Our Patron Saint
St. Eugene de Mazenod, O.M.I.
A recently canonized saint might one day be known as the patron of families in crisis.
Father Eugene de Mazenod, O.M.I., the 19th century founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was added to the Church's long list of holy men and women in 1995 at a December 3rd ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II. Among countless stories from the lives of the saints, St. Eugene's is unique in that his parents were divorced.
Born on August 1, 1782, in southern France, during a time in history when divorce was rare, Eugene de Mazenod had far from an ideal family life.
His mother, Marie-Rose Joannis, was of the bourgeois, or middle class, convent educated and wealthy. Charles-Antoine, his father, was an aristocrat, educated in the classics and poor. An even more serious factor in the marriage was the constant outside interference from Marie-Rose's jealous mother and neurotic sister. When she was wed to Charles-Antoine, Marie-Rose's family stipulated that the dowry given by them remain in her name.
In 1791, when Eugene was 8 years old, the de Mazenod family was forced into political exile for four years. In 1795, leaving her husband and son behind in Venice - one of their many, temporary homes - Marie-Rose returned to France with Eugene's sister. Once back home, she divorced Eugene's father. That put her in a position to repossess their property. She took back her maiden name and, aided by her mother's shrewdness, Rose-Marie successfully recovered her dowry. She later wrote to her ex-husband: "You now have nothing."
At age 13, Eugene was the son of parents whose marriage of convenience ended over the question of money. Precisely how this turn of events impacted him lies buried in time and history. Whatever emotional turmoil the young boy felt, however, he overcame. With God's healing help, Eugene was freed to use his gifts and talents to benefit others.
Eugene developed a passionate love for God, much of which was centered on Jesus the Crucified. He regarded the cross of Jesus as a sign of hope for all people. Eugene deepened his love for the Savior by spending time daily praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. His profound and tender respect for the Virgin Mary is evidenced by the name of his religious community: Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Eugene de Mazenod was ordained a diocesan priest in 1811. Five years later, he called together his first group of missionaries. Today, his religious congregation of priests, brothers and bishops numbers nearly 5,000 members in more than 50 nations. The Oblates in the United States number close to 600.
The fact that Oblates - who were approved as a religious congregation in 1826 - are often described as men Religious "close to the people" they serve may stem from Father de Mazenod's early years of priesthood. Though born into French high society, he stepped out of his status and began early Sunday morning instructions for neglected blue-collar workers and street people of his hometown Aix-en-Provence.
Father de Mazenod taught them the love and compassion of God, but did it in unpolished French. To the horror of his class-conscious relatives and friends, the young priest spoke patois, the language of the commoners. It was a way to be "close to the people."
De Mazenod died as Archbishop of Marseilles, France, on May 21, 1861. His tomb is located in a chapel of that city's cathedral. When he died, St. Eugene's heart was removed from his body and preserved - a custom not uncommon in the 19th century. As a movement began over time to promote him for recognition as a saint, a portion of the preserved heart was placed in a reliquary and brought to the United States in 1964. Last year, on December 8 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception), the re-gilded reliquary was enshrined in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Oblate-owned Lourdes Grotto of the Southwest in San Antonio, Texas.