Early evening, Beaupré Quebec, June 1916:
Atsenta dit Du Plat, Great Bear Chief of the Huron Wendats stood in the church sanctuary of Saint Anne de Beaupre transfixed with awe and love at his son Adelard. His son was kneeling beside his wife Eva in front of the Tabernacle. 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 Atsenta most of his beloved daughter, Ouenta.
Adelard wasn’t Atsenta’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 Long House along with his wife Annengthon. But now, kneeling in front of him, was a part of Ouenta still living in this world, and Atsenta 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 ornate gold Tabernacle. 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’ve been married for over ten years now 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 didn’t 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 wanted to plead, mother to mother, woman to woman… for children of her own.
As Atsenta watched his son and his wife he became aware of Elder Brother standing beside him. Elder Brother, that’s what Atsenta called him, was what the Black Robes said was his guardian angel, given to all people by the Great Father. Atsenta 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, April 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 his last night, a moonless night, Atsenta warily snuck out, intending to go north and return to Ouenta and Annengthon. He wasn’t aware that he was being observed and followed. 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.
When Atsenta awoke, finding himself face down in the snow, he saw a middle-aged Wendat man of his tribe sitting by a fire. Atsenta knew instinctively that he was now in the realm of the dead and although he didn’t know the man at the fire, his presence felt familiar. Atsenta moved himself to the fire and sat across from the man. Staring into the fire, Atsenta felt no heat nor any cold from the snow around him.
“I believe I may know you… may I ask your name?” Atsenta asked.
“Don’t you know me Atsenta?… 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.
Atstenta lowered his head for a moment, his eyes probing the fire, thinking about what to say next. Listening, Atsenta 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 Long House?”
‘Yes… but not yet. You are not ready Atsenta 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 Atsenta 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 to Atsenta about his life, where he helped people and when he failed to follow the way of love toward his fellow human beings. Atsenta saw clearly how he hurt others and how sometimes his actions hurt himself. But Elder Brother remained with him and by helping him 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 Long House.
Early evening, Beaupré Quebec, June 1916:
So now Atsenta and Elder Brother stood together in the Church of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré observing Adelard and Eva. Moments earlier, when they reached Beaupré, Elder Brother announced that Atsenta was now ready to go the Great Father. But before they turned to go Atsenta had one final question:
“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, may I see at least one of them?”
With that, Elder Brother guided Atsenta into Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Church and pointed to Adelard and Eva, kneeling in front of the Tabernacle.
Elder Brother also looked upon Adelard and Eva with love but then turned to Atsenta and placing a hand gently on his shoulder said: “It is a time of joy my brother, Ouenta and Annengthon await you at the door.”
Atsenta 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 awaiting by the door.”
At that moment, the doors of the church swung slowly open, reveling an unearthly light, impossibly bright. Atsenta could make out the silhouette of two women just outside.
Still, Atsenta could not move: “Will their prayer be answered?”
Elder Brother shook his head, “No Atsenta, a child for them will only bring suffering.”
At that, Atsenta finally began to sadly 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 didn’t know what to do next but Adelard reached down, picked it up and wrapped both their hands within the black wooden beads.
“Elder Brother…” Atsenta, didn’t know what to say but the tenderness between his son and Eva transfixed him and again he could not move to the door. Atsenta then moved closer and stood in front of Eva. At that moment Adelard looked up as the red candle suddenly flickered.
Atsenta reached out and gently wiped a tear from Eva’s cheek. 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.”
Atsenta finally understood, he suffered these many years with the loss of his child Ouenta. 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.
Atsenta became resolute: “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 around to face to Atsenta: “Do you know what you are asking brother? Are you wiling to suffer with them? Are you willing to stay with them?”
Atsenta 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 Atsenta into his arms: “I can’t stay with you my brother, this journey you must do alone. Even I don’t know how long you must remain but you cannot follow me to the Great Father’s Long House until one of your children remember you in their prayers.” And with that Atsenta stood alone, unseen, with Adelard and Eva in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Church.
Epilogue: Early Sunday Morning, Our Lady of the Lake Church, Leominster, Massachusetts May 2019:
Atsenta 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 Atsenta, and knew that he was his son and, in his memory, asked that this Mass on this day be said for Atsenta, 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 Atsenta 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, Atsenta 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 Long House. Atsenta looked at his family, some still in this world, some who have passed on. But they were here together as one family. Atsenta looked at them with deep love because they were his children. With that, Atsenta 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: