René Goupil longed to serve God as a Jesuit. When ill health forced him to drop out of training at Paris, he volunteered to serve in Canada as a layman. For two years he did the dirty work at his new home. Among his duties was to care for patients at the local hospital, where he demonstrated surgical ability. That led to him being sent to assist a Jesuit mission to the Hurons as a surgeon.
René traveled inland with the Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues, another layman William Couture and a party of Hurons. The great enemies of the Hurons were the Iroquois. A company of Iroquois ambushed the Hurons. René was captured. Isaac Jogues, who had gotten away into the brush, gave himself up to the Iroquois so he could pastor René and the Hurons in their peril.
The Indians fell on the Frenchmen and Hurons with dreadful savagery, tearing off their fingernails, beating them and biting through their fingers.
René's response was, "Father [Jogues], may God be praised; He has allowed this, He has wished it. May His holy will be done: I love it, I will it, I cherish and embrace it with all my heart." And he did.
Exposed to mosquitoes day and night and forced to carry heavy loads, he staggered on as a prisoner for days. Whenever he reached an Indian village, he was forced to run the gauntlet. In the villages, he was tortured. In spite of his own wounds, he tended the sick whenever he could. Isaac Jogues suffered the same misery and showed the same kindness to his enemies.
At every opportunity, René instructed the Indians in the Christian faith. He prayed constantly. At one point he said to Jogues, "Father, God has always given me an intense desire of consecrating myself to His service by religious vows in the Society of Jesus. Heretofore, my sins have always rendered me unworthy of this grace. Nevertheless I hope that our Lord will find acceptable the offering which I wish to make to Him now by pronouncing, as best I can, the vows of the Society, in the presence of my God and before you." Jogues readily agreed to this and René became a Jesuit.
After weeks of torment, René was sick but still unbroken. On this day, September 29, 1642, he made the sign of the cross over some Iroquois children. Their grandfather saw it and believed René was bewitching them. Shortly afterward, as René and Isaac Jogues walked in the woods by the Indian village, praying together, two Indian warriors joined them.
Suddenly, one swung his tomahawk and struck René a blow into the skull. Gasping out the name of Jesus one last time, René fell. Believing that his own time had come, Jogues knelt in prayer, ready to take a similar blow. He was not killed, however. The next day, he went out to bury René's body. Animals had already torn it. The best he could do was to sink it in a stream with stones. Later the Indians dumped it into a ravine.
Adopted by the Indians, Isaac Jogues survived to tell René's tale. After escaping, he returned to mission work, was captured a second time and killed by another Iroquois warrior.
- Jogues, Isaac. "Rene Goupil 16O8-1642." http://www.wyandot.org/goupil.htm
- "Goupil, René." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928 - 1958.
- Lindsay, Lionel. "René Goupil." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1909.
- Parkman, Francis. France and England in North America. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1886.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated July, 2007