During the second half of the sixteenth century in Ri, Normandy (France), lived a farmer named Isaac Eudes, married to Martha Corbin. As they had no children after two years of marriage, both spouses went on a pilgrimage to a shrine of Our Lady. Nine months later they had a son, soon followed by five others. The oldest was named John. As a child, he showed a great inclination to God's love. It is said that when he was nine, a playmate slapped him; instead of responding in the same way John followed the evangelical counsel and presented the other cheek.
At fourteen, John entered the Jesuit College at Caen. His parents wanted him to marry and continue working on the family farm, but he had taken a vow of virginity. He received minor orders in 1621 and studied theology in Caen with the intention of devoting himself to parish ministry. However, shortly after, he decided to enter the congregation of the Oratory, which had been founded in 1611 by Cardinal Bérulle. After a great difficulty in obtaining his parents' permission, he was received in Paris by the superior general in 1623. Up until then, John had been an exemplary student and his conduct in the congregation was no less, in fact, Fr. Bérulle gave him permission to preach even though he had only received minor orders. After a year in Paris, John was sent to Aubervilliers to continue his studies under the direction of F. Charles de Condren who, in the words of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, "was made to educate angels."
The Congregation of the Oratory was founded to promote priestly perfection. John Eudes was blessed to be initiated to it by priests of the stature of Condren and Bérulle.
He was ordained priest on December 20, 1625. During these years of spiritual formation, John was impregnated by Bérulle’s spirituality, one completely focused on Christ, and shared his desire to "restore the glory of the priestly order." Imbued with this spirit, the apostolic missionary went on to evangelize many cities and towns in Normandy, Burgundy, Brittany, and other areas of France.
“On Fire” as a Preacher
He spent the next ten years in missions and preaching, preparing for the task that God intended for him. At that time, the “popular mission” began to crystallize into its current form. St. John Eudes distinguished himself from all other missionaries; as soon as he finished preaching, he started to hear confessions. According to him, "the preacher stirs the branches, but the confessor is the one who hunt birds." Bishop Le Camus, a friend of St. Francis de Sales, said, referring to F. Eudes: "I've heard the best preachers in Italy and France and I assure you that none of them moves the people the way the good Father Eudes does." St. John Eudes preached a hundred and ten missions in his lifetime.
One unique experience he gained during his years as a missionary was to see the experience of prostitutes trying to convert; they were in a particularly difficult situation. For a while he tried to solve their housing difficulties by temporarily accommodating them with godly families, but then he realized that the remedy was not quite right. Magdalene Lamy, a woman of humble origin who had given shelter to several converts, once said to Fr. Eudes: "Now you're going to pray quietly in a church, with devotion to your images, and you believe that your duty is fulfilled. Do not be deceived. Your duty is to decently accommodate these poor women who are lost because no one is helping them."
These words produced a deep impression on St. John Eudes. In 1641, he rented a house for repentant women, where they could live while they looked for a decent job. Seeing that the work needed religious to care for it, he offered it to the Visitation sisters, who were quick to accept.
After much prayer, reflection and consultation, St. John Eudes left the Congregation of the Oratory in 1643. His experience in missions taught him that the clergy needed to be reformed before the faithful, and that the congregation only can fulfill this goal by the creation of seminaries. Fr. Condren, who had been appointed superior general, agreed with our saint, but his successor, Fr. Bourgoing, refused to approve the project of founding a seminary in Caen.
Then Father Eudes decided to form an association of diocesan priests, whose main focus would be the creation of seminaries with a the goal of forming zealous parish clergy. The new fellowship was founded on the day of the Annunciation, 1643, in Caen, with the name of "Congregation of Jesus and Mary." Its members, like those of the Oratory, were diocesan priests and were not bound by any vows. St. John Eudes and his five companions had a great devotion to "the Holy Trinity, which is the first principle and ultimate end of the sanctity of the priesthood." The symbol of the congregation was the Heart of Jesus, in which the Heart of Mary was included mystically, as a symbol of the eternal love that Jesus has for men.
A man of accomplishments, St John Eudes also founded the Order of Our Lady of Charity to assist and house women and girls mistreated by life. During a long history of missions, St John Eudes founded several communities; his legacy also includes many prayer books and letters of great value to the community, and his spiritual doctrine denotes his love for the poor and the rich, for man and woman, for the sick and those who help them, for the clergy and the laity.
A living martyr in his chastity and his work for the sick, suffering and pain were not meaningless for him. He saw them as a chance to share in the love of Jesus, who suffered as well; and from this, he drew the strength to pursue a life of dedicated to the Heart of Jesus.
St. John Eudes brought people to an ever deeper love of Christ and the Virgin Mary, incessantly talking about their Heart: a sign of the love that God gives us and the communion to which we are called. For liturgical worship, he composed masses and liturgical offices for the Heart. It was him who held the first public celebration of the Heart of Mary on February 8, 1648 in Autun and later the first celebration of the Heart of Jesus on October 20, 1672.
In addition, he helped spread the spirituality of his mentors from the Oratory with numerous publications. Its unique charism left such an imprint on him that he is also considered a master of spirituality.
He died on August 19, 1680. Pope Pius XI canonized him on May 31, 1925 and he was raised up for the Church as one of the saints of God.
Evangelist and Educator
A Eudist is an Evangelist and an Educator, both at the same time. This is a core quality inherited from St. John Eudes, who bequeathed this “two-sided coin” to us through both his example and his teaching. It has become our particular, specific charism, both in our lives and mission.
These characteristics are visible in the person and lifestyle of St. John Eudes:
1. EVANGELIST. In his reflection on baptism, St. John Eudes expressed his desire that every baptized Christian be converted into a book (the Bible) and a living Gospel (OC III, 53). This expresses an ideal which he applied in his own life: that evangelization does not simply consist of preaching, but of one's life in its entirety. At the same time, the work of St. John Eudes as an evangelist include diverse aspects of an educator as well:
- • Missionary. His missions included preaching, liturgical celebrations, confessions, and catechism for many kinds of people. He journeyed tirelessly across Normandy, Brittany, and Paris, preaching more than a hundred missions, always aided by a team of priests.
- • Catechist.. His catechism was the response to a need. A tool was necessary to maintain the activities and preaching of a mission. He wrote this catechism himself, to reinforce his preaching, and it became one of his most useful tools. It was a practical instrument he could leave behind to continue the formation of the faithful, to help build their faith. He also used songs to teach the fundamentals, which helped them memorize the basic elements of the knowledge of the faith, and can also be considered as catechetical.
- • Master of prayer. Part of missionary action is teaching others how to pray. John Eudes' distinctive mark is a structure that is at the same time Trinitarian, Christocentric, and full of the Holy Spirit. He guides the faithful on a path of prayer that retraces their baptismal promises, and which also brings them to a deep union with Jesus. Among the diverse forms of prayer available, he underlines prayer of petition and pardon, adoration, of assuming the attitudes and sentiments of Jesus, of abandon, and places a great emphasis on a prayer filled with love of Jesus, of praise and glorification.
- • Apostle of the Heart of Jesus and Mary. From the vantage point of a theology founded on the Heart, one can clearly see the reality of the Trinity, the incarnation of the "beautiful word which surges from the heart" of the Father, and the action of the Holy Spirit which is called the “Heart of God.” From an anthropology of the heart, which represents memory, understanding, will, sentiments, inclinations, and most fundamentally, love, comes the profound affirmation that Jesus and Mary share one single heart.
2. EDUCATOR. The first perspective, of St. John Eudes as Evangelist, clearly shows his interest in the formation of the Christian people's faith and their spiritual growth; all in order to attain a deep union with Jesus. However, other aspects can be found which show more specifically his attitudes which are directly educative:
- Schools. The academic formation of children was not among the initial educational interests of St. John Eudes. However, circumstances presented an opportunity in this field which he accepted and entrusted to his community. From this perspective, the formation which Eudists provide for young people is clearly impregnated with the style and spirituality of the founder.
- Seminaries. The concept of a seminary in his time (then called "seminaries for the ordained") is quite different than the idea we have now. In any case though, seminary is a decisive stage for the formation of priests. St. John Eudes lived during a very precarious time for the clergy. They lacked the fundamental education in priestly life, which was consequently a detriment for the Christian communities. From there came the need to form holy priests and pastors, therefore, holy preachers and missionaries. Seminaries represented the ultimate field of education in the life of St. John Eudes.
- Writer. integral part in the unfolding of an educator's action lies in the writing of certain elements necessary to the formative process. In the abundant literature of St. John Eudes which has been preserved until today, there are some notable examples of clearly educational writings. Among which, notable examples include the "Latin Rules" for the Eudist Fathers and the original constitutions for the same congregation. On the same level, the constitutions for the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity could be mentioned. For the formation of the laity, his fundamental work is The Life and Kingdom of Jesus in the Christian Soul. Another fundamental educative work is his Catechism of the Mission.
- Spirituality and theology. The educative labors of St. John Eudes are amply developed in the field of spirituality for a mystical union with Jesus. In this area, one must note his process for discovering the grandeur of Jesus, the action of the Trinity, and the presence of the Blessed Mother. His spirituality, all in all, is built on a solid theological structure, which are founded impeccably on scholastic theology, but are also enriched by certain theological propositions of his own. These include the theology of the Heart, the application of mercy, and carrying out the consequences of the incarnation, even in the mundane details of every day.
- Educator for the laity. St. John Eudes' role as educator unfolded in relation to priests. However, his dedication in a particular way was to the laity. This can be seen in the exercise of missions, to which he dedicated a considerable amount of his priestly ministry; in his key work, The Kingdom of Jesus; in his foundation of the lay "Society of the Admirable Mother," to provide a specific and organized commitment for the laity... these all prove irrefutably his action as an educator for the laity.
Serving the sick
In that year, a violent plague broke out in Normandy and John offered himself to assist his countrymen. Bérulle sent a letter to the bishop of Seez in which he said: "Charity requires the use of his great gifts to serve this province, in which he received life, grace and holy orders. Your diocese will be the first to enjoy the fruits that can be expected of his ability, goodness, wisdom, energy and life." Father Eudes spent two months caring for the sick both spiritually and materially. Then he was sent to the oratory of Caen, where he remained until the outbreak of a new epidemic there in 1631. John once again offered himself to serve the sick and dying, but to avoid the danger of infecting his brothers, he lived in the countryside, where he received food from the local convent.
Brief chronology of John Eudes
|1601||Born in Ri, near Argentan.|
|1615||studied with the Jesuits at Caen.|
|1620||tonsure and minor orders in Seez.|
|1623||Entrance to the Oratory in Paris.|
|1625||Priestly Ordination. "Retreat" and time of study...|
|1627||in the Oratory of Caen. Plague in Argentan.|
|1631||Plague in Caen.|
|1632||first missions (first of more than 100).|
|1637||First Edition of The Life and Kingdom of Jesus.|
|1640||Elected Superior of the Oratory of Caen.|
|1641||Met Maria des Valles. Foundation of our Lady of Refuge in Caen.|
|1643||March 19 and 25, Foundation of the seminary of Caen and Congregation of Jesus and Mary.|
|1648||Feast of the Heart of Mary in Autun (first public celebration).|
|1650||Foundation Seminary of Coutances.|
|1651||Our Lady of Refuge becomes Our Lady of Charity.|
|1653||Foundation of the Minor Seminary of Lisieux.|
|1654||Publication of The Contract between God and Man by Holy Baptism.|
|1657||Foundation of the Seminary of Rouen.|
|1666||Our Lady of Charity approved by Rome. Publication of The Good Confessor.|
|1667||Foundation of the Seminary of Evreux.|
|1670||Foundation of the Seminary of Rennes.|
|1672||First liturgical celebration of the Sacred Heart.|
|1673||Foundation of Our Lady of Charity in Rennes.|
|1676||Our Lady of Charity expands to Hennebont and Guingamp. His last mission in Saint-Ló|
|1680||August 19: death.|
|1925||May 31: canonization.|