Garrouteigt, Father Henri

1965, August 28

Date of Birth: 1875, October 28

No Memorial Card is Available

My dear Confreres:

In these times when one speaks so often of “clerical malaise,” is it not comforting to go over the various stages of the life of our Canadian confrere, Father Henri Garrouteigt, whom his students called “Father Happy?” In reading these pages prepared by a confrere, we may better understand what peace and what joy come from a complete acceptance of God’s will.

Father Henri Garrouteigt died on August 28, 1965. He was the oldest of the Canadian Sulpicians.

Of Basque blood on his father’s side, he was born in Paris on October 28, 1875, and was baptized the following November 7th at Sainte Marie des Batignolles. The only son of Jean Garrouteigt and Elise Caudron, he kept up all his life some correspondence with a certain number of relatives. He began his primary schooling at Abbéville (somme) at the age of three. That indicated a precocious intelligence and foretold his future success. After that he pursued his secondary studies at St. Stanislas School in Abbéville. In 1892 his efforts were crowned with the baccalaureate. At Abbéville he formed some lasting friendships and out of them he kept some happy memories. The destruction of a major part of the town at the end of the last war and the disappearance of his family home on little St. Wulfram Street bothered him a great deal.

His parents’ example, as well as their prayers and sacrifices, won for him the grace of a priestly vocation. In the fall of 1893, he was enrolled in the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris. On July 10, 1898, he received the grace of priesthood at the hands of Bishop de Courmont, C.S.Sp.

His remarkable aptitude for the Sacred Sciences being recognized, he was sent to Rome to pursue higher studies. From 1898 to 1900 he studied at the Minerva and was awarded a Licentiate in Philosophy and a Doctorate in Theology.

Furnished with such credentials, he willingly agreed to teach Philosophy at Dijon for a year. His teaching was already acclaimed for the clarity and precision which marked it all his life.

In the fall of 1901, he entered the Solitude to the great satisfaction of his teachers who had trained him in the Paris seminary. From there he left to go to teach Dogma in the Perigueux seminary.

The following year, 1903, he sailed for Montreal where he had been appointed to teach Dogma at the Grand Seminary. His qualities as a fine teacher made him quickly appreciated by his students, who will always remember his courses, his subjects of prayer, his retreat talks, and especially his spiritual direction. Moreover, he became in the house the promoter of Gregorian Chant, of which he was past master. He was hailed even outside the seminary inasmuch as many religious communities – moreso diocesan priests – knew him to be willing to introduce them to the sacred chant which Pope Pius X had just restored to honor.

In 1910, the year of the International Eucharistic Congress in Montreal, he went back to France. He taught Dogma at Issy, but only for a year. Montreal saw him back again teaching Dogma up to 1917, at which time he was given – for two three-year terms – the charge of the nuns of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

The Sisters of the Hotel Dieu in Montreal profited for two years (1923 to 1925) from the wise spiritual direction of our confrere. There followed a brief taste of parochial ministry at Notre Dame. Then the fall of 1926 saw him make his way to Washington, where the American confreres joyfully received him and gave him the Chair of Dogma at the university seminary. He familiarized himself with the English language, which he was soon speaking with ease. It was at Washington that the seminarians, always sharp in hitting on the dominant traits of their teachers, nicknamed him “Father Happy” because of his joviality.

At the end of the year he returned to Canada and once again became an assistant at Notre Dame until 1930. But it seemed that his tastes drew him especially to the spiritual direction of nuns. So he was to be found again at the motherhouse of the Congregation of Notre Dame as chaplain, first of the professed nuns, then of the novices. In 1935 the nuns had the sadness of losing him after five years of chaplaincy.

He had just been named Rector of the Canadian College in Rome. The post seemed well tailored to his talents. It was then that Father Garrouteigt sought and obtained Canadian citizenship. He believed, with reason, that that step was necessary to bear, in truth, the witness of the Canadian Church in the Eternal City. At the Canadian College he soon won the admiration of the young student priests who enjoyed his spiritual readings and delighted in his amiable company. Everything seemed to point to a long career in Rome when, in the summer of 1936, he returned to Montreal to take charge of his dear novices of the congregation of Notre Dame.

No doubt the welcome given him in the novitiate was a great consolation to him. In this climate of warm sympathy, he was able to put to use again his zeal for and his devotion to the training of nuns.

But in 1943 the Provincial Council, at the request of Archbishop Charbonneau of Montreal, appointed him to the position of Superior of the Grand Seminary. He was well acquainted with this house where his reputation as a teacher and director was still alive among the Sulpicians there.

The school year began well, but in January he had to undergo surgery which kept him away from the seminary for nearly two months. That weighed in his decision in June to put back into the hands of a younger man the running of the house.

He accepted the post of chaplain of the nuns of the normal school of the Congregation of Notre Dame, a post he kept up to 1946. Those two years served to give him back strength enough to resume the spiritual direction of his former little flock at the same community’s novitiate. This time he stayed six years.

But his age and his physical condition forced him into retirement at the Provincial House where he still did many services either in hearing confessions or in instructing the nuns.

Well versed in spiritual matters, he often agreed to preach priests’ retreats in different dioceses as well as to lead the spiritual exercises of various groups of nuns.

A good Latinist, he enjoyed composing for confreres’ anniversaries humorous “martyrologies” which at the end of brotherly banquets he read with flair.

Regular in all that he did, his actions were predictable. However, as some said, his life was at the same time marked with a certain instability as opposed to his exceptional talents. That might have been the result of distance from his natural environment or of being an only son.

It remains that our confrere got along well, that his light conversation cheered up the low-spirited, that his great charity to the missions and all sorts of good causes won hearts to him.

Father Garrouteigt had a ready pen. Out of the countless notes of spiritual conferences which he left, two small books can be mentioned: The Foundations of Our Piety (1932) and Marguerite Bourgeoys. He also published in the Vie Spirituelle in 1957 a good article on the blessed foundress of the Congregation of Notre Dame. Too, he left to the Sisters of that institute the Advice to a Mistress of Novices. Finally, in 1946 and 1947, he contributed to Le Seminaire a much-acclaimed series of articles on the priestly life.

In July 1965, his strength weakened quite rapidly, and his legs could no longer support him. He was taken to the Foyer de la Providence, where the nuns took care of him with remarkable devotion. Peacefully he breathed his last on August 28, 1965.

He had spent sixty years of his priestly life in Montreal. He stayed there as the last witness, the last survivor, of an admirable phalanx of some 170 Sulpicians who came from France to Canada for three centuries. With his death an era was ended; a long, uninterrupted presence disappeared.

His funeral in the Church of Notre Dame was celebrated by His Excellency, Bishop Valerien Belanger, Auxiliary of Montreal. The mortal remains were buried in the crypt of the chapel of the Grand Seminary.

There is a bit of nostalgia in the last lines above. Can we not perhaps hope that in the future the bonds uniting the Province of France to that of Canada may reassert themselves; that France may know as directors and teachers other Paul Emile Legers and Canada other Henri Garrouteigts.

I commend this intention to God while asking you to join my prayer to yours for the repose of the soul of our confrere.

I beg you to accept my affectionate devotion in Our Lord and Our Lady.

Pierre Girard

Superior General of St. Sulpice