Sending the newly-ordained priest Calixte Kotterer, who seemed to have a reputation for being difficult, Eugene gives the community superior an indication of his strengths and weakness.

What strikes me is the spirit of fraternal warmth and friendship that Eugene desired for every community and his desire to bring out best in each member.

Dear Father Guigues. This letter will be brought to you by our Father Kotterer who is going to put himself under obedience to you. I assure you he didn’t have to make a big effort to submit himself to that destination, so much was it to his taste. He is leaving in an excellent spirit. I have every reason to believe that it is genuine. Father Kotterer is full of esteem and affection for you, he esteems his confreres highly and it is my hope that he will behave in such a way as to attract your friendship and that of the other Fathers of the house.
I persist in the view that he is the man best suited to your house. I’m relying on you to look after him well. While he has some negative traits, he does respond to kindness. He is of good heart, and open to reason. In my opinion he has matured.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 9 June 1835, EO VIII n 518

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Eugene had hoped to reinforce the small community at the newly-established sanctuary of l’Osier with two more Oblates, but events had forced him to alter this

Along with Kotterer I had earmarked Bernard for you, the wonder-worker of Switzerland, but an over-riding necessity forced me to change my mind. I’m sorry to say.

Eugene invites the community to try to see God’s hand in events – even if difficult to understand

Let us learn more and more to quiet our desires and let our will follow where Providence indicates through the events that it permits or originates.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

A reminder to us to see events the Mazenodian way: through the eyes of our crucified Savior.

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Initially the Missionaries had been founded as a society of priests to evangelize though preaching and sacraments. Two years later, when we became religious with vows, the element of religious life became an essential component of our vocation. This opened the door to men who wanted Oblate religious life without being priests. It was a problem for some of the priests whose focus was on clerical ministry which the brothers were unable to do. So why have them? Other Oblate priests were tempted to regard the brothers as domestic servants.

At one time didn’t you mention a candidate for the brothers? I passed on the news to the novitiate. I have sent Brother Ferrand to Corsica. That leaves us only Brother Roux. They are a rare breed but vital, and when they come to us it is important to give them a good formation.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 3 May 1835, EO VIII n 514

So far I have only been able to send to Ajaccio Guibert, Telmon and Brother Ferrand, without whom Guibert tells me he wouldn’t have been able to open his seminary, so useful is he to them. Let’s have no more debate about the good brothers after that! So I’m going to admit Brother Roux to his final oblation. It’s up to the rest of you to come up with some more.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

I refer you to “Our Founding Vision Today: All are Brothers, some are Priests”

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At this stage the communities were generally composed of young Oblates. Eugene as the Founder was always conscious that the foundation of the Missionaries had come from God with a specific mission and spirit (charism). It was his responsibility to ensure that each Oblate and community be faithful to this charism, and he thus expected a monthly letter from each community in which the superior recounted the life and activities of the community  – and an annual letter from each Oblate sharing his individual life and experiences.

I’m not prepared to absolve you of the obligation of sending me reports on personnel and events at least once monthly. In that respect your letters leave a lot to be desired. I’m completely in the dark about the situation of the members of your community and even your own. Please tell Fathers Dassy and Vincens that their letters always give me the greatest joy…

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

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A week later, Eugene wrote again to the young community superior to repeat and underline the same guiding themes:

Don’t be unfaithful to the theological conferences prescribed by the Rule. I have no intention of giving anyone in any house a dispensation. Be firm about this in your community.
Make some summer arrangements for your district. A man can’t work the whole year through without taking a break from ministry.
Goodbye. dear Father Guigues. You don’t write often enough. With my affectionate greetings and blessing.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 9 June 1835, EO VIII n 518

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In our hectic multimedia and multi-tasking lifestyle, we need to hear the call of Eugene to an equilibrium activity and spirituality.

It disturbs me to see you overloading yourself with engagements; I don’t at all approve of that way of doing things, it has the two-fold disadvantage of leaving your men worn out and of keeping them overlong outside the house. This relentless application to works of the exterior ministry is absolutely against the Rules.

Eugene reminds the young superior of the need for equilibrium between missionary zeal and religious life, between “doing and “being”

Let us put aside every consideration of too human origin… beware of driving yourself as if it were a challenge. In God’s name, go back to the bosom of the community to renew yourselves in the spirit of your vocation, otherwise it is all up with our missionaries, they will soon be no more than sounding cymbals.

The community leader had two important tools at his disposal to achieve this. The first was the Oblate Rule which was an objective norm that all were committed to. The second was the weekly “theological conference” which was usually a reading in community of a religious  book aimed at the spiritual growth of the community..

The responsibility falls on you, it is my duty to alert you to it. Hold fast to the observance of the Rules, amongst other things, be faithful to the theological conference, remember that this is obligatory.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 27 May 1835, EO VIII n 516

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Although I have spent numerous entries above focusing exclusively on the two cholera epidemics, we need to remember that Eugene’s role as Superior General constantly involved him in the overall guidance of the spirit and mission of the Oblates. In a particular way he watched over the young superiors in their own responsibility to guide the spirit and mission of their local communities.

Remember that you must be a model for everyone.
Make your oraison often on the subject of the duties of your position; it isn’t a small thing;
keep a close eye on yourself.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 2 May 1835, EO VIII n 513

The model of apostolic community was Jesus and the apostles, thus the necessity for prayer (oraison) on how to make it a lived reality. An invitation to see all our activities and responsibilities in prayer.

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While the Oblates and those in Marseilles were in the thick of ministering to the cholera victims, Eugene was away at the community of Osier and then Laus. As we have seen above he had had to leave Marseilles as a result of the political situation. Separated from those whom he loved and who were in mortal danger, he wanted to return to be with them during this difficult time. Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod and Father Tempier (to whom he had made a vow of obedience in 1816) forbade him to return. The correspondence of July and August 1835 shows the conflict that he was living. On one hand, he felt called to be with his people, and on the other, he was bound to be obedient to these two figures who had a moral authority in his life.

The almost-daily correspondence of this period goes back and forth between Marseilles and ND du Laus, with Eugene’s every request to return being refused. Just a few excerpts:

My dear Tempier, your letter of the 17th fills me with dismay. On top of the heartbreak at the picture of so many families’ desolation there’s the thought of the danger you are running, and that is hanging over the heads of all our Fathers at Aix and Marseilles. I am being kept here and I would like to take my leave for your sake and theirs too, although it is true they don’t need any encouragement.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 20 July 1835, EO VIII n 525

My dear Friend, you understand the cruel anguish I’ve been experiencing ever since I’ve been aware that you, my uncle and friends are living under the threat of an epidemic as murderous as that hanging over your heads. I find it impossible to express the state of my feelings. You’ll readily understand that from the first day I learnt of the danger, I had the thought of going to join you.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 31 July 1835, EO VIII n 528

Far from the scene of the evil, I have been caged-up; but I am sick with annoyance in consequence. I wanted to set out from here, riding rough-shod over all the considerations that have bound me up to the present, but Father Tempier has leagued himself with the Bishop of Marseilles, who has the final say in the matter, to require me to stay at Laus where the novices and oblates have been sent leaderless to me.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 529

It is worthy of note to see that this man, who was always the leader and superior in every situation, was capable of being obedient himself to those to whom he was committed to obey.

Just as suddenly as the cholera had started, so too did this second epidemic of 1835 end. I have spent a long time on the correspondence around this event because it brings out many of the fundamental values and attitudes of an oblation lived out in difficult circumstances.

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Eugene continues to marvel at what the Oblates achieved for those most in need.

At Aix especially it has been really wonderful. Words will never be able to express what our good Fathers achieved both at the hospital and in the city. Father Lagier, who has been magnificent through all this period of trial, was telling me yesterday that they felt as if they were endowed with a supernatural strength and experienced an inner anointing which enabled them to carry out their ministry with courage and joy. The missionaries were ready to drop from fatigue.
When they had had barely a half-hour’s rest, and someone would come along to rouse them again with the innocent request: “Come and confess these sick people,” they didn’t hesitate an instant. That is the literal truth. The missionaries did not fail to get up in haste to save these souls. As a result, not a single sick person was refused religious assistance; all, on the contrary, would stifle their cries of pain so as to hear the priest, answer his questions and receive the sacraments. Our missionaries were inspired, for they had no fear of giving them communion seeing them so well disposed, and there isn’t a single sick person who refused the sacred species. One could go on forever on this topic.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 7 August 1835, EO VIII n 531

… that will make a fine page in the history of our Congregation; and the full story of what our Fathers did, and how they did it, can never be told. The service of the hospital at Aix, it can be said, was provided wholly by our Fathers, for only one Jesuit and two Capuchins turned up; the two latter provided only corporal services to the sick.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 16 August 1835, EO VIII n 533

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Ordered to stay away from Marseilles, Eugene confides his anxiety for the Oblates to his friend and confidante, Father Tempier, and the only response possible for him.

My dear Friend, normal life is impossible at this unhappy juncture. My heart and mind are in an emotional state that breeds anxiety  that makes it impossible to rest in peace. Prayer is the only course open to me, any other activity is impossible. Apart from that, my imagination plagues me with unhappy and gloomy thoughts; as a result I sometimes even have nervous spasms. I mean I start involuntarily at the thought of the evil that I fear may befall the people who are dear to me, or of their death. For two days I had no letters from you. It was all that was needed to torture me with the idea that perhaps you were dead.
At the time of the first epidemic, when I was there on the spot, sharing the same dangers, I experienced hardly any anxiety for others any more than myself. It seemed as if we were all invulnerable; now that for my sins I am in a place of safety, the most acute suffering is never absent from me. Even so I really think that the Lord is watching over you, since up to the present not one has been taken ill in the course of the ministry, perilous as it is, that our Fathers have so heroically embraced.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 7 August 1835, EO VIII n 531

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