March 17th : Saint Gabriel Lalemant, SJ

Saint Gabriel Lalemant, SJ

Born :October 10, 1632
Died : March 17, 1649
Beatified : June 21, 1925
Canonized : June 29, 1930

Gabriel Lalemant was born in Paris and educated at Clermont College. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at nineteen. He had a burning desire to serve as a missionary in New France and when he pronounced his vows to the Society, he added another vow to devote himself to the foreign mission. He spent the first seven years teaching in France as his yearly request to go to New France was rejected by his superior, partly because of his poor health. His prayer was finally answered in 1646 when his provincial appointed him to the Huron mission through the intervention of his uncle who was the superior of the mission. Together with three other Jesuits and one brother, he arrived in Quebec on Sep 1646.

Fr Lalemant spent the first few months studying the Huron language and customs before he could begin his actual pastoral work. He set out for Sainte-Marie, the mission headquarters in Aug 1648 and started accompanying Fr John de Brebeuf on a weekly schedule of visits to neighbouring villages. Fr Lalemant’s actual ministry did not last long before he was martyred. Six months after he came to Sainte-Marie, he set out with Fr Brebeuf for the village of Saint-Louis where during the night the Iroquois attacked another nearby village and the two Jesuits knew that Saint-Louis would be next.

The two Jesuits were taken prisoner because they had refused to flee into the forest before the attack. The captors pulled out their fingernails, chewed their fingers before forcing them to run naked through the snow to another village where the Iroquois warriors waited. The captives had to run the gauntlet and then the two Jesuits were led to two posts where they were to be killed. Apparently Fr Lalemant had to watch the torments that Fr Brebeuf suffered before his turn a few hours later. His tormentors set fire around his feet, then burned him with heated metal hatchets and poured scalding water over his head. After they cut off his hands and gouged out his eyes, they placed hot coals in the sockets. Then they stopped for the night so that their victim could endure another day of torture. The next day they shoved burning wood into his mouth and sliced off his tongue. But Fr Lalemant proved as courageous as his Jesuit companion, Fr Brebeuf and refused to shriek for mercy. Finally they tore his heart out and ate it to gain his courage.

Fr Lalemant was only thirty-six when he died after fifteen hours of unbelievable torment. Together with Fr Brebeuf, his body was buried near the chapel door at Sainte-Marie.