The Thomas More of America
Martyr of Liberalism in the Defense of His Country and Christendom
Gabriel García Moreno was born on December 21, 1821, in the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, in the midst of a comfortable family, Creole on his mother’s side and Spanish from Leon on his father’s side. In the process of American independence, the Garcías always maintained a position of faithfulness to Spain and of love for their Mother Country, which little Gabriel, the youngest of eight children, inherited.
Unlike his brothers, Gabriel’s poor health obliged him to receive his schooling at home.
At the time of Gabriel’s youth, his country was still in line with his upbringing. He was born a Spaniard, spent his childhood as a citizen of the Greater Bolivian Columbia, in the little republic of Guayaquil, which afterwards belonged to Peru and finally to Ecuador. Gabriel would become the father of this small Spanish-American nation.
In September of 1836, Gabriel had to leave for Quito to pursue his university studies at the University of San Fulgencio. There this young man from Guayaquil soon stood out for his ability in studying philosophy and law. At first he was inclined to become a priest, but the difficulties in his country made him decide to take the road of politics in order to defend the Church from liberal, anticlerical legislation. In 1845 he took part in an armed revolt against the liberal Flores, thus beginning his public life centered on the battle against Ecuadorian liberalism.
The following year he married Rosa Ascásubi, of a venerable family, whose two brothers were Gabriel’s most constant collaborators. The marriage would be blessed with three daughters, but they died soon after birth. Meanwhile, Gabriel gained fame from the pages of his periodical, The Avenger, since it denounced the intentions of Flores’ liberals to regain power. Nevertheless, the political problems of his country obliged him to make a trip to Europe for two years, where he remained dedicated to the Catholic intellectual reaction against the radical liberalism of 1848.
On his return to Ecuador, Gabriel put himself in danger by defending the Jesuits, recently expelled from Columbia. In 1850 he wrote his small work, The Defense of the Jesuits. Consequently, the Ecuadorian government withdrew its plan to expel the sons of St. Ignatius. The following year he returned to public activity through the pages of the periodical, The Nation, by his attack on General José María Urbina, the epitome of Ecuadorian anticlerical liberalism and president of the Republic. His attacks earned his arrest and he was handed over to the Columbian authorities, but he escaped into exile. He remained so for two years in Peru and France. In the Gallican country, Gabriel studied Geology, Botany, Vulcanology and Church History; frequented the sacraments; and from that time his life as a defender of the Church guarded coherence with his spiritual life. Under the reign of Napoleon III, Gabriel noticed the developments attained by the initiative of an executive force dedicated to favorably transforming society.
In 1856 the new president Robles decreed an amnesty and Gabriel was able to return to his country. The popularity attained by Gabriel as leader of the opposition made him mayor of Quito and rector of the dilapidated University. From his sojourn in France, Gabriel understood and tried to improve the physiognomy of the Ecuadorian capital and bolstered scientific research; he himself taught the chemistry classes. His work was increased by The National Union, a new periodical which served as a vehicle against radical liberalism. The following year, despite the established tyranny, Garcia Moreno was elected senator. Nevertheless, the excuse of a war against Peru permitted President Robles to establish a dictatorship and to exile Gabriel to the Andean country to the South.
It was the worst moment for Ecuador. Civil war broke out and four governments tried to obtain power, while Columbia and Peru began negotiations for dividing the country. President Robles was overthrown when, in hope of remaining in power, he offered the Galapagos to the United States. Garcia Moreno formed part of a provisional government, was defeated by the Columbians and sought the military support of Flores, who was exiled. Together they defeated the liberals of Ecuador and of the neighboring countries. In 1860, Gabriel obtained the highest office in the country. To give a good example, he gave half of his salary to the public treasury and the rest to works of charity. As president, he had the duty of making civil power prevail over military power, even by commanding a general to be flogged. In 1862 he established a concordat with the Holy See and summoned different religious orders to begin educating the whole population. During this period, he faced various conspiracies by the liberals who had taken refuge in Columbia and Peru, and part of an armed confrontation with the Columbian Republic which resulted in disaster for the Ecuadorians.
In 1865 he left the presidency and was named ambassador to Chile. Being recently widowed, he married his niece, Mariana Alcázar. On a journey to Santiago, while delayed in Lima, he was victim of an attack. He was not harmed, but the Peruvian authorities accused him of intent to murder for having tried to defend himself with a weapon that could have killed the terrorist who had assaulted him. Two years later he was named governor of Imbabura, a region which had suffered a terrible earthquake with fifteen thousand dead. The ability of this ex-president was clearly shown in securing public order and reconstruction of the region. In 1869, to ward off the blow of a liberal state, Gabriel García Moreno acted swiftly and took the presidency of the Republic upon himself by means of a coup de force. As president he had to face liberal military uprisings which were forcefully repressed. Nevertheless, under his government, Ecuador experienced great economic progress, doubling financial earnings and tripling funding for education. It was the first time that children and native Indians had the obligation to learn and to read. Partly, the introduction of religious orders, such as the Jesuits from Germany, put the country in contact with the most modern methods of research.
In 1873, his unblemished religiosity led Gabriel to consecrate the country to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Ecuador was the first county to do this. His devotion brought him to join the Marian congregation of men established for laborers, so that those of his social standing, though his political rivals, were not troubled about praying with the president. Nevertheless, his candidacy for a third term brought the liberals into complete opposition to his government. From Masonic circles, ideological principles inspired by radical liberalism were defended through the pen of Juan Montalvo, calling for “tyrannicide” of the Catholic president. In this way, by means of a Columbian mercenary, Gabriel García Moreno was assassinated on August 6, 1875, receiving fourteen blows of a machete and six bullet wounds. Dying in the Cathedral, he became a martyr par excellence for Catholic politicians and a St. Thomas More brought back to life in modern times.