St. John Eudes' biography
(1601-1680)

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John Eudes, the first-born son of Marthe and Isaac Eudes, came into the world on 14 November 1601 in the town of Ri, near Argentan, in the beautiful countryside of Normandy. The way of life at the times was modest, as in most regions of France, the faith was ardent albeit poorly learned.
The young John is seized by the mystery of God and is yearning to be instructed. Consequently, he askes to take the holy orders. He enters the Oratory of Saint-Honoré Street, in Paris, on March 25, 1623. The Oratory of France participates in the religious effervescence of the French XVII Century. In the wake of the Council of Trent, the Church is renewing itself, going deeply into the faith by way of new forms of worship and the creation of institutions. This is the movement that later will be known as the French School of Spirituality. John Eudes is attracted by this fervour.

The Missions

The parish missions took different forms, becoming more and more precise over the years. During many weeks, priests coming from an Institute, together with the local clergy, would settle in a parish and do all they could to rekindle the spirit of Christianity by catechizing the people, choosing them by age groups and by states of life, by preaching and leading common prayers, by pilgrimages… The fruit being sought was that as many faithful possible would go to confession and therefore, be touched personally.
John Eudes began very early working in parish missions, as soon as 1628, merely three years after his ordination. Little by little, he will refine his methods of intervening by praying with families and by assembling priests. These missions will occupy an important place in the life of John Eudes, not only by their number, at least 117, but mostly because of what they will have changed in his life. The institutions he will later implement will stem from the calls he heard during these missions.

The founding of Our Lady of Charity

While undertaking these missions, John Eudes became aware of the fact that many women, particularly those who relied on prostitution, needed help to drag them out of this world and regain some dignity. Shelters were opened in Paris and some important cities in the Provinces. These were homes where women who were brutalised and rejected would benefit from peace and safety; they could find ways to be readmitted into society. These were the kind of homes that had to be built to be welcoming so that they would offer shelter and education.
With the financial help of benefactors and friends, John Eudes opens a place of refuge, a true home to welcome those who may find an oasis of security and be instructed. A new Institute, endowed with proper Constitutions, will be established in Caen, in 1651: the Order of Our Lady of Charity. It will expand considerably during the life of its founder.

The founding of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary

While John Eudes was still a member of the Congregation of the Oratory, his reputation was well established and he benefited from wide consideration. He was promised a bright future but he kept being gnawed by this question: what should be done to make sure that the missions would produce long-lasting seeds? The first intuition that came to his mind was correct: action had to be taken towards the priests and for their ministry. Why not open, in Caen, a seminary for future priests? But such a project wasn’t part of the plans of the new Superior general of the Oratorians. The proposals made by John Eudes were turned down. He was obsessed with an idea that had become a pressing duty: not to follow it would have meant to disobey the will of God. He wrote down, in a note, that his decision «drew him away from the obvious peril where he was about to lose himself ».
On 19 March 1643, he left the home of the Oratorians without notice. Along with five companions, he made his way to a house close to his Community. Now that this step had been taken, the time was ripe for a foundation. Consequently, on March 24, by night, he and his companions gathered in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Delivrande only a few kilometres away from Caen. « On March 25, the day chosen by God to become one of us in the flesh, was the first day of the carrying out of a project, like a birth bearing so many promises ». John Eudes intended to establish a society of priests to be in the service of diocesan bishops, to look after, as it was called in those days, the « exercises of missions » and the « exercises of seminaries » for the formation of « good workers of the Gospel », « shepherds according to the heart of God ».

Spirituality

John Eudes was a researcher: how could it be possible to express clearly and simply the love of God by which every person is loved? To translate the concept in a symbol, only one representation was clearly possible: the heart. It represents life, love and the centre. More, Tradition and the Scriptures speak of the heart. Therefore, John Eudes will propose, first to his priests, then to all the faithful, to turn towards Christ through this symbol of the heart. Jesus is the life, he is entirely the love and the center of the existence of his Mother. Jesus is the Heart of Mary. After having recovered from an illness earlier than expected, John Eudes decided to share his discovery in praise and thanksgiving. In Autun, where he was preaching a mission, with the permission of the local bishop, he required that a liturgy be celebrated in honour of the Heart of Mary. This will be the first such celebration in the history of the Church, on 8 February 1648.
John Eudes refused to separate what God had united. After the Heart of the Mother, he later considered the Heart of the Son, in 1672. He sent a letter to all his communities to enjoin them to celebrate a feast in honour of the Heart of Christ, on 20 October. The feast that John Eudes desired so intensively proved to be a perfect synthesis of all his life’s devotion: the humanity of Christ, his unquestioning love, the transmission of all he had received from the Father, the universal dimension of his grace.
John Eudes was beatified by Pope Pius X, in 1909, and canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925. His feast is celebrated on 19 August.