Obituary: Fr. Charles Brandt, first Catholic hermit priest in several hundred years

Obituary: Fr. Charles Brandt, first Catholic hermit priest in several hundred years

Fr. Charles in his studio at The Hermitage  |  George Le Masurier photo

Obituary: Fr. Charles Brandt, first Catholic hermit priest in several hundred years

Written by Bruce Witzel

Rev. Charles Brandt noted conservationist, hermit monk, and priest of the Diocese of Victoria, died in the early hours of Sunday, October 25. A spiritual guide and inspiration to many beyond the Catholic Church, Charles was in the North Island Hospital in Comox Valley at the time of his death from pneumonia. He was in his 97th year.

Father Brandt lived for nearly five decades at his forested hermitage next to Oyster River. In 2019, those 27 acres were put into a permanent land conservancy and Charles has bequeathed the property to the Comox Valley Regional District for use as a public park. An active contemplative person of prayer who has concern for the Sacred Commons will live in the hermitage to follow in Charles’ footsteps.

Brandt was the sole surviving member of a unique hermit community originally established in 1964 near the Tsolum River in Merville, B.C. Bishop Remi De Roo ordained Brandt in 1966 as the first hermit priest in several hundred years within the Roman Catholic Church. This
eremitical tradition had fallen into disuse in western churches after the Reformation and was reconstituted through later reforms of the Second Vatican Council 1962-65, in which a young Remi De Roo participated.

Brandt was in communication with world-famous Trappist monk and author, Thomas Merton, about joining the community on Vancouver Island in 1968 at the time of Merton's death. Brandt had originally entered monastic life as a Trappist at New Melleray, Iowa.

Brandt earned his keep as an art and paper conservationist by setting up a special lab at his hermitage. He gained world renown for restoring many historical books like The Nuremberg Chronicles printed in 1493, many older bibles, and one of the original books of The Audubon Series.

He taught Christian meditation practice at the hermitage and led other retreats, inspiring many people over the decades. He occasionally filled in as a parish priest in The Comox Valley and Campbell River. 

Father Brandt rose at 3 AM to meditate, read psalms and practice daily liturgy. During early hours, he often meandered into nature to observe birds and wildlife and to take photographs. In his book Self and Environment, he describes this walking meditation as a time when “Every atom of my being is present to every atom in the universe, and they to it.”

In later years, Brandt was much celebrated in public ways which included media profiles and reports on his pioneer environmental work. He is credited with heading up the effort that saved the Tsolum River from industrial degradation.

His stature as a spiritual teacher as well as his whole legendary reputation as someone who integrated spirituality with ecology will live on after him in the lives and efforts of the many people he directly inspired.

Fr. Charles is survived by his sister-in-law, Wanda Brandt, and numerous nephews, nieces and their children and grandchildren in the Kansas City area and around the United States. He was predeceased by his parents, Anna (nee Bridges) and Alvin Brandt, brothers Frank and Chet, and sisters Frances, Mary and Ella.

Donations in remembrance of Charles can be made to St. Andrews Cathedral in Victoria, the Tsolum River Restoration Society, Comox Valley Nature Society, the Oyster River Enhancement Society or the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society.

FURTHER READING: A Long and Winding Journey



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LATEST UPDATE: Father Charles Brandt funeral service this Friday in Campbell River

LATEST UPDATE: Father Charles Brandt funeral service this Friday in Campbell River

Father Charles Brandt in January of 2019 at The Hermitage. Photo was taken just weeks before his 97th birthday.  |  George Le Masurier photo

LATEST UPDATE: Father Charles Brandt funeral service this Friday in Campbell River


Father Charles Brandt, who lived as a hermit on a 27-acre property along the Oyster River, died early Sunday morning. He was 97.

The funeral mass for Fr. Charles will be at noon this Friday, Oct. 30 at St Patrick’s church in Campbell River.

The worship space accommodates 50 people only as they seat folks with the appropriate spacing. The service may be streamed to the large room downstairs, again with social distancing in place. Attendance will be by reservation only by callingl the church office 250-287-3498. They will need contact info with name, address, phone and email.

Fr. Charles has lived on the property since 1970. He had recently finalized a conservation covenant with the Comox Valley Land Trust and the Comox Valley Regional District that will forever protect the land from development.

You can read more about Fr. Charles in this Decafnation story published on Jan. 31, 2019.

Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey 

A long-time friend of Fr. Charles, Bruce Witzel of Victoria Lake near Port Alice, has posted two video links on his blog, including an interview with Fr. Charles about his life.

Witzel grew up in the Comox Valley. His father was Mac Witzel who was one of the first Catholics to welcome and assist Charles when he moved to the Valley.

The shoes of the fisherman: Requiescat in pacem, Fr. Charles Brandt

This article has been updated many times to add more information as it became available, and also to correct the year when Fr. Charles moved onto the Oyster River property from 1965 to 1970. We have changed Alice Arm, to Port Alice to more accurately depict Bruce Witzel residence.



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Father Charles Brandt honored by Canadian Museum of Nature

Father Charles Brandt honored by Canadian Museum of Nature

Father Charles Brandt on the front porch of his Oyster River hermitage  |  Grant Callegari photos

Father Charles Brandt honored by Canadian Museum of Nature


When the Canadian Museum of Nature announced the finalists for its
2020 Nature Inspiration Awards, there was only one name in the Lifetime Achievement category: Father Charles Brandt.

A well-known environmentalist in the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts, Father Charles was nominated for the award by the Comox Valley Land Trust.

Father Charles has devoted his life to protecting and preserving natural habitats and has inspired generations of volunteers to work together to protect and preserve forests and rivers.

As a spiritual leader and conservationist, Father Charles helped establish the Tsolum River Task Force, which ultimately became
the Tsolum River Restoration Society. At age 97, he continues to act as one of the society’s directors.

Father Charles Brandt

Father Charles was also instrumental in creating the Oyster River Enhancement Society, contributing to the return of salmon and trout stocks on that also once-decimated river. He served as an ORES director and remained active in the society until 2014 when he was appointed a director emeritus.

Beginning in the early 1990s, he was also part of the Oyster River Watershed Management Committee, a roundtable of
government, industry and citizen representatives advocating for improved forest management activities. Father Charles remained active with the ORMC until it disbanded in 2012.

Father Charles’ home is along the Oyster River. In 2019 he granted a conservation covenant on his 27-acre property to the Comox Valley Land Trust. This action will protect the mature forest and riparian areas in perpetuity. Father Charles intends to donate the land to the Comox Valley Regional District as parkland.

Reacting to news of the Canadian Nature Museum’s award, Father Charles wrote, “With [cultural historian] Thomas Berry I can only say that the human community and the natural world must go into the future as a single sacred community. This is a step in that direction. Thank you.”

“We are pleased to see Father Charles recognized on the national stage for his work here on Vancouver Island,” said Comox Valley Land Trust Executive Director Tim Ennis. “His decision to leave his property to the CVRD as parkland, with a conservation covenant held by the land trust that will protect it forever, sets a strong example for others.”

Father Charles will receive his award when the winners in the other six categories are announced on November 25. Winners in each category receive $5,000 they can designate to a nature-related program of their choice.

FURTHER READING: Father Charles: A Long and Winding Journey



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LATEST UPDATE: Father Charles Brandt funeral service this Friday in Campbell River

Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey

Father Charles by a writing desk on the main floor of his original cabin  /  George Le Masurier photos

Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey


Father Charles Brandt made a long and winding journey from a farm in rural Missouri to the Comox Valley. Along the way, it took him through New York, Louisiana, Mexico City, Oklahoma and Iowa, with side trips through Switzerland, Italy, England, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

He eventually found his way to the Tsolum River where he lived with a group of hermits and, a little later, on his own 27-acre hermitage along the Oyster River.

This week, just 19 days before his 96th birthday, Father Charles donated a conservation covenant over his land to the Comox Valley Land Trust. The covenant protects the land from development, logging or other activities in perpetuity, regardless of any change in ownership over time. The CVLT will hold the covenant, although Brandt plans to gift his property to the Comox Valley Regional District for a public park.

It’s a remarkable donation, not only for its charity or its demonstration of love for nature, but also because it happened at all.

The boy who was raised as a Methodist and converted to Anglicanism, was once on track to the Anglican priesthood. But as his interests in communicating with God through nature and in living as a hermit grew, Brandt later converted to Catholicism. He was officially ordained as a hermit-priest, the first in 200 years, in the Roman Catholic Church in Courtenay in 1966.

But Brandt told Decafnation in an interview just over a month ago that he wasn’t always so certain about his future vocation. He had many questions and doubts along the way.

Still, Brandt said, he subconsciously knew he wanted to live a contemplative life within nature.

As a young Boy Scout he slept in the wild and kept absolute silence for 24 hours. He had a passion for birding, which with scouting, were his first connections to the natural world. He studied ornithology at Cornell University. He became an internationally known master bookbinder. By the age of 13, he had read Henry David Thoreau’s epic book, Walden.

Uncertain early beginnings

Charles Brandt was born on Feb. 19, 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri to his Danish-English parents, Alvin Rudolph Brandt-Yde and Ann Chester Bridges, who were Methodists. When the family moved to a farm outside the city when Brandt was five years old, Brandt had his first experiences with the natural world.

“Every tree had a bird’s nest in it … it was amazing to me,” Brandt said in an interview published last year on “When I was quite young, I felt we should have contact with God … it was just kind of an intuition.”

“The monastery life doesn’t provide enough time for meditation and prayer. They’re workaholics.”

And when a relative introduced him at age 13 to the works of Henry David Thoreau, he read Walden, which he now says was his first awareness of the hermit life. But the idea didn’t have time to fully sink in.

After graduating from high school in 1941, he started post-secondary studies at the University of Missouri. But that was interrupted by the draft and a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. He trained primarily as a navigator, but also bombardiering, something he questioned with a military chaplain. But the chaos of war didn’t give him space to think more about it.

Brandt says now that he wouldn’t consider himself a conscious objector. He calls himself nonviolent, but ready to take a stand when there is a reason.

“If I had known what was going on in Germany, I would have been there from the beginning,” he said.

After the war, Brandt chose to study at Cornell University in New York State because they had an ornithology department. But he quickly decided against pursuing that course of studies, and was, for a time, uncertain about his vocation.

Brandt had come into contact with the Anglican Church while in the military. So when he attended a summer religious retreat during his second year at Cornell, at age 25, he began thinking of the Anglican priesthood and was ordained into the church in 1948.

Brandt meets Merton

But after reading the book The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton he started thinking about the monastic life, and becoming a Roman Catholic. So after visiting a Catholic priest in Louisiana and carrying on to Mexico City to visit the shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe, Brandt decided to study theology with Benedictine monks in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He spent a year there as a choir monk, and was officially “received” into the Catholic Church.

Brandt’s next stop on his journey to the Comox Valley was a religious order farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, known as the Abbey of Gethsemani. He learned bookbinding there and met one of the great influences on his life, Thomas Merton, in person.

Brandt then spent eight years as a Trappist monk in the New Melleray monastery in Iowa. He honed his skills as a bookbinder there, eventually taking charge of the bindery. But he found the Trappist life too rigid. Brandt had become more and more interested in a contemplative life.

So Brandt wrote a letter to Thomas Merton, who responded that he should try it.

“He (Merton) told me the monastery life doesn’t provide enough time for meditation and prayer. It’s too busy,” Brandt said. “They’re workaholics.”

The responding letter remains a treasured possession of Brandt’s.

“I had just heard about some hermits on Vancouver Island,” Brandt told Decafnation. “I visited them in March of 1965 … and never looked back.”

Since that time, Brandt has practiced a different and little known kind of Christian prayer. It’s a type of Christian meditation advocated by Merton, and made popular by the Trappist monk Thomas Keating.

“By comparison, it makes traditional Christian contemplative prayer feel outdated,” Brandt said. “It’s a willingness to be present to God, to accept his actions within us.”

Brandt continues to host a monthly meditations for a select group of about 10 people at the Oyster River Hermitage.

Covenant decision not easy

Although Brandt owns his property — he purchased it for $9,000 in 1965 — he needed the blessing of the Bishop of Victoria, who briefly considered bringing another hermit to live there.

“I thought it would be difficult to sign the document for the covenant,” Brandt said. “I lose a little security making the covenant, but I still own the property and could sell it, but for much less value with the covenant on it.

“Kind of a temptation,” he said.

But when the covenant was offered to him he said, yes, because, “It’s always good to say yes … just the idea leads to things we don’t know about.”

Brandt will continue to live in the small cabin — sometimes called The Hermitage or Merton’s House –that he built from lumber salvaged from a house he tore down in south Courtenay. Former Vanier Principal Hank Schellink found the house for him, and Brandt lived there while dismantling it.

“They (doctors) hold immense power,” he said. “Not being able to drive would hold me down.”

Before his moved his cabin from the Tsolum area to the Oyster River property, the local Knights of Columbus built a foundation for him. And they used a low-bed trailer to transport the building.

“But the posts on the bridge across the Tsolum River were blocking our passage,” he said. “So they cut the top off the posts to get the cabin across — no one ever knew.”

While the protective covenant covers the whole property, Brant’s cabin and the road to it will be held by a private society comprising members of his Hermitage Advisory Committee. The group helped Brandt navigate the complex legal paperwork required, and to assist in raising the $20,000 to pay for it.

The possibility remains for a new hermit to someday live in the cabin.

“It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a monk, it could be someone with a little monastic training and an environmentalist,” he said.


Brandt has supported himself mostly through bookbinding, a skill he first learned at the Gethsemani Abbey and later perfected at an Iowa monastery. But it was his interest in learning more about archival paper conservation that changed his life.

Through a friend, he left the hermitage to study paper at the New England Document Center in Massachusetts, and quickly rose to the head of its bindery division within a year. That led to an offer from a bindery in Ascona, Switzerland, where he went to learn more about paper and binding. And that, in turn, created an offer to work as a conservator on many of Canada’s art treasures at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa, where he spent five years and earned a small pension. From there, Brandt moved to Winnipeg to set up an conservation centre for the provincial government.

He lived away from his Oyster River hermitage from 1973 to 1984, an absence he likens to St. Paul, who travelled building tents.

“I bound books,” he said.

Brandt found bookbinding to fit perfectly with his contemplative lifestyle.

“I found it very meditative, especially sewing the book together. It’s very relaxing,” he said. “And I was preserving humanity, its culture, something I thought quite worthwhile.”

Next steps

As Brandt prepares for the end of life, he’s trying to get all of his affairs in order. Yet, he’s troubled by a few things.

He’s unsure what will happen to his collection of 20,000 digital photographs and his “stacks of slides” that contain images chronicling his time as a hermit.

“Whoever moves in here will need to catalog them,” he said. “They might be historically valuable in time.”

But with his 96th birthday looming on Feb. 19, his biggest concern centers on his driver’s licence. It’s a topic his doctor has raised.

“They (doctors) hold immense power,” he said. “Not being able to drive would hold me down.”

After two hours of conversation, Brandt apologized for ending our interview. He had an important meeting in Campbell River. So, refusing help to descend his deck stairs, the nearly 96-year-old bookbinder and hermit-priest climbed into his Westfalia van and drove off.





Hermit, also called Eremite, one who retires from society, primarily for religious reasons, and lives in solitude. In Christianity the word (from Greek erēmitēs, “living in the desert”) is used interchangeably with anchorite, although the two were originally distinguished on the basis of location: an anchorite selected a cell attached to a church or near a populous centre, while a hermit retired to the wilderness.

The first Christian hermits appeared by the end of the 3rd century in Egypt, where one reaction to the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius was flight into the desert to preserve the faith and to lead a life of prayer and penance. Paul of Thebes, who fled to the desert about 250, has been considered the first hermit.



Decafnation asked Chris Hilliar for his thoughts about Father Charles’ protection of his land and its potential gift to the public. Hilliar is a member of the Hermitage Advisory Committee

“No one who has known Father Charles will be surprised at the recent announcement of his gift of property as future parkland for the Comox Valley Regional District. This gift is, I think, the final expression of his love for the Earth. It is entirely in keeping with both his character and his philosophy of life. Seldom will you speak with Father Charles that at some point he won’t paraphrase Thomas Berry as saying that, “the human community and the natural world must come together in single sacred harmony or perish in the desert”. I think he believed this to the very core and he lived it too.

“The Hermitage as his house and land became known was his own privately owned property. Charles logged it. I do not think he thought his land should be a pristine wilderness devoid of the touch of mankind. Rather, I think he wanted to log his land to show that it could be done sustainably, that the forest could have trees removed and still be a healthy forest. I think he wanted to at least prove to himself that he could benefit from his property but still live in harmony with it and be a healthy member of its ecosystem.

“I think he achieved his goal. Whenever I visit Charles I always park my truck at the outer gate and walk the long, winding gravel road to his house. It is a contemplative walk and I intentionally breathe deeply and am mindful of my steps. By the time I reach the house I am calm and relaxed, (as I should be to visit a hermit priest). And this of course is a small part of the daily walk that Charles has taken on his property over the past decades. He walks, he communes with nature, and he lives his philosophy.

“People of the Comox Valley will benefit from his parkland gift for years to come, but Charles has also taken steps to ensure that the Hermitage will remain a house of contemplation after his passing. This too is a wonderful legacy for the Comox Valley.”



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These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope

These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope

Perseverance Creek  |  George Le Masurier photo

These environment stories from 2018 could give us hope


Climate science reports released in 2018 all pointed to impending catastrophes unless humankind can pull off some miraculous reversal of climatological trends and its own bad behavior.

In just the last year, huge wildfires raged out of control, Antarctica lost three trillion more tonnes of ice, extreme heat waves warned of an eventual Hothouse Earth by 2040 and droughts and intense storms have become commonplace. Climate change could even cause a global beer shortage.

But not all the environment news in 2018 was depressing. There was good news to savor, some of it originating right here at home.

Comox Valley

The Comox Valley Lands Trust is purchasing a 55-acre parcel at the top of Morrison Creek, and announced plans to eventually acquire and conserve the waterway’s entire 550-acre headwaters. This is important for a variety of reasons: Morrison Creek has lively and thriving aquatic life, including several salmon species, it feeds the Puntledge River and the K’omoks Estuary and it’s the only stream in the valley whose headwaters remain intact (undeveloped) and pristine.

The Cumberland Forest Society is currently negotiating to preserve another 93 hectares (230 acres) of the Cumberland Forest, mostly wetlands and key riparian areas along Perseverance Creek. Since it formed in 2000, the society has conserved 110 hectares (271 acres).

Aerial view of some of the Morrison Creek headwaters — photo courtesy of the Comox Valley Lands Trust

On Dec. 19, the Comox Valley Lands Trust announced that Father Charles Brandt had signed a covenant to conserve his 27-acre Hermitage on the Oyster River. The covenant means the property “will be protected in perpetuity for the benefit of all things wild.” Brandt has told Decafnation he intends to donate his property to the Comox Valley Regional District as an undeveloped public park.

In a process mired in missteps and lawsuits, the CVRD finally denied an application by the 3L Development company that would have created more urban sprawl, increased long-term infrastructure liabilities for taxpayers and despoiled a critical area. But an outstanding lawsuit means this story isn’t over.

The Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC and the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society completed an Ecological Accounting Process document, which shows the value of the waterway to the Town of Comox for stormwater conveyance. It’s the first EAP in BC on a creek flowing through multiple jurisdictions, and shows how all stakeholders must have a common goal in order to prevent the death of another fish-bearing stream.

Many of the candidates who sought public office this fall — and most who were elected — endorsed the passage of new development policies that permit and encourage infill development. This is important to minimize urban sprawl, and maximize utilization of existing infrastructure, thus preserving more rural areas and natural ecological systems.

Thanks to Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, more people know the serious health hazards of poor air quality caused by particulates in smoke from wood burning devices. And local governments are responding with bands on wood burning devices in new homes and incentives to eliminate or upgrade existing ones.

Pacific Northwest

The sad sight of a mother orca carrying a dead calf around for weeks, as if to show humans what tragedies they are inflicting on the Earth’s other inhabitants, has sparked some positive change. Just not in BC, yet. Gov. Jay Inslee struck a task force that has recommended steps for orca recovery and the governor has earmarked over a billion dollars for the plan, which includes a ban on whale-watching tourism.

British Columbians got a sniff last summer of what climate change means for our future. One of the worst wildfire summers blanketed the south coast with smoke, haze and hazardous air quality. And with summers getting hotter and drier (it’s not just your imagination), wildfires will increase. It’s another step — albeit an unfortunate one — to wider spread public acknowledgement of climate change and the urgency of initiatives to maintain and improve our air quality.

The NDP government adopted a climate action plan this year calls for more electric vehicles and charging stations, requires all new buildings to be net-zero energy ready by 2032, diverts organic waste and other recyclables from landfills, while boosting the carbon tax and producing more hydroelectric power. It’s been criticized as being “just talk” and not going far enough, but the plan at least provides a blueprint for future climate action policies provincially and federally.


Green energy is on the rise around the world. We had the largest annual increase in global renewable generation capacity in 2017 (most recent data), accounting for 70 percent of all additions to global power capacity. New solar photovoltaic capacity outsripped additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined. As of 2016, renewable energy accounted for 18.2 percent of global total final energy consumption (most recent data), and modern renewables representing 10.4 percent.

Brooklyn Creek flows into Comox Bay — George Le Masurier photo

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development thinks that global economic growth has peaked. They worry about the slowdown, but it’s good news for the planet. That’s the view of the new Degrowth movement, a theory that first world countries should plan for economic contraction in order to achieve a just and sustainable world.

Carbon emissions are declining, according to BP’s statistical review of world energy. Ukraine showed the greatest decline in 2017 of around 10 percent, due to dramatic reduction in coal usage. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the worst nations (22nd). Canada actually increased emissions by 3.4 percent, contributing the ninth largest share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere behind China, the US and Japan.

Community-based renewable energy projects lead the way in reducing greenhouse gases both in Canada and around the world. Scotland’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) provides communities, businesses and other organizations advice and funding to create local and community energy projects. And, even the province of Alberta has a Community Generation Program for small-scale ventures into wind, biomass, hydro and solar.

And here’s a video that shows more reasons for hope. The question is, are we moving fast enough? And what more could we do?








International Panel on Climate Change
Click here

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Click here

Global Carbon Project
Click here

National Climate Assessment
Click here

Renewables 2018 Global Status Report
Click here

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
High uncertainty weighing on global growth
Click here

Click here

BP statistical review of World Energy 2018
Click here

Community-based renewable energy projects
Click here and here

The story of 2018 was climate change
Click here