Eugene de Mazenod was a member of the French nobility. His mother, Marie-Rose, was convent educated and wealthy. Charles-Antoine, his father, was an aristocrat, educated in the classics but poor. A serious factor in the marriage was the constant interference from Marie-Rose’s jealous mother and neurotic sister. When she wed Charles-Antoine, Marie-Rose’s family stipulated that the dowry given by them remain in her name.
In 1791, during the French Revolution, the de Mazenod family was forced into exile in Italy to avoid the guillotine. In 1795, leaving her husband and son behind in Venice, Marie-Rose returned to France with Eugene’s sister. Once back home, she divorced Eugene’s father, took back her maiden name and aided by her mother’s shrewdness, successfully recovered her dowry. She later wrote to her ex-husband saying “You now have nothing.”
After eleven years in exile, Eugene returned to Aix at his mother’s request, where he struggled to reunite his family. He also endeavoured to regain the family’s holdings which had been lost during the revolution.
In 1808 Eugene entered the seminary in Paris, worked diligently with the poor, and eventually became Bishop of Marseilles, France, in 1837 and his influence extended not only locally but throughout the world. Before his death, the order of priests he founded, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, (over 400 men) had spread to ten countries throughout the world.
De Mazenod died as Archbishop of Marseilles on 21st May 1861 and his tomb is located in the chapel of that city’s cathedral. When he died his heart was removed and preserved – a custom not uncommon in the 19th Century. A portion of the preserved heart was placed in a reliquary and taken to the United States in 1964. The re-gilded reliquary was then enshrined in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Oblate-owned “Lourdes Grotto of the Southwest” in San Antonio, Texas. He was canonized in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.
St. Eugene, pray for us!