THOSE WITH RESPONSIBILITIES NEED TO PRAY ABOUT THEIR DUTIES

Although I have spent numerous entries above focusing exclusively on the two cholera epidemics, we need to remember that Eugene’s role as Superior General constantly involved him in the overall guidance of the spirit and mission of the Oblates. In a particular way he watched over the young superiors in their own responsibility to guide the spirit and mission of their local communities.

Remember that you must be a model for everyone.
Make your oraison often on the subject of the duties of your position; it isn’t a small thing;
keep a close eye on yourself.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Mille, 2 May 1835, EO VIII n 513

The model of apostolic community was Jesus and the apostles, thus the necessity for prayer (oraison) on how to make it a lived reality. An invitation to see all our activities and responsibilities in prayer.

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I HAVE BEEN CAGED-UP

While the Oblates and those in Marseilles were in the thick of ministering to the cholera victims, Eugene was away at the community of Osier and then Laus. As we have seen above he had had to leave Marseilles as a result of the political situation. Separated from those whom he loved and who were in mortal danger, he wanted to return to be with them during this difficult time. Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod and Father Tempier (to whom he had made a vow of obedience in 1816) forbade him to return. The correspondence of July and August 1835 shows the conflict that he was living. On one hand, he felt called to be with his people, and on the other, he was bound to be obedient to these two figures who had a moral authority in his life.

The almost-daily correspondence of this period goes back and forth between Marseilles and ND du Laus, with Eugene’s every request to return being refused. Just a few excerpts:

My dear Tempier, your letter of the 17th fills me with dismay. On top of the heartbreak at the picture of so many families’ desolation there’s the thought of the danger you are running, and that is hanging over the heads of all our Fathers at Aix and Marseilles. I am being kept here and I would like to take my leave for your sake and theirs too, although it is true they don’t need any encouragement.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 20 July 1835, EO VIII n 525

My dear Friend, you understand the cruel anguish I’ve been experiencing ever since I’ve been aware that you, my uncle and friends are living under the threat of an epidemic as murderous as that hanging over your heads. I find it impossible to express the state of my feelings. You’ll readily understand that from the first day I learnt of the danger, I had the thought of going to join you.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 31 July 1835, EO VIII n 528

Far from the scene of the evil, I have been caged-up; but I am sick with annoyance in consequence. I wanted to set out from here, riding rough-shod over all the considerations that have bound me up to the present, but Father Tempier has leagued himself with the Bishop of Marseilles, who has the final say in the matter, to require me to stay at Laus where the novices and oblates have been sent leaderless to me.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 529

It is worthy of note to see that this man, who was always the leader and superior in every situation, was capable of being obedient himself to those to whom he was committed to obey.

Just as suddenly as the cholera had started, so too did this second epidemic of 1835 end. I have spent a long time on the correspondence around this event because it brings out many of the fundamental values and attitudes of an oblation lived out in difficult circumstances.

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THEY FELT AS IF THEY WERE ENDOWED WITH A SUPERNATURAL STRENGTH WHICH ENABLED THEM TO CARRY OUT THEIR MINISTRY WITH COURAGE AND JOY

Eugene continues to marvel at what the Oblates achieved for those most in need.

At Aix especially it has been really wonderful. Words will never be able to express what our good Fathers achieved both at the hospital and in the city. Father Lagier, who has been magnificent through all this period of trial, was telling me yesterday that they felt as if they were endowed with a supernatural strength and experienced an inner anointing which enabled them to carry out their ministry with courage and joy. The missionaries were ready to drop from fatigue.
When they had had barely a half-hour’s rest, and someone would come along to rouse them again with the innocent request: “Come and confess these sick people,” they didn’t hesitate an instant. That is the literal truth. The missionaries did not fail to get up in haste to save these souls. As a result, not a single sick person was refused religious assistance; all, on the contrary, would stifle their cries of pain so as to hear the priest, answer his questions and receive the sacraments. Our missionaries were inspired, for they had no fear of giving them communion seeing them so well disposed, and there isn’t a single sick person who refused the sacred species. One could go on forever on this topic.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 7 August 1835, EO VIII n 531

… that will make a fine page in the history of our Congregation; and the full story of what our Fathers did, and how they did it, can never be told. The service of the hospital at Aix, it can be said, was provided wholly by our Fathers, for only one Jesuit and two Capuchins turned up; the two latter provided only corporal services to the sick.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 16 August 1835, EO VIII n 533

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PRAYER IS THE ONLY COURSE OPEN TO ME

Ordered to stay away from Marseilles, Eugene confides his anxiety for the Oblates to his friend and confidante, Father Tempier, and the only response possible for him.

My dear Friend, normal life is impossible at this unhappy juncture. My heart and mind are in an emotional state that breeds anxiety  that makes it impossible to rest in peace. Prayer is the only course open to me, any other activity is impossible. Apart from that, my imagination plagues me with unhappy and gloomy thoughts; as a result I sometimes even have nervous spasms. I mean I start involuntarily at the thought of the evil that I fear may befall the people who are dear to me, or of their death. For two days I had no letters from you. It was all that was needed to torture me with the idea that perhaps you were dead.
At the time of the first epidemic, when I was there on the spot, sharing the same dangers, I experienced hardly any anxiety for others any more than myself. It seemed as if we were all invulnerable; now that for my sins I am in a place of safety, the most acute suffering is never absent from me. Even so I really think that the Lord is watching over you, since up to the present not one has been taken ill in the course of the ministry, perilous as it is, that our Fathers have so heroically embraced.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 7 August 1835, EO VIII n 531

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BUT THE TRUTH IS MY WORDS ARE INADEQUATE TO EXPRESS WHAT THE MISSIONARIES ARE DOING

Eugene continues to marvel at the courage of the Oblates in the face of danger, and of God’s miraculous protection.

But the truth is my words are inadequate to express what they are doing. After reaching exhaustion at the hospital, they come back quite late in the night-time to take a little rest, someone arrives to tear them away from it to bring the help of their ministry to the sick in the city. They have themselves followed, both in Aix and Marseilles, by deacons who, to give them more time to hear confessions, bring holy viaticum and do the burials. The one at Aix  baptizes all the hospital children; they are continuously on their feet, while, if truth be told, there are curates and even pastors who, sick with fear, do not venture outside their houses; keep that to yourself; if it is to be known outside the city, which is disgusted by it, I would sooner it were through somebody else than ourselves.
And so it seems that God in his goodness watches over our men’s safety. It can be said that the house at Aix has been besieged and even invaded by death. Not only those who are divided from the missionaries by no more than the party wall, and who therefore lived under the same roof, have perished, but the wing of the house that we weren’t able to get possession of and which gives onto the courtyard was full of the dead who could be seen in their coffins from our windows and balcony. So the infection was right inside our house, what a hold it could have been expected to get on a family of twenty-two people all huddled together, what odds could be expected that they would not be decimated? But the Lord’s angel was watching over these devoted men and their brothers whose shield they wore. For three days I have not ceased blessing and thanking the Lord for it, for truly in my eyes this borders on the miraculous. But even while giving thanks for God’s help towards our Fathers, and the good fortune they have had to sacrifice themselves for their brothers, I cannot help being sorry for myself or rather, with more justice, cannot help recognizing that the Lord has punished me for my infidelities, in sending me to exercise a ministry elsewhere which deprived me of the happiness of sharing in their merits and participating in their glory. If I had been on the spot, nothing could have stopped me sacrificing myself at the head of the others. Far from the scene of the evil, I have been caged-up; but I am sick with annoyance in consequence.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 529

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HOW HAPPY THEY ARE TO BE ABLE TO SACRIFICE THEMSELVES FOR THEIR BROTHERS AT THE PRICE OF THEIR LIVES, LIKE OUR DIVINE MASTER WHO DIED FOR THE SALVATION OF PEOPLE

In the case of priests and even deacons, the situation is different. May God bless their zeal and reward their charity! They are at their post. I never cease to pray and to have others pray for their safety, but I envy them a lot and I don’t insult them by feeling sorry for them.
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

What a beautiful Oblate page indeed – a page whuch has been repeated over and over in our service of the most abandoned until our day!

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IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO NARRATE THE HEROISM OF THE DEVOTEDNESS OF THE NOVICES AND SCHOLASTICS

The entire clergy of Marseilles, including our missionaries, acquitted themselves marvellously. At Aix, it is a scandal. They left it all to be done by our Fathers, who did wonders, but in addition people gave them due credit, pending divine reward. What is truly miraculous is that no one was taken ill despite experiencing excessive fatigue like that.

Although Eugene only wanted the priests to be involved with those dying of cholera, he recognized the courage of the novices and scholastics in their involvement.

And as for our Oblates [ed novices and scholastics] it is impossible to narrate the heroism of their devotedness, for here it was a matter of touching, rubbing down, drying off an ever-growing number of cholera patients, men in a shocking state, giving off an unbearable stench, whose cold sweat sometimes drenched them, that is a literal description. Their sweat was so abundant that while changing them one wiped it off with the hand like after getting out of a bath. Our men had the experience while tending the dying of that icy sweat running down along their hands and arms down their sleeves to wet them through to their chests. It makes me shiver to narrate all these details.
It was high time for me to bring them out of such a dangerous spot, they were on the point of going under. They were already experiencing in varying degrees certain warning signs that would not have been long in developing into something more. As it was only a matter of giving the temporary relief that these rubbings down give and which have no curative value. I ought not to have exposed the lives of those who are entrusted to me and who are furthermore the only hope for the Congregation’s survival, to whose conservation I must attend as I am its father; this service could have been given by paid help.

Letter to Bruno Guigues, 1 August 1835, EO VIII n 529

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WE HAVE HAD SOME TERRIBLE DAYS TO THE POINT WHERE 400 DIED IN ONE DAY

Since Eugene was away, Henri Tempier wrote to Eugene’s mother to give her an update on the horror of the situation in Marseilles

Madame, I understand that you will be less anxious if you know what is happening here. That is why I hasten to let you know that up till now we are all fine, thanks to God’s goodness. We have had some terrible days to the point where 400 died in one day. We didn’t know any more how to bury the dead which had to be taken away by the cartloads. Today, the malady has lessened considerably. We owe this to the Blessed Virgin’s protection.

At Aix, the plague continues, but the cases are not too many. The day before yesterday I was in that unfortunate city in the hope of finding my brother-in-law Mitre still alive. He had been stricken by the disease and died before I got there.

Keep well, Madame, and don’t ever think of coming back to our area as long as the plague continues to rage. Our venerable Prelate continues to be in good health as usual. Your son should by now have arrived at N.-Dame du Laus. Please accept again my respectful good wishes.

Letter of Henri Tempier to Madame de Mazenod, 29 July 1835, EO2 Tempier n 76

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WE WERE PUTTING IN A PLACE OF SAFETY MEN WHO COULDN’T RENDER THEM ANY SPIRITUAL HELP

As our brother novices aren’t yet in a position to offer their ministry to the unfortunate members of the faithful who are struck by the epidemic, my intention was to withdraw them from the danger-zone, having them leave Aix and head for N.-D. du Laus. So I was quite upset that Father Courtès took it into his head, without warning me, to risk the lives of these young men, for whom I’m responsible before God and men, and impose on them a temporal service in the cholera hospital.
No one would have dreamt of raising an objection while we were devoting all our priests to the service of the cholera patients that we were putting in a place of safety men who couldn’t render them any spiritual help.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 25 July 1835, EO VIII n 526

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WHAT GOOD IS IT TO EXPOSE THEM WITHOUT BENEFIT FOR ANYONE

Eugene’s and the Oblates’ care for the victims of cholera was of a pastoral sacramental nature. The novices were unable to provide this type priestly ministry, and so Eugene want them out of harm’s way so that they can stay healthy in order to be ordained in the future. He asks for his mother’s help in this.

I am worried about our novitiate. There is nothing more fitting than that all priests stay to carry out their ministry zealously even at the peril of their lives; but all those young men who are the hope of the Congregation that I founded with such difficulty, to what good is it to expose them without benefit for anyone? I am entertaining an idea which I wanted to tell you and receive your reaction before mentioning it to anyone else. What if I were to send them to St-Laurent. They could sleep in the hayloft, for there are no beds, and they could live in the chateau, safe from any danger, and attend to their regular religious exercises.

Letter to his mother, 20 July 1835, EO VIII n 85

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