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"What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."
— His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI (7 July 2007)

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The Legacy of Simon Le Moyne & the Jesuit Martyrs in Upstate New York
published 6 October 2014 by Guest Author
There’s a new collection of Gospel Acclamations in honor of Fr. Simon Lemoine.  Mæstro Di Scenna has provided much information about this holy priest.|

813 Simon Le Moyne IMON LE MOYNE, SJ, was born in 1604 in Beauvais, France, and entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Rouen in 1622. He later taught at the Novitiate, but after ordination, was called to the Jesuit missions in the New World, arriving in Quebec in 1638. Sent to the Huron territories, he studied and mastered the languages of the Hurons, Algonquians, and Iroquois to such an extent that he was later renowned among the native tribes for his knowledge & mastery of their spoken languages, customs, and dramatic body language.

Fr. Le Moyne was sent on numerous missions in order to minister to and negotiate with the Native American tribes in what is today upstate NY. His companions and predecessors along these routes included the Jesuits Brebeuf, Chaumonot, Daniel, de Lalande, Du Peron, Garnier, Goupil, Jogues, Lalemant, and Ragueneau—some of whom were later to be martyred for their faith.

The Jesuits clearly had four goals in mind as they undertook their missions to the indigenous peoples of the New World. First and foremost, they were dedicated to the salvation of souls. Secondly, the Jesuits openly practiced the corporal and spiritual works of mercy—among their many tasks were the alleviation of suffering, the release of prisoners, and the shoring-up of fortifications for peaceful tribes. Third, as emissaries of New France, they were called upon to act as diplomats, working to pacify hostile elements through negotiation, compromise, teaching, and the sharing of cultures—thus leading to safer trade routes, as well as potential settlement by the French. Finally, they kept written records (letters & journals) of their travels, with vivid descriptions of their discoveries and experiences amongst the natives in the pristine forests of what is now upstate NY.

As I mentioned, Fr. Le Moyne’s mastery of Native American languages proved to be an exceptional tool for his evangelization of and ministry to the indigenous peoples of upstate NY in the 1600s. His knowledge of their languages and his oratorical skills, combined with his forthright manner, made him a very popular and sought-after speaker and preacher to the Algonquians, Hurons, Onondagas, Mohawks, and other members of the Iroquois, as well as an esteemed mediator and ambassador, who was often able to negotiate the release of many Jesuits, French traders, and natives who had been held captive by various native tribes.

On 16 August 1654—during one of his visits to the Onondagas (the prominent “Firekeepers,” the peacekeepers of the Iroquois), near the present site of Syracuse, NY—the natives brought Fr. Le Moyne to the shores of Onondaga Lake, in order to examine a spring which they believed to contain an evil spirit (since it produced bitter water). Tasting the water, Le Moyne realized that the natives had found a spring of salt water, and proceeded to process it, bringing samples of salt back to Canada with him. This marked the beginnings of the salt industry in Central New York (Syracuse), which was to drive its future economy for many years to come.

810 Simon Le Moyne INSPIRED BY THE RESULTS of Fr. Le Moyne’s visit to the Onondagas and by the openness of the tribe to his faith and teachings, the French in 1655 sent workmen, troops, and more Jesuit missionaries (including Frs. Chaumonot and Dablon) to open a combined mission / fort on the shores of Onondaga Lake, in order to minister to the natives, and to trade with them. St. Marie de Gannentaha, “Ste. Marie Among the Iroquois” (“Ste. Marie Among the Onondagas”), was a successful mission for its nine months of operation, until the Jesuits learned of an impending attack, instigated by the Mohawks. Upon learning of the attack, the French contingent prayed, made plans, and then peacefully traveled away in the middle of the night, returning to Canada in safety.

All of the native tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee (originally, the Onondagas, Oneidas, Mohawks, Senecas, and Cayugas) were fierce and skilled warriors in wartime, but in times of peace, only certain factions of the Mohawks maintained an aggressive, warlike attitude toward the other tribes within the Confederacy itself. This belligerent behavior ensured that the Mohawks would maintain a dominant role in the Confederacy.

Jealous over the various Jesuit ministrations to the other, more peaceful tribes, and concerned that their own trading with the Dutch would be interfered with if the French made inroads into what is now upstate NY, the Mohawks played a two-sided game, demanding their own “Black Robes,” as they called the Jesuits, but often raiding other tribes and torturing Jesuits when they felt their demands were being ignored. At the same time, several Mohawks became ardent Christians, best-known among them being Kateri Tekakwitha, recently canonized by the Church. Kateri herself traveled to Canada, seeking amnesty, since she was often in danger of her life by her own people for converting to Christianity.

AS FOR THE JESUIT MARTYRS, in a hilltop ravine along the Mohawk River—in an area known as “Ossernenon” near present-day Albany, NY—Jesuit Fr. René Goupil (+1642), Fr. Isaac Jogues, and Br. Jean de Lalande (+1646) met their fate at the hands of the Mohawks, consecrating the earth with their spilt blood. Later on, both Frs. François-Joseph Bressani and Joseph Poncet were ritually tortured by the Mohawks in Ossernenon. Eventually, fed up with Mohawk aggression in the area, the French governor of Quebec (the Marquis de Tracy) sent troops in 1666 to decimate the Mohawk settlement. Soon afterwards, a mission was established at the site, where the Jesuits continued to minister to the Mohawks, until it was destroyed in turn by hostile Mohawks in 1684.

Many years later, local cartographers John Gilmore Shea, and later, with more accuracy, Gen. J.S. Clarke, were able to determine the exact location of the sites of the martyrdoms, based on information from Jesuit diaries that detailed the exact distances to nearby towns, and by the fact that a hilltop, with a ravine, was located near the confluence of the Mohawk and Schoharie Rivers. The area had by then been renamed Auriesville, in honor of the last Mohawk to live in the area.

On 15 August 1884 (the Feast of the Assumption, and the anniversary of Isaac Jogues’ arrival as a captive in 1642), Jesuit Fr. Joseph Loyzance, S.J., pastor of St. Joseph’s in nearby Troy, NY, led a group of 4,000 of his parishioners and other pilgrims to the site at Auriesville, for a mission and Mass in honor of the martyred Jesuits. Under the guidance of Fr. Loyzance, a life-long student of the lives of the Jesuit martyrs, the area quickly became a popular site for outdoor Masses, missions, and picnics, as many thousands of people began traveling to the area, especially in the summertime. Fr. Loyzance initially purchased 10 acres or so of land at the site, and soon erected temporary, then more permanent structures on the site, in order to care for the pilgrims and to mark the places of martyrdom. Much surrounding land was later purchased by the Church and kept pristine of development and settlement in order to maintain a sense of rural remoteness and peace in the area. Finally, in 1930, with the canonization of Isaac Jogues, a 6,000-seat coliseum was built for the celebration of Mass. Auriesville continues to be a popular destination for pilgrims who wish to honor and visit the site of the North American Jesuit martyrs. Nearby is Fonda, NY, where the shrine dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha is located; a new statue dedicated to St. Kateri has also been erected at Auriesville.

811 Le Moyne


Fr. Le Moyne himself did not escape from his travails unscathed. Taken captive and tortured at different times, he was always prepared for martyrdom, but his popularity and stature with many powerful native chiefs (among them, the Onondaga chief Garakontié) saved him time and again. Le Moyne attained the name Ondessonk (“Eagle,” or “leader”) among the natives, a name they originally had given to Jogues, until his passing.

Fr. Le Moyne undertook his last mission to the natives in upstate NY from 1661-1662, and then returned to Canada, where he passed on in 1665 at Cap de la Madeleine, near Trois-Rivières. His journals and letters detailing his adventures, observations, and accomplishments on missions have been preserved by the Jesuits.

807 Bishop Foe AS NOTED, THE PROCESSING OF SALT on the shores of Onondaga Lake by Fr. Le Moyne led eventually to the salt industry in Syracuse, which became known as the Salt City. Although the Syracuse salt industry began to falter in the early decades of the 20th century—partly due to a drying-up of the springs, and partly due to competition from the western U.S.—Fr. Le Moyne was acknowledged for his help in establishing this foundation of the future Syracuse economy.

In the 1940s, Syracuse Bishop Walter Foery began planning the establishment of a Roman Catholic college in the Syracuse area. He called upon several religious orders to consider creating the college, with the stipulation that it be co-educational—he did not want to undertake the financial establishment and operation of two, separate, single-sex colleges! Only the Jesuits and Ursulines rose to this challenge. In the end, in 1946, the Jesuits opened the doors to their new college in the city of Syracuse, moving eventually to hills above the city on the site of a former family farm in 1948.

The choice of name for this new institution was practically a given, considering the Jesuit impact on Syracuse’s early history—Le Moyne College. Fr. Le Moyne appears in a stone statue overlooking the main door of Grewen Hall, and he is also depicted in a mural of the Onondagas and Le Moyne exploring the salt springs. As if to underscore Fr. Le Moyne’s involvement in the discovery of the salt springs, the road running behind and alongside Le Moyne College is Springfield Rd.; the road fronting the college is named Salt Springs Rd. For many years, Le Moyne College’s Library website was named Simon, in honor of Fr. Le Moyne.

809 Père Simon Lemoine Another statue celebrating the discovery of the salt springs was erected in Syracuse’s Washington Square Park, on the Northside of Syracuse, in the 1890s. Recently renovated, it is a beautiful rendering of Fr. Le Moyne, a trader, and some Onondagas. (Suspiciously, one of the Onondagas looks like a Mohawk !) Originally a fountain, the memorial now stands alone as a statue.

Le Moyne College continues its teaching of academic excellence in the Jesuit tradition, counting many distinguished faculty among its staff, as well as numerous esteemed alumni in several fields of study among its graduates. Le Moyne students—whether Roman Catholic or not—are taught not only to strive for academic excellence, but also to consider how they can make the world a better place, and how to make themselves better people.

Each year, on Founder’s Day, at a gala fundraiser, Le Moyne College presents the Simon Le Moyne Award to an individual who “has made significant and humanitarian contributions to society, has been a prominent leader in the community (locally, nationally or internationally), has a deep responsibility and commitment to improving the quality of life for his/her fellow man, and whose life exemplifies the ideals and goals of Le Moyne College.” “The award represents the ideals and educational standards exemplified by….Father Le Moyne, an ambassador of peace and a person of faith, vision and courage.”

806 Doctor Linda Le Moyne College recently made history by electing the first lay woman president of a Jesuit college, Dr. Linda LeMura. An all-round exceptional scholar and athlete, a gifted administrator, communicator, and mediator, Dr. Lemura received praise from NY Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as well as a congratulatory phone call from Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, lauding her on her many accomplishments.

With the excitement over the canonization of Isaac Jogues in 1930, the former “French Fort,” Ste. Marie de Gannentaha, “Ste. Marie Among the Iroquois” (“Ste. Marie Among the Onondagas”) was rebuilt along the shores of Onondaga Lake as part of a WPA project. Then in the 1990s, the settlement was rebuilt again, complete with a Visitor Center / Museum, and volunteer re-enactors taking the place of the Jesuits, soldiers, and farmers. Celebratory festivals and ceremonies took place with members of the Onondaga Nation, and Ste. Marie became a very popular destination for both locals as well as for travelers from across the Northeast. Unfortunately, county budget cuts have forced its closure for the time being.

AURIESVILLE, THESHRINE OF THE NORTH AMERICAN MARTYRS,” now known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, continues to be a popular place for pilgrimages, Masses, picnics, retreats, and meditation, open each year from the 2nd Sunday of Easter until October. Several building are in dire need of renovation, but the Shrine is currently undertaking a major fund drive to raise the requisite monies needed to revitalize the shrine.

808 Jogues
LEFT TO RIGHT:   Goupil, Jogues, Lalande.

The vicinity of the original salt spring, where Fr. Le Moyne processed salt, by the Northeastern shore of Onondaga Lake, is marked by a small stone park, to the left of Onondaga Lake Parkway, as it approaches the on-ramp to Interstate Rte. 81 S. On the stonework, facing away from the road, is a plaque honoring the Gale family, owners of the last salt spring used in the Syracuse salt industry, located in the stone park. Any plaques honoring the Onondagas or Fr. Le Moyne have vanished, apparently removed by vandals. The site is a peaceful, quiet spot, just up the road from (east of) Ste. Marie de Gannentaha, distinguished only by the brilliant orange tinge of the stagnant water sitting in its pool. On one hand, the orange color could be taken as a tribute to the nationally-ranked sports teams of Syracuse University, the Orangemen. On the other hand, if not caused by iron oxide, the orange water could be a record of the century-long mistreatment of the waters of Onondaga, tainted by the industrial waste of many large concerns along the lake—among the poisons released into the lake over time was mercury.

Thankfully, there is hope for the lake that has long been considered sacred by the Onondagas. After a century of industrial pollution, and decades of research, clean-up efforts are firmly underway at Onondaga Lake, with stricter regulation and treatment of the waters, and successful efforts at dredging. Pedestrian and bicycle parkways are under construction on the southern & western shores, to match the parkways already established on the northeastern shore. Concert facilities are being planned, and we may yet live to see another resurgence of family and entertainment activities alongside the lake, perhaps to rival the resort hotels, amusement parks, and restaurants that encircled Onondaga Lake in the late 19th century…. and if we are lucky, and vigilant, we may again see plaques honoring Fr. Le Moyne and the Onondagas near the original salt spring on the shores of Onondaga.


We hope you enjoyed this guest post by Armand J. Di Scenna.


0319_Di_Scenna-MED RMAND DI SCENNA has been the Organist & Choir Director for historic St. Mary’s Church in Cortland, NY, since 2006. He received his BA in Religious Studies from Oberlin College in 1988; his BA in Music from The Crane School of Music in 1993; and his Master’s in Music History from SUNY at Buffalo in 1997. He has also studied Gregorian Chant and music history at the Catholic University of America, in DC.

Mr. Di Scenna has played in several churches and served many denominations —- he was Asst. Choirmaster at the Syracuse, NY Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the early part of this century, and also was Choir Director and Organist for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Camillus, NY. Mr. Di Scenna has also served as the Syracuse, NY Diocesan Director of the Office of Liturgy & Music, and currently serves on their Liturgical Committee.

Mr. Di Scenna conducted Syracuse’s Diocesan Choir in an Evensong, for the close of the Year of the Eucharist, Cardinal Egan and Bp. Moynihan presiding. Most recently, he conducted the Diocesan Choir for the Mass celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Diocese of Syracuse, NY, Cardinal Dolan and Bp. Cunningham presiding. He possesses a great love of Gregorian Chant and Renaissance polyphony, though he is also an advocate of meeting a congregation “where they are musically,” and working to develop an appreciation and awareness of the musical legacy and heritage of the Roman Catholic Church. He has also taught Music at SUNY Oswego and SUNY Cortland, as well as Italian at SUNY Cortland and at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.

He and his wife Kathleen, a historian on the life of L. Frank Baum, keep watch over their two cats and Armand’s mother and aunt, who have busy lives and an incredible amount of energy for women over the age of 80! When Armand and Kathleen were dating, they were constantly surprised at the number of places in N.Y. that they had visited separately, often at the same time, without ever running into each other — including the Auriesville Shrine on a blazing hot August day in 1978.


In gratitude, and for further information:

— Auriesville Shrine / Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs [http://www.martyrshrine.org/]

— Bp. Walter Foery, 5th Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse, NY — 1937-1970.

— Catholic Encyclopedia, on-line [http://www.newadvent.org]

— Dr. John Langdon, Professor of History at Le Moyne College, author of Against the Sky: The First Fifty Years of Le Moyne College, ©1996, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY.

— Dr. Linda Lemura, President of Le Moyne College.

— Dr. Sam Gruber [Blog on the Salt Springs Statue Renovation]

Special thanks to Dr. Gruber for the use of his color photos of Fr. Le Moyne and the Salt Springs sculpture.

— Fr. Joseph Loyzance, SJ — Founder of the Aurieville Shrine (1864); Pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Troy, NY (1860–1863); (1870-1888); 5th President of the College of St. Francis Xavier, Manhattan (1863-1870). [St. Francis Xavier College operated from 1847-1912 — then became Xavier High School in Manhattan]

— Fr. Joseph MacDonnell’s Jesuit Web Site.

— Fr. Vincent Hevern, SJ — Professor of Psychology at Le Moyne College. Special thanks to Fr. Hevern for the use of his color photo of Fr. Le Moyne and the Salt Springs sculpture, No. 3.

— Fr. William Bosch, SJ — Le Moyne College Archivist. Special thanks for the black-and-white representations of Fr. Le Moyne.

— Inga Barnello. Librarian, Falcone Library, Le Moyne College.

The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France, 1610-1791, the original French, Latin, and Italian texts, with English translations and notes / edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Cleveland: Burrows Bros., 1896-1901.

The Jesuit Relations, Web Site

— Le Moyne College [lemoyne.edu]