GOUPIL, RENÉ, surgeon, brother, Jesuit, missionary, and martyr; baptized 15 May 1608 at Saint-Martin-du-Bois, France, son of Hypolite Goupil and of Luce Provost; d. 29 Sept. 1642 in the Iroquois country; canonized by Pope Pius XI on 29 June 1930.
We know for certain that René Goupil was already a surgeon at the time he entered the noviciate at Paris on 16 March 1639. His name does not appear in the official lists for the ensuing years. But a note preserved in the archives of the Jesuits of Chantilly, near Paris, informs us that he had to discontinue his noviciate because he was afflicted with deafness: “Renatus Goupil a tirocinio Parisiensi exclusus erat, quia surdaster.”
When he arrived in Canada in 1640 he seems to have sought to carry out his missionary vocation as a layman. And all the evidence inclines us to believe that he was bound to the Society by the promise of the donnés (“given men”). We find him at the Saint-Joseph de Sillery mission, near Quebec, from 1640 to 1642. He was in the service of the missionaries, who valued above all his gifts as a surgeon.
On 1 Aug. 1642, he left Trois-Rivières along with Isaac Jogues, Guillaume Couture*, several Huron chiefs, among them Eustache Ahatsistari and Joseph Teondechoren, and the latter’s niece, daughter of the famous Joseph Chihwatenha, Thérèse Oionhaton, who had been trained in the practice of the Christian virtues by the Ursulines. This flotilla, which comprised 12 canoes and included about 40 persons, set out for the Huron country where Goupil was henceforth to follow his surgeon’s calling. A few days later the whole party fell into the hands of Iroquois who carried Goupil off into their own territory. There, at Ossernenon (Auriesville, N.Y.), he met his death by the hatchet of an Iroquois who had been provoked by seeing him make the sign of the cross over a child. This was on 29 Sept. 1642. A few days earlier, he had taken his religious vows before St. Isaac Jogues. He is venerated as the first Jesuit martyr in Canada.
The account of his death, contained in the Relation for 1643, prompted the coming to Canada of one of his comrades: “. . . another young surgeon, well versed in his art, and well known in the Hospital at Orléans, where he has given proofs of his virtue and of his competence, has chosen to take the place of his comrade; he has crossed into New France.” This text, in conjunction with that in the Society’s list, is sufficient to establish that Goupil had studied surgery and that he was not merely a barber-surgeon.
For the life, virtues, and death of René Goupil one may profitably consult the Relations for 1643 and 1647 (JR (Thwaites), XXIII, XXIV, XXXI), and ACSM, “Mémoires touchant la mort et les vertus des pères Isaac Jogues . . .” (Ragueneau), repr. APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 1, 3, 30, 34, 38, 89–93. But the most important document is undoubtedly the biographical note devoted to him by St. Isaac Jogues (JR (Thwaites), XXVIII, 116–34), which is reprinted in Jésuites de la N.-F. (Roustang), 254–61. Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, codex Franc. 22, f.359v. Positio causæ.
Revisions based on:
Arch. Départementales de Maine-et-Loire (Angers, France), “Reg. paroissiaux et d’état civil,” Saint-Martin-du-Bois, 15 mai 1608: www.archives49.fr/acces-directs/archives-en-ligne (consulted 10 July 2012).