The future of the Missionaries hung in the balance. Eugene was convinced that the direction for the growth of the Society could only be via the route of religious life and professing the evangelical counsels by making vows. Four of the seven priests did not agree with him on this radical step. It is here that Eugene resorted to consulting the three young men in formation, the direction of whose lives would be affected by this decision. Leflon describes the scene:
It was at that crucial moment that the Founder went into action. Having failed to win over the opposition with arguments and entreaties, he now resorted to more forceful measures. Under guise of explaining the Constitutions to the three scholastics in minor orders, who were full-fledged members of the Society, he summoned Brothers Dupuy, Courtès and Suzanne to the Council, knowing that they wholeheartedly favored his plan to change over to the religious state. None of the three failed him.
After “hearing the Rule read, they unanimously agreed to accept it and assured the Founder, as they had already done privately that they approved the proposed vows.” So states the official record. [ed. Actes du premier Chapitre général, octobre 24, 1818. A.G.R. Registre des Délibérations des Chapitres généraux de la Société des Missionnaires de Provence]
If, as Suzanne assures us, Father de Mazenod wanted to prove by this maneuver that these commitments were not frightening to the other members of the community, and that he hoped thereby to bring about a general adhesion, the experiment must have failed, for, in order to reverse the majority, he had to go still further by giving each of the three scholastics a deliberative vote. Thanks to these added votes, the contested articles were passed by the thin margin of 6 to 4.
This was the only time in the history of the Missionary Oblates when men who were not in life-long commitment (perpetual vows) participated fully in a General Chapter, with the right to vote.
Just how proper was the procedure on that occasion? The Acts of the first general Chapter which Suzanne drew up eight years later in 1826, admit that this session of the Chapter was “the only one at which unordained members were present.” However, as it was noted in the Acts, the Constitutions had not as yet come into force. Furthermore, it was declared only just that the three scholastic brothers, who were full-fledged members of the Institute should have the right to express their opinion at a moment when a decision of the greatest importance was being made, since it affected not only the future of the whole Society, but their individual futures as well.
The fact still remains, nonetheless, that on this occasion they had played a deciding role, and that their opinion won out over that of the Fathers.
Leflon 2, p. 167 – 168
Today we continue to be defined by this decision:
We come together in apostolic communities of priests and Brothers, united to God by the vows of religion. Cooperating with the Saviour and imitating his example, we commit ourselves principally to evangelizing the poor.
CC&RR, Constitution 1