THE MISFORTUNE OF SO MANY FAMILIES TOUCHES ME DEEPLY

Eugene was no longer in Marseilles and his first instinct was to rush back to the city because the cholera had spread from Toulon and Aix to the city. Father Tempier wrote:

“The Bishop [Fortuné] really would like you to stay away from the epidemic’s influence, since you are absent in any case. We have just received a letter from the Mayor who would like us not to ring the bells as death knell for those who are dying, for he claims that the sound of the bells is frightening the people. Such a request is ridiculous; we haven’t taken any decision in this matter.” Letter of Henri Tempier to Eugene de Mazenod, 16 July 1835, EO2 n 70.

Eugene’s reply shows his distress and grief at the tragedy:

I am in such anguish to know that you are once again in the danger-zone that I would like to go and share it with you, for your own consolation and mine…
We are going to pray for you every day; tell my uncle how much I feel for him, for you and all our friends; the misfortune of so many families touches me deeply. Say just one word and I’ll be there.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 19 July 1835, EO VIII n 523

The life of Eugene was marked by how the suffering of others always impacted on him and compelled him to respond. He saw and experienced the world through the eyes of the crucified Savior, and his response was to try to be the cooperator of the Savior to those in need.

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I AM IN SUCH ANGUISH TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE ONCE AGAIN IN THE DANGER-ZONE

The cholera epidemic ended suddenly in Marseilles in April 1835 after having ravaged the city for 111 days. Three months later it broke out in the nearby harbor city of Toulon with multiple deaths each day. Two Oblates in Aix were preparing to go to Toulon to give spiritual assistance to the dying but were prevented from doing so on 16 July when the epidemic started in Aix en Provence.

Father Courtès wrote: “This day will always remain in the memory of the inhabitants; this morning at 4 the deadly cloud enveloped the city and by 10 am more than thirty victims were struck by cholera almost like a lightning strike. I was obliged to send two priests to the hospital to help the chaplain: all those with cholera were administered to, and half of them died. Father André returned home at 10 pm after hearing confessions for the whole day. The Major Seminary has been converted into a hospital.” (Quoted in Rey I p. 632)

Eugene was no longer in Marseilles, but at the Shrine of ND de l’Osier, and was informed of this by Father Tempier, to whom he responded:

My dear Father Tempier, your letters become more and more distressing. Today it’s the heartbreaking recital of the disasters caused by the cholera, and the possibility of the plague at Toulon, and the all too just fears that the proximity of the unfortunate infected city inspires in you. On this last count, I really need to have daily bulletins about the locality where you are living through a daily newspaper, like the “Gazette.” I hope you won’t have neglected to procure me this gloomy consolation … I am in such anguish to know that you are once again in the danger-zone…

Letter to Henri Tempier, 19 July 1835, EO VIII n 523

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SO NOT FOR ME THE MUCH-DESIRED PALM OF THE MARTYRDOM OF CHARITY

For Eugene, oblation meant being prepared to give one’s life for Jesus -especially at the service of others. He had prayed for this oblational martyrdom from the time of his priestly ordination.

I will give you my news in brief. Cholera has not killed us all off. I confronted it as is my duty, if not without peril, at least without damage to my health. Every day I had to visit a number of the sick in the hospitals and private houses. God was always my help, and so not for me the much-desired palm of the martyrdom of charity.

Letter to Bishop Frezza in Rome, 27 April 1835, EO XV n 177

Eugene may not have achieved the martyrdom of charity, but attacks directed at him certainly caused a martyrdom in a different sense. Eugene had been banned from any public ministry in Marseilles as bishop, but because of the urgency of the situation, the Prefect realized that he was needed and turned a blind eye. At the end of the epidemic, however, the situation both with the civic authorities and with some rebellious priests broke out again. Eugene, who had had his French citizenship removed was worried about drawing to much attention to his presence in Marseilles and consequently being expelled from France. He decided to withdraw from Marseilles and go to live in Oblate communities outside of Provence. Leflon explains:

“In June, the latter had submitted his resignation as vicar-general and had left Marseilles to administer ordinations and confirmation in the dioceses of Aix and Avignon. During his absence, some priests who were justly disciplined, attacked him in the press before the state council; one of them was Jonjon, who published in the anti-clerical Semaphore an outrageous article entitled Justice of the Bishopric of Marseilles. Another was the pastor of Aygalades; deprived of his pastoral powers because he had become unbearable to his parishioners and had brought the newspapers, his parish, and the officials of Aix, into the quarrel and had appealed to the king and the Pope. Finally, the prefect of Vaucluse became alarmed by the activity displayed in his department by a prelate “who has made himself notorious in the South because of his fanatic principles and his ultramontane scheming.” The Semaphore, which championed these two rebels, even went so far as to forge a letter from His Eminence, Cardinal Pacca, to the Bishop of Icosia, “complaining of his bad administration of the diocese . . . and strongly reproaching him for the shameful way he treats priests.” The newspaper even added that, in view of the “continued complaints about him reaching Rome from both the priests and the government,” the Cardinal admonished him to leave Marseilles and even the kingdom. That explains why the Bishop of Icosia was missing from the Corpus Christi processions and “has not been able to parade around Marseilles.”

Leflon 2 p 491-492.

Despite all this, Eugene was able to proclaim constantly, “God was always my help!”

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A PRACTICAL RESPONSE TO THE EFFECTS OF THE CHOLERA EPIDEMIC

Eugene’s biographer, Rey, describes something that we will see regularly in the future: Eugene’s ability to identify a group of people who were “the most abandoned” and to take practical steps to rectify the cause. In this case the group was the children who had been left orphans when their parents died of cholera. Rey’s vocabulary is a bit flowery, but it conveys the powerful message.  I quote the passage in its entirety.

“He never ceased, however, to deal with the cholera and the dreadful consequences which had resulted from it, and which manifested themselves daily. On April 5, he had summoned to the bishopric the most distinguished ladies of the Marseilles society to have them adopt, in principle, the foundation of an asylum for children who had been fatherless and motherless, following the cholera. At this meeting, where the brave bishop electrified his audience – which was common to him in all circumstances … It was a preparatory meeting: the ladies consulted and stimulated by the eloquent words of the Prelate, they raised the funds necessary to the immediate adoption of several orphans. A new meeting was announced in the church of St. Vincent de Paul on May 19, the first day of the Rogations. The church was too small to receive the multitude of the faithful attracted by the desire to hear the message of the Bishop of Icosia and to contemplate the spectacle that offered at the feet of the altars, the assembly of Lady Patronesses and young orphans. We would like to reproduce the words of the speaker; they were collected by gratitude; we will confine ourselves to the quotation of a passage which shed the tears of all:

“Here they are, ladies, those innocent creatures which your charity consents to adopt under the auspices of Providence; Here they are dressed in their mourning clothes, which attests to their misfortune. You have made them feel all that they can expect from your mothers’ hearts, and already theirs beat at that name full of charm that they dared no longer pronounce. They extend to you their supplicating hands, to you, ladies who are so good, so tender, compassionate, say better, so eminently Christian. Ah! Ladies, I understand your emotion! Our poor children are saved!
“Yes, I see you pressing them against your maternal bosom, and in this delicious transport of a most divine charity, lavish on them your caresses, give them with your affection, not only the food necessary to sustain their lives, but some something more precious, for I see you preparing them for an education which, assuring their happiness in this life and in the other, will crown all the care you want to take from their young years.
” Almighty God. God most holy, God infinitely good, favor from heaven’s height this admirable adoption which delights my soul with joy, makes my tears flow and excites my gratitude.
 “And you, adorable Jesus, our divine master here present, bless from your tabernacle this nascent work; bless those children whom your Providence has just placed under the tutelary mantle of those who represent her here below.
“Bless these Christian ladies, so worthy of this beautiful name, whom they honor by so many virtues;
“Bless also those humble religious who will dedicate their best years to the relief, the instruction and the sanctification of these children whom we entrust to them today”.
The work was founded. The blessings descended on her cradle have never abandoned her.
Rey I p 619 – 620.
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GOD HAS BEEN GLORIFIED IN THE PUBLIC PRAYERS WE PRESCRIBED.

Cholera had ravaged Marseilles for 111 days with a death toll of thousands.

God has been glorified in the public prayers we prescribed. The doctors were forecasting a frightful recurrence of the disease, and instead, as if to mock their predictions, God has sent it packing with a puff of wind; the epidemic came to a complete end with the novena of solemn adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For me and all those with faith this is a clear miracle, more marvelous than that of the resurrection of a dead person. If the Holy Father is unaware of these things, you might speak of them, believe me you will not be guilty of exaggeration.
The two processions of the Blessed Sacrament, on the first and last days of the novena, each lasted five hours. My uncle, in light of his 85 years, left me to preside over the ceremonies. There were twelve thousand people, torches in hand, in the procession; and on the square, where the final benediction was given, more than eighty thousand people. You can just imagine the effect of so many voices during the “Tantum ergo,” in that huge church with the heavens as its cupola, and stretching as far as the eye could see; tears streamed down people’s faces. From that moment I knew we were being heard.
It is a fine compensation for my sufferings to see God glorified in this way, so many souls converted, and our town healed by these all-powerful means employed by infinite mercy.

Letter to Bishop Frezza in Rome, 27 April 1835, EO XV n 177

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MY HEART BURSTS AMID THIS VERY WONDERFUL DEVOTION

While assisting those who were suffering so greatly, Eugene and his uncle, Bishop Fortuné, arranged to focus the attention of the people of Marseilles on concentrated prayer. The population had a special devotion to the small sanctuary of Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill dominating the city. The statue of the “Good Mother” which represented Mary’s “keeping guard” over the city and over the sea, was particularly loved by the people. Eugene wrote:

We are going to offer solemn prayers. Tomorrow we are bringing down the statue of Our Lady de la Garde for exposition in the cathedral for three days. Afterwards we will have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament for all who wish to take part as you can read in the brief pastoral directive I am sending you.

Letter to Casimir Aubert, 10 March 1835, EO VIII n 508

Writing to his mother some days later he describes this event:

We are now confronted by a quite ravishing spectacle. It is a holy explosion of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which was displayed not only in the course of the journey down from the Mount to the cathedral, but is still going on with a sustained trust. The cathedral, where the Blessed Virgin has been exposed, does not empty from five in the morning till seven in the evening. When I say it does not empty, the fact is the whole vast building is continually full, from the altar to the organ; we have let them invade the choir, which is constantly full of men. One cannot but weep for joy. So I have to tear myself away from this temple, and if pressure of business did not call me away, I would not leave, my heart bursts so amid this very wonderful devotion. I think the Lord cannot but allow himself to be touched nor his divine Mother fail to obtain us mercy. I do not know what will come of it. The fact is that during the daytime yesterday, instead of the huge number of cases that have been daily terrifying our quarter, we had only a single case; and St. Laurent, which is suffering as much as ourselves, had only two. It is a huge decrease. Let’s hope.

Letter to his mother, March 1835, EO XV  n. 176

Beaudoin tells us: “From March 8-12 the statue of N.D. de la Garde was exposed in the cathedral. On the 12th. there was a procession from the cathedral to the church of St. Martin where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for nine days. These days of prayer ended with another procession on the 22nd.”

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THE PEOPLE LIKE TO COME TO THE MISSIONARIES IN THEIR NEED

We have had to bring immediate relief to the most urgent cases. In some parishes, like La Major and St. Laurent, the clergy were at the end of their tether. I have given two Missionaries to St. Laurent. Calvaire is doing more in the line of service than a parish; the people like to come to the Missionaries in their need.

Letter to Casimir Aubert, 10 March 1835, EO VIII n 508

The Missionaries referred to are the Oblates who were sent immediately to the aid of those in need in the diocesan parishes because the local clergy was not coping.

Father Mille immediately offered to undertake the three-day journey from Notre Dame du Laus to be of assistance. Father Tempier responded in the name of Eugene:

The Bishop was totally confident of your spirit of devotedness and so he was not surprised at your request to come and care for the cholera victims. This time, however, you will gain the merit only of your good intentions: we can handle everything nicely. Do your work in the locality where you are and where the disease could very well pay you a visit: it adapts itself to every climate.

Letter of Henri Tempier to Jean Baptiste Mille, 16 March 1832, EO2 n 69

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I MUST GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF A HOLY COURAGE

At the height of the epidemic, Eugene described the situation in Marseilles:

My dear Son, the demands made on us increase by the day. It was two hours past midnight before I got to bed yesterday. We are in a state of maximum alert on account of the re-appearance of the horrid disease that is afflicting our city.
We have had to bring immediate relief to the most urgent cases. In some parishes, like La Major and St. Laurent, the clergy were at the end of their tether. I have given two Missionaries to St. Laurent. Calvaire is doing more in the line of service than a parish; the people like to come to the Missionaries in their need.
I am myself on call in every district for the administration of the sacrament of confirmation to the large number of those who have neglected to receive it; I am fresh now from the hospital, and on my return there are a host of matters to be attended to from all over. I have just received a summons at this very moment to a poor woman who will not be for this world tomorrow.
I take up my pen again to express my regrets at my inability to respond to your requests which I would love to satisfy, but you understand that my place is here, and that I must give an example of a holy courage.

Letter to Casimir Aubert, 10 March 1835, EO VIII n 508

Where the most abandoned were suffering was the place where Eugene had to be as a cooperator of the Savior.

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MY PLACE IS HERE

By February 1835, the cholera outbreak had become an epidemic. At the height of the epidemic Rey gives the average number of deaths of people in their houses as at least 83 each day, without counting those who had been brought to institutions to die. Panic hit the population of Marseilles with between 25 and 30,000 people fleeing the city to escape the ravages.

René Motte describes Eugene’s situation:

“At the time, Bishop de Mazenod had lost his civil rights because he accepted to be consecrated bishop without the authorization of the French government. He did not react negatively, asserting that Marseilles had no more claim on him, that he could have left the city like those who had enough money to find a safe place in the rural area. Quite to the contrary, he was aware that the Lord had called him to remain with the poor, “my place is here.” Moreover, his ministry as a bishop prompted him to administer confirmation to the sick who had not received this sacrament. His faith in the role of the Holy Spirit in every Christian life prompted him to make himself available to everyone to make sure that they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is faithful to this calling in spite of the danger of becoming infected.”

“Cholera Epidemics” in https://www.omiworld.org/lemma/cholera-epidemics/

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WHATSOEVER YOU DO TO ONE OF THESE, YOU DO IT TO ME

In 1832 there had been an initial outbreak of cholera in Marseilles while Eugene was in Rome to be made Bishop of Icosia. Fearing that it would lead to epidemic proportions, Eugene approached the Pope to grant a series of indulgences to people of the diocese who responded to the needs of those dying of cholera. Eugene’s list received papal approval in November 1832.

1/ A plenary indulgence for those who had contracted the illness and went to confession;
2/ 100 days for each person who visited the sick to bring them spiritual or material help;
3/ A plenary indulgence once a week to those who cared for the cholera victims in their (usually fatal) illness;
4/ 100 days for each priest approved as a confessor each time he heard the confession of a cholera victim;
5/ a plenary indulgence once a week to priests who assisted those dying of cholera.

Papal Audience of 2 November 1832 in Rey I p. 617.

Perhaps the question of indulgences does not speak as loudly today as it did then, but the point of this text is to show how serving the cholera victims was portrayed as a Gospel corporal work of mercy. This was highlighted by the fact that the illness was highly contagious and that people obviously avoided those who had contracted it. Thus, those who remained to give the necessary assistance were being shown that whatsoever they did to one of these victims, at great danger to themselves, they did it to God (cf. Matthew 25) and in God’s name.

The 1832 cholera outbreak did not take hold and last, but in January 1835, cholera broke out again and this list of indulgences was promulgated and published in every church and oratory of the diocese.

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