Manliness and Fortitude: Venerable Emmanuel d'Alzon
'A Noble and Frank Intolerance'
Ven. Father d'Alzon, besides being an edifying model of charity, was also a sterling exemplar of a virtue very much needed today: fortitude. The man exuded Christian manliness.
"We love Christ with the same kind of love as the early Christians because He still faces the same kind of enemies that he faced then. We love Him with the love that made the Apostles say 'if anyone does not love Jesus Christ, let him be cursed.' This may not be very tolerant, but you know that those who love much tolerate little. Properly speaking, true love is revealed in the power of a noble and frank intolerance. In these days with no energy left for either love or hate, men do not see that their tolerance is just another form of weakness. We are intolerant because we draw our strength from our love of Jesus Christ."
Not a milquetoast, that French preacher! I was hooked.
Emmanuel d'Alzon was born August 30, 1810, in Vigan (Southern France). He was of the nobility, his mother and father being a Viscount and Viscountess. In 1832, he entered the seminary of Montpellier. Dom Prosper Guéranger tried to attract the young cleric to his Benedictine monastery at Solesmes, but the invitation was politely rejected. Emmanuel opted instead to finish his studies preparatory to ordination at the Gregorian in Rome, where he quickly became disenchanted and felt he was wasting his time.
He stayed in the Eternal City, taking private instruction from Rome's most gifted professors, including the Rector of the English College, the future Cardinal Wiseman. Ordained a priest on December 26, 1834, he offered his first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on St. Peter's tomb the next day. In 1835, he joined the diocese of Nimes, France, and only two years later was made its Vicar General. This position he kept for 45 years under four bishops. Also in 1835, he founded "The Refuge," a charitable work for wayward girls. In giving his permission for this new apostolate, Bishop Chaffoy ironically paid tribute to his Vicar General's greatness: "Go ahead my son," he said, "all founders are fools, and you have all the earmarks."
The Educational Apostolate
As a young priest, Fr. d'Alzon became a much sought after confessor and spiritual director, spending many hours each day in the confessional, beginning right after his five o'clock morning Mass. In 1843, he and a priest-friend named Fr. Goubier purchased Assumption College in Nimes. While this was not the beginning of Father d'Alzon's educational apostolate - he had already been instructing youth in various capacities - it marks his entry into formal education, which would become one of the works of zeal for which he and his congregation became most noted.
The year after the purchase of the college - 1844 - he made a vow to found a religious congregation which would "help Jesus continue his mystical incarnation in the Church and in each of the members of the Church." Bishop Cart gave permission in 1845 for him to begin a novitiate with his first companions. They numbered six.
The Augustinians of the Assumption
In 1850, just after Christmas Matins, the first Assumptionists made public vows before the students and faculty assembled in the college chapel. (The full name of the congregation is the Augustinians of the Assumption, since they took the Rule of the great Doctor of Hippo as the basis of their religious life.) In addition to the regular vows, Father Emmanuel added a fourth (private) vow to dedicate himself to the education of youth and the extension of Christ's Kingdom. The congregation was formally approved by Rome in 1864, by which time it had twenty four members in final vows.
The next year, Fr. d'Alzon founded the Oblates of the Assumption, a congregation of women who would prove invaluable collaborators with the Assumptionists in some of their missions, particularly those in Bulgaria. The years 1869-70 saw Fr. d'Alzon active in the work of the First Vatican Council, which he attended as the theologian for Bishop Plantier. He worked with Cardinal Pie, Cardinal Manning, and others in preparing the decree on papal infallibility. The only session of the Council he actually attended was that wherein the Council fathers overwhelmingly approved that dogma. That mission accomplished, he left Rome the same day.
Apostolate of the Press
The year 1871 witnessed Fr. d'Alzon opening his first "Alumnate," a tuition-free seminary for poor boys, which he saw as a solution to the shortage of priests. In twenty-five years these alumnates gave more than ...
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