The all-important first day of community life for the Missionaries was obviously a story often repeated in all its details over the past 207 years. In his Memoires, Father Tempier, described it as: “This memorable day that I will never forget for as long as I live.”
Here Eugene is writing to the novices and scholastics who were in Billens, Switzerland, to escape the dangers of the anti-religious persecution by the government of Louis Philippe. He narrates the story of the beginning of their religious family, and draws a conclusion linked with the vow of poverty and the call to simplicity.
… I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before… My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other whose name we no longer mention amongst us. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.
The Foundation Room today
The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow. Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly. I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on. It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.
I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!
Letter to Jean-Baptiste Mille and the novices and scholastics,
24 January 1831, EO VIII n.383
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” (Colin Powell)
Loving God, we thank you for the dream which you planted in the heart of Saint Eugene and his first missionary co-workers. Today, 207 years later, we are amazed at how much has been achieved through the dedication of every member of the Mazenodian Family to the poor and most abandoned. Accept our desire to continue being inspired by this dream and putting it into practice in our everyday lives
O Happy Day, O Happy Day♫…
This morning, sitting with St. Eugene as he shares with us and the scholastics his experience of those first days of the community coming together… off his place in the midst of it all – not separate but one with…
He does not describe deprivation, but rather as Frank noted, their experience of the vow of (apostolic) poverty and decision to live with simplicity. “It is through experiencing them [evangelical councils] that we learnt their value.” And though he could not be with them in person he really wanted to share that experience and relive it with each of them.
What is the dream that the Holy Spirit has inspired with us and what will it take to ensure that it will live on as a foundational reality within us.
Later today a small group of us will come together through the use of technology – allowing us join together from various locations as we prepare for another winter storm. We meet on this anniversary to discern together the upcoming renewal of our commitments to our Oblate/Mazenodian Family on February 17, – of “our desire to continue being inspired by this dream and putting it into practice in our everyday lives”.
“Loving God, we thank you…”