19. St. John de Brebeuf, John Carroll University

St. John de Brebeuf
John Carroll University, 1886
Cleveland, Ohio

Saint John de Brebeuf (1593-1649) was born in Bayeux, France. He was 24 years old when he completed his college studies at Rouen and entered the Society of Jesus. In 1624, when an opportunity arose for him to be one of the first Jesuits to go to the missions in the territory that is now Canada, he volunteered. John and four other Jesuits arrived in Quebec in the summer of 1625. His large size at first intimidated the Huron people. But his great strength was recognized as an asset when it came to transporting canoes and baggage around the cascades that were encountered in travelling by water to Huronia.

Father Brebeuf spent two years learning the language and customs of the natives with whom he was living. But when the English defeated the French in North America, all the missionaries who had come from France were sent back to their country of origin. After two years of waiting for an opportunity to return to the missions, John and his companions were able to take ship again for Quebec, arriving in 1633.

Though Father Brebeuf and the other “Blackrobes,” as the missionaries were called, labored tirelessly to improve the lives of the natives, their efforts became increasingly difficult when villagers suffered from diseases unknowingly contracted from traders and other Europeans with whom they had contact. The villagers blamed the missionaries for the illnesses because they were the only foreigners who lived among them. Consequently, only a relatively small number became Christians. In addition, the Iroquois Indians continually attacked Huron villages and treated Christians and missionaries with particular violence. Father John and all the Jesuits throughout Huronia were eventually tortured and killed between 1641 and 1649. In Father Brebeuf’s case, martyrdom came when he was captured in an Iroquois raid, tortured extensively over a period of days, and finally died on March 16, 1649 after having been tomahawked.

In the window, the saint is depicted wearing some of the means by which he was tortured: a collar of axe heads that had been heated in fire and a chain as well as a rope about his wrists and waist. Under his feet is a Huron longhouse with flames rising from its smoke outlets, indicating the tribal conflict in which he was captured.

The John Carroll University Seal pictures the coats of arms of the families of St. Ignatius’ parents. On the left, for the Loyola family: two grey wolves over a black cauldron, with the words “Lobo Y Olla” that make up the name Loyola. A wolf is a symbol of nobility, and the cauldron is symbolic of the generosity of the family, which was reputed to have extended even to the wild animals of the forest. On the right side of the seal is the coat of arms of the Oñaz family, featuring red stripes on a field of gold. The king had granted the symbol to the family in honor of heroic members who had served in battle. The Latin inscription reads Universitas Joannis Carroll with the foundation date, 1886. The school colors are blue and yellow.