The blessing of the church at the Calvaire was a historic moment. For the Oblates it was a milestone in their ministry to the poor of the Marseille harbor area and the popular quarters surrounding it. What had begun as the erection of a large Crucifix to commemorate the 1820 mission had turned into an important center of pilgrimage. A large number of the pilgrims were the Italian dockworkers who found themselves attracted by the welcome of the Oblates and their ministry to them. This ministry among the poor immigrants had led the Oblates to establish themselves at the Calvaire and make it a spiritual home for those in need. Eventually this Greek-styled rotunda church was built, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel, as a center of renewal. Eugene’s description reflects his joy and gratitude.

The Bishop stood up well to the ceremony of consecration, which went on for not less than five hours, as if it were nothing and in the evening he was still in surprisingly good voice at the singing of Vespers. I do not say as much for myself. My body could do no more but my spirit was with the angels for it is impossible to find anything more beautiful, more grandiose and which fills our souls with such noble sentiments.

This day was also a milestone in the history of the diocese. It was built on the spot of a place of worship that had already existed for over 900 years. In the thirteenth century what was considered one of the finest gothic churches in the city was built – only to be destroyed 500 years later by the revolutionaries. All that was left standing in the rubble was the bell-tower, where the large Cross was placed in 1820.

It was the first consecration of a church which Marseilles had witnessed since the re-establishment of the episcopal see. The crowd was extraordinary. Father Jeancard pronounced the discourse for the occasion at the evening office.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 29 May 1828, EO VII n 301

Religion had survived the Revolution and was renewing itself, but thirty years after the Revolution, signs were emerging that for religion it was not over yet – and it was to affect Eugene and the Oblates profoundly.


“We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.”   Isabel Allende

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I am unable to imagine standing (or even sitting) for five hours in a church to celebrate it’s opening. I imagine that Bishop Fortune would have been in his 80’s by then!

    The joy that Eugene was experiencing was of course centering around the Church and which Frank pointed out was born out of renewal – renewal of the religion, of the people who were recognizing once again their own spirituality and love of God. Yesterday during convocation person after person spoke of how we have come together – first from being many provinces into one, and then from many districts into one. We are one province, we are OMI Lacombe Canada province and we were not separating ourselves from each other. There is a tremendous freedom in that, and a whole lot of joy to celebrate together even as we face a future that is not necessarily rosy or easy. None of it impossible because we walk together, with hope and trust in God and each other. Our day ended with the celebration of Mass and it was such a celebration.

    Isabel Allende said “The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.” I cannot disagree. When survival and renewal come together then life, new life is born. It might look different but, it is most certainly stronger, deeper and brighter. Life the embers of a fire sitting silent until new life is breathed into them. Then do they become a fire burning strong and vibrant. This is my image of Eugene and the Oblates at the blessing of the church at Calvaire, and all of us here as we journey together. Yesterday we celebrated, lamented and hoped. It all continues today, carries us forward as we step out and look at the possibilities of how we shall walk together on this journey.

    I thank God for all the joy we are given with the gift of each others and those who lead us.

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