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St Rene Goupil , SJ

Born : May, 1608
Died : Sep 29, 1642
Beatified : June 21, 1925
Canonised : June 29, 1930

St Rene Goupil was born in Saint Martin in Anjou, France. He was already a surgeon when he entered the Jesuit novitiate at 33 but the onset of deafness forced him to leave.

The following year he offered himself to the Society as a lay assistant for missionary work in Quebec, promising to obey the Jesuit superior, work without salary and live a celibate life.

He was accepted for the Red Indian Huron mission and spent the first 2 years as a surgeon in the hospital opened by the Sisters of Dieppe, taking care of the sick and wounded Indians. Though obedient to his assignment, Rene wished he was more involved in the conversion of the native people.

Rene’s chance to work with the native people came when Fr Isaac Jogues arrived in Quebec in 1642 and he needed assistants who were experienced in medicine. Although he was warned that the assignment was tough and full of hardship, he was willing to face all these dangers.

After a day’s journey up the St Lawrence River, the flotilla carrying Fr Jogues, Rene and the Hurons, was unexpectedly ambushed by 70 Mohawk Indians on the warpath against the French and they were taken captives. The captors beat them and savagely bit out their fingernails and ground their forefingers with their teeth until they were formless masses.

During the few days after their capture, Rene told Fr Jogues his deep desire to be a Jesuit and consecrated himself to God’s service. With their future now uncertain, Fr Jogues allowed him to pronounce the vows of the Society as a Jesuit brother.

When they arrived at Ossernenom the Mohawks beat him on the face and head till he collapsed. After enduring these tortures, Fr Jogues and Rene were given as slaves to the chief who captured them and were treated as beasts of burden, performing very degrading tasks. On one occasion when he was playing with the 4-year old son of a dead Mohawk warrior, he took the child’s hand into his own and guided it in making the sign of the cross. Unknown to Rene, the boy’s grandfather who was watching rushed madly at Rene and kicked him as he thought the sign was an invocation of evil spirits. Rene was subsequently killed by the boy’s uncle but his body was never found. Fr Jogues found some remains of his bones with the skull crushed several months later and buried them. Fr Jogues later wrote to his superior: "He deserves the name of martyr, not because he had been murdered by the enemies of God and His Church while laboring in ardent charity for his neighbour, but most of all because he was killed for being at prayer and especially for making the sign of the cross”.

Rene was the first of the 8 North American martyrs to die for the Faith. All 8 were beatified and canonized y Pope Pius XI.