The day I arrived in Douvres for the TSI, an associate introduced me to the icon created for St. John Eudes. She pointed out the three houses to his right, which represent the three congregations that he founded. “Three?” I asked. Being just a rookie seminarian, I was only aware of Our Lady of Charity and the CJM. For the rest of the year, this “third order” became my fascination.
In his authoritative biography of John Eudes, Fr. Paul Milcent makes a passing reference to it during the 1648 mission in Autun. The earliest historical record was in a letter from Gaston de Renty, perhaps referring to the first groups of Eudist associates:
“I was with you spiritually last Sunday, which I believe was the first day of your mission. If you think it would be useful for me to be there physically toward the end, to help form the small groups of gentlemen and other societies in the city, like we have done in other villages and cities, humbly I ask you to believe that I will do my utmost to be there.1
”1 Seven months later, John Eudes would reply to him: “Here I am, back from Burgundy... our voyage was filled with labors to form diverse companies of men and women, who have a great desire to serve God well.”2
This mission in Autun was important in many ways; it was also where John Eudes published his first book on “devotion to the Heart of Mary,” and celebrated the first public mass for the Holy Heart. At the time, the process of forming small groups of laity to meet on a regular basis after the mission ended was a well-used catechetical tool.3 It seems that Autun was the first time John Eudes founded groups specifically to be formed in his own spirituality, that of the Holy Heart.
1 Paul Milcent, Un Artisan du Renouveau Chretien au XIIe siecle, p.212. Steve's translation from original text: “Je me suis bien uni à vous dimanche dernier, que je crois avoir été l'ouverture de votre mission. Je vous supplie très humblement de croire que, si vous m'y jugiez utile sur la fin, pour y former quelque petit corps de gentilshommes et des sociétés dans la ville, comme nous le faisons aux petites villes et aux gros bourgs, je ferais mon possible pour m'y trouver.”
2 Ibid. “Me voici de retour de Bourgogne [ ... ] . Notre voyage a été assez plein d'emplois pour aider à former diverses compagnies d'hommes et aussi de femmes, qui ont grand désir de bien servir Dieu.”
3 Somewhere in Du Chesnay
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