St. René Goupil, a Patron Saint of the Deaf

The Catholic Deaf community which makes part of the larger faith community of Holy Canadian Martyrs church in Ottawa, chose the name of St. René Goupil because this saint was actually hearing impaired.  He had been a Jesuit novice in France, but was dismissed from the Novitiate because of his hearing impairment.

The actual record says, “dismissus quia surdaster”.  The Latin word, surdaster, means hard of hearing, or hearing impaired. It does not mean deaf.  After studying medicine he volunteered for the Jesuit Missions in New France as a donné (volunteer and medical missionary) working for a while in Quebec City and then in 1642, en route with St. Isaac Jogues to the Jesuit hospital at Ste. Marie among the Hurons (present day Midland, Ontario) was captured by an Iroquois raiding canoe flotilla.

René had used his healing hands in his work but was tortured and lost several fingers and finally died a martyr after making a sign (the Sign of the Cross) over a young child while a prisoner among the Mohawks in what is today New York State.

Sensing that death was near René had begged his fellow prisoner, Fr. Isaac Jogues to take vows in the Society of Jesus before he was killed. This was granted and René did die as a Jesuit but certainly not in a black robe as frequently depicted in religious art.

Because of his hearing impairment, his devotion to the ministry of healing and finally dying as a martyr for having communicated the principal Sign of our faith, St. René is now looked on as a patron saint of the Deaf.

Peter Monty, SJ is Chaplain for the Deaf in Ottawa.

  • graeme quinlan
    Posted at 02:18h, 29 June Reply

    Peter. I wish to thank you for this story today ,as it really touched me very deeply. You see I,am considered as hard of hearing, no, I am hard of hearing. even though I wear aids there are always situations that make it very trying. I am so pleased that you have presented this story as now I feel I have someone personal to pray to in those difficult times. St Rene’ will be my personal patron saint from this day forward. Thank you again peter.

  • Charles Pottie-Pâté
    Posted at 08:10h, 29 June Reply

    thanks Peter for this reflection on St. René Goupil. I had forgotten that he hearing impaired. Wonderful how God invited him to be a donné and work with the other Jesuits in Canada and to be able to pronounce his vows in the Society before dying. Because of his dismissal from the Society of Jesus in France, God made him even a greater witness and companion of Jesus here in Canada. Praise God from whom all blessings come.

  • Jean Mulrooney
    Posted at 08:46h, 29 June Reply

    Thanks so much for this, Peter!
    Take good care.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 09:01h, 29 June Reply

    Thank you Peter!

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 20:00h, 29 June Reply

    Thank you, Peter, for your long-standing service to the community of the deaf, especially for your beautiful signing of liturgies, and finally for your friendship, which antecedes our years as Jesuits together.



  • Monica S.
    Posted at 19:41h, 01 July Reply

    Thank you Fr. Peter
    Very interesting to read of St. Rene Goupil. Two of my siblings (twins) received middle names of Canadian Martyrs (Daniel, Noelle). I wasn’t familiar with St. Rene Goupil. As a young man, he would surely not have guessed that his name would be honoured hundreds of years after his death and that he would be recognized as a saint. Thanks for sharing his story.

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