An invitation to reflect with St. Eugene: who are the people I carry in my heart?
From mid-November 1828, we find Eugene’s life focused on the dangerous illnesses of two young Oblates who were especially close to him, whom he referred to as the “pupils of his eye.”
“I insist you to take care of yourself for two blows of this kind would make me lose either my mind or my life.”
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 18 November 1828, EO VII n 315
To grasp the pain and depth of his suffering we need to understand who these two were for him.
Father Marie-Jacques Antoine (known as Marius) Suzanne (1799 – 1829) met Eugene in Fuveau, at the second parish mission given by the Missionaries after our foundation. The 17-year-old was a minor seminarian, and was so struck by these men that he applied to join and was admitted to the community a month later. He began his novitiate in January 1817. Yvon Beaudoin writes:
Father Suzanne was a likable individual and was well loved. Bishop Jeancard wrote that Father Suzanne had “an open and gracious personality. His was a heart filled with affection with a genuine zeal for God’s house”… The Founder became immediately attached to this young man brimming with talents and virtue, endowed with an affectionate nature and a fiery temperament like his own…
Father Rey, who lived for some ten years with the Superior General, comments: “Father Suzanne was his favourite son. Godly, good-hearted, affectionate, intelligent, courageous, everyone considered that Father Suzanne was the spitting image of Father de Mazenod. An apostle like Father de Mazenod, consumed with zeal, he radiated great power from the pulpit and showed great wisdom in the confessional. His successes in preaching parish missions were consistent, without exception and irresistible … (http://www.omiworld.org/en/dictionary/historical-dictionary_vol-1_s/993/suzanne-marius/)
Eugene had known Father Jean Joseph Hippolyte Courtès (1798-1863) when he had joined the youth congregation as a teenager. Experiencing the life and example of the Missionaries in Aix, the 19 year-old Hippolyte asked to join them and became a novice in 1817. He was to remain one of Eugene’s closest advisors and friends throughout his life. (cf. http://www.omiworld.org/en/dictionary/historical-dictionary_vol-1_c/681/court-s-jean-joseph-hippolyte/)
While Marius Suzanne was suffering during his last weeks of life, Eugene often confided in Hippolyte Courtès:
I have had prayers said here so that the good God will preserve for us this beloved brother …. It will cost me my life to love you as I do.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 15 November 1828, EO VII n 314
“It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons.” Friedrich Schiller