Charles Garnier / 16O6 - l649


Over 300 years have come and gone since the fierce and hardy Iroquois attacked the Pettin Indian nation and destroyed their homes and vil-lages. Father Charles Garnier fell beneath their musket fire on the 7th of December 1649. His memory was never completely forgotten. For long years the Petuns kept alive their remembrance of this brave Priest. In 1666 when the wandering Father Claude Allouez came amongst them as they roamed the desolate wilderness north of Lake Superior, they had tears in their eyes as they reminisced about their beloved pastor who had given his life for them.

Though Garnier has been canonized and therefore his memory is still green, yet we find few who know much about him. But what an im-pression he must have created by his character and his presence that even dim memories are alive today. Scarcely was he dead than his fellow missionaries Fathers Leonard Garreau, Simon le Moyne and Rene' Menard are high in their praise of his apostolic work and life. Warmly they recall to mind this great souled apostle, the very acquaint-ance of whom was an inspiration to greater things.

In his report of 1650, Father Paul Ragueneau hastened to outline his life. In fact, he starts in immediately to gather notes for a process of canonization, and Father Joseph Marie Chaumonot did not hesitate to call upon Garnier's aid (as one would a Saint) to gain for himself the grace of a greater facility in speaking the native tongues. In Que-bec, Mere Marie de l'Incarnation who, though never meeting him, had written to him and received letters from him, mourned his passing. She said: "A very large volume would be needed to tell the story of this reverend Father . . . He was extraordinarily humble, gentle, obedient and ifiled with many virtues" (Marie de l'Incarnation to her son Claude, August30, 1650).

The story of Father Charles Gamier and his tragic death were well known across Europe within twenty-five years of his martyrdom. Start-ing, of course, with Father Paul Ragueneau's report, the story would be taken up by various writers of the Jesuit Order: Alegambe at Rome, Du Creux at Paris, and Tanner at Prague. Unfortunately, however, the misfortunes of the Jesuits and their suppression in 1773, and the final disappearance of the Order in Canada, with the death of Father Jean Joseph Casot, cast a shadow over the memory of Charles Garnier. But it still lived on until he was beatified June 21, 1925, and canonized June29, 1930.

Charles Garnier was born on the 25th of May, 1606, in Paris, in the parish of Saint Gervais which claims to be the parish church of two of the Canadian Martyrs. Besides Father Charles Garnier the parish is also proud to claim Father Gabriel Lalemant. Charles Garnier was descended from noble and distinguished families. His father, Jean Gar-nier, was one of the Under Secretaries of Henri III and later was placed in charge of the Treasury in Normandy. Father Charles' grandfather was an officer in the Royal Army and suffered martyrdom because he refused to give up his Catholic faith. Father Charles' mother, Anne de Garault, was from a noble family of Orleans. Unfortunately, she died just a few years after his birth.

The young man studied at Clermont College, one of the oldest of the Jesuit schools of France, and later entered the Society of Jesus, on the 26th of September, 1624. After finishing his novitiate, Charles Garnier returned to his Alma Mater, the College of Clermont, as Pre-fect over the students. At the same time he carried out his studies in rhetoric and philosophy. After this course was finished he was sent to the College of Eu as a teacher in the lower grades of the school. He spent two years there and was then ordered back to his old school for the study of theology.

He was ordained a priest in 1635. It is about this time that the young Father Garnier expressed a desire to go on the missions and particular-ly the missions of New France. His zeal for the conversion of the Indians was real and ardent. His superiors consented but laid down a condition that nearly ruined matters. The condition was that he should obtain the consent of his father; but the latter was entirely opposed. Father Charles therefore had to put off his departure for an entire year. This obstacle only served to increase his ardour for the foreigu missions.

In an early life, or sketch rather, of Father Charles Garnier, it is said that his thoughts were so constant in this matter that night and day he thought only of working for the salvation of the Indians. He was deter-mined to spend his life, even to his very last breath, on the missions. It is also said that in his dreams God gave him the foresight to realize the possibility and the dangers of the death he was to die. His zeal, how-ever, made light of this foretaste of danger. He had many an argument with his father until at last, with great regret, his father consented. Father Charles Gamier finally set out and arrived at Quebec on the 11th of June, 1636.

The Huron name for St. Charles Garnier has been given as Ouracha. The meaning of this name has, so far as I know, never been given, but we can probably find the meaning through Father Pierre Potiem's "Radices Huronicae" published in the 15th Report of the Bureau of Archives for the Province of Ontario, (p.452).

It is tempting to think, considering the accusation that was so often made against the missionaries of bringing a drought down upon the Indian and the country, that Gamniem may have been, in the minds of the Humons, associated with the ending of such a drought, and in that case we would almost say that his name meant "rain bringer" or "rain-cloud." As such, and we know this is true, he would nearly always be welcomed in an Indian village. Certainly the words as given in Father Potier's work would help us to think this way.

The difficulty of the crossing and the apostolic zeal and effort of the new missionary are well described in a letter written to his father imme-diately after the crossing." . . . Although I did not experience any great difficulty or danger and our Captain took every came to make the cros-sing as pleasant as possible, it is evident that the voyage is not without its crosses. And this is particularly so for a member of a religious order because he has no privacy away from the noise and the crowd in order to pray. I don't mention here those other inconveniences and sea sick-ness which takes the heart out of one.

"What particularly pleased me was the sight of my flock coming to the Sacraments. Over and above special feast days some received Holy Communion on Sundays and ordinary days. Almost all also went to Holy Communion on the two greatest feasts, that is on Pentecost and Corpus Christi. In this they followed the examples of our leader and of Monsieur de Montmagny. These last have given us good examples in many other things but particularly in the came they have taken of the sick, particularly of one poor family on board, giving them the best of what they had, even giving up something themselves.

"Lest I be too long, I will say nothing of the christian regulations enacted and put up aboard the vessel against swearing, theft, and quar relsomeness. .

"We gave Viaticum to a sailor who had fallen from the top of the mizzenmast to the deck. He was well-disposed to die. However, as I saw him in great discomfort, unable to sleep, I gave him my cabin and went in with Father Chastelain in his, but the sick man found this cabin too stuffy so the next day I occupied it again but left him my mattress so he could sleep even in the midst of the cannons. Hearing this, the Captain made me take one of his....

"That is something of what has taken place on our voyage. If any good comes out of it may the glory be given only to God. On my part at least I am certain that I was lacking a good deal in humility and that I offered many a hindrance to the plan of God by my laziness. Through His goodness he conducted us without incident to Quebec the 11th day of June, the eve of St. Barnabas Day, the one surnamed Joseph, in the ship named after this great Saint.

"We embarked on the octave of the Feast of Our Lady's Annunciation, so much so that I can well say that under the safeguard of the Holy Virgin and hem Glorious Spouse, we finished this crossing without incident."

Father Charles had no desire to stay in Quebec. His heart burned - as a letter to his brother shows - to go on to the Mission of the Hurons. "If for me Canada is a holy and sacred temple, which God made for me in this world, the Huron country is its holy of holies . . . let us, there-fore, leap for joy in this land of blessing." In this same letter he says he cannot give greater details. "I really do not have the time, because any moment now, I am waiting for the means to take Father Chastelain and myself to meet the Hurons . . . God willing in six or seven hours, that is at dawn, I will be leaving to go to the Hurons" (July 20,1636). Of the long and usually painful journey - a trip of some 800 or 900 miles - Father Garnier says little, though he did send a short note to Father Paul le Jeune telling of the trip (August 8, 1636).

"May God be forever blessed! Since yesterday we have been here among the Nipissings. So happy and in such good health that I am ashamed of it. . . . He has treated the child as a child: I did not paddle; I carried only my own baggage, except for three days during the portages when I carried a little package that someone offered me because one of our Indians fell ill. Is that not being treated like a child? . . . We arrived at the island on the eve of the Feast of St. Ignatius. We bought some Indian corn because our peas gave out. This corn lasted us until we reached here. Our Indians did not have any - at least they found only one cache of it. Up to the present we have found but little fish. We are expecting Father Davost here today."

On August 12,1636, after a relatively short and favorable journey, the new missionary was welcomed with open arms. Of course, he must start slowly, even though he had the consolation of baptizing a little Indian boy and naming him Joseph in honor of St. Joseph.

One of his first experiences was to haunt him for his whole life, for in it he saw what could be his own fate. He never got over the horror of his first sight of the torture of an Iroquois captive. The missionaries did, however, baptize the victim.

That first year was also one of a terrible crisis among the Indians and it threatened to bring martyrdom to all the missionaries. Both the natives and the missionaries, among whom was Garnier, fell victims to the ravages of small pox. But, worse still perhaps, the Indians looked on the blackrobes as causing it. "Because, you should know, Father, that Jesus Christ has honored us with some of His sufferings. In this country, we have been cried out against like pests - everybody was looking at us as if we were going to make them die. . . we were urged to take that pest out of the country" (Letter of 1638).

As a matter of record, it may be noted that all the Fathers present wrote and signed a letter. "We are perhaps on the point of shedding our blood and giving our lives to serve our good Lord Jesus Christ." However, God did not then exact the sacrifice of their lives. In the letter (1638) already quoted, he gives a summary of a year's work. With varying degrees of success this would be a description of all he ever did in Huronia.

"My daily work, so far, has consisted of visiting Indian huts and seeing the sick, so as to instruct and baptize them when they are in danger; and most of the sick were in serious danger of death, and even several of them died. You know how much money you spent to have me learn the profession of surgeon. This is the type of work I do in this country. I don't operate, but tend a multitude of small wounds and burns. But, to come back to baptism, in this one village alone, thank God, we have baptized approximately 100 since I came. Up to this day, of these 100 Indians baptized, 44 died shortly thereafter, that is 24 adults and 20 children, most of whom were infants.. .

"Again you wonder whether I am progressing with the language, and if I can make myself understood. Yes, thank God, I can do it pretty well. . . . In France they think we have lots of free time (here) to devote to our friends, and that is where they are wrong. Quite often I cannot find 15 minutes to study during the day because of the frequent visits I have to make and the many interruptions by the Indians when we are in our cabin....

"We are about ready to move our residence of St. Joseph from the small village, called Ihonatiria, to the largest village of the country, called Teanaostaiae~. Louis de Ste. Foy was born there; you must have seen him in France 9 or 10 years ago. I don't know yet if I will be going to this village or stay here. May God's will be done. .

"We are beginning to catch our breath, and they are mistaken, those who think that all we have to do to convert the Indians is to show them a Crucifix. It is more difficult than they think.

"Father Pierre Pijart and I were sent to the mission of the Apostles. This is in the Petun nation, where I had already spent the previous winter. We received a very poor welcome the first year. The second, they looked upon us with less jaundiced eyes. We found some persons, thank God, who listened to us. With the help of God, patience and perseverance will win out. It is true that these missions are full of crosses. There is the difficulty of the trails during the winter, there is the food, the clothing, the lodging, the smoke, etc., but the principal obstacle is the difficulty in which we find ourselves of praying and get-ting a little rest away from the noise. There is also the deprivation of Mass, which we either cannot say at all, or only very seldom. We thought that on two occasions we were about to lose our lives on the trail. One time it was on a frozen lake where the evening that we crossed it two Indians died of the cold, etc.

"My dear brother, pray for us that God may keep us and make strong the courage that He gives us. We sorely need it" (June 23, 1641).


"Let us say a word about our Huron missions. You know well that, in years past, we spent the winter in the mission of the Apostles or the Tobacco nation, while others worked among the Neutrals, or mission  of the Angels. As you know, we had undertaken to bring the Gospel to these nations as well as to the Hurons. But this year we made only a few trips to the mission of the Apostles, scarcely stopping there, and have given up our mission among the Neutrals; firstly, because Father John de Brebeuf, who was with them last year, remained this winter in Quebec, and secondly, because we have learnt from experience that these people are converted only after long and solid instruction. The result has been that this winter we have reduced our commitments con-centrating on the apostolate of the principal Huron villages.

"Fathers Mercier and Ragueneau spent the winter giving instruction in the village of the Immaculate Conception, Reverend Father Lale-mant and Father Chaumonot at St. Michael and St. John the Baptist, Father Chastelain and Father Pijart devoted themselves to visiting from time to time several villages nearest to this house and Father Le Moyne and I were assigned to the village of St. Joseph as our share. In all these places we have higher hopes than ever before. .

"To come down to the particulars of my task, we were used to going every day to instruct some Christians of St. Joseph, but both they and we were deprived of the consolation of Holy Mass, there being no chapel in this village. . . . But Our Lord inspired one of our Christians to offer one end of his cabin for this purpose. . . . We turned the end of the cabin offered us into a chapel to St. Joseph, which was ready in time for his feast. From that time on we experienced great consolation in assembling our Christians there, and the devotions we held were of great help to them. The greater number came to hear Mass in this chapel every day and came regularly to confession here on Saturdays" (May22, 1642).

A few years later he would write:

"I am still in this village of St. Joseph with Father Rene' Menard. We have a little congregation that we are trying to preserve and increase, with the grace of God, which appears quite visibly to us; not that there is a movement towards the Faith on the part of very many persons, as the village is greatly diminished in population, and its people are slow and lagging in embracing the Faith....

"Hardly have we time in the morning to make our meditation, when the Christians come to Mass. During Mass we are occupied in making them pray, and in saying a few words to them, to maintain them in devotion. After our Masses . . . we take the opportunity to instruct them in the Catechism or in pious practices, or we even teach them some prayers.

"The rest of the day is spent in similar exercises. . . . In brief, sunset time has come, when we say the prayers again, at which they attend. At last, we are quite surprised that the day is over" (June 7,1645).

A letter written in 1648 speaks of his labors among the Petuns.

"I told you that my Superior sent me along with Father Garreau, to a new mission called the Petun nation. We gave it the name of the mission of the Apostles. I call it a new mission because, although the late Father Jogues and I were there in 1639, and Father Pierre Pijart in 1640, still we did hardly anything but baptize a few sick and a few adults. . . . But finally, when these Petuns asked for some of our missionaries, partly to instruct them and partly to frighten their ene-mies - by reports that the French lived in their territory - Father Garreau and I were sent. He was to instruct the Algonkins who lived among the Petuns.. . and I was to instruct the Hurons. We stayed in a town inhabited by Hurons and Algonkins.

"There the Father worked hard all the winter of 1646 learning the Algonkian language. He made such progress that by spring the Algon-kins listened to him as he spoke of the mysteries of our Faith. But the devil, all too scared that these people would escape from the captivity in which he had held them for so many centuries, found means to dis-perse them and sep arate them from this Father who had begun to work their deliverance. He caused a quarrel between the Hurons and Algon-kins by a murder. An Algonkin was massacred one night and the murderer could not be found. The Algonkins accused the Hurons, left the village of Ekarenniondi where they had been staying and went to join another Algonkian tribe, a two days' trip away.

". . . we have worked together since last summer principally in two Huron villages that are four leagues apart. One is called Ekarenniondi, dedicated to St. Matthias, the other Etharita, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. We have a small chapel in each. In both villages there are a few Christians and a large number of catechumens. The latter are kept in that status much longer than in our other older missions. . .

"Father Garreau and I are almost always separated from each other. He might spend ten days or two weeks at one village and I the same time at another, then he and I would get together for two or three days. So that is how we live, without companionship except that of our good Angels and the poor Indians whom we instruct. We have to admit, though, that because we are alone God gives us more grace and con-solation" (April 28,1648).

But we are now coming to the end. The martyrdoms of Fathers Daniel, Bre'beuf and Lalemant had a tremendous effect on him. In a letter (April 25, 1649) he would say: "How happy I should be to die with this little flock of the Master, just as three of our Fathers died for Him in the past year; I refer to Fathers Anthony Daniel, Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant. Father Daniel was killed on July 4th while ministering to his little flock in the village of St. Joseph. You already know that I was changed from there two years ago. May God be praised for having seen fit to punish me for my sins by denying me the crown that He has given to Father Daniel. This holy father begged his people to escape but he himself preferred to remain behind to save as many souls as possible. You will read an account of his holy death in the Relations as well as the account of Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant. I recall the latter at college as a student and boarder. He came here only last summer and was given the martyr's crown at the end of this winter with Father Brebeuf."

Father Paul Ragueneau gives us the first authentic account of Father Garnier's death.

"For many years we had two missions with two Fathers in each of them in the hills which we called the nation of the Petuns. The one nearest the enemy (Iroquois) was that of St. John, which contained the village of the same name with about five or six hundred families. It was a mission field watered by the sweat of one of the finest missionaries of the whole country. It was also to be watered with his blood, because he died with his flock and brought them to heaven with him. The day was at hand when God wished to turn it into a church triumphant, though up to that time it was always militant and might well go under the name of church suffering.

"We received news about the end of the month of November from two christian Hurons who had escaped from a band of about three hundred Iroquois that the Iroquois were still undecided whether to turn towards the Petun nation or attack the island where we were stationed. Thereupon, we tightened our defences and held back our Hurons who had plans of starting out on a campaign against the advancing enemy. At the same time we immediately sent word to the Petun nation, who were overjoyed. They looked upon the enemy as even then conquered and upon themselves as already victors. They stood firm for some days but soon tired of waiting for victory to come and seek them out. . . They set out in short order, fearing lest the Iroquois would slip through their hands when they wanted to surprise them still on the march. They left on the fifth of December (1649) and moved towards the place wheme they expected to find the Iroquois, but they (the Iroquois) had made a detour and were not anywhere to be found. To add to our mis-fortunes, as the Iroquois were approaching the village, they captured a man and a woman who were just leaving the place. They learned from the two captives the state of the place and knew it was stripped of the greater part of its people, so they seized the favorable opportunity and immediately proceeded to plunge the town into a torrent of fire and blood.

"It was on the seventh of December last year, 1649, that this group of Iroquois arrived at the gates of the village and cast unrestrained dis-may and terror among the poor people, just when they thought that they were the conquerors....

"The cruelty was inconceivable. Children were snatched from their mothers' arms and thrown into the fire; other children saw their mothers laid prostrate at their feet or writhing in the flames without either side showing the slightest sign of compassion. It was a crime even to shed a tear. Those barbarians forced their victims to march in their captivity as they themselves marched in their triumph. .

"Father Charles Garniem was the only one of our Fathers at the mission at the time. When the enemy appeared he was visiting the cabins and instructing the people, but when the alarm was given he came out and went straight to the church, where some Christians had gathered. 'We are facing death, my brethren,' he said to them, 'pray to God and take flight by any possible avenue of escape. Cherish your faith for the rest of your life and may death find you thinking of God.' He gave them his blessing and immediately set out to help other souls. No one thought of putting up a defence and everyone gave up entirely.. . In his zeal he was everywhere at once, now giving absolution to the Christians he met, now running from one blazing cabin to another to baptize, in the very midst of flames, the children, the sick, and the catechumens. His own heart burned with no other fire than that of the love of God.

"It was in these holy duties that he met his death, which he neither feared nor avoided by a single step. One bullet from a gun pierced the upper part of his chest and at the same time another bullet went through the lower part of his abdomen and lodged in his thigh. . .

"The good Father was seen very shortly afterwards joining his hands and saying some prayers. Then turning his head here and there, he saw a poor creature about ten or twelve feet from him who, like himself, had just received his death blow but had still some life left in him. His love of God and zeal for souls were again stronger than death. He rose to his knees and, after a prayer, stood painfully and moved as best he could towards the agonizing man to help him die well. . . . Some time later the Father received two blows from a hatchet, one on each temple, that went right to the brain. That was the richest reward that he had hoped to receive from the goodness of God for all his past ser-vices. His body was stripped and left naked on the ground.

"Two of our Fathers, who were in the nearest mission to him took in a few surviving christian fugitives, who arrived out of breath, several of them being covered with their own blood. All night long theme was a series of alarms as everyone was tense with the fear that they would be visited with the same disaster. At daybreak they learned from some spies that the Iroquois had departed. The two Fathers left at once to see the sad spectacle with their own eyes. It was a sight worthy in God's sight. There were corpses everywhere, one on top of another, of some poor Christians half burned in the remains of the fire-swept village, of others drenched in their own blood. . . . At last, in the middle of the ghost town, they came across the body they had come to find, but it was hardly recognizable, all covered with blood and ashes from the fire that had swept over it. But some christian Indians recognized their Father who had died for love of them. They buried him on the spot where the church had been, though there was no trace left of the church. It had been swallowed up in the flames. .

"Two days after the burning of the village, the Indians who had set out to meet the enemy returned home. They had come across the turn in the road which the enemy had taken and suspected the calamity that had happened. Now they saw it with their own eyes. At the sight of the ashes and the dead bodies of their parents, their wives and their chil-dren, they spent half a day in deep silence, seated on the ground Indian style, without raising their eyes or even uttering a sigh. They were like marble statues, not a word, not a look, not a move. That is the Indian way of mourning, at least for men and warriors. Teams, moans and lamentations, they say, are for women.

"Our loss of the pastor and of his flock was painful, but in both we must adore and love the Will of God in our behalf and that of His churches, since, to the very end, we must be disposed to accept what-ever He wishes" (Thwaites, vol.35, 107-119).