St. John Eudes
Family, we are so excited to bring you St. John Eudes, a Super Saint, founder of the Eudists, the Order of Our Lady of Charity, and the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. He was born in Ri, a little hamlet in central Normandy in western France, on November 14, 1601. His family was very Catholic, and very strict. Before his birth, they walked eighteen miles from their village to a little shrine in Les Tourailles, where there is a devotion to Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Recovery. This shrine has been a very special place of pilgrimage for the people of Normandy for centuries. There have been very few times when a petition to Our Lady at this Shrine has been denied. So his mother and father, good strong Catholic stock, went to the little church and prayed for a strong, healthy, good Catholic boy. Their prayer was, “Give us a child, and we will offer him to the Mother of God.” After they had returned home for a few months, John’s mother, Martha could feel the child in her womb. They realized that this was a gift from Our Lady. So they made another pilgrimage to Les Tourailles, again eighteen miles each way by foot, to thank Our Lady and renew their promise that they would give back to her the child she had given them.
And so on November 14, 1601, John was born all the things his parents asked for, and more. He was a very spiritual boy. His parents loved him dearly, but they did not project the love of Church or of the Faith openly. John had to find his spiritual nourishment in Church. There were times his mother would worry about him, not knowing where he was. She could always find him in Church, praying, much like another Super Saint we know, Dominic Savio. The priest in his town had no desire to teach the children the Faith, but John’s parents found a school in a nearby village where the priest was eager to have John in his school which helped John in his spiritual journey.
John took the gospel literally. At nine years old, he turned the other cheek when a classmate slapped him in the face. At twelve, he was receiving Holy Communion every month, which was unusual for a young boy. He took the vow of chastity when he was a teenager, offering himself to the Lord. He excelled at school in his little village, but his father felt the need for more intense spiritual training under the Jesuits in Caen, the nearest big city, about 30 miles from his home. There was some conflict because John’s mother did not want him exposed to the big city and its sinfulness. However, his father had attended that school as a young man, and was confident it would be good for his son. Martha submitted to her husband. John had a great desire to enter the priesthood from his early years. He lived a very spiritual life in Caen. He joined the Sodality of Our Lady in 1618. He received great graces from that association. His parents did not agree with his choice for the priesthood. Remember, priests in those days were not very spiritual. They considered the priesthood as a way to earn a living, and received benefits. This was not what John’s father wanted for him. He wanted John to return to Ri and help to take care of the family, which by now numbered six children, all younger than John.
But John was firm in his decision. And although they didn’t agree with him, they allowed him to follow his vocation. He went to the theological seminary in Caen. However, the candidates for the priesthood there were just about what his father had said they would be; only looking for a job and security. A neighbor woman had learned about a very well-known priest in Paris, a Father Père de Bèrulle, who had begun the Oratory of Jesus in Paris. This dear woman traveled the 170 miles to receive spiritual direction from this holy man. She shared with young John about her experience with Fr. de Bèrulle. He was filled with a great desire to go to Paris to become part of the Oratory. He asked the advice of the Jesuits, who had trained him in Caen before he entered the seminary. They suggested he go to Paris and investigate the Oratory. He asked his father for permission. It was not granted. He decided he would go anyway, with or without his father’s permission.
To that end, he mounted the family’s trusty horse to begin his journey. However, although John didn’t think he needed his father’s permission, the family horse did. He went to the edge of the property and stopped. John had to go back and wait until his father allowed him to leave Normandy for Paris. You must understand the father’s apprehension about letting his son leave their simple corner of the world to go to the big city, which was considered very sinful, with good reason. However, he did trust his son, and after much prayer and discernment, gave his blessing to the boy, who then headed for Paris and the Oratory.
John joined the Oratory on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25 in 1623. He was under the tutelage of Fr. de Bèrulle. He was ordained on December 20, 1625, and celebrated his first Mass in the Oratoire de Louvres on Christmas Day in 1625. He followed the mandate which had been approved by Pope Paul V in 1613. “The Oratory has for its first and principal purpose to tend wholeheartedly towards the perfection of the priestly state; to have a special devotion to Our Lord Jesus Christ, eternal high priest and source of priesthood in the Church…the fathers may perform all the functions and all the works truly and essentially belonging to the priestly state.”
Fr. John’s time in Paris was invigorating and robust. During his lifetime, he preached three missions in that city, at St. Sulpice, at St. Germain de Pres and at Place Quinze Vingts, which, though very large, was too small to accommodate all who came to hear him speak. These missions were very successful. He filled the hearts of those who listened to him. Great conversions came about. He worked among the poor, feeding them spiritually as well as physically. He was a powerful speaker. In one of his biographies, by Paul Milcent, St. John is described as “having a powerful speaking voice, a glance, extremely powerful preaching, and an appearance that took hold of souls and laid them open to God irresistibly.”
About a year after his ordination, while he was in Paris, the plague broke out all over France. He received a letter from his father. He went to his superior, Fr. Bèrulle, and pleaded “I have received a letter from my father. He tells me that all around the city of Argentan, which is but a few miles from where he lives, there has broken out the plague. The dying die; the living flee, and the priests too often follow the living. I beg that I be allowed to go there and behave like a true priest.” His superior replied “To end the plague?’ Fr. John responded “To save the souls of the dying.” At first, Fr. de Bèrulle refused to give him permission. He protested that John’s health was not strong enough to take care of the sick. He might not even make the journey home. But by now, we know that John Eudes had this very strong disposition. Although he did not want to be disobedient to his superior, he knew where his duties lie. He kept after Fr. de Bèrulle relentlessly. He wouldn’t give him peace until he gave his permission. For his part, Fr. de Bèrulle did not want to lose what he knew to be a very powerful instrument for the Church. But he knew the young man’s duty was to those in his home town. He finally gave in. He made Fr. Eudes the head of the Oratory at Caen.
Our Saint walked on foot from Paris to Argentan, a distance of about 170 miles. It took three months. Along the way, he helped victims as much as possible. He gave the last rites to victims of the plague and buried them. He would carry Our Lord in the Eucharist in a little box around his neck to give to those to whom he administered Extreme Unction. It was one long sick-call for him, never-ending. At his home in Ri, he lived in a barrel in the middle of a field, so as not to affect his brothers with the plague. But three of them were stricken with the plague, and so he ministered to them in Ri, before returning to Argentan to continue his work with the sick and dying. By the grace of God, the cold weather came, and the plague ended. Fr. Eudes wrote to Fr. de Bèrulle, who by now was a Cardinal, and asked his instructions. His reply was to preach missions, which Fr. Eudes did for the rest of his life.
It was as if the Cardinal’s instructions to preach missions opened an explosion of the Holy Spirit in Fr. John. This was what he was born to do, preach the love of God to everyone who would listen. At first, this was not an easy task because of years of apathy which had taken over the Catholics of his area of Normandy, France. We have to realize that when John was a young man, people only went to Communion at Easter time, if that. Confession was unheard of. So you can see that Fr. John had his work cut out for him.
However, Fr. Eudes and his missionary priests became so well known that when they arrived at a village to give a mission, they were greeted as Voices from Heaven. The entire population of a village would come out to hear them. But it was like they were teaching children who knew nothing about the Faith. It had been so many years since the Word of God had been proclaimed with passion to the people that their hearts would beat when John Eudes and his missionaries came to town. The missions would last for months at a time, sermon after sermon, priests hearing confessions and giving absolutions. The Celebration of the Eucharist was the highlight of every day, with the entire town turning out. Stores were closed. Everyone came to the mission. He was so filled with the Holy Spirit that his fellow Oratorians proclaimed him as the superior of the Caen community, and the Archbishop of Rouen made him director of all Missionary activities in Normandy.
St. John was aware that there was too much for these dear people to absorb, especially after he and his group left. He knew he had to follow up with family prayer, with a revitalization of the diocesan priests’ commitment to their vocations, and with information that the people could relate to when St. John and his missionaries were not there anymore. He was brilliant enough to realize that all that he and his missionaries had given to the people would not stay with them. For one thing, it was just too much for them to absorb. St. John realized that he had to give them something to hold onto. So he began writing little books on the Faith. Remember Mother Angelica’s Mini Books? Well, this was a 17th century version of the same. One of his first and most popular was “The Kingdom of Jesus.” This was not only a how-to book for those whom he had taught; it was also an introduction to the Faith to those who had not come to his missions. It all worked.
St. John was a mover and shaker. He was aware of this from the time he entered the Oratory under Fr. de Bèrulle. He developed from his mentor a great love and admiration for the priesthood. This is why when he and his group would give missions in different locations; he would gather together the local priests and teach them what it was to be a real priest of God. He and his missionaries were actually teaching priests the Faith. He grieved for them and for the fact that there did not exist in France a seminary for secular priests. The Lord gave him the inspiration to form communities under the banner of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and of Mary. He proposed to create an order of priests, and a community of nuns. But when he asked approval from his superior in Paris, who was no longer Fr. de Bèrulle, it was denied. The superior was somewhat intimidated by St. John and all that he had accomplished.
The Lord used an unlikely source, Cardinal Richelieu, who was ruler of France in the name of King Louis XIII. He had heard of Fr. John and his missionaries from his niece, and called him to Paris. There he told him he wanted to create seminaries for secular priests all over France, and wanted Fr. John to establish one in Caen. To that end, the Cardinal’s niece agreed to donate a sizable amount of money for the seminary. Cardinal Richelieu obtained the proper authorization from the king, and Fr. John was on his way. There was only one problem. His new superior in the Oratory had refused to give John permission to do this. At the suggestion of Cardinal Richelieu, Fr. John sorrowfully severed his relationship with the Oratory, in 1643, twenty years after he had joined it.
This was when the Congregation of Jesus and Mary was founded. On the Feast of the Annunciation of Mary, 1643, Fr. John brought his first group of priests to a little village outside of his hometown, Douvres-la-Delivrande, where there was an old church with a statue of Our Lady of Deliverance. To this day, it is a special place of veneration to Our Lady by many people who come to Douvres-la-Delivrande. Here he consecrated his little band of missionaries to Our Lady. It’s very possible he prayed this prayer at that time to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary:
“Jesus lives and reigns so totally in Mary that He is truly the soul of Her soul, the spirit of Her spirit, and the heart of Her Heart, so much so that, strictly speaking, Jesus is the Heart of Mary.”
O most holy, gentle and humble Heart we hail you.
O most pure, prayerful and wise Heart we hail you.
O most patient, obedient and watchful Heart we hail you.
O loving Heart of Jesus and Mary we hail you.
We adore and praise you.
We glorify and thank you.
We love you with all our heart, our soul, our strength.
We offer and give you our heart.
We consecrate and sacrifice it to you.
Accept it and take possession of it.
Purify and enlighten it.
Make it holy.
Live in it and have absolute power over it now, always and forever.
This was the beginning of the formation of the priests of St. John Eudes, later called the Eudists. He brought them back to Caen, and put them in a small house on the outskirts of town, where he gave them a month’s retreat, preaching on the mysteries of the Sacred Heart. However, his attempt at establishing a seminary and order of priests and nuns came up against a great deal of opposition. The king died and the queen would not authorize his papers. Also, no one was interested in promoting a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
So at a very dim time in his priesthood, Our Lady came to his aid. The people in France had a great devotion venerating Our Lady in her various titles, since the middle ages. Fr. John began to celebrate Mass in honor of our Lady. The Bishop d’Argennes gave him permission to celebrate a Feast in Our Lady’s honor in the chapel of his congregation of missionaries in Caen. Fr. John composed a Mass for Our Blessed Mother. However, his friendly bishop died. The new bishop was not sympathetic to St. John because of the calumnies being spread by the Oratorians against him. No one in the diocese of Bayeux would take a chance on alienating themselves from the new bishop. So Fr. John’s authority to preach in the diocese of Bayeux was rescinded.
This should have been a bad thing. But he was always under the safeguard of His Holy Mother Mary; he was invited to preach by a bishop in a far-off diocese, Burgundy in the town of Autun, some 340 miles from his home. In those days, that was almost a lifetime away. But Fr. John agreed to it. He was born to preach, and preach he must do. His mission in Autun was so successful that the bishop of that diocese, who had a special devotion to Our Lady’s Heart, approved the book which Fr. Eudes had written on Our Lady’s heart, had it printed, distributed, and gave Fr. John permission to celebrate Mass in honor of Our Lady’s Heart publicly throughout the city of Autun.
The popularity of his little book and the encouragement provided by the Bishop of Burgundy helped to rebuild his esteem throughout the northern part of France. His little book was accepted by convents and monasteries in Normandy, Burgundy, and Ile-de-France by Vistiandines, Ursulines, Carmelites and Benedictines. The Benedictine community of Montmartre has celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart since 1674. However, life was never a bed of roses for St. John. Throughout his life, he was under constant attack by Jansenists, who had infiltrated the Church, claiming that his teachings were heretical. They were accepted by many bishops and priests. In addition, there were bad feelings among the Oratorians who felt they had lost an outstanding missionary not only in St. John, but in his congregation of missionaries.
You’ve got to understand something about St. John Eudes and his missionaries. When they came into a town or village to give a mission, it was like paratroopers descending upon the area. He brought all his missionaries with him. And the missions could take as long as three months. They just took over, and the people were so hungry for teaching, confession, Communion and the Holy Mass, they flocked to these messengers of God and were mesmerized by them. This is something that another congregation does not like to lose. When St. John left the Oratorians to begin his Congregation of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the Oratorians lost a lot more than just one missionary.
His life was a contradiction of sorts. While he was being praised for his mission work all over northern France, he was banned from doing his work in his own diocese. We believe that all was in God’s plan for St. John, but it didn’t make the living any easier. He became aware that since his kindly bishop had passed on to the father, the queen, who had the right, was going to appoint a new bishop for the diocese of Bayeux. St. John wrote a note to the queen, advising her of the grave responsibility her decision carried. This did not go over too well with the queen, who appointed a candidate, not for his spirituality, but for political reasons. That bishop did not like St. John, but he died soon after. He was replaced by his brother who was somewhat kinder to St. John and allowed him to reopen his chapel. However, he didn’t last very long, and was replaced by a bishop who made it known that he would be closing down Fr. John’s seminary and suppressing his priests who by this time were called Eudists. So John again found himself waiting for the other shoe to drop.
As it turned out, the call for which St. John was waiting on tenterhooks turned out to be quite different from what he was expecting. Rather than closing St. John’s ministry completely, the new bishop was asking him to preach a mission in a town which was deemed impossible to convert. He was told that John Eudes and his team of missionaries were the only ones who could do the job. And naturally, The Eudists did the job. P.S. That bishop did not close him down.
After the success of this mission which he preached for the Bishop of Bayeux, the clouds seemed to open for him and his community. Shortly after the mission, the Bishop came riding up to St. John’s little seminary, and expressed his delight at the work that the Eudists had done. He told St. John that he would erect a diocesan seminary in a choice location in Caen for new seminarians. St. John was pleasantly shocked, but gave all credit to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The Bishop was good to his word. He went to Paris, and had the proper papers renewed with the new King, Louis XIV. If you will recall, he was the miracle baby born through the novena made to Our Lady of Cotignac before his birth. He was a good man. These letters re-confirmed the Eudists’ foundations. The Bishop gave John’s seminary a diocesan seminary, which brought countless new seminarians. He convinced the city council to allow St. John buy a choice location in town, Place Royale, to build this new seminary, in order to accommodate the new seminarians who would enter there. To top things off, the Bishop gave St. John permission to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady’s Holy Heart in the chapel of the new seminary.
For a time, it seemed like the dark clouds had disappeared. The Bishop died, but was replaced by one who continued supporting the work of the new seminary, and St. John’s efforts. Construction of the new seminary began, which would be dedicated to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. At one point, they ran out of money. St. John held his breath for a time, and then appealed to a very rich woman in Paris, whose sister was a Benedictine nun in Montmartre in Paris, and was one of the first to implement the devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The rich sister saved the day by donating a substantial amount which put the construction over the top.
He received affirmation from the Lord for the next ten years in that he was able to open six seminaries, the original in Caen, one in Coutances, Lisieux, Rouen, Evreux, and Saint-Malo in Brittany. His mode of operation differed from many seminaries. His seminarians had received their training in philosophy and theology in the universities prior to entering his seminary. So he did not give a six-year course, but a short two month course prior to ordination. It worked well and was well accepted in the various seminaries.
St. John had always wanted to celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Years before, he had introduced the Feast of Our Lady’s Holy Heart. He prayed that this would be a way of following it with the Feast for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He had written a special Mass for this Feast some years before. God smiled on him in the form of a Mission he was invited to preach in Brittany, the neighboring province. The bishop was so pleased with John and his Missionaries that he gave him permission to establish a seminary in that diocese, AND he could celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart. But John did not jump at this opportunity. As Penny likes to say, “His mother didn’t raise a dummy.” He had learned from his run-ins with the Jansenists in the past that this could be a problem. Instead, he sent letters to the bishops in various dioceses in northern France. The response was less than gratifying. Some put him off; others did not response. But he did not give up.
The Lord’s victory for the Feast of His Sacred Heart did not come from the bishops; it came from the Mother of God through King Louis XIV. He called upon St. John to come to Versailles to give a Mission. St. John was brilliant. The Holy Spirit flowed through him. At the end of the Mission, King Louis smiled on him. Not only that, but he gave him 2000 pounds to build a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart in Caen. Once the bishops, who were all assembled for the Mission, saw the King smile on St. John, there were no more questions about giving permission for the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The Feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated in all his seminaries on October 20, 1672.
That was not the last time the Lord used King Louis XIV to get St. John out of trouble in a round-about way. St. John asked the king for his support in having Rome grant approval to his Congregation, which the king gladly gave. St. John sent one of his own congregation to plead their cause in Rome. But St. John had many enemies in the form of the Oratorians, and the followers of St. Vincent de Paul. They were able to get hold of an old document, written many years before without his knowledge, by one of St. John’s priests, which stated that St. John was against the King’s stand that he was sole ruler of the Church of France, not the Pope. Now, truth be known, St. John would definitely have had to place his loyalties with the Church, had he ever been asked, but he was never asked. However, these enemies of his found this document in the archives, and used it against the Eudists. When the king heard about it, he was furious, and threatened to suppress St. John’s congregation all over France.
Now we told you that the King came to his rescue. Well, this is how it happened. When St. John found out about what had happened in Rome, he immediately asked for an audience with the King. However, Louis XIV was too upset with what he believed St. John had done, and refused him. John asked a good friend who was the Archbishop of Paris, what to do. He was told to do what he did best, continue giving missions. St. John was 75 years old by this time. However, he did what he did best. He gave a grand mission at Saint-Lô in Normandy. It was a great success. John sent a letter asking for an audience. The king read the letter, and responded, “Father Eudes is a good man, yet his petition was against my states. He will have to justify himself.” No audience was granted.
This was when St. John brought out all the big guns. He prayed to Our Lady. He vowed that if she would arrange for a meeting with the King for John, he would dedicate a chapel in his new seminary in Caen to her Immaculate Conception. Not long after, he received word to come for a meeting with King Louis XIV. The audience was granted.
For John, it turned out to be a great event. All the most important people in France were there, including most of the bishops. He had expected to go to the king and plead his cause. However, when St. John arrived, the king turned away from everyone and gave St. John all his attention. He was acclaimed by the king. And no one could help but witness this. This affirmation of his mission and his life was overwhelming. St. John rode back to Caen, relieved that his congregation would not be suppressed, and the major attacks from his enemies against him would stop, for fear of provoking the king’s anger.
On the way back from the audience with the king, St. John’s spirits were high. He knew Our Lady had answered his prayer. However, on that trip back to Caen, his carriage overturned and he was near death. Now, this is a good time to tell you that St. John was always on death’s door. He suffered from all sorts of illnesses throughout his life. He was starting to slow down. He recovered from the accident, but his health was never the same. The Mission at Saint-Lô was his last. He spent his remaining years praying and writing. He had written all his life. But his final book, The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God took the longest to write, 15 years, and it was his last. It was actually the last words he wrote in his life.
St. John turned over his community to his successors. He never made another decision for the Congregation of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. As far as he was concerned, they were in God’s hands. However, he felt he had not given enough time and attention to the community of nuns. Actually, that right had been taken away from him. The bishop of the diocese had made a local priest the director of the nuns. He didn’t particularly agree with St. John about his devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. So he tried to negate St. John’s influence on the nuns, and did not permit them to follow the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. St. John was only their counselor, but in this role he tried to instill the love of the Jesus and Mary into them.
Now, towards the end of his life, the nuns had become independent of outside influence, St. John controlled the Community of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It took a great deal of energy to pick himself up out of his bed and go to them. However, he went, gave them a teaching, his blessing, and went back to his quarters to await death. He gave his body and soul over to his Jesus and Mary on August 19, 1680, just four days after the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady.
St. John Eudes lived in a time of great French Saints, Francis de Sales and Vincent de Paul. He was never as famous as either of them. His popularity was limited to one province in France, Normandy. Although he went to Paris to preach and to other provinces to give missions, his main claim to fame was Normandy, much like St. Louis Marie de Montfort, whose only diocese was Poitier, and who was forgotten for many years. St. John Eudes’ great desire to see devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary came at a high price. During his lifetime, no one was interested in it. In the century after his death, only his congregation, the Eudists, kept the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary alive. And when it did finally gain some momentum, it was because of the Apparitions of Our Lord Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the promises of the Sacred Heart, especially those of the First Fridays. And while that devotion has continued on into the 20th and 21st century, devotion to Divine Mercy and the apparitions to St. Faustina have taken center stage. But St. John is coming back!
Our own personal story of how St. John Eudes came into our life was through the Legion of Mary. Our Lady brought us to St. John. That makes sense. When we first came back to the church in 1975, after the death of our son, we joined the Legion of Mary. Many of our curia meetings took place at the Church of St. John Eudes in Chatsworth, California. We fast forward to 1999, when our great grandson was born. His mother and father were good friends with a young priest who asked if our great-grandson could be baptized in his church. Sure enough, it was St. John Eudes in Chatsworth, California. And finally, last year, a dear priest friend from San Antonio, Texas, came to our Mission in Arkansas, carrying a 5 and a half foot badly wounded statue of St. John Eudes which he rescued from being thrown into a dumpster. He and Brother Joseph spent days renovating it. It stands in a position of prominence in the Mission. We knew we had to write about him and make a program.
John Eudes was proclaimed Blessed by Pope St. Pius X in 1909. In his homily, he called the newly blessed “father, doctor and apostle of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart.”
He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in the second year of his pontificate, 1925.
We would like to end this account with the last words St. John ever wrote:
“Let me die with these divine words in my heart and on my lips: ‘Jesus, Mary,’ and let me pronounce them in union with all the love which has ever been, is now, and ever shall be in all the hearts which love Jesus and Mary.”
More about Saint John Eudes