1. Personnel of the House
  2. Seminarians and Scholastics
  3. Intellectual and Ecclesiastical Formation
  4. Assessment. Departure of the Oblates

The diocese of Marseilles had a flourishing seminary which the Lazarist Fathers directed from 1648 to 1791. The French Revolution suppressed the diocese and closed the seminary.

When Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod, the first bishop of the reestablished diocese, arrived in 1823, he was greeted by 24 seminarians who were receiving their training at Aix. In December of the same year he transferred them to Marseilles where an interim seminary was opened, first on the rue Rouge, then at St-Just; it was under the direction of diocesan priests.

After Father François de Paule Henry Tempier had been appointed Vicar General in 1823, he was put in charge of constructing a new seminary building on the rue Rouge. This building housed the seminary from 1827 to 1862; it was afterwards torn down to free the areas around the new cathedral.

Once the seminary had been located in these new quarters, the Bishop also wanted to provide it with a new team of directors. His preference was to put religious priests in charge of it, for he felt that this would ensure greater unity of doctrine and formation. He approached the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, then the Sulpicians and the Lazarists, but without any success. In the end he entrusted the direction of his seminary to his diocesan missionaries, namely, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

For several years Father de Mazenod had been readying himself to accept an apostolic work like this. The 1818 Rule had excluded this kind of ministry so that the missionaries would be entirely free to dedicate themselves to the preaching of parish missions. But the 1824 General Chapter already decreed that from henceforth “it was no longer forbidden to take on the direction of ecclesiastical houses.” In the new edition of the Rule (1825-1826), clergy reform remained one of the ends of the Congregation, though the direction of seminary was not explicitly mentioned. However, in Father de Mazenod’s December 8, 1825 petition to the Holy Father and in the papal Brief Si tempus umquam by which Leo XII approved the Rule on March 21, 1826, the direction of seminaries was mentioned as a secondary aim of the Institute.

Thus the Founder saw no juridical impediment to his accepting the Marseilles seminary. The increased number of Oblate personnel in 1826-1827 enabled him to found a new community there, the fourth in the Congregation.

Personnel of the House
A school’s worth is directly porportionate to the quality of its teachers. In 1827 there were some fifteen Fathers in the Congregation and none of them had made any studies that would have prepared them to teach in a major seminary. Still, Father de Mazenod could count on two men whom he trusted very much. They were both rather young but devoted religious and endowed with much talent: Father Tempier, who was the Superior of the House for 27 years and Father Charles Dominique Albini taught moral theology there from 1827 to 1835. The two or three other directors, who were always chosen from among the best Oblates, were more frequently replaced.

It is not easy to discern the precise criteria that for a long period of time guided Father de Mazenod in choosing the directors. In fact, it was only the General Chapter of 1850 that composed a part of the Rule that concerns seminaries, in which part the qualities required for this task were for the first time formulated. We can suppose, however, that that Chapter text expressed what experience had taught up to that time. Article 3 required four basic qualities of heart and spirit: an acute intelligence, a mature and reflective character, strong upright judgment and an enlightened piety. Article 4 then mentioned two professional qualities: the first is in the intellectual domain and consists of being able to expound clearly the knowledge one has acquired through work and study; the second is of the moral order, namely, habitual good example and regularity.

From 1827 to 1862 the seminary had only two Superiors, namely, Fathers Tempier and Joseph Fabre; but that same period saw forty-three directors pass through the seminary: on the average each served there for two or three years.

During this same period of time no single director had made any higher studies outside of Marseilles. Some of them, however, had been inscribed in the “Great Course”, a program of studies from 1846 onwards that lasted for one or two years and was designed for the young Fathers in view of training men who would be good “for a truly apostolic preaching and, if need be, for the teaching of theology” (1850 General Chapter).

Besides Father Albini, several other directors were looked upon by the Founder and his contemporaries as persons who, if not saints, were nevertheless men of great virtue. Such were Fathers Pierre Nolasque Mie, Alexandre Pons, Charles Bellon, Boniface Gourdon and Antoine Mouchette, etc. Several others later held important positions, such as Jacques Jeancard, who became auxiliary bishop of Marseilles, Eugène Guigues and Jean-François Allard, later bishops of Ottawa and of Natal respectively, Joseph Fabre, afterwards Superior General, Casimir Aubert, Aimé Martinet and Jean-Joseph Lagier, later Assistants General, Charles Bellon, Achille Rey and Joseph-Vincens Roullet, who became provincials.

When he accepted the direction of this seminary, the Founder no doubt had in mind the good that would result therefrom, namely, raising the intellectual level within the Congregation. Article 7 in the paragraph of the Rule on seminaries expresses this objective in these words: “Our Congregation would gain considerably if some Fathers who had dedicated themselves for many years to the formation of clerics were assigned to other Houses in view of the greater promotion of doctrine and regular observance.”

Admittedly, the greater number of directors accepted this task only out of obedience. Nearly all of them wanted to be preachers and missionaries. With reason, therefore, the Founder and the few Capitulars of 1850 who were to formulated the articles of the Rule on seminaries sought to underline the greatness of this work and its close link to the main end of the Institute. Article 1 reads: “After the missions, the most important work of our Congregation is undoubtedly the direction of seminaries, in which clerics receive their own special training. For it is in these seminaries, in the seclusion of God’s house, and under the protection of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, that formation is given to those who are to teach sound doctrine to the people, and to guide them along the way of salvation. In vain would the missionaries labor for the conversion of sinners, if the parochial clergy were not men filled with the Holy Spirit, earnestly following in the footsteps of the Divine Shepherd, and feeding with watchful and constant care, the sheep that have returned to Him…” This was an urgent invitation and effort to make it understood that professors were as much missionaries as were their brothers who were preaching, for by forming zealous priests professors were at least indirectly contributing to the maintaining and propagation of the faith.

Seminarians and Scholastics
The diocese of Marseilles was territorially at that time the smallest diocese in the whole of France, but its population during the years of 1826 to 1861 rose from 150,000 to 300,000. This population was almost entirely Catholic and was served in 1826 by 171 priests, most of them elderly, and by 378 in 1860. The number of seminarians which stood at 70 in 1827, dropped to some thirty after the Revolution of July in 1830, then slowly climbed to some forty between 1840 and 1850 and thereafter fluctuated between 60 and 80. The Oblates saw about 330 seminarians pass through their hands and the two de Mazenods ordained some 300 to the priesthood.

The seminary of Marseilles played an important role in the history of the Oblate Congregation, not only because it was the first seminary directed by the Oblates but also because it received the Oblate scholastics, first as day students from 1827 to 1830 and again from 1833 to 1835, and then as boarders from 1835 to 1854. They were few at first, but numbered between 20 and 40 during the years from 1835 to 1854. About 225 scholastics received at least part of their formation at the major seminary of Marseilles and between 1827 and 1854 some 209 were ordained to the priesthood by Bishops Fortuné and Eugene de Mazenod.

The program, drawn up by Father Tempier, was patterned on that of the Sulpicians. It included and regulated every portion of each day: prayer, classes, study, two recreations, a weekly excursion on foot; and there were three months of summer vacation, in their respective families for the seminarians and at the shrine of Notre-Dame de Lumières for the scholastics.

Father Tempier saw to the rigorous implementation of this program. However, as Father Fabre wrote, “his external austerity, necessary for the maintenance of discipline, did not impede, either for the professors or the students, the kind communications of fatherliness. Though inexorable in regard to infractions of the Rule, willful negligence and studied laziness, he was compassionate and tender in regard to the failings and weaknesses of youth, their suffering in illness and the trials that may beset a vocation” (Notice nécrologique du père Tempier, II, p. 94).

In spite of the Superior’s care and the long vacations, there occurred a number of deaths, something that was more frequent among youth in those days: 3 directors, 13 seminarians and 8 scholastics died, usually from tuberculosis.

Relationships between seminarians and scholastics were usually good. Nevertheless the priests of Marseilles sometimes felt that the seminary was run too much like a novitiate, and the Oblates would have preferred to see their scholastics better grouped together so as to promote community living and fraternal charity. The opening of the scholasticate at Montolivet in 1854 was greeted with joy by all concerned.

Intellectual and Ecclesiastical Formation
In his work on the Traditions of Saint Sulpice, J. H. Ricard writes that according to the Council of Trent and the founders of seminaries in France, the specific objective of major seminaries is not to form masters of doctrine but rather pastors who have been solidly instructed.

The Oblates attributed no other objective to the seminary of Marseilles. In his 1834 report on the scholasticate, Father Casimir Aubert states that he was aiming to provide a formation that was truly apostolic and intellectually limited. It does not seem that this ideal changed when better men and other means were more available. In fact, in 1851 Bishop de Mazenod was still recommending to the directors that they treat subject matters in the most elementary way possible and he invited Father Achille Rey to be a professor not in a university style but as a good religious who keeps God in mind in all that he does.

The seminary period usually comprised four years, one of philosophy and three of theology. Six hours a day were assigned to personal study. There were only two hours of class a day, and in them the professors did little else than offer a general commentary of the scholastic manuals that were then being used in France, such as Bouvier, for example, as well as Saint Thomas in dogma, Bailly and especially Alphonsus of Liguori in moral theology.

There were three areas, however, wherein the Oblates, encouraged thereto by the Founder and Fathers Tempier, Albini and Guibert, after 1827 took a different stand than that of the manuals. They taught the infallibility of the Pope, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and followed the moral theology of Alphonsus of Liguori. They also opposed every remnant of Jansenism and Gallicanism.

A course in sacred Scripture was given one hour a week over the four years and it comprised a good introduction to each biblical book plus a summary exegesis of major passages.

To the other main subject matters, the Oblates in 1844 added Church history, liturgy in 1848, canon law, patrology, eloquence and chant in 1853.

The Oblates especially emphasized formation to the ecclesiastical spirit and to parish ministry. While there was some progress from 1827 to 1861 in the the subject matters taught and the quality of the manuals used, the methods of spiritual and apostolic formation did not undergo any change. The directors followed the sulpician methods and the 17th and 18th century works of spirituality.

The majority of the articles of the seminary program state and explain the exercises of piety which were intended to initiate the students to piety and to provide them with the indispensable means for acquiring and growing strong in Christian and priestly virtues. For the clerics in major orders and the scholastics obliged to say the breviary, these exercises added up to nearly six hours daily.

As at Saint Sulpice, two devotions were particularly favored: to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, contemplated in his infancy and passion, but especially as living in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist; and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A few pious associations allowed the more fervent to satisfy their particular zeal. Such were, for instance, the one placed under the patronage of Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga whose aim was to nourish piety and to promote the generous impulse to be faithful in all ones duties; another in which the members pledged themselves to several hours of adoration at night; and finally one placed under the patronage of Saint Paul to which the scholastics and some seminarians belonged and which prayed for the conversion of sinners and unbelievers.

Following Bishop de Mazenod’s lead, the directors always manifested an interest in the liturgy and in chant and in preparation for the teaching of catechism and for preaching. They were especially concerned to develop the apostolic and missionary spirit, and invited the many missionaries passing through Marseilles to come and visit the seminary.

Bishop de Mazenod often came to the seminary and loved to converse informally with the students. He closely followed the call to sacred Orders. In this regard he wrote to Father Bellon on August 30, 1844: “Notify (the Oblates) in my name that I will not admit to Holy Orders those who do not give me the guarantee of solid piety and regularity proof against every test. I do not understand that people can bargain with the good Lord.”

Assessment. Departure of the Oblates
Except for some former students who dedicated their life to the sacred sciences, most of the clergy formed at the rue Rouge became humble and devoted pastors of souls whom the successors of Bishop de Mazenod greatly appreciated. In 1883 Father Rambert could write: “For 33 years the Oblates of Mary Immaculate formed Marseilles young clergy to practice the ecclesiastical and priestly virtues; the results testify to their devotedness and piety as much as to their competence.” (Rambert I, 479)

Several from among the Oblates formed at Marseilles became legendary men as apostles and missionaries, e.g. Bl. Joseph Gérard, the venerable Bishop Vital Grandin, Bishops Eugène Guigues, Étienne Semeria, Mathieu Balaïn, Louis D’Herbomez, Paul Durieu, Henri Faraud, Charles Jolivet, Fathers Charles Arnaud, Louis Babel, Henri Grollier, Nicolas Laverlochere, etc.

After the Founder’s death, his successor Bishop Patrice François Cruice, author and intellectual, and former director of the École normale ecclésiastique of Paris, wanted to entrust the seminary again to its former directors, the Lazarists: he saw the latter as better prepared for this kind of work than were the Oblates. A serious disagreement between him and Fathers Tempier and Fabre provided him with the opportunity to effect this change. The Bishop wanted everything that had belonged to his predecessor to be bequeathed to the diocese and was unwilling to concede that Bishop de Mazenod had also administered the goods of his own family and those of the Oblate Congregation.

The Marseilles clergy, though for a time caught up in supporting the new bishop’s reaction against the Oblates, did not long delay in manifesting their attachment and gratitude to the Congregation. Already on July 12, 1861 when the Oblates were dismissed from the seminary, some members of the Cathedral Chapter hastened to protest to their Bishop as follows: “The Fathers of this Congregation have […] trained, with few exceptions, all the members of your clergy. They have always done so with a wisdom, piety and devotedness that is unparalleled except by their profound modesty. And if it is true, as Your Lordship has several times assured us, that your clergy is second to none in knowledge and piety, the glory of that is largely due to the Oblate Fathers and it is to them that we attribute the honor that is being addressed to us.”

In a letter to Father Fabre, Father Célestin Augier on November 7, 1874 wrote that all the parish priests of the city had asked the Oblate Fathers to preach retreats and sermons for special occasions.

Several former students proved on occasion to be faithful defenders of the Congregation, especially the abbés Gondrand and Antoine Ricard. The latter expressed his gratitude in many works. In his 1892 biography of Bishop de Mazenod, he wrote: “The good missionaries, skilled from experience in the government of souls, formed with a wise and tender fatherliness, the clergy of Marseilles which was soon became known in the Church of France as a model” (p. 171).

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.