Venice was a place that recalled harsh memories for Eugene of difficulties of being an exile, of the separation of his parents, of financial deprivation and of fear of the revolutionary armies of France.

We needed to distract ourselves from all these emotions, which truly were almost hurtful to us, so much did they make us experience at the same time both pleasure and pain.

In these moments of darkness, there was one shining light that transformed the adolescent’s life: Father Bartolo Zinelli.

I leave to books the descriptions of the beauty of this city; I express here only my impressions in another order of being. How not to tremble at the sight of the places which remind you of the first years of your adolescence, the help that divine Providence lavished on me during this period when my intelligence was beginning to develop. How could my heart not beat at the memory of these admirable men who devoted their spare time to my religious instruction, and who formed me in virtue? It was astonishing to hear me name each of those who had welcomed me in my infancy, to see me cite all the particularities of their life, to show the place that they occupied in the houses where we lived together, and to enumerate, so to speak, all the good which I have received from them. The fact is, no one could understand what profound traces have been left in my heart by the acts of generosity to which I am indebted for a little of the good that is in me, which takes its source in this first education and in the direction which these men of God knew how to give to my spirit and to my young heart.

Father Bartolo Zinelli was a young priest living with his family while hoping to be able to join the Jesuits in more peaceful times. The Zinelli home became Eugene’s place of refuge, and the Zinelli family became his anchor. Don Bartolo’s influence was to be felt in Eugene spirituality and ministry for the rest of his life. (See: ” Human, Christian, Saint: from Experience to Conviction and a Way of Life” –

O blessed Zinelli! What would I have become without you? What thanksgiving do I not owe to God for having provided the acquaintanceship and the affection of such a holy person! Nearly forty years have gone by, and exactly the most dangerous years, under the direction of, and in intimacy with, a veritable saint who, inspired by the most affectionate charity, not only had taken on the task of instructing me in literature, but who fashioned me in virtue, as much by his example as by his precepts! I was the Benjamin of his entire family; it was because of this that he displayed the most affection to me.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 May 1842, EO XXI

An invitation for us to recall, with gratitude and a prayer, those persons who have had an important influence in our lives.

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On his journey to Italy with his sister, Eugene revisited Venice. He had spent three years there some 50 years earlier as a young adolescent.

Arrived in Venice. The day did not go by without our going to visit the district of Saint-Sylvestre, in which my sister and I had lived during our infancy. Having first entered into the church which I habitually frequented, I scarcely was able to recognize it, so many changes were made.

I searched there in vain for the tomb where my great uncle of holy memory had been laid to rest; no trace of it remained on the renovated paving stone.

He was referring to Father Auguste-André de Mazenod, deceased in 1795 during the Mazenod’s exile in Venice. He had been Vicar General of Marseille from 1755 to 1801. With emotion he recalled the memory of Father Francesco Milesi, pastor of the parish in which the young Eugene had lived. Milesi later became Patriarch of Venice.

And my venerable friend, the former pastor Milesi, who had heard my confession in my early childhood, who had embraced me so paternally, who so often had provided for my small childish needs in order to relieve my emigrant parents, whom he likewise treated with tact, who loved me, in a word, as his child. It is he who, in his moving solicitude, provided the acquaintanceship of the blessed Bartolo Zinelli and hinted to him what he had to do to instruct me in devotion and in literature. Where was this good pastor Milesi?

Alas! I inquired at the pulpit where he instructed us every Sunday; I inquired at the altar where I served Mass for him so frequently; I inquired with all those who had known him. His soul is in heaven. Oh! yes, his soul is in heaven, I seem to hear each one respond to me; but his body, his mortal remains repose far from here.

… I said Mass at Saint-Sylvestre at the same altar at which I had so often received the body of Jesus Christ in my childhood; for I was led to receive Communion every eight days. I would not be able to express everything that I experienced during the Holy Sacrifice, in tying together these two extremes of my existence: my infancy and my current state as bishop.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 May 1842, EO XXI

How often we have visited places connected with the memories of people in our childhood whose significance continues to influence us today. Can we hear each place triggering us to exclaim: that person is no longer here but continues to live in my heart and life through the communion of saints?

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Eugene’s sister, Nathalie, had five children. One had died in 1825 at the age of 12, the other in 1829 at the age of 19 and now the third, Louis de Boisgelin had just died at the age of 27. The family was devastated, and their uncle, Eugene, was urged to take some healing time away with them in northern Italy. He and Father Jeancard (a former Oblate and now a diocesan priest in the diocese of Marseilles) spent two months away in Italy with the family.

The blow which just struck us has thrown, alas! too justifiably, my sister and my niece into a profound melancholy: this state would be dangerous for my niece if it were prolonged; it was therefore necessary to take them from here in order to distract them from their grief. My sister would have with difficulty decided to undertake a journey for which she conceals her own need, although she senses that her daughter can hardly do without it. This last consideration makes her overcome her aversion, but it was necessary for me to take part. I would have wished for all the world not to be reduced to this necessity; but I am not accustomed to listen to my aversions when it concerns the well-being of those who have a right to my affection and to my devotion.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 25 April 1842, EO XXI

That was his personal diary entry. To Father Tempier he wrote:

I undertook this trip only for reasons of charity and due affection for my sister and niece and nephew; far from anticipating the least pleasure therefrom. I had to force myself to undertake it… Nothing is more normal than the sacrifice I have made. The hope of restoring the health of such a charming child who is always so thin and feeble, as well as the desire to distract my sister from her profound sorrow are more than sufficient reasons to impose on a brother and uncle such as I greater sacrifices than the one I am gladly making. though it does cost me

Letter to Henri Tempier, 30 April 1842, EO IX n 762

Eugene used to insist that the Oblates reduce their attachment to their families, and yet he was so attached to his. Was it perhaps because he had suffered deeply being deprived of life with his family during all the years of his adolescence as an exile?

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In communion with the suffering Catholics in Spain, which we have seen above, Eugene wrote a pastoral letter to his diocese.

Yes, my dearly beloved brethren, you cannot merely watch without taking interest in the sad situation. A portion of what used to be one of the most flourishing parts of Christianity stands to be violently torn from its ancient spiritual foundations and so be separated from God’s Church. How can we not be terrified at this schism which would come about in the name of a temporal power taking upon itself the right to be like a wall of separation between the bishops and the Vicar of Christ, between the faithful and him who is their common Father? …There is no law that can go against the law of God, no constituted power whatever, that can supersede the divine constitution of the Church.

Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Marseilles 1842 (Rey)

To this purpose he organized prayer services in Marseilles.

First station for the Jubilee at the cathedral. The church was found to be much too small: two hours before the designated time, the three naves and all the chapels were full. They arrived in droves to assist in this holy action. The doors had to be closed.

This glorious gathering was a magnificent spectacle, made up of the principal pastor, surrounded by all his clergy and a multitude of the faithful, in order to solemnly invoke the Lord in favor of a part of the grand Christian family threatened in its faith. I intoned the Veni Creator, which was sung by thousands of voices, inspired, as I was myself, by a living sense of fraternal charity, of filial trust, and by a certain, inexpressible interior jubilation. This joy stemmed from the grand communion of saints, whose perceptible impression it was impossible not to experience, with the joy of sensing that one belongs to this Catholic Church, which has God for Father and all baptized persons as brothers and sisters.

Eugene de Mazenod Diary, 19 April 1842, EO XXI

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Writing to the priests of his diocese, in 1840, about the civil war in Spain, Bishop de Mazenod made them aware of the suffering of their fellow-priests in exile from persecution:

Since a number of years the disorders happening in Spain are bringing to our city a large number of priests from this nation. Forced to flee an anti-Catholic persecution which is linked to their fidelity to the true principles of the Church, they come among us to seek asylum and the help to which their sufferings entitle them.

In order to help them it was necessary to appeal to the people of Marseilles.

Neither you nor I have up to now neglected to show them the solicitude which efficaciously satisfies the duties of hospitality required by charity. However, day by day they are becoming too numerous in our city for our resources to cope adequately for their needs. The time has now come to appeal to the charity of the faithful, in the name of the faith that is being persecuted in the person of these venerable exiles.

(Quoted in Selected Oblate Studies and Texts,  p. 312)

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Bishop de Mazenod’s “heart as big as the world” was not limited to the missionary zeal of the Oblates sent outside of France. He had a sense of communion with the Church throughout the world, especially in areas where there was suffering. As Bishop of Marseilles he made his diocese aware of these issues and involved them in collecting material help. We come across one example regarding the Church in Spain.

Eugene wrote in his Diary:

Letter from the archbishop of Paris.  He informed me that the minister took offence at the publication he had made of the jubilee by his pastoral letter

Lamirande gives the background:

“The trials which the Church in Spain experienced around 1840 naturally attracted the attention of Bishop de Mazenod. These difficulties had their origin in the political conflict which opposed the regent Maria Christina and the pretender to the throne, Don Carlos. Rome, though maintaining diplomatic relations with Madrid, refused to recognize the Regent. Hence inextricable embarrassments occured apropos of the appointment of bishops, etc. The partisans of Christina carried out copious reprisals against the Carlists: arrests of bishops, priests and monks, discontinuing ecclesiastical salaries, appointing administrators of vacant dioceses contrary to canon law, etc. Gregory XVI denounced these machinations in a consistorial allocution of February 1, 1840. The Government of Spain protested and the Holy Father, in March 1842, replied with an encyclical prescribing the celebration of a jubilee in favour of the Church in Spain.” ( Selected Oblate Studies and Texts,  p. 313)

The French government supported the schismatic Christina and had taken offense at French bishops who promoted the Jubilee. Eugene’s reaction was to be unafraid and to write a circular letter to his diocese:

It does not matter, I will not hesitate, in this matter, to show myself united in thought and will with the head of the Church. I will no less express my horror for the schism into which some desire to drag the Church of Spain.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 March 1842, EO XXI

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Writing to the Bishop of Montreal about the Oblate missionaries, Eugene said: 

I await impatiently some news of the first mission that our fathers have given in the parish where you have placed them… I have learnt from Father Honorat of the blessings God has bestowed on the retreat he gave in collaboration with the charming priest who associated himself with his work and who manifests a willingness to join the Congregation.

He is referring to Father Damase Dandurand, a Canadian diocesan priest, who was so impressed by the missionary zeal of the newly-arrived Oblates that he asked to become one. 

May this first graft on a vine transplanted to so good a soil by the vine keeper that you are be a thousand times blessed! I pray from the depths of my heart to the Father of the Family that he multiply the species and that the example of this first one be soon imitated by a great number of others.

Letter to Bishop Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, 13 April 1842 EO I n 11

“When the first Oblates from France, whom Bishop Bourget had obtained from Bishop de Mazenod, arrived in Montreal on December 2, 1841, Father Dandurand was resident in the bishop’s house. Shortly afterwards he decided to join them, and he began his novitiate on December 24, probably in Saint Hilaire. The following year, at Christmas, he took vows in Longueuil. Bishop de Mazenod rejoiced to have found in him ‘the first fruits of this good country of Canada.’ Starting in 1842, he took part in numerous missions or retreats in the diocese of Montreal and his ministry was specially appreciated by the English speaking Catholics.”

E Lamirande. (See:

Thus began a long and fruitful ministry which ended with his death at 102 years-of age.

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St. Eugene wrote to the Bishop of Montreal to thank him for the warm and fatherly welcome he had given to the newly-arrived Oblates.

Their letters prove to me that they know and appreciate the sentiments you manifest to them and that in return, they are, amongst your priests, the most devoted and the most attached to your revered person.

The welcome given to the Oblates helped them to settle down smoothly. Eugene was particularly concerned about Father Honorat, the superior of the group, who had accepted this mission out of obedience to Eugene and not out of choice.

Apparently the protection and the kindnesses with which you honour them make everything worthwhile for Father Honorat finds nothing hard or difficult. Even the climate, so unlike ours, is not disagreeable to him. It could be said that they have not made any sacrifice in leaving their native land. Yet this good Father Honorat was not attracted like the others to this far-off mission and, while he did not raise objections, I really believed he sacrificed himself by obedience in an admirably supernatural manner because he understood that such was the desire of his superior.

As a matter of fact, he is a man of eminent virtue. He would wish that I add another two members to his little colony, and I would ask nothing better if the glory of God is at stake and the greater good of souls.

Letter to Bishop Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, 13 April 1842 EO I n 11

Father Honorat showed his strength of character and missionary zeal in the way he sacrificed his personal preferences for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. A good example for us today as we are surrounded by “me first” and relativism.

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Continuing form our previous entry, we see how Eugene recommended that Louis Dassy not get carried away by his zeal for archaeology. The point he makes is relevant to all of us in our multi-tasking society: do some of our activities take us away from the real focus where we should be placing the best of our time and energy?

I am not absolutely opposed to your accepting to be part of this commission, for the reasons I have alleged, but I request you very explicitly not to establish yourself as the mainspring of this commission and not to be more concerned than the rest about it functioning well. Indeed, to the contrary, due to the duties you have to fulfil and from which I cannot dispense you. I insist that you take a back seat and be on it for giving advice rather than being active.

If you depart from this rule of wisdom, it is I who say that you will soon be like insipid salt, “what if salt loses its flavor”, I say no more, it is up to you to meditate seriously on this text, so that you may be preserved from terrible consequences which all of us must dread.

Thus, even while remaining within the limits I have indicated to you, if you realize that your piety suffers therefrom, your zeal for the salvation of souls is lessening, that you experience some distaste for the great ministry that is proper and characteristic of your vocation, leave aside all the books of science and bury yourself more than ever in the only study that is strictly necessary wherein we are assured of not meeting with disappointment or deception.

Good-bye. my dear child, I am speaking to you as a father, as a superior, as a bishop. I have nothing further except to embrace you and bless you.

Letter to Father Louis Dassy, 29 March 1842, EO IX n 759

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In the previous entry we saw how the talented and enthusiastic Fr Louis Dassy had become involved in archaeological pursuits. It was an honor for him that the academic world valued his competence. Eugene, however, was concerned that this young man would lose focus.

Do not think, my dear child, that I am happy about this honour or that I consider this could bring the least glory or advantage to the Congregation. I say even more: if I did not know as I do your activities and your capacity for work, I would consider this incident as something unfortunate, for you would have turned away from your principal ministry, from that which is essentially proper to your vocation and which you could not neglect without lacking in your duties and offending God.

So I have to come to the conclusion that if you feel you could combine the duties of your new job with those of your vocation, that the research, which you may be able to make, serves rather as relaxation than as activity incompatible with the missions, retreats and studies required by this ministry, then I authorize you to respond to the trust that has been placed in you.

But note well, my dear child, that it is your duty first of all to sanctify yourself by advancing in perfection. You will be devoting yourself ardently to archaeological studies which demand lectures, meetings and plenty of time. Weigh all these on the scales of the priesthood and reflect on the quid prodest. etc [Ed: Matthew 16:26 “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”]

Letter to Father Louis Dassy, 29 March 1842, EO IX n 759


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