After the proclamation of the Republic on February 24, 1848, Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected president. The Catholic population, won over by promises of freedom in education, had voted for him. His sending of troops to bring the Pope back to Rome in 1849 and, in 1850, the passing of the Falloux law, which allowed the establishing of free religious schools alongside the public schools, drew the State and the Church ever closer together. The Church gave its approval to the coup d’état of December 2, 1851 and the re-establishing of the Empire in 1852.
In 1851, with the death of the Bishop of Arras, Bishop Jean Charles de La Tour d’Auvergne, a cardinal’s title became vacant
in France. Bishop Guibert, the bishop of Viviers, a spiritual son and very devoted friend of Bishop de Mazenod, put forth the candidacy of the bishop of Marseilles. Without
Bishop de Mazenod’s knowledge, he intervened with
the prefect of Bouches-du-Rhône to obtain this favour which was justified by the seniority of the bishop, his missionary and pastoral initiatives, the importance of the see
of Marseilles, the city ranking second in all of France, and his good relations with the president. The prefect wrote to the Minister of Public Worship in the same vein, but
the project failed. The minister responded that since a candidate as successor the Cardinal de La Tour d’Auvergne had already been proposed to the Pope, they had to await
Mr. de Suleau, prefect of Bouches-du-Rhône and a friend of Bishop de Mazenod, did not want to concede total defeat. Following the visit of the president of the republic to Marseilles in 1852, he wrote to Louis Napoleon to recommend that he appoint the bishop of Marseilles to the senate. This second suggestion did not immediately bear fruit, but, it seems, the emperor never forgot it.
In 1853, Napoleon III married a young Spanish woman, Eugenia de Montijo, the countess of Teba. Three years later, the imperial prince was born. Bishop de Mazenod, like all the bishops of France, seemed to be ever more satisfied with the emperor and his policies. On April 13, 1854 on the occasion of the Crimean war, on September 17, 1855 on the occasion of the taking of Sebastopol and on October 15, 1855 on the occasion of the pregnancy of the empress, he published pastoral letters which held high praise for the government. As soon as he received news of the birth of the imperial prince, he hastened to write their majesties. He wanted to cap off his congratulatory wishes with an act of piety. On March 17, he went up to Notre-Dame de la Garde to invoke the protection of the Blessed Mother on the imperial family. After the public prayers, he blessed “a gold medal with on the one side an image of the holy Virgin and on the other side the above mentioned shrine expressly struck for the occasion” to be offered as a gift to the heir to the throne. The emperor was touched by this thoughtful gesture. On March 25, he thanked the bishop and ended his letter with these words: “This special and solemn consecration to place the imperial prince’s crib under divine protection, these prayers calling down on him for the future all of heaven’s blessings are for us a most treasured testimony of your special affection…”
Napoleon III did not want to appear any less generous and found a way to show his affection in return. On the occasion of the baptism of the child, an occasion graced by the presence of the papal legate and all the bishops of France, Bishop de Mazenod was appointed to the senate on June 24, 1856. This appointment would bring changes in his life style. Each year, he participated in the sessions of the Senate that were held from January or February through to the month of June. He arrived for the opening session and returned to Marseilles on Palm Sunday. The only exception was when, in 1860, he returned to Paris for the celebration of the Polignac-Mirès wedding and attended the June 6 session of the Senate.
When he was in the capital, in as much as it was possible for him, he never failed to attend every session of the Senate. His place is “so conspicuous” he wrote to Father Fabre on March 1, 1859, that the is unable to be absent “without other people noticing it.” He also followed attentively the debates and disapproved of the conduct of some of his cardinal colleagues who, he confided to Bishop Guibert in a February 15, 1859 letter: “instead of listening or of being bored like everyone else, are each of them serenely doing their correspondence. Frankly, that is beyond me and I find this careless conduct a rare and strange impropriety. Without prejudice to the respect due to them, I find this affectation of work arch-ridiculous, to express myself in a manner that befits their dignity.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1401, p. 125)
If he was an attentive listener, it was only twice that he himself spoke, it seems. On March 18, 1858 he was chairman of “the committee responsible for examining the law which, in the financial transactions of 1858, granted the ministry of Public Education and of Public Worship the sum of 499,450 francs to contribute to the construction of a new cathedral in Marseilles.” On March 29, 1860, he made a brief but eloquent speech about the petitions of Catholics calling for the intervention of the senate in favour of the temporal rule of the Holy See.
It was never with a light heart that from 1856 to 1860, the Founder spent some months of every year in the capital. On February 12, 1857, he admitted to Father Fabre: “Tomorrow I shall start the sad business I have to carry on in Paris. In advance I am already bored by it. Nothing less than the requirements of my position was needed to constrain me thereto. I shall try to shorten it as much as I possibly can.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, no. 1337, p. 39) What he finds even more boring than the sessions of the senate, is the social life that his title of senator obliges him to lead: visits to make and to receive, dinners to attend, receptions, etc. One suffering he finds even more painful than the others: the fact that each year he has to celebrate the Oblate feast of February 17 alone. To console himself for this loneliness, each year, he took advantage of the few days of vacation from the Senate to make a brief visit to Bishop Guibert, the archbishop of Tours and to the novitiate in Nancy. In 1857 and 1858, he even went to spend a few days with his sister and his niece at Cirey. Nor did he refuse the invitations presented to him to preside over religious ceremonies in communities in the capital.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate Writings I, vol. 12, p. XIX-XXIII and passim.
MITRI, Angelo, o.m.i., Inquisitio historica… Il senatorato del Servo di Dio, Rome, 1968, p. 334 and 342-434 (documents).