Monday, May 09, 2016

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Steel Cross: The Massacre of Fr. Sebastién Râle and the Indian Chiefs

 In the Shadow of the Steel Cross


By Louise Ketchum Hunt

Reviewed by Onalee McGraw

In this inspiring historic narrative, Louise Ketchum Hunt captures the story of Father Sebastién Râle. Father Râle and the Indian chiefs who tried to protect him were martyred on August 23, 1724 at the site of Louise Ketchum Hunt’s Norridgewock ancestors. In the day there was a raging conflict between England and France for control of the North American lands that belonged to the indigenous Native American tribes. The English put a price on Father Râle’s head because he kept the Native Americans loyal to the French who were headquartered in Quebec. Father Râle was determined to stand by his people, the Wabanackis tribe of what is now the state of Maine.

Louise spent the first twenty-one years of her life growing up in the parish of St. Anne’s Catholic Church on the Penobscot Indian Reservation located at Old Town Maine She learned from her grandmother abut Father Râle and the Norridgewock massacre as the story was passed down through her family’s oral tradition. 

Louise highlights what she remembers her grandmother telling her:

“Our ancestors, a young girl and her brother, escaped the massacre. They made their way to a mission village near Quebec, Canada. Father Râle was not buried at Norridgewock.” Louise recalls her grandmother saying that Father Râle’s body was scalped and desecrated.  Her grandmother said, “The people took Father Râle and buried him in a faraway place where none would ever find him.”

What emerges from this narrative of heroic fidelity to Christ and his Church is a message for our own time.  We are reminded that in days of darkness and of light, this world is not our home. Father Râle gave his life to serve a people, the Algonquin and Wabanackis tribes of the northeastern American continent who were completely dependent in their surroundings on the whims of nature. Father taught them and learned for himself the mystery and beauty of spirituality and nature. He stayed with his people for thirty years, living among them as friend, fellow laborer, teacher, spiritual leader, and giver of the sacraments.

Louise Ketchum Hunt makes the story come alive with her interesting and believable characterizations in this true story. In particular, her account of two young people who find each other while in the grip of the deadly conflict between the English and the French is a warm hearted diversion that blends well with the main story. The author has woven her narrative into a seamless tale of great heroism and sacrifice. 

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