In his role as a director of the prison charity, Eugene became well known to the Archbishop of Aix and was treated by him as a son. Rey tells us how Eugene became a regular participant in the prayers and chanting of the Divine Office in the Cathedral.

“He used to take his place in the large choir in the area where the stalls were accessible to men. One day, during the divine office, some of the onlookers had not behaved in a manner suitable for a holy place. After Mass, the master of ceremonies came to tell the occupants of the stalls, regardless of who they were, that they were no longer to go to these stalls – by order of the Archbishop. Eugene left the church, visibly upset, but resigned to obey authority. When he returned home he was surprised to find a letter from the Archbishop, giving him a special favor: the right to take his place in the stalls where the clergy prayed. He immediately went to the Archbishop to thank him for having made him a “mini-canon.”

He had a certain claim to this title, not only because of his regular attendance at the services, but even more because of the part he played in the singing and in all the prayers. On Sundays and feast days he attended the canonical hours and chanted the psalms with the canons. God had given him a clear voice, very precise and very pleasant; Eugene liked to devote it to the Church’s hymns, which he regarded as more important than all other songs.”     Rey I p. 50-51

Four years earlier, Eugene’s letters had been full of the pleasures of Aix: theater, singing, dancing, parties etc. It is clear that something had changed in his life. We are witnessing  a 25 year-old fully on the journey of conversion!

Finally, Eugene is allowing God to be the author of his life. As I reflect on this, I want to remove my shoes because I am on holy ground… the sacred space of Mazenodian spirituality where God writes the story.


“Your destiny is to fulfill those things upon which you focus most intently. So choose to keep your focus on that which is truly magnificent, beautiful, uplifting and joyful. Your life is always moving toward something.”   Ralph Marston

Posted in WRITINGS | Tagged , , | 1 Comment



As a member of the charitable work for the prisoners, Eugene had a certain success in most of his undertakings. Leflon describes his eventual failure in not getting old stale bread delivered to them. The reaction proved to be the stimulus that made Eugene resign from this position:

He was not so successful with Carles, the baker, however. Much to the contrary; the man’s abuses, which “Demazenot fils” had dared to denounce, became worse than ever. In spite of repeated warnings, the baker persisted in exploiting the prisoners, for he evidently enjoyed a certain protection. He even went to the extent of insulting the Semainiers, when they complained to him about the bad quality of his bread. The administrators finally became aroused when one of their recently named directors, Jerome Vial, resigned his duties in September, in protest against these intolerable insults, and they then decided to give an ultimatum: one of two things—either Mayor de Fortis will replace the baker, or he will dispense the members from verifying the man’s deliveries. However, the said Mayor de Fortis was determined to maintain the status quo, arguing that the Semainier had all the power that was needed to exercise effective control.


Meanwhile, like his colleague Vial, Eugene de Mazenod handed in his resignation. But, while Vial had given as his reason the impossibility “of adequately fulfilling the obligations which each of us assumed when we accepted the duties that we were called upon to share equally,” Eugene, on the other hand, contented himself with giving, as his reason, domestic affairs, “which are absorbing all the time, he would like to devote to the charitable works to which he had been called.”

Did he, too, feel that it was useless to try to help the prisoners through a mode of action that was meeting insurmountable obstacles, as well as disinterest on the part of his colleagues? Did someone hint that his youthful zeal was somewhat excessive and out of keeping with the traditional reserve of the organization? Whatever the case may have been, no one tried to stop him from resigning. If the prisoners lost out, the “Charitable Works” recovered its placid ways, for according to the reports made at its future meetings, the organization confined itself to strictly administrative tasks and signed their checks without being too much concerned about human and Christian charity.

At least the experience had proved useful in revealing to Eugene a material and moral misery he never even suspected of existing. ” Leflon I, p. 286

All this became a learning opportunity for the young Eugene, who was undergoing life-changing experiences at this very time concerning his personal “domestic affairs.”


“In spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser and happier as a result.”   Joseph B. Wirthlin

Posted in WRITINGS | Tagged | 1 Comment


When it was Eugene’s turn to be the director of the prison charity for the week (“Semainier”), he went to extraordinary lengths to force the prisoners to go to Mass. Leflon, quoting the minutes of the meetings, explains

“On the fourth point, however, the directors were exceedingly more cautious. They agreed that the irreligion of some of the prisoners is blameworthy, but, since coercive measures are not within our powers, it seems more advisable to be doubly zealous in exhorting the prisoners to fulfill a duty that is very necessary and indispensable for people in their situation. They advised that each Semainier exhort “all the prisoners to fulfill their obligations as Christians by attending divine services.”

This did not deter Eugene de Mazenod. At the session on January 20, the last point was again brought to the floor and, this time, the directors decided to take measures to increase the attendance of prisoners at Sunday Mass: It has been decided to make a number of tags, equal to the number of prisoners; these tags will be printed with the seal of the organization, and carry the word “soup”; on each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, as the prisoners leave at the end of Mass, the Semainier will give each prisoner, who will have assisted at Mass, one of the aforementioned tags, which will be returned at the distribution of soup; he will strictly see to it that soup will be given only to those who return the tags to him, testifying that they were present at the Mass which will have been celebrated in the prison chapel.

The adopted measure worked out poorly, and, at the meeting of March 24, “Demazenot fils,” the outgoing Semainier, denounced the tricks practiced by the prisoners in circumventing the system. After stating that “everything was orderly during the week,” and that “ the bread was of good quality,” Eugene added:

Would that I could also give a favorable report concerning the eagerness of the prisoners to fulfill their Christian duty by attending Mass. There is a group of men in the prison who believe that they are above this precept. I have seen at Mass only two of those who, in prisons, think themselves the higher class, and look upon themselves as being superior to those they call the scum, simply because they were able to pay the six centimes needed for being assigned to a room. As for the so-called “scum,” most of them heeded my exhortations. However, since this did not include all of them, I felt it my duty to learn who the delinquents were, in order to impose the prescribed punishment upon them.
This is how I went about making sure that they did not escape my vigilance. I had a list of prisoners drawn up and took the trouble of calling out their names, one after the other. Each one was permitted to leave only after I had called out his name, and those who did not answer the roll call had a small check mark put after their names, and they did not share in the distribution of the soup, which took place in my presence. The astonishment which this measure caused proved to me that this method is preferable to that of the tags, which they had found ways of circumventing. The only precaution necessary is to keep an eye on the one who has charge of distributing the soup, since, by giving double rations to the comrades of those whom we have judged it proper to punish, he would render our precautions useless.
But, inasmuch as every advantage resulting from this just severity would vanish, if all of us did not follow a uniform mode of action, I beg my colleagues not to let their zeal slacken the least bit in regard to this measure.

Thus, on his own initiative, Eugene inaugurated a system of control which he took for granted all his colleagues would follow.”   Leflon I p. 285

No doubt that the young nobleman’s intention was good, but his method of achieving it certainly left a lot to be desired. Eugene’s discovery of, and his relationship with, the Crucified Christ would change his approach radically and teach him to treat the poor with dignity and respect.


“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”   Laurence Sterne

Posted in WRITINGS | Tagged | 1 Comment


Leflon describes Eugene’s efforts to bring spiritual comfort to the prisoners: “Finally, the Semainier, anxious to make sure the prisoners received spiritual help, which was also one of the purposes of the Organization, observed that there exists an inexcusable neglect of religion, if not a deplorable spirit of irreligion among many of the prisoners who dispense themselves from attending Holy Mass without any legitimate reason, and, hence, it would be advisable to exhort the prisoners very strongly to fulfill such a sacred duty.” Leflon I p. 104

To his father, Eugene narrated:

Believe me, dear friend, the man who is fulfilling this ministry of charity does not see in these criminals whose advocate he has in a sense become, anything but unfortunates in need of help. It is the task of justice, with both equity and severity, to establish guilt, our duty is to ease their sufferings by every means in our power but above all with the consolations that religion brings.

Young Eugene’s means of conveying the “consolations that religion brings” by bribing the prisoners to go to Mass are quite horrifying when one considers his pastoral approach to prisoners in later years:

Do all my colleagues fulfil this duty, so essential as it is? I cannot say; as for myself, I congratulate myself, not only on having seen to it that the quality of the bread has been improved, that one category of prisoners are more demanding and more abandoned than the rest, and of about the same age as myself, got help, and on having put right many abuses, but especially for getting the administration to consider through my report that a punishment should be imposed on those Catholics amongst them who failed to attend divine service on Sundays and feast days. This punishment cannot be very extensive as we have no prison police, but forfeiting their soup will be enough to hold all these Gentlemen to their obligation.

Letter to his father, 19 January 1807, EO XIV n 21

Eugene certainly needed the grace of an encounter with the meaning of the mercy and compassion of the Crucified Savior!


“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.”   Horace Mann

Posted in LETTERS | Tagged | 1 Comment


Eugene’s heart had been touched by the miserable situation of the prisoners, as Leflon tells us:

Eugene then denounced the deplorable condition of the temporary prisoners, particularly the conscriptees who had been taken from one regiment to another before reaching their final destination. These were the prisoners who had gone into hiding in order to escape conscription, and had eventually been arrested by the police. They

not only lack food, but the majority of them are almost stark naked.

The Semainier proposes, therefore, that an annual collection be conducted, with the permission of the mayor, and that part of the funds collected be used in purchasing “ trousers, shoes, hats, etc . . . for distribution among the wretched needy who are shunted from prison to prison.”  Leflon I, p 104

His initiative was successful:

“He likewise succeeded in providing the draft dodgers with essential clothing. We know that on January 28, he was commissioned, along with two other directors, to buy,

for the time being, a dozen pairs of second-hand underwear, a dozen pairs of tapped shoes,

and on March 10,

some linen material for three dozen men’s shirts, and two dozen women’s chemises, twentyfour bed sheets, ten blankets, twelve Cadiz winter cloaks, twenty straw mattresses, twelve caps, twelve bolsters, and twelve handtowels,

being helped in all this by an organization known as ‘The Ladies of Charity’.”  Leflon I, p 108

A praiseworthy concern for the situation of the poor which helped to alleviate the suffering of the underprivileged prisoners. At this stage, his motivation seemed to be purely humanitarian – his compassionate human nature had been touched. Later we will see how he was to undertake similar gestures, but as a result of seeing the suffering through the eyes of the Crucified Savior, and responding to the poor because of Jesus. God’s grace would build on Eugene’s nature in the future.


“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”   Albert Schweitzer

Posted in WRITINGS | Tagged , | 1 Comment


Leflon writes: “Installed on December 30, 1806, ‘Demazenot fils’: immediately assumed the duties of the Semainier (the director in charge for one week), and, in this capacity, presented, on January 6, 1807, a report that had the Mazenod touch, and seems to have somewhat startled his colleagues who were accustomed to less clear-cut and less emphatic reports. In no uncertain terms, the young committeeman denounced the baker for the abuses which the members of the organization had very prudently ignored up to that time.

First abuse:
We must be scrupulously exact in seeing that the baker hired to provide bread for the prisoners does not underhandedly slip in bread that has gone bad; having noticed this abuse the first day he carried out his duties, and having made complaints to the baker, the Semainier was promised by the said baker that it would not happen in the future, and, actually, the bread was excellent all the rest of the week.
Second abuse:
allowed to creep in, one that can have dangerous consequences and, hence, one which must be remedied immediately;
at the end of each quarter the said baker presents a statement on the amount of bread delivered, but no one verifies the accuracy of this statement.
To help us proceed correctly, the baker should be obliged to present, along with this quarterly statement, the day by day delivery slips, signed by the officer of the week. Verification would then be made and, in this way, we can be sure of the accuracy of his statement.”

Reports from the minutes of the meeting, quoted by Leflon I p. 282

Telling his father about this new area of concern for him, Eugene wrote:

whatever about this deplorable disposition of the very great majority of the unfortunates confided in part to my care, I try to obtain for them all the comforts that depend on me, whether it be by taking care that the bread the government provides for them is of good quality, or having the soup that the results of our appeals obtains for us served to them each day through the ministry of our Ladies of Prisons, or in preserving them from the rigors of the season with good overcoats, or saving them from being dirty by giving them a weekly change of shirt, or giving them bed sheets when they are ill, all with money raised by appeals…

Letter to his father, 19 January 1807, EO XIV n 21

A few years later, Eugene would insist that a hallmark of the method of our spirituality had to be to help people be more fully human, then Christian, then saints. His concern for the welfare of the prisoners clearly shows the starting point in his own life.


“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”   Mahatma Gandhi

Posted in LETTERS | Tagged , , | 1 Comment



On December 23 1806, Eugene, addressed as ”Demazenot fils,” (the equivalent of “junior”) received the following letter, addressed to him from the directors of the Work of Prisons in Aix: “Sir, we have the honor to inform you that the Mayor of Aix, convinced of your zeal and your love for all that is related to the relief of the poor and unfortunate, has named you in its meeting of December 22, 1806, a director of the Work of the Prisons of this city.” Rey I p.80

Leflon gives some background:

It would not be too far-fetched to see some connection between Eugene’s spiritual evolution and the short but very active role he played in the charitable works among the prisoners at Aix. At any rate, the coincidence is so striking that it deserves to be mentioned.

First established in 1686… Its purpose was to assure necessary spiritual and material assistance to the prisoners… Before 1789, it consisted “of 15 directors, all distinguished for their piety and chosen from among gentlemen, lawyers, procurators, notaries, bourgeois and resident merchants of Aix.” These directors gathered every week under the chairmanship of the officer of the week, called the Semainier, who gave the others a report on the visits made to the prisons, the needs of the prisoners, and the distributions that were made that week. Taken over by the municipality in 1792, suppressed in 1796, reestablished in 1797, and reorganized in 1803, the organization was in need of what Eugene called “regeneration.” De Fortis, the Mayor, therefore, resolved to add six new directors to the board… all of whom brought new life to the organization. (Leflon I p. 281)

Eugene wrote to his father about this event:

My dear friend, it is incredible that more than a month has flown by since my last letter, and what is perhaps difficult to believe, is that this is the first free time I’ve had to attend to my own affairs. In the three months since it pleased M. de Fortis, mayor of our town, to honor me with the appointment of director of prisons, I have not had what is called a minute of time to myself.
New blood having been put into this work with a view to regenerating an establishment that is so precious for suffering humanity and which had fallen along with so many other institutions under the sickle of a Revolution destructive of all good, I had to devote my time and efforts entirely and uniquely to that restoration, all the more as on entering I was chosen to be on duty in the first week.
I will not tell you what it cost a heart like mine to live so to speak in the midst of all the miseries and sufferings of every kind and especially when I consider the hardening and perseverance in evil of people given over to all the severity of justice and who lack for the most part the expectation of graces from Him who wipes out the crime in the act of pardoning it; whatever about this deplorable disposition of the very great majority of the unfortunates confided in part to my care, I try to obtain for them all the comforts that depend on me

Letter to his father, 19 January 1807, EO XIV n 21


“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”   Billy Graham

Posted in LETTERS | Tagged , | 1 Comment


Since his return to Aix, Eugene was in continual contact with his mother’s cousin, François Joseph Roze (Joannis), to whom she was very attached and whom Eugene always referred to as “my uncle.” Roze was an educated man with a doctor’s degree in law and in medicine, but

you know that my dear uncle is, worse luck for him, the most obstinate jansenist in christendom. I only hope that the austere life he leads and his generosity to all kinds of poor people will merit him the grace of entering the sheepfold which he and his confreres claim they have never left.

Letter to his father, 26 December 1805, EO XIV n 14

Eugene’s change of attitude and search for meaning in his life and his renewed interest in his faith made him engage with his uncle’s faith vision and to redirect his time and energy to make a study of the deviation of Jansenism.

I must add that, attached as I am by bonds of blood and friendship to one of the most enlightened of Jansenists and one who is at the same time one of the most obstinate of them, I often engage in conversation with him about these matters, and it can well be imagined that he spares no pains in presenting his sect’s doctrine to me in the best light possible in an effort to get me to join, knowing how inflexible my character is in the matter of duty as to which I do not tolerate any kind of tampering. So I am in a better position than anyone to know if anyone is attributing to them opinions they do not hold; for I can guarantee that their doctrine is the same as that we read in their books with the difference that in talking with them you force them to admit certain consequences that they take great pains to conceal in most of their works, but which are not difficult to deduce from their principles which are set out in all the publications with which they have inundated the public

The depth of his reading and study is reflected:

Much more again would emerge if, penetrating deeper into their system, I set out for you their errors concerning the sacrament of penance, the Eucharist and orders, on the Church’s discipline, etc. Does one need more to demonstrate the incredible outrages of the Jansenists? Will you ever again let yourself be taken in by the fine words that are ever on their lips? My patience is at an end and I cannot continue my exposition of their blasphemies.

Notes on Jansenism, 1806, EO XIV n 16

Quite a radical change of focus from the young man’s previous vanity and passion for the Aix social scene and the pursuit of money!


“Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”   Paul Tillich

Posted in LETTERS | Tagged | 1 Comment


For most of us, the religious experience of a significant awareness of God’s presence that leads to personal conversion is a long and slow process – usually we are not even fully aware of the meaning of what has been happening until a time later when we look back and reflect. Often we hear Eugene’s Good Friday experience being presented as if this was the one and only sudden momentous experience on his conversion journey: a Saul on-the-way-to-Damascus epiphany. A milestone the Good Friday certainly was, but only within the context of a long journey of awareness and experience that led to gradual personal change.

The Eugene who was supposedly suddenly smitten by his looking at the Cross one Good Friday, is not much of an example or encouragement to the rest of us who are “unsmitten” by never having had a similar sudden religious experience. We may feel happy for him, but there it stays in the realm of the plaster statue saint that doesn’t touch our real lives. No, Eugene’s experience speaks to me because it was a journey of realization – a journey of awakening that inspires us to do likewise. I have traced his lost and lukewarm years in a certain amount of detail to highlight exactly this: in his journey we find a mirror of our own history of awareness and lack of awareness, of faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God’s presence in our lives. As a saint he walks the same walk with us today as a guide and intercessor.

Several years later, Eugene would write to his mother about his lukewarm stage:

When I was being urged more strongly than ever by grace to give myself entirely to God’s service, I did not want to do anything rash and you must have seen that I began to move out of that state of lukewarmness into which I had fallen and which would infallibly have led to my death, I tried by a much greater fervor to merit new graces from the Lord and as this good Master is generous, he did not fail to grant them to me…

Letter to his mother, 23-24 March 1809 EO XIV n 49

Can I identify with Eugene’s “state of lukewarmness?” What does the experience of Eugene teach me as a follower of Jesus?


“Conversion for me was not a Damascus Road experience. I slowly moved into an intellectual acceptance of what my intuition had always known.”   Madeleine L’Engle, Christian novelist

Posted in LETTERS | Tagged , | 4 Comments


When some of the disciples pointed out to Jesus that the crowd that he was teaching was hungry, he replied: “Feed them yourselves” (Matthew 14:16 From the richness within you, you need to feed others. This is the starting point for spirituality too. We need to begin by becoming aware of the presence and action of God within ourselves.

In our exploration of the spirituality of Eugene de Mazenod we have recently spent time looking at his lost and confused years during which time he had become spiritually lukewarm. This Eugene that we have been looking at is the same Eugene who had received a solid religious instruction in his formal schooling and formation at the hands of Don Bartolo Zinelli. He had put this aside for a number of years, but the foundation was still present in the core of his being. As he began to come to his senses, his conversion process entailed rediscovering the riches within himself. “I had searched for happiness outside of God…”

We see this re-awakening in 1805 after a visit to Paris with his aunt. On the long journey back in a public carriage he met a young military doctor, Emmanuel de Claubry, who was on his way to rejoin his regiment in Italy. Thus began a friendship that was to last 50 years. On arrival in Italy Emmanuel wrote to Eugene to describe the suffering he was enduring at the hands of his fellow soldiers because of his faith and religious principles. It became a catalyst for Eugene to recall all that he had learnt in his religious formation – especially in the hands of Don Bartolo.

Your letter of October 13, my dear and good friend, filled my heart with bitterness. I had a lively sense of all the snubs you endured during that wretched meal and I would like to tell you that the matter will end there, but these first trials that every newcomer whoever he may be is made to undergo, will be followed by others to which those who do not profess faith in Jesus Christ would not be submitted. It is when they have found out that you are a Christian that they will shower you with sarcasms, insults and scorn, it is then that the children of darkness will bend all their efforts to pervert the child of light and it is then too, my dear friend, that you will need to call upon all the strength you received with the seal of regeneration and through the imposition of hands.
But as anything that I might say to reaffirm your faith and awaken your hope will have little effect as coming from my mouth, I have gathered together below some words of consolation that I have been careful to draw from the pure wellspring, in the book of life, that admirable code where all needs are foreseen, and remedies laid by. So it is by no means Eugene, it is Jesus Christ, it is Peter, Paul, John, etc., who send you this wholesome food which when received with that spirit of faith of which you are capable will certainly not be without effect.

Letter Emmanuel Gaultier de Claubry, EO XIV n 13

Eugene’s contemporary biographer, Rey, only copied this extract and left out the 3 pages of Holy Scripture transcribed by Eugene. He comments: “We do not know of a more complete and striking collection of texts adapted to fortify Christian courage” (Rey I p. 70). Don Bartolo had done his job well many years earlier!

As we explore Mazenodian spirituality, I see an invitation for each of us to become aware of the spiritual riches already within ourselves as individuals and as a Mazenodian group as the starting point of expressing a spirituality.

One of Eugene’s guiding texts entrusted to us as missionaries in the Preface is the responsibility to begin the transformation process within ourselves:

Take great care about what you do and what you teach,” was Paul’s charge to Timothy, “Always do this, and thus you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim 4: 16).


“Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”   Oscar Wilde

Posted in LETTERS | Tagged | 2 Comments