In January 1814, Napoleon’s armies were in retreat as the powers against him invaded France. He sent two thousand Austrian prisoners of war to Aix. Typhus broke out, and doctors and the chaplain died of it. Eugene became aware of the abandonment of these prisoners, who were dying without the sacramental help of the Church, and offered his services to the diocesan administration to minister to them. He too caught the sickness, was confined to bed on March 10 and received extreme unction on the 14th. Soon after he became delirious. He describes this event in a letter to his father in Palermo:
While here I have entirely got over an illness that brought me to death’s door and from which I recovered only through the countless and very fervent prayers that were made for me to the good God in every quarter of the town. The extent of the interest that was taken in me was nothing short of amazing; I am abashed and humbled whenever it comes back to me, and I could never repay it except by the most complete devotion to the salvation and edification of all my dear compatriots.
Their solicitude on my behalf was all the more generous in that it was not in service to them that I contracted the disease that would certainly have carried me off were it not for the unlooked for help of prayers which, even if not public, although they were that in some measure, were general.
It was at the barracks where some 2000 Austrian prisoners were held that I contracted what they call jail fever. On the morning of St. Joseph’s feast day I was close to the end; and as if my holy patron had wished to show me the effect of his powerful protection that was being invoked for me on all sides, that very evening I took a turn for the better with astonishing rapidity. The next day or the day after that there was no longer any danger.
But I was deprived of the happiness of saying holy Mass until April 20 when I began again to acquit myself of this consoling ministry at home. Now I have resumed again all my other little offices of zeal, and I am as well if not better than I was before my illness….
Letter to his Charles Antoine de Mazenod, 17 June 1814, O.W. XV n. 126