The Canadian Martyrs
January issue, we started to cover the story of the Canadian Martyrs.
This month, we are pleased to give you a report on the life of St. Antoine
ST. CHARLES GARNIER (1606 – 1649)
Charles Garnier, the son of a rich and noble Parisian family, was born on May 25, 1606. During his younger years, his innocence and manly character made his fellow companions respect him. While he was a student in the Jesuit College, in Paris, every month he received a few pieces of silver from his father; either as a reward for studying well, or to enable him to buy some things he liked. Charles rarely used the money for his own purposes and often put it into the alms box of one of the city prisons. One day he saw a bad book for sale, which he bought and destroyed, lest someone by reading it would offend God. His horror for everything that could wound the Heart of Jesus, he owed to the love he had for Our Lady; whom he called "his mother" and to whom he gave all his confidence. He said, "It was Mary who carried me in her arms during my youthful years; it was she who called me to the Society of her Son." When Charles joined the Jesuits, his father told the Superiors that from his birth, the boy had never been disobedient, and had never caused him the least displeasure.
Charles entered the Jesuit novitiate on September 5, 1624, and became the model of exact observance of the rule. He was looked upon as a mirror of holiness to those around him, and all his fellow religious felt that he was a favoured soul, and that God had other gifts in store for him. In 1626, when he had completed his first term and pronounced his vows, he was sent to study in the college of Clermont. From 1629 to 1632, he taught in the college of Eu, returning to Clermont only in the latter years to study theology and prepare himself for the priesthood. By the time he was ordained in 1635, the missions of New France had begun to attract him. Finally in 1636, he was allowed to go to New France. He arrived on June 11th, along with Fr. Pierre Chastelain and Mr. de Montmagny, the second Governor of New France.
On July 1, 1636, Fr. Garnier and Fr. Chastelain, with two other Jesuits, started for Trois-Rivières. After their arrival, Fr. Charles was invited to baptise a little Indian girl. Then he went to Ihonatiria; where Fr. Chastelain had arrived the day before. Fr. Brébeuf and his brethren; already living there, received both men with joy.
Early in September 1636, a mysterious illness called the "purple fever” attacked the village of Ihonatiria. Fr. Isaac Jogues was the first victim and almost died, and Fr. Chastelain received the Last Rites. Then, because Fr. Garnier aided the patients who had the fever, he too was stricken with the disease for a time. Gradually the missionaries recovered and were able to continue their work among the Indians.
In time the missionaries realized that the location of Ihonatiria was not central enough and they decided to move to Ossossané. When in the spring of 1637, Fr. Brébeuf suggested to the Hurons that they move from Ihonatiria to Ossossané, they accepted the idea and even offered to build a cabin for the priests. Ossossané became a center of great missionary activity, and remained such during its short existence, until the completion of Fort St. Marie, in 1639.
Fr. Brébeuf and Fr. Chaumonot spent the winter of 1640-1641 with some Hurons, along Lake Erie, while Fr. Garnier was sent with Fr. Jogues and Fr. Pijart to Hurons dwelling between Nottawasaga Bay and Lake Huron. But the priest’s attempts failed—the time was not yet ripe for expansion. The only fruits, which Charles Garnier reaped during his visit to the Hurons westward, were the baptisms of a few adults and children in danger of death. Most of the Hurons in this area resisted the grace so freely offered to them; they accused our saint of sorcery and cruelly drove him away. But God was watching and He punished the town of Ehwae. Before a year had passed Ehwae underwent many misfortunes: most of the lodges were burnt by the enemy three months later, many inhabitants died of hunger, cold and smallpox, still others perished in the water, and numbers of Hurons were taken by the enemy.
By now Fr. Garnier had complete mastery of the Huron tongue, so much so, that even the Hurons were astonished at him. And he had become a great missionary, with every gift of nature and grace.
From 1640-1646, Fr. Garnier worked in the large village of Teanaostaye, instructing the Hurons in the truths of the Catholic Faith: rooting out their superstitions, teaching them to recognize the one true God, urging them to pray to Him, baptising them and strengthening their souls with the sacraments, and burying them when they were dead. Several Hurons were converted to the Catholic Faith just by looking at our saint's face, and all who came in contact with him saw that he was holy and virtuous.
Fr. Garnier did much penance: his bed was a combination of little trees and bark; every time he returned from his missionary journeys he sharpened the iron points of the belt which he wore next to his flesh, and his only food was that of the Hurons themselves; extremely plain and simple.
When the Iroquois attacked, when sickness raged among the Hurons or when the missionaries were treated as sorcerers, Fr. Garnier went fearlessly from village to village, and cabin to cabin, wherever he knew there was a soul to save. He always invoked the powerful aid of the angels and in fact, some Hurons whom he went to assist at the hour of death, said that they had seen him with a young, brilliant man of rare beauty (probably an angel).
In October 1646, our saint handed over to Fr. Daniel, the flourishing mission of Teanaostaye and went with Fr. Garreau to the Hurons, where he had been driven out six years before, as a sorcerer. It was these Hurons themselves who asked for the missionaries to instruct them in the Catholic religion, and to establish centers among them. Isolation among the Indians was one of the hardships, which had to be born patiently, and Fr. Garnier carried this cross joyfully. Another cross was that the Iroquois wanted to destroy the Huron nation, and they showed no mercy to those who fell into their hands.
Etharita, Fr. Garnier's mission; containing five or six hundred families, was left most exposed to the Iroquois. A band of Huron warriors went out on December 5, 1649, to meet the Iroquois, leaving the village quite unprotected. But the Iroquois, always on the alert, avoided the Hurons and grabbing two straggling Hurons, learned from them that the Huron warriors had left Etharita and that the women and children were in great danger. Losing no time, the dreaded Iroquois appeared at Etharita in the afternoon of December 7th, and attacked the defenceless people. Some ran away, others were killed on the spot, and still others were taken prisoners. But the Iroquois, fearing the return of the absent warriors, hurried to complete their evil work; then rushing away, they put do death all who could not keep up with them in their flight.
When the enemy appeared, Fr. Garnier was instructing the Hurons in their cabins. At the first alarm, he went straight to the chapel. Finding there some Christians, he exclaimed, "We are dead men now brothers! Pray to God and escape by what ever way you can; but keep your faith as long as life remains, and may death find you thinking of God!" He gave them his blessing and then hurried to help other souls. The whole village was in despair; defence was useless. Instead of running, Fr. Garnier rushed here and there; giving absolution to the Christians he met. In the burning cabins he sought the children, the sick, or the Catechumens, and over them, even in the midst of flames, he poured the saving waters of baptism.
It was while he was engaged in this holy work that Fr. Garnier met his own death. A musket ball struck him a little below the breast, and another musket ball tore open his stomach, lodged in his thigh, and brought him to the ground! The Iroquois who had fired at him, stripped him of his cassock, and leaving him lying in his blood, went looking for other Hurons. With great zeal our saint clasped his hands in prayer, then seeing a poor Huron who had also received his death wound, the holy priest tried to assist him. Several times, Fr. Garnier made some efforts to approach the wounded Huron, but with little success; the blood was pouring out of the holy priest's body. Suddenly Fr. Garnier received from a hatchet, a deathblow on each side of his head. Then his body was stripped of its remaining clothes and left entirely naked.
Early on December 8th, Fathers Garreau and Greslon set out for Etharita. A sad spectacle awaited them; dead bodies heaped together; some consumed by fire, others lying in their own blood. A few others, still living were covered with wounds, but looking for death and blessing God, in their wretchedness. After searching for a while, the two missionaries found the body of Charles Garnier completely covered with blood and ashes. They buried him in the ground where his church had once stood, for now it was nothing but ashes.Let us pray that we too will remain faithful like St. Charles Garnier did.
St. Charles Garnier Pray for us
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