The seminary of Aix was founded about 1583 by Archbishop Canigiani, a few years after the decree of the Council of Trent dealing with the setting up of seminaries. However, it was Cardinal Grimaldi who in 1656-1659 had the Major Seminary built on Matheron street, which later became Seminary Street.
Diocesan priests ran the seminary until 1790. It was closed and confiscated in 1794 and then restored to the diocese in 1802. Bishop de Cicé reopened the seminary in 1803 and called upon Father Roux, a Sulpician, formerly superior of the seminary of Avignon, to be its director. In 1804, staffing of the seminary was entrusted to the Sulpicians. Father Barthélemy Dalga was the superior until his death in 1829.
After his return to France in 1802, in two letters to his father, Eugene mentioned the seminary. March 29, 1804, he wrote: “We are going to establish a seminary. We have brought from Avignon Father Roux, a most worthy man, who will be the director.” And on November 1, 1805, he added: “Our seminary is holding its own. Presently, there are about fifty good subjects.”
At the beginning of his priestly ministry in 1813, Abbé de Mazenod dedicated some of his time to the seminary. He wrote to his friend Charles de Forbin-Janson on April 9, 1813: ‘I go twice a month to the seminary and try, by the regularity of my conduct, to do no dishonour to the character with which the Lord is his infinite mercy has seen fit to invest me.” (Spiritual Writings 1812-1856, Oblate Writings I, vol. 15, no. 116, p. 49) The following May 12, he spoke at length about what he is doing there. He founded an association of piety and gave it a rule modeled on the Aa of the seminary in Paris.” Nothing could be more consoling than to see how this house progresses since this useful foundation; as everybody was aware, it had fallen into an alarming laxity. It is not that there was anything against morals, but piety, and especially the spirit of piety, had, it seems, been banished from the house along with those who had tried to inspire it. Since the setting up of the Association, there has been a complete about-face. […] Hike-days are like retreats; […] You would have to see how their meetings are spent: the humility, charity with which they accuse themselves and make amends, the zeal that is expended there to correct one another and help others improve, the feelings of gratitude towards the Lord with which they are all filled, for having procured them so efficacious a means of salvation. Finally, I assure you that I never leave these little meetings without feeling filled myself with the desire of my perfection by the odour exhaled by the example of these angels. […]” (Spiritual Writings 1812-1856, Oblate Writings I, vol. 15, no. 119, p. 54-55)
After having founded the Missionaries of Provence, Father de Mazenod no longer mentioned his activities at the seminary, but in 1816-1817, he sent students to follow courses there. These students were more numerous in 1817-1818 and, from Paris where he had gone in view of obtaining legal recognition of the Congregation, he wrote a long letter to Father Tempier on November 4, 1817. In this letter he outlined a detailed rule for the students who attend the seminary every day. This manner of proceeding continued, it seems, until the opening of the seminary at Marseilles in 1827. That year, the scholastic brothers were summoned to Le Calvaire and followed courses at the seminary whose direction had been entrusted to the Oblates.
Among the thirty or so Oblates who joined the Congregation before the autumn of 1827, fifteen were natives of the diocese of Aix and several had studied at the major seminary of that city. After that, there were few seminarians from Aix who joined the Congregation. The first was Jean Antoine Bernard. This future apostle of the Good Mother of Marseilles, entered the novitiate in July of 1831 after having studied philosophy and theology at the major seminary of Aix where he was infirmarian and cared for the superior, Father Dalga, until his death.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.