On May 18, 1675, a handbell rang from the east shore of Lake Michigan. It was the only sound that afternoon in all the vast wilderness of lake and hills and forest, and it marked the passing of a Jesuit Father, Jacques Marquette. His great and stirring mission among the Illinois Indians had come to an end on Easter morning when he celebrated mass before five thousand of them. They had stood in rings around him in an open field—old men, chiefs, and warriors, with women and children on the outer fringe. No Indian had ever experienced anything like that service: if not all of them were converted, all were deeply moved. The young men escorted Marquette and his two French companions from their town to the head of Lake Michigan to say farewell. They did not try to keep him with them but begged him to come back when he was able. They knew that he was very ill, and had been desperately so when he had returned the fall before to winter with them according to his promise.
His canoe, paddled by Pierre Porteret and a voyageur , Jacques Largillier, followed the eastern shore. When, days later, they came to a stream beside a small hill, Marquette told them to stop there so he could end his life on land. All winter, besides other ailments, he had suffered from dysentery; now it was a raging, bloody flux.
When he died, one of the men whispered the names of Mary and Jesus in his ear as he had asked. The other rang the bell.
I wish I might have been there to hear those small and lonely notes. They marked the end of the most spiritual and also down-to-earth of all the Jesuit missionaries, and also the end of a simplicity and faith that were not to be reborn in America.