Ecology, spirituality and sustainability – Tribute to Charles Brandt (part 1)

~ the Brandt Series ~


Father Charles Brandt – 5oth Anniversary of his ordination to the

sacred priesthood and consecration to the hermit life


Photography and text by Charles Brandt and Bruce Witzel  (with exceptions)



Charles’ word:


Between 375 and 425 of the common era, there were over 5000 hermits living along the Nile River, in Palestine and Syria. After the Peace of Constantine in 313 one could live the Christian life without offering incense to Caesar. Those who wanted to live as Christians found that the city of Rome was too corrupt so they fled to the desert.

Among these were the first hermits. When a hermit would meet another hermit he would say: “Brother give me a word” seeking some Spiritual wisdom from the other hermit.


My word to you is: “Only the sense of the Sacred will Save Us.”


Frater M. Charles Brandt, November 5, 2016


  Bald eagle,near Mt. Washington, British Columbia - by Charles A.E. Brandt


~ Ecology, spirituality and sustainability are connected ~

  Bruce’s tribute to Fr. Charles, Nov. 5, 2016



Charles Brandt was 4 years old in 1927, when the Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote in The Human Phenomenon:

“Our faith imposes on us a right and a duty to be passionate about the things of the earth.”


Charles has always lived this faith.


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In 1966 I was an altar server in Courtenay, but I don’t recall that autumn day when Father Charles was ordained a hermit priest.


Chalres Brandt's odination as a hermit priest, in Courtenay, BC - November  1966


None of us then could envision how Charles’ life would so touch our own – and the land, the rivers and the human creativity around us.


During carefree years of the 1970’s, my friends and I loved to swim in the rivers of Comox Valley.  Except for the Tsolum River. We we not not impressed with its brownish copper tone.


Who could imagine it was so polluted with copper leachate? Charles did.


Tsolum River - by Charles Brandt


So often we just don’t get what’s going on around us.


Charles says, “we are a society that is hard of hearing.”


Well then Charles – you are like hearing aid for us. All of us, let us pray and act that we don’t go deaf. But even then Charles wouldn’t give up – he’d just start using more sign language!

    Charles Brandt waves at his 5oth anniversery as a hermit priest, Nov. 5, 2016 - Campbell River BC


Over the last 30 years or so, I have spent time with Charles on just a few handful of occasions – yet I consider him a close friend, and a mentor.

My father was also a friend of Charles. When he died, Charles listened to my grief and anger.

And at times I’ve despaired about the earth, or the church, or society. But Charles has always helped me see the bigger picture, that which is universal and beyond myself – beyond each of us.




In the early 90’s I attended a meditation retreat given by Charles, on Spirituality and the Environment at the Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo.


self-and-environment - cover image of book by charles brandt



The basic contemplative message of that retreat still rings true today. Charles asks each of us to work to find out – who are we meant to be? Charles’ mentor Thomas Merton, calls it “finding our true selves.” The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr calls it “recognizing our inherent dignity.”



Merton Capture 2



This is the continuing life work, for each of us.



Back in those days I worked in the log plant and booming grounds of the Port Alice Pulp Mill. I was also part of the Environmental Protection Committee. The problem was, I didn’t really enjoy the work.

Like many mills, it was good pay – but now it’s closed down.


A year or so after the meditation retreat, I quit the mill and travelled to Mexico. I volunteered with a group of Christian Cooperatives and Itinerant Missionaries that included health workers, seminarians, legal experts and poor campesino farmers.


In the Mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico 1992 - bruce witzel photo


My work involved building and teaching about Solar Box Ovens. They’re a simple device, just an insulated box with glass on top that traps heat from the sun that cooks the food.




People everywhere are amazed how easy it is to cook using sunshine. I was amazed at the fine craftsmanship of the campesino carpenters.


Carpenter in Zapotilan del Rio, Mexico - slides0214 (2) -  by bruce witzel


After six inspiring months, I returned to Canada.  By then I had realized my own passion for carpentry and took it up full time. I have the Mexican campesinos and Charles to thank for all that!

In the 23 years since then I’ve been together with my wife Francis, a novelist and retired educator, along with two step children and two grand children. Charles generously shared his famous cougar photo with Francis, to grace the front cover of her  3rd novel, Chasing Down the Night.


Actual photo of cougar near hermitage (as appears on cover of Chasing Down the Night) - charles brandt photo


As Charles tells the story about the cougar, he was walking in the woods and could hear that the robins in the trees were quite excited. As he entered the door of the hermitage Charles looked back. A cougar had sat down at the bottom of the stairway. So Charles picked up his camera. After a few moments the cougar lay down on the grass. Then, he – the cougar that is – dozed off.



Fr. Charles Brandt at his hermitage - photo from Bishp Gary's blog (3)

  Bishop Gary Gordon photo


This past June when Charles asked me to speak here today, we were visiting on the porch of the hermitage. It was chilly and he offered me a jacket.



autumn light, hermitage, Oc.8, 16, charles brandt photo (2)


A bird sang from the trees beyond.



Charles said with a twinkle in his eye,

“Listen! Do hear him – it’s a Swainson Thrush – a male, I think.”



Swainson's Thrush, Red Elderberry, Hermitage, June l8, '15. charles brandt photo


We all know that Charles love of nature and conservation is immense, as well as his love and conservation of books and the arts.  


Later as I departed Charles grinned at me. Without realizing, I was leaving with his jacket. He’d repaired it numerous times, he told me. It was as old as the hermitage.


Charles Brandt in his Bindery



This reminded me of the time in the late 1980’s when Charles visited Saint Theresa’s Parish in Port Alice. His homily included explaining the 3R’s. First, reduce our consumption and use just what we need to. Second, repair or reuse what we are able to (like Charles does with his jacket, and books). Third, recycle everything else.


Charles, throughout his life, has never wavered in his commitment for conservation, restoration and preservation of this beautiful earth that abounds and surrounds us. Today, after 35 years of collaborative work, the Tsolum is no longer a dead river. The salmon have returned. This is a testimony from Charles and others, to what we can do if we care.


Pink Salmon spawning grounds Sept 24 Oyster River - charles brandt


Healing and transformation is possible. But how does such destruction happen in the first place? In Pope Francis’ encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home, he explains that “a true ecological debt exists, between the global north and south.”

Francis speaks of the world’s commercial imbalances and how the rich countries consumes so much more of the worlds resources.


The Pope even mentions the years of mercury pollution from gold mining by the northern industrialized nations.


Mining Honduras (Infographic created by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins) (2)


A heartbreaking example here in Canada is how the Grassy Narrows First Nation, north of Kenora, have been affected by mercury, though it came from a pulp mill. In the early 1970’s, the mink, the otters and the eagles were being poisoned from eating the fish. The wildlife couldn’t walk, swim or fly normally.


Black Oyster Catchers -charles brandt photo


Now, the Grassy Narrows people themselves are suffering horrible deaths from brain damage caused by mercury poisoning.


Charles says “we have to stop this destructive, addictive and oppressive behaviour.” Pope Francis has called specifically for the mining sector to undergo a “radical paradigm change.” And, as Charles says, “we seek a new way of life.”          


Indeed, our whole social, economic and spiritual viewpoints need to change.This is most evident with climate change. Humanity needs to quickly reduce our carbon emissions.


Alberta Rockies and oil - bruce witzel photo (2)


Canada and the United States together use about 25% of the worlds fossil fuels, yet we are only 5% of the world’s people.


Scientists have looked at the past 150 years of the worlds development and found that the rich nations have created by far, the lions share of climate change.


Vancouver BC Skyline -bruce witzel photo


This is part of the ecological debt that Pope Francis speaks of.


The economist Fritz Schumacher said this about solving difficult tasks – “Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. but each of us can raise the sails, so when the wind comes we’ll catch it.”


Victoria Harbour protest against Nuclear Weapons - late 1980's - burce witzel photo


As I begin to close this tribute to Charles, I’d like you to picture this. It’s an editorial cartoon. 



Cars are backed up on the freeway, planes fly near numerous stacks that belch black smoke.


slides0092 (4)a - bruce witzel photo        I-5 Seattle, Washington - francis guenette photo


It’s not a pretty sight and a crowd of people are protesting. They hold signs that declare –

“End times are coming!”


slides0017 (2) - bruce witzel photo early 80's



Another person stands apart from the crowd. He’s alone, and a little wild looking, with long hair and a beard. And he’s wearing a sack cloth, like John the Baptist – or maybe like Charles.


His sign says “Repent . . . . . .” 


                                                        “Go solar!”


Solar powered home near Carbondale Colorado (2) Oct. 2016 - bruce witzel photo


To conclude, I believe the essence of Charles’ message is this – ecology, spirituality and sustainability are connected.


And, there is really only one prayer – the stream of love. The great cosmic river of love.


Bow River, Banff - Oct 27, 2014 - Francis Guenette photo (2)


When Charles invited me to speak, I was doubtful and hesitant. Then he said to me quietly,

“Well, think about it.”


Each of us, will do well to think about it!



Thank you Frater M. Charles Brandt, ERM

for your love, your passion and giving us your word,


“Only the sense of the sacred will save us.”



cheers to all,

Bruce T.J. Witzel


November 5, 2016

16 thoughts on “Ecology, spirituality and sustainability – Tribute to Charles Brandt (part 1)

  1. Pingback: OUR LIVES, WELL LIVED – Charles Brandt, at 94 - Tide Change

  2. Hello Bruce. You should know that my lesson to my grade 6 class inspired by Frater Charles went very well. They went on to attempt to take some photos of the sacred around them in the natural world and responded by writing a poem, prayer or reflection. I have yet to contact Frater Charles, but I was hoping to find out a way to get a copy of his Meditations from the Wilderness book or Self and Environment retreat booklet. Any leads on this? Blessings for a Joyous Christmas.

    • Hi Marcel – that sounds so wonderful of an experience. In regards to the books, I think Meditations in the Wilderness is out of print, but Charles would know for sure. He gave me a copy of Self and the Environment 4 or 5 years ago, and he may even have some extra copies at the hermitage… or at the least, he would have a definitive answer about their availability. I bet you he’d also be happy to hear that your grade 6 class has been inspired by his message. Thanks for the message and peace and blessings, and Happy Christmas.

  3. I am so grateful that Stephen Hume was able to write an article about Frater Charles in the Vancouver Sun this past Wednesday. As a local Catholic school teacher in the Vancouver Archdiocese, I had no clue that a Roman Catholic priest, so close to where we live, has been living out such a beautiful life and example for all of us. Frater Charles’ ability to combine his faith, ecumenism, and honouring the natural world is truly inspiring for me. I would appreciate anyone who could further guide me towards resources that could aid me in presenting this hermit’s incredible life, philosophies, and teachings to my grade 6 class.

    Thank you Frater Charles.


  4. I am a non-deistic spiritual being. I cananyway see the common ground many of us share spiritually and I can only agree with the vision, actions and teachings of this man. Thanks for posting this interesting tribute.

  5. Thank you for posting this beautiful tribute and reminder. I have great respect for Pope Francis and Charles and you for listening to the deeper resonance of the cosmos in the way that I believe Jesus did, too. There’s way too much static noise in the upper registers of Christianity, I think. Like Pharisees, too many get distracted by that. (in my humble opinion)

    • Your welcome – I’m with you on the principalities! I appreciate your perspective Priscilla, because I think I have walked a somewhat similar path within Christianity as you have.

      The keynote speaker at the celebration was journalist Stephen Hume, and he introduced himself by saying he was not a religious person. Then in his wonderful tribute, he explains how he as a reporter, has had to report some of the worst humanity is about … and,”So what has Father Brandt done for me in the midst of this? He has taught me not just to look but to see. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to experience but to feel. To realize that there’s far more of heaven in the world than not.” Here’s the full text if you’d like to read it all…

      By the way – best of luck in your new home. It sounds like such a wonderful location at the conservation center!

  6. A wonderful tribute, Bruce. May I recommend a book I think you would enjoy? The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, by Joel Salatin, a wonderful sustainable farmer, Christian, and man concerned about this earth. He’s also a wonderful writer, which makes it all the more fun.


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