It was customary in Marseilles to have a public procession in honor of the Sacred Heart. This year the local government had prohibited all public religious processions

I stood in need of your consolation in my distress over the arbitrary prohibition on processions after everything was set to pay honour to Our Lord in a fitting manner. When you read La Gazette you will see our notice; it will give you some idea of our anger. They simply forgot to underline the quotation from the Prefect’s letter and left out the last paragraph announcing what the Bishop would provide to make up for the forcible suppression of Friday’s procession, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. That day he will say a low Mass at the Cathedral and all the faithful are invited to come and to go to Communion.

To Henri Tempier, 25 June 1832, EO VIII n 426

Despite the government’s hostility, the religious fervor of the people of Marseilles could not be extinguished. Eugene gives a description:

You know how things went here but you could never get any idea from the papers of the beauty, emotion and divine quality of our celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart that took place on the day you celebrated the Feast of St. Peter at Rome. The Bishop was distributing communion for two and a quarter hours. Everyone in the Cathedral, and it was packed, went up for communion. It was a magnificent evening. Ah well, we did our best to make it up to Our Saviour for the insult offered him.

To Henri Tempier, 9 July 1832, EO VIII n 427

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A letter to Henri Tempier, who was in Rome, in which Eugene gives an idea of the political turmoil in Marseilles – and the delicate position he found himself in as Vicar general of the diocese .

… Now everything is in a turmoil, mutual suspicions disrupt the peace. At every turn the troops make hostile demonstrations. The reason behind this state of affairs is a very bizarre call to arms.

In the 1830 Revolution, Louis Philippe had usurped the throne from the legitimate heir (something that the “legitimist” Eugene did not agree with). The wife of the one who should have been king was the Duchess de Berry (see,_duchesse_de_Berry ).

She disembarked in Marseilles, and this caused political tension. Some hotheads decided to hoist the white flag of the legitimate monarchy on the steeple of a church – thus involving Eugene, who was trying to maintain some semblance of calm in the diocese on this incendiary issue.

Three men thought they could create a big impression by hoisting a white flag on the top of the steeple of Saint-Laurent. I am still asking myself if those responsible for such a ridiculous plot oughtn’t to be sent to the madhouse rather than to prison where they are now held in close custody.

To Henri Tempier, 6 May 1832, EO VIII n 421

I publish this extract because it gives an idea of the delicate and sensitive situation in which the Church found herself under the anti-religious attitude of Louis Philippe’s government. It helps us to appreciate what Eugene was living through.

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Perhaps you are surprised to see how short the text of St Eugene is today. Yet, behind these words is a reality that was to make a life-changing difference for Eugene until his death 29 years later. The request was accepted by the Pope, and Eugene did become a bishop, initiating a stormy relationship with the French government, much personal suffering and, finally, a period of outstanding pastoral leadership and love for the most abandoned in Marseilles, then the second-largest city of France.

You are in Rome…

Letter to Henri Tempier, 14 May 1832 EO VIII n 422

Yvon Beaudoin explains:

“The municipal council of Marseilles, at the beginning of 1831, had passed a resolution voting for the suppression of the episcopal see on the death of the incumbent. Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod, already 84 years of age, wrote to the Pope on March 11. 1832:

“I am now exceedingly old, Holy Father, and I do not entertain the vain hope that God will keep me alive much longer …. It is not the closeness of death that causes me pain: my pilgrimage has lasted quite long enough…. But what will become of my poor diocese of Marseilles, so recently restored from its ruinous state by your predecessor Pius VII? … In the preoccupation that ensues from this thought.

God has given me an inspiration: that Your Holiness might give me, not a coadjutor bishop – that is impossible, and besides I do not want the Government to get involved in this matter in any way – but a bishop “in partibus”, someone who would enjoy my confidence and that of my clergy and people. For the little time that is left to me, such a bishop would be a solace in the exercise of my ministry, while on my death he would become the stay of my flock, the hope of my clergy, the mainstay of all my institutions.

I have in mind a man who is already my vicar general and who on my death will undoubtedly be named vicar capitular by my Chapter, all of whose members esteem and respect him highly. In this way he will govern the diocese with the powers of an ordinary. He will animate everyone by his zeal, his presence will sustain all the good that he has already achieved, he will administer the sacrament of holy orders and so ensure the unbroken continuity of the priesthood, in expectation of the moment when better times permit Your Holiness to provide my church with the successor of your choice…”

To ensure the success of this project. Bishop Fortuné sent Father Tempier to Rome.”

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Following the lead of the King and his government, the municipality of Marseilles was also hostile to the Church.  In 1832 they removed the stipend and the premises of the Christian Brothers who ran a school for the poor. Eugene, as Vicar General of Marseilles, stepped in immediately to rescue the Brothers.

… I hope that the collection for our schools will be sufficient. I had ten thousand francs, nearly double that will be needed again. The rent of the house alone will cost more than four thousand.

Eugene had been collecting money to build a new church in an area where there was no place of worship. However, the needs of the pupils who had been ejected were more important than the bricks of a building (however meritorious the building a much-needed church was).

Providence will come to our help but what a body-blow for our church of St. Lazarus. When we were laying our plans, we had no thought of the Brothers’ misfortune. No matter, there is no shortage of courage, we gave them priority because the living members of Christ, which all these poor abandoned children are, ought to have preference over the temple even of Jesus Christ. This good Master, who inspires us and who judges our intention, will not abandon us. I am pledged for thirty thousand francs. He would send down a shower of gold from the skies sooner than see our trust betrayed.

To Bruno Guigues, 23 March 1832, EO VIII n 419

Which priorities are we bombarded with every day by our newspapers and television news? Structures, efficiency, smooth administration, political correctness – or responding to the human and spiritual needs of people in distress…?

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The day before his death Eugene entrusted this message to his Oblate family:

Be sure to tell them that I die happy… that I die happy that God was so good as to choose me to found the Congregation of the Oblates in the Church.

Then as the last wish in his heart:

Practice among yourselves charity
and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls.

Joseph Fabre (Eugene’s successor as Superior General), Circular letter of 1861

In 2011, the Oblate Congregation and the Archdiocese of Marseille gathered at St Eugene’s tomb to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his death. His present successor as Superior General recalled:

For us Oblates, Saint Eugene was a man on fire with a great love for Jesus Christ, for the Church and for the poor. He shared these gifts with the people of Marseille for 37 years, as Vicar General and then as Bishop.

At the same time, he was the Superior General of the Missionary Oblates and he guided this growing Congregation from the bishop’s house across the street.

It is from this same city that he sent us to preach the Gospel throughout the world… We Oblates are proud to continue following his inspiration in nearly 70 countries, with more than 4,000 missionaries and numerous lay associates.

Father Louis Lougen OMI

In his homily during the Mass, St Eugene’s present successor as Bishop of Marseille said:

Bishop de Mazenod was animated by a passion to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. It is the way to the encounter of the poorest that Christ came to him and tied it to Him. He made an untiring apostle

In this he is a model for us.

May the passion of the Gospel fill us! May it lead us to the poorest today in the church …“

Archbishop Georges Pontier

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The second after-effect of the 1830 Revolution was seen in the request that Father Courtès become the Vicar General of the newly-appointed Bishop Rey to the Diocese of Dijon. This new bishop had openly supported the King despite the latter’s public hostility to the Church.

… The proposal made to you by Bishop Rey would arouse my gratitude, if his only purpose were to show you his esteem. I am a little less impressed in the view of the position he is in and the advantages he would hope to derive from your services.
You are right to conclude that his proposal is unacceptable. First because of your health …. I see no less difficulty on the moral side. Bishop Rey has been installed by the Sovereign Pontiff, but is there anyone who does not know that this installation was extracted by force? Has not Bishop Rey allowed himself to be used by a government that is hostile to the Church? To receive his patronage would be in everyone’s eyes a frank admission of complicity. The very idea fills me with horror….

To Hippolyte Courtès, 11 March 1832, EO VIII n 417

The question of collaboration with unjust rulers has been present for centuries – not just in action, but sometimes silence in the face of injustice can be collaboration.

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The after-effects of the July 1830 Revolution in France continued to be felt in 1832. Writing to Father Courtès, Eugene touches on one.

The very evening of the day of the consistory, a messenger came and announced the taking of Ancona by the French. The details which have come to us are horrifying; you have to go back to the time of the barbarians to find like examples of cowardly betrayal or rather of so revolting a treachery.

To Hippolyte Courtès, 11 March 1832, EO VIII n 417

Yvon Beaudoin explains: “After 1830 there were revolutionary upheavals in the whole of Europe: Belgium, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the Papal States. With a view to helping the Pope, Austrian troops had just occupied the Romagna at the beginning of 1832. As a counter-weight to this intervention Louis-Philippe ordered the occupation of Ancona, against the wishes of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

France had always been regarded as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church” and Eugene found this betrayal of the Pope by the French King an act of treachery.

Today, what is my reaction when I encounter hostility to the Church and to the values of the Kingdom of God?

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It is only when we see our desires in the light of the Word and will of God, that we will have peace and bear fruit.

Unfortunately, only too often, and I shudder as I say it, we find great sinners amongst the preachers, confessors and all those ministers who are slaves to their whims. The saints are found amongst the obedient, modestly accepting their missions in a quite different way. In God’s name, ponder on these reflections.
Whoever we are, we are unprofitable servants in Our Father’s house. Our actions and the services we render have value only to the extent that we do what the Master asks of us.
It will go hard with anyone who turns up his nose at the least important tasks because he believes himself suitable for more lofty ones. His reckoning will be swift. Not only that, before long he will find himself with a new master: Lucifer for Jesus Christ. Believe me. I speak from experience. I could cite more examples than I can count on the fingers of my hand.

To Jean Baptiste Mille, 30 May 1832, EO VIII n 423

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There is no activity that is too lowly in our service of the Kingdom of God – no matter how gifted or intellectual or important we may consider ourselves.

A superior cannot be tied down by any conditions. He might need someone to answer the door or to sweep up and that person must then be convinced that he is more agreeable to God answering the door and sweeping up than he would be if on his own account he were to preach or hear confessions. St. Anthony of Padua spent many years in the kitchen without thinking of complaining.
There is no serving the good God without renunciation.

To Jean Baptiste Mille, 30 May 1832, EO VIII n 423

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The 24 year-old Jean Antoine Bernard was completing his Oblate formation in Billens and had been ordained to the priesthood 5 months earlier. It seems as if he had been asked to do a particular ministry and had expressed his reservations to his local superior in its regard. The local superior, Fr Mille, was young and inexperienced himself and it appears that he did not know how to handle someone who did not give “blind obedience.” Eugene responded:

I don’t find Father Bernard’s observations out of place if they go no further than you indicate in your letter. Nothing could be more legitimate than to make one’s desires known, but there is also the aspect that it is proper to put one’s confidence in the wisdom and insight that the good God gives to superiors.
It would be a grave disorder to cherish so exclusive a love for one kind of ministry that one could not be placed elsewhere, even for a short period, without getting upset about it.

To Jean Baptiste Mille, 30 May 1832, EO VIII n 423

Eugene brings up the question of discernment of the will of God in ministry: the importance of the interplay between one’s personal desires and the over-all vision of the situation which the one responsible for the community has. Discernment does not mean blind obedience – it means listening together to all possibilities in the light of the Word of God.

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