Born: Aix, September 27, 1749
Major seminary, Aix, 1766-1768
Seminary of Saint Sulpice, Paris, studies at the Sorbonne University, 1768-1776
Priesthood: Beauvais, April 6, 1776
Canon and vicar general of Aix, 1776
In exile: Turin, Venice, Naples, Palermo, August 1792-1817
At the house of the Mission in Aix, 1817-1823
Ordained bishop of Marseilles, July 6, 1823
Resigned his see, April 29, 1837
Died in Marseilles, February 22, 1840.
Charles Fortuné de Mazenod, the uncle of Bishop Charles Joseph Eugene de Mazenod, was born at Aix on April 27, 1749, of Charles Alexandre de Mazenod and Urusule Félicité de Laugier.
Education; First Years of Priesthood
From 1758 to 1762 he studied at the College Bourbon of Aix which was directed by the Jesuits. When the Parliament forbade Jesuits to teach there, he pursued his studies at the Chauvet school, a private institution in Marseilles (1763-1765). In this city, in the collegial church of the Accoules - it was destroyed during the French Revolution - he made his first communion and was confirmed by Bishop J. B. de Belloy.
When he had completed his classical studies, he decided to become a priest. He was tonsured by Archbishop J. B. Antoine de Brancas of Aix and entered the major seminary of this city for two years, that is, until 1768. He continued his theological studies for eight years at the seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris and at the Sorbonne where he received the licentiate.
He was ordained on April 6, 1776 at Beauvais by Bishop F. Joseph de la Rochefoucauld (during the Revolution the latter was killed in the Carmelite church in Paris; he was beatified on October 17, 1926). On the very day of his ordination he became vicar general of Bishop Hachette des Portes, the last bishop of Glandèves, Basses-Alpes; he resided in Aix, however, and here he was made a Canon.
He distinguished himself by his regularity, being present at the Chapter recitation of the divine office, and by his zeal in favour of religious communities, especially in regard to the Carmelites. In no time the young Canon was vicar general of Aix and the close and esteemed collaborator of Archbishop Raymond de Boisgelin.
The Archbishop and the other vicars general left Aix at the very outset of the Revolution. Canon Fortuné administered the diocese alone until August 1792. By this time his life was seriously in danger. He left France along with his uncle, Charles André de Mazenod, Vicar General of Marseilles. By way of Switzerland he came to Turin where he joined the other members of the de Mazenod family who had preceded him; these he followed afterwards to Venice, Naples and Palermo.
Canon Fortuné then experienced 25 years of a hidden life in poverty, especially in the last years during which he became a professor of French in order to eke out a living. During the course of the summer of 1795, Madame de Mazenod, the Founder’s mother, and Charlotte Eugénie, his sister, returned to France in order to save some of the family possessions from being lost for good. Fortuné accompanied them until Lausanne, Switzerland. A softening of the deportation laws in autumn of 1797 made it possible for him to return to France, but harsher legal measures against priests obliged him to flee again barely two months later. He again went to Italy: through Livorno and Florence he rejoined his brothers in Naples at the beginning of February 1798.
After the Concordat of 1801, with the help of Cardinal de Boisgelin, the former Archbishop of Aix and now Archbishop of Tours, and of the Minister of Worship Portalis, an old friend of the family, Fortuné was chosen for the see of Avignon. He refused, however, for he did not want to swear the oath of fidelity to Napoleon.
He was still in Palermo when in 1817 he learned that King Louis XVIII had chosen him for the see of Marseilles. It took several urgent letters from his nephew to persuade him to return to France and to accept the episcopacy. He then confessed that after so many years away from all pastoral activities, he was more apprehensive of the responsibilities involved than he was eager for the honour, even though he had truly coveted the latter during his youth. Eugene had to promise that he would always stay at his side as an active collaborator.
In its implementation the Concordat of 1817, which had restored the see of Marseilles, encountered difficulties and thus Fortuné’s appointment was deferred until 1823.
Fortuné retired to Aix in the house of the Missionaries of Provence. Thus he came to know all the first missionaries and he shared their life and apostolate at the church of the Mission. He was always the first out of bed in the morning, he it was who gave the signal for the community to rise, opened the doors of the church, rang the church bells and then spent part of the day in the confessional. He was a great help to Father Tempier who was often left alone at Aix to look after the church, the Youth Congregation, the novices and scholastics. During his stay in the missionaries’ house he especially rendered a great service to the Founder whose health was not the best at this time. Fortuné vigorously insisted that Father de Mazenod temper his activities and take time to eat and rest.
He was at last appointed to the see of Marseilles on January 13, 1823, and empowered by Pope Pius VII in the Consistory of the following May 16. He was consecrated at Issy by Cardinal de Latil on July 6, 1823, together with Bishop Arbaud of Gap, the diocese in which the second Oblate house, Notre-Dame du Laus, was located.
Bishop of Marseilles
Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod was bishop of Marseilles from 1823 to 1837. Four vicars general, Fathers Eugene de Mazenod and Henry Tempier among them, worked in close collaboration with him.
He paid special attention to the formation and reform of his clergy. The population of Marseilles had risen from 150,000 to 200,000. To provide for the spiritual needs of these people, the diocese was bereft of a major seminary and had only some 70 priests who were rather elderly. There was a minor seminary/ college since 1816. A major seminary was immediately opened in the two buildings on the rue Rouge. To solve the difficulty of finding seminary staff either from among the priests or from religious institutes, Bishop Fortuné entrusted in 1827 the direction of this seminary to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Reforming the clergy was a longer and more difficult matter. The diocese had been without a bishop for some 20 years and in that time the clergy had become used to being rather independent. Marseilles was moreover the refuge of many priests, who were sometimes hardly edifying, who had come from all over France and even from Spain and Italy. Bishop Fortuné, assisted by his nephew (who was credited with the Bishop’s firmness), tried to restore the ecclesiastical discipline that had been in place prior to the Revolution; and thus he proceeded with a painful but necessary purge of his clergy. In the 1827-1836 correspondence we find over one hundred cases of priests who were reprimanded or interdicted.
Another achievement of the Bishop was to equalize the “occasional” income, that is, revenue from offerings and Mass stipends; these had been very unequal between the rich and poor parishes.
The material pastoral establishments of Marseilles dated from 1803 when there were only 100,000 people in the city. Over twenty churches had been destroyed or sold by the Revolution. Some sectors of the city were sufficiently provided for while others had no locale for worship. Bishop Fortuné applied himself firmly to solve this problem. First, he opened to the public a number of chapels belonging to religious congregations and associations. In order to make it possible for the people to attend Sunday Mass, he multiplied instances where priests could binate. Finally, with or without the obligatory consent and assistance of the Government, he built three new churches.
New impetus was given to pious associations and some religious congregations were admitted into the diocese, though it was only after 1837 that new associations were founded and that religious congregations in the diocese became more numerous and developed greatly.
In this effort to give life and vigour to his diocese, Bishop Fortuné counted strongly on his vicars general. He presided at the council meetings, visited the parishes on the occasion of confirmations, accepted the invitations extended by parish priests and religious men and women to come for special feasts and occasions; he was, however, essentially a desk man. There remain hundreds of sermons and talks of his, always in two copies (draft and final text) and written in a careful handwriting that is as legible as a typewritten text is today.
On April 2, 1837, the French Government accepted Bishop Fortuné’s resignation and chose Bishop Eugene de Mazenod as the diocese’s new Bishop. The Holy See did the same on April 29 and published the brief appointing his successor on October 2 following.
Bishop Fortuné lived for three more years. His appointment to being Canon of the Saint-Denis Chapter provided him with a good income and this in turn allowed him to help the poor for whom he had always entertained a special concern. He could also live a more regular life of prayer akin to that which he had lived in Sicily.
In his Diary, Eugene de Mazenod wrote on May 15, 1838: “I do not think that there can be a happier man on earth. He has attained 90 years of age and is not afflicted with any infirmity; he enjoys a serenity of spirit found in a man of thirty, a happy and jovial character and allows nothing to trouble the peace of his soul; he is surrounded by a family to whom he is dear and who venerates him, by friends who share his sentiments [...] In men’s eyes he enjoys the rare advantage of being credited with all the good things that happened during his episcopate, whereas all that was painful, that hurt and rubbed people the wrong way, that was unwanted, in a word, all the negative that is inseparable from the wisest measures, is credited to me; finally, he is independent of the assistance that my affection owed him through the honourable retirement terms I obtained for him; this also enables him to give free reign to the generous inclinations of his heart: such is the recompense that the good Lord is giving in this world to our holy patriarch, without prejudice to that which is reserved for him in heaven after one hundred years, so I hope, of a peaceful and holy life.”
This pre-heavenly situation did not last. Early in 1840 a cold brought on a grave illness. Bishop Fortuné died on February 22, 1840, after he had received the sacrament of the sick from the hands of his nephew. The funeral, presided by Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, took place on February 23, and a great crowd was present.
Canon Leflon writes: “Time, which alone establishes a person’s renown, has, since then, amply confirmed the universal esteem Fortuné de Mazenod enjoyed. Without possessing his nephew’s dynamism, still less his wide vision, this survivor of the ancien régime always retained the culture and the ever-dignified manners of the ancient clergy of France, its priestly consciousness which had unmistakably reawakened after the trials of his exile, and its great spirit of charity; up to the very end, he used all his revenues for almsgiving, and at his death had only 85 francs to his name. Very likely his genuine piety and zeal were not too noticeable. From his days as a canon, the one-time sacristan of the chapter of Aix retained a studied deliberation and a quiet prudence mixed with adroitness and ingenious methods. By no means was he above cunning and slight wiles, although his calmness, kindness, and cheerful friendliness drew people to him; and yet, this conscientious man who generally strove to treat everyone with consideration so as not to displease anyone, could, when the need arose, prove dauntless, take a firm stand, assert himself, and refuse to compromise.” (Leflon, Jean, Eugene de Mazenod, vol. III, p. 36-37)
Bishop Fortuné’s de Mazenod tomb is in the crypt of the cathedral of Marseilles.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Postulation Archives, Rome.
Hotel Boisgelin, Aix-en-Provence.
Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence.
Saint-Martin-des Pallières, (Var).
JEANCARD, Jacques, Oraison funèbre de Mgr Charles-Fortuné de Mazenod… prononce le 31 mars 1840, Marseilles, M. Olive 1840, 64 p.
RICARD, Antoine, Mgr Charles Fortuné de Mazenod, évêque de Marseille (1749-1840), in Supplément no. 273 to La Semaine liturgique de Marseille, Marseille, P. Chauffard, 1867, pp. 117-124.
S. Rituum Congregatio, Sectio historica, no. 147, Caroli J. Eugenii de Mazenod [...] Inquisitio historica de quibusdam animadversionibus in Servi Dei vitam et operositatem ex officio concinnata. Rome, 1968, 988 pp.
All the major biographies of the Founder (Rey, Rambert, Leflon) contain information about Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod.