25 January 1816 marked the first day of community life for the Missionaries, with the arrival of the first three members. Eugene had bought some of the Carmelite Convent, with an arrangement that the seller, Madame Gontier, could continue using the greater part of the building for her boarding school for girls. In his Memoires, Eugene tells us that she had
… left us narrowly confined to the rooms she had conceded to us. To reach the top-floor apartment, which now serves as a library, we had to use the small staircase leading from the outside of the house; we had great difficulty squeezing into these quarters. Thus, two of our group slept in the room that has now become the library, while I myself slept in the narrow passageway leading to it.
As we had very little furniture in those first days, we set a lamp on the threshold of the connecting door and it served the three of us at bedtime.
The refectory, supposedly temporary, remained poorly furnished for a long time. Our improvised table was merely a plank placed over two barrels which served as legs. The fireplace, where we did our cooking, smoked so badly that it blotted the daylight out of the fox-hole where we ate with great relish the meager portions set before us. This suited the dispositions God had put into our hearts far more than the leisurely meals my mother would have been glad to serve us at her home. We had lost none of our gaiety; on the contrary, since this way of life was such a striking contrast to the one we had just given up, it often provided us with many a hearty laugh.”
Memoires, cited by Rambert, La vie de Monseigneur Charles-Joseph-Eugène de Mazenod, Tome I, p. 177
Here at Oblate School of Theology, in San Antonio, Texas, we are beginning an intense year of preparation for the bicentennial of our Congregation. This year will be an opportunity to look back on our history and achievements with gratitude, and to allow our history of living the charism and spirit of St Eugene to impel us to be even more creative and courageous in being bearers of Gospel light and hope to those who are most in need.
As we recall 25 January 1816, may every member of the Mazenodian family throughout the world re-kindle more deeply that spark that impelled Eugene to transformative action