Gabriel Garcia Moreno--Regenerator of Ecuador - Mrs. Maxwell Scott


The next two or three years were the most important in Moreno's career, and in studying his life during this period we watch with intense interest the development of a great character. He brought, as we may say, the talents and aspirations of the New World to learn from the wisdom and experience of the Old, and the result to his country, and to his own higher life, were remarkable. Paris, which to many is only a city of pleasure, offered in this sense no attractions to our hero. Possessed with the thought of his unhappy country, and by the secret presentiment that he might aid her in the struggle, he immersed himself in the studies necessary to fit him for his part. "In order to work for the regeneration of a nation one must ascend, not descend. This he realized, and Paris became to him the Manresa where all the noble seeds planted by God in his heart received their full development."

Moreno established himself in a modest lodging in the Rue de la Vieille-Comedie, far from the noise and traffic of the great city. He rose very early, worked all day, and the light of his lamp was seen far into the night. This hard, laborious life won him the respect of his neighbors, and offered a great contrast to the usual habits of the too famous Quartier Latin. At this time he wrote to one of his friends: "I work sixteen hours a day and if there were forty-eight hours in a day I would work for forty without flinching." His one distraction was smoking, but one day when a fellow countryman was bidding him farewell on his return to Ecuador, Moreno insisted on giving him the supply of cigars he had brought from the Antilles, "Take them," he said, "You will do me a great service. I must work—work always, and I do not wish to waste time over lighting those wretched cigars."

Among the studies which he had continued from his youth, chemistry had a special attraction for him, and his first search, on reaching Paris, was for Masters, Instruments, and Laboratories. It was his good fortune to be accepted as a pupil by the distinguished naturalist Boussingault, who had himself, twenty years before, travelled in Ecuador, studied its volcanoes and even climbed Chimborazo. An American gentleman had had the same privilege for two years, and Boussingault remarked to Moreno that possibly he would find it hard to keep up with one who was already familiar with the subject of instruction. "We will try," replied Moreno, and in a few weeks he had reached his companion. Moreno diligently studied the political, military, literary, and industrial side of French life, and especially the Education question in the Colleges and Lycées, and in the elementary schools.

Paris, which offers to the world perhaps the greatest contrasts of good and evil of any city, brought to Moreno an inestimable gift, in his defense of the Jesuits he had said, "I am a Catholic and proud of being one," but he had added these words: "Although I cannot count myself a fervent Christian." In the tumult of public life and amidst the excessive study to which he had devoted himself, he had remained indeed a practical Catholic and a loyal son of the Church, but his early piety had grown cold, and although his conscience often reproached him, he had lost sight of the "life of the soul" which a striking incident now brought back to him.

One day, when Moreno was walking in the Luxembourg gardens with some of his countrymen, exiles like himself, but whose religious views differed from his, the conversation turned upon the death of a wretched man who had refused the Sacraments on his deathbed. Some of those present defended his conduct, but Moreno affirmed that if irreligion is more easily understood during life, considering human weakness and the absorption of business, it becomes, when dying, a veritable monster. The others then attacked Catholicism with all the objections with which unbelief assails her dogmas, but they soon found that they had met more than their match. With ardent faith and pitiless logic Moreno reduced their arguments to nothing, and demonstrated to them not only the truth but the grandeur and ideal beauty of the Christian faith. He spoke with such enthusiasm and ability that one of his hearers, to stop the discussion, exclaimed: "You speak very well, my dear friend, but it seems to me that you rather neglect the practice of this beautiful religion. When did you last go to Confession?"

Disconcerted for a moment, Moreno bowed his head, but then, looking straight at his questioner, he replied: "You have answered me by a personal argument which may appear to you excellent to-day, but which will, I give you my word of honor, be worthless tomorrow."

Returning home in a turmoil of emotion, he meditated seriously over the years that had elapsed since the moment when, full of fervor, he had devoted himself to God's Service at the feet of the Bishop of Guayaquil. Almighty God had not called him to the Priesthood, but was he not bound to love Him with all his heart and soul? Full of sorrow and remorse, he fell on his knees and prayed for a long time, and then went the same evening to Confession. Next morning he received Holy Communion, thanking God for the grace which had shown him his negligence and tepidity.

From this moment Moreno resumed his old pious habits, never again to neglect them. He was to be seen almost every morning at Mass at St. Sulpice before commencing work, and recited the Rosary daily. Another Church, that of the "Missions Etrangeres" also became dear to him, and he might be seen there praying for the heroism which fears nothing in this world, even death itself, in the face of duty.

Moreno had watched with deep interest the march of events in France, and the change that the last few years had wrought. The spectacle of the power of one man, Napoleon III, to restore order after the revolutionary chaos of 1848 was not lost upon him. He felt that, with God's help, a strong, wise man may save a nation even from itself, and he prayed for strength and courage to save his own distracted country. He received a special light and assistance from the study of a book with which he first became acquainted at this time. Rohrbacher's History of the Church seems to have given him those high views of national polity which he was actually to realize in practice. He saw "that the Church is the Queen of the World whom kings and people must obey; that She is the head, and that harmony should ever exist between Her and the State by the subordination of the latter to Her." He understood that God's people have a right to be governed in a Christian manner, and that they cannot be deprived of the Church, without losing likewise liberty, progress, and civilization. Moreno was profoundly impressed by this History; he read its twenty-nine volumes three times over and, thanks to his wonderful memory, he would cite whole pages in support of his opinions.

His exile was now nearing a close and he was about to return to his country matured and strengthened for the combat before him. But before concluding this part of his life we cannot but quote a few words from Louis Veuillot's eloquent tribute to our hero.

"Alone and unknown in a foreign country, but sustained by his faith and his great heart, Garcia Moreno educated himself to reign if such were God's will. He learnt all he should know in order to govern a nation which had once been Christian, but was becoming almost uncivilized. . . .

"Paris Christian, but at the same time irreligious, offers the spectacle of a fight between the two camps. The future President and future Missioner of Ecuador thus saw before him good and evil. When he returned to his far country his choice was made. He knew where to find true glory—true strength—God's true workers. If we may indicate the spots which received his last farewell, and to which he was most attached, we would name his beloved Church of St. Sulpice, and possibly the humble Chapel of the Foreign Missions, to which he was in the habit of going to pray for his country."