The First of Our Living Stones
by Jim Heiman, St. John LaLande parishioner
In the summer of 1636, 202 years before the founding of our parish, French Jesuit missionary Father Isaac Jogues saw North America, the rock cliff of Quebec, for the first time from the sea. It was a kind of spiritual statue of liberty. “A century ago,” Father Isaac told his companion,” a Norman sea captain gave this place its name. He was on a ship here in the harbor, just as we are—only his ship was carrying the first white men to come up the Saint Lawrence River. ‘When he saw the cliff there,’ Isaac went on, ‘the captain of that little ship was amazed. He cried out in his rough farmer’s French, “Que bec!’ meaning ‘what a rock!’” (Saint Isaac and the Indians, Milton Lomask, p. 10).
Metaphorically, one of the first stones of our parish, our “rock,” was placed by this Isaac, named for Isaac son of Abraham, and human symbol of the Covenantal relationship of God with His people. Father Isaac Jogues had left for the New World from Dieppe, France, John La Lande’s hometown. Other heroic missionaries including de Brebeuf, Lalemant, and Champlain had also left from Dieppe. In an article entitled “Teenage Martyr of America,” (Liguorian) Precious Blood Father Joseph Adamec tells us how powerful the stories of these missionaries were for John La Lande: “Tales of the harrowing experiences of these men in their efforts to bring the gospel message to the savage natives of the New World were, to the little boys of Dieppe, adventures such as dreams were made of.
As soon as he was old enough, John La Lande signed on one of the ships to the New world. He came as a donne’ , a lay missionary. His enthusiasm for God’s work intensified with every report of heroism and martyrdom in Indian territory” (p. 1). Father Ademec continues: “For four years the Quebec mission had buzzed with tales of Father Isaac Jogues and his captivity by the Mohawks. Every detail of the holy man’s torture was well-known to John. The boy could hardly believe his ears when the superior requested that he accompany Father Jogues on a return trip into Mohawk territory.
When Father Jogues arrived at the mission, John La Lande was packed and ready to go. “The veteran Jesuit missionary spoke openly about his own experiences and about the martyrdom of his last lay assistant, Rene Goupil. He tried to prepare the young Le Lande for what could happen if they were captured. ‘They went so far as to tear out our hair and beards,’ Jogues told John. ‘They burned one of my fingers and crushed another with their teeth. The others they so twisted that even now they are crippled and deformed. Jogues warned his young donne’ to be ready for the same treatment. Jogues was convinced that he himself would not return alive. ‘If you have any fear,’ he concluded, ‘don’t come.’ John listened. The stories he had fed on for so long came alive when told by the man who had experienced them. The young missionary looked steadily at Father Jogues and answered simply, ‘I’ll go with you.’”
Fr. Jogues, John La Lande, and three Indians set out by canoe from Quebec on September 27, 1646 for the Mohawk village of Ossemenon. Two Huron Indians accompanying the missionaries abandoned the party upon hearing that the Mohawks were once again on the warpath. Once the missionaries had landed they were captured, stripped, beaten, and taken to the village where on October 17 strips of flesh were cut from Fr. Jogues’ neck and arms. The natives blamed a chest of religious articles which Fr. Jogues had left in the village on a previous visit for an epidemic which had caused them to lose their corn crop. While recovering from the wounds, Fr. Jogues was invited to a feast in one of the Indian lodges. As he entered the lodge he was struck by a tomahawk and killed. He was then decapitated, and his body was dragged through the village.
John La Lande was held in another lodge and advised to remain inside. However, intent on finding Fr. Jogues’ body, La Lande left the lodge and was tomahawked to death on October 18, 1646 by an Indian guard who had been set to watch the lodge. Both Fr. Jogues and John La Lande were beatified by Pope Pius XI on June 21, 1925 and canonized on June 29, 1930. John La Lande’s feast day is October 19, the day he was martyred.
So this is the story of the first canonized American saints and of the foundation stone that was put in place by a French Jesuit named Isaac and the one named John who followed him faithfully. Now our story moves ahead to 1938 when a Catholic priest was posted to Blue Springs, Missouri, a rural town some 25 miles east of Kansas City along old Highway 40.
According to Father Michael Coleman, author of This Far by Faith, Volume II: The Facts, a history of the parishes in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph published by the Diocese in October 1992, Father James Walton was the first pastor of the parish. He was appointed at the end of May, 1938, and the first parish meeting took place in the home of Edwin Boserine at Lake Lotawana. On June 17 in a downtown brick building at 1133 Main Street, Blue Springs, the new parishioners gathered for their first Mass as a parish. They remained there for about a year in that same building, purchased by Daniel and Steve Donovan on May 23, 1938, and later donated to the Diocese. Owned by a Mr. Stanley and known as “Stanley Hall,” the building cost $3400.
Legend has it that a number of Ku Klux Klansmen lived in Blue Springs and that the Donovans had sworn that they would see to it that there was a Catholic church on the main street of the town. Patrons Daniel and Steve Donovan were willing to make a rather strong statement in the midst of such persecution. They were taking a big risk that the building and perhaps the homes of parishioners who worshipped in that building would burn. Daniel and Steve Donovan were living stones, witnessing their faith, handing on the tradition of such witness to us.
Another important reality in the creation of our parish is this fact from p. 7 of Coleman’s history: “The parish was originally established primarily for the convenience of Catholics visiting Lake Tapawingo and Lake Latawana during the summer. Otherwise, there were only about 15 permanent Catholic families and almost all of these were scattered outside of Blue Springs. . . the Donovans, who lived on the edge of town, were the only residents of Blue Springs at the time who were Catholic.” So besides the fact that the church appeared on Main Street as a witness against the KKK it was also a convenience for weekend Lake traffic, country excursionists on holiday—two radically different purposes—serious and playful at once.
And so from these facts and knowing that there is much that we don’t know, let us try to tell the story of why our parish was named for St. John La Lande. Perhaps it was our first pastor Fr. James Walton, who remembered from his ordo, the stories of feast days associated with the daily office, the feast of the American Martyrs on September 26 (now Oct 19) and perhaps the story of one of those 8 martyrs stood out to him. This was Jean de La Lande—in English, John of the Land, the 19-year-old Jesuit lay minister who had joined with Fr. Isaac Jogues to bring the gospel message to those same Indians who had tortured the Jesuit priest just a few years before. Father Isaac and Jean de La Lande met their deaths at the same time and in the same place. They were distinctly American martyrs—foreign born Catholics who died in what was later the town of Auriesville in Montgomery County, New York. They had fought for a cause in which they believed strongly.
Jean de La Lande, the obscure young French woodsmen, was a fitting image for the name of a church and practitioner of a religion persecuted by the fears of staunchly anti-foreign and anti-Catholic terrorists. And perhaps he appealed to the weekend country excursionists who may have felt that they, too, were woodsmen—at least on the weekends. But most interesting of all is that John La Lande was a layman. We are unique in that regard; few if any parishes in our Diocese, or even in the country are named after a lay American martyr. Certainly no other church is named after a lay American martyr who was also a teenager at his death. To my knowledge, the name of our church is quite unique and certainly must have been so at its founding over 65 years ago.
For more information on St. John LaLande and the North American Saints, please visit :