Eugene had been happy to be of service to the diocese and to his uncle in an auxiliary role. He had looked forward to retiring from Marseilles to devote himself more fully to the Oblate Congregation once his 87-year-old uncle retired or died.

There’s no doubt about it, my dear friend, it was to get you to pray for me more zealously that our Father Courtès gave you the news of an event that makes me feel so sad. My lovely Icosia was not weighing on me at all. With the episcopal character I could perform genuine services, even bear a portion of my good neighbours’ burden, but I was exempt from every responsibility, I was free and I could count on the rest to which I feel so strong an attraction, when the time came that I hoped was still far distant but which would eventually occur, unless I were the first to die.

Unburdening himself to his medical doctor and friend, Eugene reflected on the nature of the responsibility that was now given to him for the rest of his life:

Now here I am, doomed to die in harness and this terrible responsibility that I have always so feared, here it is ready to shatter me; for I am far from putting a diocese on a par with a prefecture. The role, rather the burden of the pastor is frightening in the eyes of faith.
And the first pastor, in virtue of his institution, is pastor by divine law for the whole of his diocese! How can one deceive oneself that nothing is suffering through his fault in so vast a field, how can one make a promise always to do what one can to acquit oneself of so immense a duty?
For myself, I am bewildered when I reflect on it and have to summon up my inexhaustible trust in God’s goodness, in the help of the prayers of the just who still bother themselves about me, in the protection of the saints who have found themselves in the same crisis as myself, to win a little respite.

It was a responsibility that Eugene would fulfil with total dedication and much success for the following 25 years.

Thank you, dear friend, for all that your good heart inspired you to say so kindly to me on this topic; I would like to merit your praises, but, apart from my goodwill, there is precious little else.

Letter to Doctor M. d’Astros, 16 April 1837, EO XV n 183

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People began to congratulate Eugene on his appointment as Bishop of Marseilles. To his Oblate brothers, Eugene confided his true sentiments.

My dear Courtès, it is a consolation for me, in my disappointment to see you pleased and satisfied at the trick my Uncle has just played on me. My plan was quite different, it was more to my taste, to my inclination, I like to believe that it offered less advantages to the Congregation.
We must not think of it any more. God seems to have given the verdict, my duty will be to do my best in the new position where his Providence is placing me.
I have always feared pastoral responsibility. It weighs very heavily on me. As long as work was only a burden, I carried it willingly; in the future, it will not be so. I shall narrate to you how all this happened, when we meet next.

Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 16 April 1837, EO IX n 612

To his medical doctor, to whom he was very close, he wrote: 

One day I will tell you just how my good and venerable uncle played this trick on me. He has never been so gleeful as since he pulled this off, he laughs, sings, he is almost tempted to boast about it, I am the only one put out in this whole affair in which someone has been dealing under the table!

Letter to Doctor M. d’Astros, 16 April 1837, EO XV n 183

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 “In the prolonged silent prayer we make each day, we let ourselves be molded by the Lord, and find in him the inspiration of our conduct” (OMI Rule of Life Constitution, 33).

The practice of Oraison was an important part of St. Eugene’s daily prayer during which he entered into communion with the members of his missionary family. While they were all in France it was easy for them to gather in prayer at approximately the same time. When Oblate missionaries started to be sent to different continents it was no longer possible to pray at the same time, yet each day there was a time when they stopped and prayed in union with one another – even though not at the same time.

This is a practice that Eugene wanted the members of his religious family to maintain. This is why you are invited to take part in this practice of Oraison on Sunday, December 15, 2019, as we remember the feast of the six Oblate Martyrs of Laos and the Oblate lay catechist on December 16th.

Excerpt from Oblate Prayer Book pg. 159. 

During the Indochina War, between the years 1954-1970, seventeen followers of Christ in Laos suffered martyrdom for the sake of His name. Among them were six Oblates of Mary Immaculate who offered their lives in sacrifice so that the Gospel could be heard: Fr. Mario Borzaga OMI, Fr. Louis Leroy OMI, Fr. Michel Coquelet OMI, Fr. Vincent L’Hénoret OMI, Fr. Jean Wauthier OMI, Fr. Joseph Boissel OMI, and one of their catechists, Paul Thoj Xyooj. The Church in Laos recognizes these blessed as their founding fathers.

John 12: 24-26 

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Blessed Louis Leroy OMI 

On April 18, 1961 Fr. Louis Leroy was praying in his poor church. A detachment of guerrilla soldiers came to get him. According to the villagers, he knew this was his final departure: he asked permission to put on his cassock, put his cross on and with his breviary under his arm said goodbye. Without a hat and barefooted he followed the soldiers. In the forest, a few shots and it was over…. His childhood dream of witnessing to Christ, even in martyrdom, was granted.
He had written to the Superior General of the Oblates: “Before I knew the Oblates the missions in Asia attracted me, and I wanted to leave my work as a farmer for these missions…. The difficulties the Laos mission has had and perhaps will have again have only increased my desire for this country…. I would be very happy to receive my obedience for Laos if you feel it is good to send me there….”

Blessed Mario Borzaga OMI:

“In my prayer, I do not ask Jesus for joy or strength; I ask only to love him more and more—to love him as the saints and martyrs loved him.”

St. Eugene de Mazenod :

How happy they are to be able to sacrifice themselves for their brothers whom they are sanctifying, saving, placing in glory, at the price of their lives, like our Divine Master who died for the salvation of people! How admirable they are! But also, how fortunate, these dear martyrs of love! What a beautiful page in the history of our Congregation! (Letter to Bruno Guigues, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 529) 

For further reading we recommend the following article on the OMIWORLD website: 

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Visit from my uncle in my room in an extraordinary state of jubilation bearing in his hand the royal ordinance that names me Bishop of Marseilles consequent upon the resignation that this venerable old man has tendered of his Diocese.

This was the worst news that Eugene could receive. Five years earlier, to save the Diocese of Marseilles from being eliminated by the government, he had agreed to be ordained titular bishop of Icosia without the responsibility of a diocese. (See the article “Icosia” in the Oblate Historical Dictionary and chapter 5 of the book by Hubenig and Motte, Living in the Spirit’s Fire 

My own anxiety must have been in striking contrast with the sentiments my uncle was expressing.
This appointment was his doing, he had succeeded in getting all he wanted, he was happy to see his Diocese safe and confided to a man he judged fitted to continue his episcopate.
But I who have always dreaded the responsibility of a diocese, and who was happily content with my independent position in the Church, I who up to now had been able to plead the necessity of staying by my uncle’s side to avoid the dreaded responsibility of the title of first pastor… I was dumbfounded to see myself as it were caught in the trap…

Eugene’s uncle, Bishop Fortuné, had resigned from his diocese on condition that the Vatican and the King appoint Eugene as his successor. Eugene knew nothing about this “trap” and was dumbfounded and had no choice but to accept it as a manifestation of the will of God. 

The will of God is manifested in a way that cannot be mistaken. And I find myself in a position of not being able to refuse

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 9 April 1837, EO XVIII

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From our hymnals, certain ridiculous and out-of-place expressions of love must also be removed; verses that are significant and inspiring of piety are what is needed.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 6 April 1837, EO IX n 611

He repeats this sentiment in his private journal:

I do not approve of a lot of singing without refrains, less still adorations, which are an insipid and wearying form of song at a moment when one would rather pray fervently without being distracted by singing, unless it is singing oneself some couplets of the very moving sort that inspire piety.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 7 April 1837, EO XVIII

Yvon Beaudoin adds in a note: “We retain a copy of the Recueil de cantiques published in Grenoble in 1837, 152 pages. Among the prayers, placed at the beginning of the volume, is found, on pages XXI-XXIV, a “Hymn during Mass”, composed of 20 verses, one for the moment of the Introit, another at the Confiteor, at the reading of the Epistle, etc. When speaking of ‘adorations’ Bishop de Mazenod is perhaps referring to this hymn.”

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During the preaching of parish missions the Oblates aimed at maximum involvement by the people. Singing was one of them, but with certain conditions:

In the missions. I recommend you use hymns with a refrain, which the congregation can repeat. I insist that there be refrains which the whole congregation can sing, nothing more.
I don’t find anything more wearisome than listening to some isolated voices which annoy you by their unison without anyone being able to hear one word of what they utter. It is the very opposite of devotion. In this case, music, far from sending the souls to God, turns them away from him. Instead of praying at such a precious moment, people languish. People prefer to pray fervently without being distracted by the singing.
And so I would like to suppress, in our missions, any adoration, any hymn, in which the refrain could not be repeated by the entire congregation. Hence I insist on hymns with a refrain because during the mission all must sing.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 6 April 1837, EO IX n 611

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Zeal for the salvation of souls was a missionary quality which the Oblates had. Yet this same zeal could lead some of then to exaggerated efforts. In his journal Eugene expressed his concern to one of them:

Letter to Father Mille. I reprove him for having undertaken the two missions of Prébois and St. Nicholas, exhausted as he is from preceding missions. I insist on the necessity of his disciplining himself.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 7 April 1837, EO XVIII

To Father Mille, he wrote strongly:

I cannot help reproaching you for wanting to give at any cost this mission at Prébois which I had asked you to give up because of the fatigue of the previous missions where I knew that you had spat blood, This amounts to tempting God and killing oneself without any merit; for the Lord does not reward good that is done outside of obedience, less still the good we attempt to do against the norms of obedience. I include among these latter the reasonable care of one’s health.
What is the use of wearing oneself out in this manner? This is always bad; but in our situation, I consider it a crime. So be prudent, for God’s sake! and for once learn to sacrifice your ideas in favour of a father’s disapproval.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 6 April 1837, EO IX n 611

Words that still apply today and that not all of us heed!

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This Holy Saturday ordination brings me back the memory of the first I had the happiness of doing on the same day in 1833.

In the previous journal entry, Eugene had described the priestly ordination of Charles Bellon, and now he reminisced about the first priestly ordination he had ever performed as a newly-ordained bishop. It is a powerful revelation as to what went on in Eugene as he became God’s instrument of communicating the gift of the priesthood in an ordination. He exclaims: “This miracle is worked in every ordination I perform.”

Can I recall without emotion that the first fruit of my fecundity was the precious Father Casimir Aubert, the first on whom I imposed hands. No one could guess what transpired in my soul when in profound recollection I invoked the sovereign priest Jesus Christ with all the power with which I was invested to bring about this great miracle, and lifted up my hands over the dear head of my well-beloved son and passed on to him a share of that abundance of grace and power of which I had myself received the plenitude some months before.
It seemed to me that together with the Holy Spirit who came down on him and with the power of the Most High who was about to overshadow him, – for one may apply to this divine operation that transforms in a way the soul of the new priest as it makes it fruitful, the words of the angel to the Mother of God, – it seemed to me, I say, that my own spirit communicated itself to him, that my heart expanded in the outpouring of a charity, a supernatural love that produced in its turn something more than human.
It seemed to me that I could say like our divine Master that a power had gone out from me and I knew it. At all events I was in a transport with that very real and wholly-of-God power that I was passing on with force and efficacy and that I could say as it were went out from me, since it was in me radically through the character I possessed, all unworthy though I may be.
This miracle is worked in every ordination I perform and I experience it to a greater or lesser extent according to the quality of those on whom I impose hands, for I confess that paternal love is at work in the very midst of all these marvels, especially when I see my children disposed as I desire. Thanks be to God, it is what I believe I have perceived in the majority of those I have ordained up to now.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 25 March 1837, EO XVIII

Beautiful words that remind us that the priesthood is not a career but a God-given responsibility.

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Eugene wrote in his personal journal:

Holy Saturday: Ordination of our worthy Brother Bellon…
Our hopes could not be higher for this well-beloved child, who not only has never earned the least reproach since he entered the Congregation, but has constantly given to all his confreres, both during his novitiate, and during his period as an oblate [ed. scholastic], the example of the most exact regularity, fidelity to the rule, and sustained fervour.
We were together as a family in the chapel of the bishop’s house, where I carried out the ordination, and the feelings that inspired this meeting of brothers echoed the happiness of my two-fold paternity brought me at this indescribable moment when by the communication of the gift of God and the power of the Holy Spirit the bishop gives birth to the priest.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 25 March 1837, EO XVIII

The father of the Oblates rejoices that as a bishop he is able to be the instrument (“father”) of the candidate on whom he conferred priestly ordination.

For further details about the missionary life of Father Charles Bellon see

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The approach of the Oblates was always to be close to the people, especially the poorest and most abandoned. In Provence these were the people who did not understand much French, so the Oblates preached in the Provencal language. Father Honorat had been intidiated by some of the wealthier parishioners, and broke this rule. Eugene wrote in his diary:

Letter from Father Honorat from the Maussane mission. It is beginning under auspices as promising as those of Fontvieille. Attendance at the exercises is such that the church is too small although they have made provision for letting in at least 200 people more than usually entered previously. Father Honorat tells me that the parish priest was highly delighted that our Fathers give the instructions in Provençal, although with his consent and to yield to the desire of five or six bourgeois who demand some conferences in French, he has allowed himself be persuaded to preach in the evening alternatively in the two languages.
I could not sufficiently reprimand this weakness; I never agreed to it, when I gave missions, to satisfy that stupid vanity of a number of bourgeois whom you find in every village you evangelise. It is tantamount to sacrificing the instruction that would attract the people through sermons in the language they speak. It is acknowledged that they are unable to follow reasoning made in French. The poor people hear just words that do not tie up with any of ideas when one preaches in French. It is something beyond doubt, it has been tried, and it is to go directly against the end of our institute to imitate the example of only too many priests who have delusions about this.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 February 1837, EO XVIII

To Father Honorat he wrote:

I worry little about the infinitely small number of bourgeois people who have not yet shown any sign of good will. The majority of them, if not all, will surrender like the others. In any case, their souls are not worth more or less than those of the least peasants, if we consider them in terms of the price the Lord has paid for them.
 Thus it is foolish to be more concerned about these gentlemen than about the other good people of the area.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 28 February 1837, EO IX n 606

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