I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO RECOGNIZE THE GOOD SPIRIT THAT ANIMATES ALL OF THEM

At the end of the General Chapter, Eugene met individually with each delegate. Each encounter became an experience of joyful gratitude for the gift of their missionary vocation and zeal.

I left the seminary only last evening in order to give time to meet with all the Fathers gathered together with me.

It is in these intimate communications that I have been able to recognize the good spirit that animates all of them. I have said to myself several times that we had nothing to envy in any other society. Let us thank God for having brought ours to the point where it is, and may each recognize that he has been placed on a way of perfection where it depends on him to advance with great strides.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 14 July 1843, EO XXI

As a result of God’s gifts, it is important for each of us to continue with zeal along the path of discipleship in our particular walk of life.

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A BISHOP WHO WANTED TO LIVE AND DIE AS AN OBLATE

The first Oblate to be appointed bishop after Eugene was Hippolyte Guibert, who was present at the General Chapter. He was bishop of the diocese of Viviers. Eugene wrote about him:

The bishop of Viviers has edified everyone by the touching expression of truly apostolic sentiments which animate him. He appeared to everyone just as I knew him; no one could know how to describe the impression his words made when, in a short speech inspired by his heart, he protested before God and before me, who was the witness and the confidant of all his thoughts, that if it had been necessary for him to choose between the episcopacy, which had been imposed on him by obedience, and the congregation, which it had been necessary for him to leave, he would not have hesitated an instant for the latter, in the bosom of which he wanted to live and die.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 13 July 1843, EO XXI

Bishop Guibert remained a confidant of the Founder throughout his life.

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THE SATISFACTION, IN SEEING GATHERED TOGETHER MEN OF SUCH A GREAT AND GENUINE MERIT, WHO HAVE DONE EVERYTHING FOR THE CHURCH AND WHO ARE EAGER TO DO STILL MORE FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE SALVATION OF SOULS.

Eugene was ecstatic about the experience of the gathering of Oblates at the General Chapter. In his diary he wrote:

I will describe nothing about all that has happened in this memorable chapter. The register in which these acts are consigned preserves the memory of what was most remarkable, but one will never know how to depict the spirit of charity, the proofs of attachment to the rules, to the Congregation, to the superior, the unity of views and thoughts, the dedication, the abnegation, the holy indifference for every work, in whatever part of the world it may be.

I admit that I have not been able to contain the feeling of satisfaction, in seeing gathered together men of such a great and genuine merit, who have done everything for the Church and who are eager to do still more for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 13 July 1843, EO XXI

One hundred and eighty years later, Eugene’s heart must continue to rejoice as he sees his charism alive and bearing fruit in the Mazenodian Family.

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THESE ARE THE WONDERS OF PROVIDENCE UPON US AND AN EVER MORE PRESSING REASON TO THANK THE LORD WHO HAS GIVEN US SUCH A VOCATION AND TO ACCOMPLISH EVEN MORE FAITHFULLY THE APOSTOLIC VIRTUES THAT THIS VOCATION DEMANDS OF US

With these words, Eugene as Superior General, pointed to the situation of the Congregation:

“These are the wonders of Providence upon us and an ever more pressing reason to thank the Lord who has given us such a vocation and to accomplish even more faithfully the apostolic virtues that this vocation demands of us.”

Rey gives the details:

Fr. Telmon, the delegate from Canada, reported the admirable effects that the appearance of the members of the Congregation had produced in the New World; in temporal terms, the gift of a very fine establishment had provided them with the necessary premises for the community and for a novitiate which already numbered several subjects. From a spiritual point of view, fourteen missions, all crowned with success and the most abundant fruits, showed that God was with them. Several foundations were requested in neighboring dioceses and the evangelization of the indigenous was offered to the Oblates.

Fr Casimir Aubert, the delegate of the missions of England, dexcribed the foundation of a house in Penzance, a town in the southwestern part of the county of Cornwall. An Irish priest, Fr. Young, had built a church there, and offered to entrust it to the zeal of the Oblates. Father Daly came to settle there and open a novitiate. The bishops of Ireland were interested in our establishment and the great O’Connell wanted to contribute. He received the scapular of the Congregation and authorized Fr. Aubert to use his name in the prospectus to be launched to make the work known and to call for subscriptions.

All the other superiors took turns reporting on the material and spiritual state of their houses. From their various reports, it appears that during this year, the small Oblate Congregation preached 65 missions, not counting a certain number of retreats and other occasional preaching.

REY II p 161 – 162

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OUR SEVENTH GENERAL CHAPTER

Every six years the Missionary Oblates gather for an important meeting, called a General Chapter. Here, representatives from each province come together to review the state of the Congregation and to evaluate its responses to the needs of the world at that particular time. It is the highest decision-making Oblate gathering and ensures faithfulness to our God-given charism and spirit.

Rey, the Founder’s biographer, describes this gathering which took place in July 1843 in Marseilles.

In May he had already sent the official letter of convocation of the General Chapter for July 10. This was the seventh that the Congregation was to hold. On the 11th and 12th of the same month, he made the canonical visit to the Calvaire community as a kind of preparation for the general meeting of his children. He was fully satisfied and his desire increased to see the Superiors and delegates of all the houses assembled around him…

On July 10, the members of the Chapter met at the Major Seminary, 22 in number. After the Mass celebrated by the Superior General, they went to the chant of the “Come Holy Spirit” in the assembly hall, and there, taking his place at the stand prepared in the center of the auditorium, the Founder addressed his children.

But,” say the Acts of the Chapter, “no sooner had the Superior General said a few words to thank heaven for the memorable things accomplished since the last Chapter in the bosom of the congregation than he was suddenly overwhelmed by one of those tender and lively emotions that he could not hide. His spirit, he said, had descended into his heart. The emotion was shared by the whole assembly and each one tried to express the most filial and caring affection towards a beloved father. Guibert’s elevation to the episcopate and the founding of the missions in Canada and the British Isles, he exclaimed:

“These are the wonders of Providence upon us and an ever more pressing reason to thank the Lord who has given us such a vocation and to accomplish even more faithfully the apostolic virtues that this vocation demands of us.”

REY II p 161 – 162

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WE MUST NEVER WISH TO DO MORE OR OTHERWISE THAN THE GOOD LORD INDICATES

Pertinent advice for all of us who are tempted not to read the signs that God sends us regarding the responsibility of self-care.

I have learned with extreme pleasure by your letter that you have recovered from your illness; but it is with some anxiety that I learn you are planning to give several retreats in a row. We must never wish to do more or otherwise than the good Lord indicates. In this matter, I would wish you to take the advice of your admonitor in all simplicity in order to avoid responsibility before God and the Congregation of unpleasant consequences which might result to your health, so precious to all of us.

Letter to Father Eugene Guigues (at at N.-D. de L’Osier, France). 6 July 1843

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THERE ARE HOPES FOR JOYFUL FRUITS OF SALVATION IN ENGLAND AND IRELAND

Continuing his letter to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, Eugene boasts about the Oblate achievements in England and Wales and their hopes for the conversion of many to Catholicism. The vocabulary is of that time – bear in mind that in the 19th century Catholics held that outside of the Catholic Church there was no salvation, so it was imperative to focus on the conversion of people in a predominantly Anglican country.

This same Congregation has also opened a house in the county of Cornwall in England. This house begins with the founded hope of being a powerful means for the conversion of the Protestant population of the county. Everything already bodes for the best and a number of conversions have in a certain way inaugurated a work which from its very birth has encountered a nearly general sympathy in the country. The Church of the Missionaries constructed in Penzance is spacious but it has not been paid for entirely. In this sense, nothing can be requested from the Protestants who nonetheless enjoy coming to attend the services of the Catholic Church and listening to the instructions delivered by our men. This initial success has given rise to the upcoming establishment of a new foundation in Wales in keeping with the wishes of the Apostolic Vicar of that district. There are hopes for joyful fruits of salvation in England.

I also felt it necessary to consent to the opening of another house in Cork in Ireland. Besides the fact that our missionaries, who have already tested their mettle in that country, will be very useful assistants to the local clergy since their own spirit makes them particularly suitable for a ministry which furthers the action of the Irish clergy, it is necessary for our men to recruit workers from among this clergy for Upper Canada where English is spoken and for the English missions. Candidates for this will not be lacking and they will be able to fulfil their vocation perfectly if we receive them young enough to form them properly in the religious education of a good novitiate.

The activities abroad, however, are too vast for our Congregation to be able to suffice with its resources alone. The Congregation needs the assistance of the Missionary Society of the Propagation of the Faith, and I request that aid with all the more confidence since what we have done has assumed today sufficient importance and extent for us not to be disregarded in the distribution of funds destined for the foreign missions. I hope that as of this year you will be so obliging as to grant us the aid which will allow us to accomplish what the Lord has permitted us to begin with the visible effect of His blessing.

Letter to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, 15 June 1843, EO V n 82

Then the personal touch was added here as well to arouse the generosity of the benefactors.:

There is another missionary of the same Congregation of the Oblates of the Immaculate Conception who will come to visit you. He too will have wonders to tell you about his mission in Ireland and in the county of Cornwall in England. … He is one of the most distinguished men who has already earned the esteem and trust of all the bishops of Ireland and England with whom he has been in contact. These bishops place upon him and his companions all their hopes for the conversion of the heretics in the county of Cornwall and the principality of Wales. His name is Fr. Aubert.

He has already opened a church in Penzance where for the last 300 years no one has ever seen a single external rite of our holy religion. Ten abjurations have been the prelude to what grace will bring about in these areas. However, he will need the assistance of your Council. I hope you will be good enough to promote the cause of these poor heretics who await only the moment of grace to return to the fold. Fr. Aubert’s community now consists of three priests and four novices. He is coming to France to ask me for more men whom he needs in order to include the provinces ready to receive him and thereby respond to the pressing requests from the bishops who have placed their hope in him. Fr. Aubert will be able to give you a better explanation of his position and the state of affairs. I think you will consider his a just case to benefit from the aid of the Missionary Society.

Letter to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, 3 June 1843, EO V n 81

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HE WILL TELL YOU ABOUT ALL THE WONDERS BROUGHT ABOUT BY THEIR MINISTRY.

Establishing Oblate missions outside of France required personnel and funds. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith was generous in giving financial assistance. In order to receive a grant each year, Eugene had to write to them to give a report on the Oblate missionary situation. He obviously stressed all the achievements so as to entice the benefactors to be generous.

Today these letters give us a glimpse of some aspects of the missions that are not always recorded in Eugene’s diary. Even better, when possible, a personal visit by an Oblate to the Propagation offices made a huge difference in the willingness to give a grant.

Dear Sirs,

The Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, of which I am the Superior General, after evangelizing for a number of years after its approbation by the Holy See a large number of dioceses in southern France has undertaken to open foundations abroad. Around two years ago a number of its members left for Canada. There are now seven priests and six lay brothers[1] and in the novitiate they have received young ecclesiastics who wish to join their ministry. The good they have wrought in the diocese of Montreal as well as the surrounding dioceses has been the cause of great wonderment in those areas. While His Excellency the Bishop of Montreal encourages their effort in favor of his sheep among whom they are established, the other bishops also ask them to open houses in their dioceses. They are especially prompted to this effect by the prelates of Upper Canada. Their increase in this country, however, depends very much on the resources to be placed at their disposal.

Letter to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, 15 June 1843, EO V n 82

Then, to add a personal touch, he wrote:

Divine Providence places me in a position to be grateful for the kindness granted to our missionaries by the Propagation of the Faith…

I assume that you will soon see one of our missionaries from Canada. He will tell you about all the wonders brought about by their ministry. They have already brought back a large number of heretics and the one whom I expect coming to Europe for a few months single-handedly confuted 5 or 6 ministers in a public debate they had had the temerity to promote…

P.S. I forgot to tell you that the two missionaries who were to leave for Canada were held up at the time of embarkation due to illness. They will leave with the person I am waiting for and who should go back in August.

Letter to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, 3 June 1843, EO V n 81

Father Telmon had come to France to attend the General Chapter in Marseilles and to bring back to Canada three reinforcements for the Oblate mission: Fr. Allard and two deacons: J.-N.Laverlochère and Aug. Alexandre Brunet.

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I WRITHED AS I WATCHED THE PAPER BEING CONSUMED WITHOUT ANYTHING SAID ABOUT YOU

One of Eugene’s greatest joys was to receive news from his Oblates about themselves and their missionary work. The length of time that letters from Canada took was a source of frustration for him, thus making it a special occasion when a letter did arrive.

Since my last letters, my very dear Father Honorat, I have received in the same mail yours of April 14 and that of Father Telmon of the 5th of the same month. This is too much enjoyment in one day…  You would not believe what I went through with his letter.

I who am so avid for every detail about your community, your persons and your activities, am obliged to keep my eagerness bottled up and champ at the bit while reading two dull pages only on the subject of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary. I writhed as I watched the paper being consumed without anything said about you. For the love of God, play no more tricks like this on me. Ten lines suffice for anything not related to you.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 31 May 1843, EO I n 19

Letters at that time were usually made up of one sheet of paper folded into four pages, with the last half being left for the address to be written on before it was sealed. There was no envelope. This explains Eugene’s frustration when useless things filled up the pages instead of news – added to which was the high cost of the paper and the postage for each sheet.

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THE EFFORTS HE MAKES TO RENEW HIMSELF IN THE SPIRIT OF HIS VOCATION

Young Father Lucien Lagier was 27 years old when he arrived in Canada. He was impressionable and had been unduly influenced by the negativity of Fr. Baudrand. Now that the latter had been removed, Lagier was able to come to terms with his shortcomings and mistakes.

Eugene wrote to Father Honorat, his superior in Canada:

In thus agreeing amongst yourselves, in esteeming each other, in loving one another as you ought, you will inevitably lead the young Father Lagier, who needs it, in the right direction with this good example. Father Telmon can be very useful to him in correcting his compositions which the latter should submit to him with simplicity and gratitude for to give him this family training is to render him great service. I have always thought that this youngster would not be so unruly as he has been in his letters and presumably as he has shown himself in conversation, had he not before his eyes the aberrations of Father Baudrand. 

Neglect nothing to put him back on the right path but, to the efforts he makes to renew himself in the spirit of his vocation, let him join a serious application to study. Persuade him that it is not given to everyone to have the talent of Father Telmon and that so far from being humiliated in following his advice, he should count himself fortunate to have so close to him in the family a brother who shares his knowledge with him and who helps him to develop.

Letter to Jean Baptiste Honorat, 31 May 1843, EO I n 19

The caring approach succeeded, and Father Lagier became an accomplished and successful preacher in Canada and in the United States. He certainly managed to rediscover the “spirit of his vocation.”

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