Legislation in this Regard
Articles 15, 16 and 17 of the second chapter of the 1818 Rule forbade occupations that would divert the Missionaries of Provence from their main end: evangelization of the poor. Among these occupations we find the direction of seminaries, acting as parish priests, etc. We know that, later on, the Founder was called upon to make exceptions; the first of these exceptions had to deal with seminaries. After his appointment to the see of Marseilles, Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod was looking for directors for his diocesan seminary. He contacted several congregations, but also considered the Missionaries of Provence. That is why, it seems, that in the General Chapter of 1824, one capitulant suggested that article 16, chapter two, be modified. The capitulants decided to retain the prohibition of all ministries that would distract the missionaries from their main end, but still acknowledged that seminary work was not that kind of work and, as a result, it “would not be forbidden, if need arose, to take on the direction of ecclesiastical houses.” The Founder agreed to write this modification into the rule as not being contradictory to the spirit of the institute.
In manuscript IV of the Rule which Father de Mazenod took to Rome with him, article 23 restates unchanged article 16 of the first manuscript of 1818. However, in the 1826 text approved by Rome and published in 1827, direction of seminaries is not mentioned as one of the ends of the Congregation, but it was not excluded either. In his petition addressed to Pope Leo XII on December 8, 1825, and in the note which accompanied it, this apostolate is indicated as one of the ministries suggested by the bishops and that the Oblates are engaged in. The brief, Si tempus umquam by which Leo XII approved the Rule on March 21, 1826, mentioned the direction of seminaries as a secondary end of the institute.
At the 1837 Chapter, August 4-8, the capitulants voted unanimously the following decree: “In the second chapter of our Rule. a paragraph will be added concerning the direction of major seminaries.” This decree was not followed up. That is why, in the 1850 Chapter, it was already acknowledged in the first session of August 26 that additions to the Rule had become necessary. A commission was appointed to this effect. On August 31, the Chapter announced the statements with regard to seminaries. It excluded the accepting of colleges and of minor seminaries and suggested that the following points be developed in the paragraph of the Rule dealing with major seminaries: “1. The importance of this ministry is in harmony with the general end of the institute which is to work for the sanctification of souls, a ministry which the Sovereign Pontiff Leo XII formally mentioned in his apostolic letters of approbation; 2. Requirements for the directors with regard to virtue and knowledge; 3. Relations of the directors with the diocesan authorities and the clergy; 4. Relations of the directors with the students with regard to prayer life, instruction and direction; 5. Duties of the directors as religious; 6. Internal administration. Superior’s council, how it is made up, manner of voting.” At the end of the session, the Chapter issued a statement worded as follows: “ The decree of the 1837 Chapter which treats of the direction of major seminaries will be put into force; it will be drawn up in conformity with the report on this subject and adopted by the Chapter.” In the second edition of the Rule published in 1853, the third chapter is divided into two paragraphs. The first is entitled: “Concerning the direction of seminaries in general” and is made up of 15 articles; the second, “Concerning major seminaries as such” is made up of 33 articles.
Oblate Major Seminaries in France at the Time of the Founder
After having appealed in vain to the Sulpicians, the Lazarists, and the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod entrusted the direction of the seminary of Marseilles to the Oblates in 1837. They were released from this service in 1862 when Bishop Cruice, the successor of Bishop de Mazenod, took office.
The Founder gladly accepted this ministry which, for all intents and purposes, replaced one of the secondary ends foreseen in the 1818 Rule: clergy reform. Upon arriving in Marseilles in 1823, the de Mazenods found a rather undisciplined clergy as a result of more than twenty-five years of the absence a resident bishop. Father de Mazenod tried, no doubt in too rapid and energetic a fashion, to reform the less edifying portion of the clergy and became aware of the difficulty of such an undertaking. He was viewed with mistrust, criticized, slandered and disliked by the clergy of Marseilles. He learned that it was easier to do a good job of forming the up-and -coming clergy rather than to reform the old clergy. That is why he accepted the direction of the seminary of Marseilles in 1827, of Ajaccio in 1834, of Fréjus in 1851, of Romans in the diocese of Valence in 1853 and of Quimper in 1856.
However, the Oblates had difficulty following the Founder’s lead on this point. He always had problems finding seminary professors and directors among his Oblates. The Oblate seminary personnel changed often and did not always meet the expectations of the bishops. That is the reason why the seminaries of Romans and Quimper were abandoned in 1857. The Oblates remained at Fréjus from 1851 until their expulsion in 1901. It was at the major seminary of Ajaccio that the Oblates did their finest work and were the most appreciated. They remained as directors of this seminary from 1835 until it closed in 1952. (See the articles: Ajaccio and Fréjus, Marseilles, major seminary, Romans and Quimper)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.