A free sixteen-part video series focused on the life, spirituality, and mission of St. Eugene de Mazenod, founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who also inspired the formation of a charism family of laity and religious around the world
- To help you to gain a deeper knowledge of the life of St. Eugene de Mazenod.
- To assist you to understand the charism, mission, and spirituality of St. Eugene de Mazenod.
- To see in him and his Mazenodian spirituality a model of holiness that can enrich your life
- For members of the Mazenodian Family to be inspired to discover their individual vocation within their specific branch of the Mazenodian Family.
This series is offered by the Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies as a free service to the Mazenodian Family and other interested parties and can be found at:
“To succeed in your intentions, entrust yourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary always, but especially in moments of difficulty and darkness. ‘From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s will in things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ, her Son and the Son of God…Learn from her to be always faithful, to trust that God’s Word to you will be fulfilled, and that nothing is impossible with God.’” (St. John Paul II)
We go back to 1822. In the midst of all his concerns for the survival of his newly-founded Missionary family, Eugene celebrated the feast of the Assumption. It was a day which was to leave a permanent impression on our Mazenodian family.
Eugene’s letters of 1822 have shown the many concerns and difficulties he was experiencing. Not least among these was his worry about the survival and future of his small group of Missionaries. It was in this spirit that he blessed the new statue in the chapel, which became the opportunity for a powerful life-giving insight. He immediately wrote to Henri Tempier, who was in Laus.
I believe I owe to her also a special experience that I felt today; I will not go so far as to say more than ever, but certainly more than usual.
Eugene was usually very reticent about describing his deep spiritual experiences. His “more than usual” experience was connected with the life of the Missionaries of Provence, who were experiencing external difficulties and whose future existence was in the balance.
I cannot describe it too well because it covered several things, but all related to a single object, our dear Society.
He then described the confirmation that he received that the foundation of the Missionaries had come from God and that God assured him of a solid future for this group.
It seemed to me that what I saw, what I could put my finger on, was
that within it lies hidden the seed of very great virtues,
and that it can achieve infinite good;
I found it worthy,
everything pleased me about it,
I appreciated its rules, its statutes;
its ministry seemed awe-inspiring to me, as it is indeed.
As I looked at the Society I found in it a sure, even infallible, means of salvation.
Letter to Henri Tempier, 15 August 1822, EO VI n 86
This was the grace that the Oblate Madonna had obtained for Eugene: a God-given assurance that he was on the right track and that he needed to persevere despite all the external storms raging around him that seemed to threaten the existence of the Missionaries.
Two hundred years later we continue to reap the harvest of this boost of confidence which our Oblate Madonna “smiled” on us.
“If Jesus manifests what God is doing, Mary exemplifies how to receive what God is doing and hand it on to others. In art, she is invariably offering Jesus to the observer or inviting us to come to him.” (Sisters of the Presentation)
As we prepare to celebrate the bicentenary on August 15, we recall that day which was to leave a permanent impression on the history of our Mazenodian family – and so it is important to explore what happened. Achille Rey, who knew Eugene well, wrote in his biography:
August 15, 1822 witnessed a feast in the Church of the mission of Aix. Fr. de Mazenod blessed, in the presence of a large gathering of his youth congregants and of other pious faithful, a statue of the Most Holy Virgin, under the title of the Immaculate Conception. It is to this same statue that he came for long and frequent prayers: it has become one of the most precious souvenirs of the origins of the family. (Rey I, p. 280)
In the review, Missions O.M.I., of 1908, p. 279, we find the following description:
“Her head, crowned with twelve stars, is lifted toward heaven in an attitude of prayer. She wears a golden veil, the same colour as her long robe and her mantle. She is portrayed as the Immaculate Conception with one foot standing on the crescent moon and the other upon a serpent she is crushing. Her right hand is resting on her heart while her other hand is open, spreading graces on her children who are praying to her.”
In a July 15, 1889 report from the Oblate house in Aix, Father Prosper Monnet described the internal chapel of the Mission church at Aix with the altar of the vows and the “antique Virgin which formerly smiled upon our venerated Founder and today still stands on her rich marble pedestal…” (Missions O.M.I., 27, (1889), p. 285).
And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. Genesis 3:15
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Book of Revelation 12:1
“Mother Mary, the Theotokos (‘God-bearer’), ushers in a time of justice and an ordered social advocacy. She proclaims that God is on the side of the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the hungry, the poor and the broken-hearted. She reveals the promise of the mercy of God.” (Valerie D. Lewis-Mosley)
After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Eugene returned to Aix and dedicated his ministry to bringing the most abandoned to relationship with Jesus the Savior. His key mission was to the youth of Aix. Some 300 High School and University students participated as committed members in his youth congregation. Eugene trained them to be “yeast” in their society, to be aware and reach out to those who were poor, suffering and in need (cf Luke 2:46-55): to bring them to know Jesus Christ the Savior. Mary figured prominently in their lives and mission.
Fr. Lubowicki shows how the early ministry of the young priest with the youth was conscious of the presence of Mary:
Statue in the Madeleine Church, where the youth prayed for Eugene’s recovery
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.
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, who in virtue of this title desires “to cooperate in [our] salvation”.
In the Association, “public declaration was made to honor and love” Mary with “unbounded filial tenderness”. 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]”.
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”. 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).
These young men were not future priests – they were laymen preparing themselves for secular careers. Does their level of commitment inspire us to re-examine our own?
“The contemplation of Mary’s faith urges us to renew, above all, our personal act of faith and abandonment to God. That is why it is so vitally important to say to God, once in life, let it be done, ‘fiat’, as Mary did. This is an act enveloped in mystery because it involves grace and freedom at the same time; it is a form of conception.” (Ranier Cantalamessa)
On 23 December 1809 Eugene made a definitive commitment towards the priesthood by being being ordained to the sub-diaconate. In a conference on that day he linked the commitment to give himself totally to the service of the People of God with Mary’s giving of the Savior in the Incarnation, which would be celebrated two days later.
These are the feelings which the grace of ordination has given birth to in our hearts. Let us go, my brothers, and place them at the foot of the crib of Jesus who will soon make his appearance. Let us be the first thing that catches his attention at the moment of his birth, and at the very instant that Mary presents the world with its Savior. Let us swear to him with one voice that we will be eternally faithful to the oath we have just taken to give our lives a thousand times over in defense of the inviolability of his Church. Amen, amen.
Conference for subdiaconate ordination day, 23 December 1809, EO XIV n 65.
The theme of Mary’s being united with Jesus, and thus being a model for his own unity with Jesus, returns often throughout the years that Eugene was at the seminary. On Christmas morning he wrote to his mother:
Dearest Mother, do you really think that I was not beside you last night? How could I fail, meditating as I was on the holy Mother of God, who had just been filled with consolation on giving the world its Saviour, and at the same time had to experience so vividly the poverty, weakness and misery to which she saw her Divine Master reduced for love of men, how could these tender sentiments fail to draw me close to you? Indeed yes, darling mother, we spent the night together at the foot of the altar, which for me represented the crib in Bethlehem; together we offered our gifts to our Savior and asked him to come to birth in our hearts and strengthen us in all that is weak, etc.
Letter to his mother, 25 December 1809, EO XIV n 37
“Holy Mary, Mirror of Justice, you reflect Jesus even more beautifully than the moon reflects the rays of the sun, pray for us that we too may be a mirror of your Son.” (St. John Henry Newman)
On Eugene’s spiritual formation, Fr. Lubowicki writes:
Jean-Jacques Olier, the founder of the seminary, developed a spirituality in which he stressed the fact that the priest is an alter Christus [ed. another Christ] ,and therefore someone who follows Christ in everything, including his relation to Mary.
One of the main driving forces that led Fr. Olier to a Marian devotion was “the desire of adopting the same sentiments as our Lord with regard to his Blessed Mother”.
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 [ed. O Jesus, living in Mary] 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.
Eugene wanted this prayer to be prayed each day by the Oblates, and it has become a part of our spiritual tradition:
O Jesus, living in Mary,
come and live in your servants,
in the spirit of your holiness,
in the fullness of your power,
in the perfection of your ways,
in the truth of your virtues,
in the communion of your mysteries.
Overcome every hostile power in your Spirit,
for the glory of the Father. Amen
“Mary was the first person to take the ‘way’ to enter the Kingdom of God that Christ opened, a way which is accessible to the humble, to all who trust in the word of God and endeavor to put it into practice.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
After his conversion journey and discernment that God was calling him to become a priest, the 26 year-old Eugene went to the Seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris.
On the first page of his study notes at the seminary, he wrote this dedication:
To the greater glory of God and of the Immaculate Virgin. Under the patronage of this Virgin, conceived without sin… so that for these and before them the Immaculate Mother may help me in this difficult course of studies
Traité de la pénitence, Ms. Oblate General Archives, DM-III 8a
As Mary reflected on and learnt from the presence of Jesus in her life, so too did Eugene want to have this same attitude in his seminary studies.
Mary Chapel, St Sulpice Church
After a year as seminarian in St Sulpice in Paris, Eugene reveals the place of Mary in his spirituality:
But devotion to the Blessed Virgin must excel all others; for the glorious Mother of God is called by the Church: our life and our hope. It is morally impossible for a soul to make any progress in the ways of perfection if it lacks this tender and sincere devotion to the most holy Mother of God.
General counsels for achieving perfection, notes taken in 1809, EO XIV n.39
“In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.” (Saint Therese of Lisieux)
During Eugene’s exile in Venice, the adolescent was blessed to have been accompanied by a young priest, Bartolo Zinelli, who gave him a solid foundation in his faith. He resolved to begin each day by praying before his crucifix and then:
I will also turn towards the image of Mary and I will humbly beg her maternal blessing
Eugene’s adolescent rule of life, quoted in Rey I p. 26
“Assumption of the Virgin” by Titian in the ‘Frari’ church in Venice
That these words of Eugene were not a passing fancy is backed up by the regard that this young man had for Father Bartolo in Venice, and his commitment to adhering strictly to his rule of life. The biographer Rey wrote that on the reverse side of the first page of this rule Eugene wrote these important lines:
This rule of life is more important to me than all the gold in the world. It was drawn up for me in Venice by my venerated and dear spiritual master Don Bartolo Zinelli… and I acknowledge that I owe to this holy priest, after God, the tiny bit of good that is in me… I was twelve years old when my holy and beloved master drew up this rule of life for me. ( REY, I, p. 25.)
Where does Mary figure in my daily schedule?
inspire within me
the same sentiments that were yours while pondering the revealed mysteries which you treasured in your heart”
When God chose Eugene de Mazenod to be the the founder of the Mazenodian Family, the priests and brothers were known as Missionaries of Provence. It took ten years to understand fully the fundamental role of Mary in this religious family and to change the name to Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. One of the highpoints of this journey of discovery took place on August 15, 1822 when Eugene blessed the statue of Mary Immaculate and received a mystical grace.
As we approach the bicentenary of this event, our daily reflections will focus on Mary Immaculate.
Looking back on his relationship with Mary, Eugene wrote in his will in 1854, at the age of 72:
To this end, I invoke the intercession of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, daring to remind her in all humility, but with consolation, of the filial devotion of my whole life, and of the desire I have always had to make her known and loved, and to spread her devotion everywhere through the ministry of those whom the Church has given to me as children, who have had the same desire as myself…
Eugene de Mazenod’s will, 1854
In the Sulpician Seminary, Eugene had learnt this prayer which he transmitted as part of our tradition to pray before entering into meditation. Perhaps you will find it helpful to accompany you each day in your prayer until August 15, and after:
faithful adorer of the Father,
Mother most admirable of the Son,
Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
inspire within me
the same sentiments that were yours while pondering the revealed mysteries which you treasured in your heart.
Grant that I may ever live
in union with your Son, my Saviour, together with all who, by meditation, give honor to the most Holy Trinity. Amen.
“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” (William Barclay)
Eugene celebrated this day every year, and gave it more importance than his birthday. His relationship with God was the most important element of his long life.
I invite you on this day to pray this short litany in gratitude for Saint Eugene whose charism brought about the Mazenodian Family throughout the world.
Lord have mercy, R./
Christ have mercy, R./
Lord have mercy, R./
Saint Eugene de Mazenod, pray for us.
Founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, pray for us..
Creator of apostolic community, pray for us.
Champion of the poor, pray for us.
Witness to Christ’s love on the cross, pray for us.
Preacher of parish missions, pray for us.
Minister to youth, pray for us.
Teacher of the unlearned, pray for us.
Shepherd of prisoners, pray for us.
Innovator in ministry, pray for us.
Restorer of shrines, pray for us.
Missionary of the Blessed Mother, pray for us.
Preacher of the Good News, pray for us.
Evangelizer of many nations, pray for us.
Man of deep faith, pray for us.
Pilgrim seeking perfection, pray for us.
Person of burning zeal, pray for us.
Advocate of justice, pray for us.
Missionary of Global Vision, pray for us.
Discerner of the needs of his day, pray for us.
Priest of great daring, pray for us.
Bishop of Marseille, pray for us.
Undaunted leader of the Church, pray for us.
Lover and defender of the Church, pray for us.
Formator of diocesan clergy, pray for us.
Seeker of Church renewal, pray for us.
Let us pray:
Lord, through the intercession of Saint Eugene de Mazenod, make us missionaries, especially to the poor and abandoned. Give us the same love Saint Eugene had, so we may see the poor and abandoned through the eyes of Jesus our Saviour. Help us accompany them to the resurrection. We ask this through Christ the Lord. Amen.