Leflon describes Eugene’s efforts to bring spiritual comfort to the prisoners: “Finally, the Semainier, anxious to make sure the prisoners received spiritual help, which was also one of the purposes of the Organization, observed that there exists an inexcusable neglect of religion, if not a deplorable spirit of irreligion among many of the prisoners who dispense themselves from attending Holy Mass without any legitimate reason, and, hence, it would be advisable to exhort the prisoners very strongly to fulfill such a sacred duty.” Leflon I p. 104

To his father, Eugene narrated:

Believe me, dear friend, the man who is fulfilling this ministry of charity does not see in these criminals whose advocate he has in a sense become, anything but unfortunates in need of help. It is the task of justice, with both equity and severity, to establish guilt, our duty is to ease their sufferings by every means in our power but above all with the consolations that religion brings.

Young Eugene’s means of conveying the “consolations that religion brings” by bribing the prisoners to go to Mass are quite horrifying when one considers his pastoral approach to prisoners in later years:

Do all my colleagues fulfil this duty, so essential as it is? I cannot say; as for myself, I congratulate myself, not only on having seen to it that the quality of the bread has been improved, that one category of prisoners are more demanding and more abandoned than the rest, and of about the same age as myself, got help, and on having put right many abuses, but especially for getting the administration to consider through my report that a punishment should be imposed on those Catholics amongst them who failed to attend divine service on Sundays and feast days. This punishment cannot be very extensive as we have no prison police, but forfeiting their soup will be enough to hold all these Gentlemen to their obligation.

Letter to his father, 19 January 1807, EO XIV n 21

Eugene certainly needed the grace of an encounter with the meaning of the mercy and compassion of the Crucified Savior!


“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.”   Horace Mann

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    My first reaction this morning in reading some of the above is to turn away in utter dismay at Eugene’s ideas of policing the prisoners to go to Mass with the possibility of them losing their soup should they not go on feast days and Sundays. ‘Barbaric’ I want to shout before remembering the times in which he lived and wrote. But as Frank said; ‘Eugene certainly needed the grace of an encounter with the meaning of the mercy and compassion of the Crucified Savior’.

    ‘God’s grace would most certainly build on Eugene’s nature’ over the next years just as it has with all of us. Am I so very different? Perhaps I would never share those kinds of thoughts aloud or put them on paper, but what about entertaining them in the secrecy of my mind? Have I ever tried to guilt a person into doing something that I think they should be doing? Of course I have. Have I never tried to control or manipulate a situation with an eye to showing another or others the right and proper way to do something? How have I withheld my love and compassion from another so that they might learn the right way to do something?

    Our local community are on a retreat this week and it began last night. We heard Constitution 47 read aloud: “Formation is a process which aims at the integral growth of a person and lasts a lifetime. It enables us to accept ourselves as we are and develop into the persons we are called to be. Formation involves us in an ever-renewed conversion to the Gospel and a readiness to learn and to change in response to new demands.”

    So here I am with Eugene inspiring me in so many ways, his spirit leading and guiding through his writings and his sons and daughters who are here around me. There is no force-feeding of the consolations that we are given but rather an invitation to enter into a new way of being.

    “Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me.” (Ps 139)

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