When Eugene founded us in 1816, we were initially a group of missionary priests. Two year later he discerned that God was calling us to become a society of religious missionaries, with vows. This meant that as religious we would be brothers and priests. Some young men discerned that God was calling them to be missionaries as brothers and not as priests (cf. http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=3155). The first one to make his oblation as a Brother was Jean Bernard Ferrand. He was 23 when he made his commitment. (cf. http://www.omiworld.org/en/dictionary/historical-dictionary_vol-1_f/721/ferrand-jean-bernard/ )
Eugene wrote about him during the time of his serious illness. The first time, with a wry sense of humor, was to recall Brother Ferrand’s sound sleeping habits:
it took no less to wake the good brother Ferrand who slept in the room in front of my little alcove; in vain did I call to him, whistled or banged on the wall; he got up and prepared some lime water for me to drink as the doctor had ordered; but as in the meantime the pain became more supportable, I thought that I ought to endure it so as not to be deprived of the happiness of saying holy Mass. The pain subsequently discontinued and I went back to sleep.
Letter to Henri Tempier, 15 May 1829, EO VII n 330
When Eugene eventually recovered from his very serious illness, he expressed gratitude for the care he had received from Brother Ferrand. Rey narrates:
“Among the latter were Brother Ferrand, who had lavished on the Founder demonstrations of total devotion, watching over him day and night and offering himself as a victim to die instead. At the peak of the crisis that nearly triumphed, the Founder saw himself in a dream as a half descended into the grave: as it appeared that he was disappearing it seemed to him that the arms of Brother Ferrand forcefully held him up.
A powerful effort directed and seconded by the Most Holy Virgin, brought him back from the grave in full health. The Founder later liked to recall this dream to Brother Ferrand and to attribute the effectiveness of this healing to the innumerable rosaries he had recited for him asking for the grace of his healing.” Rey 1 p. 471
As we look back on 200 years of existence, every page of our missionary history is filled with the powerful presence of the Brothers whose zeal and care evangelized brought a prayerful warmth and closeness to the people which the priests alone would never have been capable of.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” Margaret Mead