The OMI General Archives in Rome have the originals of 238 letters written by members of the Youth Congregation to Eugene. Reacting to one of them around 20 years later; Eugene wrote:
It originates with a good priest that I esteem as much as I have always liked him and it goes back to the first years of my ministry when Leblanc was among the most fervent disciples of my beautiful Christian youth congregation of which he was one of the first.
Diary of 18 February 1838, O.W. XIX
Twenty-six years after the foundation of the Youth Congregation Eugene recalled:
I therefore answered the Bishop of Metz that my sole ambition was to dedicate myself to the service of the poor and the youth. I made my first debut in the jails, and my training consisted in surrounding myself with young people whom I instructed. I trained a good number of them in virtue. I saw some 280 of them gathered around me, and those who today still remain faithful to the principles that I had the happiness of instilling in their souls and who do honour to their faith in every rank of society or in the sanctuary, will uphold for a long time, either in Aix or in the other places where they are dispersed, the reputation that this congregation had rightly acquired for itself while I was able to care for it.
Diary of 31 March 1839, O.W. XX
When Eugene became Vicar General of Marseilles in 1823 and had to leave Aix en Provence the dynamism of the Youth Congregation began to wane. It did continue as one of the ministries of the Aix Missionaries, but never again with the similar numbers and vigour of the years when it had the strong personality of Eugene to sustain it.
For the development of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate these ten years, 1813-1823, are important in that Eugene’s activities with the youth were the seed-bed and filter for the ideas and impetus he was to give to his Missionaries. Eugene had come out of the seminary as a young priest bursting with idealism and enthusiasm to give himself to the ministry of the Saviour. He was able to pour this all into the countless hours he dedicated to the young people. From this crucible he was able to be moulded himself by his Saviour whose generous instrument he was.
Eugene thus came to his mission of being a founder of the Oblate religious congregation of missionaries with the experience of how to communicate a vision, how to be an instrument of formation of people, of how to organise groups, and of how to inspire these groups to live by the ideals that were so close to his heart. He had tried and tested methods of composing a rule of life, of organising the administrative structures of a group, and of communicating methods of conveying a spirit and ideal to others.
The youth had formed Eugene to become the Founder of a larger missionary family! The child is indeed “father to the man” (Wordsworth).