Charles Alexandre de Mazenod, Lord of Saint-Laurent and grandfather of Eugène, was born in Marseilles on February 23, 1718. He received his license degree in law on January 4, 1741. He became the president of the Court of Accounts on March 6, 1841. On June 10, 1743, he married Ursule Élisabeth Félicité de Laugier (1725-1782). From this union were born Charles Antoine (1745-1820), Charles Ignace (1746-1753), Charles Hippolyte (1747-1759), Charles Fortuné (1749-1840). Charles Louis Eugène (1750-1835) and Marie-Anne (1752-1753). In his old age, he was afflicted with blindness and died at Aix on May 9, 1795, while the whole family was in exile in Italy.
Eugene hardly knew him. He mentions him a few times in his letters to his mother during the 1802-1804 period, especially in regard to the many debts his grandfather left at his death. Nevertheless, he began his emigration diary with a statement of praise. “Charles Joseph Eugène de Mazenod was born in Aix on August 1, 1782. You know, that his family held one of the foremost ranks in the magistracy. His grandfather, a lovable and cultivated man, had first served in the musketeers; when his health forbade him to continue in this service, he became President of the Court of Excise Exchequer, etc., of Provence; his talents soon brought him to the summit of that College, whose complete confidence he enjoyed. He was dispatched to Paris to represent it in the endless disputes arising between it and the Parliament with which it was meant to work in harmony, and over which it would have had certain rights of precedence, as it had succeeded the former court of Exchequer of Provence, well before the foundation of Parliament. On his trips to Paris he was admitted into the intimate counsels of His Royal Highness the Dauphin, the father of King Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X...” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 16, p. 19)
In a letter to his father dated December 3, 1806, Eugene suggested his father write a biography of Charles Alexandre because of the “the attention that every well-born son should pay to the glory of his father,” but also to refute a small book printed in Paris in 1764 “where they took pleasure in dismissively casting a shadow over the talents and even the intentions of a man who always sought what was good and who did as much good as it was in his power to accomplish [...] of a man for whom honesty and honor where the distinguishing features of his character, of a man who sacrificed his personal advancement and that of his family to the demands of his duties, who was not only the most loveable, but also the most virtuous and the greatest magistrate of the past century in Provence...”
Charles Antoine de Mazenod, Lord of Saint Laurent and father of Eugène, was born at Aix on January 24, 1745. He earned a license in law on June 16, 1764. As an advocate to the parliament, in 1771, he was received as president of the Parliament with right to wear the round black velvet cap. February 3, 1778, he married Marie Rose Eugénie Joannis with whom he had three children: Charlotte Élisabeth Eugénie (1779-1784), Charles Joseph Eugène (1782-1861) and Charlotte Eugénie Antoinette (1785-1867).
“Charles Antoine..., being a humanist and an accomplished jurist, possessed a wealth of knowledge acquired from the study of the finest works of literature. He was the author of a complete set of works on the history of the States and Tribunals of Provence...” (LEFLON, Jean, Eugene de Mazenod, vol I, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, o.m.i., p. 32)
Charles Antoine emigrated to Italy in December of 1790 and did not return to France until the end of December 1817. He then lived at Marseilles until his death on October 10, 1820. His brother Fortuné, who lived in Aix , used to visit him each month, if at all possible, but the other members of the family visited him rarely.
Eugène had the highest esteem and the deepest love for his father, who, for all intents and purposes was his tutor, especially in literature. He wrote 39 letters to him from 1799 and 1800 while he was still with the Cannizzaro family at Colli and some 70 letters from 1802 to 1807. The correspondence came to an end due to the continental blockage by the English. It took up again from 1813 to 1820 with 36 letters.
On October 20, 1820, Father de Mazenod wrote to Father Tempier at Notre-Dame du Laus: “You know my dear friend, the grief which has come to me lately and the circumstances pertaining to it. I will not speak to you thereof so as not to be tempted to expatiate on such a subject which would be inexhaustible. My sole consolation is to think that it is not possible to have on earth greater assurance of the salvation of a soul. I nurture this thought while praying from the depths of my heart for this excellent father who left us an heroic example of faith patience, humility, resignation, confidence in God, devotion to the Blessed Virgin, fortitude, etc. What a fine end to his life! But what martyrdom for the poor son whom God called to be with him to face death!” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 54, p. 69-70)
On October 10, 1838, Bishop de Mazenod wrote a similar page on the edifying death of his father. He ended the passage with these words: “One day [p. 22] I shall be able to enter into greater detail. Let me say further, for the edification of those who wish to pass it on, that he confided to me that there had never been a single day when he did not invoke the Blessed Virgin and that he had never read a book contrary to religion, and nevertheless his youth had been quite a stormy one. Oh holy faith! What a treasure you are for the soul that cherishes you!” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 19, p. 216)
Charles Louis Eugène de Mazenod, uncle of Eugène, was born in Aix on May 30, 1750. In March of 1765, he volunteered for service in the navy, was promoted to ensign on a vessel on October 1, 1773, lieutenant on March 13, 1779 and major of the vessel on December 16, 1786. In 1765, at fifteen years of age, at Toulon, he shipped out on the frigate La Chimère and traveled continuously until 1791. Among other things, he travelled as far as Île de France (Mauritius) in 1773. He took part in the American war of independence when hostilities on the high seas began on June 17, 1778.
It was in the company of his uncle Louis that Eugène left Aix for Nice on April 20, 1791. Louis followed his brothers to Turin, Venice, Naples and Palermo and returned to France with them December 27, 1817. In Palermo, he married Antonia Vita (1762-1827). Upon his return, Louis obtained from the government of Louis XVIII a retirement pension and the rank of rear admiral. He died in Marseilles on February 24, 1835 at 85 years of age.
In his diary entry of February 1, 1838 Bishop de Mazenod noted that he bought a plot in the cemetery of Marseilles to bury his uncle, the chevalier. He added: “We all have the option to let ourselves be buried in this plot of land.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 19, p. 37) On May 25, 1855, he wrote to Father Courtès that he would soon have transferred into the vault of the Oblates in the cemetery of Aix “the bodies of our holy Fathers Mie and Gibelli who have been laid to rest in the plot of my uncle the chevalier, whose remains I will transfer as well.”
Charles Fortuné de Mazenod, Eugène’s uncle, bishop of Marseilles from 1823 to 1837. Eugene always held him in high regard and loved him. He lived with him during the period of emigration, at Aix from 1818 to 1823 and then at the bishop’s palace from 1823 to 1840. See article: Fortuné de Mazenod.
Charles Eugène de Mazenod, founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and bishop of Marseilles from 1837 to 1861. See article: Charles Eugene de Mazenod.
Charlotte Eugénie Antoinette de Mazenod, sister of Eugène, was born at Aix on October 31, 1785. She emigrated to Italy with her mother in June of 1791 and returned to France with her mother in 1795. Eugene was happy to see her again when he himself returned to Aix at the end of 1802. On January 22, 1803, he wrote to his father that he sometimes got into arguments with Eugénie, but he acknowledged that “she is intelligent enough. She is quite deficient, however, in terms of education. I do hope finally that she will learn that it is not sufficient for a well-born woman to know merely how to sew. I would also like to see in her lofty sentiments. If she were more teachable, she would be a good-natured girl. I love her deeply and she loves me as well.”
On November 21, 1808, Eugénie married Armand Natal de Boisgelin to whom she bore five children only two of whom survived. See: Boisgelin Armand Natal and family.
Eugène was always very close to his sister. He wrote her at least 25 letters and often went to visit her at Aix from 1823 to 1861. In April-June of 1842, he made a long trip into northern Italy with her and his niece Césarie to take their minds off the death of Louis de Boisgelin, Césarie’s Jesuit brother. (letters to Father Tempier, Oblate Writings I, vol. 9, p. no. 761-766, p. 210-226) He suffered as much as she did from the death of three of her five children and rejoiced as much as she did when Césarie married Charles de Damas in 1845 and when Eugène married Angélique de Sallony in 1848.
Eugénie died at her daughter Madame de Damas’ castle of Cirey (Haute-Marne) on August 20, 1867 and was buried in Aix on the 27th of the same month.
Madame Charles Antoine de Mazenod, born Marie Rose Eugénie de Joannis, mother of Eugène, was born in Aix on May 29, 1760. On February 3, 1778, she married Charles Antoine and bore him three children. In December of 1890, the Revolution compelled the president to go into exile in Nice. His son and his brother, Charles Louis joined him at the end of April 1791; then, in June Madame de Mazenod and Eugénie joined them. After a few years in Turin and Venice, Madame de Mazenod and Eugénie returned to France in 1795. In 1801, she pressured the president to send Eugene back to France. Eugene arrived back in Aix at the end of October 1802.
Charles Antoine de Mazenod (GA).
Rose Eugénie de Mazenod (GA).
Having gotten used to living in Palermo with three men who gave him considerable freedom, initially, Eugene suffered at Aix, surrounded by his mother, his aunt Dedons and his grandmother, Joannis. These were ladies who loved deeply, but with a love that “was of the possessive type; overgenerous in reprimands and advice, picayune in prohibitions and orders autocratic and rather narrow-minded.” (LEFLON, Jean, vol. I, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, o.m.i., p. 250) In a February 16, 1803 letter to President de Mazenod, Eugene describes his mother as follows: It seems she is afflicted by an acrid humour in her blood “because when she takes baths, she feels better. What causes her a great deal of difficulty as well is her extreme excitableness. The smallest thing sets her worrying and any kind of anxiety is harmful to her. She runs; she comes and goes, up and down, always as if she was a fifteen-year-old. She would like to do everything herself and, when she is upset, she suffers. The next day, she is fine and then she starts all over again. There she is at the country house, the paddock, the cellar, the attic. To tell the truth, sometimes it is impossible not to laugh. Everybody is giving her advice...”
Subsequently, Eugene got to know his mother better and he showed her continuously his attachment and his love. He avoided contradicting her and reasoned very gently with her as was the case of his priestly vocation in 1808 and of that of Louis de Boisgelin in 1837.
He wrote her about 100 letters from 1799 to 1812 and about 200 from 1813 to 1851. From 1823 to 1851, he used to visit her frequently in Aix or invited her every year to spend some time at the bishop’s palace in Marseilles. He mentioned her in all his letters to his father and then in his letters to Father Courtès, superior of the Oblates in Aix.
Mrs. de Mazenod died at Aix at 95 years of age as a result of an inflammation of the mucous membranes during the night of 17-18 December, 1851. In a December 29 letter to Bishop Guibert, Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “My dear Friend, I should myself have been the one to tell you of the dreadful loss I have just suffered, but you will readily understand what prevented me. My dear mother was taken from us in the fullness of her strength, without having spent a single day in bed, with no fever, no death throes, one could even say without having been ill unless you count a cold that persisted for some days as an illness in one who is of advanced age. Again, if only the doctor had treated it as a catarrh, but no, he diagnosed it as a mere cold and treated it with a little herbal infusion, though he should have prescribed an emetic to break up the phlegm which was tending to solidify and help her to bring it up. That is what choked this saintly mother while we thought she was quietly asleep, I only had time to give her absolution and receive her last breath. I am still numbed by it [...]”
“Of course I am resigned to God’s will, I would be quite unworthy of my saintly mother were it otherwise, but my cup of grief is full, and I cannot console myself at having no longer before me this accomplished model of all the Christian virtues personified in my own mother, so worthy of my love and veneration. However, God in his goodness continues to give me a kind of consolation that moves me deeply, that is to say, the concern demonstrated by everyone and which, seeing what kind of people they are who to my great astonishment are showing it from every part of France, can be looked on as a kind of canonization [...]”
“And so while I knelt beside her bedside and watched over her until the moment when I had to tear myself away, I gazed upon her sleeping form and as before a relic I prayed to her and I felt that from my prayer there was reawakened in me the desire and will to become better so as the more to resemble her who was the first to teach me to love God. If you but knew to what pitch of perfection she carried virtue. You know some of it. Well, let me tell you that she placed no limits to her charity, and that was no longer a matter of giving out of superfluity to the poor and to good works but all her income went on that...” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1094, p. 66-68)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate General Archives in Rome. Diary and correspondence of Bishop de Mazenod and two Boisgelin Papers, the one that used to be found in the archives of the postulation (FB) and the one that was housed in the Boisgelin manor in Aix, given to the Oblates in 1996 (MJ I-XII). We find there thousands of letters of members of the de Mazenod and Boisgelin family. We also find there many other letters of the family in the Boisgelin Papers of the Méjanes Library in Aix and in the Saint-Martin-de-Pallières castle in the Var.
BEAUDOIN, Yvon, o.m.i., “Le retour d’exil des Mazenod en 1818. Correspondance entre le président Charles Antoine et le chanoine Fortuné de 1818 à 1820” in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1986), p. 411-446; 48 (1989), p. 443-466.
DAVIN, Emmanuel, “Le contre-amiral Charles Louis Eugène de Mazenod” in Études oblates, (1962), p. 267-269.