IT IS THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE START OF THE CONGREGATION THAT I HAVE HEARD SUCH AN EVIL-SOUNDING WORD

Father Lavigne, who was part of the mission community at the sanctuary of Osier,  had written to Eugene, formally refusing to obey his instruction. Eugene was horrified as this was the first time that he had experienced something like this from an Oblate! As we will see later, it would not be the last time that Father Lavigne would do this. (On December 10, for example, Eugene wrote in his diary: “Letter of conceit and of self-indulgence from Fr. Lavigne, truly naïve”)

There is one point on which I can give a decision without any other explanation. You speak to me of formally refusing the position which was confided to you. It is the first time, my dear friend, since the start of the Congregation that I have heard such an evil-sounding word: a formal refusal.

Dear son, retract that word, it is not religious. It is a principle in our Congregation that we neither demand nor refuse any position at any time. The will of the superior is seen as the will of God. We should be perfectly detached, always disposed to give the example of that sort of submission which does voluntarily that which is prescribed.

Letter to Fr Joseph Lavigne at ND de L’Osier, 27 October 1848, EO X n 991

REFLECTION

“When we learn to say a deep, passionate yes to the things that really matter… then peace begins to settle onto our lives like golden sunlight sifting to a forest floor.” (Thomas Kinkade)

In this regard our OMI Rule of Life prescribes: “In the Superior, we will see a sign of our unity in Christ Jesus; through faith, we accept the authority he has been given. We will give our loyal support once a decision has been made and, in a spirit of cooperation and initiative, we will devote our talents, our activity, our very lives, to our apostolic mission in the Church.” (Constitution 26)

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BECOME ONE WITH YOUR SUPERIOR, SO THAT YOU AND HE ARE OF ONE HEART, ONE MIND, ONE WILL

Father Lavigne had been complaining about his superior, and Eugene responded:

Beware of a secret enemy who imperceptibly invades a person, almost without being noticed, and troubles the soul and confuses the mind, namely, self-love. As a beloved member of the family, become one with your father, your superior, so that you and he are of one heart, one mind, one will. And you’ll discover that God will bless you, and that you’ll be pleased with the happiness that only comes with this level of charity.

Letter to Fr Joseph Lavigne at ND de L’Osier, 27 October 1848, EO X n 991

REFLECTION

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. (Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-33)

“Mindful of these words (which marvellously sum up our entire Rule), “all united in the bonds of the most intimate charity under the direction of the superiors,” may they form but one heart and one soul [ed. Acts 4:32]. (Eugene de Mazenod 1850)
“If the family were a boat, it would be a canoe that makes no progress unless everyone paddles.”  (Letty Pogrebin)

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MY HEART OF A FATHER WAS FULL OF LOVE FOR YOU WHO ARE DOUBLY MY SON

Father Joseph Henri Lavigne had been at Notre Dame de L’Osier since his ordination six years earlier. He was an accomplished mission preacher in the area, but had problems with authority. He had written to Eugene to complain about his current superior. Eugene’s reply:

My dear friend, your letter hurts me deeply… It shows me a deep discontent against your superior, the good Father Vincens, whom everybody loves and esteems as he deserves. I readily forgave you the bit of ill-humor that you held against me because I had gone contrary to a few of your ideas; my heart of a father was full of love for you who are doubly my son. Your letter is an enigma for me.

Letter to Fr Joseph Lavigne at ND de L’Osier, 27 October 1848, EO X n 991

REFLECTION

Eugene considered himself a father to each of his Oblates, and doubly so when he had been the ordaining bishop who conferred the priesthood on one of his sons. Eugene always considered the Congregation as a family characterised by the spirit of oblation which was expressed in charity and missionary zeal. The same ideal continues to be so today in the large Family gathered around his charism and spirituality.

“Indeed, in Christ Jesus I fathered you through the Gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15)

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WE MUST DISCOVER ALL THESE ADVANTAGES IN THE BLESSED CONGREGATION THAT HAS GIVEN BIRTH TO US

Eugene’s words, initially addressed to his Oblate Family, apply today to his charism Mazenodian Family.

You must inspire a great love for our divine Saviour Jesus Christ, which is manifested especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist which we must try to adore perfectly; also a filial devotion to the most holy Mother of God, who is our Mother also in a special manner; a devotedness to the Church that can stand any test, which includes the zeal that must distinguish all the members of our Society. for the salvation of souls, the direct object of our vocation. Since we must discover all these advantages in the blessed Congregation that has given birth to us, you can understand the kind of love each one of us must have for it.

Eugene then shared an example of this attitude as expressed by one of the Oblates.

On this topic, I cannot help quoting to you from a letter I have just received from our dear Father Vincens:

“I can fathom all the recesses of my heart. I find only one love there which for me is what religion is all about, namely. the love for our Congregation. I have only one desire, that of bringing glory to God and for me all the means of glorifying him are summed up in the Congregation. Hence it is her that I love, etc.”

How touching these sentiments are! And they are true. Yes, for us all the means of glorifying God are summed up in the Congregation. Such an opinion of a man of God must be meditated upon by all those whom the Lord has called. through an inestimable grace, to sanctify themselves in the Congregation.
 
Goodbye, my dear Father Dorey. I am forced to leave you. So I finish by blessing you with all my heart, as well as all our dear novices.

Letter to Fr Eugene Dorey, Novice Master in Nancy, 15 October 1848, EO X n 990

REFLECTION

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” (Desmond Tutu)

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YOU MUST BE A FATHER TO YOUR NOVICES, YOU MUST BE CLOSE TO THEM IN THEIR DIFFICULTIES AND ENCOURAGE THEM

 Eugene’s fatherly advice to the 27 year-old Master of Novices, Fr. Dorey:

Even though you are as young as you are, you must, nevertheless, be a father to your novices, you must be close to them in their difficulties and encourage them, but not spoil them. They have to acquire habits of mortification, get used to leading a somewhat hard life, and not seek comforts because we are called to a ministry which does not include any. Insist much on mutual love, on helping one’s neighbour, and especially one’s brothers.

Letter to Fr Eugene Dorey, Novice Master in Nancy, 15 October 1848, EO X n 990

REFLECTION

Eugene had learnt the approach of being close to people from his own experience of guides being close to him in his times of need. As a youngster he had Don Bartolo Zinelli, as a seminarian he had Frs Duclaux and Emery, then his Uncle Fortuné just to mention a few. It was the attitude he lived by.

“Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.”  (Sidney Hook)

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THE DREAM BEGINS WITH A TEACHER WHO BELIEVES IN YOU

Young Father Eugene Dorey had been appointed Master of Novices the day after his ordination to the priesthood. Eugene followed his progress closely and encouraged and guided him.

There you are, installed in your lovely task! What more beautiful ministry than that of forming in virtue, especially in the religious virtues, the chosen souls called by God to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles to spread the knowledge and the love of Jesus Christ! How much a person profits for oneself in leading others to perfection! This has turned out to be your lot. Rejoice over it, my son, and count on God’s help in this valuable ministry.

The time in the novitiate was important because it was here that the novices imbibed the Oblate charism as they prepared to become missionaries. It was here that they were evaluated as to their suitability and capability

You will have to give me an account each month of the conduct of your novices, each one by name. At the same time, you will give me your opinion on their dispositions, character, the hopes they give you, etc… You will receive those whom you judge, in agreement with the local Father Superior as inspiring some hope of becoming apt to the service that the Congregation has as mission to fill in the Church.

Letter to Fr Eugene Dorey, Novice Master in Nancy, 15 October 1858, EO X n 990

REFLECTION

No matter our age or state of life, we all need ongoing spiritual formation and guides to accompany us to walk in the  footsteps of the apostles.

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.'” (Dan Rather)

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THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE

The system in the communities at the time of the Founder was that the superior had a community member known as his admonitor who would help the superior by giving him advice and pointing out mistakes. In Eugene’s life, Fr Tempier was his admonitor and did not refrain from pointing things out to Eugene. In Nancy, Fr Dassy was 40 and all his community members were in their 20’s and inexperienced. Because the Oblate Rule demand an admonitor, one of these youngsters had to be appointed to that role.

Eugene concluded that Fr Dassy would have to fulfil the role of being his own admonitor, and therefore had to be more conscious and reflective on his own behavior as he did his daily personal examen.

I must speak frankly with you: I consider it a very awkward necessity that I am obliged to withdraw Father Santoni from Nancy, because you are going to find yourself at the head of a community composed of young priests, so that you have no one who can make the least feedback to you, and that is a misfortune. So you will have to make your examen with more attention than in the past. I would advise you to make a particular effort at foresight; in that way you will become your own admonitor and you will fill in for what will not be done by a man whom I must name but who according to all appearances will be your admonitor in name only.

Letter to Fr Toussaint Dassy, 14 October 1848, EO X n 989

REFLECTION

We no longer have admonitors today, but all Christians are encouraged to learn from guides and examples on our journey. The daily awareness examen is also important and beneficial. (An internet search brings up many Jesuit sites explaining this practice)

“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him correctly.” (Blaise Pascal)

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I RECOMMEND KINDNESS IN YOUR LEADERSHIP

The demanding Fr Dassy was superior of a community of young priests. The novice master, Eugene Dorey was 27 and the members of the missionary community were Francois Xavier Michelier who was 25, César Depetro who was 24. All three had been ordained priests for approximately one year. Dassy had to be the mentor who initiated them into ministry.

I approve very strongly that you be severe for sermon composition by Father Depetro, and that you do not allow him to compromise himself in the pulpits of Nancy. However, even before he attains the degree of perfection that you aim for, I would like you to try him out in some community or some village, lest he be discouraged, lest he be bored. I would say the same thing for Father Michelier whom Father Tempier did his very best to restrain. He is going gladly to Nancy, convinced that at first he is to be edified in such a well-run community, but also that you will help him in his work which he keenly desires to do well.
 
I recommend kindness in your leadership. Do not tire your people, be charitable and patient. Be firm when you must, but never be hard.

Letter to Fr Toussaint Dassy, 14 October 1848, EO X n 989

REFLECTION

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” (John Wooden)

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YOU WILL NO DOUBT THANK ME FOR MY PATERNAL ADVICE; IT WILL PROVE TO YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU

Eugene admired the talented Fr Toussaint Dassy but was also aware of his complex personality and sometimes unattainable expectations of others. He was the superior of the missionary community in Nancy which was also the novitiate. The novice master was Father Dorey who was 27 years old and had only been a priest for 10 months, which was a cause of concern for Fr Dassy.

I am delighted by all that you tell me of Father Dorey. I know his merits. I recommend you give him great latitude in the exercise of his functions. That he consult you is good, but you must never interfere between him and his novices, that would ruin his authority completely. You tell me again, dear friend, that if the new Master of Novices followed in the steps of his predecessor, you are afraid you could not stand it. That is a bit strong. That makes me worry lest you require of the new Master of Novices more than you have the right to ask. Be careful then not to take advantage of his inexperience…

Eugene then points out to Dassy that he himself is not perfect

... but you are, my dear son, much too petulant, also too touchy. You give yourself over at times to assumptions which are false; but even if they were true, you would be wrong to complain because finally you yourself are not faultless and that if there were something in your conduct or your management which were not laudable, I would have to be informed so that I might give you advice, and in all that there would be no reason for you to feel humiliated nor would you need to be forgiven.

I am going to show you how you happen to be mistaken in your suspicions or your conjectures. You tell me that Father Santoni is no doubt going to accuse you when he speaks to me. Well, I attest that he has said nothing to me about you but good things.

Eugene concludes his letter following a familiar pattern. Whenever he had to write to an Oblate to correct him for his mistakes and to give him tough advice, he always concluded by expressing his paternal affection for him.

Goodbye. my dear son. You will no doubt thank me for my paternal advice; it will prove to you how much I love you and I do love you very much,

Letter to Fr Toussaint Dassy, 14 October 1848, EO X n 989

REFLECTION

“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

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KNOWING ENGLISH IS ESSENTIAL FOR US IN MOST OF OUR FOREIGN MISSIONS

At this moment the Oblates were in North America and Ceylon, both of which required a knowledge of the English language. One of the priests in Nancy was entrusted with teaching English to the novices.

I will not close my letter before tomorrow. It is very late tonight. In any case, tell him many things from me as well as to Father Depetro. No matter how imperfect his knowledge of the English language, enjoin him to perfect himself in it and even though he should teach the novices no more than the principles of grammar. I insist very much that he spend a few hours every week with them. Knowing English is essential for us in most of our foreign missions. Arrange this with Father Dorey. The finality of this little work places it entirely in the supernatural order.

Goodbye. my dear son. I embrace you tenderly and bless you as well as the whole family.

Letter to Fr Toussaint Dassy, 18 September 1848, EO X n 987

REFLECTION

The Oblates had been founded in 1816, specifically to respond to the needs of people who were not hearing and understanding the Gospel in their own language. Throughout his life Eugene insisted that local languages be learnt in order to be as close to the people as possible. Learning a language meant entering into their culture and way of life so as to apply the Gospel more effectively.

” If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)

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