On his return to Aix in the middle of 1812, Eugene’s early priestly ministry was conducted under the cloud of Napoleon.

It is not difficult to grasp that the immoral Napoleon’s plan and that of his infamous government’s is the total destruction of the Catholic religion in the States he has usurped. An obstacle to the decisive execution of his devilish strategy for this deplorable project seems to be the attachment of the majority of the oppressed peoples to the faith of their fathers. He is reduced to awaiting the effects of time and of the methods he employs in the meanwhile to arrive at his goals.

To achieve his ambitions, Napoleon focused on winning the hearts and minds of the youth.

Of all methods the one he counts on most is the demoralization of the youth.
The success of his measures is frightening. Already the surface of France is covered with colleges, military schools and other establishments where irreverence is encouraged, bad morals are at least tolerated, and materialism is promoted and applauded.
All these dreadful schools are filled with pupils whose parents’ avarice gives in to the attraction of a free place or a half-scholarship, or the hope of an advancement that is promised only to the clever. Empty places are filled with unhappy victims whom the tyrant pitilessly snatches from the bosom of their families and forces to drink of this poisoned cup, where they must find the origin of their inevitable corruption. Already the work is to a large measure accomplished. The 15-year old pupil of a college, the pupil of a preparatory or military school or polytechnic, a page, etc., all alike are become impious and depraved, and leave almost no hope of their return to good living, to good religious and civic principles. They are trained to recognize no other god than Napoleon. The will of this new providence that promises them no punishment for their vices and advancement for their ambitions is their only rule of conduct, the only motivation for all their actions. And so one sees them fly at the least sign from their idol wherever his voice calls them, ready to commit every crime that it pleases him to exact of their sacrilegious devotion. This is a terrifying picture but a true one and I could embellish it still more without fear of being accused of exaggeration. Apart from what is evident to everyone’s eyes and can be seen by everyone, I have in my possession a thousand proofs for my argument.
The evil is at its height and we are moving forward swiftly towards total collapse if God does not come very quickly to our help…

Diary of the Aix Christian Youth Congregation, 25 April 1813, O.W. XVI,

Eugene was to respond in a decisive way, at the cost of personal danger.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    A small sadness surfaces from within me this morning, and though it does not eclipse hope there is a small heaviness that comes with it, like a fog that needs a stiff breeze to dispel it. The images that pass before me are not those of Eugene’s time, but rather more recent. I think of the Hitler Youth, of the Khmers rouges, of the youth that ISIS seems to recruit with such terrifying success, of the child soldiers throughout the world, and even here closer to home of the more refined youth who are taught that greed is a value that is to be promoted and attained by all or that ‘self’ is everything and they need not look any further than themselves. I think of the movie that I saw – “Wolf of Wall Street” and where greed and excesses of every kind were promoted to be the norm. Such corruption seems to be a common thread that runs through our history and we are offered the choice to accept and join it or to stand firm against it (like a young tree standing against the winds of a hurricane).The success of such endeavors are sometimes successful but they are empty for they take life rather than encourage it.

    Eugene has already entered into the arena. While still at the seminary his focus was on the church and her priests as he stood firm in his belief of her, in his service to her. He seemed to know how to work it by standing firm in his beliefs and quietly continuing going about what he believed in.

    This is so much more than a history lesson for I seem always to be drawn into reflecting on what it looks like in my life, in the life of those around me, how it affects all of us. These ever deepening layers that we are offered seem to invite such reflection, they are like a door to our hearts and the door can remain closed or open even more widely. And I can go through the door into my heart and stay there or I can pass through it again going out into the world as we know that Eugene did and his Oblates do. Like the ebb and flow of the tides. These lessons invite us to a new way of living, a newer and deeper way of being. The word ‘evangelization’ comes to mind. I look forward to going ever more deeply into how Eugene lives it.

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