Eugene had gone to the city of Gap to perform an ordination, but it was cancelled at the last moment.
But the good God had not brought me to Gap for that reason. In the depths of a jail cell there was a man faced with a public curse, a vile criminal, a scoundrel condemned to death, who was waiting for the final word from Paris to see himself led to the scaffold. This unfortunate fellow, forsaken by men, was not deaf to the voice of the minister of religion who came to bring him a message of peace. He came to his senses, confessed his sins and his dispositions seemed so excellent that the minister reconciled him to God.
Eugene, who always saw abandoned people through the eyes of the Crucified Savior, could not tolerate the injustice of not ministering sacramentally to criminals awaiting execution.
There he is in his cell, concerned only about his salvation. There was nothing more to be done for him except to recommend him to the mercy of God. Such would have wished the horrible prejudice, the barbarian abuse which mercilessly refuses any other religious comfort to a man condemned to death. That there is a divine precept to receive Holy Communion before one dies, that the sinner who is reconciled with God is bound to the obligation of the annual Communion, which is more compelling as each day goes by, has no importance at all to them. No, the custom said it was not proper to give the Body of Christ to someone condemned to death, and would hinder him from fulfilling that great duty and violently deprive him of the right that he had to share in the Eucharist in his terrible situation.
He would have undergone that atrocious injustice if the good Lord had not sent me to Gap. May God be blessed a thousand times! …Meanwhile, I took upon myself the task of sanctioning by my example the doctrine I teach. Today I went to say Mass in the prison.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 16 July 1837, EO XVIII