[This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of the Canadian Martyrs Epistle]
By Fr. Peter Monty, SJ
Chaplain for the St. René Goupil Catholic Deaf Community
The Catholic Deaf community, which is part of the larger faith community of Holy Canadian Martyrs church, 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.
After studying medicine, René Goupil volunteered for the Jesuit Missions in New France as a donné (volunteer and medical missionary) working for a while in Quebec City. Then in 1642, en route with St. Isaac Jogues to the Jesuit hospital at Ste. Marie among the Hurons (present day Midland, Ontario), he 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 teaching a sign (the Sign of the Cross) to 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, Isaac Jogues, to allow him 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.
In the Gospel account of Jesus’s healing of the deaf-mute man (Mark 7: 31-37), before Jesus performs the healing, he calls him aside and leads him away from the crowd. Perhaps this act of compassion of Jesus is due to a recognition of the isolation that the deaf person frequently experiences in the midst of a crowd.
René Goupil also must have experienced marginalization as a result of his hearing impairment and being dismissed from the Jesuit Novitiate, but then he came to be fully integrated into the company of the Canadian Martyrs. So too our Deaf community does indeed feel a part of the larger parish family of Canadian Martyrs. Jesus’s insistence on including the excluded, in deed as well as in word, was to be a defining mark of his church.
May we not suggest that the efforts at enlarging the circle of our community truly share in the wider efforts of building the human community and the Kingdom of God?