, 1649. Though his years among the Hurons were less adventurous than some of his companions and his death not as excruciating, nevertheless, the Lord accepted his noble offering to remain in the missions and with his death, God’s acceptance of Fr Chabanel was made complete. He was canonized on June 29 1930.