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FRIEND OF THE SACRED HEART

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Saint John Eudes

The driving forces in the life of a hard-working pastor and popular preacher were love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and love of people.

Born in 1601 to a farming family in Normandy, his parents sent him to the Jesuit College in Caen, intending that he take over the management of the farm after a good education. But John felt called to the religious life and in 1621 he received minor orders and began his theological training. He joined the Oratorians, a newly formed religious order, soon distinguishing himself as a preacher.

Six years after being ordained he volunteered to help care for the sick when there was an outbreak of plague: to avoid infecting his brothers, he lived in a large cask in the middle of a field, being given food daily from a nearby convent.

For the next ten years John was occupied in giving parish missions, and his gifts of preacher and confessor won him great popularity. Through his experience of parish work he became aware of the difficult situation of prostitutes who wanted to escape from their wretched way of life. With the help of a woman named Madeleine Lamy he found a temporary home for them, but he realised that they needed secure accommodation and an opportunity to find respectable work. This support could best be given by a religious congregation, and so he founded the Sisters of Charity of the Refuge.

John also saw the need for good, well-trained parish priests, and he believed that priority should be given to preparing them for their ministry. Given permission to establish a seminary, the succeeding superior disapproved of the scheme and, after prayer and counsel, John decided to leave his Order in 1643 to found a society of secular priests called the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. He opened several seminaries in Normandy, supported by local bishops, but he could not obtain approval from Rome.

Later in life John began writing, taking as his theme the hearts of Jesus and Mary. In 1670 he published “The Devotion to the Adorable Heart of Jesus" which included a Mass and Office he had composed for the Sacred Heart. The feast of the Sacred Heart was observed on 31 August 1670 for the first time in the seminary chapel at Rennes. The last years of his life were spent on his other major work, a treatise on devotion to the heart of Mary.

John never lost his enthusiasm for preaching, and he continued to give successful parish missions, many of which lasted for several weeks. In 1675, when he was 74 years old, he preached in the open air every day for nine weeks.

He died on 1 August 1680, aged 79, and was canonised in 1925.

Saint John Eudes is an example of the best type of parish priest, whose first concern is always for the spiritual welfare of his people. We shall always be grateful to him for sharing with us his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We can show our love for him by asking Jesus to increase our love for His Sacred Heart.