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St. Eugene de Mazenod (1782 - 1861)
Charles Joseph Eugène de Mazenod was born in Aix-en-Provence in France in 1782, the son of a 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.  So he came from quite a wealthy background.

He grew up in the years of the French Revolution and his family had to flee into exile in Italy.

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 ambitions was to marry a young rich heiress and to secure a prestigious position in society with 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.

Two interior graces transformed Eugene.  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 Saviour.

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".

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 Saviour 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.  While 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.

On February 17, 1826, Pope Leo XII 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.

In his pastoral letters, he emphasises the following points:
  • All are called to salvation and holiness.  He proposes to the Oblates: "We must strive first of all to lead people to act like human beings, and then like Christians, and finally, we must help them to become saints."
  • To remain on the road to sanctity and make progress, Christians should look upon themselves with the eyes of faith.  No matter how poor or destitute they might be, in the eyes of faith all are "children of God", "brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ" and "heirs of His eternal kingdom."
  • Holiness consists in conversion of heart, fidelity to the law of God and to the inspiration of his grace, in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.  To love the Jesus Christ is to love the Church.
  • The journey to holiness demands a constant ongoing conversion.

Saint Eugene's spiritual synthesis is found most clearly in the Rules and Constitutions of his Institute.  These reflect both his own personal experience and the perception of the needs of the day.  When writing the Oblate Constitutions, Saint Eugene borrowed copiously from Sulpician and Jesuit mentors as well as missionaries he admired such as Charles Borromeo, Vincent de Paul and Alphonsus de Liguori.

The Constitutions reflect his unique personality and Gospel rootedness.  "The spirit of total devotion for the glory of God, the service of the Church and the salvation of souls is the spirit proper to our Congregation", he wrote in 1817.  He further stated, in 1830, that we must look upon ourselves "as the servants of the Father of a family commanded to succor, to aid, to bring back his children by working to the utmost, in the midst of tribulations, of persecutions of every kind, without claiming any reward other than that which the Lord has promised to faithful servants who have worthily fulfilled their mission."

In 1832, he was named auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Marseilles and 5 years later he was appointed Bishop of Marseilles.

Towards the end of his life, Eugene had become very free.  Faced with the prospect of becoming a Cardinal which had been promised and which slipped away from him because of political considerations, he had this to say: "After all, it is all the same whether one is buried in a red cassock or a purple one; the main thing is that the bishop gets to heaven".

Shortly before his death on May 21, 1861, in keeping with his temperament, the elderly and seriously ill bishop said to those around him: "Should I happen to doze off, or if I appear to be getting worse, please wake me up!  I want to die knowing that I am dying".

His last words to the Oblates were a testament that summed up his life: "Practice well among yourselves charity, charity, charity, and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls".  Eugene died on Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday to the prayer of the Salve Regina.  It was his final salute on earth to the one he considered as the "Mother of the Mission".

Eugene was Venerated on November 19, 1970 and Beatified on October 19, 1975.

He was Canonised on December 3, 1995 by Pope John Paul II.

During the ceremony, the Pope reflected on Eugene with the words:

We are living in the second Advent of the world's history.  Eugene de Mazenod was a man of Advent, a man of the Coming.  He not only looked forward to that Coming, he dedicated his whole life to preparing for it, one of those apostles who prepared the modern age, our age.

Eugene de Mazenod knew that Christ wanted to unite the whole human race to himself.  This is why throughout his life he devoted particular attention to the evangelisation of the poor, wherever they were found.

By patiently working on himself, he learned to discipline a difficult character and to govern with enlightened wisdom and steadfast goodness.  His every action was inspired by a conviction he expressed in these words: "To love Church is to love Jesus Christ, and vice versa".  His influence is not limited to the age in which he lived, but continues its effect on our time.

His apostolate consisted in the transformation of the world by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  What Saint Eugene wanted to achieve was that, in Christ, each individual could become a fully complete person, an authentic Christian, a credible saint.

The Church gives us this great Bishop and Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate as an example of heroic faith, hope and charity.

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