Saints of the Day – Roque Gonzalez

Saint Roque González de Santa_CruzArticle

(also known as Roch)

Born in Asunciön, Paraguay, 1576; died November 15, 1628; beatified in 1934; canonized 1988 as one of the Martyrs of Paraguay.

As early as 1537, Pope Paul III, at the instigation of Bartolome de las Casas and the Dominicans, had condemned the enslavement and dispossession of Native Americans. Though also condemned in theory by the Spanish Crown, in practice encomienda system was enslavement.

In Paraguay in 1586 the encomienda system was in place. In Peru’s mines Quechuan labor was exploited without regard for marriage ties, which led to Indian uprisings, suppression by the conquistadors, and a reluctance on the part of the Quechuans to accept the religion of their masters.

Roque Gonzalez was born of noble Spanish parents (some say of mixed blood – Creole) in Asunciön, Paraguay. (Whatever his bloodline, there is no doubt that his family was influential: his brother was the governor of Asunciön for a time.) Roque has been described as tall and slender with a broad forehead, fine lips, and a sympathetic expression.

Here in Asunciön he was educated, ordained at 23, became a beneficed priest of the Cathedral of Asunciön and began he priestly career working among the Indians. He participated in the local synod of 1603, during which the enslavement of Indians was again condemned. It ordered that they should be gathered into settlements for protection.

At 32 (in 1609), Roque became a Jesuit and was posted to a settlement south of Asunciön called San Ignacio. With other Jesuits he opposed Spanish imperialism, the imported Spanish Inquisition, and enslaving the Indians – for all of which he was bitterly opposed by the Spanish authorities.

He worked among and for the Indians for two decades, heading the first Paraguayan reduction of San Ignacio for three years and establishing another six in the Parana and Uruguay river regions. The reductions were similar to communes in that the members worked common land but each family also had its own plot.

It is a blessing that he was such a talented man. He was an architect, mason, and carpenter, and laid out a plaza in the Spanish fashion with Indian houses on three sides and a church with its rectory on the fourth. Roque spoke the Indian language and instituted a school for the study of Guarani as well as more traditional subjects. He introduced sheep and cattle herding.

He wrote hymns (which my friend Father Peter, a Russian priest, has rediscovered and is now studying while working in Paraguay among his beloved Guarani), organized processions, and compiled a catechism in rhyming verse.

The Franciscans in pueblos near Asunciön had neophytes work daily for settlers for a legal wage. In San Ignacio they worked for themselves and paid the Crown directly.

Roque believed the Gospel had to be preached in love from a position of trust not power and refused the normal military escort. In ten years he established a chain of settlements in Argentina and Uruguay. Indians flocked to the settlements for protection. After long and careful instruction, they would be baptized. They were taught valuable skills: weaving cotton, boat building, joinery, cart-making, farming, etc. – and the making of musical instruments, painting manuscripts, printing books, dancing, singing, and painting.

Contemporary accusations of the paternalism of the system disregards the political concepts of the 17th century. The Jesuits created the communities in an urgent defense of life. The administration and authority within the communities was in the hands of the Indians themselves – each had a mayor and council. In fact this was the only region of the Americas which was governed by the indigenous peoples themselves. Jesuit educational methods enriched and defended indigenous culture. Paraguay is still today the only officially bilingual country on the continent.

One of the last settlements founded by Gonzalez was in the forest north of the Rio Iyui (Ijuhi) Grande in an area dominated by the witch doctor and chieftain Nezu. In 1628 a settlement there and later in the year a pueblo at Caaro in southern Brazil.

Roque was opposed by Nezu, who instigated a raid by the Indians on the new reduction during which both Father Gonzalez and his brother priest Father Rodriguez were killed on November 15. Roque was struck in the head by an Indian, who broke Gonzalez’s skull. Father Alonso Rodriguez suffered a similar fate. And two days later, Ijuhi was attacked and Father Castillo was stoned to death (see under Martyrs of Paraguay).

Father Gonzalez had spent his life seeking justice for the Guarini. The Indians who killed him thought he was just another White man. When they learned whom they had killed, it is said: “The Indians themselves lamented the death of Gonzalez, their ‘pa’i’ or protector, bitterly regretting their involvement in his death” (Benedictines, Delaney, Markus).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 August 2020. Web. 27 November 2020. <>