Secretary General of the Bishop’s House (1825-1837) and Vicar General of Marseilles (1838-1861)

Jean-Baptiste Marie Mathieu Cailhol was born in Marseilles on December 18, 1802. September 24, 1825, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod and, on October 4, he was appointed honorary canon and secretary general of the bishop’s house. He was already vice-secretary as of August 1823.

The secretary general was the only one, along with Jacques Jeancard, the bishop’s special secretary, who lived at the bishop’s house with the Mazenods. They knew him well and were friends of the family. On May 16, 1836, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Mille at Notre-Dame du Laus: “My very dear Son, instead of my visit you are going to have one from our dear friend Cailhol who is having a little trip by way of vacation. There’s no need for me to tell you to look after him. He is so much a part of my family that he should feel himself at home wherever we have a place.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 8, no. 569, p. 228)

On January 1, 1838, Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, recently made bishop of Marseilles, appointed him vicar general, a position which Mathieu held until the bishop’s death in 1861. In addition to his administrative work, the vicar general did a lot of spiritual direction. On the occasion of various cholera outbreaks, he distinguished himself by his dedication. Bishop de Mazenod presented him as a candidate for the cross of the Legion of Honour.

Relations between the two seem to have been good except in the summer of 1844. The vicar general no long came to the bishop’s house and contrived to avoid attending ceremonies presided by the bishop. The bishop wrote in his diary under the entry of July 2: “This is overweening insolence and madness. If the affection I have always felt for him – even though it is an affection that for a long time already he has not and perhaps never merited – did not prevent me from doing so, I would have no other choice than to withdraw his faculties as grand vicar and of depriving him of a position of the highest confidentiality which he no longer merits holding.” He wrote him a harsh letter, copied in his diary entry of July 3, which, however, he did not send. “My heart always rules in these kinds of affairs,” he wrote on July 8. That day, he summoned the vicar general to a meeting with Father Tempier and Canon Carbonnel, secretary of the bishop’s house, present.

Canon Cailhol had already confided to some friends that he had hoped to succeed Bishop Fortuné as bishop of Marseilles. Recently, he felt the Bishop showed little trust in him and, above and beyond that he had not appointed him brother Alban as secretary general of the bishop’s house to succeed Marc Cailhol who was ill. Bishop de Mazenod replied that Alban would remain at La Ciotat because, “I must put the interests of my diocese ahead of the interests that suit your family.”

After these clarifications, relations between the two returned to normal and Bishop de Mazenod acknowledged that he had always loved Mathieu like a son and that he is still open to render him the services “which are in my power to render.” On June 9, 1848, he wrote to Father Vincens to let him know of the pending visit of Canon Cailhol to Notre-Dame de l’Osier and he added: “I do not need to recommend to you that he be received as one of ours.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 977, p. 224) and to house well his ailing sister.

Later on, Bishop de Mazenod complained a few times that he was not receiving much help from his vicars general in the administration of the diocese (v. g., letters to Father Tempier, May 27, 1851, to Cailhol, August 12, 1857). In an August 6, 1860 letter to Bishop Guibert, he writes: “I am alone to look after the affairs of the diocese and of the Congregation. Father Tempier is usually at his perch at Montolivet […] Cailhol is constantly ailing, and has decided to go to the health resort. Carbonnel, the secretary general, afflicted with severe catarrh, has made off and is wandring from one countryside to another. My auxiliary [Bishop Jeancard] is suffering from a stubborn eye inflammation and has convinced himself he is about to lose his eyesight. Father Vincens, who could have given me a hand for the Congregation’s business, is covering the world with giving pastoral retreats. And so I am reduced to Father Fabre for both administrations…” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1458, p. 192)

Canon Mathieu Cailhol died at Marseilles on May 2, 1864.

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.