The Life of Saint Peter Julian Eymard
Apostle of the Eucharist
Family, if there was ever a Saint who had complete focus in what the Lord was calling him to do, it was St. Peter Julian Eymard. He is called, among other things, “Champion of the Blessed Sacrament”. He had such an unbelievable singleness of purpose, in his great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and desire that Eucharist Adoration should be practiced worldwide, that he would Found an Order devoted solely to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the spread of that devotion. That Religious Order is called “Priests of the Blessed Sacrament.”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The life of this slave of Mary and servant of Jesus is fascinating. We have to track his life here in the area of the world where he spent most of it, the French Alps. He began his life in 1811, in the small village of La Mure, in between Gap and Laus, and the great shrine of Our Lady of Laus, which played an important part in his life, and was just recently approved by Mother Church in May 2008, as the longest apparition Our Lady has made.
Peter came by his love of the Eucharist from his father, who belonged to a Eucharistic association. The father was a strong Catholic and a good father. He was a victim of Jansenism, a stern religious belief, fostered by Bishop Cornelius Jansen, which taught that man was corrupt, and not worthy of redemption. Only the elect would see Heaven. Many people of that time, were caught up in an aspect of Jansenism called Scrupulosity, which is on the other end of the spectrum of laxity. Those who suffered from Scrupulosity, for instance, our little St. Therese of Lisieux, felt they were in sin, where no sin existed. They were extremely hard on themselves. But it was part of the excessive nature of Jansenism.
Peter’s father was a hard worker. Things did not come easy for him. He lost his first wife and six children, as well as three children from his second wife, before Peter Julian was born. There was a daughter from the first marriage, Marianne, and an adopted daughter, Nanette. All these, plus the father and mother made up the family of the Eymards.
If there was one phrase which would typify the life of Peter Julian Eymard, I believe it would “an uphill fight.” He felt that he had a vocation to the priesthood as a young man. He had to learn Latin to be eligible to study for the priesthood. Peter was taken out of school at thirteen, to work at his father’s business. The entire family was shocked by Mr. Eymard’s decision, but no one dared question it, not Peter’s mother, not the parish priest. Mr. Eymard’s word was final in all things. Peter always said that the Receiving of Holy Communion was a turning point in his life. After receiving First Holy Communion, he asked his father permission to follow his calling and study for the priesthood.. He thought for sure the father would understand his sincere desire to follow his vocation. Just the opposite happened. The father was absolute in his refusal to consider such a thing. Although he was a good Catholic, Mr. Eymard was adamant that Peter was to take his place beside him in their small business, which supported the family. .
Peter was completely crushed. He couldn’t believe that this was happening to him. He walked a distance of thirty miles to the Shrine of Our Lady of Laus. He wanted to unload all his sorrow and disappointment at the feet of Our Lady, and quite honestly, ask her :how he could follow his dream of being a priest. He actually spoke to Our Lady at her altar at the Shrine of Laus, and she answered him, through the words of a priest who was in the chapel at the time, a Fr. Touche, who became a lifelong friend and mentor for young Peter. He asked Peter to repeat his tale of grief and frustration and what he could do about it. The priest encouraged him to stay the course of his determination to become a priest. He recommended Peter begin receiving Communion every week, and insisted that he learn Latin.
More easily said than done, thought young Peter. But he had received such affirmation from Our Lady through the hands of this priest, that he went back to La Mure, more resolute in his unwavering commitment to follow his dream. He continued his work for his father, but in his free time, he bought a second-hand Latin grammar book, and learned Latin. This went on for two years. When Peter thought it was safe to ask his father to allow him to go to college, the elder Eymard reacted predictably. He exploded. There was no way that they were going to spend hard-earned money for Peter to go to college. What would he need it for, any way? In the business that he would inherit from his father, he didn’t need college.
Down but not out, Peter found a way to go to college through a scholarship program offered by the city. The only drawback was that the program was designed for the poor and needy, and while Peter’s family was not well-to-do, they didn’t fall into the category of poor and needy. The principal of the school was upset with Peter being there on scholarship, and made his life miserable all the time he was there. Years later, in recollecting on his years in school, he said “It cost me dearly. I was treated with contempt and often humiliated. The principal made me pay in so many ways for that education…He wouldn’t let me recreate with the others. Instead, he had me light his fireplace, sweep his office and his classroom, and had me do a hundred other chores.”
In addition, Peter’s father was suffering. Remember, he was a very proud man. He worked hard and built up his business and his station in the town all by himself. He was not a poor man, nor was his family poor. He resented the stigma his family received because of Peter’s scholarship. He brought it up to the principal, who agreed with him for different reasons. The principal bellowed at the father, “Well, simply take him out of this school, if that’s the way you feel!” Peter was removed. His father was happy; the principal was happy. The only victim in this scenario was Peter. He was back to square one. He found himself back at his father’s business. But he never gave up.
He went to work for a priest at a hospital in Grenoble, with the assurance that he would have time to study Latin, which was a major hurdle he had to overcome if he were to become a priest. As it turned out, the hospital turned out to be an insane asylum. The priest, although we believe he had all good intentions, never had time to give Peter Latin lessons. So Peter had to learn on his own. He was not happy with the situation, but he was determined to learn Latin, so he accepted his plight at the asylum. At one point, he was shocked by the casual news that his mother had died. He was completely distraught. She had always been his greatest support, even trying to stand up to his father, which was never successful. Peter rushed back to La Mure, but by this time, his mother was in the ground, and his father was grieving privately. Peter stayed with the family for a short time, until a priest from the Oblates of Mary came to La Mure to give a Lenten retreat. He must have observed Peter at the retreat, because he boldly went to the house of Peter’s father to ask permission for Peter to enter the Oblate novitiate. Although Mr. Eymard had fought this for years, Peter was now 18 years old, and determined to follow his vocation. Permission was given.
Peter made a visit to Our Lady of Laus to thank her for her part in softening his father’s heart. Then he headed for Marseilles, and the novitiate of the Oblates of Mary. It was June 1829. You remember we told you he had an uphill fight all his life to realize his dream to become a priest. Well, it didn’t end with his entering the novitiate. Within 5 months, he became so ill; he had to be sent back to La Mure. Actually, his superiors thought he was dying, and were sending him home to die comfortably. However, his sisters, with the help of Our Lady of Laus, no doubt, nursed him back to health. This was a good thing, but not so much a good thing. His sisters adopted a domineering hold on Peter, which took some time and a lot of determination to break.
During this time back at La Mure, his father, who had been very healthy, but grieving over the death of his wife, died. This was only two years after Peter’s mother had passed away. With the help and advice of his sisters, he decided to apply for permission to enter the diocesan seminary in Grenoble. It would be less taxing on his system, so thought the sisters. Actually, they had ulterior motives. As a diocesan priest, they could sweet-talk the bishop into letting him be stationed closer to home, so that they could take care of him. It actually worked for a while. But they could see that he was not necessarily content to be a diocesan priest. This was made manifest when, after his ordination in 1834, at the cathedral in Grenoble, he chose to celebrate his first mass at Notre Dame de l’Ossier, rather than his parish in La Mure, or at the shrine of Our Lady of Laus. The sisters thought this strange. But his reasoning was fairly simple. Notre Dame de l’Ossier, while not important to him during his lifetime, was under the direction of the Oblates of Mary, and so we see that he still wanted to keep the door open to join the Oblates. However, the Oblates were not sold on the idea of his joining their community, most likely because of his poor health.
Meanwhile, the sisters kept in contact with the Bishop, asking for Peter to be sent closer to home, so that they might take care of him. His first assignment was as associate to the pastor in Chatte, about ninety kilometers from his home town. That was quite a distance to travel, and so he didn’t see his sisters that often. He stayed in Chatte for about two and a half years. During that time, he performed all the duties of a parish priest, but suffered a great deal physically, coughing up blood at times. This was good enough reason for the sisters to appeal again to the bishop to send him even closer to home. His next assignment was in a small village, Monteynard, about 15 kilometers from La Mure, more doable for the sisters to be able to help him.
During his time at Monteynard, he really took hold of his ministry. The little church was run-down. They had no priest living there for many years. Peter was actually the pastor for this small community. He did all he could to build up the church. He got new vestments. He bought statues. They replaced the altar, broken down from age, with a new one. He was well-loved by the parishioners. He worked day and night to accommodate their needs. Nothing was too much to ask for. He would give the working men special time at the rectory at night to go to confession. He restored a small chapel at a far end of town for special services, so that the people would not have to come into town. To the parishioners, the Lord had truly sent an angel.
But no sooner had he arrived at Monteynard than his old friend and mentor, Fr. Touché, from Our Lady of Laus shrine, came to visit him. He told Peter of a new religious community which was being formed in Lyons, the Society of Mary, the Marists. Peter went to speak to the founder and superior, Fr. Colin, who asked him to pray on whether the Lord was calling him to this new order, and if so, to ask his bishop permission to be released from the diocese. Peter wrote to his bishop, asking permission to join the Marists, to do missionary works. The bishop, who did not want to lose him, responded by telling him there was much missionary work to be done right there in the diocese. At the same time, the superior of the Marists wrote that he had accepted Fr. Peter. What to do? When he explained his predicament to the superior of the Marists, he was told to keep after his bishop to get permission to leave. The bishop finally realized that this was God who was directing Fr. Peter, and so he gave in and allowed him to leave the diocese.
It would seem like everything should be wonderful. He was given permission to leave. Now all he had to do was to overcome the hurdle of his sisters and his parishioners. He planned his departure in a way that no one would even know he was gone. He had all his bags packed. He had hired a musician to play at Church to distract the community after Sunday Mass, so that they would not notice him leaving with all his belongings. His sisters had gone to Grenoble to speak to the bishop, trying to talk him out of having Peter do missionary work in the diocese. When the bishop told them of Peter’s plans, to leave the diocese altogether, they rushed back in haste to Monteynard, to try to dissuade him. As luck would have it, they arrived at the church as he was carrying his bags to the coach which would take him to Lyons and his new life. His sister begged him to reconsider his decision. He was adamant. She implored him to spend just one more day with her. He said, “Sister, God calls me today. Tomorrow will be too late!” She collapsed in the arms of her friends who were with her. Peter just kept going. He knew that if he faltered, all would be lost. He could never get that image out of his mind.
For years, he talked about that difficult tearing away from his sisters and his community. But the Lord was calling him. He had to say yes.Fr. Peter found tremendous joy in being part of the newly formed community of Marists. Although he continued to suffer poor health, sometimes to the point of fearing death, he surged forward, becoming more and more a part of the order. He was promoted to high positions. He was given great responsibilities. He accepted all of these as a gift from the Lord and a responsibility to carry out the task the Lord had given him. He traveled all over France for the Marists. In 1849, he went to Paris for the first time on Marist business. While there, he met a man who would have a great impact on his life and future community. His name was Raymond de Cuers, who were involved in an organization promoting nocturnal prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Lord touched Peter’s heart at that time. All he thought then was that it was a good practice, praying before the Blessed Sacrament, and a great devotion. When he returned to Lyons, he went about setting up such an association in that diocese, in his spare time, which wasn’t that much. However, the Blessed Sacrament began to take first place in his mind and his prayers. A newly formed order of nuns devoted to the Blessed Sacrament was formed in Lyons. Fr. Peter celebrated their first Mass.
One time, while carrying the Consecrated Host in procession on Corpus Christi Sunday, he had a religious experience:
“My soul was flooded with faith and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Those two hours seemed but a moment. I laid, at the Feet of our Lord, the Church in France, myself, and everybody throughout the world. My eyes were filled with tears: it was as though my heart were under the wine-press. I longed, at that moment, for all hearts to have been within my own and to have been fired with the zeal of St. Paul.”
He couldn’t help pondering and meditating on the Eucharist. A pivotal point in his life occurred on a pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fourviere in Lyon in January 1851. Our Lady put a thought into his head, and he could not get it out of his mind. There was no Order devoted to the Blessed Sacrament! In his own words,
“One idea haunted me, and it was this; that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament had no Religious Institute to glorify His mystery of love, whose only object was entire consecration to Its service. There ought to be one....I promised Mary to devote myself to this end. It was still all very vague and I had no idea of leaving the Order (Marists).”
[Author’s Note: When you hear the words, haunted, or “I couldn’t get it out of my mind”, you know it’s the Lord. Blessed Juliana of Liege, whom the Lord used, to institute a Feast Day in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, expressed her feelings in the same way. She had a vision which haunted her day and night. Everywhere she went, every day, it was there. So, my brothers and sisters, if you feel an overpowering feeling that has to do with the Eucharist, in particular, you can be pretty sure it’s the Lord hounding you (like the hounds of Heaven which St. Augustine speaks of). And He won’t let you live until you do what He wants.]
Fr. Peter was to know the difficulty he would endure in trying to do the Lord’s work. He actually caused his own problem to a degree. He had been very active trying to develop a Third Order of Mary in Lyons. He had given it much time and effort. His work was being blessed by the Lord, so much so that he appealed to Pope Pius IX for official approval of the group. His Holiness gladly gave the approval, which elated Fr. Peter and the group, but had the opposite effect on his superior, and founder of the Marists, Fr. Colin. Fr. Peter had gone over his superior’s head to the Pope, which, although done with the best of intentions, caused a major problem with his superior, almost destroying the great relationship which the two had enjoyed.
He was transferred out of Lyons to a college in the south of the country, near Marseilles and St. Tropez. He knew he had made a mistake in the way in which he approached the Pope, and was ready to take his punishment. He threw himself into his new work, trying to take a failing college and turn it around, which he did successfully. He found himself and his students in great harm’s way as revolutionaries wanted to kill all the students and teachers in the Marist College. The revolutionaries were eventually captured by the military and thrown in prison. Then Father Eymard had to go to the prisons and hear the confessions of those who wanted to kill him. Add to this his ongoing bout with poor health, from which he had to take time off whenever possible, only to come back to the college to find that whatever he left undone was still undone.
Throughout this time, his desire to see an order devoted to the Blessed Sacrament became stronger and stronger. He was sure the Lord wanted him to do it, get it off the ground floor, into action. He had such great ideas of what he would do. Never for a moment did he think that he could not do it and remain a priest of the Society of Mary. But every time he would mention it to his superiors, he never got what he considered any sort of encouragement. He was encouraged in his ministry in Eucharistic devotions and adoration, but never beyond that point. However, priests outside his order showed a great deal of interest, some of them said they would commit to join an order of this kind. His friend, Fr. De Cuers, who had first interested him in the concept of an order of Blessed Sacrament priests in Paris, had been moving along with the plan to begin an order. He asked Fr. Peter to write a set of rules for the order. Peter began enlisting prospective Marists to consider this other ministry. That’s when the whole plan fell apart. While Peter believed he was following the Lord’s plan, his contemporaries at the college and his superiors in Lyons were up in arms that one of their best and most loyal priests would be trying to steal vocations away from the order.
Fr. Favre, who succeeded Fr. Colin as superior of the Marists, told him that in no uncertain terms was he allowed to follow this course. “You are, first of all, a Marist.” He was told, and that was it. He was to stop all work in establishing a Eucharistic project as long as he was a Marist. Fr. Peter could not believe what he was hearing. Our Lady would never get in the way of giving support to glorifying her Son. Wherever you find the Mother, you will find the Son; wherever you find the Son, you will find the Mother. Wherever you find the Mother and the Son in the Eucharist, you will find the priesthood. We have never researched or written about any Saint who has not had a great devotion to the Eucharist, coupled with a great love for Our Lady. But one thing we know for sure is that Fr. Peter’s life and vocation was rooted deeply in obedience. We find that every Super Saint we have ever written about has that great quality.
Peter knew that what he wanted was the Lord’s desire. This block from his community actually gave him more incentive to see the course through. He could not understand the logic of his community, but knew that he had to try any means he could to make this dream a reality As God would have it, his old friend and spiritual counselor from Laus, Fr. Touche, stopped to see him on his way to Rome. When Peter explained his predicament, Fr. Touche said to him, “Your project is the work of God, but it must be submitted to the head of the Church for testing.” Fr. Touche agreed to give a petition Peter drew up to His Holiness, Pope Pius IX. He then continued on his journey to Marseilles to board a ship for Rome. He arrived on August 27, and presented Fr. Peter’s petition to the Pope a few days later. It was a beautiful plea from one who obviously loved Our Lord Jesus, His Mother Mary, and his order, the Marists. In this petition, Peter suggested for the first time that the order could be outside the Marist community. In other words, he was willing to give up his lifelong commitment to his Marist family to follow what he truly believed was the Lord’s will.
Pope Pius IX gave the project his blessings, but the implementation would have to be at the discretion of his superiors in the Marist community. His superiors would not budge. After much prayer and grieving, Fr. Peter made the decision. He had a meeting with Fr. Favre, in which he said “It is done. I have decided.” His superior, for his part, said “In that case, I can only let you go; I will dispense you from your vows.”
Fr. Favre made one stipulation that Peter go to Lyons to the mother house, to receive an official written permission to leave the order. He may have had an ulterior motive. There was the possibility that when Peter confronted all his peers in Lyons that he may decide not to decide. He was almost right. The attacks in Lyons were so strong, that he began to waiver in his decision. Remember, these were not his enemies. He had loved this community from the very beginning. He had to be sure he was doing the right thing. He asked Fr. Favre to hold his dispensation until Fr. Peter could get the opinion of an impartial judge, which happened to be the Auxiliary Bishop of Paris.
An interview was arranged with the auxiliary bishop. Peter wrote an impassioned plea for help. The bishop read his plea, and told him to wait for a few days until he could pray on what decision would be in the Lord’s will. Peter was so convinced that he was not to do this for the Lord, he was ready to pack his bags and return to the Marists. But at the eleventh hour, which is always the Lord’s way, he received notice that the Archbishop of Paris would see him and discuss his desire for a new religious order dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament.
Peter went posthaste to Paris, as did his mentor and friend, Fr. De Cuers. They waited outside the Archbishop’s office. As only could happen in the Lord’s plan, the Archbishop, who never walks a visitor out of his office, in this instance did, and on his way back to his office, saw the two priests there. He asked their business, and they told him about their request. He immediately put them off, saying, “Bishop Sibour has told me all about it. No. No. It is purely contemplative. I am not in favor of those things. No. No.”
Whereas the Archbishop had no intention of giving Fr. Peter a personal audience, because of the circumstances, Peter was able to explain that theirs would not be a contemplative order. While there would be adoration, they would work to have adults receive Communion, which was sorely lacking in France, and especially in Paris. Upon hearing this, the archbishop’s interest sparked. He brought the two men into his office, where his auxiliary, Bishop Sibour, and a priest involved in Eucharistic Adoration in Paris were waiting. The Archbishop explained Peter’s plan, and actually sold it to Bishop Sipour, and the other priest.
The following day, a meeting was held with other bishops, regarding Peter’s leaving the Marists. He explained again all that had happened on the road to this place. They all agreed that it was God’s will that he be released from his vows to the Marists, and go ahead without hesitation to begin this new order.
There’s a teaching here, which we don’t want to miss. He went from Diocesan priest, to the Order of Mary, to founding an Order in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Peter Julian Eymard confirms this in his choice of ministries.
At the beginning of his priestly ministry, he devoted his time to normal parish activities, but he felt a powerful draw to the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist was always the Center around which his life revolved. He proclaimed more than once, “Without it, I would have been lost.”
He felt he couldn’t hold back any longer. The burning inside of him to protect, adore and give honor to his God, Jesus in the Eucharist, took over his life. He presented his idea for a new Order of the Blessed Sacrament to his Superior General, who told him to wait. Obedience, being at the zenith of his vows, he waited. He was still chomping at the bit, but because his Superior asked him to wait until his plan had more substance to it, he obeyed; something we seem to have lost the meaning of, in today’s world. For five years, he waited, and then in 1856, with the approval of his Superior, he presented his proposal to the Archbishop of Paris, who approved it in twelve days! He not only approved it, he gave St. Peter Julian his first house in Paris; and on January 6, 1857, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in his chapel for the first time.
The house was falling apart, but they did the best they could to make it presentable. However, things did not go well. They had no money and no candidates came forth to join the new order. They worked as day laborers, waxed floors and carried materials for workmen. Still no money, and no candidates. However, at Christmas time, two priests asked to join them, and on January 6, Feast of the Epiphany, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed.
In researching the life of St. Peter Julian Eymard, we found that he truly put everything into the Hands of the Lord through the Blessed Sacrament. An example of this was when he wanted to go to Rome to get Papal approval of the Community, and obtain a Plenary Indulgence for adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, even if the Tabernacle is closed. He picked the worst possible time. The Archbishop of Paris, whose recommendation he needed, had just died. In addition, a new Archbishop came to Paris, who did not know Fr. Peter and his group, and had no sympathy for their cause. He almost dissolved the little band of priests. However, the Lord stepped in, and turned the Archbishop around completely to the point where he became their greatest supporters.
But as the Pope, Pius IX, who had been extremely supportive to St. Peter Julian’s Order, was very ill, it would not be wise to wait to go to Rome. However, the week, he and his two companions went to Rome was Holy Week; Rome was extremely busy, as was His Holiness. But St. Peter Julian placed everything in the Hands of Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. His philosophy was, if the Lord wanted it, He’d have to make it happen. Apparently the Lord wanted it; because St. Peter Julian Eymard got everything he asked for.
They had to change houses in 1858, and they had to move. There were not many buildings available as Paris was going through a beautification process, tearing down old buildings to widen the boulevards.
They moved into a small chapel in Paris. St. Peter Julian called this his “miracle chapel”, due to all the graces and miracles obtained through the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in that location. Apparently, the Lord had been speaking to the hearts of many religious in France, because an explosion of Eucharistic Adoration began in Paris, and then throughout the country.
In 1859, Pope Pius IX greatly praised the movement. Spurred on by that endorsement, the Order grew in leaps and bounds. More houses were opened in France. Vocations, which had been slow in coming at first, grew in extraordinary proportions, and before long, the Order of the Blessed Sacrament became a full-blown congregation of priests and lay brothers. They were available for any and all kinds of tasks within the Church, but everything had to take second place to their work on building and expanding devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
Fr. Peter’s goal was to enlist as many young people and laborers as possible to become frequent receivers of the Eucharist. He and some lay volunteers who joined his work went to the factories where the greatest number of laborers and young people could be found. His philosophy was that the young people could get their parents to join in. Little by little they began to join Fr. Eymard’s little band. By the end of the first year, hundreds of young boys and laborers had received their First Holy Communion.
But Fr. Eymard didn’t let it go with that. He had found too often that First Communions often become last Communions. So he formed workers clubs and held yearly retreats, at which they would all participate. He established reading libraries for the adults. He held on to them. A welcomed problem occurred. Young girls wanted to receive First Holy Communion too. They were not equipped to handle little girls in the same manner as they would boys. They needed women to help with the girls. Fr. Eymard enlisted the aid of a band of women from Lyons to prepare young girls for the Sacrament. He had been receiving some help from a group of women from Toulon, but they were connected with the Marists. He wanted this to be part of his order of the Blessed Sacrament. So the ladies came to Paris, to begin what became the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament.
Even though the community was dirt poor, they were rich in blessings. Peter knew that he was meant to spread the devotion throughout the dioceses in France. In order to do that, he had to get approval from His Holiness, Pope Pius IX. The pope had been very supportive of Fr. Eymard’s order, and so Peter felt it would not be too difficult to get him to give his approval. So on December 20, 1858, he met with the Holy Father. He was given a cordial welcome, and advised to wait a few weeks until the Pope could work on his request. He spent most of his time from December 20th to January 5th at different churches in Rome, most particularly St. Peter’s Basilica. On January 5, he was praying at one of the pillars at St. Peter’s. He got lost in prayer. We believe the Lord had brought him to a different place. He was in ecstasy. He came out of it, he didn’t know how much later, but noticed it was very quiet and peaceful in St. Peter’s. There was no one there. He got up as if to leave, when he noticed The Holy Father kneeling right near him. His Holiness got up to leave, and Peter seemed to go close to him. The Swiss Guards intercepted him, and escorted him out of St. Peter’s. But there’s good news. The very next day, he received a “Writ of Praise” for his community. This is the first step in official approval of the community. It was signed by Pope Pius IX himself.
He returned to Paris immediately, letter in hand, to share with his community. They made a week’s retreat, after which they all took their vows as religious of the Blessed Sacrament in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was official. The Cenacle in Paris, on Faubourg Saint Jacques, became their mother house. Since that time, they have opened two other houses in Paris, because the community outgrew the quarters they occupied. The most recent is near the Arch de Triumph in Paris. In addition, they have opened many houses all over the world, including the United States.
Fr. De Cuers went to Marseilles to begin a new house there. Because of his complete lack of funds, the bishop of Marseilles invited Peter to speak to the various churches in Marseilles as a fund raiser for this community. It was very successful. Soon, bishops from various dioceses in France asked Peter and his order to open houses in their diocese. In a period of five years, they opened three houses in France.
The next step in his goal for final papal approval of the order was to go to Rome. Pope Pius IX was in poor health. He had been very supportive of Fr. Eymard and the Blessed Sacrament Order. Peter wanted to get to him before he died. However, as it turned out, Pope Pius IX outlived Peter Julian Eymard. In March, 1863, Peter and Fr. De Cuers sailed from Marseilles to Rome. Peter became so seasick on the voyage, they were not sure he would survive the trip. However, he did, and presented his petition to His Holiness. Then they waited…and waited…and waited. Peter prayed in many churches, but mostly in St. Peter’s Basilica. This was during the Pope’s battle with King Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi, who were trying to take over the Papal States. So His Holiness was very distracted.
In addition, someone had accused Peter of leaving the Marists without permission, and that there were women catechists at his mother house in Paris. He quickly defended these charges, of which he was cleared. And then he waited again. Finally, a little over two months later, on June 3, 1863, the congregation was given official approval. However, there was a problem which he didn’t realize, until he showed the written approval to Fr. De Cuers. It had Peter’s name on it. When all should have been cheering and praising God, his main collaborator and mentor, Fr. De Cuers accused him of pride, and left the Paris community for the house, or Cenacle, as he liked to call it, in Marseilles. This was a tremendous blow to Fr. Eymard, as Fr. De Cuers was the priest who inspired Peter to begin Eucharistic adoration in Paris. So their victory was bittersweet.
St. Peter’s life was always filled with struggle, from the time he was a young man and had to fight his father’s wishes for him not to be a priest, to the uphill battle to become a priest, and then when Our Lady told him to begin a community dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament, the years of disappointment and rejection by his Marist brothers, when he felt the Lord calling him to build a religious order in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Then, the final approval was severely spoiled by his altercation with Fr. De Cuers. However, throughout and despite all the disappointments along the way, he was finally successful in his commitment to Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary to build a thriving community of priests, brothers and sisters.
Fr. Eymard’s health was always tenuous. As we told you, when he was finally accepted into the Seminary, he was sent home because he was so ill, presumably to die. But that was not the Lord’s plan. It seemed like his greatest triumphs were coupled with his greatest bouts of illness. For example, after the community was approved initially by the Archbishop of Paris in May, 1856, he collapsed with pneumonia, and had to go to recuperate with friends in a manor south of Paris. The trip to Rome in 1863 caused him great illness on the boat from Marseilles to Rome.
It seemed that from the time of the approval of Congregation in 1863, until his death in 1868; his focus was on administration. Not that he wanted this, but he wanted to open the novitiates and churches and houses that the various bishops asked him to open. It became somewhat of a trip. Money was always a problem. He basically had nothing. All the houses he opened lived hand to mouth. He had loans here, and commitments there. It got completely out of hand when some of the financial problems wound up in litigation. He was able to take care of all of it, but it took a great toll on him, physically and spiritually.
He suffered from a bout with influenza early in 1868. But he continued working. After preaching, and giving retreats, he went one for himself early 1868. In his writings on that retreat, he shared with God, all the anxieties and depressions he had been suffering for the last 3 years. He actually wrote about his problems from the time he was called to leave the Marists to the problems with the beginnings of the community, to his latest legal problems. He didn’t realize it, but his life was beginning to wind down.
Throughout his life, he always came back to his roots. Pilgrimages to Our Lady of La Salette and Our Lady of Laus became a normal part of his spirituality. He would come to La Mure to visit his sisters, who were getting on and suffering illnesses, and couple the visit with a pilgrimage to both shrines of Our Lady in the French Alps. On July 21, 1868, he made what turned out to be his last pilgrimage to La Salette, to celebrate Mass there. He was feeling very weak. A priest, whom he met in Grenoble, traveled with him to La Salette where they celebrated Mass. Fr. Julian then took a coach from La Salette down the mountain to La Mure, where he arrived in the early evening. He went to his sister’s home. He went directly upstairs to his room and went to bed. He never left the room. He had suffered a stroke. He could not walk or speak. On Sunday, August 1, 1868, he died peacefully in his home in La Mure. He was buried the next day in the parish cemetery until his Congregation moved his body to the Paris in 1877.
There’s a story to be told about that, too. The little village of La Mure became used to going to the local cemetery and praying at the grave of Fr. Julien, as they knew him. For almost ten years, they were able to do this. But when word came down to them that the “Paris People” were coming down to steal the body of their saint, and bring him to Paris, there was an uproar in the town. There were petitions and outcries from the time they heard about it until the day the workers came to remove the coffin of their saint. Crowds of people gathered at the cemetery. The local constable had to maintain order. They were not happy about it. However, it was God’s will that their Saint be brought to what is today, his final resting place at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel on Avenue Friedland in Paris. Go there. Visit him. He loves you.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard Media
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.” Many of the ebooks are now available at Amazon.com.
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