Bishop CHARLES JOSEPH EUGENE DE MAZENOD was born in Aix-en-Provence, France, on August 1, 1782, into a family of the lesser nobility. When Eugene was just eight years old, his family fled France during the turmoil of the French Revolution.
Leaving their possessions behind, the Mazenod family began an exile which lasted eleven years. As political refugees, they journeyed through a succession of cities in Italy. Eugene studied briefly at the College of Nobles in Turin, but a move to Venice meant the end of his formal schooling. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Bartolo Zinelli, living nearby, undertook to educate the young French emigre. He gave him an education with a lasting sense of God. The De Mazenods moved to Naples, and finally to Palermo where, thanks to the kindness of the Duke and Duchess of Cannizzaro, Eugene had his first taste of living as a noble.
In 1802, Eugene was able to return to his homeland. France was different from the world he left. He sank into depression, seeing little real future for himself. At the same time, he was deeply affected by the disastrous situation of the French Church, which had been decimated by the Revolution.
A call to the priesthood began to manifest itself. Eugene entered the seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, and, on December 21, 1811, he was ordained a priest in Amiens. Returning to Aix-en-Provence, he did not take on a normal parish assignment, but began to exercise his priesthood caring for the truly spiritually needy: prisoners, the youth, servants, country villagers. Beginning in 1816, he sought out other equally zealous priests who were prepared to step outside the old, even outmoded, structures. Eugene and his men preached in Provencal, the language of the common people, not in “educated” French. From village to village they went, instructing at the level of the people’s understanding and spending hours in the confessional. In between these parish missions, the group joined in an intense community life of prayer, study and fellowship.
In the beginning they called themselves “Missionaries of Provence”. On February 17, 1826, Pope Leo XII approved the new Congregation, as “Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate”. Together with their growing apostolic endeavors: preaching, youth work, care of shrines, prison chaplaincy, confessors, direction of seminaries, Eugene insisted on a deep spiritual formation and a close community life.
From 1823 on, Eugene was Vicar General of the Diocese of Marseilles. In 1832, he was named auxiliary bishop. Five years later, he was appointed to the See of Marseilles as its Bishop, while he continued to be the Superior General of the growing Oblate Congregation. His men ventured to England, Ireland, Canada, the United States, Sri Lanka and South Africa. They opened up previously uncharted lands, established new dioceses, and, in a multitude of ways, they “left nothing undared that the Kingdom of Christ might be advanced”.
As a bishop Eugene was an outstanding pastor of the Church of Marseilles: Ensuring good seminary training for his priests, establishing new parishes, building the city’s cathedral and the spectacular Shrine of Notre Dame de la Garde above the city, encouraging his priests to lives of holiness, introducing many Religious Congregations to work in the diocese.
Eugene de Mazenod died May 21, 1861, at the age of 79. As he lay dying he left his Oblates a final testament, “Among yourselves-charity, charity, charity: in the world-zeal for souls.”