Early evening, Beaupré Quebec, December 1916:
Atsena dit Du Plat Great Bear Chief of the Huron Wendats stood in the church sanctuary of Sainte Anne de Beaupre transfixed with awe and love at his son Adelard. His son was kneeling beside his wife Eva in front of the statue of Saint Anne. The red candle flickered and in its quiet light he could see Eva’s eyes closed, lips moving ever so slightly in prayer. Adelard’s eyes were open and glistening in the dim light. They were kind eyes, patient and perhaps in a better time playful, but now sadness, not mirth shown in them. It was Adelard’s eyes that reminded Atsena most of his beloved daughter, Ouenta.
Adelard was not Atsena’s son exactly, more like his 6th great-grandson. But he loved him as a son because he was a descendant of his daughter Ouenta. She was gone now of course, living in the Great Father’s Longhouse along with his wife Annengthon. But now, kneeling in front of him, was a part of Ouenta still living in this world, and Atsena loved him for it.
Adelard’s toolmaker hands, rugged and callused, fidgeted with a black rosary. He would in turn glance down at it, twisting and turning a dark rosary bead, then looking up at the statue of Saint Anne. Eva was to his right and he was careful to not to disturb her, only moving his head slightly for an occasional, concerned glance. Eva’s delicate hands were tightly clenched with her rosary intertwined in her fingers. She still prayed, or was it pleading. They have been married for over ten years and although their marriage was happy, it was not blessed with children.
Prayers, Novenas, candles nothing brought forth the miracle of a new life into the world. Adelard resigned himself that he would never be a father and unlike other men of his time he did not blame Eva. He loved her, and he would do anything to heal her pain. For Eva, growing up in the noise and hustle of a French-Canadian family of nine children, the lack of even one child in her home with Adelard was unbearable. So now, here they prayed at the church in honor of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. Eva was devoted to Saint Anne, and so now she pleaded, mother to mother, woman to woman… for children of her own.
As Atsena watched his son and his wife he became aware of Elder Brother standing beside him. Elder Brother was what the Black Robes said was his guardian angel, given to all people as a special protector by the Great Father. Atsena remembered the first time he saw Elder Brother after he died at the end of a Mohawk warrior’s club in the Iroquois village of Canajoharie, two hundred and fifty-nine years ago…
Early morning, before the dawn, Canajoharie, August 1657
At that point he had been a prisoner of the Mohawks for a full moon, captured in Quebec by a Mohawk raiding party and dragged to the Mohawk River far to the south. Enduring ritualistic humiliation and slavery, he was mocked especially for his Christian faith. But the worst suffering was reliving his last memory of Ouenta, not yet a woman, sleeping contently in the arms of Annengthon.
On a moonless night, Atsena warily snuck out intending to go north and return to Ouenta and Annengthon. Atsena did not leave unobserved and mercifully he was only briefly aware of the pain and flash of light in his head as the club swung around and hit the right side of his temple.
Atsena awoke finding himself face down in the snow. Lifting his head, he saw a middle-aged Wendat man of his tribe sitting by a fire. Atsena knew instinctively that he was now in the realm of the dead and although he did not know the man at the fire, his presence felt familiar. Atsena moved himself to the fire and sat across from the man. Staring into the fire, Atsena felt no heat nor any cold from the snow around him.
“I believe I may know you… may I ask your name?” Atsena asked.
“Don’t you know me Atsena…? I have always been with you… the Great Father sent me to you while you were still in your mother’s womb.” The man used a stick to move a few logs in the fire.
Atsena lowered his head for a moment, his eyes probing the fire, thinking about what to say next. Listening, Atsena heard none of the usual sounds of the forest, wind, birds, people moving about. Nothing but the crackle of fire.
“Are you now going to take me to the Great Father’s Longhouse?”
‘Yes… but not yet. You are not ready, Atsena, to have your eyes uncovered so you can see the next world. Now we must ensemble faire une promenade.”
With that the Wendat man stood up, smiled and with his outstretched hand lifted Atsena up.
“You may call me Elder Brother.”
Moving north, it took two hundred and fifty-nine years to finally reach Quebec north of Trois- Rivières. During their long journey together, Elder Brother shared many things with Atsena about Atsena’s life, where he helped people and when he failed to follow the way of love toward his fellow human beings. Atsena saw clearly how he hurt others and how sometimes his actions hurt himself. But Elder Brother remained with him and by helping Atsena understand his life, he began to let go of all that kept him from clearly seeing the next world and entering the Great Father’s Longhouse.
Early evening, Beaupré Quebec, December 1916:
With their long journey finished and standing unseen in the village of Beaupré, Elder Brother announced that Atsena was now ready to go the Great Father. But it was a final question from Atsena that had brought them inside Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beuapre before they could depart.
“Elder Brother, you told me in our travels together that Ouenta became a woman, took a husband, and had children.”
“Yes… she had children and even now they live scattered about this land.”
“But in our travels and of all the people we have seen together, it was never revealed to me which ones were my children. On my last day before I go to the Great Father may I see at least see one of them?”
With that, Elder Brother had guided Atsena into Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Church and pointed to Atsena’s son Adelard and his wife Eva, kneeling in front of the of the statue of Saint Anne.
For the past few minutes Elder Brother and Atsena had looked upon Adelard and Eva with love. But now that Atsena had seen one of his children, it was time to go. Placing a hand gently on Atsena’s shoulder, Elder Brother said: “It is a time of joy my brother, Ouenta and Annengthon await you at the door to the Great father’s Longhouse.”
Atsena started to turn to go but: “Wait Elder Brother… my son’s wife, Eva, her tears burrow into my heart. What do they pray for?”
“Children… they have no children… now come, see Ouenta and Annengthon are waiting for you.”
At that moment, the doors of the church swung slowly open, reveling an unearthly light, impossibly bright. Atsena could make out the silhouette of two women just outside.
Still, Atsena could not move: “Will their prayer be answered?”
Elder Brother shook his head, “No Atsena, a child for them will only bring suffering.”
At that, Atsena finally began to turn and go when Adelard’s right hand slowly moved to cover Eva’s hands. The Gordian knot that made up Eva’s rosary unwound and it fell to the floor as Eva now entwined her fingers into Adelard’s.
The rosary on the floor distracted Eva and she did not know what to do next but Adelard reached down, picked it up and wrapped both their hands within the black wooden beads.
“Elder Brother…” Atsena did not know what to say but the tenderness between his son and Eva transfixed him, and again he could not move to the door. He then moved closer and stood in front of Eva. At that moment Adelard looked up as the red candle suddenly flickered. Atsena reached out and gently wiped a tear from Eva’s cheek, but Eva only felt a gentle breeze. “Elder Brother see the love within her, so much love, its bursting through her tears. She suffers because she loves.”
Atsena finally understood, he suffered these many years with the loss of seeing his child Ouenta grow up. He suffered because he loved. But he would rather have known his daughter for just a few short years and suffer centuries without her than never to have loved her at all.
“Elder Brother, you say she will suffer, yes, but in this life, Love and Suffering are brothers, traveling together. I have seen it over these years wandering the Earth, there is no true love, without sacrifice, without suffering. It is a poor miserable human being, who has never suffered for love. I stand with them. I join my prayers with my son and his wife. My heart stands with them.”
Elder Brother turned to face to Atsena: “Do you know what you are asking brother? Are you willing to suffer with them? Are you willing to stay with them?”
Atsena again turned to Adelard and Eva, “Yes Elder Brother, I will stay with them and watch over them, I will experience their joys, their sufferings, theirs and their children’s.”
The door at the end of the church closed, and darkness returned.
Elder Brother reached out and drew Atsena into his arms: “I can’t stay with you my brother, this journey you must do alone. Even I do not know how long you must remain, but you cannot follow me to the Great Father’s Longhouse until one of your children remember you in their prayers.” And with that Atsena stood alone, unseen, with Adelard and Eva in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Church.
For over a hundred years, Atsena stayed and watched over his family. He watched with joy the birth of Adelard and Eva’s first daughter Vivian, only to see her go to the Great Father when she was only eighteen.
He rejoiced in the engagement of Adelard and Eva’s second daughter Claire to Roland. Atsena grieved with Eva when Adelard too was taken to the Great Father before their daughter’s wedding.
He stayed with Eva and prayed to the Great Father for her, and soon Claire and Roland had a family of their own. Atsena could see that Eva and Adelard’s lives were what Elder Brother warned that it would be: a life with suffering. But there was also great love and happiness, especially with Eva’s grandchildren.
In time too, Eva joined Adelard with the Great Father, but as he promised Atsena continued to watch over her and Adelard’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He watched with a father’s love because they were his children too through his daughter Ouenta.
He stayed, watched, and prayed until…
Epilogue: Early Sunday Morning, Our Lady of the Lake Church, Leominster, Massachusetts May 2019:
Atsena dit Du Plat Great Bear Chief of the Huron Wendats stood in the church of Our Lady of the Lake transfixed with awe and love at his son Joseph, the great-grandson of Adelard and Eva. Today he was to be honored by name in the Holy Mass. His son Joseph remembered Atsena and knew that he was his son, and in his memory, asked that this Mass on this day be said for Atsena, Ouenta and Annengthon.
A great light burst into the Church at the words of the consecration of the bread and wine: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is My body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of My blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant.”
A few moments later, the Priest continued: “Remember also those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known. Especially for Atsena dit Du Plat, Ouenta and Annengthon, for whom this Mass is offered. To all of us, your children, grant, O merciful Father, that we may enter into a heavenly inheritance with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God…”
At those words, Atsena felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Ouenta and Annengthon standing by his side. Then looking beyond them he could see Elder Brother, Adelard and Eva and countless other of his children who have passed on to the Great Father’s Longhouse. Atsena looked at his family, some still in this world, some who have passed on. But they were here together as one family.
Atsena looked at them with deep love because they were his children. With that, Atsena finally stepped through the doorway.
My mother’s maternal grandparents: Adelard and Eva St Goddard really did go to to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré to pray for a child. As my mother’s sister Aunt Jean explains:
“The basic story is one I know well – that of Eva and Adelard and their journey to St. Anne de Beaupre. And we know (according to Memere Eva), that she was pregnant on the return trip. And, then of course, intense suffering with the death of Vivian (January 1936) at the age of 18; and five years and three months later (April 1, 1941) with the death of Adelard.
From there, one year later (April 11, 1942), her sadness was eased and her life renewed, by the birth of your mother . . . followed of course, by ten more grandchildren. In 1963, your Mom and Dad married, and you were born 9 months later. And so on and so on . . .
BUT, after so many years of praying and pleading by Eva and Adelard, what made the difference at St. Anne de Beaupre? It is true that St. Anne and her husband St. Joachim, were barren for many years, and they prayed and pleaded for a child. And, late in life, Anne became pregnant with Mary, who was in God’s plan to be the Mother of Jesus Christ. So, St. Anne is the patron saint of “barren” women and troubled pregnancies.”
Atsena Dit Du Plat is what I call a “Super Ancestor” . I have found five different paths from his daughter Ouenta (later baptized Catherine) to my mother and her siblings. In fact three out of four of my mother and her sibling’s grandparents are descendants of Ouenta. That includes: Phileas Savoie, his wife Isala Meuiner and Adelard St Goddard. Only Eva is not a descendant of Ouenta .
The original St. Anne de Beaupre burned to the ground in 1922.
The exterior and interior pictures of St. Anne de Beaupre within the blog are from the original Shrine and show how the Shrine would have looked like to Adelard and Eva. The cover photo is how St. Anne de Beaupre looks today. Here are some current photos of St. Anne de Beaupre: