Reflections on St. Eugene




When the name Eugene de Mazenod is mentioned, people immediately think of the dynamic and faith-filled priest who founded the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and then became Bishop of Marseilles. At the basis of this saintly man and his very successful ministry was the secret of his life, which is not always recalled: he knew Christ the Saviour intimately. It was not a knowledge of ideas, but a familiarity and love which developed because he had experienced difficulties and sufferings in his life and was able to recognise that it was a sharing in the sufferings of his Saviour.

What is a saint? A good image is of the sun shining through a magnificent stained glass window in a cathedral. It is the light of God’s love shining through a person and filling us with a particular colour and aspect of God’s light. St. Eugene can be seen as this stained glass window who shows us the beauty of the love of God as Saviour. This is the invitation to which our devotion invites each of us: to see in Eugene the beauty of God’s love. In this way Eugene becomes for us a model of how to live in the Light, an intercessor who leads us to the Light, and a loving friend who accompanies us on the journey.



Eugene’s life shows him to be anything but a plaster saint who floated through life in a cloud of holiness. The events of his life and the many sufferings from his childhood until his death show this to us. He was exiled from his country from the age of 9 until 20. He suffered many hardships during this time, but certainly the most painful blow during this time was that his mother and sister left him and returned to France to try to recover some of the family possessions that the Revolution had taken away from them. In order to recover their property, his mother had to undergo a civil divorce. Eugene considered this as a temporary legal necessity and for many years he longed for the day when his parents would be re-united. It was never to happen. What had begun as a separation for material reasons, developed into a divorce which never led to reconciliation. Eugene, who intensely loved both his parents, tried by all means to bring them together again, but to no avail.

He had a strong personality and he struggled with himself and his imperfections. He was a man who knew how much he needed to love people and to be loved by them, and yet he was also a figure who knew rejection and loneliness. He was a man who suffered because of the situations in which he found himself – but throughout his life we find a deep sense of peace and single-mindedness that never left him. Why? Because since he had met and accepted the Crucified Jesus as his Saviour, Eugene was able to see every event through the eyes of his Saviour. In each event he was able to discern and recognise the presence of his loving Saviour.

Here is the first reason why people are attracted to St. Eugene as a saint: he is very human and therefore becomes a MODEL for us. He teaches us how to recognise God’s love in every situation. Thousands of persons throughout the world have learnt of God’s love through the ministry of his sons.


Not only does St. Eugene show us how to live in God’s love, how to turn to the Saviour in our brokenness, but he intercedes for us that we may do so. This is the meaning of his canonization: the Church recognizes that Eugene is part of the communion of saints and is close to God in the fullness of the Kingdom. Now he prays for us and INTERCEDES for us in our needs from that situation of closeness to God.

Throughout the world we constantly encounter people who testify to the power of his intercession. People turn to Eugene in prayer because he experienced the break-up of his family, he knew what it was to be an exiled immigrant, he experienced persecution, wealth and what it means to lose it all, loneliness, failure of plans and many other forms of suffering. People approach him because he knows and understands the difficulties of our human existence. More and more churches throughout the world are now being dedicated to him as people discover the power of his intercession.


As a person, Eugene knew the meaning of friendship. He always needed to have close friendships. He treasured the people he was really close to and knew that he could not live without friends. For this reason he was able to understand how Jesus was calling him to a relationship of special friendship with Him. Eugene and his Saviour were deep friends, with Eugene wanting to live in intimacy with him and always in his presence. Eugene not only teaches us how to follow Jesus but he also accompanies us on the journey by offering us his friendship. As Founder of the Oblates and as Pastor of Marseilles Diocese Eugene understood himself and acted as a father. Particularly when he was older, he would often exclaim, “Never has a father loved his children as much as I do!” Today that continues to be true and we can hear those sentiments echoing in our hearts as he accompanies us on the journey of coming to know and love the Saviour in a deeper way.

Frank Santucci OMI

The Making of Bishop De Mazenod

by Art King,OMI

In the Fall of this year we will be celebrating the 170th anniversary of the Episcopal Ordination of St Eugene de Mazenod. It is interesting to look back to see just how the Founder became a bishop.

On October 14 1832, Father Eugene de Mazenod was ordained the Titular Bishop of Icosia in the Church of Saint Sylvester in Rome. What is usually an openly glorious ceremony was celebrated for Eugene in the utmost secrecy and immersed in the most incredible political and diplomatic intrigue.

While Fr de Mazenod was certainly worthy to be a bishop, he had already refused the honor at least three times, it was not his worthiness that ultimately secured his appointment. It was, instead, his iron clad obedience to Pope Gregory XVI who ordered him to accept the appointment. Gregory was willing to make de Mazenod a pawn in the fierce contest between the Holy See and the Revolutionary French government over the appointment of bishops without secular interference.

The problems , however, started seven years earlier, before the Vatican was ever asked to consider Eugene’s appointment as a bishop. The principal and most vicious protagonist in the affair was Joseph-Antione-Thomas, Prefect of Bouches-du-Rhone. An ardent revolutionary, Thomas harbored an intense animosity toward the de Mazenod family. He was a supporter of the revolution and they were Nobility and supporters of the legitimate Monarchy. Thomas made it his crusade, his project to supply the government ministers with charges against the de Mazenods which were both false and damaging.. Thomas seems to have been a regular government informant on all sorts of matters in the south of France.

The Prefect of Bouches-du-Rhone was particularly obsessed with preventing Eugene de Mazenod from becoming a bishop. His accusations against the priest over many years ranged from Eugene doing stupid things, to funding a group of assassins to dispatch government ministers. He convinced the Minister of Cults that Eugene, even after he had become a bishop was, in complete disrepute with the people of Marseilles. For four years Thomas relentlessly persecuted Eugene and even after the government legitimized Bishop de Mazenod’s appointment he remained ad odds with him.

Bishop Fortune de Mazenod was the aged Ordinary of the Diocese of Marseilles and also Eugene’s uncle. In response to the request of Bishop Fortune in 1832, for a successor in his See, Pope Gregory XVI summoned Eugene to Rome. Eugene was appointed the titular bishop of Icosia with an non existent job as Apostolic Visitor to Tunisia. He was ordained and returned to France. All this happened without consulting the French government which claimed for itself the right of approval for all Episcopal appointments. Before leaving Rome for France, the Charge” d’Affairs for the Vatican, Bishop Frezza, warned Eugene of the personal risk he was taking

Within three months after his return Prefect Thomas alerted the government of the new bishop’s presence in Marseilles. He literally stalked the bishop and created all sorts of outrageous stories which he fed to the press. Like tabloids the press published Thomas’ fabrications. His influence with the government was strong enough to convince the French government to pass on the stories-made-fact to the Vatican. They used them as a ploy to demand the recall of the Bishop of Icosia. First they charged that he was a foreigner. Then they threatened legal prosecution against him. The prosecution in the hands of an anti-clerical government became persecution. It lasted for four years.

It was unfortunate that some in the Vatican gave some credence to the false allegation levied against the Founder. Eugene was summoned to Rome by Gregory XVI. Without delay Eugene presented himself to the Holy Father who lectured him on his attitude towards the France Government. The Pope was ready to pack Eugene off to Tunisia. Eugene enlightened the Holy Father of the Government’s intentions to suppress the See of Marseilles upon the death of his uncle Fortune and that was why they wanted him out of the way. Later Eugene was able to refute all the charges against him by the government with the Cardinal Bernetti the Secretary of State.

A flurry of letters flew between Rome and Paris. In substance the French Government charged that the Bishop of Icosia was illegal in France, he could not be bishop there because he had not been approved by the king. Furthermore he was considered seditious and dangerous to the government. The Vatican exposed the fraud of Thomas and declared that there was no reason to detain the bishop longer. The French Ambassador however, delayed Eugene’s visa. Eventually the Founder was able to return to Marseilles just before Christmas 183 3.

Prefect Thomas spared no effort with the Government. In May 1833 the Attorney General decided that the Bishop of Icosia was guilty of treason for plotting counter revolution against the July Government. Eugene was branded very dangerous. In August 1834 the Government stripped Eugene of his citizenship and his right to vote. He had already been deprived of his salary as Vicar general in October. The contest waged between the Holy See and the French government. Finally in December 1834 Eugene was served with a warrant forbidding him the exercise of any ecclesiastical function in the country under penalty of being deported. The Government again demanded Eugene’s recall. The Vatican again refused. Stalemate !

Through all of this contention Eugene was ordered by the Vatican to remain silent and to do nothing in his own defense. Not the slightest consideration was given to what effect all of this must have had on the very sensitive man who sat in the midst of this tug of war. Privately the Founder complained about the affront that was being perpetrated against his honor and the dignity of the office of a bishop in the church albeit against the rights of the Holy See. But he suffered the silence and the inactivity obediently. What is astounding about the affair is that neither the Founder nor the Vatican ever considered that indeed his very life was in danger.

It was Father Guibert, the Superior of the seminary in Ajaccio who was called upon by Bishop Fortune to broker the settlement and put and end to the affair. While changing circumstances in France created a less hostile climate for his efforts, Guibert’s influence and ability undoubtedly made for success, The proof of his competence was his later appointment to the See of Paris and then Cardinal. The king wanted an end to the religious strife in the kingdom. The revolutionary faction had lost some of its support. It not unlikely either that the name de Mazenod still had some standing at the Court of Versailles.

Through Guibert’s efforts Eugene’s citizenship and right to vote was restored. His Episcopal position as Titular of Icosia was recognized and His right to succeed his Uncle Fortune in the See of Marseilles was granted.

St Eugene de Mazenod became Bishop of Marseilles in April 1837. He served in that Diocese until his death in 1861 , a year shy of a quarter of a century. He lived to be the oldest bishop in France in his day, the Dean of the French Episcopate. On October 5 1855 he was awarded the Cross of an Officer in the Legion of Honor France’s highest decoration. On June 24 1856 he was appointed by the Emperor Senator of the Empire.. Had he lived he would have been appointed Cardinal by Pope Pius IX.


A Patron Saint for the Dysfunctional Family?

People in troubled marriages or broken homes now have a special intercessor they can turn to in their darkest hours

By Fr. Charles Banks, OMI. Former Provincial of the Southern U.S. Province and current Vocations Director of the United States Province.

A recently canonized saint might one day be known as the patron of families in crisis.

Father Eugene de Mazenod, O.M.I., the 19th century founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was added to the Church’s long list of holy men and women in 1995 at a December 3rd ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II. Among countless stories from the lives of the saints, St. Eugene’s is unique in that his parents were divorced.

Born on August 1, 1782, in southern France, during a time in history when divorce was rare, Eugene de Mazenod had far from an ideal family life.

His mother, Marie-Rose Joannis, was of the bourgeois, or middle class, convent educated and wealthy. Charles-Antoine, his father, was an aristocrat, educated in the classics and poor. An even more serious factor in the marriage was the constant outside interference from Marie-Rose’s jealous mother and neurotic sister. When she was wed to Charles-Antoine, Marie-Rose’s family stipulated that the dowry given by them remain in her name.

In 1791, when Eugene was 8 years old, the de Mazenod family was forced into political exile for four years. In 1795, leaving her husband and son behind in Venice – one of their many, temporary homes – Marie-Rose returned to France with Eugene’s sister. Once back home, she divorced Eugene’s father. That put in a position to repossess their property. She took back her maiden name and, aided by her mother’s shrewdness, Rose-Marie successfully recovered her dowry. She later wrote to her ex-husband: “You now have nothing.”

At age 13, Eugene was the son of parents whose marriage of convenience ended over the question of money. Precisely how this turn of events impacted him lies buried in time and history. Whatever emotional turmoil the young boy felt, however, he overcame. With God’s healing help, Eugene was freed to use his gifts and talents to benefit others.


Eugene developed a passionate love for God, much of which was centered on Jesus the Crucified. He regarded the cross of Jesus as a sign of hope for all people. Eugene deepened his love for the Savior by spending time daily praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. His profound and tender respect for the Virgin Mary is evidenced by the name of his religious community: Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Eugene de Mazenod was ordained a diocesan priest in 1811. Five years later, he called together his first group of missionaries. Today, his religious congregation of priests, brothers and bishops numbers nearly 5,000 members in more than 50 nations. The Oblates in the United States number close to 600.

The fact that Oblates – who were approved as a religious congregation in 1826 – are often described as men Religious “close to the people” they serve may stem from Father de Mazenod’s early years of priesthood. Though born into French high society, he stepped out of his status and began early Sunday morning instructions for neglected blue-collar workers and street people of his hometown Aix-en-Provence.

Father de Mazenod taught them the love and compassion of God, but did it in unpolished French. To the horror of his class-conscious relatives and friends, the young priest spoke patois, the language of the commoners. It was a way to be “close to the people.”

DeMazenod died as Archbishop of Marseilles, France, on May 21, 1861. His tomb is located in a chapel of that city’s cathedral. When he died, St. Eugene’s heart was removed from his body and preserved – a custom not uncommon in the 19th century. As a movement began over time to promote him for recognition as a saint, a portion of the preserved heart was placed in a reliquary and brought to the United States in 1964. Last year, on December 8 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception), the re-gilded reliquary was enshrined in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Oblate-owned Lourdes Grotto of the Southwest in San Antonio.

Patron of the populace

From now on, many non-Oblates – particularly the laity – will begin to get acquainted with St. Eugene. But for what will people begin to petition him? How will St. Eugene now be “close to the people?” Hopefully by interceding for them as they endure the pains of divorce and troubled family life.

Since nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, St. Eugene can be close to a growing segment of the population, a group of people who often experience emotional brokenness and even feel abandonment by God. Anyone in pastoral ministry can relate firsthand stories of what a divorce does to people. Adults often feel humiliation and a sense of personal failure; children may feel the deep disappointment of parental abandonment.

The break up of a marriage can destroy all sense of security and open the way to a scary world of uncertainty.

Since the Church continually looks for new ways to minister to families and marriages in crisis, a saint like Eugene de Mazenod is much needed. From his place in heaven, he knows what it’s like to be abandoned by an unstable parent.

St. Eugene’s prayers can be supportive for the victims of nuptial tragedies who feel overwhelmed and are trying to cope with life minute by minute.

The Church needs a saint who can reach out to those going through an unwanted divorce. It needs a model of grace to support the survivors of broken families, to provide hope and encouragement for those trying to recover from the myriad disappointments of a divorce.

St. Eugene can help Catholics recognize that life is not always fair, that it sometimes entails problems and trials neither asked for nor deserved. As pilgrims making their way through this life, a saint like Eugene de Mazenod can walk with people in faith.

St. Eugene understands from his own experience the storms of life. He had to come to grips with his own hurts. The difficulties in his family would probably be labeled as dysfunctional by modern social scientists. Regardless of his family background, Eugene de Mazenod overcame. And he can help others do the same.

The Oblates have a long history of working with families of all types and in many ways – through our work in schools we have touched the young and their families, through our work in retreat houses we have have helped the engaged, the married, the widowed and the divorced, in our parish work we minister to families of all sorts.




By Arthur King, OMI

Eugene de Mazenod met Emmanuel Gaultier de Claubry in the coach on his way from Paris to Lyon in September 1805. They were both 23 years old, although Emmanuel seemed younger. Emmanuel was a surgeon in the Italian Army and was returning to duty. Eugene was returning to Aix after a trip to Paris with his Aunt Gabrielle, the Marquise de Pierrefeu.

It must have been an interesting journey. Besides the two young men and the marquise, there was another soldier in the coach who was apparently bored or turned off by the conversation which passed between Eugene and Emmanuel. If the letters which later passed between them are any indication of what the conversation was like, it was no wonder. Emmanuel was described as anything but military. He was rather fair and polished and lacked the usual machismo associated with a soldier. He obviously came from a high-born family and it’s anybody’s guess what he was doing in the Italian Army. By todays’ standards he was also rather young to be a surgeon.

One might imagine that Madame slept through the whole thing. One might also believe that Eugene, curious and uninhibited creature that he was, initiated the conversation. Within the few hours journey the two men became fast friends and apparently hit it off so well that they told each other their life’s story. Apparently the conversation centered very much on religion – a most unlikely topic for strangers. No question, they liked each other instantly. Eugene seems to have found in Emmanuel the ami du coeur for which he longed for so long. Emmanuel was absolutely taken by this charming, warm-hearted and candid Nobleman from Aix.

It was remarkable that so deep a friendship could have welded in so short a time and remained for so long. Eugene and Emmanuel remained close friends for more than fifty years. Emmanuel preceded Eugene in death in 1855. Eugene described it in a letter of 1807: “… that journey which seemed to me so short, and which, in bringing us together each for his own reason, led us to part from one another perhaps forever; from that Eugene whom, in a word, you found to your hearts liking and whom you love as he still loves you.”

Letters passed between them which can only be called passionate in a truly holy sense. Keeping in mind that they were both laymen and still in their early twenties, the spiritual content is extraordinary given that they lived in an age of decadence. Emmanuel’s letters were unabashedly candid. By our standards they might appear to be a bit “gushy”. But it is clear how much he was invested in Eugene and depended on him as a mentor and for spiritual support. He was obviously a troubled and lonely young man and much out of place where he was.

“I ask you for your fervent prayer, O Eugene, do not abandon your friend in his need,” Emmanuel wrote to Eugene in October, 1805. At the Officer’s Mess he apparently took a raking over the coals, “the sarcasms, mockery, jests, slurs… about my appearance, my manner, expression, which you know is not very military,” he complained to his friend. It seems to have been a somewhat vicious persecution which followed him wherever he was billeted. He would complain of it again. Eugene replied in November “… your letter, my dear friend, fills my heart with sorrow. I have very much resented the insults which tested you during that horrible meal.” But Eugene does not coddle Emmanuel. “… it is when they discover that you are a Christian that they will inundate you with sarcasm, insults and contempt,” Eugene tells his friend, “you will have to summon all the power that you received with holy regeneration and the laying on of hands.” Though Eugene wanted to encourage and support him, he says to him “Eugene is not the point, it is Jesus Christ, it is Peter, Paul, John who send the salutary nourishment which received with spiritual faith of which you are capable, will certainly not be without effect.” Eugene then sent him a long list of Scripture passages to contemplate.

This is very revealing. No doubt that Eugene considered Emmanuel a beloved friend, but he seems to have readily sensed Emmanuel’s dependence and a certain weakness in him. The emotionally distraught friend really had no one. Eugene proved to be a good friend and a wise counselor by making his friend turn to his own inner resources to find the strength to cope. Eugene is up front with him. He says he must be careful what he says to him “to draw from a pure source… where all our needs are foreseen and the remedies prepared.” It is eminently Christocentric.

A year passed before Emmanuel wrote again. He had been seriously ill and had a long convalescence. Emmanuel speaks of a change, “… the soldiers I live with are not like you… I have had to endure humiliations… because I defy human respect.” Now Emmanuel openly prays grace at the table and makes no secret of how he thinks and feels, especially in a moral sense. Emmanuel found his courage to be himself, no matter what, and he conquered his internal foe. “I have seen the end,” he says “I am tranquil.” Evidently Eugene’s counsel proved salutary. Emmanuel was profoundly grateful. “O my friend, how many times I have blessed God for having so kindly willed to associate me with you as a fellow traveler. My heart is devoted to you and I will never cease to love you. I pray for you always, not because you need my prayers, but so that God bestow more and more of his gifts on a man who is so worthy.”

Just before Christmas, 1807, Eugene wrote a very long letter to Emmanuel. “I shared your sufferings, my dear friend, but I also blessed the God of your victory as I pray that he will preserve you in these sentiments which are the source of your glory, mind and the whole Church’s.” This is a firm pat on the back but was immediately followed by a sober admonition – “Do not be disturbed by the persecutions which come to you, for you know that we are destined to these… for the Master has told us: ‘you will be persecuted for my sake.'”

Eugene then told Emmanuel something which must have shocked him. “Now, shall I speak about myself to you? Yes, but it will be for me to recommend myself to your prayers, to expressly charge you to ask God with perseverance that he will accomplish in me his adorable designs that I foil the effect of by my infidelities.” Emmanuel could hardly have ever thought this of his friend. Eugene continued, “… that he will strike, shape, subdue me, so that I will not fail to will what he wills; that he will eradicate the number of obstacles with which I oppose him; that I arrive at a more perfect state to which I am firmly convinced that I am being called.”

The force of this language, the candor of this revelation must have been amazing to Emmanuel. He knew Eugene was sincere. It must have been difficult to picture the friend to whom he looked with such esteem, albeit reverence, in this way. But was this more than just a confession? It is in fact an early hint of the rebirth of Eugene’s lost vocation. It was certainly a sign of his newborn conversion.

The exchanges between these two remarkable young laymen gives us a clear insight into their very souls. It reveals to us as well the depth of the Founder’s spirituality, even as a layman. It underlines the depth of a fraternal love which he would later lavish upon his Oblate sons. At the end of his life, St. Eugene spoke to his sons about his successor, “perhaps he will be a better superior than I was… but will he ever love you as I have loved you… never!” And that was his farewell to us.