On March 25, 1593, John de Brébeuf was born in the village of Condé-sur-Vire, in the diocese of Bayeux, in the Normandy region of France. Little is known of his family or his youth; his biography seems to begin with his entrance into the Jesuit novitiate in Rouen on November 8, 1617.
John began his life as a religious teaching in the Jesuit College in Rouen. He had wanted to be a brother in the Society of Jesus, but his superiors thought otherwise. He was ordained a priest on February 19, 1622. His first two years of priestly ministry were spent at the local Jesuit college, serving there as treasurer of the college. In 1624, when the Franciscans, who had been in the Huron missions of New France (eastern Canada) for nine years, asked for help from priests and brothers of other religious orders in France.
John de Brebeuf was one of the first priests to respond; on April 24, 1625 he sailed westward from the French port of Dieppe, and arrived in Quebec on June 19, 1625. His first assignment was to the Huron mission, where he was somewhat feared because he was very tall.
In July 26, 1626 the missionaries began their journey to Huronia, and in late August arrived in Toanché, "the village of the Bear Clan." The new missionary spent his first two years learning the Huron languages customs and beliefs, and then wrote a grammar-and-phrase book for future missionaries, as well as a catechism. He visited the sick, taught the Hurons about Christianity, and prayed publicly for rain during a dry period, but there were no converts to Christianity.
Because of the war between France and England in 1629, the French missionaries in Canada were recalled. Brébeuf returned to the Jesuits' college in Rouen where he served as chaplain to the students; he also served as treasurer of the college in Eu, in Upper Normandy.
In May 1633, he was able to return to the Canadian missions, but a series of epidemics, including a smallpox epidemic in 1636, assailed the local people and many died. The Jesuit missionaries, the "Blackrobes," were held responsible for the suffering of the people. For almost a decade, 1641-1649, the Jesuit houses were raided and the priests and their helpers were tortured and killed. On March 16, 1649, Brébeuf joined these martyrs, all of whom were known for their generous spirit and deep devotion to the Person of Christ.
Brébeuf and his companions were beatified on June 21, 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and canonized on June 29, 1930.