Yvon Beaudoin describes an example of the effects of the liberal movement on an Oblate priest, André Valentin, in Aix :

In the course of the struggle for freedom of education in 1828, the university students held a demonstration against the Jesuits. One evening when Father André was going home from visiting the hospital, he was met by a party of demonstrators who were shouting: “Hang the missionaries to the nearest lamppost, etc.” He told Abbé Bicheron what he had experienced and heard. Abbé Bicheron reported the incident in the conservative newspaper, La Quotidienne. The chief commissioner of Bouches-du-Rhône wrote Father de Mazenod asking him to assign Father André elsewhere. The Founder proved that Father André’s account was well grounded in fact and that he would be retained at his post of prison chaplain. July 21, 1828, the Founder wrote, “In my books, it is the executioners and not the victims who should be punished.”

Eugene continued in his defense of Fr André by responding to the Prefect:

Doubting his word under pretext that he is timorous is no more reasonable than claiming… that the city of Aix was in complete insurrection because a few scamps made a racket on leaving the tavern. To demand that he be disciplined because he was insulted, and this, on his return from a deathbed… that, Monsieur, is atrociousness infinitely more outrageous than the insults themselves. And so, my dear Count, I answer with my well known frankness that if Father André belonged to the diocese where I have some jurisdiction, not only would I not think that he should be assigned elsewhere, but I would do everything in my power to see that reparation was made for the harassment to which he was subjected; in my book, it is the tormentors and not the victims who are to be punished.

Undoubtedly impressed by this dressing-down, the prefect apologized for having been a mere mouthpiece for the mayor of Aix, and beat a hasty retreat: “Since you think that this priest should remain where he is, I shall abide by your prudent decision.”

This victory must surely have confirmed the conviction which the Founder and his uncle had so often expressed; one gains each time one refuses to make the least concession.

Leflon 2 page 303

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In the face of the laws of 1828 which undermined the role of the Church in Christian education, barred religious from teaching, impeded minor seminaries, and expelled the Jesuits, Eugene was moved to action.

The decree which, by expelling the Jesuits, deprives all Christian families of the kingdom of the sole means that remains to them to have their children raised in the principles of our holy religion and to preserve their morals from the frightful contagion that the University colleges propagate, is a public crime which has as many accomplices as it has people to approve it.

To make matters worse, it was a Catholic Bishop in the government who had published these laws:

The scandal of seeing a Bishop countersign this decree and provoke it by a revolting report, is also a misdeed which it will not be easy either to expiate.
How can I express the sorrow that I feel at the sight of such great disorders? You understand, you who share so well my sentiments. It is not enough to groan, one must make resound in the entire world the voice of the strongest protests…

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

In Marseilles, Eugene responded with and through his uncle, Bishop Fortuné. In Aix, however, where the Oblates were influential Eugene responded as Superior General by many public acts of support for the Jesuits.

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Eugene was away from Marseilles, but was involved in giving all possible support and advice to his uncle the Bishop in his war against the laws preventing the Church’s influence on religious education.

But I would wish to be at Marseilles to arrange everything with the Bishop and yourself, I would like to be there also to watch out for the dangers that you indicate to me

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

Bishop Fortuné wrote many letters rallying the Bishops of France to act collegially in their responses. Eugene’s influence was recognizable in many of these. Leflon explains:

“Certainly the bishop’s letters, the result of collaboration, betray hands other than his own beneath his personal signature. … taken as a whole, they sometimes bear the more concise and more distinguishing stamp of the uncle, and at other times, the more prolix, cumbersome, involved and disorderly style of the nephew.” (Leflon 2, p 302)

Trying to downplay Bishop Fortuné’s opposition, the Prefect attacked Eugene and Tempier’s influence: 

The prefect of the Bouches-du-Rhone department, time after time, pointed out and deplored the provoking uncooperativeness of the Bishop of Marseilles. Each time, however, he was careful to excuse the “octogenarian prelate, who was of a kind and peaceful nature,” by imputing Fortune’s “extremist measures” to the young priests of his entourage “whose zeal far outstrips their good judgment”; particularly his nephew who controlled him. Villeneuve- Bargemon was by no means mistaken in attributing a preponderant influence over the mind of the aged bishop to Father de Mazenod; however, rather than accept without any reservation the common opinion that the vicar-general completely dominated his feeble negative uncle, the prefect should have used, particularly in the affair of the ordinances, at least a minimum of discernment. Justice, as well as wisdom, demanded it.  (Leflon 2 p 300-301) a

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With the restoration of the Bourbon kings in France, the Church was once again given the chance to function freely. Many in France, however, became uncomfortable with the close bond between the monarchy and religion and feared a return to the situation of the Ancien Regime that the Revolution had tried to destroy. Labeled as the “liberals,” this group began to agitate for change when Charles X became king in 1824. To weaken the king, the liberals in the government targeted religion.

In 1828 they passed two laws that affected the Church directly, both linked with education. With the return of the monarchy, the bishops had been given control of the religious education in the schools and had established minor seminaries for secondary school boys. The ordinance of April 21 removed the grade schools from the jurisdiction and direction of the bishops. The second ordinance, of June 16, attacked secondary schools by forbidding religious to be teachers, limiting the number of seminarians, and establishing rules that were in conflict with the bishops.

In the face of this attack on the Church, Eugene de Mazenod and his uncle, Bishop Fortuné of Marseilles, could not remain silent and searched for effective ways to respond. Eugene was away from Marseille at this time and wrote to Tempier:

How can I express the sorrow that I feel at the sight of such great disorders? You understand, you who share so well my sentiments. It is not enough to groan, one must make resound in the entire world the voice of the strongest protests…

In the face of all this, he felt how powerless and his efforts insignificant:

I find myself like a lion who feels all his vigor, his strength and his courage, but who bites impotently on his chain and bit, whitening them with his froth.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 24 June 1828, EO VII n 304

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Yvon Beaudoin gives us the context:

On the very day of Napoleon’s abdication on April 6, 1814, the Senate called to the throne the Count of Provence who already had taken the title Louis XVIII. Initially, he reigned one year (First Restoration). In point of fact, upon Napoleon’s return (May-June 1815, the Hundred Days), the king fled to Belgium. A new European coalition compelled Napoleon to abdicate anew. As soon as Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena, Louis XVIII returned to Paris on July 8… Louis XVIII reigned until his death which took place September 16, 1824. Just as in other dioceses, through letters to the parish priests and in pastoral letters, the Mazenods called for prayers for the king during his illness and death and, subsequently, each year through an anniversary service.

The Count of Artois, Louis XVIII’s brother, succeeded him under the name Charles X. During his reign, the liberals became ever more powerful. In 1828-1829, Martignac, the Prime Minister, in order to bring together those who were left leaning and the liberals, granted them concessions to the detriment of the Church. He appointed a layman as head of the University. He forbade religious orders, especially the Jesuits, to teach. He set a 20,000 limit on the students in the minor seminaries, etc. (Ordinances of 1828)

The Mazenods mention the king often in their correspondence and their intense opposition to the ordinances of 1828, that of April 21 which deprived the bishops of the oversight and the direction of grade schools and that of June 16 on secondary schools, which forbade religious to teach, limited the number of students in the minor seminaries and established a rule that was in conflict with the rights of the bishops.

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Napoleon was definitely defeated in June 1815. Leflon writes:

Napoleon’s downfall made it possible for the Church not only to re-establish her spiritual rights in papal, episcopal and capitular jurisdiction but also to open the way completely for her apostolic activity. To Father de Mazenod, it seemed a providential liberation which at one and the same time answered the needs of the religious situation and opened up to his zeal paths he had aspired to tread for a long time. Years later he wrote:

The reign of Napoleon, who had his turn in persecuting the Church, nullified all the efforts of our young fellow-priests. If all their plans, like our own, had not been hampered by that iron rule, their zeal would have supplied for their lack of numbers. The Empire was overthrown, and it was only with our emergence from that crisis and with the return of our legitimate princes that we felt any hope of realizing for the good of the people of France some of the ideas we had constantly nurtured during the entire course of our seminary training and during the first three years of our priesthood. (Eugene de Mazenod, “Memoires,” quoted in Rambert I p.161

Leflon II, p 10-11

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The euphoria of the fall of Napoleon and the consequent freedom of the Church came to an abrupt end in March 1815 when Napoleon escaped from Elba and  began to rule again in Paris.

Eugene responded to this situation with vigor.

… However low my opinion of the human race, I would never have gone so far as to suppose it could sink so low as we see it now. What a nation we are! Along with faith, it has lost all sense of honour, probity, etc. One group openly betrays the most sacred of causes; they give their oath only the better to deceive an all too generous Prince who had heaped these traitors with favours and benefactions; the rest would almost be tempted to sta nd by as unruffled spectators of a struggle that scarcely seems to interest them, although their happiness depends on it. Egoism has lead to total aridity, national honour has gone by the board along with religion. What a despicable people! But we must be fair; it is the army who are guilty of this crime rather than the nation. You can see this clearly in these parts and in several other provinces.
I have only time to assure you we are well, that I am the calmest of men and the one least alarmed. My trust in Providence is unlimited.

Eugene backed his criticism with action:

I have written His Grace the Duke of Angouleme to offer him my services for his troops. I have not heard a thing in reply, perhaps I never will; but I have done my duty, which required of me this act of allegiance. Not being able to serve my King with a sword, I must serve him with every means my ministry gives me.
Goodbye, I send you all my affectionate greetings. Within a month we shall have beaten and punished all our enemies, who are those too of honour, the common good, and religion.

Letter to his father, 26 March 1815, EO XV, n 132

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The restoration of the monarchy and the resulting freedom given to the Church marked the period known as the Restoration. The two Bourbon kings who ruled were Louis XVIII (1814-1824) and Charles X (1824 – 1830). Yvon Beaudoin writes:

Father de Mazenod rarely used the word restoration, but he often mentions by name the kings Louis XVIII and Charles X. He exchanged correspondence with their ministers and met a few of them in the course of his trips to Paris in 1817, 1823 and 1825. It was with joy that he and the Mazenods greeted the return of the Bourbons in 1814. President Charles Anthony sent the king an act of homage and his oath of fidelity. During the Hundred Days, Eugene distinguished himself by displaying a fiery hostility to the Napoleonic regime. On July 7, 1815, he wrote his father:

I showed myself the most fearless royalist of the city where I live and there are perhaps few in France who can gainsay me on that point.

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The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1) in a specific historical context in a time and place. In order to understand the message of Jesus we need to understand the context in which it happened – and then interpret the message for our own times and historical situations. The same principle applies to Eugene de Mazenod. The charism that God gave him was within a specific historical context in France. To understand the charism deeply we need to understand how and why it was expressed in this way within the history of France. The spirit of the words and actions reflected in our daily “Eugene de Mazenod Speaks to us” is the same spirit that continues to inspire us today in many different contexts.

This is why I began a series of presentations on Eugene and the history of France.

What a rich background to his life the events in France formed! Born in the nobility Eugene benefited fully from the Ancien Regime, and shared its fate when the French Revolution swept it away. Eleven years of exile followed, in which this adolescent and young adult was buffeted by the violent changing forces in Europe. Finally, with Napoleon on the throne, it became possible to return to France and resume the lifestyle of a rich young nobleman. It is here that God intervened and called Eugene to respond within the context of Napoleon’s persecution of the Church and of the religious ignorance and indifference of the people. Understanding the historical context, we understand and appreciate our Mazenodian charism and its message better.

I invite you to re-read the entries on the history of France which began on 14 March 2017 ( The series was interrupted by Holy Week and my summer break. Tomorrow we continue the journey…


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Due to the hectic activities around the end of the academic year at Oblate School of Theology, and my summer break, this service will be paused until June 12.

A reminder that all 1640 previous entries can be consulted on this site:

By using the search engine on the homepage you can find entries dealing with specific themes.

Thank you for your support of this daily blog.

Frank Santucci OMI

Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies
Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas

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