The diocese of Marseilles was erected in the first centuries of Christianity. Suppressed during the Revolution, it was reestablished on October 6, 1822. It had as its bishops, Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod from 1823 to 1837 and his nephew, Bishop Eugene de Mazenod from 1837 to 1861.
Population and Clergy
The population of the diocese of Marseilles grew at a rapid rate in the 19th century. From 1823 to 1861, its increased from about 100,000 to 300,000. Marseilles was ranked second in the cities of France. To serve its parishes and charitable works, the bishops in 1823 had 171 priests and in 1860 had 378 priests. A number of these priests came from Spain and Italy, but, for the most part, they came from the minor seminary of the Sacred Heart directed by the diocesan clergy and from the school of the Holy Family of Abbé Bruchon and then from the major seminary under the direction of the Oblates from 1827 until 1862. The Mazenods established the standardization of stole fees for the clergy and from 1837 until his death, Bishop Eugene de Mazenod tried to get the pastors and their vicars to live together in the rectories.
In 1823, the diocese had 60 parishes. The number of parishes grew very little during the episcopacy of Bishop Fortuné. The government and the municipality who took financial responsibility for construction projects and paid the clergy’s salaries, for financial reasons, refused to change the terms set by the concordat. The bishop and his nephew then opened to the public several chapels of religious houses and charitable works and built, at diocesan expense, three huge churches in the new quarters of the city: Saint-Charles, Saint-Lazare and Saint-Joseph.
During the first years of Bishop Eugene de Mazenod’s episcopate, the Orleanist regime, which was changing its religious policy, accepted the requests made by the bishop. Thirteen parishes were officially erected and nine more were erected under Napoleon III. Bishop de Mazenod’s relations with Napoleon III were cordial.
From 1837 to 1861, some forty churches were built, enlarged or repaired. Moreover, Bishop de Mazenod launched two huge projects: the cathedral on the site of the old Major church and, dominating the seascape, the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Also, from 1856 to 1860, he had repaired and enlarged the bishop’s residence. (See articles: Cathedral, bishopric and Notre Dame de la Garde.)
Religious Men and Women
If, on the one hand, the parishes were entirely under the direction of the diocesan clergy, the works of charity of the diocese were, for the most part, were under the direction of religious congregations that the bishop received into the diocese, called to the diocese or even founded to meet new needs. From 1837 to 1861, ten communities of men religious established themselves in the diocese. Four of these were founded locally. There were also at least sixteen women’s congregations; five of these were local foundations. In 1861, religious men and women in the diocese numbered 1,775. About 850 were in teaching; about 800 were involved in works of charity and others devoted to prayer and contemplation. Bishop Eugene de Mazenod usually helped these communities in getting settled or in building their convents by a collection taken up in all the parishes. He was always pleased to preside at their religious ceremonies. A few congregations in particular benefited from his protection and were grateful to him for it. Some examples were the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition and the Society of the Sacred Heart of the Child Jesus of Abbé Timon-David.
Charitable and Pious Works
To complement parish ministry, Bishop de Mazenod encouraged traditional works of prayer and perseverance and especially works of education and charity.
Even though business and manufacturing as well as activities in the port prospered, except for 1848 and 1849, there were many poor people. In point of fact, the population increased almost exclusively through immigration and new arrivals who often endured a wretched existence until they found work and lodging. The bishop, therefore, drew his diocese into the movement of charity which characterized the 19th century. The zeal he displayed in supporting these works allows us to discern his evangelical concern to relieve the wretched state of the poor. But in supporting these works, it was also his goal to give them a confessional character so that their benevolent character would extend the apostolic action of the clergy. Indeed, upon the arrival of the de Mazenods in 1823, two institutions, one an organ of the state and one a private organization worked together to relieve poverty: the Bureau of Welfare and the Society of Welfare and Charity. These were lay organizations and were independent of the Church. The Bureaus of Welfare, established by Napoleon throughout France, were based in the parishes [communes] who usually distributed help through the agency of the parish priests. In 1843, Bishop de Mazenod brought in the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and gave then the responsibility of distributing these resources. It would be the same for the Society of Welfare and Charity. In 1845, the Trinitarian Sisters of Saint Martha, founded in Marseilles by Abbé Margalhan-Ferrat would take over to ensure home care for the rural sick, while the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux devoted themselves to the same kind of work in the city.
In 1823, the de Mazenods founded an orphanage for boys and another for girls as well as the youth organization of Abbé Allemand. A few works appeared from 1823 to 1836 and then from 1838 to 1848, there would be a new work appearing every year. Most of them had as their goal the human and religious education of working youth and of the labouring class. Among the charitable works, those with a more social orientation, those that were the most successful were the mutual help groups. In case of illness and even unemployment, they ensured financial help. They were encouraged by the state and by the Church. They numbered 34 in Marseilles in 1820, 102 in 1850 and 183 in 1860 with 15,000 members.
Bishop Eugene de Mazenod as Pastor
If Bishop de Mazenod lavished a lot of his time on his co-workers, the parishes and charitable works, he also remained in close contact with the people of Marseilles and was greatly loved by them, especially by the poor. Formerly, when he was preaching parish missions, he used to visit all the families of the area. Now, he maintained his ties to his people by remaining close to them. He recognized that he was in a favourable position to do so because his diocese did not cover a large area. Initially, he limited himself to four hours each morning for receiving visitors. Each year, he made a pastoral visit of his diocese administering the sacrament of confirmation. During these visits, he preached untiringly, especially in Provençal. Every Monday, in the chapel of his residence, he conferred the sacrament of confirmation on adults. He never refused to confirm sick people in their homes. The requests were many, especially during the cholera epidemics of 1837, 1849, 1850, 1854 and 1855.
He was always in demand to preside at religious ceremonies in parishes, convents, and ceremonies of charitable works. In the book listing his standard activities year after year, there were fifty at the cathedral and twenty-five others in various churches and religious communities. He wrote down in his ordo the other commitments which filled his days, especially Sundays and feast days. On April 25, 1858, for example, five ceremonies kept him busy without a break from six o’clock in the morning to nine o’clock at night. Out of courtesy toward the civil authorities and out of love for the city of Marseilles that was in full development, he accepted as many invitations as he could for the launching of important endeavours. We have the texts of several speeches given, for example, at the blessing of the water canal from the Durance river in 1847, for the new charity hospital on the Frioul islands in 1850, at the country fair of Aubagne in 1851, in the working class quarter of La Ciotat and of the public home for the aged of the Immaculate Conception in 1858, of the Stock Market building in 1861, etc. Only one occasion gave him pause. It was the opening of the new rail line Marseilles-Avignon in the new train station of Saint Charles. He was asked to bless ten locomotives with evocative names such as : “Whirlwind,” “Mistral” and “Lucifer.”
He urged the people of Marseilles on to the sanctity to which all the baptized were held to strive and taught them the road to travel. He did this in his many sermons and also through his Lenten pastoral letters. In them, he taught that holiness consists in an ongoing conversion of heart, in a faithful observance of God’s law and fidelity to the inspirations of his grace, in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. His Lenten pastoral letters of 1842, 1846, 1850 and 1860 offer us some fine pages on this topic.
Every apostolic work of Bishop de Mazenod in Marseilles was inspired by devotion to the Eucharist. During his episcopacy, he sought to increase this devotion among the faithful; he encouraged Forty Hour devotions and the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, especially on days when the eating of meat was allowed and on Holy Thursday. Each year he celebrated in solemn fashion the reparation ceremony for the sacrilegious theft committed in Saint Theodore’s church on March 10, 1829 and other celebrations of this kind. Toward the end of 1859, he established perpetual adoration in the diocese. The recently arrived Priests of the Blessed Sacrament allowed him to fill in the gaps which the limited number of parishes made inevitable. The next year, the old bishop succeed in going to pray in almost all the churches where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. That was one of the last joyous experiences of his life.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
REY, Achille, o.m.i., Mgr de Mazenod, Rome, 1928, vol. II, p. 873-874.
LEFLON, Jean, Eugene de Mazenod, vol. II, 1966, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, 184-241; 517-584; vol. III, 1968, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, 29-121; vol. IV, 1970, trans. Francis D. Flanagan, 3-93.
NOGARET, Marius, o.m.i., “La sollicitude de Mgr de Mazenod pour son Église de Marseille” in Vie Oblate Life, 34 (1975), p. 195-212; 41 (1982), p. 69-85.
ETCHEGARAY, Roger, Petite vie d’Eugène de Mazenod, Paris, 1995, p. 106-147.