(The Sacred Art Series will feature and explain the artwork which will be included in the Our Lady of Belen Chapel. This painting was commissioned to Spanish artist Raúl Berzosa and will be included in one of the side chapels. The chapel is scheduled to be completed during the 2021-2022 school year.)
St. René Goupil was born in Saint-Martin-du-Bois, Anjou, in the Kingdom of France, on May 15, 1608. He was a medical doctor, working chiefly as a surgeon in Orléans before entering the Society of Jesus in Paris. He had to leave the novitiate because of deafness.
Goupil was determined to serve the Church. So, in 1640, he volunteered as a layman to assist the Jesuit priests in their mission in New France, the area in North America colonized by the French. He served first at the St. Joseph de Sillery Mission near Quebec, where his work primarily consisted in caring for the sick and wounded.
In 1642, Goupil accompanied several Jesuits, including St. Isaac Jogues, to the Huron missions near present-day Auriesville, New York. It was there the group was captured and tortured by the Mohawk Indians and sent to the village of Ossernenon.
During this time in captivity, Goupil asked Jogues to be allowed to enter the Society of Jesus. Because of his commitment to the missions, devotion, and valor, Jogues agreed. Goupil professed his religious vows as a Jesuit brother and, a few days later, was killed. His death occurred on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29, 1642, by a blow to the head with a tomahawk for teaching a Mohawk boy the sign of the cross.
Goupil was the first Jesuit martyr of the territory that is now the United States. He was beatified on June 21, 1925, by Pope Pius XI and later canonized by him, along with seven other martyrs, on June 29, 1930.
Central Figure: St. René Goupil is represented wearing the traditional garb of Europeans who ventured to the New World. The saint holds in his arms an Indian child as he makes the sign of the cross on his forehead. It was this gesture that led to his martyrdom. In the background is a Mohawk warrior who prepares to strike Goupil. In his left hand, the saint has a rosary as a testament to his devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Phylactery: Overhead is found a phylactery wrapped around a cross lit by the rays of the sun. The words Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum (“The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”) are displayed. This is a phrase written by Tertullian in 197 A.D.
Angel(s): The angel on the top right holds the scales of justice, a popular symbol of those who are righteous and dedicated to the service of the poor and marginalized. The angel to the bottom right holds a crown of roses over the head of the saint. The thorns of the rose represent the suffering endured by the martyr and are likened to the thorns on the crown Jesus wore on the way to his crucifixion. The roses express the sweet smell that emanates from the love and sacrifice of martyrdom. Finally, the red, white, and blue loincloths worn by the angels represent the colors of the flag of the United States.