European Jesuit Martyrs


European Martyrs of the Society of Jesus (memorial)

This common feast commemorates 67 Jesuit martyrs who died in religious conflicts after the Reformation and have been beatified.  Most were French and some were Portuguese.

Fr Jacques (James) Sales and Brother Guillaume (William) Saultemouche, both French, died in Aubenas, France, in February 1593 during France’s War of Religion.

Jacques Sales wanted to be a missionary and wrote Father General Claudio Acquaviva to be accepted anywhere – America, China or Japan. The response was negative; Father General reminded him that France itself was a mission territory, given the conflict between Catholics and Huguenots (French Calvinists).

Brother William Saultemouche (1557-1593) served as porter at Pont-à-Mousson and was known for his simplicity and gentle character. He was chosen to accompany Fr Jacques Salés on a mission to give sermons in Aubenas, a town that the Catholics had regained control of from the Huguenots. The baron of Montréal wanted someone who could refute the Calvinist ministers. Salés began preaching in Aubenas and other places on 29 November 1592 explaining Catholic belief in an ecumenical way. He returned with Saultemouche on 5 February 1593 because tension between Catholics and Huguenots was increasing.  On the same day they were grilled by Huguenots to deny their faith but refused.  They were shot and stabbed and their bodies dragged through Aubenas and then dumped.  Catholics retrieved the bodies and buried them.

Fr Joseph Imbert and Fr John-Nicholas Cordier, also French, died on prison ships in Rochefort in 1794 during the French Revolution.

Joseph Imbert was born about 1720 in Marseilles, France, and joined the Jesuits in Avignon.  He was in Grenoble when the Jesuits were suppressed in 1762.  He became a diocesan priest but had to step down when he refused to accept the 1790 Civil Constitution on the Clergy and then worked underground.  As vicar apostolic he was arrested in 1793 during the Reign of Terror.  He was condemned to be deported on a former slave ship to Africa.  On 13 April he was put on a prison ship anchored near the Charante River.  Four hundred priests were crammed below decks in appalling conditions.  After two months Joseph died of typhoid.  He was buried on a nearby island with 226 other priest-victims.

John Nicholas Cordier was born in 1710 in Souilly, in the Duchy of Lorraine, and joined the Jesuits in 1728.  He taught philosophy at Strasbourg and then theology at Pont-à-Mousson. He later was prefect of studies and superior of the Jesuit residence in Saint-Mihiel. After the Jesuits were suppressed, he became chaplain to a convent of nuns.

In 1790 the government suppressed all religious orders in France, and Cordier was taken in by and accepted shelter from a priest in Verdun. On 28 October 1793 he was arrested and ordered to be deported.  He waited for six months to be sent to Africa and, on 19 June 1794, was put on a slave ship which could not leave because of an English blockade.  The living conditions were beyond endurance.  When Cordier became ill, he was moved to a temporary hospital, which was better than the ship but he died there and was buried with 254 other victims.

Fr Ignatius de Azevedo, born in Portugal, and 39 Jesuit companions were martyred off the Canary Islands in July 1570, while sailing for the Brazil mission.

Ignatius de Azevedo had been an educationalist in Portugal when Fr General Francis Borgia made him Visitor to Brazil where he arrived in 1566.  He was then made Provincial of Brazil and told to recruit more missionaries from Portugal and Spain.  He gathered 70 volunteers – priests, scholastics and even novices.  On 5 June 1570 they left in eight ships passing by the Canary Islands.  Fr Azevedo was on a ship with 43 companions.  Approaching Sta Cruz de La Palma, they were intercepted by French Huguenot pirates.  The pirates boarded the missionaries’ ship and set about killing all in cassocks, beginning with Ignatius.  Only one Jesuit survived because he could cook.  When the ship reached La Rochelle in France, he escaped and brought the news to Portugal.

James Julius Bonnaud, born in 1740, was a native of Haiti who joined the Jesuits in France in 1758.  After his theology studies and ordination in Flanders, he returned to Paris to work in the diocese. He wrote against the revolutionaries and their anti-papal Civil Constitutions, making himself a target for the revolutionaries.

As it progressed the French Revolution became rabidly anti-Catholic.  Property was seized, religious orders suppressed. Priests were then required to sign an oath for a national church independent of Rome, with severe penalties for those who refused.  Then on 2 September 1792, with invading Prussians and Austrians near the gates of the city, the Paris Commissar decided to kill all priests.  Among those martyred were James Bonnaud and 13 other Jesuits among 95 priests at a Carmelite friary.  They were locked into a chapel and, those who refused to sign the oath, were thrown down a flight of stairs to a mob who attacked them with all kinds of weapons.  Altogether14 Jesuits were martyred. With James Bonnaud were: William Anthony Delfaud, Francis Balmain, Charles Berauld du Perou, Claude Cayx-Dumas, John Charton de Millou, James Friteyre-Durve, Claude Laporte, Mathurin Le Bous de Villeneuve, Claude Le Gue, Vincent Le Rousseau de Rosancoat, Loup Thomas-Bonnotte and Francis Vareilhe-Duteil.

These fourteen Jesuits, with nine others, were beatified by Pope Pius XI on 17 October 1926 together with 168 other French priests.

These martyrs are remembered for their fidelity to Christ, their allegiance to the Catholic Church, and their sufferings at the hands of fellow Christians and fellow citizens.

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