On Christmas Eve 1643, a merchant vessel left Cornwall southbound for Brittany, carrying cargo more precious than whatever filled its holds. Letting go anchor the next morning, the ship’s crew lowered a small rowboat, which left on the beach a man whose lined countenance suggested more than his thirty-six years. Making his way to a nearby fishing cottage, he found two men expecting perhaps a Catholic refugee of the English Civil War. They heard perfect French.
“Is there a church close where I can hear Mass?” begged the man.
“Yes—a monastery not far up the road. Mass begins soon. Come join us for breakfast after.”
The man raced up the road to the monastery, where with tears in his eyes he assisted at his first Mass in almost two years. Later he would write, “It was at this moment that I began to live once more. It was then that I tasted the sweetness of my deliverance.”
Later, devouring breakfast at the home of his hosts, the man could not conceal his deformed hands. What fingers he yet possessed were badly maimed. Some were mere stumps. Some had no fingernails. The thumb of his left hand was missing. The young daughters of the household gave him a few coins they had saved. A merchant from the village gave him a horse and pointed him 130 miles to Rennes, home of a college of the Society of Jesus.
Arriving on the eve of Epiphany, the man knocked on the door of the seminary asking for the rector.
“He is preparing to offer Mass.”
“Please tell him I have news from the Jesuit missions in New France.”
The rector came with all haste. “Do you know Fr. Isaac Jogues?” he asked. “He is a prisoner of the Iroquois. Is he dead? Is he alive?”
“I know him well. He is alive. I am he.”
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