Though Fray Pedro de Corp a and his Companions were slain as the sixteenth century was drawing to a close, the formal inauguration of the Cause for their Beatification and Canonization did not take place until well into the twentieth century.
The lapse of more than three and a half centuries does not, however, imply that the awareness of their sacrifice had been lost sight of. As was demonstrated in the preceding chapter of this Report, their story and the memory of their heroic witness to the Gospel had been kept alive in diverse chronicles and had continued to be recalled in sources directed more to specialized groups than to a general audience.
Among the several historical reasons for the delay in any organized effort to inaugurate a movement for canonizing these heroes of the Catholic missionary history of North America, perhaps the most telling was the direct consequence of the geographic location in which their martyrdom had taken place. The several sites where these five Servants of God died are in a remote section of that State known as Georgia. Even the very name "Georgia" subtly insinuates the eclipse of Catholicism by the Protestant ethos: it speaks of the domination by the Protestant House ofHanover over the land which once was part of La Florida, the land discovered and first settled by Spaniards who called it La Isla de la Pascua Florida.
The martyrdom of these five missionaries in the sixteenth century took place in the area now called Georgia, precisely in that North American state of which the population, even in this day, has almost the lowest percentage of Catholics among all the States on the continent. The-culture of Georgia for the last two and a half centuries has been quite largely devoid of any awareness of its Catholic beginnings, and until a period still in the memory of many was well known for anti-Catholic bias and discrimination.
Georgia tended to ignore – even if we do not want to use the term "to repudiate" – the part which the Catholic Church had in its period preceding the English takeover in 1763. By the mid-eighteenth century there had occurred a drastic break with the Catholic beginning of the emerging State of Georgia. Almost of set purpose, it might seem, the memory of the early, once-flourishing chain of missions, with many thousands of settled Indians, was well on the way to near-complete oblivion. In time, even the few Catholics who remained in the State of Georgia – and certainly even more so the general population of that State and even of the United States as a whole – were quite unaware of what in ages past the Catholic Church had been and had done in the region.
Even without any conscious effort to denigrate the Catholic beginnings of the State, in such an atmosphere there would be little sympathy toward any and every aspect of Catholic life and Catholic traditions. Especially uncongenial would be the notion that heroes of that remote and vaguely unpopular Catholic period deserved to be honored in any special way. If in Georgia among the non-Catholic population there was little or no awareness of the story of the Martyrs, certainly there was no ground swell even among the relatively few Catholics of that State to propose the Martyrs for the honors of the altar.
”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.
St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.
Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.
Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.
Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.
Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.
St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.