- The Foundation Wanted by the Founder in 1859
- Transfer of the General House from Marseilles to Paris in 1862
- Happy and Unhappy Events
The Foundation Wanted by the Founder in 1859
On June 24, 1856, the Emperor Napoleon III made Bishop de Mazenod a senator. As a result, the Bishop of Marseilles went to stay in Paris during the first months of each year for the legislative session. It was an opportunity for him to implant the Congregation in the capital. The business reached a definitive conclusion in the spring of 1859. In spite of the opposition offered by his council who were very hostile to religious congregations, Cardinal F. Morlot gave his consent after the Founder had assured him that the Oblates “would be men of zeal available to him to catechize the people of the suburbs who live like savages when it comes to religion.” (Letter to Father Fabre, March 1, 1859, Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1409, p. 135)
The main reason why Bishop de Mazenod wanted this house was not so much to have a place to stay when he was in Paris, but rather to have a centre where the priests who, at that time, were called to be chaplains to the Holy Family of Bordeaux in the capital might live together. (Letter to Father Fabre, March 9, 1859, Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1412, p. 141)
On May 12, 1859, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Ambroise Vincens, provincial for France North: “… It will be difficult to put together this elite personnel that we need in Paris to accomplish our mission there. You will need to wrack your brains over that one. We need men of the Rule, who edify, are capable of directing religious communities and able to distinguish themselves in the pulpits of Paris. This last requisite does not, however, strike me as indispensable. What a task we are taking on! If there is anything that is inane and of no benefit for the salvation of souls, it is these occasional sermons of Paris. Were you to speak to me of instructions to be given in the suburbs, where there is such a great need for conversion, I would understand you.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1424, p. 158)
The community was initially made up of Fathers Jean Joseph Magnan, superior, Charles Baret, treasurer and Léon F. Delpeuch. They were temporarily housed at no. 22 on Batignolles street. In April of 1860, at the very high price of 100,000 francs, they bought a plot of land in the Europe quarter, in a developing area, at that time on the northern extremity of the city. The construction of the house at no. 26, Saint-Pétersbourg street required over a year. It was only on August 17, 1861 that they took possession of it. Three months later, they opened a chapel for public service; it was built in ogival style.
Transfer of the General House from Marseilles to Paris in 1862
Upon the death of Bishop de Mazenod, a strong backlash against the Oblates emerged in a certain sector of the clergy of Marseilles. They found there were too many Oblates and they were too powerful. To pacify the situation, the decision was made to hold the General Chapter in the new house in Paris. A few months after his election which took place on December 5, 1861, Father Joseph Fabre did not hesitate to establish his administration there.
Paris, General House (Bernad).
The Superior General always held the title of local superior of this house which had two administrations, but one single community: the General Administration, a few brothers and ten priests assigned to the service of the public chapel, to serving different chaplaincies and to preaching. Ministries outside the community were less numerous than in houses exclusively devoted to this kind of apostolate: missions, Lenten series, individual sermons that the priests serving the chapel, chaplains and assistants general were called upon to give in the spare time allowed them by their ordinary occupations.
Happy and Unhappy Events
During the siege of Paris by the Prussians from September 1870 to January of 1871, and during the few months of the administration of the Commune (March-May 1871), Father Fabre and a few members of the general administration went to stay in Bordeaux. Fathers Pierre Aubert, Aimé Martinet, assistants general and a few priests and brothers remained in the house and suffered a great deal from hunger and cold and especially, in the March-May period, from the threat of visits from the Communards, “the Reds” who pillaged and burned churches and religious institutions. Father Aubert hung a large English flag at the front door and that protected the house. Several of the priests were military chaplains.
Regular life took hold again and, in 1876, the house had to be extended to receive a stream of visitors, Oblates and others. Cardinal Hippolyte Guibert, the archbishop of Paris from 1871 to 1886 never failed to come celebrate the feast of December 8 with his Oblate confreres.
On November 6, 1880, as a result of the government decrees against non-authorized religious congregations, the chapel was sealed up and the priests and brothers were expelled. Only Fathers Marc de L’Hermite, the vice-superior and Marc Sardou, the treasurer general, were allowed to stay in the house.
In 1881, Father de L’Hermite broke the seals on the chapel and threw it open to the public. The priests and brothers returned one by one, trying to avoid having anyone mention them. It was in this house that the General Chapters of May 11-23, 1893, during which Father Louis Soullier was elected Superior General and of 16-28 May 1898 which elected Father Cassien Augier.
In order to better respond to the needs of the faithful of that neighbourhood, before the expulsions of 1880, construction had been started on a chapel of more ample proportions than the previous chapel. Work on it continued through 1899 and 1900. It was blessed on August 12 and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The priests who were ministering in the chapel had also a few other important ministries, especially that of Christian Mothers, a recently founded work, but which saw its membership grow yearly, the society of Sainte-Chrétienne, an organization of longer standing, focusing on ministry to domestic serving ladies. More than 400 young people owed to it their perseverance in living a good life and doing their duty in spite of the dangers inherent in Paris life. The confraternity of Our Lady of Lourdes, launched at the same time the chapel was inaugurated also saw rapid development.
In 1904, in the wake of having their request for authorization rejected the year before, the Oblates were once again expelled and the house was confiscated as state property. It was given over to the ministry of commerce which set up its offices there. The chapel, initially sealed to the public, was opened in 1907 as a chapel of ease for the parish of Saint Louis of Antin. It adopted the name Saint-André d’Antin on Pétrograd street. During the war, in 1942-1943, Fathers Bernard Malenfant and Goulven Trébaol were appointed assistant priests there, but they remained there only for a short time. For almost twenty years the Oblates sought in vain to have recognized their rights over this property, which, already at the end of the 1800s had an estimated value of almost 850,000 francs. This house still exists and the chapel has become the parish church. Bishop de Mazenod continues to be displayed there in a contemporary stained glass window.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.