These heroes of the faith lived and worked in obscurity.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
Our special project presenting the definitive account of France in Canada by Francis Parkman, one of America’s greatest historians.
Before pursuing farther these obscure, but noteworthy, scenes in the drama of human history, it will be well to indicate, so far as there are means of doing so, the distinctive traits of some of the chief actors. Mention has often been made of Brébeuf, — that masculine apostle of the Faith, — the Ajax of the mission. Nature had given him all the passions of a vigorous manhood, and religion had crushed them, curbed them, or tamed them to do her work, — like a dammed-up torrent, sluiced and guided to grind and saw and weave for the good of man. Beside him, in strange contrast, stands his co-laborer, Charles Garnier. Both were of noble birth and gentle nurture; but here the parallel ends.
Garnier’s face was beardless, though he was above thirty years old. For this he was laughed at by his friends in Paris, but admired by the Indians, who thought him handsome.  His constitution, bodily or mental, was by no means robust. From boyhood, he had shown a delicate and sensitive nature, a tender conscience, and a proneness to religious emotion. He had never gone with his schoolmates to inns and other places of amusement, but kept his pocket-money to give to beggars. One of his brothers relates of him, that, seeing an obscene book, he bought and destroyed it, lest other boys should be injured by it. He had always wished to be a Jesuit, and, after a novitiate which is described as most edifying, he became a professed member of the Order. The Church, indeed, absorbed the greater part, if not the whole, of this pious family, — one brother being a Carmelite, another a Capuchin, and a third a Jesuit, while there seems also to have been a fourth under vows. Of Charles Garnier there remain twenty-four letters, written at various times to his father and two of his brothers, chiefly during his missionary life among the Hurons. They breathe the deepest and most intense Roman Catholic piety, and a spirit enthusiastic, yet sad, as of one renouncing all the hopes and prizes of the world, and living for Heaven alone. The affections of his sensitive nature, severed from earthly objects, found relief in an ardent adoration of the Virgin Mary. With none of the bone and sinew of rugged manhood, he entered, not only without hesitation, but with eagerness, on a life which would have tried the boldest; and, sustained by the spirit within him, he was more than equal to it. His fellow-missionaries thought him a saint; and had he lived a century or two earlier, he would perhaps have been canonized: yet, while all his life was a willing martyrdom, one can discern, amid his admirable virtues, some slight lingerings of mortal vanity. Thus, in three several letters, he speaks of his great success in baptizing, and plainly intimates that he had sent more souls to Heaven than the other Jesuits.
[1 “C’est pourquoi j’ai bien gagne quitter la France, oů vous me fesiez la guerre de n’avoir point de barbe; car c’est ce qui me fait estimes beau des Sauvages.” — Lettres de Garnier, MSS.]
[The above sketch of Garnier is drawn from various sources. Observations du P. Henri de St. Joseph, Carme, sur son Frčre le P. Charles Garnier, MS. — Abrégé de la Vie du R. Pčre Charles Garnier, MS. This unpublished sketch bears the signature of the Jesuit Ragueneau, with the date 1652. For the opportunity of consulting it I am indebted to Rev. Felix Martin, S. J. — Lettres du P. Charles Garnier, MSS. These embrace his correspondence from the Huron country, and are exceedingly characteristic and striking. There is another letter in Carayon, Premičre Mission. — Garnier’s family was wealthy, as well as noble. Its members seem to have been strongly attached to each other, and the young priest’s father was greatly distressed at his departure for Canada.]
Next appears a young man of about twenty-seven years, Joseph Marie Chaumonot. Unlike Brébeuf and Garnier, he was of humble origin, — his father being a vine-dresser, and his mother the daughter of a poor village schoolmaster. At an early age they sent him to Châtillon on the Seine, where he lived with his uncle, a priest, who taught him to speak Latin, and awakened his religious susceptibilities, which were naturally strong. This did not prevent him from yielding to the persuasions of one of his companions to run off to Beaune, a town of Burgundy, where the fugitives proposed to study music under the Fathers of the Oratory. To provide funds for the journey, he stole a sum of about the value of a dollar from his uncle, the priest. This act, which seems to have been a mere peccadillo of boyish levity, determined his future career. Finding himself in total destitution at Beaune, he wrote to his mother for money, and received in reply an order from his father to come home. Stung with the thought of being posted as a thief in his native village, he resolved not to do so, but to set out forthwith on a pilgrimage to Rome; and accordingly, tattered and penniless, he took the road for the sacred city. Soon a conflict began within him between his misery and the pride which forbade him to beg. The pride was forced to succumb. He begged from door to door; slept under sheds by the wayside, or in haystacks; and now and then found lodging and a meal at a convent. Thus, sometimes alone, sometimes with vagabonds whom he met on the road, he made his way through Savoy and Lombardy in a pitiable condition of destitution, filth, and disease. At length he reached Ancona, when the thought occurred to him of visiting the Holy House of Loretto, and imploring the succor of the Virgin Mary. Nor were his hopes disappointed. He had reached that renowned shrine, knelt, paid his devotions, and offered his prayer, when, as he issued from the door of the chapel, he was accosted by a young man, whom he conjectures to have been an angel descended to his relief, and who was probably some penitent or devotee bent on works of charity or self-mortification. With a voice of the greatest kindness, he proffered his aid to the wretched boy, whose appearance was alike fitted to awaken pity and disgust. The conquering of a natural repugnance to filth, in the interest of charity and humility, is a conspicuous virtue in most of the Roman Catholic saints; and whatever merit may attach to it was acquired in an extraordinary degree by the young man in question. Apparently, he was a physician; for he not only restored the miserable wanderer to a condition of comparative decency, but cured him of a grievous malady, the result of neglect. Chaumonot went on his way, thankful to his benefactor, and overflowing with an enthusiasm of gratitude to Our Lady of Loretto.
[“Si la moindre dame m’avoit fait rendre ce service par le dernier de ses valets, n’aurois-je pas dus lui en rendre toutes les reconnoissances possibles? Et si aprčs une telle charité elle s’étoit offerte ŕ me servir toujours de mesme, comment aurois-je dű l’honorer, lui obéir, l’aimer toute ma vie! Pardon, Reine des Anges et des hommes! pardon de ce qu’aprčs avoir reçu de vous tant de marques, par lesquelles vous m’avez convaincu que vous m’avez adopté pour votre fils, j’ai eu l’ingratitude pendant des années entičres de me comporter encore plutôt en esclave de Satan qu’en enfant d’une Mčre Vierge. O que vous ętes bonne et charitable! puisque quelques obstacles que mes péchés ayent pu mettre ŕ vos graces, vous n’avez jamais cessé de m’attirer au bien; jusque lŕ que vous m’avez fait admettre dans la Sainte Compagnie de Jésus, votre fils.” — Chaumonot, Vie, 20. The above is from the very curious autobiography written by Chaumonot, at the command of his Superior, in 1688. The original manuscript is at the Hôtel Dieu of Quebec. Mr. Shea has printed it.]
As he journeyed towards Rome, an old burgher, at whose door he had begged, employed him as a servant. He soon became known to a Jesuit, to whom he had confessed himself in Latin; and as his acquirements were considerable for his years, he was eventually employed as teacher of a low class in one of the Jesuit schools. Nature had inclined him to a life of devotion. He would fain be a hermit, and, to that end, practised eating green ears of wheat; but, finding he could not swallow them, conceived that he had mistaken his vocation. Then a strong desire grew up within him to become a Récollet, a Capuchin, or, above all, a Jesuit; and at length the wish of his heart was answered. At the age of twenty-one, he was admitted to the Jesuit novitiate.  Soon after its close, a small duodecimo volume was placed in his hands. It was a Relation of the Canadian mission, and contained one of those narratives of Brébeuf which have been often cited in the preceding pages. Its effect was immediate. Burning to share those glorious toils, the young priest asked to be sent to Canada; and his request was granted.
[2 His age, when he left his uncle, the priest, is not mentioned. But he must have been a mere child; for, at the end of his novitiate, he had forgotten his native language, and was forced to learn it a second time.
“Jamais y eut-il homme sur terre plus obligé que moi ŕ la Sainte Famille de Jésus, de Marie et de Joseph! Marie en me guérissant de ma vilaine galle ou teigne, me délivra d’une infinité de peines et d’incommodités corporelles, que cette hideuse maladie qui me rongeoit m’avoit causé. Joseph m’ayant obtenu la grace d’ętre incorporé ŕ un corps aussi saint qu’est celui des Jésuites, m’a preservé d’une infinité de misčres spirituelles, de tentations trčs dangereuses et de péchés trčs énormes. Jésus n’ayant pas permis que j’entrasse dans aucun autre ordre qu’en celui qu’il honore tout ŕ la fois de son beau nom, de sa douce présence et de sa protection spéciale. O Jésus! O Marie! O Joseph! qui méritoit moins que moi vos divines faveurs, et envers qui avez vous été plus prodigue?” — Chaumonot, Vie, 37.]
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 9 by Francis Parkman
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.