This saintly bishop of Marseilles, canonized in 1995, went through twelve difficult youthful years as a result of his exile, which was provoked by the French Revolution. However, at twenty-five, facing the crucifix on a certain Good Friday, he felt seized by the Saving Christ, and from that moment on he remained “passionately for Jesus Christ and unconditionally for the Church” according to the expression used by Pope Paul VI.
We can ask ourselves what influence his family had on him. In spite of the disparity in ages between his father and mother, and in spite of the considerable differences in their education and culture, the Lord allowed their son Eugene to draw from each of them the special benefit of an appropriate personality suited for the future founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. This benefit included love of the poor, and an abundant charity. As the Fathers of Vatican II stated: “The germ of a priestly vocation is nourished by the prayer of the family, its example of Faith and support.”
“He has sent to evangelize the poor”
This is the motto that the Founder gave to his congregation, in 1816. From his tender youth, little Eugene had been trained to a kind of poverty suited to his age, and to the situation of a noble family of Provence. He was hardly six years old when he was touched by the apparent distress of a neighboring family. He hastened to bring them firewood in his small wheelbarrow! He didn’t allow his money-box to become full. He often emptied it for the poor. He even went so far as to change clothes with a small poor beggar, the son of a collier. When his mother reprimanded him for such an action by saying: “Do not forget that you are the son of the President of the Court of Accounts.” He immediately replied: “Well then, I’ll be the president of the colliers.” These words and actions demonstrated that even in a family that regularly employed twelve domestics, education in poverty could find an attentive ear and a well-disposed heart.
“I have a sensitive and excessive heart”
In the personal view that he presented to his spiritual director, on entering the major seminary in 1808, this characteristic was a very good reflection of his personality. Eugene was a “man of heart”. He loved passionately, as he himself admitted. He loved his family. “I am an idolater of my family… I would allow myself to be beaten with an axe for certain of its individuals… I would give my life for them without hesitation” he once wrote. This tendency of love for his family was equally manifested in behalf of the children of his religious family, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. His most ardent desire was to see them love one another as brothers. This intent was so profound within him that he inscribed it in his spiritual testament. On his deathbed, May 21, 1861, to a few Oblates by his side awaiting a parting instruction from their venerated father, Bishop de Mazenod repeated three times, as if to be well understood: “Charity, charity, charity”.
As for him, every time one of his own passed away, he would experience a deep sorrow. Sixty-eight Oblates died during his forty-five years at the head of the Congregation (1816 to 1861). When speaking of Texas, where four Oblates died in a few months, he exclaimed: “Cruel Mission, what dreadful injuries you are inflicting upon my soul.”
Well before Vatican II, Bishop de Mazenod was convinced that his religious family constituted a Church of service, or a miniature Church, that it to say a living image of the very mystery of the Church, whose members are subject to death, but are also promised to the final resurrection.
André DORVAL, OMI