In 2016 I published a series of reflections in preparation for our bicentenary on 25 January. Six years later, I think it useful to revisit a few of them to prepare us to live this event in a deeper way.

“Just as the child is father to the man, so the impressions of one’s youth remain the most vivid in manhood” (Gustav Stresemann). As I reflect on how God prepared Eugene to bring a missionary group into existence, I recognize a patchwork of events and impressions in his life that remained vivid and gave a specific color and quality to the Mazenodian Family that was born on 25 January 1816.

EM childEugene was born into a noble family and did not lack anything: loving parents, a large house filled with servants, a good primary school, and all the material possessions he needed. The French Revolution took all that away and he experienced exile away from his country of birth, moments of insecurity and fear and even poverty when they had to rely on the charity of others. These impressions were later to make him aware of and sensitive to others who were suffering as immigrants, or in poverty or in fear – the very people he founded the Oblates to serve.


EM fatherEugene’s father was a judge who wrote and spoke well. From him, Eugene inherited the ability to be an outstanding and persuasive preacher. He learnt to treat everyone with justice and to relate easily with all classes of society. He learnt to understand and respect the law, and was able to use these skills to draw up several Rules of Life for the youth congregation and for the Missionaries.

EM motherHis mother came from a very wealthy middle class family. From her he learnt business and financial skills that would serve the organization of the Oblates and the Diocese of Marseille with efficiency – not to forget the considerable financial aid that she gave to the mission of the Oblates in providing the money necessary for various projects.

He had had good teachers and mentors – especially Don Bartolo Zinelli in Venice. From them he learnt the importance of spiritual guidance in human and faith development. As a priest, missionary and bishop, he spent his life ministering as a guide to people who were in need – and founded a missionary group to dedicate itself to evangelization and faith development among the most abandoned.

His warm, sensitive heart led him to a sensitivity to the needs of others and a search for the most loving response possible. He had a passionate, fiery character and was a born leader. When he did explode in anger, he would go out of his way to make amends when he realized that he had hurt others. ( – begins some revealing reflections which he wrote on his personality)

God used all these characteristics, weak and strong, to mold his instrument into a missionary priest and religious and founder of the Missionary Oblates and the larger Mazenodian Family. God was preparing this “jar of clay” to receive a treasure:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”   2 Corinthians 4:7

As we journey with Eugene towards January 25, let’s pause to reflect on how God has molded us into jars of clay containing a treasure. When we have done this at a personal level, let’s think of how the large Mazenodian Family has been a huge container for the Savior’s love and mercy for 206 years.

The child is indeed the “father of the man” – all that God has done in our lives, in good times and in bad, has molded our Mazenodian Family in generosity – to be fruitful and bring the love of the Savior to birth in situations of abandonment.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) In this light I see how God has taken an unformed lump of clay and given me form and shape. And how I began to become filled with purpose and love that nourished my spirit.

    Looking at the darkness and violence of my childhood and formative years I recognize how I was affected by that: yet the transformative touch of the Beloved’s ongoing love has filled me with light and goodness, forgiveness, and compassion. I am not yet perfect, for I am still on the journey of redemption and my Saviour still continues to reshape and smooth out the small imperfections that rise to the surface. Ongoing transformation.

    Out of the darkness the Giver of all Life picked up my broken pieces and began to put me back together again, filling the cracks and smoothing the rough edges. Setting me down in the light shed and shared by Eugene de Mazenod. God gave me to the Oblate Family and the Oblate Family to me.

    Looking at our Mazenodian Family, our Oblate Family, like a large container filled with smaller jars and urns I am reminded of the “new wineskins” from today’s Gospel reading and how God has fashioned new wineskins for those of us in this great family and then filling us with the wine of Good News for us to share with those who have not yet tasted this new love.

    I am a part of all that I have met… There arises within me an explosion of gratitude and wild, untamed joy at how I am the work of God’s hands. “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Mt 19:26)

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