Eugene’s diary entry for 1 May 1839 recalls an event that had happened 37 years earlier and which he recalled every year.

May 1: I said Mass as is my custom for the Duchess of Cannizzaro who died on this day. She was a mother to me all the while I stayed in Sicily.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 1 May 1839, EO XX

The Duchess of Cannizzaro was Eugene’s adoptive mother in Palermo. She was generous to the poor, and Eugene helped her to distribute alms to the needy. At that time he had written:

I experienced it indeed at her death [which took place May 1, 1802] when everyone could judge that my grief was incomparably more painful and deeply felt than that of her own sons. The Princess, whom I so rightly called my mother, was suddenly taken from us. The blow was cruel and the wound deep. I felt it for a long time; it even made me ill. They say that when I saw her lifeless body, I prostrated myself at the foot of her bed issuing a number of times this wrenching cry: “I have lost my mother! I have lost my mother!” 

Diary of the Exile in Italy, EO XVI

It had been the young Eugene’s first close encounter with the death of someone he was emotionally attached to. From it he would learn to be understanding of death and grief in the future. His reaction was intense and we will see how deeply the death of loved ones would affect him in the future.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I have always struggled with Eugene’s grief when the Duchess died; but as I sit here I remember that this took place when Eugene was in exile which he entered into as a young boy. His birth mother who had followed Eugene and his father into exile was able to leave and return to France with Eugene’s sister; I wonder if Eugene felt abandoned in some way – that would have been quite natural. To be so young and then taken in, cared-for and loved by the Duchess and treated like her son; she had chosen to love him – it was not forced upon her. I have joked occasionally about this young man who took to calling himself a ‘count’. But Eugene had given his love to the woman he called mother; to lose her was simply unthinkable.

    Eugene was demonstrative and so showed his grief and the pain of his loss.

    In the past I have struggled with Eugene’s behaviour at this point of his life, for he seemed to lead himself down into a very dark place. But I was looking at it through eyes that were seeing through my own pain which was born from unrelenting shame and guilt. A moment aside as I look at how I loved from a heart that was wounded and yet not unredeemable. and turn to smile as a daughter to her father smiles.

    I often quote from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses: “I am a part of all that I have met…” I would say the same of Eugene, this man with “a heart as big as the world”. He loved greatly and instead of burying that love when the Duchess died he allowed his pain and sorrow to be shared with all. And that is but one of the qualities that I have loved about Eugene.

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