St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811 - 1868) understood the importance of the Eucharist. He founded two congregations whose purpose was worshiping Jesus in the Eucharist.
Peter grew up in a poor family in France in a society which had been badly damaged by the anti-Catholic French Revolution. His father was a blacksmith, and his mother was his father's second wife. From an early age, Peter had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. Before his first holy communion at the age of 12, he undertook a pilgrimage on foot to a nearby Marian shrine.
He also had a devotion to the Eucharist as young child. Once, when he was five years of age, he wandered off from the family home. When it was discovered that he was missing, the family frantically searched for him. They finally found him standing on a small stool next to the tabernacle in the parish church. When he was asked what he was doing, he replied, "I am listening to Jesus."
A Parish Priest
Because of his devotion to Our Lady, he desired to become a priest in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. After his mother died, he started his studies for the priesthood in 1829, despite his father's opposition. His father had lost of all of his sons to death, and he was reluctant to "lose" another son. Beside, in post-Revolution France, there remained a strong anti-clericalism. Despite his zeal to succeed, Peter would would fail in his attempt as he became severely ill.
After his father died, he made a second attempt to become a priest in 1831. In spite of his lifelong "weak lungs" and migraines which plagued him his entire life, he completed his studies, and he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Grenoble at the age of 23. Initially, he was assigned as an assistant priest in Chatte.
Later he was made the pastor of a run down parish in Mount Saint-Eynard. His two sisters moved in with him in the dilapidated rectory. The sisters began to spruce up the rectory, and Peter worked to revitalize the parish which had poor attendance at mass and was in dire need of catechesis.
Life in the Marists
Although he was able to oversee the transformation of the parish into a much more vibrant one, Peter was not happy with his life as a diocesan priest. Consequently, he joined the Marists in 1840. This was a difficult decision for his sisters to accept because they had planned on dedicating their lives to supporting him as diocesan priest.
As a Marist priest, Peter helped encourage devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist through supporting lay organizations and encouraging the forty hours devotion. Although he suffered from his lifelong illnesses, Peter was a very hard-working priest who had great skill in preaching, organizing lay groups, and providing catechesis. By 1844, he had been appointed provincial of the Society of Mary in Lyons.
Over time, his devotion to the Eucharist continued to grow as he came into contact with more of the faithful who were committed to worshiping the Lord in the Eucharist. Eucharistic devotion was growing among the faithful, and Peter helped encourage this devotion with his preaching and teaching.
When he was leading Eucharistic devotion on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1845, he had a powerful experience that changed the course of his life. As he carried the Blessed Sacrament in the procession in Lyons, he had a burning attraction to the Lord that was more powerful than he had ever experienced before.
In that moment, he committed himself to "bring all the world to the knowledge and love of our Lord; to preach nothing but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Eucharistic." Initially, he tried to establish a Marist community which was devoted to Eucharistic adoration. However, his superiors did not think that this was part of the Society's charism. Soon, it became clear that in order to pursue his new mission, he would have to leave the Marist family he loved.
Founding a New Order
With the encouragement of the founder of the Marists, John Colin, and Pope Pius IX, Peter was able to leave the Marists and found a new congregation. In 1856, he appealed to the archbishop of Paris for approval in starting a congregation of priests who were devoted to worshiping Christ in the Eucharist. The archbishop gave his approval and provided Peter and the one other priest Peter had recruited a house in Paris. With that start, Peter began the Priests of the Blessed Sacrament.
It was a bumpy start as Peter had all kinds of difficulties including strained relationships with friends, financial troubles, and pure physical exhaustion. He struggled to maintain the house, and at times, they were so poor that he had to be fed by local sisters.
In the beginning, the priests helped prepare children in Paris for their first holy communion. They also reached out to adults who had been away from the sacraments in order to encourage them to make a good confession and once again begin receiving Our Lord on a regular basis. With their devotion to the Eucharist, the priests recommended the reception of holy communion as frequently as possible including even daily. For that time period, this was a novel idea.
The Order begins to Grow and another new Order
What started with one small house in Paris, began slowly to grow. By 1862, the congregation had added a house in Marseilles and another in Angers and had established a novitiate. Then in 1858, along with Marguerite Guillot, Peter founded the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament which was a congregation of contemplative women who were dedicated to perpetual adoration of the Eucharist.
Initially, in accord with the milieu of the day, the focus on Eucharistic adoration was for reparation for sin. There was a great deal of influence of Jansenism at the time which emphasized to a high degree how unworthy humans are before God in their actions and inclinations. Peter would change that emphasis after a pilgrimage to Rome.
During his time in Rome, Peter experienced a profound sense of the love of Christ for him. In response, he wanted to make a gift of himself to God. Peter desired to give all of himself to the Lord. This, then became the emphasis of Eucharistic devotion of his orders--in response to the love of Christ, one offers a gift of himself or herself to the Lord.
Later, Peter established associations of priests and lay people who would spend at least one hour a day praying before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. These associations have continued to grow and have spread throughout the world.
Over the last decade of his life, Peter continued to nurture the two congregations and the association until he became very ill and died on August 1, 1868.
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Feast Day (Memorial): August 2