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.