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New book examines enigmatic, 'bizarre' patron saint of Canada

'I tell this story through the eyes of French Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf, who is either a mystic or schizophrenic,' Bourrie says. 'I leave that up to the reader'

A former local resident and award-winning author takes a new lens to a familiar character.

Titled Crosses in the Sky - Jean de Brébeuf and the Destruction of Huronia, Mark Bourrie’s latest effort examines the collision of two worlds when in the early 1600s Jesuit missionaries led by Brébeuf arrived in the area now known as Huronia.

Bourrie, who is also the bestselling author of Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, recounts the missionary’s fascinating life and tells the tragic story of the "remarkable" people he lived among.

Brébeuf, who is a patron saint of Canada, was the first Jesuit missionary in Huronia, arriving in 1626, and became a master of the native tongue. He founded mission outposts, converted thousands to Catholicism and inspired other Jesuits to volunteer for missions in New France.

The title Crosses in the Sky is actually lifted from a vision Brébeuf had, a foreboding vision that anticipated the Iroquois attack on both the Hurons and the Jesuits, according to Bourrie.

"Back then, they saw visions as mystical and heaven sent," Bourrie says. "It’s hard for me to not see them as signs of serious mental illness that come with stress. I think they are very important to the story. They were extremely important to him and his colleagues.

"They give us insight into his mental health. I think because of what is in the visions, we see his extreme views of religion. These are not nice visions, they are demonic and terrifying most of the time. There is a lot of evil in them that he believes exists in the world."

Drawing on the letters and documents of the time, including Brébeuf’s accounts of his “bizarre” spirituality, and modern studies of the Jesuits, Bourrie strives to show how Huron leaders tried to navigate this new world and the people struggled to cope as their nation came apart.

Bourrie is an Ottawa-based author, lawyer and journalist. He holds a master’s in journalism from Carleton University and a PhD in history from the University of Ottawa. In 2017, he was awarded a Juris Doctor degree and was called to the bar in 2018. He has won numerous awards, including the RBC Charles Taylor Prize in 2020 for the Bush Runner book.

Bourrie says he's a very eclectic life.

"I’ve always been really curious," Bourrie explains. "When I have a question in my mind, I want to know the answer. Actually, I want to know the whole story. So that made me go into the things I’ve gone into, to do deep dives.

"I write books that take a lot of time to research because I just like finding things. Finding some fact ... some weird fact especially ... gives me the same dopamine rush as finding a fossil."

With the Brébeuf book, Bourrie says he wanted to tell the story of the period before Radisson that's outlined in Bush Runner.

"It’d been told but never told well, always dryly and academically," he says. "The story is of the destruction of an entire Indigenous nation at the time of contact with Europeans, and the mayhem that that destruction caused in eastern North America.

"I tell this story through the eyes of the French Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf, who is either a mystic or schizophrenic. I leave that up to the reader. I get into his life, and the attempts of the Jesuits to actually take over the First Nations, which was the plan, which was opposed to Radisson’s live and let live approach."

To pre-order a copy of the book, click here.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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