OUR BICENTENARY: 25 JANUARY 1816 – RECALLING OUR FOUNDING STORY

The all-important first day of community life for the Missionaries was obviously a story often repeated in all its details. In his Memoires, Father Tempier, described it as: “This memorable day that I will never forget for as long as I live.”

Here Eugene is writing to the novices and scholastics who were in Billens, Switzerland, to escape the dangers of the anti-religious persecution by the government of Louis Philippe. He narrates the story of the beginning of their religious family, and draws a conclusion linked with the vow of poverty and the call to simplicity.

 Tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before. Our lodging had none of the splendour of the mansion at Billens, and whatever deprivations you may be subject to, ours were greater still. My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other whose name we no longer mention amongst us. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.

The foundation room today

 The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow. Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly. I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on. It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.
 I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!

 Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille and the novices and scholastics,
24 January 1831, O.W. VIII n.383

FR. Louis Lougen, successor of St Eugene, at prayer in the foundation room with his council

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One Response to OUR BICENTENARY: 25 JANUARY 1816 – RECALLING OUR FOUNDING STORY

  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I am again this morning a mixture of awe and wonder, joy and gratitude.
    Sometimes when I hear the Gospel read, when I am reflecting on it or hearing another preach it I seem to hear it with new ears, the words penetrate and are broken open in a very specific manner, unlike the previous times. These are days of discovery. How many times have I read and reflected on Eugene’s letter to Fr. Mille but again this morning something new has leaped off of the pages and caused my heart to miss a beat and slow.

    “It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value. […]I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!”

    I suppose the case could be made that hearing anyone say these words would be ‘enough’ to make me pause and reflect… But the truth is that I heard these words from Eugene, it was his spirit which filled them and gave them life so that they burrowed down into my heart where they took up residence. He spoke through his writings and through the family that he started.

    As I read and reread the memories of those first days and years of community life they become a tribute once again. Eugene and the Oblates, all of us who make up the Mazenodian Family are living it now with each other. More than just words on a page, more than just stories of times gone by, they are most certainly alive now. “Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly.”

    Never before have I had such a strong sense of being with so many who have gone before me and those who will come long after, all of us together on the same journey, moving to the beat of a very specific drummer and singing a very specific tune. Dancing really.

    Eugene, how happy we are to live it now with you!

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