Two and a half years after the foundation of the Missionaries, this seemingly insignificant letter signalled an explosion in their life and a new direction.
The letter was written in response to an invitation from the Vicar General of the Diocese of Digne. He had asked the Missionaries of Provence to take over the shrine of Notre Dame du Laus, some 150 kilometres from Aix, and to make it a centre of pilgrimage and of missionary activity.
I have no other desire than to do a little good; thus, if you think that the plan you have thought of might gain some glory for God and contribute to the salvation of souls, I am totally disposed to offer myself for all the arrangements which are compatible with my commitments in this diocese and the duties of my position in our little Society.
Letter to M. Arbaud, 23 August 1818, O.W. XIII, n. 16
The result of Eugene’s letter of acceptance was to be that:
- this tiny group of Missionaries realised that their future was not limited to only one house in Aix en Provence – as had been their original intention. It would eventually open the way to a world-wide expansion;
- this group of diocesan priests were to change their status and to become a group of religious priests and brothers with vows;
- they would produce their first comprehensive Rule of Life as religious;
- they understood that the care of Marian sanctuaries was part of their missionary charism.
What the Missionary Oblates are today is the fruit of this decision. Father Yvon Beaudoin gives the background:
In a letter of August 16, M. Arbaud had proposed to the Missionaries of Provence that they establish themselves at Laus. One of the arguments he invoked was of a kind to impress Father de Mazenod whose relations with the parish priests of Aix were not getting better: “Besides it seems to me,” said M. Arbaud, “that it is in your interest to have two houses under your direction so that you can make some changes that certain circumstances may demand. It is not something indifferent to have places in two dioceses; thus when the weather is bad in relations with one of the administrations, you can take refuge in the safety of the other.”
Footnote 2, O.W. XIII, n. 16