Nine months after the diary entry we reflected on yesterday, Eugene wrote about the success of the penitentiary for juvenile delinquents. The Brothers of St Peter in Chains cared for these abandoned youth between the ages of 10 and 18.
I went to administer the sacrament of confirmation to a young person who was dying in the house for juvenile prisoners. There are already 45 children in this house between the ages of 10 and 18. It is painful to see this early degradation; we expect much from the painstaking care that Igive these poor youth through Fr. Fissiaux and Fr. Margaillan, his assistant. Already some of these children are showing the good effects of the religious instruction they receive.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 February 1840, EO XX
Eugene felt personally responsible for their welfare and supported those who dedicated themselves to their care.
Missionary Oblate, Eugene de Mazenod, dedicated his life to bringing the Gospel to those who were most in need. During his years as Bishop of Marseilles he preached the Good News of salvation through his closeness to the most abandoned spiritually and materially. He did this by empowering people in his diocese to dedicate themselves to serving particular needy groups.
In today’s diary entry we see him focusing on the youth, on the most abandoned among the young men: the young delinquents and prisoners. Together with one of his diocesan priests, they started an industrial school for young prisoners.
May 21: Before my Mass in my chapel I gave the religious habit to three Brothers who are destined to serve the prisoners. They are the core of the association that we intend to create. I put them under the direction of Fr. Fissiaux, giving them the name of the Brothers of Saint Peter in Chains
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 21 May 1839, EO XX
To achieve this, a religious congregation was founded in the city, known as the Brothers of Saint Peter in Chains. They dedicated themselves to running industrial and agricultural penitentiaries, thus ensuring that the young prisoners would have a profession that would make a valuable contribution to society once they were released from prison.
Their mission continues today. In 2018 some of the Spanish members of this Congregation and their associates were beatified as martyrs.
One of the major achievements that Bishop Eugene de Mazenod was remembered for during his many years in Marseilles was his promotion of works to look after the material and spiritual needs of the most abandoned. Throughout his Diary we find references of his inspiring and supporting groups of people to respond.
One of these was the Providence House for girls orphaned by the cholera epidemics of 1834 – 1835. Four years after the foundation he wrote in his diary:
January 14. Mass in the chapel of the home for Poor Girls. Many ladies attended. I received more than 50 of them. The association now numbers 475 women… It’s a miracle.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 14 January 1839, EO XX
January 20: Mass at home for Poor Girls. It was at the end of a retreat that Fr. Deplace had given to the ladies of this work who attended it very assiduously. It was really a superb celebration. It was nice to see more than 300 ladies gathered in the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was enthroned amidst about 200 candles, with the bishop coming to offer the Holy Sacrifice on this altar of lights from which shone even more abundant graces than lights.
150 poor young girls together with those who served as their mothers came to nourish themselves on the same heavenly food. This was something that touched the depth of one’s soul.
Also the beautiful Mass of the Holy Name of Jesus, the beautiful words of the Introit, etc. addressed to Jesus present, tangible, and in a way visible, electrified the heart. I was moved to tears by the deep emotion which I felt.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 20 January 1839, EO XX
An Association of 475 women looked after 150 orphans. Most through material and financial support and others through the physical and spiritual care of the orphans in the Providence House. Jesus was indeed tangible and visible in this work.
In the previous entry, Eugene had asked for prayers at the Marian Shrine of Osier regarding the difficulties that the Oblates were going through. He continues to storm heaven by asking the contemplative sisters to pray for him.
I thank you, Good Mother, for your attention. I profit from the occasion you provide me to beg you to enjoin your community to recommend especially to God the Congregation of our Missionaries which is suffering a cruel persecution in the diocese of Gap…
We lack men, it is impossible to fulfill all the ministries that the Congregation wants to do. The death of the holy Father Albini has completely undone the missions in Corsica…
In short, a time of trial; we need the help of your prayers to repel the evil one to whom God has allowed some power to sow darnel in the field and to devastate the inheritance of the Father of the family.
I let you know these things so that you can speak confidently to God about them. I unite myself in advance with your prayers and bless you as well as your whole community.
+ C.J. Eugene, Bishop of Marseilles.
Letter to Mother Abbess of the St Clare convent, 23 November 1839, EO XIII n 97
Writing to Father Guigues, who was at the Marian Shrine of N.D. de L’Osier, Eugene commends the Congregation’s difficulties to Mary’s intercession.
Pray to the Blessed Virgin that she comes to our assistance, never before has the Congregation experienced a similar storm. Death, apostasy, dreadful persecution from those whose duty it is to protect her. Are these sufficient reasons to cry out to God?
Letter to Bruno Guigues, 4 November 1839, EO IX n 704
Death: Eugene was mourning the death of two Oblates. Fr Albini to whom he had been very close for the past 16 years, and the 22 year-old scholastic brother Morandini.
Apostasy: Fr Jerome Gignoux had left the Congregation and was stirring up violent opposition against the Oblates outside.
Dreadful persecution: at the Shrine of Notre Dame du Laus (which we had served from 1818) the new Bishop and the priests of the Diocese were agitating to remove the Oblates from the highly successful Shrine ministry so that they could take it over themselves.
Yet, in the midst of all this, Eugene kept his eyes on God for strength.
Eugene’s diary reflection today was focused on his beng bishop of which he says,
“I knew well that I would not be assuming a crown of flowers, but rather one with many cruel thorns. Some of them have lost their sharpness, but the burden increased with all the weight of the responsibility of a diocese…
His greatest suffering was to see how many of those living in his diocese were the “most abandoned” because they did not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. He felt helpless.
Blessed be God! I easily come back to the thought that with reason worries me when I consider that I am in the middle of a huge population of whom the greater number are rushing to their loss and it is impossible for me to stop them, neither by my words nor by my wishes. I hold out my arms to these lost ones, I open my heart to bring them back because I really love them in Jesus Christ, I pray continually for them. After all that I should be at peace. I cannot because I feel worse.
After Eugene’s death a General Chapter of the Oblates was convoked in 1861. At the opening session two of the senior members of the Congregation spoke: Father Tempier and Bishop Guibert.
Father Tempier opened the General Chapter by declaring his conviction regarding Eugene:
“This Venerable Man is no longer with us, but his spirit continues to live always in the heart of his children ….”
Bishop Guibert’s address echoed the same sentiments, speaking of the Oblate Congregation as our “mother”:
“Yes, our Father has died, but know that our Mother remains; and I regard her as being immortal; she will live by the spirit of her Founder.”
Joseph Fabre, who was elected to be Eugene’s successor, concluded the Chapter of 1861 by saying:
“I feel the assistance of our much loved Founder; he has not left us!
I was at his deathbed and said to him, “You will always be among us.” “Yes,” he replied, and he has kept his promise.
He remains among us through the Holy Rule which he had left us, and which is the expression of his love for God and the salvation of souls: it is the glorious testament of his enormous heart, and in observing it we will find all our strength.”