- Religious vocation ‑ Formation
- Superior of the House at Le Calvaire
- Responsibilities and Various Works
- Father Suzanne’s Personality ‑ The Founder’s Affection for Him
- His Death
Born in Aix-en-Provence, February 2, 1799
Taking of the habit in Aix, January 21, 1817
Perpetual oblation, November 1, 1818 (no. 5)
Ordained to the priesthood in Aix, September 22, 1821
Died in Marseilles, January 31, 1829.
Marie-Jacques Antoine Suzanne was born in Aix-en-Provence, February 2, 1799. He was the eldest of nine children born to Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu Suzanne and Christine Michèle Vitalis, well-to-do property owners from Fuveau, diocese of Aix, who developed the coal deposits of the area.
Marius, for this was what he was usually called, attended elementary school in the village of Fuveau and received his first lessons in Latin from his parish priest, Jean Flayol, an individual who gave pubic witness to his Catholic faith during the French Revolution and who went on to become Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod’s vicar general. It was at the minor seminary of Aix that he made his First Holy Communion and it was here that he studied from fifth form to first form. Abbé Henry Tempier, a seminarian at the time and had been one of Marius’ professors, informs us that Marius was always a good student of blameless conduct. According to the custom, when he completed his studies of the humanities, he received the tonsure at the hands of Bishop François-Melchior Bienvenu de Miollis, the Bishop of Digne.
Religious vocation ‑ Formation
In the autumn of 1816, Marius was expected to begin his philosophy at the major seminary. He extended his vacation time in Fuveau in order to participate in a mission being preached in his parish from September 1 to September 29 by the diocesan priests Eugène de Mazenod, Henry Tempier, Pierre-Nolasque Mie and Sébastien Deblieu. He already knew the first two mentioned. They gave him the task of teaching catechism to the men, visiting t those who refused to attend the exercises of the mission, being in charge of the singing and of the decor for the main ceremonies. Marius subsequently formed a bond with the Missionaries of Provence and determined to follow them. His acceptance into the Mission community at Aix bears the date of October 14, 1816. He took the habit on January 21, 1817 and made his oblation November 1, 1818.
Along with the scholastic brothers Alexandre Dupuy, Hippolyte Courtès, François Moreau and Jean-Baptiste Honorat, Marius Suzanne was among Father de Mazenod’s first disciples. They formed that first community of the Mission at Aix, a community whose life of charity and apostolic spirit is so well described in Bishop Jacques Jeancard’s Mélanges historiques sur la Congrégation des Oblats de Marie Immaculée (Tours, 1872, p. 26-34). The youth association of Aix, also founded by Abbé de Mazenod, was flourishing at the time. The novice signed up as a member of this association shortly before Christmas of 1817 and took charge of a group of students studying law.
In the summer of 1818, Bishop de Miollis, Bishop of Digne, invited the Missionaries of Provence to assume pastoral responsibility for the shrine of Notre-Dame du Laus. Father de Mazenod consulted his ten priestly confreres who agreed to this and approved of his plans to draw up a Rule suited to the new conditions faced by the budding Society. He did this in September of 1818 at Saint-Laurent du Verdon in the company of the deacon, Francis Moreau, and of Marius Suzanne, a cleric in minor orders. At the end of October, these Rules which included the vows of chastity and obedience were approved in a vote of six for and four against. On November 1, the annual retreat concluded with the first taking of vows in the Congregation. It was then Marius finished his novitiate and made his oblation.
We know very few details about his philosophical and theological studies at the major seminary of Aix, where the Oblates took their courses. Bishop Jeancard simply tells us that, as a student, Marius did a lot of reading and benefited from it. He read philosophic works dealing with the issues current at the time (de Bonald, de Maistre, Lamennais) and the religious writings of the great minds of the 1700’s. He had an similar attraction for literature, too great a liking in Father Tempier’s opinion. On July 25, 1819, Father Tempier, recently made superior of Notre-Dame du Laus, urged Father de Mazenod, who was alone at Aix and in charge of the scholastic brothers, not to encourage too much Marius Suzanne’s taste for literature and urged him to watch over Marius so that he would “show moderation in this regard.”
After the great parish mission preached in Aix in the spring of 1820, a mission in which Marius took part as catechist, he made his first attempt at writing by publishing Quelques lettres sur la mission d’Aix. On June 1, Fortuné de Mazenod wrote his brother, Charles Antoine, the president: “The small number of people who read [this little work] were very satisfied with it, even at the seminary where the Mission house community has a lot of jealous people or enemies among the young people there.”
Marius Suzanne was ordained to the sub-diaconate on February 26, 1820, to the diaconate March 17, 1821 and to the priesthood the following September 22, after having made a month’s retreat at Notre-Dame du Laus.
Immediately after his ordination, Father Suzanne left for La Ciotat with Father de Mazenod and four other missionaries. Until 1826, his main work was that of preaching parish missions. Here is a list of the parish missions in which he participated, in 1825 and 1826 often in the role of “superior.”
1. Aix, March 12 to April 24, 1820.
2. La Ciotat, November 4 to December 23, 1821.
3. Fuveau in September 1822.
4. Tallard, January 5 to February 2, 1823.
5. Lauzet, February 9 to March 9, 1823.
6. Gap in September and October 1823 with the Jesuits.
7. Entrevaux, November 1823.
8. Ventabren, Janury 11 to February 8, 1824.
9. Monclar, February 1824.
10. Veynes, Lent of 1824.
11. Entrevaux, May 1824 (follow-up mission).
12. Nice, beginning of July 1824.
13. Allauch, November and December 1824.
14. Saint-Bonnet, January 1825.
15. Gap, May 1825 (retreat for 580 prisoners).
16. Allauch, November and December 1825 (follow-up mission).
17. Ribiers, December 1825 and January 1826.
18. Nîmes, January and February 1826 with the Missionaries of France.
19. Aubagne, February 17 to March 21, 1826.
20. Aix, March and April 1826 (Father Suzanne with 10 priests and scholastic brothers).
The Founder relied heavily on the talents and the zeal of Father Suzanne as a missionary. In his view, he not only had the gift of teaching, but also of moving people and leading them to conversion. He did find fault with him in that he did not know how to take sufficient rest, of coming to Marseilles “to devastate his health” between two missions to preach taxing sermons and speaking at the celebrations of octaves. In a letter to Father Tempier, we read: “He does not know how to preach with moderation, he always preaches like a missionary which is absurd in the body of our church.” (February 27, 1826 in Letters to the Oblates of France, 1826-1830, Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 227, p. 46)
In Rome in 1826, Father de Mazenod seemed to have had some forebodings as to Father Suzanne’s disregard for his health and the health breakdown that would take place at the end of the Aix jubilee. The Founder begged Father Tempier to restrain the enthusiasm of the Oblate priests. In a March 30 letter, he wrote: “I fear lest Father Mye and Father Suzanne especially who rises to this occasion with such vivacity, will be affected. We must do everything to avoid ruining workers of this caliber.” (Ibidem, no. 233, p. 73) On April 13, he returned to the same theme: “How long then will it last, this so highly rated jubilee in our blessed city of Aix? I see Suzanne from here forcing his voice in that great church of Saint-Sauveur [the cathedral church]; how could his chest not suffer thereby?” (Ibidem, no. 236, p. 84)
Bishop Jeancard often preached with Father Suzanne. This is how he describes his performance as preacher: “Hardly had he been ordained when he showed his power as an apostolic worker during parish missions. In the ministry of preaching or in that of reconciliation, everywhere he worked, he generated a most lively response and brought many to conversion. There is something in his speech, in his actions, in his person, something so attractive that people are drawn to him in total trust.” (Missions, 6 (1867), p. 129) “No doubt he had the gift of expressing himself as much with power as with fluency and lofty speech. His language, always lucid and rich, was sometimes inspired in a wonderful way. He was able to communicate a penetrating warmth to his listeners, an irresistible energy… [However], Father Suzanne’s physical features as a preacher were not outstanding. His voice was true enough and loud enough. Generally, when there were large audiences, everybody heard him. But, at certain times, his voice had a strident quality which grated on the ear. Carried away by a wave of rhetoric, he overtaxed his voice. In order to sustain this effort or to give it more power, he was obliged to make the kinds of demands on his chest that ended up costing him his life.” (Mélanges historiques…, p. 213-124, 220)
These last reflections coincide with those of Bishop Anthony Arbaud, Bishop of Gap and of the Jesuit, Father Thomas with whom Father Suzanne preached the parish mission of Gap in the autumn of 1823. The former asserted that Father Suzanne was not doing too badly, but that “the tone of his discourses is too monotonous.” As for the latter, he was more critical than laudatory. Nevertheless, he does concede that they listened to him “with pleasure.” (Letter of Eugene de Mazenod to Marius Suzanne, November 29, 1823 in Letters to the Oblates of France, 1814-1825, Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 121, p. 130)
Superior of the House at Le Calvaire
In 1821-1823, Father Suzanne, the preacher, made his residence either in Aix or at Notre-Dame du Laus. At Notre-Dame du Laus, he spent particularly the summer of 1822 as Father Tempier’s socius with regard to the novices and the scholastic brothers. From 1823 to 1829, he usually resided at Marseilles.
In May of 1821, subsequent to the January, February mission of 1820, Bishop Ferdinand de Bausset-Roquefort, Archbishop of Aix entrusted pastoral care of Le Calvaire located at la Montée des Accoules in Marseilles to the Missionaries of Provence. Father Emmanuel Maunier had been the first superior there. When he left the Congregation in 1823 after Fathers de Mazenod and Tempier were named vicars general for Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod, it was Father Suzanne who replaced him as superior. He was officially named superior at the General Chapter of 1824. Fathers Tempier and Dupuy had just finished building a large house. In addition to being in charge of a community of several priests and very soon the novices and the scholastic brothers, the new superior had to provide ministry at a provisional chapel and build a church. He threw himself into his new task. The generosity of the people who attended Le Calvaire and what was brought in by collections made in the city allowed them to make the work proceed rapidly. The church, built in the form of a rotunda with a copula, opened its doors August 2, 1826.
In order to acquaint the clergy of Marseilles with this new church, Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod chose to hold the priests’ retreat of November 8 to November 15, 1826 at Le Calvaire and its church. The bishop and some forty priests took up residence in the Oblate house. The other clergy would come every day to listen to the preaching of Father Enfantin in the new church dedicated to Notre-Dame de Bon Secours.
At the beginning of January 1827, the community was made up of twelve priests, five scholastic brothers and eleven novices. The superior, in rather fragile health since he had begun to spit blood in 1826, was much taken up in responding to the spiritual needs of the many faithful that crowded into his church. He paid little attention to his community and was somewhat lacking in being present at the exercises in common. Father de Mazenod who occupied one of the rooms in house noticed that community fervour and discipline left something to be desired. He decided to make a resounding and memorable intervention. He convoked a chapter of faults which he presided himself. He pointed out the failings capable, in the long run, of leading to “putting the Rules in abeyance.” He also deposed the superior and his council made up, it seems, of Fathers Jacques Jeancard and Hippolyte Guibert. He announced that he would himself take over the role of superior.
Father Suzanne felt this humiliation keenly, but he accepted it in an attitude of faith. A few days later, Father de Mazenod let him know that he still had confidence in him. He sent him to Nîmes with Father Tempier to buy a house there for the budding Oblate community of that city. On his return journey, while passing through Aix, Father Suzanne experienced a recurrence of his illness. He was compelled to take several months of convalescence. In the autumn of 1827, he reassumed his position as superior of Le Calvaire. At this time, he stopped preaching all together and limited his zeal to hearing confessions and taking care of the poor and the sick.
Responsibilities and Various Works
In the month of August of 1828, in order to stress the esteem due the superior of Le Calvaire, Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod named him Canon Chief Confessor of Marseilles. As a simple cleric, he had already taken part in the last session of the General Chapter of 1818 when the vows of religion were accepted in the Congregation. He was subsequently a capitular in the Chapters of 1821, 1824 and 1826. In 1824 and 1826, the capitulars elected him fourth assistant and secretary general. In 1824, as secretary general, they asked him to draw up the reports of the 1818 and 1821 Chapters and then, along with Fathers Courtès and Honorat, to edit “the history of the Society by collecting all the materials which would contribute to this goal.” This work, it seems, was never begun, although Father Achilles Rey cited a few times the Memoires of Father Suzanne to contribute to the history of the Society. (Rey, I, p. 228, 232-233; 266-267, etc.) And yet, it is perhaps due to these three priests that initial steps were taken toward the founding of our General Archives. Although our archives are not all that extensive, they still are the envy of a number of religious congregations.
Along with Father Jeancard, Father Suzanne can be considered among the first writers in the Congregation. In 1820, he published Quelques lettres sur la mission d’Aix (43 p.) and in 1828, Neuvaine en l’honneur de Notre-Dame de Bon Secours. During the summers of 1826 and 1827, his times of forced residency at Notre-Dame du Laus, he spent his time writing a work of apologetics entitled, Profession de foi d’un prêtre de Provence adressée à un incrédule. August 25, 1827, Father de Mazenod reprimanded him for working too hard on this book. He reminded him that it was not appropriate to weary himself at such a task when conversions come especially from preaching. This work was never published and the manu has disappeared. We do, however, have his retreat notes and about 1000 pages of themes for preaching.
Father Suzanne’s Personality ‑ The Founder’s Affection for Him
Father Suzanne was a likable individual and was well loved. Bishop Jeancard wrote that Father Suzanne had “an open and gracious personality. His was a heart filled with affection with a genuine zeal for God’s house.” (Missions, 6 (1867), p. 124) In community, “we rarely saw him sad. There lay nothing maudlin at the heart of his recollection and nothing bothersome for his confreres. On the contrary, during recreation, he was in the most charming high spirits, a reflection of the interior peace and joy of his soul.” (Mélanges historiques…, p. 8 and 63) Bishop Jeancard continues: “[outside the community] “the people understood, loved and admired him and educated individuals were charmed by his unaffected politeness, his speech and his manners as much as by the brilliance of his talent and the extent of his erudition. His company was pleasant because his heart was kind and it was charity that inspired him.” (Missions, 6 (1867) p. 131)
The Founder became immediately attached to this young man brimming with talents and virtue, endowed with an affectionate nature and a fiery temperament like his own. We have 24 excerpts from letters the Founder wrote to Father Suzanne (See Letters to the Oblates of France, Oblate Writings I, vol. 6 and 7) and one only letter from Father Suzanne to the Superior General. In 1823, Father de Mazenod was in Paris on the occasion of his uncle’s consecration as bishop. Marius admits that he misses him and adds: “If it was not that I feared to sound trite, I would tell you that the days seem to me like years, the months are centuries and that I could no longer endure this cruel existence […] I hug you with all my heart. Your fond and affectionate son.” The Founder’s letters as well teem with expressions of affection. He always specifies that he holds him in high regard and loves him more than himself because he is “virtuous,” worthy in all respects of his love “because of his virtues and all his good and fine qualities,” on which account he is worthy of his entire confidence because of his attachment for himself and for the Society, etc.
Father Rey, who lived for some ten years with the Superior General, published several excerpts from these letters (see Rey I, p. 455-460) and he prefaced them with the following comments: “Father Suzanne was his favourite son. Godly, good-hearted, affectionate, intelligent, courageous, everyone considered that Father Suzanne was the spitting image of Father de Mazenod. An apostle like Father de Mazenod, consumed with zeal, he radiated great power from the pulpit and showed great wisdom in the confessional. His successes in preaching parish missions were consistent, without exception and irresistible […] Father de Mazenod’s correspondence with this young Oblate displays those charming characteristics that touch and enthral the hearts of the most callous. He expresses his feelings alternating simplicity with dignity and a freedom where one is at a loss as to what to admire the most: the unpretentiousness on the part of the priest who gives of himself without measure or the authority of the superior who fears to allow himself to be loved too much. The spirit of faith is what rules and raises to sublime heights the affection of a heart capable of every kind of dedication and of every kind of sacrifice […]”
Father Suzanne never did have very robust health, but in spite of that always preached with passion. The Superior General never ceased exhorting him to restraint and prudence. During the Founder’s trip to Rome from November of 1825 to July of 1826, Father Suzanne overtaxed his physical strength to the point of spitting blood and even while bathing in the warm springs of Aix in June suffered violent fits of spitting blood.
Not withstanding the lightening of his work load, especially in preaching, Father Suzanne suffered recurring attacks in January 1827 and especially at the beginning of November 1828. His vomiting blood made it clear that his tuberculosis was getting worse. The seminarians and scholastic brothers vowed to climb to Notre-Dame de la Garde barefoot if they could obtain his return to health. For a few months, the Founder was almost always at his side. “What concern, what pain, what heartache”, he wrote to Father Courtès on November 18.
Father Suzanne’s strength began to fail progressively. He was given the Sacrament of the Sick. In a January 29 letter to Father Courtès the Founder wrote again: “My hours, my days and my nights are spent at the side of our blessed ailing one who with heroic sentiments is bringing his sacrifice to its completion. Everyone is engaged in gathering up his words and I meditate on the sufferings of the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the cross. Until today, I have only had an imperfect grasp of what she suffered.”
Father Suzanne died January 31 at two o’clock in the afternoon. He body rests in the Oblate vault in Aix-en-Provence. Father Alexandre Audo has written a few lines about him which, it seems to me, capture exactly the role he played at the beginning of the Congregation. “Young Father Suzanne was to Father de Mazenod what Joseph was to the patriarch Jacob, what Saint John was to Our Lord: the favourite son. Moreover, he saw in him an alter-ego, the man who incarnated the future of the Congregation, the one who would step into his shoes to govern the religious family. Father Suzanne was worthy of this preferential consideration. His great holiness, his love of souls, his eloquence and many other qualities made of him a man in whom one could place the highest hopes. A premature death snatched this beloved son from the affections of Father de Mazenod, January 31, 1829.” (Missions, 60 (1926), p. 285-286)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.