Charles de Mazenod


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Bishop of Marseilles and founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (1782–1861).

Born at Aix-en-Provence before the French Revolution and dying before the First Vatican Council, his life was passed in a period of crisis for the Church. He contributed strongly to its resolution by energetic development of a rapidly expanding diocese and by founding a missionary Congregation which has had phenomenal growth, especially in Canada and the USA.

As a child he and his family had been in exile in Italy during the worst excesses of the French Revolution, and as a young man he had heard of Napoleon's imprisonment of Pope Pius VII. He entered the local seminary in 1808 and was ordained priest in 1811. Inspired by missionary ideals, he founded the Missionary Society of Provence for improving the standards of priestly life and through them those of the laity. His zeal was noticed and approved, with the result that he was appointed coadjutor to his uncle, the bishop of Marseilles, whom he succeeded in 1837.

His external appearance and nepotistic appointment recalled the lifestyle of bishops of the ancien régime, but he efficiently tackled the problems of a large port, building new churches, establishing new parishes (some for immigrants), and reforming the administration of the diocese. He also took part in controversies of national importance. Like many of his contemporaries he was in favour of the papacy retaining temporal power, but his Ultramontanism was moderate.

Meanwhile his Oblates (renamed in 1826) prospered impressively. They took on work in the foreign missions such as South Africa, Ceylon, and South America, initially working in and through seminaries, but later in Canada and the USA they took on the care of parishes also. Most of the bishops in western Canada once belonged to this Congregation, while in the USA their one province developed into five. Charles died in 1861 and was beatified in 1975. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1995. Feast: 21 May.

N.C.E., ix. 522–3;Bibl. SS., ix. 251–5;Lives by R. Boudens (1951) and J. Leflon (3 vols. 1957–65).

Subjects: Christianity.

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