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Our Glorious Catholic Heritage:

The True Origins of North America


St. René Goupil

North Amerian MartyrsLong before the Dutch and British established their Freemasonic Republic in 1776, the first foundation of American settlements (after, of course, the tribes of the native Indian population) were the Catholic missions and cities established by the zealous French, German, and Italian missionaries in the North and Midwest of the continent, and the equally zealous Spanish missionaries throughout the Southern and Western parts of the continent.

The Society of Jesus had been founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola during the turbulent times following the Protestant Revolution. By the dawning of the seventeenth century the Jesuits had won renown as zealous missionaries and ardent defenders of the Catholic Faith.

The following is a brief account of the martyrdom of the first of these missionaries to die, St. René Goupil. He was born in the little village of St. Martin, now a suburb of Anjou, which like Orleans, St. Isaac Jogues' native city, is situated on the Loire River, but further downstream and to the west. As a young man he became a Jesuit novice with the intention of serving as a lay brother, but ill health prevented him from taking his vows. Skilled in the care of the sick and possessing a practical knowledge of medicine, after a time he resolved to sail to New France in order to help the Jesuit missionaries he had earlier hoped to join. St. Isaac Jogues found him working in the Quebec hospital in 1642, and was delighted when he volunteered to travel with him to the Huron country to serve as infirmarian at Mission Sainte Marie. Both were captured by the ferocious Mohawk Iroquois on the St. Lawrence River, along with a large number of Christian Hurons. It was on the torture trail to the Mohawk country that Fr. Jogues received René's perpetual vows as a Jesuit brother. Six weeks after their arrival at the village of Ossernenon, René became the first of the eight martyrs to die, the first canonized saint of North America.

St. Isaac Jogues, who was himself to die a glorious martyrdom four years later, buried the relics of his dear Brother, and upon his escape from the Mohawks, wrote a short "Way of Martyrdom" which relates the story of René's triumphant passage into Eternity.

"After René and I had been captives in Ossernenon (Auriesville, New York) for six weeks (September 1642) we lost all hope of again seeing Three Rivers (the Jesuit mission). We consoled one another at this decree of Divine Providence and kept preparing ourselves for anything that God might ordain. René evidently did not perceive as clearly as I our present peril. For this reason I kept warning him to be prepared for the worst...

"One evening with sad hearts, René and I went beyond the village stockade to pray more reverently apart from its noise. Two Indian youths came after us ordering us to go back to our long house. I sensed some foreboding of what would happen and said to René: 'My dear brother, let us commend ourselves to our Lord and to our dear Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am afraid these Indians have some evil design...

"A few minutes earlier René and I had offered ourselves to Our Lord with intense devotion. We begged God to accept our lives and our blood, and to unite them to His life and His blood for the salvation of these pagan tribes. We were returning to the village, praying our Rosary, of which we had already said four decades...

"We paused at the gate of the stockade to hear what the two Iroquois had to say. One of them drew a tomahawk from under his blanket, and dealt René a blow on the head. René fell prostrate to the ground, uttering the holy Name of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. We had often reminded each other to end our speech and our lives with that most holy Name...

"At the sound of the blow I turned around and beheld the tomahawk dripping with blood. I fell to my knees to receive the blow that would unite me to my dear companion. The Iroquois delayed. I rose again and rushed to René's side as he lay expiring, but not before I had given him absolution. Since our captivity I had absolved him regularly every other day after his confession...

"It was the Feast of St. Michael, September the 29th, 1642, that this angel in innocence and martyr of Jesus Christ, René Goupil, gave his life for Christ Who had offered His life on the Cross for him. The Indians ordered me to go back to my long house. There I awaited that day and the next the same deadly tomahawk. Everyone believed that I would not have to wait long. But Our Lord averted this...

"Early the next morning I eagerly inquired where the Indians had thrown that blessed body. I wanted to bury it, cost what it might. Some of the Iroquois who wanted to save my life said: 'Do you not see those young braves leaving the village? They will kill you once you are beyond the palisade.' This did not stop me. I went out, I searched, and with the help of a captive Algonquin Indian, I found the body of René...

"After René had been killed, the Indian children stripped him. They tied a rope around his neck and dragged him to a torrent which flows through the ravine beyond the village. The dogs had already gnawed at his thighs. At this sight I could not hold back my tears. I lifted up the body and, with the Algonquin Indian's help, lowered it into the stream. I weighted it down with large stones to hide it from view. I intended to bury René the next day..."

"The next day, as the Indians were seeking to kill me, my Indian "aunt" sent me to her friend to escape them. This forced me to delay the burial until the next day. It rained all that night, and the stream became a raging torrent. I borrowed a hoe from another long house, the better to conceal my plan. On approaching the spot I could not find the blessed body of René. Alas, my brother's body had been carried away...

"I waded into the torrent already quite cold. I plodded back and forth. I sounded with my feet to see whether the torrent had not risen and carried off the body. What groans did I utter then! I found nothing. How many tears I shed which fell into the torrent! I sang as best I could the psalms which the Church chants for the dead. After all I found nothing. I searched the woods on the opposite bank. All, all in vain...

"The young braves had taken the body up and dragged it to an adjoining wood, where during the Fall and Winter it became the food of the dog, the crow, and the fox. When I had been told in the Spring that the body had been dragged there, I went several times without finding it. Finally on the fourth trip I found René's head and some half gnawed bones. These I buried. Reverently did I kiss them as the bones of a martyr of Jesus Christ.

"I give René this title of martyr, not only because he was killed by the enemies of God and of His Church out of ardent love of his neighbor by placing himself in open peril for the love of God, but precisely because he was killed for prayer, and expressly for making the Sign of the Cross." It was because René, in the simplicity and childlike piety which overflowed from his loving heart, had guided the tiny hand of a little Mohawk boy in the sign of the Cross, that the boy's grandfather, in a demonic rage, had ordered his death.

Where St. René Goupil was agonizingly buried by the loving hands of his Father in Christ, Isaac Jogues, his blessed remains still rest. In a ravine which angels seem to have fashioned for that very purpose, one stands in a natural reliquary graced with pines and hemlocks and carpeted with lilies, hiding a secret and precious grave. Here, the blessed memory of the martyrs resounds; their holiness in the air, their voices murmuring in the trees and brooks, their blood upon the ground, their bones beneath the flowers. As we kneel before the crucifix, let us pray for our own loved ones who have gone before us, and let us ask for ourselves that great gift of God -- a holy and happy death.

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