By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
BLUE SPRINGS — Standing on a table near the altar, he was dressed in buckskins and gazing benevolently on the assembled parishioners of St. John LaLande Catholic Church. Beautifully carved and painted, the wooden statue of St. John LaLande almost seemed to breathe.
The statue, dedicated during Mass on May 18, was commissioned from Studio Demetz in Ortisei, Italy, by a St. John LaLande parish family in memory of long-time parishioner, Medley Van Camp.
In his homily, Father Ron Elliott, pastor of St. John LaLande Parish, said Van Camp worked in maintenance and repairs at the parish for 14 years. He was always smiling, in spite of the ALS that was “slowly but surely talking his life’s breath away.”
The second reading that morning, 1 Peter 2:4-9, was about “living stones.” Father Elliott likened the family who commissioned the statue to the living stones in the reading: “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Jean de LaLande (in English John LaLande) was a teenager, only 19 when he landed on the shores of this continent about 1646. The lay Jesuit brother was eager to assist French Jesuit Father Isaac Jogues in his work with the Huron and Iroquois tribes in what is now Canada and upstate New York. His willingness to help build the Catholic faith in North America made him a living stone.
“We here today are living stones and true,” Father Elliott said, “we are each only one stone, but together we build the parish and we would be missed if we were not here.”
The Jesuit missionaries were not trusted by all in the Huron communities. Despite their success in converting many of the Huron, others considered them to be evil shamans who brought death and disease to the communities. It didn’t help that their arrival coincided with the great smallpox epidemics of 1634 and later, to which the Native Americans had no immunity.
Jean de LaLande served as a companion to Father Jogues, a missionary priest, on an ill-fated peace mission to the Iroquois village of Ossernenon, located in upstate New York. Jean de Lalande, had answered the call sent out by Father Jogues for a companion who was “virtuous, docile to direction, courageous, one who would be willing to suffer anything for God.”
While en route to Ossernenon, Father Jogues and Jean de LaLande were captured by a Mohawk war party. They were tortured and, on October 18, 1646, Father Jogues was tomahawked and beheaded.
John LaLande was martyred the following day, when he attempted to recover the body of Father Jogues from the village paths. In 1930, Pope Pius XI canonized John LaLande, Father Jogues and six other Jesuit slain by the Iroquois and Huron between 1642 and 1649. Father Jogues, John LaLande, Jesuit Brother Rene Goupil (1642), Fathers Antoine Daniel (1648), Jean de Brebeuf, Noel Chabanel Charles Garnier and Gabriel Lalemont (all in 1649) became known as the North American Martyrs.
St. John LaLande Parish was founded in 1938.
Parishioner Jim Heiman, author of a 2003 parish website history, wrote, “Jean de La Lande, the obscure young French woodsman from Dieppe, France, was a fitting image for the name of a church … 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.”
In honor of its 75th anniversary last year, research was done to see how many parishes worldwide are named for John LaLande. Apparently, the parish in Blue Springs is the one and only.
Remarking on that, Father Elliott said that the new statue in the church is the only statue in a church dedicated to St. John LaLande. The limestone statue on the lawn in front of the church, dedicated in the late 1970s, is also of St. John LaLande.
Father Elliott also mentioned that, while most of the statues in and around the church do not have halos, he specifically requested that the new statue of St. John LaLande have a halo. We have many visitors to our church, he said, stopping by for Mass while traveling on I-70. Most of them probably aren’t acquainted with St. John LaLande. “The statue is dressed in buckskins, and I didn’t want somebody asking, ‘Why is Davy Crockett in the church?’”
In the near future, the statue will be moved to the narthex of the church, but for now, he watches over the faithful attending Mass at the only church in the world named in honor of St. John LaLande.