Saint Roque González de Santa Cruz, born in Asunción, Paraguay on 17 November 1576 and died (assassinated) on 15 November 1628, was a Jesuit priest of Spanish descent, missionary among the Guarani people, in the Reductions of Paraguay.
He was the son of Don Bartolomé González de Villaverde and Doña María de Santa Cruz who were Spanish nobles. Roque González spoke Guaraní fluently from an early age.
At the age of 22 he was ordained priest by the bishop of Córdoba. In 1609, he became a member of the Society of Jesus, beginning his work as a missionary.
He became the first European person to enter the region known today as the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.
His arrival in the area only happened after his developing delicate relationships of trust with local indigenous leaders, some of whom feared that the priests were preparing the way for the arrival of masses of Europeans in their land.
In 1613 he founded the reduction of San Ignacio Miní. In 1615 he founded Itapúa, which is now the city of Posadas in the Argentine province of Misiones. Then he had to move the reduction to the other side of the river, now the site of the city of Encarnación.
He also founded the reduction of Concepción de la Sierra Candelaria (1619), Candelaria (1627), San Javier, Yapeyú (now in the province of Corrientes), San Nicolás, Asunción del Iyuí and Caaró (now in Brazil).
In the region of Iyuí, he had difficulties with the local chieftain and sorcerer (‘cacique’) Ñezú.
After establishing the first mission reduction of Saint Nicolas (Portuguese: São Nicolau) and other missionary centers in the region, Roque González was struck down by Chief Nheçu on 15 November 1628.
His heart and the weapon which killed him are in the Chapel of the Martyrs in Asunción. He was beatified on 28 January 1934.
On 16 May 1988, Roque González was canonised by Pope John Paul II in Asunción, thus becoming the first Paraguayan saint. Saint Roque González de Santa Cruz is patron of the cities of Posadas, Argentina, and Encarnación, Paraguay.
Liturgically he is commemorated on the 16 November, along with the other ‘martyrs of the Rio de la Plata’, Juan del Castillo and Alonso Rodriguez-Olmedo.
Clement J. McNaspy: Conquistador without sword. The life of Roque González S.J., Chicago, Loyola University Press, 1984, 206pp.