St. John Eudes was a priest, founder of seminaries and a religious order, and a key promoter of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. John was born in 1601 at Ri, a farming village in the Normandy region of France. His parents were farmers, a devout Catholic couple who consecrated John as a child to the Virgin Mary.
EDUCATION AND ORDINATION
At fourteen, he went to study at the Jesuit College at Caen, and, despite his parents’ desire for him to marry, he made a vow of perpetual continence there. At twenty-two, he left the college and joined the Congregation of the Oratory of France. This new congregation had been founded in Paris in 1611, and its purpose was to call priests away from worldliness, greed, and pride and to focus on the essential relationship with the person of Christ and the message of His Gospel. John continued his studies and was ordained a priest in 1625 at age twenty-three.
John served in his congregation primarily by preaching missions, and he acquired a reputation for being an exceptional preacher. He was known to preach not only in churches, but also in open fields full of people and even to royalty. He stirred the crowds to follow the Lord’s admonition to repent from their sinful ways and live the Gospel message. He was especially known to preach against the Jansenist heresy, which was widespread in seventeenth century France. In 1625 and 1631, the Normandy region was decimated by massive outbreaks of disease, and Father John spent a great deal of time tending to the victims.
CALLED TO A NEW MINISTRY
During his years as a mission preacher, he was quite taken with the plight of women who had fallen into sexual sin, with no way to escape. In 1641, he established a refuge for them at Caen, and entrusted them to the care of the Visitation nuns. In 1643, he resigned from the Oratory order and set out to establish a new congregation with the dual charisms of preaching missions and improving the French clergy by establishing seminaries, for there was no distinct priestly formation in France at the time. Not surprisingly, he was opposed by both the Jansenists and his former Oratory congregation.
With many difficulties getting his venture off the ground, there was progress made in 1650 when the Bishop of Coutances asked Father John to establish a seminary there. Also, the Visitation nuns at Caen had followed their charism of care for women seeking refuge, and their bishop accepted their establishment of a new order, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge. In the 1650s and 1660s, Fr. John established seminaries at Lisieux, Rouen, Evreux, and Rennes and continued to give missions. In 1666, the Refuge Sisters gained papal approval for their formation and work.
France at the time was spiritually suffering from two primary problems. The first was tepidity, or the lukewarmness against which our Lord spoke so strongly to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:16). The second was the Jansenist heresy, a counterfeit version of Catholicism, which taught errors about predestination and other matters and fostered scrupulosity. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun in Paris and a contemporary of Fr. John, allegedly experienced apparitions revealing the value of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and of His great love for us. The Lord allegedly offered His revelation of the passionate love of His Heart for mankind, a message He offered as an apparent rebuttal of the Jansenist errors.
THE FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART
Fr. John had had an ardent devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and the Virgin Mary for many years. The first Feast of the Sacred Heart Mass was composed by Fr. John and occurred under his guidance at the Rennes seminary chapel in 1668. He labored to establish liturgical feast days to commemorate the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and he is credited with establishing those two feasts. Tragically, St. Margaret Mary’s written request to King Louis XIV to place an image of the Sacred Heart on the French flag was rejected. The spiritual state of France was truly in crisis and the Sacred Heart message was largely ignored, with the genocidal barbarity of the French Revolution following just a century later, which might be more than merely coincidental. Fr. John died at Caen on August 19, 1680 at the age of seventy-eight. He wrote The Devotion to the Adorable Heart of Jesus in 1670 and The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God just weeks before his death.
St. John Eudes spent his life tirelessly preaching against the Jansenist heresy, improving the French clergy by creating a seminary system for quality formation, and spreading the timely and timeless message of the love of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He was successful in getting the twin feasts accepted by the Church, and with St. Margaret Mary, is known as the apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The women’s order he founded is now known as the Order of the Good Shepherd. The order has forty-two houses around the world, and its motherhouse is still at Caen. St. John’s remains are located at Our Lady of Charity Monastery at Caen, France. He was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and his feast day is August 19.