St. Eugene de Mazenod - Bishop of Marseille, founder of the Congregation
of the Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Feast day: May 21
Patron Saint: dysfunctional families
Charles Joseph Eugene de Mazenod’s childhood taught him that money cannot solve all problems. Although his family was wealthy, they were forced to flee France during the French Revolution, leaving all of their possessions behind. It was 1790, and Charles was just 8 years old. His father had been a politician but was forced to become a tradesman in Italy, where they had sought refuge, and the family was very poor. They moved from city to city, making it difficult for Charles to have a good education, other than what was provided by one priest in Venice.
Charles spent the rest of his childhood in Italy, returning to France when he was 20. His parents had separated, and his mother was determined to regain the family’s lost wealth. She wanted her son to marry a rich girl whose family could help them.
The education Charles had received in Venice had included religious instruction, and the young man began to look at France in a new way. The Catholic Church in his native country had suffered a great deal during the Revolution. He was concerned by this. Although his mother was upset, Charles decided to become a priest in order to help the Church in France rebuild and to help his fellow French citizens. In 1811 he was ordained a priest in Paris.
Rather than work in a parish, Father de Mazenod wanted to work with people he thought needed spiritual care more: prisoners, young people, servants. He preached and taught, moving from town to town. Other priests with a similar sense of mission joined him. Finally, Father de Mazenod went to the Pope to ask if he could form a congregation of priests who would work as missionaries to the people of France. In 1826, Pope Leo XII approved the formation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The young priest’s uncle was bishop of the Diocese of Marseilles, and Father de Mazenod helped his uncle rebuild the diocese after the damage of the Revolution. In 1832, he was named auxiliary bishop to be of greater help, and five years later he was appointed Bishop of Marseilles. As bishop there he improved seminary training and encouraged priests to live truly holy lives.
Although he had founded the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to help the French, Bishop de Mazenod’s strong faith and love of the Church helped give the order a very positive image, and they were invited to preach in Switzerland, England, and Ireland. Eventually some went to work as missionaries in North America and the Far East and Africa. People said Bishop de Mazenod was like Saint Paul, preaching the Gospel to the world. Today, the Oblates serve as missionaries in 67 countries.
On May 21, 1861, Eugene de Mazenod died at the age of 79. The Church declared him a saint on Dec. 3, 1995. He is considered a patron saint for families in difficulty.