|Eugene de Mazenod andYoung People |
by Bernard DullierO.M.I.
|I- Eugene de Mazenod the young priest and young people|
|II. YoungPeople in our founding texts|
|No. 247- July 2002|
by Bernard DullierO.M.I.
Before examining how SaintEugene de Mazenod related to young peopleit doesn't seem out of placeto remind ourselves that he himself was once a young person. By thisI mean that he was once a teenagerthen a young manwho shared thelife of the young people of his timewith his joys and his sorrowshis dreams and his disappointments.
He shared what so manyof today’s youngsters experience as they see their family breakup when the father and the mother are divorced. He was torn by the tug-of-warbetween parents whom he loved and admired but who did not love eachother anymore.
In Palermohe sharedthe fate of so many youngsters who let themselves be attracted by theglitter of their surroundings. He experienced the desire to be noticedand gave himself the title of Countto which he hardly had a right.He liked being admired by high society.
Back in Aixhe shared the self-satisfactionof so many youngsters who are aware of their own good looks and liketo be seen in public places. Butas so many young people dohe feltthat his own people no longer understood him and he felt the stiflingatmosphere of a family who wanted to make all his decisions for him.
Like so many young peoplehe did not have a clear view of the future because he realized therewas a gap between his education and the needs of the new world thenbeing born.
He experienced repeatedfailures as many young people do: a prospective marriage abortedanunsuccessful government career….
Like many youngsters ofhis day he also distanced himself from the faith of his childhood.
Indeed it is Eugene deMazenod’s own youth which helps us to understand howsome yearslaterhe could be so attentive to young people and be so able to understandthem and to speak to their heart.
He washoweverluckyto have found educators who were there at the crucial moments to helphim take the turns that would make him a mature adult. Among thesepride of place must go to his worthy uncle Fortuné. We must alsomention Don Bartollo Zinelliin Venice. Nor must we forget Fr. Magyin Marseillesin 1807 and 1808and a little later at Saint SulpiceMessrs Emery and Duclaux.
Eugene de Mazenod knewhow much he owed to them. He knew that they had a big part in his growthand personal development. They taught him that the young need to findsuch adults on their paths in order to grow up.
Ordained a priest at Christmas1811Eugene de Mazenod did not return to Aix until October 1812 becausehe had to temporarily assume the role of superior at the Saint-Sulpiceseminarytaking the place of the Sulpicians who had been expelled byNapoleon I. Back in Aixhe refused all ecclesiastical responsibilityeven that of parish priestin order to be able to devote himself toanother way of serving the Church.
Although the Oblates areconstantly amazed by the stupendous timeliness of the sermon given inProvencal at the Madeleine at the beginning of Lent in 1813and addressedto the servantsthe craftsmenthe farm workersand the despised peopleof the city of Aixwe often forget that this was not the first timeour Founder caused a fuss. Indeed it was the third.
First of allthere was the episode ofGermainethe woman condemned to death for a horrible crimeand whomhe accompanied to the scaffoldin contrast to all the Jansenist practicesof the time.
Thenbeginning in February1813Fr. de Mazenod decided to devote his efforts to helping the youngpeople who roamed the streets of Aixleft mainly to their own devices.
Laterwhen recallinghis early ministrythese are the only two things he chooses to remember:
By closely examining thetextswe even discover that from 1813 to 1817 his work with youth tookup most of his time and constitutedin his eyeshis first and mostimportant mission.
It was in February 1813that he began to assemble some youngsters at the small family propertyon the outskirts of Aix called the Enclos. With 7 young peoplehe officiallyfounded the ‘The Congregation of Aix Youth’ on April 25 ofthe same year. By the end of the year there were about 60120 in 1815more than 200 in 1816 and 322 by the end of 1817.
Although in the beginninghe sought especially to gather young teenagers (those in the first groupwere between the ages of 12 and 16)he soon extended his work to includeolder ones andin May 1815he began a section for boys over 18.
All social classes wererepresented. Among the first seven boyswe find a certain Mafféde Forestaa difficult child and the son of the first president ofthe Court of AppealsGinouxa youngster from a poor family of craftsmenwho lived in an attic in the Saint Sauveur districtand a Paul Laurentan illegitimate son who was constantly beaten by his adoptive mother.
In contrast with whatthe historian M. Sevrin insinuates when he states that:
these young people werefrom all classes of society. In December 1837there were 23 sons ofnoble families37 from a bourgeoisie milieuabout 80 sons of craftsmenand about a hundred youngsters from the poorest surroundings and indigentfamilies. The Marquess of Arlatan even notes contemptuously:
It was a very demandingwork. In factEugene de Mazenod brought the boys together for two fulldays every weekThursday and Sunday. Sometimeshe added even Saturday.He spent all day with them from 7 o’clock in the morning untilduskmixing catechesisprayers and also many moments of relaxation.Here is the program of a typical Sunday:
Eugene de Mazenod oftenprepared some of these youngsters for First Communion or for Confirmation.It meant extra days of retreat as well as a rigorous preparation ofthe ceremonies.
Finallythe Founder wasanxious to keep in touch with the families and he met them as oftenas possible.
We can say therefore thatduring the first years of his ministryyoung people are at the heartof Abbé de Mazenod’s apostolate. Until the beginning of1818the major part of his missionary activity was directed to them.It was then that he asked some of the Missionaries of Provence to helphim and to take on a part of the activities of the Youth Congregationso that he could have a little free time.
It doesn't seem necessaryto dwell on the different activities that were made available to theyoung people. The 19th century is not the 21st and the timeshaving changedmethods must also be different. On the other handIthink it is interesting to look at the reasons for founding this YouthCongregation. Eugene de Mazenod explains them in the Preamble of theStatutes.
He starts with an observation:for some of the young people life has lost its meaning:
Faced with this a stateof affairsit is necessary to act:
Serving young people hasbecome his main concern:
And thisno matter whatthe consequences might be:
The growth of the worksoon became a problem for the Abbé de Mazenod: how to providea place for the association. In the beginningthe Enclos was sufficient.But soonthis locale proved to be too small.
On October 91814itmoved into a corner of the biggest residence in Aixthe Valbelle deMeyrargues mansionon the main avenue:
But in spite of the mansion’svast outbuildingsthe young people soon become a nuisance and theywere asked to go elsewhere for their meetings :
The Visitation Sistersoffered a locale. Soonhoweverthere were a number of inconveniences:
They had to clear outagain. The Abbé de Mazenodhaving acquired a part of the formerCarmelite convent for the Society of Missionaries that he was planningto foundthe young people settled in there. From November 1815 theywere the first occupants. In the Founder's mindit was clear that nowthe moving was finished:
Not only were the youngstersthe first occupants but they were the first to restore the buildingat their own expense:
On November 21st "thechoir that must serve as chapel for the Congregation" was blessedby the Rev. Beylotone of the Capitular Vicars General.
Without wishing to dwellon the pedagogical methods that were those of another eraI wish tonote some points that seem to be the main guidelines of this youth workmany of which appear to be still quite applicable today:
To conclude this firstpart I will make two remarks.
The first is that up tothis point it was only a question boys. We should not be surprised.At the timeit was not conceivable to have mixed groups. But we willsee that in Marseille the Founder developed works for both boys andgirls.
The second point is tonote that 36 of these young men entered the Missionaries of Provenceand that 17 remainedamong whom were MarcouHonoratCourtèsand Guibert.
|1 The Letter to the CapitularVicars January 251816|
We saw howbetween 1813and 1815 Eugene de Mazenod devoted himself to the youth of Aix. Alsowhen he decided to bring together some priests to evangelize the Provencalcountrysidehe could not forget the youngespecially since they invadedthe premises of the Missionaries of Provence for two days every week.It is therefore not astonishingeven though the Oblates tend to overlookit somewhat todaythat these youngsters figure prominently in the letterthat the Abbés De MazenodTempierMyeIcardDeblieu and Maunieraddressed to the Capitular Vicars of Aix to ask for recognition of theMissionaries of Provence.
Thusafter a long listof what the Missionaries should do for their personal sanctificationwhen they are within the communitytwo missionary activities are foreseenoutside of the house: preaching and the care of youth. We can say thereforeas is evident from this textthat the mission to young people is aconstituent part of the mission of our first Fathers.
2 The Saint Laurent du VerdonRule September 1818
When a second house –Notre Dame du Laus in the Diocese of Digne – was offered to theMissionaries of ProvenceEugene de Mazenod retired with deacon Moreauand the acolyte Suzanne to the family property at Saint Laurent du Verdonto draw up the basis of a new text: Rules in true and due fromthatwould promote the group from the status of a society of priests to thatof a religious congregation.
It was on the basis ofthis textapproved thanks to the votes of the ‘novices’ SuzanneDupuy and Courtèsthat the Missionaries of Provence pronouncedtheir vows of religion on November 1st1818.
It is therefore easy tounderstand the importance of this text that was to determine the orientationof all of the group’s future activity. With the Youth Congregationin full expansionnow that it had more than 300 membersand with Frs.Moreau and Tempier joining Fr. de Mazenod to look after themit isnot surprising to find the following text in Chapter Three :
Notice the importancethat this youth work receives : it is an essential duty of the Missionariesof Provence which the Superior General himself must fulfill. The textagain underlines the importance of this mission when it says:
Finallywhile the Missionariesstill had only one community – the newly acquired house at Lausnot yet being occupied – the Rule of Saint Laurentforeseeingthe foundations to comespecifies :
It is quite plain thatat the very beginning of our religious familywork with the youth isdeemed a constituent part of the mission. It is as important as thenovitiate. Every community must be engaged in itand none are dispensed.The Superior General must put a lot of effort into it himself personally.It is not one mission among othersnor is it a more or less optionalengagement that depends on the places and the charisma of the Missionaries.
|3 The Rule approved by the Popeon February 171826|
At the time of its approvalby Leo XIIthe Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculatehad ten years of lifemission and experience. It had four communities(AixNotre Dame du LausMarseille and Nîmes) where it couldverify how the different points of the Rule of 1818 'functioned'.
Having taken all thatinto accountthe Rule of 1818 was modified for the official text tobe presented to Rome. Some pointsconsidered unrealistic or impossibleto livewere abandoned whereas others were modified or made clearer.
As regards young peoplethe whole article is maintained and is left in its place. Thereforein the text approved by the Church and therefore in the definitive approvalgiven to the mission of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate“youthwork is an essential duty of the institute.”
Everything that was saidin the text of 1818 is repeated in the text of 1826. Only two detailsthat are not without interestare added :
The Constitutions approvedby Rome insist on the very human character of the relations that mustexist in the ministry to youth. They must be considered in the totalityof their life andas far as possiblethe family maintains an importanteducational role.
|4 The later texts|
The article on Youth wasto be maintained without changethroughout all the reforms of our Constitutionsuntil it was removed in the text of 1966. The 1982 text reintroduceda presence among youth in article 53but solely under the vocationalaspect. I find that very restrictive and even quite contrary to themind of the Founder.
That developmenthoweveris only the outcome of a long evolution that began with the Founder'sdeath. Indeedsince 1862the mission to youth seems to have becomeless and less an important concern for the Oblates. It had reached thepoint where the 16th General Chapterin May 1898recalledin vigorous terms the words of our Constitutions:
The Superior General ofthe timeFr. Cassien Augierrepeated the Chapter’s insistencein a circular letter to the whole Congregation. He asked that the YouthWorks be relaunched. He finishes thus:
Butdespite a short revivalconcern for the mission to youth as a constituent element of the Congregationfell again into oblivion. Certainlythere will always be some Oblatesinvolved with young people. There will certainly always be some Oblatecolleges. Butafter the Chapter of 1898no official text of our Congregationwas ever to come back to this insistence of our founding texts.
Is it not time to rediscoverfollowing Saint Eugene and our first fathersthat the mission to youthconstitutes part of our existence and our mission?
As Superior GeneralEugenede Mazenodnever questioned his experience as a young priest in thestreets of Aix. Working with the youth always seemed extremely importantto him.
When he left Aix for Marseillein 1823he insisted that the Oblates who remained at the Foundationhouse continue this work. He often asked Fr. Courtès about whatwas happening and he wanted more missions for young people.
He hardly had to insistat the Calvaire because there were people there like Suzanne and Albiniwho felt attracted spontaneously to youth ministry.
Laterhe often returnedto the question in Bordeaux with Fr. Dassy who seems to have been somewhatreluctant to get involved in this type of ministry.
The same is true in theforeign missions. For examplehe was delighted that Fr. Duffo in Ceylonwas becoming involved in working with young people:
His impatience boils overwhen this mission to the youth doesn't go fast enough or far enough.
He helps Oblates whoof their own initiativewant to begin activities for young people.The best known example is that of Fr. Dassy whom he supports despitemany obstacles when he creates an institute for blind children. De Mazenodaccepts the fact that Dassy will have to leave community life to developthat work. He doesn't hesitate to write to the Empress personally toask her for funds for the first house of which he insists himself onlaying the first stone on May 11859.
We may say the same thingfor Fr. Guigues in Canada. It is because of the mission to the youththat the Founder allows him to open a college in Bytowneven thoughhe believes that the Oblates are not made to run colleges.
The same is true for BishopAllard in South Africain writing to whom he insists:
Our first communitieswere be no means like austere convents closed in upon themselves. Ratherthey often seemed more like buzzing hives swarming with young people.
By a stroke of luck Idiscovered a sheaf of leafletsdated 1848 and 1849that describe thedifferent activities for youth at the house in Aix. The list is quiteimpressive.
First of all there isthe “catechism of perseverance.” The register of the conferencesof Saint Vincent de Paul shows that it was begun in the city of Aixat the initiative of the “Mission Fathers.” The five priestsof the parishwhile approvingrefused “for lack of time”to get involvedand “said they didn’t have any parishfacilities to put at the disposal of these children.”
The meticulous lists showthat there were 132 childrenaged 11 to 15who met every Thursdayall dayin the premises on the main avenueunder the direction oftwo or three Oblates.
Then there was the societyfor destitute children. The title probably sounds bad to us todaybutit was nonetheless an admirable worksince it provided help for theschooling of underprivileged children. There were 21 of them.
There was also the formerYouth Congregation that had changed name and was now known as the youthclub. The principle of its existencehoweverremained the same. Ithad 117 children from 12 to 16 years of agesupervised by 23 “veterans”older than 16. Entrusted to the superior of the housethey met allday Sunday and sometimes also on the vigils of big feasts.
The group of “LittleSavoyards” dates from the Founder's time. Its mission was to watchover the children whoseeking escape from povertydescended upon thecity in winter to earn money by sweeping chimneys. They were left completelyto themselvesnot knowing where to lodge nor where to eat. Also inconnection with the Saint Vincent de Paul Societythe Oblates tookcharge of these youngstersproviding for their bodily and spiritualneeds and seeing to it that they got some kind of education. In 1848there were elevenaged 11 to 17.
In 1847an Oblate (Ididn't succeed in finding out who) opened a night school for young workersin the house at Aix. In 1848there were 32 persons registered who camemore or less regularly. The youngest was 15 years old and the oldest29.
In the same wayand seeminglyat the Founder's own requestthe Oblatesassisted as usual by theSociety of Saint Vincent de Paulopened their house to the young soldiersof the Aix garrison and created a sort of “club” where theycould relaxreceive catechism instruction and get ready for First Communionand Confirmation. There were four sections with 7 to 11 members in each.Two of the sections were for those who could not read.
Let's conclude by recallingthatthe Aix house continued in this periodas it did when the Founderlived thereto accommodate some young studentsmainly law studentsand we have a more or less complete picture of the young people whounder various titles frequented the Foundation house in those years.Let us also note that the Oblates were helped a lot by lay people inthese activitiesin particular by the very dynamic Conference of SaintVincent de Paul which also has its offices at number 60 on the Cours.
What was true for Aixwas also true for the Calvaire. A register shows that the works weremore or less the samebesides two missions for young immigrants: youngItalians (the fruit of Fr. Albini’s work) and young Germans. Wealso find traces of a group of youngsters just out of reformatorieswho met at the Calvaire under the direction of Fr. Mye.
This picture is of courseimpressive. As for myselfwithout these leaflets written by an Oblateor more likely by a 'colleague' of the Saint Vincent de Paul SocietyI would never have suspected that the Aix house could have receivedso many youngsters. Neither would I have thought that youth ministryconsidered so important by the Founderhad been taken so seriouslyin Aix and in Marseille.
This youth work was partof a whole. It did not exclude other forms of apostolate butas youngpeople are a constituent part of civil societythe mission to themwas seen as a constituent part of the mission to all the people to whomthe Missionaries were sent.
An in depth study of Bishopde Mazenod’s attitude vis-à-vis youth is beyond the scopeof the look that weas Oblateswant to take at the Founder's mission.
Howevera man's lifecannot be cut into pieces and we cannot understand the relationshipof Eugene de Mazenod to youth after 1837 without looking at his attitudeas a bishop.
It is first of all throughcatechesis that Bishop de Mazenod was to show his concern for youngpeople. Already from 1837during his visits for Confirmation he notes:
He sees that it is importantto speak a language that they understand:
So that the instructionthey received might not be abstracthe decided to impose a new catechismin his diocese because:
Bishop de Mazenod feltthat it was not possible for young people to manage if they were notinstructededucatednor had a trade.
That is why he broughtMother Barat’s Ladies of the Sacred Heart to his diocese to teachthe daughters of the bourgeoisie and the Sisters of the Holy Familyfor those of the more modest social classes.
To educate the boys ofthe bourgeois classhe asked the Brothers of Christian Schools to opena second establishment and he opened two colleges run by the Doctrinaires.
For the boys of the moreunderprivileged classeshe invited the Marist Brothers. During hisepiscopate they opened 19 schools in the poorest parishes of the cityand in the suburbsand all of these schools were free.
As he did not succeedin finding Congregations of women that would accept to do for the girlswhat the Marist Brothers were doing for the boyshe asked the parishpriests to find some better educated women whofor nothingwould acceptto open some small schools. In the documents at my disposalI havefound seven of these schools so far.
Bishop de Mazenod establishednumerous religious foundations to teach a trade to the boys and alsoto the girlsin the hope that by this meansit would be possible tocounteract the curse of unemployment (called idleness then) and prostitution.After the disasters caused by the epidemicshe started some new religiousfamilies such as the ‘Cholera sisters’ to care for the orphansbetween the ages of 15 and 18 and to teach them needleworkand nursingto the more gifted ones.
|3 Youth Works|
Bishop de Mazenod wasnot content with beginning Oblate works or encouraging them. As bishopof the diocesehe created a great number of works for young peopleand he encouraged those that fostered priestly vocations for his diocese.
His efforts were aimedat all the social classes. He asked the Jesuitswhom he had calledin 1839not to be content with their groups of adultsbut also toencourage groups of young men from the upper level of society. He supportedthe work begun by the Abbé Allemand for the young people of themiddle classes. He even pushed a reluctant Timon Davidfinancing fromhis own pocket his various innovations in favour of the working class.In spite of the opposition of the majority of the parish clergyhebacked Abbé Ricard whofrom his parish of Notre Dame du Monttook an interest in young people without work.
If any category of youngstersseemed neglectedhe did not hesitate to try something new. Thus whenhe discovered that no one was taking care of the young delinquents andthose just out of jailhe founded a religious community: the Brothersof Saint Peter in Chains.
|4 Being close toyouth|
Bishop de Mazenod insistedon being close to all these works. He was not content with beginningor supporting them. He felt it was important to meet these youngstersto get to know them and to be interested in what they were doing.
The 'Codex' of the Ladiesof the Sacred Heartwhich fortunately has been preservedtells usabout the community’s surprise when Bishop de Mazenodwho hadcome for the Confirmation of the 'big' girlsstayed with them all afternoonparticipating in their games and even enjoying singing with them.
Canon Cayrewho accompaniedhis bishop on a visit to some young delinquentswas likewise surprisedto see him spend the whole day with themremaining so late that
When Fr. Dassy’sSisters of Mary Immaculate saw the bishop arrive hand in hand with ayoung blind personwhile another leaned on his other armthey werespeechless.
On another occasionhe ‘lost’a whole afternoon of his precious episcopal time having fun with theolder youngsters of the minor seminary:
Another timewhen onpastoral visit in Château-Gomberthe was invited by the youngstersto join them for a day of pilgrimage and relaxation. He accepted andgot into the cart carrying their provisions :
On getting back to Marseillethe day after this unforeseen day of relaxation with the young peoplehe noted resignedly:
These examplesgleanedsomewhat at randomare perfectly in line with what Eugene de Mazenodhad discovered in Aix and with what he wanted his religious family toexperience. They allow us to see the extent of Bishop Mazenod’sconcern for young people. He made it one of the priorities of his episcopate.He did everything he could for their human and Christian educationfor their material and spiritual growth. Note also thatwithout overlookingthe youngsters of the more privileged classesit was upon the mostabandoned that he expended all his energy.
In conclusionI willattempt to draw the broad lines of what history teaches us about SaintEugene’s attitude towards young people.
Eugene de Mazenod saw the world as Christsaw it. That is why his heart went out to this world and more especiallyto young peopleeven though he did not always understand themandeven though they often surprised him.
Though the ‘good’social class of Aix or Marseilles might be shockedhe sided with theyoung people who were often deridedrejectedjudged and frequentlyabandoned.
We have a magnificentexample provided by an event which took place during the mission atTheys in the Isère region in February 1837. Some youngsters raiseda merry “challenging hullabaloo” right in the middle of themission and threatened to do so again on Ash Wednesday. Fr. Guiguesdecided to refuse them absolution if they presented themselves for confession.The Founder forbade him to do so:
|2 Being close|
Both as a young priestwith his Youth Congregation and as bishop with the different movementsthat he institutedEugene de Mazenod was not content with preachingcelebrating the sacraments or leading meetings. It was the whole lifeof these young people that interested him. He knew them by name. Hewanted to know what they were doing. He was interested in their joysand their sorrows. He was always there in good times and in bad. Hewas there at the different turning points of their adult lifetheirmarriagesthe birth of their children.
Every time I go to theOblates’ vault in the cemetery in AixI make a detouralong alley6to the tomb of the young Alphonse Saboulinone of the first membersof the Youth Congregationwho died March 231818at the age of 21.ThereI think about the Founder’s continued presence to so manyyoungsters whom he supported in illness and accompanied until the hourof their death.
The Diary of the YouthCongregation as well as the numerous letters received by the Foundershow us how much he loved these young people. He loved them becausetheir paths crossed one day. He loved them because he was touched bywhat they are livingby their material or spiritual poverty.
Fr Yvon Beaudoin saysthat the astonishing success of Eugene de Mazenod with the young isdue essentially to his capacity to love them and to be loved by them:
We all know of the March-April1814 episodewhen the Founderat death's doorwas convinced thathe owed his recovery to the intense prayer of the youngsters. He lethis feelings flow:
Eugene de Mazenod oftenappears to us as authoritarian and it is to a great extent probablytrue. Butit is nonetheless true that he always trusted the young people.
We have seen that he knewhow to delegate in his youth work. When he was absenthe asked theolder ones to replace him and this delegation of responsibility wasfor him a very formative schooling on which he insisted.
We cannot forget eitherhow much he trusted the young Oblates in the history of our Congregation.
It was by giving the rightto vote to three young Oblates (DupuySuzanne and Courtès) thathe succeeded in transforming a society of priests into a religious familyin October 1818.
A little laterhe allowedthe young Suzanne who was not yet a deacon to take on a certain numberof responsibilities in the parochial missions and even to give someinstructions.
Fr. Guibert was only 26years old when he became superior and Fr. Courtès just 27. Fr.Telmon was 33 years old when he set out on his adventure in Texas andBlessed Joseph Gérard was a recently ordained a deacon when hearrived in South Africa.
In spite of everythingthat has just been saidEugene de Mazenod did not seek popularity.It is true that he liked to be liked by these young people but he didnot forget the demands of being an educator.
Reading the Diary of theYouth Congregation of Aix we see how much he insisted on the young peoplebeing faithful to the commitments they had made. He knew how to callthem to orderto express his disagreementand finallyif it becamenecessaryto expelthat is to say to note the incompatibility of theeducational purpose of the association and the attitudes of the youngsters.
Eugene de Mazenod wasconcerned for the growth of the young people whom he met and all growthhas its own requirements: personal growthgrowth in the life of thegroupgrowth in the social and professional lifegrowth finally inthe spiritual life.
We are well acquaintedwith the directive he gave to the Missionaries of Provence concerningthe people whom they would encounter. It is undoubtedly this directivethat can best characterize his apostolate among young people.
Conference given atthe meeting on Mission and Youth organized