Saint Peter Julian Eymard – First Years
If there was one phrase which would typify the life of Saint 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. . Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard – On to College
Down but not out, Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard and the Blessed Mother
Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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 Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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 Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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. Saint Peter Julian Eymard 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.