In 1795, Eugene had the opportunity to take a short journey into Tuscany to accompany his mother, whom family interests were summoning back to France. Already the Marchioness de Dons, her sister, had returned with her son; Eugene’s mother would have lost all her rights of inheritance from her father, if she had prolonged her stay abroad. So this sad parting had to take place, she took her daughter with her…
On being separated from his mother and sister, he returned with his father to Venice to go on with his studies and tasks with the Zinellis, with whom he stayed until the time of his family’s departure for Naples.

Eugene’s mother’s family pressurized her to return to France and continued to interfere negatively in her relationship with her husband. In 1802 she legally divorced him.

Eugene’s father was fully, and unsuccessfully, occupied in trying to earn a living in Venice and did not have much time to look after his son. The break-up of Eugene’s family life led him to benefit from the loving environment in the Zinelli family

Four years passed by in this way: the affection of everyone in this very worthy family which had adopted me grew in proportion to the attachment I experienced myself in its regard…
How could I fail to make progress in such a good school? The family in whose bosom I lived was outstandingly Christian, and Don Bartolo, who was chiefly responsible for me, was really canonizable as a saint…

Diary of the Exile in Italy, EO XVI

This event in Eugene’s life was to give an imprint to his life: “losing” his family as an adolescent made him appreciate and value family life for the rest of his adult life: the importance of his relationship with his own family, his desire to create a sense of family among his youth congregation, and his image of the Oblates as being a family. It was one of the seeds that was to influence the development and expression of his spirituality – and ours.

As I reflect on this, I find myself spending time thinking with gratitude of the people who have provided a support system at various moments of loss in my life.


“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”   Khalil Gibran

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    This morning while admitting that my family life growing up was incredibly broken, I spend time also looking at the times in my life that I experienced goodness and love, care and support.

    It is all too easy to dwell on and see only the bad and the brokenness in our lives, to steep ourselves in that which of course only brings on deeper breaks within our own beings and robs us of the possibilities and opportunities to see real love and joy. Eugene focused not so much on what he didn’t but rather on what he did have. And as I look back I would love to say that is how I have viewed much of my life but alas that would not be true. But little by little, people would come and go in life who offered me what the Zinelli family gave to Eugene. I add to the list of people some very specific communities which marked me and continue to be a part of me, Madonna House of course, but even more my parish family, which has been to me my family for almost 30 years now. And most importantly the Oblate family, the Mazenodian family where God planted me not so many years ago but where I have taken root. Eugene himself in his writings, in his sharing of himself.

    During my Reflection on the Readings yesterday at Mass I spoke of the line from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses which I first heard back in 9th grade: “I am a part of all that I have met…” Again this morning I state quite clearly that I am a part of that I have met – my family, that is my birth family, and the many who God put into my life to ensure that I got what I needed, whether they were teachers, policemen, neighbours, fellow parishioners and most especially the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. I remember very early on with the Oblates thinking that God was giving the Oblates to me as a gift, and was giving me to the Oblates as a gift. The thought of myself as a gift – mind blowing but which settled in tenderness within my heart. Each and everyone of these – seeds that became planted in my heart and who influenced the growth and development, the expression of my spirituality.

    I think of our Lacombe Mission statement and how I have found myself in our community, our society, our church; among the poor and powerless; in strength and beauty and in limitations and brokenness. I thank God for giving me so much, for showing me how to take in all that is offered and to allow it to become a part of me.

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