In 2018 Ignatius Press re-released the 1949 book by Francis X. Talbot, S.J., Jean De Brébeuf, Saint Among the Hurons. This biography recounts the 33 years that Jesuit missionary Jean Brébeuf spent ministering to and evangelizing the Huron people of Canada in mid-seventeenth-century France.
It may sound cliché, but this book does indeed read like a novel. It is quick reading despite being over 300 pages long. If you have little to no knowledge of the Church’s evangelization efforts in the early days of the European settlement of Canada, you will certainly enjoy this book. If your knowledge about the Huron and Iroquois people is limited, you should find this book interesting. And, if you know nothing about Père Jean and his Jesuit companions and wish to learn more about these early North American Martyrs, this is a good book to learn more about them.
This book is for the general reader. It is not a scholarly book, but clearly took a lot of scholarship to compile this biography. Talbot did a great job of using primary sources to make Brébeuf’s story come to life. From those sources, Talbot was able to give us a glimpse of Jean’s experiences and his profound spirituality.
I always find fascinating the zeal of those missionaries who came to the New World. They knew full well that they were going into uncharted territory; they would be encountering people whose lives were alien to their own; and that there was a possibility that they would die for the Faith. Talbot tells us that those Jesuit missionaries were willing to be martyrs. Jean was no exception. He had asked the Lord to let martyrdom be the reward for his work.
Talbot does not make Brèbeuf out to be an overly pious saint. This biography does not gush over his saintly deeds. I think Talbot presented Père Jean as a priest who had to live by his wits and do the best that he could amid unfamiliar surroundings and people, with little to no support. He does go into detail about Brébeuf’s martyrdom. But I think that was to emphasize Jean’s trust in and love of God; his zeal to evangelize and encourage the new Christians; and to show what a strong man of faith he really was.
As I am a curious reader, it took longer than normal to finish this book. If I read something that sounds interesting and I want more information, I must stop reading and research the new topic. I had to do that in several instances with this book. So, if you’re like me, you may find yourself learning more than just what Talbot wrote about.
As the book was originally written in 1949, some of the terms that Talbot uses when referring to the native people might sound offensive to today’s readers. I don’t know if Talbot’s adjectives were based upon Brébeuf’s terms or if they were the colloquial words to describe Native Americans during the 1940s, but, if those old terms are offensive to you, perhaps this may not be the book for you.
Overall, this was a very good book that gave general information about Jean de Brébeuf, the early Jesuit missionaries in Canada, its native people, specifically the Hurons, and life during the colonization of Canada by the French.
Visit our Book Notes archive.
Copyright 2018 Michael T Carrillo