Established in 1960, under the direction of the late Archbishop Leo Binz, the Retreat House is officially dedicated to the North American Martyrs, Saints Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and ]ohn Lalande. The Retreat House location is reminiscent of the time in which these early martyrs trod the land of North America. The location is in the beautiful Cedar River Valley, surrounded by 75 acres of trees and uninhabited beauty, creating an atmosphere of peace and serenity, which is an ideal setting for rejuvenation of the spirit.
Operated by the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and financed through the offerings of the people of this Archdiocese, retreatants and other interested donors, and patrons the American Martyrs Retreat House and grounds have provided thousands of people space to walk, pray and relish the beauty and quiet. Here you will find a peaceful environment to experience the richest presence of Christ in the fullest manner possible through prayer, scripture, sacramental celebrations, solitude and dialogue. You are invited to come, rest, and pray awhile at American Martyrs Retreat House. This diocesan retreat center offers a place and space to nurture a life of holiness and mission.
Open to retreatants the year-round, the Retreat House has 58 individual bedrooms, an air-conditioned chapel, lounge and a dining room, where 70 persons can dine at each meal. The Retreat House offers preached and individually self-directed retreats, workshops, seminars, meetings and private space for prayer and quiet. Retreatants are asked to contribute a moderate fee to help defer the cost of their meals and lodging.
In 1636 there arrived in Quebec five Jesuits, two of whom were destined to be numbered among the North American Martyrs; they were Father Jogues, who was to become the apostle of a new Indian nation, and Father Garrier.
Isaac Jogues had been born at Orleans, and after entering the Jesuit novitiate at Rouen at the age of seventeen had studied at the royal collect of LaFleche. After his ordination he was appointed to Canada and sailed with the governor of New France, Huault de Montmagny. Jogues was 29 years of age.
Most of the newcomers went almost at once to join Father de Brefuef. Relics of this priest, Father Garnier who is mentioned above, and of Father Lalemant are venerated here in the retreat house. They can be seen in the chapel. Father Jogues, who had not been intended at first for the Huron Mission, followed a few months later.
Slow and Difficult Work
An epidemic, which was raging in the village, afflicted most of the missionaries. Even the convalescents ministered to the Indian sick. Meanwhile, the village sorcerer spread the suspicion that the foreigners were the cause of the sickness.
A second mission was established at Tenaustaye, and Father Lalemant was appointed in charge of both stations, which Father Brefeuf at his own wish undertook the care of a new location, called Sainte-Marie, at some distance from the Indian villages. This new settlement served as a central bureau for missions and as a headquarters for the Jesuits as well as for the Frenchmen who served as soldiers or laborers.
A hospital and a fort were erected and a cemetery established. For five years the pioneers worked perseveringly, often undertaking long and perilous expeditions to other tribes by whom they were often very badly received.
The first adult to be baptized in 1637 was followed by eighty, two years later, and by sixty in 1641. It did not seem like many, but it proved that genuine conversion was possible.
Suffering for Christ
In 1642 the Huron country was in great distress. Harvests were poor, sickness was rampant, and proper clothing was scarce. Quebec was the only source of supplies. Father Jogues was chosen to lead and expedition to Quebec to obtain the necessary help.
The expedition reached its objective safely and started back well supplied with goods for the mission. The Iroquois, the bitter enemies of the Hurons and the fiercest of all Indian tribes, were on the warpath and ambushed the small band of Frenchmen.
Father Jogues and his assistant, Rene Goupil, besides being beaten to the ground and assailed several times with knotted sticks and fists, had their hair, beards and nails torn off and their forefingers bitten through. What grieved them more than their own sufferings was the cruelty practiced on their converts who had been captured with them.
St. Rene Goupil
The first of the group to suffer martyrdom was Rene Goupil. He was tomahawked on September 29, 1642, for teaching a child to make the Sign of the Cross. Rene Goupil was a remarkable man. He had tried hard to be a Jesuit and had even entered the novitiate before he was twenty years old. Poor health, however, forced him to give up the attempt. He then studied surgery and found his way to Canada where he offered his services to the missionaries whose fortitude he admired. In less than two years he died a heroic death with Father Jogues receiving his vows as a Jesuit lay brother and giving him absolution as he repeated the Holy Name of Jesus. St. Rene Goupil stands at the left of St. Isaac Jogues as you look at the portrait hanging in the main hall or at the stained glass window in the Chapel.
St. Isaac Jogues
Father Isaac Jogues remained a slave among the Mohawks who soon decided to kill him. He owed his escape to the Dutch, who ever since they had heard of the sufferings he and his companions were enduring, had been trying to obtain their release.
Through the efforts of the governor of New Netherlands he was take on board a vessel, and by the way of England went back to France, where his arrival aroused the keenest interest.
According to the general regulation of the Church, Father Jogues was barred from celebrating Mass because of his mutilated fingers, but Pope Urban VIII granted him special permission to do so, say: “It would be unjust that a martyr for Christ should not drink the blood of Christ.”
Early in 1644 Father Jogues was again at sea and on his way back to New France and the missions. Arriving in Montreal, he began work among the Indians of that neighborhood, awaiting the time when he could return to the Huron’s, a journey which was becoming more perilous because the Iroquois were everywhere along the route.
Unexpectedly, the Iroquois sent a delegation to Three Rives to ask for peace. Father Jogues, who was present at the conference was selected as ambassador to meet the Iroquois chiefs at Ossernenon, together with J. Bourdon, who represented the government of the French colony.
They went by the route of Lake Champlain and Lake George, and after spending a week in confirming the pact, they returned to Quebec. Father Jogues, however left behind a box of religious articles because he was resolved to return later to them as a missionary. The box proved to be the immediate cause of his martyrdom.
The crop had been bad and soon after Father Jogues’s departure an epidemic broke out which was attributed to a “devil” concealed in the box. The result was that when the Jesuit paid a third visit to their village they waylaid, stripped and ill-treated him and his companion, John LaLande.
St. John LaLande
LaLande was a trapper of fearless courage; that was the reason he was chosen as a companion for Father Jogues on his perilous journey to the Mohawks. They knew Jogues’s prophesy: “I shall go, but shall not return.” Even though he was scarcely twenty years old he was willing to risk even his life to be with the missionary priest.
So meek was LaLande, so much did he efface himself that he even escaped the notice of those who were working for the canonization of his fellow seven martyrs until Rome directed at the last minute that he should be included in the group.
The captors of the two Frenchmen were members of the Bear clan, and although other clans tried to protect the prisoners, the Bear clan refused to allow their fate to be decided in the council.
The Martyr’s Crown
Some of them treacherously invited Jogues to a meal on the evening of October 18 and tomahawked him as he entered the cabin. His head was cut off and placed on a pole facing the route by which he had come. Ossernnenon, the scene of these martyrdoms, was ten years later the birthplace of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk girl who has been declared a saint.
The following day, on October 19, John Lalande and the Huron guide who likewise had accompanied Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded. Afterwards their bodies were thrown in the nearby river. John LaLande, like Rene Goupil, was a donne or oblate of the missions. Today he would be call a lay missionary. Little did these noble martyrs who saw such scant result occurring from their labors foresee that within a short time after their deaths the truths they proclaimed would be embraced by their very executions. And, that their own successors would visit and Christianize almost every tribe with which the martyrs had been in contact
These martyrs were, along with their five companions, canonized in 1930. Their feast is observed, in the United States, on the liturgical calendar October 19th.
Mary Queen of Martyrs
In 1639 Father Hohn Brefeauf built Fort Ste. Marie (Fort Saint Mary’s) ninety miles north of the present day site of Toronto. This complex of buildings was to serve as the chief residence of the Jesuits working for the conversion of the Huron’s and they named it Mary, Queen of Martyrs. The name was selected to express their gratitude to Mary for her motherly assistance and protection. They wanted to make certain that every person visiting their house would honor Mary by pronouncing her name.
The Jesuit priests and their lay companions made it a practice to return to Fort Ste. Marie at stated times to confer on the interest of their missions. Under Mary’s roof, hidden away in a forest near Georgian Bay, the missionaries assembled for their annual retreats. There, also, they assembles their Huron neophytes for instruction and baptism. Each year hundreds of Indian pilgrims gathered to renew their pledges of perseverance in the practice of the Christian faith. and when the moment of disaster came in 1649, it was there that the victims of the Iroquois, Saint John Brebeuf and Saint Gabriel Lalemant, were buried after they had endured hours of unspeakable tortures.
Even this brief reference to Mary’s place in the lives of our Patrons and their companions suffices to explain why here at the American Martyrs Retreat House the Blessed Virgin is honored under her title of “Queen of Martyrs.”
Standing in the middle of the Courtyard, formed by the center section and the two wings of the building, is a beautiful white cast-stone statue of Mary, Queen of Martyrs. Originally, this statue had a gold crown. In 2000 the statue was cleaned and sealed leaving the natural sandstone color. The ACCW donation covered the expense. At the feet of the Blessed Virgin the artist has placed on one side the chains and lashes used in the passion of Christ and on the other side the tomahawk and the arrows employed in the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues, St. Rene Goupil, and St. John LaLande. The juxtaposition of these instruments teach us that through Mary the sufferings of our Patrons were joined to those of her Son and thus united, they have taken on a new value in God’s sight.
Retreatants and patrons coming to AMRH can find strength and courage under Mary’s protection. And, the martyrs are faith-filled examples for each of us. Whatever trials and difficulties await us after we return to our homes, they will hardly equal those faced by the three American Martyrs. Ask St. Isaac Jogues, St. John LaLande and St. Rene Goupil to obtain the graces of fortitude and perseverance for you.
St. Isaac Jogues, St. Rene Goupil, St. John LaLande
Pray for us!
Mary, Queen of Martyrs
Pray for us!