CANADA. CLAUDE CHAUCHETIèRE WAS ONLY SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS OLD WHEN HE first heard of this mysterious land far across the sea. He and his older brother, Jean, were then pupils in the little parish school of St. Porchaire in the heart of Poitiers, and their teacher, the local curate, told them of a priest of his acquaintance who had died a holy death just before sailing for Quebec. He never forgot the powerful impression this story of devotion and self-sacrifice produced in his own young mind: “The zeal of this good priest touched me and made me feel how good it would be to give oneself to God.”1 Though the would-be missionary had never even left France, the teacher’s report somehow conjured up a set of associations in young Claude’s mind linking Canada, death, and a glorious and fulfilling union with God. Something of that forbidding sense of the place endured even after he had spent half a lifetime—with minimal risk of martyrdom, as it turned out—in the colony on the St. Lawrence.
It was in 1695, with old age creeping up on him, that the fifty-year-old Chauchetière sat down to write a spiritual autobiography in the form of a long letter to his brother, himself a Jesuit then serving at Limoges. (There were, in fact, three Chauchetière brothers in the Society of Jesus; younger brother Jacques had died ten years earlier after brief service as a missionary in South America.)2 This was Claude’s narrative, based on the memoirs and rough notes accumulated over the course of a long career, of his religious development, with its crises and moments of inspiration and its long and