Father Mille, in charge of the formation of future Oblates in Switzerland, had written to Eugene complaining about one of his novices, Jean-Antoine Bernard. Eugene responded: 

I am annoyed that Bernard is not more sensible of the value of the life and exercises of the novitiate. Lest he be deceived, it is there that is being laid the foundation of all the good he is being called to do.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille and to the Fathers and Brothers at Billens, 3 November 1831, EO VIII n 406

A shaky beginning to the Oblate life of one who was to become a zealous missionary who brought countelss people to encounter the loving mercy of God and the maternal blessings of Mary in Marseilles. The Shrine of Notre Dame de la Garde (Our Lady who Protects), which dominates the skyline of Marseilles and the harbor, became the source of fruitful mission thanks to him. Yvon Beaudoin writes about him:

Father Bernard contributed a great deal to making of Notre-Dame de la Garde a pilgrimage site worthy of Marseilles, first of all by spiritual renewal. Bishop Jeancard wrote: “He was known throughout the city and throughout the diocese. Along with his confreres, he had evangelized all the suburban parishes and, everywhere he preached, by building up the people’s trust, he had contributed in a powerful way to instilling in them that religious spirit that for a long time characterized them in a remarkable way. As a result, he was strategically placed in the shrine where it seemed his strength redoubled in the measure that he dedicated himself more keenly to all the shrine concerns. Indeed, one would be at a loss to find words to describe with what untiring zeal he dedicated himself ever more to encouraging the growth of devotion to Notre-Dame de la Garde. Whether he exercised his ministry in the chapel where he preached from time to time or whether he came to the city several days a week to hear confessions, his thoughts always turned toward the holy hill. To save souls by devotion to the Good Mother was an instinct that never left him…” ( for more details)

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I read the life of Jean-Antoine Bernard. From the glimpses given he reminds me of an Oblate who is now dead but who I met when I first came to Ottawa. I was never close to him but he was loved by many and was known for getting many good works done.

    I look at my own life and try to see if I have a ministry, let-alone a fruitful ministry. A hard call because my instinct is to say no – most of what I do, who I am and so I guess how I ‘be’ is related to the heart; all pretty much unseen in the ordinary of the day. And even as I get ready to discount myself I remember my friend (another Oblate priest) who as he was dying remarked on the number of people who came to visit him as he lay dying on his hospital bed. He was surprised and told me he could not figure out why – he was glad they came but he did not know why. And when I told him it was because they loved him he still struggled for he told me that although he had always been faithful and done his job as given to him, he had never done anything great or of note throughout his life. He was not able to see what he had done for others in loving and supporting them.

    So I will not discount myself yet but I wonder what I could be ‘doing’ that would be of benefit and good to others. My being seems to be soaring in some ways with the gifts that God has given to me, life, passion, a heart that loves but how to share that in a fruitful way? I wonder how Fr. Bernard felt about himself.

    In the midst of my studies I am discovering with much awe, wonder and gratitude the immensity that is the life of an Oblate. Who they are as expressed in their Constitutions and Rules brings me sometimes to tears. How they live. And in that mix they are all human too. They live that out – that being ‘oblation’, the surrender and giving of themselves so totally. I am grateful this morning to be here, simply to be here. There is hope.

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