Two hundred years ago the French aristocrat Eugene de Mazenod gathered a few priests into a kind of evangelical team in southeastern France. They went into neglected, impoverished parishes preaching in the local dialect of Provençal, not French, sharing their lives and the Gospel with poor people who had been left behind by modern France.
St. Eugene de Mazenod was born in 1782 in Aix-en-Provence, France. His father, Charles Antoine, was a member of the French nobility and the President of the Aix parliament. His mother, Marie-Rose Joannis, was affiliated with the expeditiously evolving bourgeois merchants.
On Jan. 25, 1816, six priests came together in Aix en Provence, France, drawn by an inspiration so powerful they were prepared to dedicate their lives to it. They were roused into action by the situation of the poor people around them, whose lives were changed by the events of the French Revolution.
Growing up in a parish with a lively and abundant presence of Oblate priests, one could see the zeal, excitement and, most importantly, the joy the priests shared. I assume from this, not surprisingly, a fascination was born which quickly turned into a desire and yearning to be and act like them.
Last summer I was privileged to travel on pilgrimage to France with a young adults group. The 2 1/2- week trip (called “In the footsteps of St. Eugene de Mazenod”) under Fr. Marcin Serwin OMI, served to bring to light the full breadth of the foundation of who and what the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are.