1. Mary in Eugene de Mazenod's Formation before his entry into the seminary
  2. Mary in Eugene de Mazenod's formation at the seminary of Saint Sulpice
  3. His first years of priesthood
  4. IV. Mary in the Spirituality of the Congregation according to the Founder
  5. V. Mary in the Community Life and the Apostolate of the Congregation
  6. Bishop de Mazenod and the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception
  7. The Superiors General and the Virgin Mary

Mary in Eugene de Mazenod’s formation before his entry into the seminary

Until 1791, Eugene’s formation took place mainly within his family. During the period which followed, i.e. his eleven years in exile, he met a number of different people and situations which left their mark on him and which he called “a continuance of creation”. [1]

HIS FAMILY (1782-1791)

Father Achilles Rey in his biography of Bishop de Mazenod speaks of Eugene being taught lessons “within his own family circle, at the school of his father, his mother and his worthy uncles” thanks to which, he adds, “we saw him practice the virtues of childhood to a high degree already”. [2]

However, contemporary documents teach us very little about the religious atmosphere of his family. We do know that recitation of the Office of the Blessed Virgin was Marie-Rose Joannis’ favorite prayer, but Eugene tells us nothing about the influence his mother had on him. Nor did his father give him a concrete example of Marian piety, even though he did have a “special” devotion to her and that he “never let a day pass without invoking her several times…even in the midst of his greatest dissoluteness”. [3]

IN VENICE (1794-1797)

In Venice, Eugene encountered Don Bartolo Zinelli who composed a rule of life for him in order to introduce him to the life of faith. [4] From the few excerpts still extant, we can see the plan laid out of a spiritual journey focused on Christ and Mary. [5] It was assuredly a case of practices of piety (Office of the Blessed Virgin, rosary, etc.), but an interior attitude as well through which Eugene was to unite his “acts of adoration with those of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary”. [6] His rule urged him to ask Mary to assist him in all his actions. Jesus was presented as one who had placed his entire confidence in Mary. Eugene was supposed to follow this example “in union with the sentiments of his adorable heart.” [7]

This rule does not present a cold piety. In it we read: “This will make up my morning exercise. Before leaving my bed room, I will turn toward the church and pray on bended knee, asking Jesus to bless me, saying to him: Jesu, fili David, non dimittam te, nisi benedixeris mihi. I will also turn towards the image of Mary and I will humbly beg her maternal blessing in these words of Saint Stanislaus: Mater vera Salvatoris, Mater adoptata [8]peccatoris, in gremio maternae tuae pietatis, claude me. Then, I will take some holy water; I will kiss my crucifix with respect in the place of the wounds and of the heart, and the hand of Mother Mary.” [9]

Taking into consideration Eugene’s age and temperament, these expressions filled with tenderness allowed him to engage his whole being in his spirituality. Indeed, they invited him to love Jesus and Mary with a genuine love, a sensitive, tender love capable of expressing itself even through external signs. [10] We know of no other written documents that could change our knowledge of Eugene’s Marian devotion in Venice. In the General Archives, there is, however, a painting of a boy kneeling before a statue of the Blessed Virgin holding Jesus in her arms. With hands folded, the child gazes into the eyes of the Blessed Virgin with an evident expression of confidence and simplicity. [11]

IN PALERMO (1799-1802)

At seventeen, Eugene arrived at Palermo where he stayed for four years. That is where he acquired his convictions concerning the Immaculate Conception and the Christocentric aspect of Marian devotion. While he was at the seminary and the question of the Immaculate Conception would arise, he would remember Palermo. In the margin of his notebook with regard to this dogma, on the page containing the testimony of tradition as given by his professor, the seminarian added: “The Archbishops of Palermo and all the officials of this great city renew every year the oath to shed the last drop of their blood to uphold this truth”. [12] His other memory deals with the feast known as “The Triumph of the Redemption”. In his Diary of Emigration, two pages are filled with the deion of the procession in which among the New Testament personages Mary is ever present beside Christ or associated with him. [13] It seems that Eugene was accustomed to seeing her in the perspective of salvation.

IN AIX (1802-1808)

We possess few documents from this period in order to be able to establish Mary’s place accurately in Eugene’s piety. It must be said, however, that even for an event as important as his “encounter” with Christ crucified on Good Friday we have only some twenty lines written a few years later. We do know that in 1805 Eugene considered the day of the Assumption not only a “great feast,” but that he started the day off by reciting Lauds from the Office of the Blessed Virgin in the church of Notre-Dame in Paris. [14]

Father Eugène Baffie and Father August Estève, the first Postulator of the Founder’s cause, state that upon his return from exile his favorite places where he went pray were the miraculous altar of Our Lady of Grace in the church of the Madeleine and the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Seds. [15] That is all we can say with certainty about the Marian piety of Eugene from 1802 to 1808. We do believe, however, that we perceive a lively sense of Mary’s presence, since from the beginning of his stay in Paris we find some strongly Marian passages among his writings. For example, six days after he entered the seminary he writes a letter to his grandmother in which he speaks with awe of “a feast which fills the seminary with its fragrance and is proper to it, it is the feast of the Interior Life of the Holy Virgin, that is to say of all the virtues and the greatest marvels of the Omnipotent. What a lovely feast! And how fully I am going to celebrate with the most holy Virgin all the great things God did in her! Oh, what an advocate at God’s side! Let us be dedicated to her; she is the glory of your sex. We profess that we wish to approach her Son only through her, and we look to receive everything from her holy intercession.” [16]

Mary in Eugene de Mazenod’s formation at the seminary of Saint Sulpice

October 12, 1808, Eugene entered the seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris. We now try to identify the Marian elements of the formation he received and his reaction with regard to the values set before him.


Jean-Jacques Olier, the founder of the seminary, developed a spirituality in which he stressed the fact that the priest is an alter Christus, [17]and therefore someone who follows Christ in everything, including his relation to Mary. One of the main driving forces that led M. Olier to a Marian devotion was “the desire of adopting the same sentiments as our Lord with regard to his Blessed Mother”. [18] That is why the Sulpicians were vigilant to see that every priest whom they trained could say: “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Mary was given to them as a model of this attitude since Christ lived in her in the fullest sense of the word. As a result, in the seminary spirituality, “to honor Mary” meant to contemplate in her the life of Jesus and to see to it that Jesus lived in us like he lived in Mary. The best expression of this Christocentric Marian spirituality seems to be the prayer O Jesu vivens in Maria [19]which was recited after meditation. We can say that the ideas which it contains constitute the essence of Sulpician Marian spirituality and this was the spirituality in which Eugene was formed.

The prayers recited every day also helped to make him advance along the path of formation through a continued presence of Mary. Almost all exercises began with the Veni Sancte and the Ave Maria and ended with the Sub tuum. [20]The rosary was recited in common every day. [21] Among the seven methods being used for preparation for communion and thanksgiving, there was found that of Saint Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort, under the title of “preparation with Mary”. It consisted in uniting oneself to Mary and invoking her aid and finally praying that she would stir up in her devotee sentiments similar to hers. [22] In the course of their day, the seminarians used to make a special visit to Mary. Eugene continued this pious practice after he had finished his studies.


We possess 1373 pages of Eugene’s class notes in his courses of Holy Scripture, Dogma, Moral Theology and Canon Law. The name of Mary appears in the treatise of the New Testament and in the one on sin. Among the one hundred and twenty-five pages dealing with the New Testament, about ten pages of notes are devoted to this subject. Mary is presented as being closely united to her Son. The virtues by which she is characterized are humility, a faith without the shadow of doubt and her attitude of meditating while keeping in her heart all that which she heard and saw with regard to her Son. [23] In spite of his admiration for the Blessed Virgin, the professor characterized Mary and Joseph as “unknown individuals” and “poor”. [24]

In the treatise on sin, the professor posed the question as to whether Mary had been preserved from all sin. While letting his students know Louis Bailly’s opinion [25] that “the Blessed Virgin sinned […] in Adam,” the professor clearly explained that Mary “was never touched by original sin”. [26] When Eugene was told that some men of genius like Saint Bernard and the Abbot Rupert opposed the Immaculate Conception, he observed: “What conclusion must we draw from this? That they failed to grasp the sense of tradition and that they made a mistake”. [27]


For Eugene, Mary is present and intimately united to the mystery of Christ. There lies the theme that often resurfaces in his writings. Christmas Day, 1808, he observed that Mary made her Son’s vexations her own. She “had to experience so vividly the poverty, weakness and misery to which she saw her Divine Master reduced for love of men […]”. [28] This idea reappeared the following year: “We intoned the litanies of the Blessed Virgin […] to include her in the triumph of her Son, she who had shared so much in the sorrows and torments of his passion”. [29] From the time of his entry into the seminary, Mary was present to Eugene as a concrete individual, a life companion “to whom,” he declared, “I dedicate myself in a special way”. [30]

On the reverse side of the first page of his first book of notes, the seminarian wrote: Ad maiorem Dei Laudem et gloriam, necnon Beatae Virginis Immaculatae. Sub auspiciis eiusdem Virginis sine labe originali conceptae […] ut isti et prae istis Mater Immaculata praesto mihi sint in difficili studiorum curriculo. [31]The day of his ordination to the subdiaconate, he asked that “by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin” God might receive the offering of his “freedom and his life”. [32] When he was preparing himself to receive the diaconate, he enjoined his mother to pray to the Lord to provide for his needs “through the intercession of his Holy Mother”. [33] After receiving the diaconate, he continued to invoke the Blessed Virgin’s help. [34] During his retreat in preparation for priestly ordination, he saw in Mary a model to imitate so as to learn to love God and an example of total gift of self. [35]

His first years of priesthood

Eugene was ordained to the priesthood on December 21, 1811, and at the beginning of January 1812, he began to carry out the responsibility of director at the Seminary of Saint Sulpice. In the conferences and homilies which he delivered at that time, he presents Mary as the Immaculate One, the Mother of God, “masterpiece of the Almighty.” He gave a few homilies dealing with the Assumption. [36]

In the autumn of 1812, he returned to Aix. Two incidents at that time show us how his life was influenced by the presence of Mary.


On April 25, 1813, Eugene founded the Association for Christian Youth, sixteen months after his ordination. The rules and statutes that he wrote are filled with Marian thinking.7 [37] From the very first lines, it is stated that the society in question is one “established under the intercession of the Immaculate Conception of the most Holy Virgin”. Eugene got his young people in the habit of seeing in Mary the Mother of Jesus and “ours as well”, a mother filled with tenderness, [38] who in virtue of this title desires “to cooperate in [our] salvation”. [39] In the Association, “public declaration was made to honor and love” [40] Mary with “unbounded filial tenderness”. [41] There is a clear idea of what love is: the trust that leads to a total surrender of oneself into the hands of the person who is loved. That is why it states that the association members “openly declare the most complete devotion [to Mary]”. [42] The highest point in this devotion to Mary is reached in the recommendation to “consecrate oneself […] to the Most Holy Trinity [..] through the intercession of the Mary Immaculate, the most holy Virgin”. [43] For Eugene, consecrating oneself “to the Most Holy Trinity” is the most basic way of following Mary, totally dedicated to the Trinity and available for the plan of salvation. On the other hand, consecrating oneself “through the intercession [of Mary]” is the fullest expression of our trust in her because this attitude is born of the certainty that the Holy Virgin will not keep us to herself, but will offer us to God! (Corinthians 3:21b-23).

The Rule sets forth a life-style both for the individual and for group activities. With regard to activities for the individual, he invites them to a daily recitation of Saint Bernard’s prayer: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary”, [44] and makes the suggestion that “in addition, frequently in the course of a day, they let fly some arrows of love toward her maternal heart by means of short but fervent aspirations”. [45] While calling upon them to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, he reminds them that “before leaving the church […] they should not forget to say a few prayers to the Blessed Virgin because the Mother must never be separated from her Son”. [46] In 1813 Eugene suggested that they should recite a decade of the rosary [47] and to fall asleep “in peace with the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their lips, but even more so in their hearts”. [48]

As a result, the presence of Mary permeated not only the days of the personal lives of the associates, but the time they spent together as well. Mary’s image was to be found on the Association’s coat of arms. [49] All exercises were brought to a conclusion by the following prayer recited in Provençal: “May Jesus Christ be praised and Mary, ever Immaculate, be praised as well together with her divine Son”. [50]

Meetings opened with the recitation of the Ave Maria and ended with the Sub tuum praesidium. The Rule bound the young people to recite the Divine Office in common every Thursday and Sunday: recitation of Matins and Lauds of the Blessed Virgin [51] and singing of Vespers of that same Office. Consequently, it would seem that Eugene had forgotten his Venetian spiritual master’s teaching: “Never too much, always well done”! It is clear that he wanted to imbue the activities and the day of his young people with the presence of Mary. [52]


According to oral tradition, on August 15, 1822 the statue of Mary, consecrated that day in the chapel at Aix, opened its eyes and nodded its head slightly in the direction of the Founder while he was in prayer before it. [53] The only contemporary witness of this event is found in a letter written the evening of the same day to Father Tempier by Father de Mazenod. Based on this text alone, it is not possible for us to affirm exactly what the statue did because the Founder does not gives us a deion of the visible incident, but rather of his own state of mind. Four different features can be distinguished: he grasped or was able to perceive the essential truth concerning Mary, the Congregation, himself and the external difficulties facing his Institute. 1. He, who from the beginning of his spiritual life considered Mary his Mother, achieved a deeper understanding of the meaning of this motherhood and what it meant “to place all his hopes in her”. 2. He saw the Congregation in an entirely new light “as it was in reality”. He perceived it as beautiful and “of service to the Church” [54]; 3. That day he internalized the call to holiness. He understood that he was to seek the cause of problems in the Congregation, not only in others or in historic circumstances, but also in himself; 4. Finally, with serenity, he looked realistically at the difficulties his young Institute was facing. He even saw “the obstacles […] as if drawn up in battle array” and became aware that an enemy wanted “to bring all efforts to naught”.

As we can see, the lack of any direct reference to an apparition and expressions like “I experienced”, “I found”, “I seemed to see; it seemed palpable”, along with the deep joy and the serene strength the Founder experienced seem to point to the fact that in this incident he experienced an interior vision expressed as “a smile” bestowed upon him by the Blessed Virgin. [55] In a moment of moral exhaustion when Father de Mazenod was experiencing more intensely the burden of the trials which were assailing the Congregation, this smile enabled him to find new strength to endure the more severe trials which the future would bring.

Expelled from France in 1903, the Oblates carried the statue of the “Virgin of the Smile” to Rome. It was placed above the main altar of the General House.

Mary in the spirituality of the Congregation according the Founder

The title of a religious congregation reflects its goals and the nature of its spirituality. Firstly we will examine the problems linked to the Congregation’s title, and secondly, the Marian aspect of the spirituality which distinguishes the Oblates’ community life and apostolate.


The first title borne by the Congregation was that of Missionaries of Provence. This name was no longer appropriate when the missionaries established a foundation beyond the borders of Provence and exercised their ministry there. Consequently, the name Oblates of Saint Charles was adopted. This may have been suggested by some members of the Society since Father de Mazenod wrote in this regard: “I must admit to you that I was quite surprised, when it was decided to take the name I had thought should be left aside, at being so impervious, at feeling so little pleasure, I would almost say a kind of repugnance, at bearing the name of a saint who is my particular protector, for whom I have so much devotion”. [56] The first document we know of which bears the title, Missionary Oblates of Saint Charles, is the letter of approbation of the Rules signed by Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod on May 8, 1825. [57]

Before the attending the audience granted by the Pope in 1825, Father de Mazenod made the decision to change the name of his religious family. He then made an addition to the petition prepared on December 8 [58] and he spoke about it to Pope Leo XII on December 20. The change, introduced at the last moment, could be indicative of a certain amount of hesitation on his part or of the instability of the project – factors which made pontifical approbation difficult, if not impossible.

What was the real motive behind this decision? Bishop Jacques Jeancard states that while in Rome the Founder learned that an association of diocesan priests founded in Milan in 1578 by Saint Charles Borromeo already bore this title. But this does not correspond with the truth since Father de Mazenod drew inspiration from the Rules of the Oblates of Saint Charles when he wrote the Rules of his Institute. [59] It has already been written that the desire to join up with Abbé Bruno Lanteri’s Oblates of the Virgin Mary had a role to play here. [60] What must be especially stressed is the fact that he prepared the petition for the Pope during the novena and octave of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated with solemnity in the Church of the Twelve Apostles near the house of the Lazarists where he had taken up residence. [61]

These are not the only motives involved. As Father Fernand Jetté stated, the title of a religious family usually expresses its nature, essence and function. [62] It really seems that the choice of the title “Missionary Oblates of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary” must have been the culmination of a new and deeper insight into the mission of the Congregation on the part of Father de Mazenod. He discovered Mary as the person who was the most committed to the service of Christ, the poor and the Church and saw her as the most comprehensive model of apostolic life as required by his Congregation. In the letter he began to write to Father Tempier on December 22, 1825, one is struck by two of his reflections: a certain fascination with the new title as well as a regret that he had not thought of it sooner. He seems to become aware of the fact that, even if he had always loved Mary, he had not yet understood the essential role she played in the plan of Redemption. In searching for the patron who best expressed the goal of his Congregation – that is a person walking in the footsteps of Christ, committed to the apostolate of service and to the instruction of the poor – he had not thought of Mary. While in Rome, he understood who Mary really was. The title of the Congregation was thus born from a discovery that, in order to respond in an authentic way to the urgent needs of the Church, its members should identify with Mary Immaculate “to offer themselves” to the service of God’s plan of salvation like she did.


Father de Mazenod did not choose the title of his Congregation because of a devotion on his part, but was moved rather by the desire that the identification of Oblates with Mary should be their life project. He expressed himself through two equivalent expressions: “It will be as glorious as it will be consoling for us to be consecrated to her in a special manner” [63] and “consecrated to God under the patronage of Mary”. [64] What we are dealing with here is much more than external gestures done out of habit of personal devotion, and more than the promotion of some practice of Marian devotion. From the day of their oblation onward, it would not be enough for Oblates to be “simple servants of Mary”, [65] but it would be necessary for them to be “consecrated to her in a special manner”.

As Father Leo Deschâtelets observed, “what is involved is a type of identification with Mary Immaculate […], a gift of ourselves to God through her and like her, a gift which reaches to the depth of our entire Christian, religious, missionary, priestly [66] life, […] in the manner of a deep involvement, in thought, heart and action, in the mystery of Mary so as to live better our total commitment to the service of Christ and of souls. It is in this perspective that she is for us exemplar totius perfectionis, [67]then, “to become Oblate of Mary Immaculate, is […] in some way to be incorporated into Mary in order, with her, to generate Jesus in souls, teaching by word and by example who Christ is”. [68] Consequently, we have here a mystical and real identification [69] through which each Oblate becomes Mary herself, living and serving in today’s Church.


It can be said that nothing had essentially changed since in the Congregation, Mary was already playing the role which was her due. In chronological order, the first secondary consequence – even if it is the least measurable – is the concern of loving Mary even more. On December 22, 1825, Father de Mazenod called upon his sons to renew themselves “especially in devotion to the Most Holy Virgin in order to render themselves worthy of being Oblates of Mary Immaculate”. In his March 20, 1826 letter, he wrote L.J.C. et M.I. for the first time, instead of L.J.C., as was his previous custom. The following July 13, in closing the first General Chapter held after the pontifical approbation, the Oblates signed the Rules adding “Oblate of Mary” after their name. [70]

Mary in the community life and the apostolate of the Congregation

It was the Founder’s wish that Mary should always be present in the life of the Congregation. As a result, he allotted her a suitable place in individual and community prayer. He asked the Oblates to entrust all their problems to this “Good Mother”. He fostered Marian devotion among the faithful and wanted to lead them to Jesus and Mary.


One of the practices the Founder introduced at the beginning of the Congregation’s existence was the greeting: Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate. This custom already existed in the Association for Christian Youth in Aix as Eugene used to use this as a closing for their exercises and meetings by having them sing it. He did the same thing at the closing of exercises in parish missions. [71] Another pious practice was the visit to the Blessed Virgin, a practice imposed upon the Congregation as an obligation by the first Rule. [72] It is worthy of note that this visit was made in a very intimate context. Indeed, we read in the Directory of the Novitiate: “What a consolation for the child of Mary Immaculate to be able to greet his Good Mother as well, to express to her his devotion and tenderness, to rest upon her maternal heart”. [73]

The Founder and the Oblates meditated the eighteen mysteries of the rosary each day. [74] During the first years of formation, candidates were reminded that “the main exercise in her honor is the rosary recited in common. We should, therefore, love this exercise, devote ourselves to it with tender piety, apply ourselves to carrying it out with the greatest attention; it is through this devotion that we will discharge the debt of love that we owe Mary.” [75]

According to Oblate tradition, all exercises and most important meetings begin with the Veni Sancte Spiritus and the Ave Maria, and end with the Sub tuum in order to entrust to Mary their spiritual fruits and resolutions taken. The Sub tuum is one of the prayers that the members of the Congregation recite the most often at every occasion. From 1821 on, the Tota pulchra es Maria is recited after Compline as the last prayer of the day. [76] On August 6, 1856, during the General Chapter, the Founder took the decision of reciting this antiphon in honor of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. [77]

Following upon the suggestion made by Father de Mazenod, the General Chapter of 1826 had decided that “in every one of our houses, after night prayer, there will be a daily recitation of a Salve Regina for Pope Leo XII our distinguished protector; and after his death, instead of this prayer, on the day of the anniversary of his death, a solemn service will be celebrated in perpetuity in the house or the residence of the Superior General”. [78] When Leo XII died, on February 10, 1829, this prayer for his intentions was no longer recited. The custom was taken up again after the death of the Founder who breathed his last when the last words of the Salve Regina were being recited. The Founder also requested that after supper the Maria Mater Gratiae should be sung. Father Marius Suzanne died on January 31, 1829 while it was being sung. Consequently, in commemoration of him, this custom was carried on in the seminary of Marseilles, and then in our houses of formation. [79]


Engraved on the pedestal of the statue erected by the Founder in the garden of the house Notre-Dame de l’Osier the following text can be read: Cui Nomen dederas, Cui Cor, Sobolem aspice praesens. [80]These words seem to describe perfectly the relationship which existed between the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their patron. This relationship is not the result of intellectual speculation but comes rather from everyday living. Father de Mazenod encouraged his sons to place their problems in the hands of the Blessed Virgin, and he was the first to do so. To the Immaculate One he entrusted, not only the task of finding vocations, [81] but their formation and perseverance as well. It was to Marian shrines that he sent those who had doubts about their vocation, telling them: “It is my last effort to save you. Go there with an upright heart, call fervently upon this powerful protector.” [82]

To those undertaking new ministries, he assigned Mary as their patroness and guide. In his letter of obedience to the first Oblates sent to Canada, a move launching the Congregation into the vast field of the missions ad gentes, he wrote: “[..] may the Blessed Virgin conceived without stain be your guide and patroness. You must bear in mind that devotion to her is a special duty of our vocation to propagate in every place.” [83] To Father Anthony Mouchette, recently ordained to the priesthood and appointed as moderator of scholastics, he wrote: “Place all your trust in God, and in our Good Mother, invoke her often in the sanctuary in whose shadow you live; do not exclude me as you say your prayers there for the whole family’s prosperity and salvation.”4 [84]

Not only did he entrust new activities to Mary, but when they bore fruit, he acknowledged in them the results of her maternal protection. [85]

At the beginning of the Congregation, the Founder experienced the sickness and death of the “best” Oblates as a personal trauma. As a result, he commanded the sick person to ask for “the miracle of healing”. [86] It was also his desire that his sons should die in the presence of Mary; [87] but in the wake of these numerous trials he gradually learned to say over and over Mary’s Fiat. [88]


Eugene saw in Mary the one who desired above all the glory of the Son “and the conversion of souls which he redeemed at the price of his precious blood”. [89] Consequently, he is convinced that our first duty consists in helping her to fulfill his wishes. [90] In the course of parish missions, even though Mary was always present, she did not hold center stage. She was the mother and companion of the missionaries and along with them strove to lead souls to Christ. Already in the first Rule it was stated that before leaving the house the missionaries were to gather in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament to sing the “Clerics’ Song for the Journey,” adding the Sub tuum and the antiphon, Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata. Da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos. [91]During the mission, two special Marian ceremonies were planned: the celebration for children and the solemn consecration of the parish to Mary [92] which was to be considered “absolutely obligatory.” [93]

Another ministry privileged, in a sense, in the Congregation was pastoral ministry at Marian shrines. [94] One third of the Oblate works accepted by the Founder were shrines: Notre-Dame du Laus in 1818, Notre-Dame de la Garde shortly after 1830, Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1834, Notre Dame de Lumières in 1837, Notre-Dame de la Croix de Parménie in 1842, Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in 1846, Notre-Dame de Sion in 1850, Notre-Dame de Talence in 1853 and Notre-Dame de Cléry in 1854. The Founder considered these shrines as “a non-itinerant mission,” [95] and pilgrimages became occasions to think over certain truths, to come to conversion and to live the Christian life better. He characterizes as a “form of decadence” visits made to the shrines as places for outings, get-togethers or simply locations where people went to seek to be entertained. Concerning the lamentable situation of Notre-Dame de l’Osier before the advent of the Oblates, he wrote: “[…] devotion was seen to imperceptibly decline. Little by little it was reduced to being nothing more than a place to go for an outing where people came out of habit to say that they had visited l’Osier. On certain days, in large part, it was nothing more than a location to seek distraction where people congregated solely to be entertained without religious thought of any kind, an activity which even if it could not make anyone holier could at least legitimize the journey.” [96] Consequently, he wanted the Oblates to strive to “direct in the right direction a piety which was still rather misunderstood by a large number of people […]” [97]

In his writings, we notice that he is concerned with the conversion of the pilgrims. [98] According to him, in a certain sense, sinners have first claim on the pastoral care offered the pilgrims by the missionaries. The missionaries should, however, care just as zealously for fervent souls. [99] In addition to preaching repentance, they were to awaken in souls an enlightened love of Mary. [100] The Founder also wished to see that, in their prayers, the Oblates working in the various shrines should not forget the Congregation and world problems. [101]

Bishop de Mazenod and the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception

In addition to Bishop de Mazenod’s personal life and his activity as Founder, we must also speak of the Marian dimension of his ministry as Bishop of Marseilles. Here, too, he made a contribution to the development of a more genuine Marian spirituality. He was a man open to the supernatural, possessing a great simplicity and a total trust in Mary. At the same time, he was a man with a solid Scriptural and patristic formation, a man who fought valiantly against all distortions in Marian devotions.

His ministry as bishop was especially influenced by the definition of the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. [102] When, through his encyclical Ubi primum of February 2, 1849, Pope Pius IX asked to bishops to inform him about “the devotion and expectations of their clergy and their faithful and their own personal feelings” with regard to the Immaculate Conception, Bishop de Mazenod hastened to send him the enthusiastic response which appears in the first pages of the first volume of Pareri. He sent one as Bishop of Marseilles, but he also sent one in the name of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, pointing to the Congregation’s title as a testimony of the Church’s traditional belief. This document reads like the Exultet and shows clearly “what [our] father did on this occasion so glorious for our Immaculate Mother”. [103] “Happy, yes, happy is the day when God through the Spirit of his Divine Son inspired the heart of his Vicar on earth to bestow this crowning honor upon the Virgin Mary! Happy and holy is the day when, amidst the bitter anxieties of his heart and the painful trials to the Holy Church, the sovereign pastor and doctor of the sheep and the lambs has raised his thought to Mary Immaculate of the unblemished Lamb and directed his eyes towards the shining star set by God in the sky like the rainbow of the covenant and the pledge of victory! Let it come, let it come, this hour so deeply desired when the entire universe will be able to assert with certainty that the most Holy Mother of God has crushed the head of the venomous serpent and hold as revealed that the Blessed Virgin Mary, through a wonderful and unique privilege due to the superabundant grace of her Son has truly been preserved from all trace of original sin!” [104]

During the extraordinary meeting of the world’s bishops in 1854, Bishop de Mazenod did everything in his power to see that the dogma was proclaimed in the most solemn fashion possible. Upon seeing that people were “astounded and almost frightened in certain theological circles”, he hastened to write three letters to the Pope (November 21 and December 2 and 5) to encourage and sustain him. “Most assuredly, I do not think it important to set myself in the spotlight, but I look upon it as being incumbent upon me to do everything in my power to make a contribution to the glory which should redound to the most holy Virgin from this definition.” [105]

On the day of the definition of the dogma, profoundly moved, he stood beside the Pope. As an accompaniment to the bull Ineffabilis, he issued his important February 3, 1855, pastoral letter, a letter brimming with admiration and love for Mary. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the definition of the dogma, Bishop de Mazenod organized celebrations in Marseilles comparable to those in Rome and erected a monument to the Immaculate Conception similar to the one which stands in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. In the 19th century, he was one of the great apostles of Mary Immaculate.


THE Superiors General and the Virgin Mary

Faithful to the Founder, the Oblates have always had a great devotion to Mary and have spread devotion to her. The Congregation’s tradition took many forms. Among others, it can be seen in the circular letters of the Superiors General. Often brief, these letters were usually written for specific occasions to keep the Congregation abreast of events of vital interest to it: to announce a General Chapter, to describe the work it will be called to do, etc. We rarely find in these letters solidly constructed doctrinal treatises like Father Louis Soullier’s letter on preaching (no. 59 of 1895) and on studies (no. 61 of 1896). With reference to Mary, only Father Leo Deschâtelets wrote a letter directed to the whole Congregation exclusively dedicated to this topic. [106]

In spite of the topical character of these letters, the name of Mary often appears on their pages, sometimes unexpectedly, through a spontaneous expression of affection, a few words of praise, or yet again a pressing appeal for Mary’s protection as patroness and mother of the Oblates. Often it is a case of Mary in association with the apostolic mission of the Congregation.


It is difficult to say which Superior General loved Mary more and spoke of her most often. Father Joseph Fabre spoke of her in at least twelve of his thirty-six circular letters written from 1861 to 1890. After the death of our Founder and Father, he felt the need of asking for Mary’s protection as mother of the Oblates. It was in this vein that on March 19, 1865 he wrote: “May the Immaculate Virgin who watched over the crib of our infancy with a mother’s care grant our Congregation a divine fruitfulness to inspire in you the sentiments with which our Father and his first companions were animated.” [107]

In six of Father Louis Soullier’s eleven letters written from 1892 to 1897, we find a paragraph on Mary. He especially restated in a powerful way the Oblates primary calling: to evangelize the poor. He also stressed that they evangelize with the help and support of Mary. [108]

Father Cassien Augier, Superior General from 1898 to 1905, spoke of Mary in three of his twenty letters. Two events provided him the opportunity to do this. On April 4, 1890, Pope Leo XIII approved the scapular of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion intended to simultaneously honor the Blessed Virgin under the title, Mother of Mercy. A second decree issued on the 19th of May the following year granted the Superior General of the Oblates the power to bless and confer this scapular and to grant these same powers to Oblates and “to every priest, be he a diocesan or a religious priest”. Father Augier devoted his August 27, 1900 [109] letter to this event. He explained the rationale behind the granting of this privilege and what it meant. He invited the Oblates to deepen their awareness of the link which bound their lives to the Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Mercy and to the Sacred Heart.

In 1904 the fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated. The Chapter held that year reminded the Oblates that they were religious, priests who were missionaries to the poor as members of a family consecrated to the Immaculate Conception. In the Chapter report, Father Augier announced that in virtue of a Chapter decree, on the eighth day of each month, the Superior General “would offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to thank God for having preserved Mary from original sin and for having made her immaculate”. He then invited the Congregation to participate in “this honor that the Superior General would offer in its behalf to the Immaculate Virgin, its patroness and mother”. [110]

In the wake of Father Augier’s resignation, Father August Lavillardière, Superior General from 1906-1907, mentioned Mary in six of his seven circular letters. Immediately after his election, he wrote: “In my heart, I am firmly convinced that with God’s blessing called down upon us by the intercession of our venerated Founder, united more than ever under the banner of the Immaculate One, we will see once again after these days of devastation and ruin, a new era of prosperity and joy.” [111]

In his letter on the deliberations of the 1906 Chapter, he recalled that among the works of their apostolate, Oblates should spread devotion to the scapular of the Sacred Heart and that of the Immaculate Conception. He also made a discrete allusion to the crisis of modernism and on this point specified: “Up until now, our Congregation has stood out because of the orthodoxy of its doctrine. We would not be genuine sons of the Immaculate Virgin is we did not preserve our spirits from the stain of error with the same concern with which we guard our hearts from the stain of corruption.” [112]

Father Roger Gauthier characterizes Bishop Augustine Dontenwill as “the most powerful Marian voice” second only to the Founder among the early Superiors General. [113] Yet we find only a few pages on Mary and that in seven of his forty-one circular letters written from 1908 to 1930. However, his devotion seems to be a very keen one. In 1908, he asked all the Oblates to celebrate in solemn fashion the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes. [114] In 1910, he chose the feast of the Immaculate Conception to promulgate the changes made to our Constitutions and Rules in 1906. [115] When he was announcing the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Congregation, he exhorted the Oblates to go to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord “under the auspices of his holy Mother who deigned to adopt us as her sons, a fact that bestows glory on our name because it proclaims for ever more the most basic of her privileges”. [116]

At the end of the 1920 General Chapter, he published some decrees. The first of them asked the Oblates to consecrate themselves to Mary Immaculate on February 17 and December 8 of every year. [117] In the report he presented to this Chapter, he mentioned the name of Mary several times and when he spoke of the act of consecration exclaimed: “Oh, if only we loved Mary Immaculate as she loves us! If only we preached about her, if we knew how to make known her goodness, her perfections, her glory! If only our entire ministry bore this Marian character which the Chapter wanted to possess while trying to communicate it to all our members!” [118]

Bishop Dontenwill’s Marian devotion surfaced again in the report of the 1926 Chapter [119] and in the letter promulgating the new edition of the Constitutions and Rules in 1928. On that occasion, he wrote: “Our Rules make frequent mention of the tender devotion that Oblates should have for their Immaculate Mother. And yet, there was no special article dealing with the most Holy Virgin as titular patroness of the Congregation […].” The capitulants approved by a unanimous vote article 10 “which proclaimed the Immaculate Virgin Mary as Mother and Patroness of the Congregation”. [120]

We find a few paragraphs on Mary in four of the nineteen circulars of Father Theodore Labouré, Superior General from 1932 to 1942. Just like Father Soullier did in former times, it was his desire that the Oblates should evangelize the poor with the help of Mary Immaculate. He requested that in our works, we should not forget that we are Oblates. He wrote: “Whenever possible, let the organizations established under the banner of the Holy Virgin have our preference and may the Immaculate One ever be the model and the source of Catholic action”. [121] He invited educators to rely upon our Immaculate Mother to raise up “our co-workers and successors in the lofty work of evangelizing the poor”. [122]

The majority of the circular letters of Father Leo Deschâtelets, Superior General from 1947 to 1972 bear the hallmark of his devotion to Mary, a devotion like that of the Founder, the Founder whom he knew well and in whose enthusiastic and inspiring spirit he shared to some extent. In at least nineteen of his seventy-two circular letters, he spoke at length of the Blessed Virgin. Circumstances often offered him a chance to do this, especially the occasion of his election, when he asked the Oblates to re-think the Rule [123], upon the death of Father Hilary Balmès, the Vicar General who had a great devotion to “our Good Mother”. [124] During the 1953 Chapter, he spoke of Father Frans Demoutiez, a Belgian Oblate, who “accompanies through hemispheres and continents a statue of our Lady of Fatima, achieving resounding success. In my opinion, this is perhaps the greatest Marian epic of our modern times”. [125] He spoke of her again at length on the occasion of the centenary of the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, [126] in the course of Chapters and in relation to the Second Vatican Council.

In his long circular letter no. 191 entitled “Our Vocation and Our Life of Intimate Union with Mary Immaculate,” Father Deschâtelets wrote a far-ranging treatise on Marian Oblate spirituality. [127] Far in advance of the crisis which burst forth in the wake of the Council, he seemed already to foresee the self-examination of identity of the religious life and the priesthood and on the character specific to the Oblate vocation.

In the first part of his letter, he seeks to define clearly which elements are characteristic of Oblates and in what is the originality of our Oblate life. In the second part, he answers the questions: “Why and how can we live this Oblate life in a Marian way?” He begins by making a categoric affirmation: “If we want to understand our vocation, it is not a case of having an ordinary devotion to Mary Immaculate; it is a case of identifying ourselves in some way with Mary Immaculate; it is a case of a gift of ourselves to God through her and like her, a gift that attains the depths of our entire Christian, religious, missionary, priestly life”. [128] He then shows that this idea did not go beyond the Founder’s thinking and Oblate tradition whose main lines of thought he summarizes in general terms. After an explanation of a few principles of Marian theology, he explains what Mary is for the Oblates and what the Oblates are for Mary. Mary is “our Immaculate Mother”, “the All Pure One, the Highly Favored One, the Gracious One […], Perfect Mother”, “Masterpiece of Divine Mercy”, “Mother of God and men”, etc. “Consecrated to this Immaculate One in a special way, the Oblates should be in the forefront of those souls who have been chosen to establish the Kingdom of God”, “special apostles, specialists of the divine mercy”, etc. [129] He then went into detail with regard to “the Oblate program of Marian life”, consisting of Marian devotions (rosary, visits, the wearing of Mary’s scapulars and the spreading of this devotion, litanies of the Immaculate Conception, the invocation: Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate, etc.) as well as being made up of the Marian apostolate (studies and writings on Mary, example of one’s life, preaching, apostolate in Marian shrines, Marian associations, etc.). [130] No one from the Founder’s time on had exhorted the Oblates to live so intensely their Marian lives along with so many Marian exercises within our community life and zeal for those outside.

After the Council, Father Deschâtelets toned down to some extent this tendency while still encouraging the Oblates to love and venerate Mary, “to crowd around so good a Mother, purifying our Marian devotion by following the teachings of the Constitution on the Church, always bringing our devotion into line with the Church’s devotion, especially since our Holy Father Pope Paul VI has just approved Mary’s title as Mother of the Church”. [131] Among the themes for the 1966 Chapter’s consideration, he proposed the theme of “our Marian devotion, particularly in relation to the mystery of Mary seen in its totality, especially her role as Mother of the Church”. [132]

Fathers Fernand Jetté (Superior General from 1974 to 1986) and Marcello Zago have something to say on Mary in about one out of every two of their circular letters. [133] But their teaching, including the teachings on Mary, are no longer contained only exclusively in their circular letters. Father Jetté’s main speeches and addresses have been published. [134] In the book The Missionary O.M.I, we often find allusions to Mary, especially in a conference delivered at Cap-de-la-Madeleine on March 23, 1979, treating of “The Oblate and the Blessed Virgin Mary”. [135] In this speech, Father Jetté speaks initially about Mary’s place in our past history, in the Founder’s life and in Oblate tradition, then in our present-day life. With regard to this topic, he notes that in the Congregation, much like in the Church, devotion to Mary is in crisis, and yet, he states: “I do have the impression that most of us, despite all these upheavals and questionings, retain in the depths of our hearts a lively love for Mary and a filial trust in her”. He concludes his address by suggesting three attitudes to be developed in the future, attitudes which are in harmony with our spirit as well as our history: 1) First of all, Mary must be the model of our faith and or our commitment to the service of God; 2) She should be for us the path which enables us to advance ever more deeply into the mystery of Jesus; 3) She must be for us a friend, a genuine companion in our life as missionaries. The idea of the presence of Mary in the life of the Oblate reappears often in Father Jetté’s writings as well as in those of Father Zago.

Each year for the feast of February 17, Father Zago has written a letter to the Oblates in first formation. His letter of 1988 dealt with “Mary in the life of the Congregation and in particular in first formation, so as to be in harmony with the Church which is celebrating the Marian Year”. [136] It deals with Mary in the experience of the Founder, of the name of Oblate of Mary which means: consecrated to God under the auspices of the Blessed Virgin, of Mary model and formator, and ends off by saying what he expects from the Oblates: that they live the reality of these simple, profound words of Blessed Eugene: “The members will always look upon Mary as their Mother!”


In their circular letters, references to Mary can be grouped according to four themes linked to the thinking of the Founder. The first two deal with personal or community piety; the other two deal with mission.

First of all, the Superiors General refer to Mary to ask for her intercession. That is the thought that most often recurs. Their appeal for the protection and help of the Mother and Patroness of the Congregation becomes more intense on the occasion of their election, [137] the calling and holding of General Chapters, [138] or other serious events. The latter are frequent in the Congregation’s history.

In his report to the 1873 Chapter, Father Fabre feared lack of unity among the capitulants who came from all over and no longer knew each other as was the case in the Founder’s time. He wrote: “May our kind heavenly Mother also deign to show once more her tender love for us by maintaining among us the spirit of union and of charity and keeping far from us any factionalism or spirit of strife”. [139] At the time of the disbanding of communities in France in 1880, he exhorted the Oblates to have recourse “to the Immaculate Heart of our Mother”. [140]

After Father Augier’s resignation, the Assistants General “faithfully kneeling before the altar of the Immaculate Virgin” begged “our Mother and Patroness” to protect the Congregation. [141] During Father Lavillardière’s illness shortly after his election, Father Eugene Baffie, Vicar General, asked the Blessed Virgin for a miracle. He wrote: “Let us continue to pray with this intense faith and we will see the goodness and power of Mary burst forth on behalf of our religious family”. [142]

Bishop Dontenwill called upon Mary’s aid when he promulgated the changes to the Rule in 1910. [143] In 1932, Father Euloge Blanc, Vicar General, and his Assistants General, Isidore Belle, Servule Dozois and Auguste Estève, in announcing the illness and death of Bishop Dontenwill. [144] After having rebuked the young priests for not having proceeded to the places assigned to them by obedience “recto tramite et more oblatorum,” Father Labouré petitioned Mary to help educators in their task of formation. [145]

The death of Father Fernand Thiry in Durban in 1945 of Father Jean Pietsch in 1946, the celebration of one hundred years in Sri Lanka in 1947, the resignation of Father Richard Hanley in 1974 were all occasions for Fathers Balmès, Deschâtelets and Jetté to call upon Mary with confidence. [146] Father Jetté prayed to Mary on the occasion of the Founder’s beatification in 1975 [147] and Father Zago did likewise at the beatification of Father Gérard in 1988 and the canonization of Bishop de Mazenod. [148] Fathers Jetté used a prayer for Mary’s intercession as a conclusion for many of his circular letters.

The second theme which often emerges is that of personal and communitarian devotion of Oblates for Mary Immaculate. It was expressed in many ways: praise, gratitude, various titles bestowed upon Mary, and especially a recalling of the various exercises of piety in her honor and her presence among the Oblates.

Father Fabre who, like Bishop de Mazenod, felt the importance of “regularity,” and stressed especially visits to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and to “our kind Mother,” in whose presence “the heart of the priest and Oblate of Mary can securely reveal itself with all its ardor and vigor”. [149] Under Father Soullier, the 1893 Chapter approved by vote “the introduction among the Offices proper to us, the Office of Our Lady of Good Counsel.” [150] In 1900, when he made the announcement that Pope Leo XIII had approved the scapular of the Sacred Heart, Father Augier stated that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the most Holy Virgin conceived without sin and Mother of Mercy should be considered “as the most precious of our family treasures”. [151]

We have seen that Bishop Dontenwill had adopted as his own and proposed to the Oblates a special devotion for Mary Immaculate. It was while he was making this devotion that he died. [152] At the 1938 Chapter, a motion was made asking for the insertion into the proper of the Oblates some fifteen feasts of the Blessed Virgin. The capitulants were not in favor of this, but the decision was made to add to the litany of the Blessed Virgin the invocation: “Regina Congregationis nostrae, ora pro nobis.” The Holy See refused to grant this and the invocation was inserted in the litanies of particular examen. [153]

Father Labouré’s devotion to Mary appeared in the long letter he wrote on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Oblates’ arrival in Canada. He concluded the letter by citing the names of those he called our martyrs and added: “Let us ask them as well to present on our behalf to our Immaculate Mother, Queen of all our missions and special patroness of our missions in the polar regions, our filial tributes of gratitude and love, begging her to bless the efforts of our missionaries, called by the Church to spread the Catholic faith throughout the world. Her throne stands at the heart of the Canadian Province at the national shrine of Cap-de-la-Madeleine which filled our Founder with joy when he saw it entrusted to his sons; she is our protectress under many titles of a great number of our houses and mission outposts right up to the Arctic Ocean and the chilly Hudson Bay. Everywhere, our preachers and missionaries make her known, loved and invoked. Everywhere, she presides over our missions, blesses our efforts and receives the tribute of our successes. In this centenary, bringing to a close a century filled with so many conquests, but also with so much suffering and virtue, the balance sheet that we are trying to set up would not be complete if it did not contain the name of our gentle Mother.” [154] In the same vein, Father Hilaire Balmès praised and thanked Mary on the occasion of the “centenary of our missions in Ceylon” in 1946. [155]

Father Deschâtelets spoke very often of the personal and communitarian devotion of Oblates to Mary, [156] as well as of exercises of Marian piety. [157] Father Jetté called the Oblates to a genuine devotion to Mary and explained its meaning. [158] He gave as the second reason for the M.A.M.I. pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1985 “the tribute to be paid to Mary Immaculate”. [159] Father Zago did not often mention Marian exercises of piety, but pointed to “the discreet presence of Mary Immaculate”, [160] and invited the Oblates to love Mary and have confidence in her. [161]

The third and fourth themes have to do with the mission and apostolate of the Oblates. The third arises from the mission entrusted to the Oblates by Pope Leo XII in his letter of approbation of this Institute. He said, “Finally, it is our hope that the members of this holy family who […] acknowledge as patroness the Mother of God, the Immaculate Virgin, will apply themselves with all their strength to bring back to the bosom of Mary’s mercy the men that Jesus Christ, raised high on the cross, wanted to give her for her children.” [162]

The primary goal of the Congregation is not to spread devotion to Mary; it is first and foremost to evangelize the poor. But as Father Jetté wrote: “we are to preach the Gospel to the poor under the patronage of Mary, with the help and support of Mary and with Mary’s sentiments in our hearts.” [163] Father Soullier was the first to allude to Leo XII’s text without quoting it. In his circular letter on preaching, he said that he visited “with growing admiration” the countries where the Oblates work and then he added: “Yes, our missionaries walked in the footsteps of the Apostles: with the cross and the Word of God, they have converted entire nations and led them, through the Mother of Mercy, to Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. [164]

In the circular letters where they spoke of the Sacred Heart scapular, Fathers Augier and Lavillardière quoted Leo XII’s text word for word. Father Lavillardière added: “Oblates of Mary Immaculate, let us make known far and wide the glorious privilege of our Mother and we shall see her join us as co-worker for the conversion of unbelievers and sinners.” [165]

In his report to the 1926 Chapter, Bishop Dontenwill quoted and commented Leo XIII’s text: “What fine and consoling words! […] Acknowledging as Patroness and Mother, Mary conceived without sin, we enjoy a special quality; we are endowed with a special mission to snatch souls from the devil and hell and lead them to the bosom of the Mother of mercy. Through her Immaculate Conception, Mary triumphed over the devil and she bestows on those who serve under her banner the same power.” [166]

The most recent Superiors General have scarcely developed this idea, although they do allude to it, especially Father Deschâtelets in his letter dealing with our vocation. He wrote: “As missionaries, we are special apostles, specialists of God’s mercy. We will never truly understand this specialization except in the context of our belonging to Mary Immaculate. It is only in that context that we will gradually experience this all-encompassing compassion for poor souls, the most wretched of souls, a compassion which constitutes one of our most characteristic features.” [167]

In the articles of the 1818 Rule dealing with “public functions in the church”, Oblates were asked to pray daily “the public prayer which, in the evening, will be followed by a lecture or meditation into which will be subtly inserted all the principles of the Christian life and the strictest piety to lead souls to a knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ […], to devotion to the Blessed Virgin all of whose octaves will be faithfully celebrated”. [168] To propagate devotion to Mary is one of the goals of the Congregation [169] and that is the fourth theme developed by the Superiors General.

Father Fabre did not dwell on this obligation except at the time of his election. At that time, he wrote that we should show ourselves worthy of showing forth the glory “of our Immaculate Mother whom we have the obligation to have respected, loved and honored everywhere”. [170] In 1898, speaking of the act of consecration to the Sacred Heart Father Augier evoked the Congregation’s double mission: “to seek the glory of the Immaculate Virgin Mary whose title we bear [and] to see to it that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is loved”. [171] In his report to the 1904 Chapter, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he stated that the Chapter “wished to honor Mary’s privilege in a special way, a privilege which our religious family should especially preach about and make known to the world”. [172] The same idea surfaced with Bishop Dontenwill in 1908 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Mary’s apparitions Mary at Lourdes. [173]

In his letter treating of the deliberations of the 1932 Chapter, Father Labouré stated that the Chapter “enjoined the body of the priests of the Congregation to teach and preach more often and more earnestly […] veneration and devotion to the Immaculate Conception of Mary”. [174]

The mission of “being the champions of our Immaculate Mother by preaching everywhere the glory of the privilege which is for us a title of honor,” [175] is one of Father Deschâtelets’ favorite themes appearing in all the letters he wrote about Mary before the Second Vatican Council [176]. This theme appeared only rarely in the letters of Fathers Jetté and Zago. [177] In his conference on the Oblates and the Blessed Virgin, Father Jetté wrote that it was just as important in our day as it was in former times for “the Oblates to continue preaching the Blessed Virgin, to make her known and loved” even though we might not be able to do so now as we had done in the past. [178]

In August 1822 before a new statue of Mary in the Mission church in Aix, Father de Mazenod experienced the presentiment that under the aegis of his kind Mother “within her [the Congregation] lies hidden the germ of very great virtues, and that she can achieve infinite good”. [179] We find this same thought contained in Father Deschâtelets’ farewell speech as Superior General at the 1972 Chapter. He reaffirmed his confidence in the future of the Congregation “by very virtue of his devotion to the Virgin Mary […]. It is not possible that we deteriorate and that we lose our strength”. [180] In the same way, in his final circular letter, Father Jetté wrote: “My trust in God, my faith in the Congregation and the men who are its members, remains solid and unshaken” because of attachment of the Oblates to Jesus Christ, the charity which unites them, of zeal for the poor and “devotion to Mary. Her name we bear as a family name. She has been watching over us since the beginning of our history. If we remain faithful to her, she cannot fail to help us today.” [181]