Founder & History

EUGENE DE MAZENOD

Beginnings...

  • Eugene de Mazenod was born in Aix-en-Provence in France in 1782, the son of wealthy aristocratic parents. His father Charles Antoine de Mazenod, a member of the French nobility, was the President of the Aix Parliament. His mother Marie-Rose Joannis, a member of the rapidly evolving bourgeois merchants embodied the practical and shrewd realism of this group.
  • This union of complementary social and cultural values assured young Eugene all the requisites for a successful and comfortable life. This idyllic world was swept away by the French Revolution in 1789. After his father opposed the revolution, the entire family was obliged to flee into exile in Italy. In 1790, a new painful period began for Eugene.
  • These were years of family instability, material scarcity and danger. The family was forced to flee successively to Turin, Venice, Naples and Palermo. Eugene's adolescence was impoverished. Deprived of friends of his own age, unable to continue an orderly academic program, he was also separated from his mother who divorced her husband in order to return and reclaim family property in France.

Coming Of Age...

  • Eugene was 20 years old when he returned from exile. Upon arrival in France, his overriding desire was to live fully, to make up for lost time. Young, handsome, with a well known family name he also had the inherited wealth recovered by his mother. Among his head-strong ambitions and pretensions: Marriage with a young rich heiress, a secure and prestigious position in society and access to the pleasures and amusements of the good life..
  • These dreams crumbled one by one starting with the unexpected death of the wealthy young woman. Eugene now 25 years old was forced to make a new balance of his life and person. He was not the extraordinary man that he had imagined himself to be. Certainly he had some good qualities, a strong character and a generous heart. Yet it was also obvious that he had yet to accomplish anything truly important. Superficial friendships and the easy pleasures of high society living were found empty and wanting.
  • Little by little the social and moral havoc resulting from the French Revolution had profoundly impacted on Eugene. He was moved by the distressing condition of the clergy and the tremendous religious ignorance of the people found everywhere. Endowed with a lively and imperious character and filled with noble intentions, Eugene resolved to play a part in meeting the urgent needs of the Church.

Initial steps of a Spiritual Journey

  • Eugene de Mazenod’s spiritual journey and personality were profoundly influenced by his family’s values and struggles amidst the insecurity and ambiguity of the Italian exile. During his time of exile in Venice (1794-1797), a holy priest, Don Bartolo Zinelli, introduced him to the spirituality of the Company of Jesus. From him as a young boy, Eugene learned how to pray and how to practice mortification. Don Bartolo also initiated him to a devotion to the Virgin Mary "It was there", Eugene would later write, "that my vocation to the priesthood was born".
  • A second moment of grace, which he describes as "an impulse from without" from the Spirit, led him to a decision for the priesthood. In 1808, he would enter the Seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris and be ordained a priest at Amiens, on December 21, 1811. His dream was to be "the servant and priest of the poor".

Special Graces

  • Two interior graces transformed Eugene in his twenties. The first was a grace of "conversion". During the adoration of the cross on Good Friday in 1807, Eugene had a special experience of the love and goodness of Christ which culminated in the shedding of his blood to obtain the forgiveness of all sins. Simultaneously conscious of his own sins and filled with a sense of profound confidence in Divine Mercy, Eugene decided to make amends through the total gift of his life to Jesus his Savior.

Seminary Formation

  • From 1808 to 1812 as a member of the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, Eugene de Mazenod was guided by Monsieur Emery and Monsieur Duclaux. These holy men encouraged Eugene to continue developing a spirit of fervor, regularity and industrious ness. Eugene, notwithstanding personal risk, committed himself to faithfully serve and assist the Pope who at this time was a prisoner of Napoleon at Fontainebleau.
  • Eugene's desire to become a priest of the poor continued to develop. Direct contact with impoverished youth and prisoners of war strengthened Eugene’s desire to devote himself entirely to these forgotten people. Simultaneously he continued to harbor a desire to make atonement, both for his own sins and all Christians who had abandoned the Church. Thus he participates in the activities of the Marian Congregation and a missionary group established by his friend and confrere Charles de Forbin-Janson. Repeatedly he expressed the desire to cooperate with Christ in the salvation of the world, so that the shedding of the blood of Christ might be efficacious for others as it had been for him.

A Missionary Community is born

  • Eugene began his ministry by rejecting a prestigious diocesan position to reach out to the poor, the workers, the youth, the sick and the imprisoned of Aix Overwhelmed by the demands and possibilities of this ministry, he soon realized that he needed to gather a group of zealous priests to work with him. The goal: to awaken "a faith that had all but died in the hearts of so many". In September 1815, he experienced another "impulse from without" that set him firmly on the path of apostolic action. He gave himself body and soul to the realization of his plans to establish a society of missionaries. On January 25, 1816, the society of the Missionaries of Provence was born.
  • Father de Mazenod invited his companions "to live together as brothers" and "to imitate the virtues and examples of our Savior Jesus Christ, above all through the preaching of the Word of God to the poor". He urged them to commit themselves unreservedly to the work of the missions, binding themselves by religious vows. Because of their small number, they initially limited their zeal to the neighboring countryside. Their fondest wish, however, was "to embrace the vast expanse of the whole earth", as the founder had written in 1818.
  • Pope Leo XII on February 17, 1826 formally approved the newly founded Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Its motto: "He has sent me to evangelize the poor" expressed both its charism and way of life.

Eugene’s Spiritual Struggles and Growth

  • During his first years as a priest, Eugene continually struggled to find a balance in his life between prayer and service to others.
  • After a series of initial successes, there was a period of deep and painful purification. From 1827 to 1836, Eugene was tested time and time again: conflicts, defections, bereavements, temporary loss of his French citizenship, even suspicion from the Holy See. Along with making him seriously ill, these events led to moments of discouragement and depression. Eugene discovered, first hand, the cost of discipleship and service of the Church. He came out of this experience bruised and humbled, more understanding towards others and much stronger in his love and faith.

Bishop of Marseille

  • The Diocese of Marseille had been re-established in 1823. After a period as Vicar General of this diocese, in 1837, Eugene was named Bishop of Marseille.As pastor of a Church undergoing a time of significant growth and simultaneously Superior of a fledgling group of missionaries, Bishop Eugene de Mazenod truly had to be "all things to all people". As Bishop, Eugene greatly increased the number of parishes and religious associations in the diocese. He not only welcome the return of Religious institutes such as the Jesuits, but also personally encouraged the founding of several new religious families.
  • Special programs were undertaken for youth, workers, immigrants and the needy in rapidly developing port city of Marseille. The construction of a new cathedral, the shrine of Notre Dame was initiated. Simultaneously he played a prominent role in the in the major political and religious questions of the day such as religious education and the rights of the papacy. In 1854, he journeyed to Rome to participate enthusiastically in the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.