Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Episode 3: Native American Catholicism & the New Evangelization

By Catholic Culture Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | May 15, 2018 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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The history of Catholicism in the native American nations is little known, but is rife with lessons for lay spirituality, inculturation, and the New Evangelization. Today’s guest, journalist Peter Jesserer Smith, shares some of the holy treasures of American history, such as Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta, the Huron “power couple” of evangelization, and the martyrs (numbering over a thousand) of the La Florida missions.


Homily of Pope St. John Paul II at the Martyrs’ Shrine (Huronia) on Saturday, 15 September 1984

Friends of God: The Early Native Huron Church in Canada, by Bruce Henry (tells the story of Joseph Chiwatenhwa and Marie Aonetta)

Eustace Ahasistari, Catholic Huron warrior, as described by Jesuit missionaries

Articles by Peter Jesserer Smith

America’s first paths of holiness: Lives of indigenous saints and martyrs

Hundreds of Martyrs Sow the Seeds of Faith in the United States

St. Kateri Tekakwitha: Our Saint for All Seasons

A holy marriage gave the Church a community of native saints, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Kateri and the Four Holy Martyrs from Kahnawake

A proven path to holiness: Mentoring a saint

Cause Opens for Nicholas Black Elk, Holy Man of the Lakota


Peter Jesserer Smith interview

3:25 Why is native American Catholic history and culture important for the New Evangelization?

6:37 St. John Paul II’s 1984 address at the Martyr’s Shrine in Huronia

7:35 What were the missionaries impressed with in native American cultures? What aspects of native cultures resonated with the Gospel? In the Great Lakes region: family-based societies, devotion to the Creator

11:29 The lay missionary power couple of the Huron: Joseph Chiwatenhwa (a convert of St. Jean de Brebeuf) and his wife Marie Aonetta

13:51 Native American societies were set up almost more like the United States than like Europe, so the old European model of “convert the king and the people will follow” was and is obsolete

16:16 More on Joseph and Marie. Women have a lot of authority in Native societies in this region, so Marie’s active involvement in evangelization is essential

20:35 Hostility from some natives because Jesuits inadvertently brought disease, leading to Chiwatenhwa’s martyrdom

32:02 Joseph Chiwatenhwa was the first lay parish administrator in Canada; Native converts’ devotion to the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Rosary

34:18 Not everything in Huron culture was compatible with the Catholic faith. What would it have meant to be a Huron warrior who was also a Christian? Example: Eustace Ahasistari

40:00 Funny—well, it’s interesting—it’s not hilarious—story about Eustace Ahasistari’s and St. Isaac Jogue’s very different responses to torture

44:35 Reasons why these native Catholics have not been canonized; their continuing relevance

47:30 Ritual adoption and how it helped transmit the Gospel between tribes and nations—all the way to St. Kateri Tekakwitha; the importance of preserving the languages which spread the faith

52:38 The hundreds of martyrs of the La Florida missions

59:04 The lead martyr, Antonio Cuipa

1:11:18 The lessons of inculturation in native American nations are increasingly relevant at a time when more and more American Catholic thinkers are questioning the foundations of our country and proposing various alternatives

1:12:14 This week’s excerpt: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus. Download the Catholic Culture Podcast soundtrack.

Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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