Contrary to some people’s perceptions, St. Noel Parish was not named to honor the Feast of Christmas. It was named in honor of Noel Chabanel, one of the “North American Martyrs.”
These Jesuit missionaries, led by Isaac Jogues, were slain in the middle of the seventeenth century as they attempted to spread the faith among the Huron Indians in what is now known as Ontario, Canada.
Noel Chabanel was born in France on February 2, 1613. The youngest of four children, Noel entered the Jesuit Order in 1630 at the age of seventeen. In 1641, he was captivated by the dream of becoming a missionary in New France (Canada) and working among the Indians.
He arrived in Quebec on August 15, 1643, where he remained for a year. On September 7, 1644, after a treacherous trip through hostile Indian territory, Noel reached his final destination, Fort St. Marie, near the present day city of Midland, Ontario. For the next five years, Noel struggled to bring Christ to the Huron Indians.
He had great difficulty in learning the native language. Having been reared in an educated and upper class family, he also had a personal aversion to the primitive and base life style of the Indians. Noel was tormented by doubts of his ability to be the kind of missionary he wanted to be. As he continued his work, he was greatly affected by the martyrdom of some of his fellow missionaries. He came to believe that his own “martyrdom” was a bloodless one in which he was asked daily to give his life in service with very little personal sense of reward or accomplishment.
When Isaac Jogues, the leader of the Jesuit missionaries, known to the Indians as the “Black Robes,” was slain in 1647, Noel was offered the choice of returning to France. He resisted the temptation and made a vow to God in 1647 to remain with the Indians until his death, despite his personal aversions to them and their life style. Only two years later, Noel’s “bloodless” martyrdom became the real thing when he was murdered by an apostate Huron Indian on December 8, 1649. His body was thrown into the Nottawasaga River and was never recovered.
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