Fr. Paul Ginhac, SJ. (+1895)

Source: District of Asia

“Fathers, Père Ginhac used to say, ‘Mes Pères, soyons les hommes des troisième
degré (dear Fathers, let us be men of the third degree (of humility)!’ and his life, more
than his words, excited us to climb towards those heights where he himself was so
firmly established” - Mgr. Jean Marie Barthe S.J. (+1913), Second Bishop of Trichy. Fr.
Ginhac, S.J., has never visited the Madurai Mission though he always wanted to. The
Toulouse province was the mother province from where the Jesuits would come to
evangelize the Madurai Mission. And so, Fr Ginhac played an important role in the
spiritual life of many of our veteran missionaries.

Peter Paul Hippolyte Ginhac was born and baptized on the 31st of May, 1824 at Le Mezel, not far from Serverette in the South of France. When the evil days of the great Revolution began, the house of le Mazel was a haven of refuge for the proscribed priests, and the place in which the inhabitants secretly had recourse to their ministry. Madeleine None, Father Paul Ginhac’s grandmother, used to say to her grandchildren: “Children, you may pray in every corner of this house, because there is not one in which the Sacrament have not been administered.” His mother, Monica Ginhac always ‘lived in constant union with God’ and so had heroic strength to endure the many crosses sent to her by providence.

In 1836, at the age of 13, he was sent to the college at Mende. It is here, he became unrestrained, started to lead a very worldly life. He wanted to have a brilliant business career. He positively and categorically refused to try his vocation to priesthood.

Meanwhile, Paul’s unruly conduct was a cause of great concern to his parents. After a few years, he was ‘forced’ to attend a Jesuit mission at Mende. Paul went there not ‘with any desire to profit by the words of the missionaries; on the contrary, we were told that he went so as to be able to mimic them and thus amuse his friends’. (p.15) But it is there God waited for him with choice graces.

As he was walking, he stood in front of a crucifix. He could not move. He looked again and again at the figure of the crucified and as he does, it seems to him that rays of light come forth from the Adorable face of the Saviour and penetrate his whole being. Trembling, he yields to grace and cried out “from this moment, I will belong to God alone!” He wished to give himself entirely to God and be a Jesuit.

He was then admitted to the Novitiate of Avignon on January 4, 1843. There he exhibited a great fidelity to the Rule. In his spiritual duties, above all, one could see how soon he had acquired habitual union with God. He then appeared quite unconscious of external things, and the profound reverence and perfect modesty of his attitude clearly showed that the fervent novice well realised that he was in God’s presence. After spending a few years in Algeria as a part of his formation, he resumed his studies at the famous scholasticate of Vals. Fr. Ginhac always cherished a longing desire for the missionary apostolate. If anyone expressed a wish to go on the foreign missions, he at once showed his joy and said, “This is by far the better part.” After an intense formation, he was ordained priest in 1856. A Carmelite prioress wrote, “Our sisters would have desired the presence of every unbeliever so that they could see for themselves what a priest at the altar can be. Each of his genuflections, each of his movements, revealed his sanctity. At the moment of the Consecration, his face had in it something Divine and his whole being seemed no longer belong to earth.

In 1858, Fr. Ginhac started his “Tertianship.” The year of Third Probation is, in the mind of St. Ignatius, the “crowning of the work of formation.”  With delight, Paul became the disciple of Fr. Sebastian Fouillot, the venerated master in the French provinces.  After a year of probation, he left for Vals, yet again to be the “new novice master”.  On the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, 1860, Fr. Ginhac made his last vows in the chapel of Vals. “I feel an ardent desire to belong to the Society of Jesus, to be a true, not a counterfeit religious,” He tells us in his diary about the feeling of his soul during these most solemn days of a Jesuit’s life.

In 1860, after his last vows, he was appointed at first as the novice master and then a year later, the rector of the Toulouse novitiate. He writes, “I must absolutely renounce every satisfaction that nature could find; I will tell my Superiors, that they may reprove, warn and correct me as they wish, that by acting thus they will give me pleasure; they may humble me, take the charge from me, even lose confidence in me; nay, I will beg of them to act thus, should I stray from the straight path. I must be very submissive, very open, very obedient, never a flatterer; I must rise above all human respect, and place great confidence in God. I will put Jesus Christ in my place as Superior, giving everything into His care, that He may guard the house and the hearts of its inmates.” (p. 75)

As a novice master, Fr. Ginhac always insisted upon the necessity of prayer and meditation. “Why is it that our meditations are so often cold and sterile? It is because we meditate with the mind and imagination more than with the heart. Now in this work it is especially necessary that the heart should work, otherwise there will be little fruit gained. David knew this by experience: Ego in toto corde meo scrutabor mandata tua. Clamavi in toto corde me.” (p. 113)

The house of Toulouse found in its Rector not only a model of religious perfection, but a wise administrator whose first care was the spiritual advancement of his religious and the success of their ministry. Fr. Ginhac foresees everything and forgets nothing. Sincerity, loyalty, honesty – these were the qualities by which one recognises Paul Ginhac. Never was ever the shadow of duplicity or flattery to be seen in him. In his dealings with his inferiors, he was simple as a child…. He knew when to speak and when to be silent ‘and if the truth were painful, he softened but never hid it.’  His sanctity influenced people even beyond the frontiers of the novitiate. Marie-Thérèse Soubiran (the holy foundress of the Sisters of Marie - Auxiliatrice), Mere Marie de Jesus (foundress of the Sisters of Marie - Repatratrice) General de Sonis and many others, were benefited by his profound sanctity.

In 1869, he was moved to be the Tertian instructor at the newly started foundation at Castres. Fr. Beckz, the Superior General himself wanted Fr. Ginhac in this position. While the rest of France was in chaos, the house at Castres prospered in peace and calm.

St. John Chrysostom truly expressed what devotion to the Sacred Heart is by these words: Cor Christi, Cor Pauli. It is true of Fr. Paul as well. In him the “old man” was so lost in Jesus Christ that one saw only our good Saviour, with however that particular charm of a Jesuit who has altogether given himself to Jesus. The salient character of Fr. Ginhac is his constancy in following faithfully his life of self-abnegation through love; his heroic efforts to overcome self.

A certain priest (later a missionary in Madurai), observes this: “I usually found him kneeling on the floor, away from the prie-dieu. I have never seen him at prayer except on his knee. He often went to visit the Blessed Sacrament before three in the morning, and his attitude there was always one of angelic reverence and recollection, from which not even extreme weakness could draw him.  How often have I not witnessed his heroic efforts to overcome sleep, not only during prayers, but even during a conversation! He conquered his enemy the whole day, after having conquered it during the great part of the night, but it was not without many and painful struggles. I noticed that to keep himself awake he used to press a little iron chain with sharp points, which he wore on one of his arms. Everyday knows that he was accustomed to use all instruments of penance. At the time I was watching him he was chatting graciously to the curé of La Plate, who had come to pay him a New Year’s visit, but all the time his hand was toying with his steel bracelet. (p. 172-173)

In 1877, the Tertian house of Castres was shifted to Paray-le-Monial. Fr. Ginhac also moved again as the Tertian Instructor. The political persecution affected the Society of Jesus very much. In 1880, he had to flee to ‘Mourvilles’ and there he would lovingly embrace this painful cross. “God is our Master and do not let yourself be troubled.” – he often said. He kept a close friendship with other religious and he never failed to encourage his former students, now facing the wrath of the enemy.

He was, as always, remembered for the Spiritual Exercises. In fact, more than preaching by words, he preached by his life. “Since the re-establishment of the Society, Fr. Roothan has given us back the Exercises. Fr. Ginhac lived them and made them incarnate’. “The Exercises,” Father Ginhac used to say, “are not intended to be made for eight or thirty days only, but one should continually try to express them in one’s life.” This ideal he fully realized himself.

On Jan 3, 1893, Fr. Paul celebrated his 50th year in religion. Since the day when the great cross as Mende had changed his heart, it is seen that he rose ever higher and higher in the paths of perfection. What merit was accumulated during all those years of continual fervour and mortification!

Last six months of life was a continual crucifixion. He suffered very much. At eleven o’Clock, in the night of Jan 10, he uttered these words “Credo! Spero! Amo…. My God, I love thee with my whole heart.” With these words he gave up his spirit.

Hundreds of priests, religious and lay people came to venerate his body that was exposed in the chapel. In spite of the grief, all experienced a lively sentiment of peace and joy in rendering him these last duties. “Poor Father!” said one, “What does he now think, seeing us treat with such veneration that body which he made suffer so much and which he so despised?” At the conclusion of Mass, celebrated at Notre Dame de la Platé, the leaden coffin, bearing the simple inscription “Père Paul Ginhac SJ” was laid in the cemetery of Castres.

Fr. Ramière (of the famous ‘Apostleship of Prayer’) said, “We meet with religious, with priests of eminent virtue, and we say: ‘What a holy Priest! What a saintly director! What a holy man!’ But of Father Ginhac we can only say, ‘What a saint!’ because he is a real one in every sense of the world.”

Before closing, let me quote His Eminence Cardinal Richard of Paris “... May the Christian of to-day, so impregnated with the modern spirit of materialism, so easily terrified by the sacrifices which the supernatural life calls for, learn from the example of Fr. Ginhac to free themselves by degrees from the slavery of this world, and labour earnestly at their sanctification.”

A man after God’s own Heart is certainly filled with material that will stimulate deep reflection. Perhaps we no longer have the formation nor discipline to emulate Fr. Ginhac in every single detail of his life. This is nigh impossible. But we can definitely draw inspiration from his ideal, his greatness, his holiness, for “lives of great men, all remind us that we can make our life sublime…”

Fr. Therasian Xavier