Shortly after his arrival in Marseilles as vicar general of the diocese in 1823, Father de Mazenod noticed that many Italian immigrants were deprived of spiritual help because of a lack of priests to minister to them in their own language. He resolved to take this matter in hand and gathered them in the church at Le Calvaire which, shortly before, had been entrusted to the Missionaries of Provence. He then put in charge of this work the Oblates of Italian origin: Fathers Dominique Albini from 1828 to1835; Étienne Semeria from 1835 to 1839; Antoine Rolleri from 1839 to 1847; and 1853 to 1860; Charles Pianelli from 1847 to 1853 and Joseph Zirio from 1860 to 1881. Subsequently, the directors were Fathers Léonard Gallo from 1882 to 1918; Jean Lingueglia and Pierre Centurioni from 1918 to 1921; and Joseph D’Eramo from 1921 to 1946.

The Italian consul informed the King of Sardegna of this Oblate ministry. In 1827, he honoured them by bestowing upon their Superior General the distinction of the Royal Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus. In 1836, the king, Charles Albert bestowed upon Bishop de Mazenod the title of commander; and subsequently, the King Victor Emmanuel II bestowed upon him the title of grand officer in 1855.

For a long time, ministry to the Italians was a major work of the priests at Le Calvaire because there were large numbers of Italians in Marseilles. In 1873, there were about 40,000 Italians; in 1889, there were 80,000 and 150,000 in 1918. The chapel for the Italians remained open during the periods of the expulsion of the religious in 1880 and 1903. The ministry hung in the balance before and during the 1939-1945 war. The chapel was decommissioned in 1953. Ministry to the Italians was entrusted to the Salesians and to the Missionaries of Saint Charles in various locations in the city.

Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.