The Life and Times of St. John Brebeuf

johnbrebeufJohn Brebeuf was born on March 25, 1593, at Conde-sur-Vire, Normandy, France. He was a French Jesuit missionary who worked with Canada’s native peoples during most of his life. He was gifted in learning native languages and teaching them to other missionaries and traders. In 1649, he was captured, tortured, and killed. Father Brebeuf was beatified in 1925, and in 1930 he was canonized along with seven other Jesuit missionaries.


As a young man, Brebeuf attended the university at nearby Caen and was a farmer on his parents' farm. In 1617, he joined the Jesuits at Rouen. He taught at the college of Rouen between 1619-1621. He was ordained in 1622, after tuberculosis had almost ended his aspirations to join the priesthood.

Father Brebeuf was sent to Canada at his request in 1625. He labored among the Huron people for the next 24 years, despite great opposition from many groups including the Huguenots, trading company officials, and native people. He was instrumental in teaching native languages to missionaries and French traders.

His stay among the Hurons was interrupted when the English captured Quebec in 1629 and ousted the Jesuits. He returned to France and completed his final Jesuit vows in 1630. He returned to the missions in 1633, when the English returned Canada to the French.

Father Brebeuf was widely known for his gifts with learning and teaching languages. He developed relationships with the Huron people, and warned other missionaries that it was imperative that they learn the native languages if they were to convert people to Catholicism. He is said to have been committed to the study of language, and his translation of the catechism from French to Huron was the first printed text in that language.

When a smallpox epidemic killed thousands of native people in 1637, the missionaries were blamed by the medicine men of the tribes for the disaster. Brebeuf stayed with the Hurons until 1640, when he went to Quebec. He remained there for four years and then returned to the Hurons.

Brebeuf was captured by the Iroquois, the bitter enemies of the French and Hurons. On March 16, 1649, near Georgian Bay, he was cruelly tortured for hours until he died.

Known for his holiness and courage, John Brebeuf was responsible for some seven thousand conversions among the Indians. He composed a dictionary and catechism in the Huron language. St. John Brebeuf was canonized in 1930.

Last Published: March 8, 2021 12:20 PM
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