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  • The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs by Emma Anderson
  • Mark G. Thiel (bio)
Emma Anderson, The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). 463 pages.

The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs provides a fresh analysis of the lives, canonization, and remembrance of the first canonized saints from Canada and the United States. All eight were martyrs, and all were seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries in the St. Lawrence Valley. The book reexamines Christian martyrdom, the testimony about them and other related candidates, and Katharine (Kateri) Tekakwitha, their native “spiritual child” who became a non-martyr sainthood candidate. Thereafter, it evaluates the martyrs’ evolving legacy and ongoing remembrance as religious, cultural, and historic icons at their principal shrines in New York State, Canada, and France.

Skillfully woven, this potentially convoluted narrative transcends varied cultural and linguistic boundaries in three countries over four centuries. The author analyzed the martyrs’ lives and deaths in light of the Christian martyrdom tradition and concluded that the best-known Jesuits, Jean de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, had potentially disqualified themselves with their extreme and repeated efforts to achieve it. Nonetheless, their legacy buttressed Quebecois identity over the next two centuries. In 1884, the nomination process towards their canonization began when the U.S. bishops who sought national saints with ancient foundational roots nominated Jogues and René Goupil, two Jesuits killed in New York, and Tekakwitha, who was born later at their death site. Canadian bishops then nominated Brébeuf and three more Jesuits killed in Ontario, which expanded into a binational cause for [End Page 125] eight Jesuits, who without Tekakwitha, were canonized in 1930. Meanwhile, at their presumed martyrdom sites at Auriesville, New York, and Midland, Ontario, Jesuit-administered shrines glorified them with exhibits and pageantry that successfully garnered strong and ongoing public support through the Cold War and Vatican II eras, which are described at length.

Not explained was whether the U.S. bishops considered any candidates besides the New York trio. But briefly noted and not explained was a rival slate presented later. This slate also comprised potential seventeenth-century North American martyrs and is still unfolding. While several other potential St. Lawrence Valley martyrs are described and “North American martyrs” is defined as a Jesuit-coined term, the author does not acknowledge the universe of potential North American martyrs beyond the St. Lawrence Valley.

Analyzed at great length was Midland’s mammoth 1949 theatrical extravaganza, “A Salute to Canada,” produced and directed by the prolific Jesuit composer and playwright, Father Daniel A. Lord. It commemorated the martyrs’ 300th anniversary as Canada’s “spiritual founding fathers” replete with the common mid-twentieth century anti-communist rhetoric and stereotypical native roles that are described at length. With apparent limited examination of the cast, the author observed that “virtually none of the native roles… seem to have been played by native people,” nor does she mention the importance of this event in Canadian theatrical history. Furthermore, the lack of citations noting the U.S. Central Jesuit Archives (formerly the Midwest Jesuit Archives, St. Louis) suggests that the author overlooked an important record source about Lord and this production.

Thereafter the shrines cultivated new constituencies as mainline interest declined. Auriesville, known as Tekakwitha’s birthplace, maintained its martyr-killer imagery and has attracted few native pilgrims, most of whom support another nearby Tekakwitha shrine. Instead, Auriesville has primarily attracted ultra-conservative Catholics who view the martyrs and themselves as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy in a hostile world. Midland, in contrast, has curtailed its martyr-killer imagery, collaborated with the reburial of historic native remains, and now honors native proto-martyr Joseph Chihoatenhwa and other native candidates while striving to repair relationships with native people. Furthermore, post-World War II Catholic ethnic immigrants in the U.S. and Canada have discovered the shrines, which resonate with the martyrs memorialized in their European and Asian homelands. While these core constituencies are skillfully analyzed, not acknowledged were occasional exceptional pilgrims, such as Pope John Paul II (Midland, 1979) and the Tekakwitha Conference, a group of Catholic Native North Americans that meets annually in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-8224
Print ISSN
0735-8318
Pages
pp. 125-127
Launched on MUSE
2015-09-23
Open Access
No
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