Born at Manosque (Hautes-Alpes), June 12, 1768.
Ordination to the priesthood at Nice, June 18, 1791.
Consacration as bishop at Issy, July 6, 1823.
Died at Gap, March 27, 1836.
François Antoine Arbaud was born at Manosque, June 12, 1768. He was ordained to the priesthood in Nice on June 18, 1791. He then sought refuge in Rome and Bologna during the Revolution and returned to France in 1797. He was parish priest at Villeneuve from 1802 to 1809, professor at the major seminary of Digne from 1809 to 1811 and vicar general for Bishop Miollis from 1811 until his appointment as bishop of Gap on January 13, 1823. Bishop de Latil, bishop of Chartres, consecrated him bishop in the seminary chapel of Issy on July 6 of that year.
The former diocese of Gap, suppressed during the Revolution, was restored by the concordat of 1817 and given its first titular bishop in 1823. When the Missionaries of Provence founded their second house at Notre-Dame du Laus in 1819-1820, this shrine was still under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Digne, subsequently restored to the diocese of Gap in 1823. Bishop de Mazenod and his religious got to know Bishop Arbaud as vicar general of Digne from 1818 to 1823, this as bishop of Gap until 1836.
Bishop Bienvenu de Miollis, a native of Aix, knew Father de Mazenod well. In 1818, he acquired a house situated near Notre-Dame du Laus in view of entrusting it to the Missionaries of Provence who would then take on the pastoral responsibility of the shrine and would carry out their preaching ministry. It was Abbé Arbaud who communicated this news to the Founder in August of 1818: The Founder answered him on August 23: “If you think that the plan you have thought of might gain some glory for God and contribute to the salvation of souls, I am totally disposed to offer myself for all the arrangements…” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 13, no. 16, p. 25)
This invitation seemed to be a key turning point in the Founder’s projects. He had only foreseen having one house to evangelize Provence. He immediately consulted his companions who gave their consent to the second house. It was at this period in September that Father de Mazenod left for Saint-Laurent in order to write up the Rule. He then went to Digne to give an affirmative response to Abbé Arbaud and to Bishop Miollis. He also visited Notre-Dame du Laus. Upon his return, at the General Chapter of October 24, the missionaries bound themselves by religious vows.
In 1825, bearing letters of recommendation from bishops of dioceses where his priests had preached, Father de Mazenod left for Rome with the goal of obtaining pontifical approbation for the Rule. In January of 1826, a surprise! He learned that Bishop Arbaud had sent to Rome a letter and a memoire, countersigned by the archbishop of Aix and the bishop of Digne asking the Holy See not to approve the Congregation. Bishop Arbaud thought that this would be imposing limitations on the bishop’s authority. Fortunately, the intervention on the part of these bishops, known gallicans, had the opposite effect on Bishop Marchetti, an effect contrary to what Bishop Arbaud wanted and not what Father de Mazenod feared.
As a result and in the years that followed, Bishop Arbaud was a cause of much concern to the Founder and to Father Guibert, the superior at Notre-Dame du Laus. In 1829, he dismissed from his seminary the professors he judged were not sufficiently dedicated to gallicanism. On January 16, 1829, the Founder wrote to Father Tempier: “Judge what he intends to do with us whom he considers so ultramontane!” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 321, p. 173)
In 1832 and 1833, Bishop Arbaud asked to have Father Guibert changed. He accused him of attracting too many vocations, judged him to be a disciple of Lamennais and his missionaries, according to the bishop, had lax standards in morals. In answer, Bishop de Mazenod, then Bishop of Icosia, wrote Bishop Arbaud a letter on February 20, 1833 stating that Father Guibert had been slandered and that “A model of obedience, he has scrupulously obeyed everything,… This excellent priest is not only mentally gifted, but eminently virtuous and because of that, should be precious to a Bishop like yourself.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 13, no. 81, p. 102-103) Then, Father Guibert took the initiative. He wrote a long letter of explanation to the Bishop and traveled to Gap to make peace with him. On March 25, 1833, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to the superior of Laus: “I admired the means you employed to bring this difficult man to a more reasonable frame of mind…” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 444, p. 82)
In spite of his gallican and jansenist tendencies, Bishop Arbaud was a zealous bishop. Bishop de Mazenod held him in high regard and used to meet with him once a year when he went to Notre-Dame du Laus. But his memories of him are not flattering. In a June 8, 1836 letter to Father Courtès, after the death of Bishop Arbaud and at a time when the archbishop of Aix was creating problems for the Oblates, Bishop de Mazenod wrote: “Providence wishes our growth to take place in the midst of tribulations. Hardly do we begin to draw breath on one side than we are fired on from the other side. Let us bide our time; you know quite well what we had to put up with for several years in the diocese of Gap. the Bishop, while protesting all the while his esteem for each of the members of the Congregation which had done and was still doing so much good in his diocese, used every means to discredit and ruin it. He acknowledged the susperior’s merit and wrote me letter after letter for his recall, because, he said, he was too brilliant for his mountains, and because he enjoyed the esteem of all, which made him all the more of a threat. At a loss how to make them lose their patience, he reduced their faculties in that shrine where the affluence of pilgrims and the reasons that brought many of their number to the feet of the Holy Virgin cried out for unlimited faculties. The Prelate cloaked the harm he was doing us so badly that he let slip the remark one day that he would have several interesting pages devoted to him in our history. Anyway through patience things had already begun to change before his death.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 576, p. 235-236)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.