Bishop Arbaud focused his discomfort with the Oblates on the superior of the community, Father Guibert, whom Eugene vehemently defended. The underlying cause of the Bishop’s unhappiness was not Fr Guibert – but he became the scapegoat to express it. It is a long letter to reproduce, but I do so because it shows how Eugene defended his Oblates when they were unjustly accused – just as he was the first to reproach and correct them when they were wrong.
If Father is to blame, he should be punished, but your letters prove the opposite. If he is innocent, why should he be punished? However, through what ordeals has he not been put? A model of obedience, he has scrupulously obeyed everything, without allowing himself to make the least observation. Now, you are going further and want me to take him away from the house which he is directing with piety, wisdom and discretion. You are asking too much, Your Lordship!
You are wrongly imputing a crime to Father Guibert for not turning away from the novitiate the men of your diocese who come to present themselves there. You know the Church’s rules in that matter of vocations …
Why do you want to oblige me to recall such a valuable man whom you have praised to me on every occasion? Why deprive him of a climate that is very good for his precarious health? Why force me to deprive the young men that he is instructing in the ways of perfection of the priceless benefits of his good direction?
I deny the calumnies of those who say that he is displeasing to your clergy. The one who slandered him could have discovered the opposite this very year itself during the clergy retreat at N.-D. du Laus. Out of 22 priests, twenty chose him for director. No, Your Lordship, Father Guibert is not well enough known. This excellent priest is not only mentally gifted, but eminently virtuous and, because of that, should be precious to a Bishop like yourself.
I hope that you will render him your good graces which he has done nothing to lose. If my letter weren’t so long, I would quote you an example which would show you the uprightness and simplicity of his soul …
Letter to Bishop Arbaud of Gap, 20 February 1833, EO XIII n 81
This letter is the beginning of a conflict that would simmer and lead to the Oblates being expelled from the shrine some years later. Under them the shrine had flourished, pilgrims were coming in large numbers, and it was financially viable. The Bishop now wanted this thriving ministry returned to him and also to use the refurbished house as a retirement home for his priests.