Saint René Goupil was a Jesuit missionary; born 1607, in Anjou; martyred in New York State, 23 September, 1642. He was baptized in St-Martin-du-Bois, near Angers, in the ancient Province of Anjou, on 15 May 1608, the son of Hipolite and Luce Provost Goupil. He was working as a surgeon in Orléans before entering the novitiate of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Paris on 16 March 1639. He had to leave the novitiate due to deafness.
Goupil volunteered to serve as a lay missionary working to assist the Jesuit Fathers. In 1640 he arrived in New France. From 1640 to 1642 he served at the Saint-Joseph de Sillery Mission, near Quebec, where he was charged with caring for the sick and wounded at the hospital. His work primarily involved wound dressings and bloodlettings.
In 1642 Goupil travelled to the Huron missions with about forty other persons, including several Huron chiefs and Jesuit Father Isaac Jogues. Goupil and the group were captured by the Iroquois near Lake St. Peter for making the sign of the cross over a child‘s head, which was mistaken for some type of curse. Then taken to their easternmost village of Ossernenon (about 9 miles west of present-day Auriesville, New York), and tortured.
Like the other captives, he was beaten, his nails torn out, and his finger-joints cut off. On the thirteen days’ journey to the Iroquois country, he suffered from heat, hunger, and blows, his wounds festering and swarming with worms. Meeting half way a band of two hundred warriors, he was forced to march between their double ranks and almost beaten to death. Goupil might have escaped, but he stayed with Jogues.
Returning one evening to the village with Jogues whil reciting rosary with the group, one of the Iroquois drew out a hatchet he had been hiding under a cover and struck Groupil who was in front of him a blow on the head. Rene felt face down on the ground, uttering the holy name of Jesus. In a split second, the Iroquois struck twice more on Groupil’s the head. It was on the 29th of September, the feast of St. Michael.
Groupil was the first of the order in the Canadian missions to suffer martyrdom. He had previously bound himself to the Society by the religious vows pronounced in the presence of Father Jogues, who calls him in his letters “an angel of innocence and a martyr of Jesus Christ.”
Before being martyred, he had professed religious vows as a Jesuit lay brother before Fr. Jogues. Many of the 24 Huron accompanying Goupil were baptized Catholic converts. His death by hatchet in the head led to his patronage of people who work with or receive anasthesia.