The blessing of the church at the Calvaire was a historic moment. For the Oblates it was a milestone in their ministry to the poor of the Marseille harbor area and the popular quarters surrounding it. What had begun as the erection of a large Crucifix to commemorate the 1820 mission had turned into an important center of pilgrimage. A large number of the pilgrims were the Italian dockworkers who found themselves attracted by the welcome of the Oblates and their ministry to them. This ministry among the poor immigrants had led the Oblates to establish themselves at the Calvaire and make it a spiritual home for those in need. Eventually this Greek-styled rotunda church was built, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel, as a center of renewal. Eugene’s description reflects his joy and gratitude.
The Bishop stood up well to the ceremony of consecration, which went on for not less than five hours, as if it were nothing and in the evening he was still in surprisingly good voice at the singing of Vespers. I do not say as much for myself. My body could do no more but my spirit was with the angels for it is impossible to find anything more beautiful, more grandiose and which fills our souls with such noble sentiments.
This day was also a milestone in the history of the diocese. It was built on the spot of a place of worship that had already existed for over 900 years. In the thirteenth century what was considered one of the finest gothic churches in the city was built – only to be destroyed 500 years later by the revolutionaries. All that was left standing in the rubble was the bell-tower, where the large Cross was placed in 1820.
It was the first consecration of a church which Marseilles had witnessed since the re-establishment of the episcopal see. The crowd was extraordinary. Father Jeancard pronounced the discourse for the occasion at the evening office.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 29 May 1828, EO VII n 301
Religion had survived the Revolution and was renewing itself, but thirty years after the Revolution, signs were emerging that for religion it was not over yet – and it was to affect Eugene and the Oblates profoundly.
“We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.” Isabel Allende