25 JANUARY 1816 – RECALLING OUR FOUNDING STORY

The all-important first day of community life for the Missionaries was obviously a story often repeated in all its details.

Here Eugene is writing to the novices and scholastics who were in Billens, Switzerland, to escape the dangers of the anti-religious persecution by the government of Louis Philippe. He narrates the story of the beginning of their religious family, and draws a conclusion linked with the vow of poverty and the call to simplicity.

 Tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before. Our lodging had none of the splendour of the mansion at Billens, and whatever deprivations you may be subject to, ours were greater still. My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other whose name we no longer mention amongst us. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.
 The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow. Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly. I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on. It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.
 I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!

 Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille and the novices and scholastics,
24 January 1831, O.W. VIII n.383

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One Response to 25 JANUARY 1816 – RECALLING OUR FOUNDING STORY

  1. Eleanor Rabnett says:

    I am reminded of the very first Lacombe Convocation that I was invited to attend. It was in a hotel that had supposed to have been renovated to accommodate all of us and our needs. When I arrived I heard tales of some of the rooms without heat – one was actually missing the glass window pane, and our days were to be spent in a room that usually was a sports bar. We laughed and we got heaters for the rooms, and when it turned out that there weren’t enough food trays to accommodate all of us they went out and bought some more – except they were flexible rubber boot trays/mats. Our new Superior General (Fr. Louis Lougen) was with us and if this had been a time to ‘show off’ it would have fallen woefully short, – he was with, one of us And it did not seem to bother him. The strongest of my memories though was that of joy as everyone arrived and greeted old friends and many new ones. The incredible joy of being together – family. We all lived to tell the tales and we laugh now.

    The most important part – was the coming together as community. “I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!”
    I look at Eugene now – perhaps it is just because I want it, but I really believe that Eugene is living it with us all over again. The Mazenodian Family Congress is taking place in San Antonio and many of us have been blessed with being able to view the talks and videos. I think of what Fr. Leo Deschâtelets OMI said from the 1947 Chapter when he spoke of the spirit inviting the Congregation: “The Chapter also requested that our apostolate should increasingly seek the support of the laity in the form of Catholic Action.” (Evangelization and Mission: Part II Evangelization after the death of the Founder – Section A General Chapters).

    It looks new and in a way it is. But the Charism, the Spirit still comes from that first gift given to Eugene. Yes I truly believe his smiling with all of us now.

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