For us, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the first love, the inspiring spark, has its time and place, the time is 25th of January 1816 and the place is the former Carmelite monastery in Aix en Provence in France. We can also recall the first people who were given that first love, the inspiring spark: Fr Eugene de Mazenod, Fr François de Paule Henry Tempier, Fr Auguste Icard, Fr Pierre Nolasque Mie, Fr Emmanuel Fréjus Maunier, Fr Jean François Sébastien Deblieu. Today we recall the 199th Anniversary of Our Foundation Day, when St Eugene de Mazenod with his first companions initiated the first community of Missionaries of Provence, which later developed into the Congregation of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The first companion and devoted friend of St Eugene - Father Henry Tempier, wrote about 25th of January 1816: “This memorable day that I will never forget for as long as I live.”
In 1831 when France was going through another turbulent period of unrest, the Oblates had to move their novices and scholastics to Switzerland as France wasn’t safe for young seminarians. While in “exile” the young Oblates received a letter from the Founder. St Eugene in the letter simply shared with them his recollections of the first day of the Oblate Congregation: “Tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the day, sixteen years ago, I left my mother’s house to go and set up house at the Mission. Father Tempier had taken possession of it some days before. Our lodging had none of the splendour of your house, and whatever deprivations you may be subject to, ours were greater still. My camp-bed was placed in the small passageway which leads to the library: it was then a large room used as a bedroom for Father Tempier and for one other. It was also our community room. One lamp was all our lighting and, when it was time for bed, it was placed in the doorway to give light to all three of us.
The table that adorned our refectory was one plank laid alongside another, on top of two old barrels. We have never enjoyed the blessing of such poverty since the time we took the vow. Without question, it was a foreshadowing of the state of perfection that we now live so imperfectly. I highlight this wholly voluntary deprivation deliberately (it would have been easy to put a stop to it and to have everything that was needed brought from my mother’s house) so as to draw the lesson that God in his goodness was directing us even then, and really without us having yet given it a thought, towards the evangelical counsels which we were to profess later on. It is through experiencing them that we learnt their value.
I assure you we lost none of our merriment; on the contrary, as this new way of life was in quite striking contrast with that we had just left, we often found ourselves having a hearty laugh over it. I owed this tribute to the memory of our first day of common life. How happy I would be to live it now with you!”
In this letter St Eugene was passing onto the young Oblates the Oblate first love, the inspiring spark which first gave rise to the following. As we begin the final year of our preparation for the Bicentennial Anniversary of the Oblates, which will be celebrated in 2016, please pray for us, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, so that that inspiring spark which filled the hearts of our first Fathers in Aix may grow in the hearts of the Oblates today to become the “bushfire” consuming our imperfection and perfecting us for God’s glory and the salvation of souls.