Being a Provencal with a fiery temperament, Eugene was able to understand and handle the sometimes-volatile reactions of the working class of Marseille during the mission. He loved them and was able to get through to them as Leflon narrates (Vol 2 p. 108-109):

In addition to all this, at the very start of the mission, the missionaries encountered an obstacle which should have been taken into account beforehand; the insufficient number of parishes for a city of 109,000 inhabitants. The city’s eleven churches could not accommodate the large numbers of people who thronged to them. Consequently, there were disorders and brawlings which the Founder’s father related at length to Canon Fortuné:

The huge crowds in all the churches occasioned various disturbances and several scandalous incidents. … Also on Sunday, at the church of the Carmelites, the ceremony of Consecration to the Blessed Virgin was the scene of another disturbance. My son . . . arrived in the middle of fist fights and even stone-throwing. There were three times as many people outside the church as there were inside. The racket was frightful. Eugene mounted the pulpit and with a strong but even voice told them: ‘My brethren, now that you have turned the Lord’s august temple into a fish market, I have nothing more to do here, and so I leave you.’ He then left the pulpit. Instantly, everything quieted down. They pleaded with him to come back and after some urging, he re-ascended the pulpit and gave such a touching and beautiful sermon that he had everyone in tears.

Reported by President de Mazenod to Fortuné, March 14, 1820. P.R., FB VI-3., January 28-30, 1820.

Years later, when Eugene became Bishop of this city, he reflected:

Here I am in fact pastor and chief pastor of a diocese which, whatever one says of it, is not inhabited by saints… I must have no thought but for its good, no fears other than I have not done enough for its welfare and sanctification.

Retreat preparatory to taking possession of the episcopal see of Marseilles, May 1837, O.W. XV n.185


I met in the street a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, his cloak was out at the elbows, the water passed through his shoes, – and the stars through his soul.   Victor Hugo

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    Such a provocative statement – “A city not inhabited by saints”, stated by such a provocative man who was, I believe, a saint long before being proclaimed such. Eugene knew himself so well and so he knew others, he knew what their reactions would surely be if he made such a statement as the one about having ‘nothing more to do there so he would leave’. This would have been I imagine a very diverse group of people who had heard stories about “Eugene de Mazenod” and who most likely wanted to hear him and be touched by him in some way. They would stop their bickering and ignore for the time their differences in order to have him speak to them. He disarmed them. Were he standing in front of me today I would probably say something like “oh you’re good, you’re really good” and it would be said with much acknowledgement and enjoyment. Then I would listen!

    I cannot know the mind of Eugene. On reading “Here I am in fact pastor and chief pastor of a diocese which, whatever one says of it, is not inhabited by saints… I must have no thought but for its good, no fears other than I have not done enough for its welfare and sanctification.” I thought of two things: the first being how Eugene would give his all for God and how he lived that out in serving and loving others, and the second being those well known lines “…we must help them to become saints.” They seem to work hand-in-hand, they seem to be each a part of the other.

    And last but certainly not least, the quote from Victor Hugo. What incredible imagery and truth that calls forth. I ask myself have I ever seen such a person and realise I am graced to have not only seen but have known some/many. It seems to me that it could mean seeing through the messiness, the dirt and the pain of our humanness to the wonder and awesome tenderness of our divinity.

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