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Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Founder of the Society of the Blessed Sacrament (1811 - 1868)
Peter Julian Eymard was born on February 4 1811, at La Mure ( Isere) in France. His father was a smith whose second wife was Julian’s mother. When she died in 1828 Julian resolved to enter the novitiate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and despite his father’s opposition did so in June 1822. Within a short time he was forced by ill health to leave again but after his father’s death in 1831 he succeeded with the help of his former superior in gaining admission to the major seminary of the Grenoble diocese. On July 20th, 1834, he was ordained priest and in October appointed curate at Chatte, where he gave much time to eucharistic adoration and led a harsh life.
In July 1837 be was appointed parish priest of Monteynard near his home and proved a successful pastor, but feeling the burden of loneliness he began to think again of becoming a religious. From early 1838 he heard accidentally of the Marists and in 1832 obtained permission from his bishop to join them on August 18th that year. He began a novitiate under Father Pierre Colin but the apostolic needs of the Society prevented him from finishing it and in November he was appointed spiritual director at Belley. In 1844 he was appointed Provincial (practically, Vicar General) and in 1846 exchanged this title against that of Visitor General. From September 1845 he also took over the direction of the Third Order of Mary and in 1850-1851 served also as provisional novice -master.
In January and February 1851 in the chapel of Fourviere, he had a profound spiritual experience which prompted him to found a eucharistic community of men. At first he conceived this as a semi-autonomous group within the Third Order and hesitating to take any practical step, such remained his intention, though his ideas of the spirituality of such a community continued to develop.
On May 14th, 1856, Father Eymard was duly dispensed from his vows as a Marist and having found support from the Archbishop Sibour of Paris, established himself and Raymond de Cuers, now ordained, in a villa belonging to the Archbishop. The expected influx of postulants did not come and in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties Julian fell seriously ill in the following year. Having won again the support of Archbishop Sibour’s successor and with the encouragement of the Cure of Ars the nucleus of two communities of men and women were started in March 1858 in Paris.
A decree of praise from Rome was received in January 1859 and first vows taken two months later.
The approbation of the congregation the following June. On July 6th, 1865, Julian was elected Superior General for life. Despite many trials and setbacks, Julien’s spirituality continued to deepen and he experienced ecstatic prayer and enjoyed a gift of discernment of spirits. He died on August 1st 1868, was beatified on July 12th 1924 - when his feast was added to the Marist calendar - and was canonised by Pope John XX111 on December 9th, 1962.