It began with a chance encounter and an unshakable sense of call.
For some years, starting with a powerful experience he had while carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession through the streets of Lyons, France, on Corpus Christi, May 25, 1845, Peter Julian Eymard, a Marist priest, felt an intense attraction to Christ in the Eucharist, what he later described as a desire to “bring all the world to the knowledge and love of our Lord; to preach nothing but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ eucharistic.” This grace would consume him over the following years until finally, in 1856, he decided to leave his beloved Society of Mary in order to pursue what he believed to be God’s will for him: he would establish a religious congregation completely dedicated to the mystery of the Eucharist.
The project met with opposition at every turn from church officials. At last, dejected in spirit, he determined to make one last attempt. If it failed, he would abandon the work entirely and return to the Marists. On May 13, 1856, Father Eymard made his way to the residence of the Archbishop of Paris, accompanied by Father Raymond de Cuers, his first companion. The pair waited all afternoon, hoping to see Bishop de Tripoli, an auxiliary bishop, and even Archbishop Sibour himself. Just as they were about to leave, a door suddenly opened and they found themselves face-to-face with the archbishop:
“Who are you?”
“Two visiting priests.”
“What do you want?”
“Your Excellency, it’s Bishop de Tripoli that we are waiting for.”
“But isn’t it true,” continued quickly Archbishop Sibour, “that what Bishop de Tripoli does here the archbishop can also do? What is it you want?”
Father Eymard mentioned the answer they were expecting. . . .
“Bishop de Tripoli has kept me posted. . . . Oh no, it’s purely contemplative. . . . I am not in favor. . . . No, no. no!”
“But Your Excellency is mistaken about our purpose. It is not a purely contemplative society. Yes, we adore certainly, but we also want to lead others to adore. We must take care of the First Communion of adults. We want to set fire to the four corners of Paris, which need it so much.”
On hearing these words, the archbishop’s face suddenly lit up.
“The First Communion of adults!” he exclaimed. “That’s what’s missing. . . . That’s what I desire most!”
The eucharistic work was approved!
Within a few weeks, the first members of the newly-formed Society of the Blessed Sacrament moved into a residence at 114 rue d’Enfer, an estate much in need of repair to make it a suitable place from which to launch the eucharistic mission, “to dedicate ourselves to the work of the First Communion of adults, searching out those who had no chance to do so, instructing them with much charity in the Catholic doctrines, and preparing them to receive well this sacrament of love” (Constitutions, p. 54).
In the years since, religious of the Blessed Sacrament have taken Saint Peter’s Julian Eymard’s vision of an intense eucharistic life combining worship, prayer, common life, and apostolic activity beyond the “four corners of Paris” to the ends of the earth. The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament has served in the United States since 1900, with its first foundation in New York City at Saint Jean Baptiste Church. The American Province of Saint Ann is part of a worldwide Eymardian family of priests, deacons, brothers, sisters, and associates.
Visit the web site of our international headquarters, the General Curia, in Rome in order to locate our communities throughout the world.