The Canadian Martyrs
Most of the Canadian Martyrs
were French Jesuit priests from
ST. RENÉ GOUPIL (1608 – 1642)
was born in the
He arrived at
In July, 1642, St. René travelled with St. Isaac Jogues; a priest, and some Huron Indians to Huronia, because the Hurons were badly in need of a doctor. After travelling for some time they arrived at Trois Rivières. They left Trois Rivières on August 1st, and the next day they met up the savage Iroquois. At this point, nearly all the Hurons fled into the woods, and Isaac Jogues and René were taken prisoner. As soon as René was seized he told Fr. Jogues, “Father; 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.”
While the Iroquois raced after the Hurons who had fled, Fr. Jogues heard Rene’s confession and gave him absolution. When the enemy returned from the woods, they flung themselves upon these two men like wild dogs, tearing out their finger nails and chewing their fingers. At the same time, bearing his wounds patiently, René helped Fr. Jogues instruct the Hurons who were not as yet Catholics.
On the way to Mohawk country, Isaac Jogues noticed that René was always thinking about God. René gave himself totally to God and was ready to be burned to ashes by the fires of the Iroquois. He sought out every means to please God in everything and everywhere.
One day after their capture, René told Isaac Jogues, “Father, God has always given me an intense desire of consecrating myself to His service by religious vows in the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits). Up until now 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.” At this point Fr. Jogues listened, while Rene’s pronounced his vows.
Even though René was badly wounded, he cared for the other wounded, both the Iroquois who had been injured in the fight and his fellow prisoners. He helped a sick Iroquois with as much charity as he would have shown to his dearest friends.
Later, when the Iroquois were taking these two men in their canoe, René showed great humility and obedience to the enemy. When they asked our saint to paddle the canoe he did so without the slightest objection. Then, because of his example, the Iroquois tried to pressure Fr. Jogues into paddling as well, but when René noticed this he begged pardon of the priest.
During the trip, Fr. Jogues asked René several times if he would like to escape, since they were allowed freedom on more than one occasion. Fr. Jogues had to stay with the other prisoners and René wanted to stay as well, wishing to leave everything to the will of God.
On the 18th day, weak from lack of food, loss of blood and the pains of their bruised and broken bodies, the prisoners arrived at the first Iroquois village. Here again they suffered terribly: they were beaten with clubs and iron rods, cut, whipped, burned and scratched! Then scarcely had René got back his breath, when he was beaten three more times with a club. The Iroquois then cut off Fr. Jogues’ left thumb and cut off René’s right thumb. After this they had to undergo the same treatments in two other Iroquois villages. And at night young Iroquois threw hot coals on their flesh and tore open their wounds.
The Iroquois told our saints to get ready to die and then spared their lives. Suddenly René became very sick and he developed a great dislike to everything, especially to the food which tasted terrible.
After being six weeks in the Mohawk country, René and Fr. Jogues comforted each other by leaving everything in God’s hands and by preparing themselves for anything that God might allow in the future.
One day, on September 29th, Fr. Jogues and René went for a walk outside the village to pray more easily and with less distraction. Two young Iroquois came after them to say that they should return to the house. Fr. Jogues felt that he knew what was going to happen, so he told René, “My dear brother, let us commend ourselves to Our Lord and our good mother the Virgin Mary. These fellows, I believe, are up to no good!” A little earlier, these two saints had offered themselves to Our Lord, begging Him to accept their lives and their blood and to unite them to His own life and blood, for the salvation of the poor Iroquois. They turned back to the village and continued saying their rosary. When they stopped near the village gate, to see what the young Iroquois would say to them, one of the Iroquois drew out a hatchet he had been hiding and struck René with a blow on the head. René fell face down to the ground, saying the holy name of Jesus. When Fr. Jogues saw the hatchet he knelt down, fully expecting a similar death. But when the Iroquois did nothing, the priest ran to the dying René to give him absolution. Then the Iroquois struck René two more times on the head—to finish him off.
Fr. Jogues was ordered to return to his cabin where he waited for two days. The following morning, he went in search of René’s body and with the help of a former, captured, Algonquin, he found it beside a stream. Both men took the body, placed it in the stream and covered it with stones, so as to hide it. Two days later Fr. Jogues returned to the stream to bury René’s body but it was gone. In the spring, the priest learned that the young people had formerly dragged René’s body into the nearby woods. Fr. Jogues searched the woods four times and finally found René’s head and some bones from his body. The priest kissed the bones reverently several times since they were the bones of a martyr, and then buried them, hoping to take them with him to Trois Rivières, a thing which the Iroquois had spoke of doing.
René Goupil was a martyr, not only because he had been killed by the enemies of God and his church, but also because he had been killed for his prayers and the sign of the cross. He nearly always said his prayers openly and made the sign of the cross over a little four year old boy who had come to visit in his cabin. An old Iroquois, seeing this, ordered a young Iroquois to kill René.
Let us ask St. René Goupil to help us to be brave and strong in our Catholic Faith, even when it is difficult; for remember Our Lady of Fatima said: “The good will be martyred if Russia does not convert.”
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