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Diocese of


St. Eugene de Mazenod (1782-1861)

The Aristocratic Origins

Eugene de Mazenod was born in Aix-en-Provence, son of Charles-Antoine (president of the Court of Accounts, Aids and Finances) and Marie-Rose Joannis (from the rich family bourgeois). Surrounded by a dozen servants he had a happy childhood and developed a firm and impulsive personality. After the outbreak of the French Revolution he had to begin the experience of exile, staying with his father who was escaping the danger of death. His route passed through Nice, Turin, Venice, Naples and Palermo. In the exile he spent 12 years of his life. He came back to France only in 1802, at age of 20 years.

Strong Experience of God


The turning point of his young life was marked by the deep experience of God's love, an experience he lived in front of the image of Jesus crucified on Good Friday, 1807. Seven years later Eugene recalled that moment writing: "I looked for happiness outside God and, to my sorrow, looked there for too long a time. How many times, in my past life, did my heart, torn, tormented, throw itself in desperation at its God whom it had abandoned. Can I ever forget those bitter tears which the sight of Cross caused to stream from my eyes one Good Friday? (...) Thus, I looked for happiness outside God, and outside of him found only affliction and misfortune. (...) The least I can do now is make up for lost time and redouble my love for him..."

Vocation to Priesthood

Although the grace of Good Friday had a decisive impact on his life, it was not the final act and still it took some time before Eugene became fully aware of his vocation and decided to follow its voice. Finally, on the October 12th, 1808, he presented himself at the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris. After three years of preparation and theological studies, on the December 21st, 1811, he was ordained a priest.

Founder of the Missionary Congregation

On his return to Aix, instead of being appointed to some benefice or become a parish priest, Eugene asked for a ministry which could have given him some freedom of action, without being bound with the stereotyped rules and regulations. He addressed himself to the poor and abandonned, founded Youth Association, served the prisoners and in his preaching was using the dialect of the poor, Provençal, which was considered vulgar by the aristocratic classes of Aix. Seeing that the small villages around Aix was completely deprived of the pastoral cure after the French Revolution, he decided to organize a group of priests who would dedicate themselves to preach the missions in those remote places. In October, 1815, him and his first four companions laid down the foundations of the Society of the Missionaries of Provance.

Toward Pope's Approval


On January 25, 1816, those five priests signed a formal petition to the diocesian authorities asking the authorization of their religious group. Their purpose was to preach the missions in small towns and villages in Provence, and to form community governed by common rule, so serving diocese they could preserve their particularity. Eugene de Mazenod composed the first rule in 1818. With its approval by the members of his group became clear that they are not any more just diocesan priest, but are forming religious congregation, which with their vows is becoming more independent from the diocese. As their activity expanded soon over the territory of Provance, the name of the Congregation was changed to "Oblates of St. Charles". Anyway if the group was supposed to continue its existence and work, it needed all kinds of approvals and support from the authorities. Eugene could not find that from the part of the diocesan bishops nor form the French government, so he turned to Rome, asking officially for the pope's approval.

Negotiations in Rome

The situation was not very favorable. The group was too small - counted only 25 members - and, since 1800 Rome had not approved any new religious society. Despite of all that, Eugene's congregation was approved by pope Leo XII on February 17, 1826, after fairly short preparatory negotiations. The name of the new official religious group in the Catholic Church was presented as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Its members were consecrating themselves to serve the poor. Working at the beginning only in different regions of France, Oblates soon became part of Church's universal and international mission, opening the missions in different countries of Europe, America, Africa and Asia.

New Foundations

Eugene de Mazenod expected his small congregation to grow fast after receiving pope's approval. In reality the number of vocations was increasing very slowly. The Oblates continued to preach the missions in the southern France and had hands full of work, concerning their small number in front of the needs of the people. Nevertheless, when bishop Bourget of Montreal appealed to Eugene for help in his vast Canadian diocese, he decided to send 4 Oblates and to open the mission in Canada, in 1841. Since then the number of the Oblates started to increase. During the life of the Founder they were able to open missions in Oregon and Ceylon (1847), in Texas (1849), in Natal, South Africa (1852), in Mexico (1858) and in Basutoland, South Africa (1861). In Europe the earliest missions outside France were open in Ireland (1841) and England (1842). The Congregation became fully international. Today the Oblates are present in more than 60 countries of the world.

Eugene as a Bishop of Marseilles


Eugene de Mazenod was ordained bishop in 1832. In 1837 he took responsibility for the diocese of Marseilles. As a bishop he remained fully in charge of his religious family. In 1833 he wrote: "A bishop is a missionary par excellence. I know my duty; it only remains for me to accomplish it as I ought". Serving the diocese of Marseilles he gave example of his dedication to the people, especially those poor and abandoned. His residence was open every day for whoever needed to talk to him (and not only for "important people"). Famous were his visits in the poorest areas of the town and his fluency in Provençal, language spoken by workers and in the countryside. All that made him being loved by the people and by the Oblate confreres in his own Congregation. His death on May 21, 1861, afflicted everybody who had a chance to know him and his openness of heart.

Timeline of Eugene de Mazenod

Eugene de Mazenod
  • 1782 Eugene de Mazenod is born in Aix en Provance
  • 1790 His father escapes the Revolution; a periond of exile beggins (Nice, Turin, Venice, Naples, Palermo)
  • 1802 Eugene returns to France
  • 1807 Good Friday experience, religious conversion and turning point in his life
  • 1808-1811 Teological education in the Seminary of St. Sulpice, Paris; his ordination to priesthood
  • 1812-1816 Ministry in his native Aix en Provance
  • 1816 Diocesan approval of the Missionaries of Provence, society of priests founded by Eugene and dedicated to the common life, preaching of the country missions and youth ministry
  • 1826 The society is approved by pope under the name of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Eugene, as a Founder, is its first superior general
  • 1832 Eugene de Mazenod is consacrated a bishop and appointed Apostolic Vicar for the Missions of Tunisia and Tripolitania
  • 1837 Eugene is becoming a bishop of Marseilles
  • 1841 First Oblates are leaving France for Canada; thus Oblate international mission begun
  • 1847 Foundation of the mission in Ceylon
  • 1849 Beginnig of the mission in Texas
  • 1850 Eugene de Mazenod is sending Oblates to South Africa
  • 1858 Foundation of the mission in Mexico
  • 1861 Eugene de Mazenod dies in Marseilles, at the age of 79 years