The Aa (Assembly of Associates or Association of Friends) was founded en 1632 at the Jesuit College of La Flèche. It was a secret association operating within the public Marian association at the college. The Aa had set as its goal to create a group of members who would work secretly and zealously to advance the goals of the Marian association, that is, the promotion of prayer life and charity.
After the French Revolution, Fathers Emery and Duclaux encouraged the seminarians of Saint-Sulpice to join a Marian association linked to the Marian association of the Jesuit colleges. Eugene became a member of this association October 30, 1808. The association was subsequently established within the seminary in 1801 and always had about ten of the seminarians as members, members carefully selected from the members of the larger association. The main end of the Aa was to raise up in the seminary a group of church men with a strong prayer life, individuals who kept the rules perfectly and who, by their example, their advice and their prayers, would foster the maintaining of a great fervor in the community. They held their meeting every two weeks.
In December of 1810, Eugene was invited to join the Aa along with Abbé Szadurski at a time when one could have feared a certain falling off in discipline after Napoleon had ordered Father Emery to leave the house along with the entire staff. The latter obtained one year’s grace and remained at the seminary until October of 1811. According to the minutes of the meeting of January 22, 1811. Eugene intervened and pointed out to the members that the zeal among the members was insufficient to maintain fervour, that they were quite comfortable to censure abuses without taking the appropriate measures to correct them. From October 1811 on when the Sulpicians left, he took in hand the Aa of which he became the secretary. In the meeting of October 21 which he chaired, the members took the resolution to redouble their zeal and fervour. As a result, notes Canon Leflon, they even committed themselves to adopt a “system of observation, of reporting, of checking, an effort that was, no doubt, very well intentioned, but required delicate handling to do it with tact and restraint.” Eugene did not attend the meetings of December 11 and 18 in 1811 because he left for Amiens where he was to be ordained to the priesthood. Upon his return, he had to withdraw from the Aa because he was appointed a director at the seminary. Nevertheless, he maintained contact with them in order to maintain in the seminary the traditions of the Sulpicians.
In Aix, in 1813, he established an association similar to the one at the major seminary. According to a May 12, 1813 letter to Abbé Forbin-Janson, the Aa he established in Aix was not a secret organization. It produced good results with regard to regular observance and the fervour of the seminarians.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
ROUQUETTE, Robert, “Congrégations secrètes,” in Dictionnaire de spiritualité, vol. II, Paris, 1953, col. 1491-1507. LEFLON, Jean, Eugène de Mazenod, vol. I (1782-1814), Paris, 1957, p. 354-367, 431-433.