During his time in Marseilles, Bishop Eugene was responsible for bringing in twelve congregations of religious sisters to meet the needs of the poor and abandoned in his diocese. When he could not “import” he was instrumental in the founding of four new congregations of sisters in the city.  In this extract from his diary, he speaks about one of these new foundations.

Mass at the Victimes du Coeur de Jésus [Victims of the Heart of Jesus] I solemnly blessed their chapel and gave the habit to two postulants. My method is to support the zeal of all those who wish to consecrate themselves to a life of perfection, to prayer and to penitence… As well, whatever may be said about it, I will always favor this type of vocation and the establishments that result from it.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 27 December 1842, EO XXI

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Father Telmon was a missionary fireball whose enthusiasm knew no limits. We will come across many examples of this in later entries. His enthusiasm was not always practical, however, as this entry in Eugene’a diary shows.

Letter from Father Telmon who urges me to accept the proposal made by the bishop of Toronto to establish ourselves in his city. “Through this diocese, we would find ourselves in charge of missions to the indigenous. We would have the most vast field for the zeal of those who would have worked there and most promising for building up the morale of the novices of Europe. The Jesuits will be going there.”

What is to be done, my good Father Telmon, in order to be adequate for all the work, it would be necessary to be as numerous as these Fathers. The time has not yet come. Let’s be patient and wait until the good God gives the order.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 December 1842, EO XXI

Good advice for our daily lives and concerns.

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What Eugene wrote about the Brothers holds true, where applicable, to all the vocations within the Mazenodian Family:

I reply that I have always considered it an injustice to make men, who have come to us to become religious, work from morning till evening. Surely they have to work but they must also pray and be instructed in the duties of the religious life. They are not common labourers, they cannot be treated as hired domestics who are paid so that they work the whole day. Our Brothers must be present at the oraison…

Letter to Fr. Vincens, 8 December 1842, EO IX n 783

He then lists all the times of common prayer and spiritual exercises to be attended by every member of the community.

Today, the Oblate Rule says;

Oblate Brothers share in the common priesthood of Christ. They are called to cooperate in their own way in reconciling all things in him (cf. Col 1: 20). Through their religious consecration, they offer a particular witness to a life inspired by the Gospel.

Brothers participate in the missionary work of building up the Church everywhere, especially in those areas where the Word is first being proclaimed. Missioned by the Church, their technical, professional or pastoral service, as well as the witness of their life, constitute their ministry of evangelization. (Rule 7 c)

Father Jetté, commenting on this Rule, says

“Since the beginning of the Congregation there has been a considerable change in the vocation of the Oblate Brother. Very briefly we could sum it up in these terms: from a temporal helper to the priest, the Brother has become his associate in the apostolic ministry…

The Brother is no longer considered as being first of all a man at the service of the priest, whom he thus liberates from material tasks in order to allow him to be more free to carry out his pastoral responsibilities; the Brother is rather seen as being himself an “apostolic man” who is associated to the priest and who is in his own way engaged in the work of evangelization. In this work there is a ministry proper to him that the Church through the Congregation entrusts to him: a ministry of technical, professional or pastoral service, depending on the needs of a given milieu and the aptitudes and fitness of each Brother.

Rule 3 first of all establishes the spiritual basis of the Brother’s apostolic vocation: “Oblate Brothers” — as all Christians, for that matter — “share in the common priesthood of Christ. They are called to cooperate in their own way in reconciling all things in him (cf. Col. 1:20).”

The Apostolic Man,  pages 88-89

I would take this a step further and paraphrase the same question for the whole Mazenodian Family: ” Do not such services become a -ministry- from the fact that the Associates have received a mission they are to fulfill as laity in the Church?”

This also points to the responsibility of the Mazenodian Family to ensure instruction in the charism and the opportunities for spiritual expression  and growth personally and in mission.

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Eugene de Mazenod founded the Missionaries in 1816 as a group of priests to conduct preaching and sacramental ministry for the most abandoned in Provence – priestly ministry. Soon, laymen felt called to the apostolic religious life and mission of the community, but without the desire to be priests. Thus from 1818 onwards the possibility opened up for men to be Oblates as religious without being priests, and the vocation of the Oblate Brother was born. I would take this a step further and say that the vocation of the Mazenodian Family was born: laity participating in the charism given to Eugene de Mazenod.

From the beginning, Oblates had one mission, and all participated in it according to their talents. Initially the Brothers supported the mission through common prayer and ensuring the functioning of the community structures so that the priests could dedicate themselves fully to the preaching and sacramental ministry. Later they were to participate in evangelization in more direct ways.

The problem arose that some of the priests treated them as domestic workers. Eugene went to great lengths to correct this situation, as he wrote in his Diary:

Letter from Father Vincens about his novitiate and what he must grant to the Coadjutor Brothers who no longer must be considered like salaried domestics. They are entitled to everything that may be done by religious men. In addition, their work must be moderated by pious exercises and everything that the Rule prescribes.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 8 December 1842, EO XXI

Father Jetté comments:

A brief historical review can help us to understand better this distinction in the Oblate life. In the beginning, Eugene de Mazenod wanted to establish a Society of priests who would dedicate their lives to evangelizing the poor, especially by the preaching of missions and the celebration of the sacraments (Reconciliation and the Eucharist). These men were called “missionaries” or “apostolic men”. Lay persons soon came to join them: they wanted to consecrate themselves to God in the Oblate religious life and to cooperate, according to their preparation and talents, with the missionary activity of these “apostolic men”….

Since then until today our terminology has changed: the terms “missionary” and “apostolic men” are now equally applied to the Brothers and to the priests.

The Apostolic Man p 47 -48

Today the Brothers participate in the Oblate mission in many different ways. This united mission is expressed in the first Constitution of the Rule:

We come together in apostolic communities of priests and Brothers, united to God by the vows of religion. Cooperating with the Saviour and imitating his example, we commit ourselves principally to evangelizing the poor.

And in C 7:

Just as priests and Brothers, we have complementary responsibilities in evangelizing, so too today we can say that all members of the Mazenodian family have complementary responsibilities in evangelizing.

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After a year of the Oblate missionaries’ presence in Canada, they had made such an impression that three diocesan priests had come forward to join them. Each of these priests, Fathers Dandurand, Léonard and F. Durocher, would play a major role in the Oblate mission there for many years. It was thus important to send more Oblates to Canada to be involved in the formation process

As for Father Perron, he has already been destined for Canada. His presence becomes all the more necessary in that three priests have already joined us, and you know well enough that we need to present them with a model of regularity other than the men we have over there.

Letter to Fr Hippolyte Courtès, 24 November 1842, EO IX n 780

The underlying reason was that, in the midst of demanding pastoral work and missionary absences, there had to be a visible community to give witness to the Oblate charism of apostolic community as the dynamo of the mission.

Today, sadly, in many parts of the world the missionaries are so busy doing generous ministry, but without the witness of a visible apostolic community. These are the very areas where there are few or no vocations to the Missionaries.

The same holds true of our groups in the Mazenodian Family. The groups that witness to being part of a supportive apostolic community in their daily lives experience life and growth.

People need to SEE Eugene’s charism, spirituality and mission in action.

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Eugene wrote in his diary:

Yesterday, the bishop of Algiers unexpectedly entered my office. The bishop extraordinarily urged me to accompany him to Algiers on his return from Pavia, where he is going to take a notable relic of Saint Augustine.

Before becoming Bishop of Marseilles, Eugene had been given the title of Bishop of Icosia, a former diocese in Algeria.

My position as the last bishop of Icosia, the desire to give more splendor to the ceremony, etc. inspired in him this thought of inviting me to go there. He would like me to consecrate a church under the title of Saint Charles and to bless the foundation stone of another to be built in honor of Saint Eugène. The prelate used every manner of charm, and I admit that I was tempted to give in to his invitation; it is a matter only of an absence of fifteen days.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 4 October 1842, EO XXI

Father Tempier accompanied him on this visit, which included bringing the relic to the site of the ancient city of Hippo, where Augustine had been bishop.

The detailed narrative of this journey can be found in the Diary of 1842 ( in the entries from October 22 onwards)

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Eugene quoted part of a letter that he had received. In it Father Courtès made a very important statement about the “spirit” of the missionary family that had come into existence through Eugene de Mazenod who was always regarded as “our founder and our father.”

October 21: [Extract from a letter from Fr. Courtès]: It is desirable that you have the novitiate close to you, because, however excellent the director may be, it is permissible to think that the locality is not immaterial to the spirit which may animate the family which one is raising. And the good spirit, the principal spirit, is that which we receive from you who lead us to serve the Church, such as it now is, with modesty and with benefit, aiding one another like brothers, without distinction as to country and as to province, and drawing our strength of wisdom and leadership from the one who is our founder and our father.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 21 October 1842, EO XXI

The reason for the importance of this passage is that it highlights that Eugene de Mazenod founded us as a result of an inspiration by the Holy Spirit. We recognize this as a charism, a gift of the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church. Today we are privileged to participate in this charism and to have the guidance of Saint Eugene, our founder and father, through the communion of the saints.

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Anniversary of the death of my father.

Requiem Mass in spite of my confidence that our Lord had long since granted him entry into his holy Paradise. This commemoration is a duty, which does not mean that I wait for this anniversary day to discharge myself of the duty of prayer for my father.

Every day at Mass I do this for him and for all those who have a right to my remembrance and to my gratitude.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 10 October 1842, EO XXI

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In 1842-1843, the ten scholastics who were theology students and had been living at the Seminary of Marseilles until then, were sent to N.-D. de L’Osier. Father Guigues, the community superior was very unhappy because he needed more Oblates to help him to care for the influx of students. Eugene responded:

You are wrong in troubling yourself so much about what will happen as a result of my decision concerning your house. Your conscience should be perfectly at ease after what I told you. You are only repeating to me what I knew as well as you did, I don’t have to change my decision. I don’t have the time nor the will to disprove your reasons. Let it suffice you to know that it cannot be otherwise.

The commitments of the Oblates in France, Canada and England did not permit Eugene to send more personnel to help Fr Guigues.

Once and for all know how to accept your lot with a good grace and not aggravate my anxieties through demands which you should understand that I am unable to grant… I beg each one of you to stop complaining and murmuring. Your duty is to suppress this disorder which occasions so much evil. Do what is laid down for you without so much groaning which is heard in the house and outside. Make a virtue out of necessity and God will help you.

Eugene, with his typical dry sense of humor, exasperatedly adds that he does not have the power to create people out of nothing:

As for myself. I recognize my powerlessness to create and I remain at peace.

Letter to Fr Eugene Guigues, 27 September 1842, EO IX n 777

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Eugene’s confidence in God despite opposition:

You are right in being resigned to what God will decide for you. He will never ask of us anything beyond what we can do. People are more demanding than God, but it is not people whom we are to please.

If we do God’s will, we shall succeed against peoples’ expectations and in spite of them

Letter to Fr Eugene Guigues, 27 September 1842, EO IX n 777

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