The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Pierre Julien Eymard

Saint Peter Julian EymundThere is a Eucharistic movement in the Church. The attraction of the Saviour hidden in the tabernacle appears to grow stronger and to lead mankind to Him as the only true source of joy and consolation. To promote this Eucharistic movement was the life purpose of the Venerable Pierre Julien Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Most Blessed Sacrament. But before he came to a clear knowledge of this mission and of the ways and means to make it effective, he had to pass through many trials. The first lay in the removal of many obstacles which barred his way to the priesthood.

He was the son of a blacksmith and was born on 4 February 1811, at La Mure d’Isere, near Grenoble. Julian imbibed a love of the Holy Eucharist from his mother’s breast, for she was most devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and paid daily visits to the church with her children. These must have been happy moments for the little Julien, who soon manifested a great liking for the church. If he was missing from the house, they were sure to find him on the steps of the altar. Our Lord in the tabernacle knew well how to enlighten the innocent heart of the child and to draw it to Himself. The boy showed a marvelously precocious intelligence of the truths of Faith. When five years old he asked for Holy Communion and made known his desire to become a priest. When at the age of nine he wished to prepare for the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus by confession and was refused by the pastor and chaplain on the pretext of want of time, he set out indefatigably through the deep winter snow and confessed in a neighboring parish. At his first Holy Communion, which he received at the age of twelve, he made a pilgrimage of seventy miles to the distant shrine of Notre Dame du Laus. Along with his great love of the Holy Eucharist, the lily of purity bloomed in him with a serene splendor.

In spite of Julien’s manifestation of so clear a vocation to the priesthood his father wished to make a blacksmith of him and would not permit him to study. Some of his schoolmates who were making their studies taught the blacksmith’s apprentice the rudiments of Latin on free days. Finally his father’s eyes were opened and he sent his son, now seventeen years old, to a cleric in Grenoble. In the following year Eymard entered the novitiate of the Oblates at Marseilles. But he applied himself with such excessive ardor to the duties of his vocation that he became ill and after ten months at the novitiate was obliged to return home. His condition became so serious that he was given the last sacraments. Though all doubted his recovery, he declared with complete confidence: “I shall become a priest.” His strength of will won the victory over his illness after two years of struggle. He then asked admission to the seminary of Grenoble and, although he had studied but little and his pastor could not give a satisfactory testimonial of his proficiency, he made a good entrance examination. He ascribed his unexpected success to the special assistance of the Blessed Virgin. Three years later, on 20 July 1834, he had the happiness of being ordained. The daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice now revealed the extraordinary fervor of his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. When circumstances permitted he spent two hours preparing for Mass and after it he made an equally long thanksgiving. A priest so penetrated with love for the Eucharist must necessarily have the greatest success in the care of souls. Only after long refusal did the bishop finally permit Eymard, in 1839, to join the Marists. “I have given sufficient proof of my high esteem for the Society of Mary,” he said, “in giving it such a priest.”

Father Eymard rendered distinguished services to the Order. In 1845 he was provincial of Lyons, then novice-master and superior of the College of La Seyne-sur-Mer. He made veneration of the Blessed Sacrament flourish everywhere and with it the religious life of those under him. But he was to do much more for the promotion of devotion to the great mystery of love. At the shrine of Fourviere he learned that God certainly demanded of him the foundation of an Order whose chief aim should be the veneration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. His biographer tells us of a thrice-repeated vision of the Blessed Virgin, who encouraged him in the work. Another time, during the thanksgiving after Mass, he received a special enlightenment on the same matter. Still he did not act precipitately. Through the Dominican superior-general, Father Jandel, he informed Pope Pius IX of his plan and the latter replied with words of praise and encouragement. After further counsel with men of prudence. Father Eymard believed it his duty to leave the Congregation of the Marists, hard though he felt it to separate from his well-beloved brethren, who begged him to remain with them.

But his time of trial was not yet past. He endeavored to put his plan into effect in Paris. Men looked upon him as a visionary who had been dismissed from his Congregation. The first companions he had won to his design deserted him. Nevertheless, he was able, with the permission of the archbishop, Monsignor Sibour, to establish a small religious residence in 1857 and in the following year he obtained the preliminary approbation of the rules he had composed. The principal end of the Order is to promote the veneration of the Holy Eucharist in one’s self and in others. With ardent zeal Eymard now proceeded to the accomplishment of his purpose. Through his endeavors there came into life “The Priests Eucharistic League” which to-day is spread over the whole world and whose members have greatly promoted imitation of the boundless love of the hidden Divinity. As a Eucharistic preacher Eymard journeyed through the provinces of France to bring the faithful nearer to the central sun of Catholic worship, to warm them in its rays and to charm them by its beauty. He was an eloquent advocate of frequent communion, for he rightly saw in it the best protection against sin.

Besides the Society of Priests of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Eymard also founded a Congregation for women, the Servants of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Both carry on with great zeal the work of their venerable founder. He died after a stroke of apoplexy, on 1 August 1868, at La Mure. When the body was removed to Paris in 1877 it was found still incorrupt. His life proves what a source of joy and holiness there is in the Holy Eucharist for us sinful pilgrims on earth who stand so much in need of encouragement.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916