How little we know where God’s grace will lead. Born on a farm in northern France, Jean Eudes died at 79 in the next “county” or department. In that time, he was a religious, a parish missionary, founder of two religious communities, and a great promoter of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Jean Eudes was born on 14 November 1601 on a farm close to the village of Ri to Isaac Eudes (born circa 1566) and Martha Corbin; he had four sisters and two brothers, including the historian François Eudes de Mézeray (1610-10 July 1683). He made his First Communion on 26 May 1613 (Pentecost) and at age 14 took a private vow to remain chaste.
Eudes studied under the Jesuits at Caen before he decided to join the Oratorians on 25 March 1623. His masters and models in the spiritual life were Pierre de Bérulle (who welcomed him into the order) and the contemplative and ascetic Charles de Condren. As a student of de Bérulle, he became a member of the French school that promoted a Christocentric approach to spiritual affairs. This was characterized by a strong sense of adoration, plus pursuit of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and of the dimensions of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Jacques Camus de Pontcarré inducted Eudes into the subdiaconate on 21 December 1624.
Jean Eudes joined the religious community of the Oratorians and was ordained a priest at 24. During severe plagues in 1627 and 1631, he volunteered to care for the stricken in his own diocese. Lest he infect his fellow religious, during the plague he lived in a huge cask in the middle of a field.
At age 32, Jean Eudes became a parish missionary. His gifts as a preacher and confessor won him great popularity. He preached over 100 parish missions, some lasting from several weeks to several months.
In his concern with the spiritual improvement of the clergy, Jean Eudes realized that the greatest need was for seminaries. He had permission from his general superior, the bishop, and even Cardinal Richelieu to begin this work, but the succeeding general superior disapproved. After prayer and counsel, Jean Eudes decided it was best to leave the religious community.
That same year Jean Eudes founded a new community, ultimately called the Eudists—the Congregation of Jesus and Mary–devoted to the formation of the clergy by conducting diocesan seminaries. The new venture, while approved by individual bishops, met with immediate opposition, especially from Jansenists and some of his former associates. Jean Eudes founded several seminaries in Normandy, but was unable to get approval from Rome—partly, it was said, because he did not use the most tactful approach.
In his parish mission work, Jean Eudes was disturbed by the sad condition of prostitutes who sought to escape their miserable life. Temporary shelters were found, but arrangements were not satisfactory. A certain Madeleine Lamy, who had cared for several of the women, one day said to him, “Where are you off to now? To some church, I suppose, where you’ll gaze at the images and think yourself pious. And all the time what is really wanted of you is a decent house for these poor creatures.” The words, and the laughter of those present, struck deeply within him. The result was another new religious community, called the Sisters of Charity of the Refuge.
Eudes was influenced by the teachings of the French school, Saint Francis de Sales, and the revelations of Saint Gertrude and Saint Mechtilde. Bérulle’s devotion to the Incarnate Word won him over and he combined with it the gentleness and devotional warmth of Saint Francis de Sales. He changed the somewhat individual and private character of the devotion into a devotion for the whole Church when he wrote for the benefit of his communities an Office and a Mass which later received approval from several bishops before spreading throughout the Church. For this reason Pope Leo XIII – in proclaiming Eudes’ heroic virtues later in 1903 – gave him the title of “Author of the Liturgical Worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Holy Heart of Mary”. Eudes dedicated the chapels of the Caen and Coutances seminaries to the Sacred Heart. The feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God was celebrated for the first time on 8 February 1648 and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on 20 October 1672 each as a double of the first class with an octave. He composed various rosaries and prayers dedicated to the Sacred Hearts. His book “Le Cœur Admirable de la Très Sainte Mère de Dieu” is the first book ever written on the devotion to the Sacred Hearts.
Jean Eudes Eudes is probably best known for the central theme of his writings: Jesus as the source of holiness; Mary as the model of the Christian life. His devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart led Pope Pius XI to declare him the father of the liturgical cult of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.