Six animated missionaries came together exactly 200 years ago dreaming to do great things for the faith of the abandoned people of Provence. Eugene brought the new community into existence on a wave of enthusiasm. Human interaction, however, eventually begins to cause cracks in even the best of schemes, and the missionaries were all-too-human. So, how did Eugene cope with this in his newly formed group?

Professionals speak today of the life of a group in terms of four words: form, storm, norm and perform. A new group “forms” – as we have been celebrating, on 25 January 1816. After a while some in the group begin to “storm” when disagreements about the interpretation and practical implementation of the founding vision arise. This happened to us, just to give one example, with the expulsion of Fr. Icard within months of the foundation. At this stage it becomes essential for the group to “norm” – to draw up commonly accepted regulations and guidelines in order to “perform.”

From the very first day of our existence we find this fourfold process at work.

At this meeting we will draw up the Rule which we will have to follow.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 13 December 1815, EO VI n.7

Once we had been “formed”, the pattern of “storm, norm and perform” has characterized our existence until today. It is essential to “norm” in order to keep our founding vision alive and relevant.

In our first Rule of Life, approved by the Church ten years later, Eugene enshrined this principle:

But it is not enough for them simply to be convinced of the sublime nature of the ministry to which they have been called. The example of the saints and reason itself make it amply clear that the success of such a holy undertaking as well as the maintenance of discipline in any society make certain rules of life absolutely necessary for unity of thought and action among the members. Such unity is a body’s strength, keeping up its fervour and insuring that it lasts


A pertinent reminder that when human nature inevitably leads any group of people to storm, then we need God’s grace to allow the waters to calm and to allow us to learn from the storm so as to norm in order to perform – and then to start the process all over again when the next storm arrives. That is why, when on his deathbed, the 79 year-old Eugene looked back on his life experience and charged us, in the face of unavoidable storms: “Among yourselves charity, charity, charity at all times…”


Having an exciting destination is like setting a needle in your compass. From then on, the compass knows only one point – its ideal. And it will faithfully guide you there through the darkest nights and fiercest storms.”   Daniel Boone

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    Who or what is my needle? What point has been set for me in life? Without God at the beginning and the end and most particularly in between there is no reason for being.

    I am grappling with words this morning, grappling with a very old hurt and shame that was brought out of dark hiding yesterday when I saw a picture of one I had thought (or at the very least hoped) was long dead. My one and only strength in all of this has been God who has held me safe and in immense tenderness so that I could look back at all sides of what happened without dissolving into nothingness. I have thought more than once of Eugene between 1835 and 1837 who was faithfully guided through the darkest of nights, recognizing that the God that was his needle is also mine. A shared point that oddly enough somehow comforts me. The thought came to me at one point that God had given me all my brothers and sisters in this great family so that I might weather this storm and share in their strength – enough to surpass the pain and shame. Enough to be with me as I try to dig out this form of darkness that is worse than a cancer. For there is a fear (quite unreasonable I know but still it is there) that if I open this wound to the Light and let it go, give it to God to bear that there be only a hole left – what will I be without this known part of me. God asks much of us – the word ‘everything’ comes to mind.

    This is the nature of the storm within me – it has left me curiously empty and raw. The only norm that I know right now is in coming here, for this is the first norm of my daily life. No great words of love or holiness, of wisdom or insight. Simply a sitting where I am, as I put one foot in front of the other till this black fog is burned off by the light.

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