Situated in the original context of their composition, the Jesuit Relations illuminate something not just of Jesuit discourse as Thomas Worcester has argued, but Jesuit practice too, revealing the ways in which sickness and disease functioned as missionary strategy in New France. In the deft hands of the Jesuits, sickness and disease were opportunities for the conversion of the dying, occasions for the practice of Christian virtue, and invitations for dramatic displays of divine power. It was the sickbed that called both for the cultivation of patience, constancy, and holy resignation among the suffering sick and for the practice of charity among those who tended them. Moreover, it was at the bedside of the sick and the dying where the most eloquent arguments in defense of the Christian faith were made, giving sound evidence of the omnipotence of the Christian God.
This article confirms what others have argued about the bifurcated representation of Amerindian women in the Jesuit Relations (aggressive, insubordinate, prideful, and licentious on the one hand and docile, obedient, humble, and chaste, on the other) but extends the analysis of gendered discourse at work in the text to argue that the Relations persist in characterizing both types of Amerindian women as virile in excess of the limits of prescribed femininity. Attention to the stubborn persistence of the virile in Jesuit representations of Amerindian women suggests that the encounter between French Jesuit gender norms and the gendered ideals native to the indigenous populations of colonial Canada is best understood as an encounter between a range of competing discourses about gender and gestures toward a polyvalence of gendered discourses at play in colonial texts more generally.