Eldest son of Charles-Antoine De Mazenod and Marie-Rose Joannis. His mother was of the French middle class, convent educated, and wealthy; his father was an aristocrat, classically educated, and poor. Their marriage, and Eugene’s home life, were plagued by constant family in-fighting, and interference from his maternal grandmother and a neurotic maternal aunt. The women never let his father forget that they brought the money to the family.
On 13 December 1790, at age eight, Eugene fled with his family to exile in Italy to escape the French Revolution. He spent eleven years in Italy, living in Nice, Turin, Venice, Naples, and Palermo. While he learned Italian and German from dealing with people day to day, the bulk of his education came in Venice from Father Bartolo Zinelli, a local priest. In Palermo he was exposed to a wild and worldly life among rich young Italian nobles.
After the Revolution, his mother returned to France, but his father stayed in Italy, ostensibly for political reasons. Upon his own return to France in 1802 in an attempt to reclaim the family lands, Eugene tried to reunite his parents, but failed, and they were divorced, an unusual event in the early 19th century. His often unsupervised youth, the constant fighting at home, and the eventual break up of his family led to his patronage of dysfunctional families and those in them.
For years, Eugene struggled in himself, drawn on the one hand to the wordly life he knew from Palermo, and the beauty of the religious life he had seen in Venice with Don Bartolo. In an effort to work it out, Eugene began teaching catechism and working with prisoners in 1805. God won at last, assisted by a mystical experience at the foot of a cross on Good Friday 1807 when Eugene was momentarily touched by the full force of the love of God. He entered the seminary of Saint Sulpice, Paris in 1808. Ordained on 21 December 1811 at age 29 at Amiens, France.
Because of his noble birth, he was immediately offered the position of Vicar General to the bishop of Amiens. Eugene renounced his family’s wealth, and preferred to become a parish priest in Aix-en-Provence, working among the poor, preaching missions and bringing them the church in their native Provencal dialect, not the French used by the upper classes. He worked among the sick, prisoners, the poor, and the overlooked young. Eugune contracted, and nearly died from, typhus while working in prisons.
Eugene gathered other workers around him, both clergy and laymen. They worked from a former Carmelite convent, and the priests among them formed the Missionaries of Provence who conducted parish missions throughout the region. They were successful, and their reputation spread, bringing requests for them outside the region. Eugene realized the need for formal organization, and on 17 February 1826 he received approval from Pope Leo XII to found a new congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate founded on his core of missionaries.
Though he would have preferred to remain a missionary, Eugene knew that position with the Church hierarchy would allow him to insure the success of his little congregation. He was appointed Vicar-General of Marseille in 1823. Titular bishop of Icosia on 14 October 1832. Co-adjutor in 1834. Bishop of Marseilles, France on 24 December 1837, ordained by Pope Gregory XVI.
He founded 23 parishes, built or retored 50 churches, cared for aged and persecuted priests, restored ecclesiastical discipline, and developed catechetics for young people. Started work on the cathedral and shrine of Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille. Welcomed 33 congregations of religious brothers and sisters into the diocese. More than doubled the number of priests in his diocese, and celebrated all ordinations himself.
Eugene realigned parishes and maneuvered behind the scenes to weaken the government monopoly on education. He was an outspoken supporter of the papacy, and fought government intervention into Church matters. Publicly endorsed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and worked for its promulgation. His printed writings run to 25 volumes. Made a peer of the French Empire. Archbishop of Marseille in 1851 by Pope Blessed Pius IX. Helped Saint Emily de Vialar re-build the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition after their move to Marseille. Named senator and member of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon III in 1856. Proposed as cardinal in 1859.
On 2 December 1841, Bishop de Mazenod’s first overseas missionaries arrived in Canada. By the time of his death in 1861, there were six Oblate bishops and over 400 missionaries working in ten countries. The Oblates continue their good work to this day with some 5,000 missionaries in 68 countries.
Quotes of St.Eugene Mazenod
I am a priest, a priest of Jesus Christ. That says it all. – Saint Eugene
The Oblates [of Mary Immaculate] are the specialists of difficult missions. – Pope Pius XI
Go to Marseilles. There is a bishop there whose Congregation is still small, but the man himself has a heart as big as Saint Paul’s, as big as the world. – contemporary bishop speaking of Bishop de Mazenod
Their ambition will be to encompass in their holy desires the immense breadth of the entire world. – Saint Eugene, speaking of his missionaries; at the time, there were ten of them
To love the Church is to love Jesus Christ, and vice versa. – Saint Eugene
We glorify God in the masterpiece of his power and love…it is the Son whom we honour in the person of his Mother. – Saint Eugene
Leave nothing undared for the Kingdom of God. – Saint Eugene
Learn who you are in the eyes of God. – Saint Eugene
Practice amongst yourselves charity, charity, charity…and zeal for the salvation of souls. – Saint Eugene to Oblate members as he lay dying
I find my happiness in pastoral work. It is for this that I am a bishop, and not to write books, still less to pay court to the great, or to waste my time among the rich. It is true…that this is not the way to become a cardinal, but if one could become a saint, would it not be better still? – Saint Eugene
If priests could be formed, afire with zeal for men’s salvation, solidly grounded in virtue – in a word, apostolic men deeply conscious of the need to reform themselves, who would labor with all the resources at their command to convert others – then there would be ample reason to believe that in a short while people who had gone astray might be brought back to the long neglected duties of religion. We pledge ourselves to all the works of zeal that priestly charity can inspire… We must spare no effort to extend the Savior’s Empire and destroy the dominion of hell. – Saint Eugene
Every religious congregation in the Church has a spirit all its own; it is inspired by the Spirit of God to respond to the needs of the Church to work for the salvation of souls. By our particular vocation we are involved with the redemption of humanity… May we, by the sacrifice of our whole being, so cooperate as not to render His redemption fruitless for ourselves and for those we are called upon to evangelize. – Saint Eugene
Servants! Farmhands! Peasants! Poor! Come and learn who you are in the eyes of God. You poor of Jesus Christ, you afflicted, unfortunate suffering, infirm, diseased: all you who are burdened with misery, listen to me! You are the children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, co-heirs of His eternal kingdom, His cherished inheritance. Lift up your minds: you are the children of God. Look through the tatters that cover you. There is an immortal soul within you made to the image of God, a soul redeemed at the price of the very blood of Jesus, more precious in the eyes of God than all the riches and all the kingdoms of this earth. Know your dignity – you even share the Divine Nature – Children of God, Children of the Most High! – Saint Eugene
How should men who want to follow in the footsteps of their divine Master Jesus Christ conduct themselves if they are to win back the many souls who have thrown off his yoke? They must strive to be saints. They must walk courageously along the same paths trodden by so many before them who handed on splendid examples of virtue they must wholly renounce themselves, striving solely for the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the growth and salvation of souls. The Oblates are a Missionary Congregation. They are men set apart for the Gospel, men ready to leave everything to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Their principal service in the Church is to proclaim Christ and his kingdom to the most abandoned. They preach the Gospel among people who have not yet received it. Where the Church is already established, their commitment is to those groups it touches least. The mission of the Oblate is especially to those people whose condition cries out for salvation and for the hope which only Jesus Christ can fully bring. These are the poor with their many faces – they have our preference because of their need Our mission is to proclaim the kingdom of God and seek it before all else. We fulfill this mission in community; and our communities are a sign that in Jesus, God is everything for us. Together we await Christ’s coming in the fullness of his justice so that God may be all in all. The cross of Jesus Christ is central to our mission. Like the apostle Paul, we “preach Christ and him crucified.” If we bear in our body the death of Jesus, it is with the hope that the life of Jesus, too, may be seen in our body. Through the eyes of our crucified Savior, we see the world which he redeemed with his blood, desiring that those in whom he continues to suffer will know also the power of his resurrection. Growing in faith, hope and love, we commit ourselves to be a leaven of the Beatitudes at the heart of the world. Our mission requires that, in a radical way, we follow Jesus who was chaste and poor, and who redeemed mankind by his obedience. That is why, through a gift of the Father, we choose the way of the evangelical counsels. – extracts from the Rule of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate