The following essay was written by Delaney McCartney from Gilbert. AZ. Delaney is a homeschooled student in the 7th grade.

The judge commented: “The essay laid out three points and argued them well. It was well written, especially considering the age of the essayist. Mostly what brought the essay above the other finalists was the lively, interesting tone throughout.” 

When Delaney’s mother read the judge’s comments, she attributed her daughter’s writing skills to Andrew Pudewa’s teaching through his Institute for Excellence in Writing. Mrs. McCartney also mentioned that this essay spurred a devotion in Delaney to Queen Isabel and she is praying for her canonization.

Queen Isabel of Spain is definitely the most influential woman in all of history (besides Mary, Our Blessed Virgin Mother). She was so holy that she was known as Isabel the Catholic. At an early age, Isabel had already sought to take control of her own life and Spain’s future, yet relied on her faith to achieve her goals. One example of her unfailing trust in God is that when she was just 14, Isabel’s half-brother promised her hand in marriage to Pedro Giron, an evil 43 year-old monk. As soon as Isabel heard the news, she tried to think of a way out. She was trapped inside her castle with no way of escape. There were only two ways to avoid the marriage: for Pedro to die, but she would never let someone murder another person, or for her to die, and she would not commit suicide. So Isabel kneeled and started praying, “either let him die, or let me die, either let him die, or let me die, either let him die, or let me die…” For a full day and night she prayed this prayer, and while Pedro was riding over to the castle to claim Isabel, he choked and died. She later arranged her own marriage to Fernando, thwarting her half-brother’s efforts to diminish her power through lesser marriages. Isabel continued to direct her life and Spain with her passion to do God’s will. Isabel’s love for God, along with her many virtues, helped her to change the course of history. There are three major ways that Isabel greatly influenced the world: sponsoring Columbus, completing the Reconquista, and establishing the Spanish Inquisition. Isabel influenced history in unfathomable ways. 

Perhaps what Isabel is best remembered for is sponsoring Christopher Columbus, but there is much more to it than that. Most people at that time could not even conceive Columbus’s grand idea of sailing across the ocean to reach India, rather than sailing around Africa. Isabel made Columbus’ dream real. She alone sponsored the penniless dreamer who could not make the voyage without her immense help. Undoubtedly, the discovery of the Americas is the greatest geographical find in all of history. Speaking of Latin America, Pope Saint John Paul II stated in The Way of the Gospel, “It is the continent of hope for the Church.” A common myth is that Isabel is to blame for the mistreatment of the Native Americans, but that is not so. In fact, Isabel loved them as much as she loved her own people.  Isabel’s last public act, which was three days before her death, was trying to ensure the protection of the Native Americans. By sponsoring Columbus, Isabel changed the course of history forever.

After over 700 years of fighting, Isabel finally put an end to the longest war in history. It was the Reconquista. The Reconquista, which means “reconquer” in Spanish, started with the Muslims taking over almost all of Spain in just three years. For 24 generations, the Spanish tried to win back their freedom from the Muslims. During that time, Spain had some incredible warriors like El Cid, Pelayo, and Alfonso I, II, and III, who momentarily pushed the Muslims out of their strongholds and into defeat. Unfortunately, indolent rulers followed these great warriors, and the Muslims plowed through Spain again. Isabel resumed the war. She united Spain and selflessly pawned her jewels to finance the war. Since printed money was sparse, Isabel created bank bills that became commonly accepted. She organized the soldiers in a way that is still used today. She also structured moveable hospitals for the soldiers that were fully stocked with supplies and medicines. Isabel rallied the troops, made sure they were fed, brought up the guns, and raised the morale of the soldiers like no woman, except Saint Joan of Arc, had ever accomplished. Isabel’s husband, Fernando, kept giving up on the war, but Isabel persevered. The last major Muslim stronghold, Granada, took 10 years to capture. Finally, Isabel drove the Muslims out of Spain. Isabel then was able to lead her country into Spain’s golden age and made Spain the greatest power in Europe, which dramatically influenced the world.

The Spanish Inquisition, also known as the Black Legend, is rumored to have tortured, executed and forcibly converted thousands of people. However, this is not the case. The BBC aired a documentary in 1994 created by historians who were not all Catholics. In the documentary, it states, “…historians are now discovering that the common notion of the Spanish Inquisition as some horrible, fanatical, all-encompassing bloodthirsty monster could not be further from the truth… Studying the archives of the Inquisition demolished the previous image that all of us had.” The Spanish Inquisition, which was started by Isabel, actually saved the Catholic Church in Europe.

Many people think that the Inquisition was unjust, but the Inquisition had the fairest trials in all of Europe. In fact, criminals would intentionally blaspheme in the court they were in, just so they could be sent to the Inquisition and have a fair trial. The Spanish Inquisition would: disregard what the enemies of the accused claimed, provide the accused at least two lawyers, and be limited to 15 minutes of torture (torture was a common practice for governments during that time).  Rev. Fr. Alphonsus Maria Duran, MJ states, “In the 30 years of Queen Isabel’s reign, about 100,000 persons were questioned by the Inquisition. Of these, more than 80,000 were found innocent and usually very promptly. Another 15,000 were found guilty, but after a public declaration of faith, they were unconditionally released. Only about 2,000 were executed.”[1]

Isabel required the Jews to either become Catholic or to leave Spain because the Jews and Catholics were engaging in “civil wars” in which many people died. She tried to prevent this, but to no avail. Isabel strove to not have the Jews persecuted, which is why she is called the protector of the Jews. She loved the Jews, and punished those who took advantage of them. She decreed, “all Jews in my kingdoms are … under my protection and defense and it pertains to me to defend and shelter them, and extend to them due justice.” The Inquisition only tried people who were Catholic or attacking the Church; it could not try Jews just for being Jews. But, many Jews who converted did not live a Catholic life, and continued practicing Judaism, which created scandal.

Isabel also started more reforms of the Church in Spain, like making the consecrated obey the rules for their order, stopping simony, creating new orders, building churches, and appointing holy people in high positions. These bold reforms, along with the Spanish Inquisition, made the Catholic Church so pure in Spain, that while Protestantism swept through the rest of Europe, it had no influence in Spain. In his book, Isabel of Spain: The Catholic Queen, Warren H. Carroll states, “It is no exaggeration to say that this reform, which Isabel began…, saved the Catholic Church not only in Spain, but in Europe…” Since Spain remained untouched by Protestantism, she could later re-evangelize the rest of the continent. It is obvious that the Spanish Inquisition was not pure evil as most people believe. Isabel influenced the world by keeping Catholicism safe from Protestantism.

William Thomas Walsh, a renowned historian and author, claims that Isabel changed the course of civilization and the aspect of the entire world. The Church and the world itself would be very different if we erased from history the feats of Isabel the Catholic. Imagine if there had been no Isabel to send Columbus off on his voyage. Imagine if the Protestants, the Muslims, or any other religion had reached the Americas first. Would there be the America we so casually take for granted today? Or imagine if there had been no Isabel to complete the Reconquista. Would anyone have forced the Muslims out of Spain and made Spain the greatest power in the world? Or imagine if there was no Isabel to begin the Spanish Inquisition and the other reforms of the Church. Would Catholicism not be a major religion? These things, among many others, cross one’s mind when one thinks of a world without Isabel. The Queen of Spain drastically changed the course of the world so much, it is completely impossible to imagine the world without her.


Why Apologize for the Spanish Inquisition? by Very Rev. Fr. Alphonsus Maria Duran, MJ              



The following essay was was written by Miss Zoe Wenholz from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Zoe is a homeschooled student in 6th grade.

The judge commented: “This essay opens strongly and pulls the reader in with a reference to an old nursery rhyme and planting a garden, which then ties into the work of St. Issac Jogues and why he is so influential. The body of the essay shows a thorough knowledge of the saint’s life and work and why he was influential. The essay ends with the opening theme of seeds planted in a garden, and how they bore fruit both in America and in the saint’s canonization. It is altogether and engaging and interesting essay.”

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.  How does your garden grow?  With the seeds of Faith?  With the “Son” of God?  With the blood of martyrs?  A most beautiful garden was planted in North America by Saint Isaac Jogues.  By the grace of God and the witness of his own life, he rooted a belief in Christ and His Church deep within the soil of our land. 

St. Isaac Jogues was born in Orleans, France, on January 10, 1607.  He was the fifth of nine children. From the age of ten, he attended Jesuit schools, and, when he was seventeen, decided to become a Jesuit.  On July 2, 1636, Jogues was ordained to the priesthood as a member of the Society of Jesus. His dream was to be a missionary.  His Jesuit brethren had launched a mission in New France in 1625 while Jogues was still a novice. In 1626, they had sent Jean de Brebeuf to open up another mission among the Hurons, 900 miles inland. This was a very difficult and demanding apostolate, yet Jogues was more than willing to go.

In 1636, he and his companions were sent to New France (specifically Quebec, Canada) as missionaries to the Huron Indians.  In 1642, after eight years of successful missionary work, Isaac Jogues was captured by the Mohawks.  He spent 13 months as a slave, was beaten, tortured (several fingers had been cut, burnt, or chewed off), and forced to watch as his Huron converts were tormented and killed.  Isaac Jogues was rescued by Dutch merchants in Albany and was given passage to New Amsterdam (New York) and then to France.  When he arrived “home”, Pope Urban VIII gave him permission to offer Mass with his mutilated hands: “It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ not be allowed to drink the Blood of Christ.”

Receiving a hero’s welcome, did Father Jogues sit back, thank God for his safe return and make plans for dying peacefully in his homeland?  No!  He resolved to continue his missionary dream of planting a spiritual garden.  Within just a few months, he returned to Huron territory; his work was not yet done.

Upon his return to New France, Isaac Jogues set out for Iroquois country believing that a recently signed peace treaty would be observed.  The Mohawks, however, considered Jogues a sorcerer and blamed him for the famine and disease that struck their homes in 1646. On October 18, they invited Jogues to visit them and crushed his skull with a tomahawk as he entered the chief’s cabin. His head and that of his companion (John de la Lande) were placed on poles facing the trails on which they came. 

The seeds of virtue which Jogues had sown would not be forgotten.  His bravery especially impressed the Indians, and when (years later) there was peace among the native people, the three Jesuit priests sent from Canada to establish the Mission of the Martyrs were well received.  His seeds of Faith can also be noted in the fact that Mohawk converts were traveling to the seminary in Quebec to be trained as Christian leaders.

On June 29, 1930, Isaac Jogues’ garden harvested eternal fruit.  On this date, Pope Pius XI, declared Isaac Jogues (along with Jean de Brebeuf, Rene Goupil, Jean de la Lande and four others of New France) a martyr and saint.  I think we can all agree that the seeds of Faith planted by St. Isaac Jogues bore much fruit.  

In Catholic Textbook Project’s 2015 History Essay Contest, students were challenged to choose a Catholic historical character and describe how he or she influenced the times in which he or she lived. The contest ran April-May and was open to students in Catholic schools—parochial, private or home-schooled, grades 5-8.  Nearly 2,000 entries were (more…)