Emmanuel Joseph Marie Maurice Daude d'Alzon
A Life Given
Emmanuel d’Alzon was born on August 30, 1810 in Le Vigan, Gard, in Southern France. The eldest of four children, d’Alzon was born to an aristocratic and intensely catholic family from the Cevennes mountains. While completing his theological studies in Rome, he was ordained a priest on December 26, 1834.
Upon his return to France he decided to join the diocese of Nîmes. D’Alzon’s. early years in ministry were dedicated to numerous apostolic initiatives such as the founding of youth groups, a home for unmerried mothers, libraries for workers, and innumerable retreats, conferences, and sermons. In 1845, he founded the Augustinians of the Assumption congregation.
By 1839 he was appointed vicar general of the diocese of Nîmes, a position he held until 1878, two years before his death. Father Emmanuel d’Alzon died in Nîmes on November 21, 1880. Pope John Paul II declared him “Venerable” in 1991.
An Educational Apostolate
In 1843 one of his most cherished dream became a reality: he acquired a secondary school, Collège de l’Assomption, in Nîmes, where he hoped to form upper-class students to enter the society as leaven for change and to build a better world. With this purchase began one of the greatest struggles of d’Alzon’s life, a fight to obtain free and full exercise of private education in the face of state monopoly. His ultimate dream was to build a catholic university. He also opened a series of minor seminaries for the poor called “alumnates”.
In Paris he established an organization called Association Notre Dame de Salut (Association of Our Lady of Salvation) from which would spring two great fields of apostolic involvement: large scale pilgrimages within France (e.g. Lourdes) and outside France (Rome and the Holy Land) and the Bonne Presse (now known as Bayard Press), an influential international publication house. He understood these latter endeavors as “education in its various forms”.
The Augustinians of the Assumption
Encouraged along by his lifelong friend and collaborator, Mother Marie-Eugénie de Jésus, foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, Emmanuel d’Alzon founded an order of men, the Augustinians of the Assumption, also known as Assumptionists. The founder wishes a religious family that could be modern and rooted in tradition as well, that is sensitive, in all times, to the great causes of God and of man. In his own words the purpose of this order was “to work toward our perfection by extending the Reign of Jesus Christ in souls”, especially through “education, publication of books, works of charity, retreats, and foreign missions” (First Constitutions, 1855). A vocation which inspired the congregation’s motto: “Thy kingdom come” !
Father d’Alzon placed his Congregation under the guidance of saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo, giving it his name, his rule, and his intellectual tradition.
Nowadays the great family of the Assumption is composed of five religious congregations (one masculine and four feminine): the Religious of the Assumption, the Augustinians of the Assumption, the Oblates of the Assumption, the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the Orantes of the Assumption.
Committed for the Church Unity
A frequent visitor to Rome, d’Alzon had a meeting with Pope Pius IX in 1862 that would have a profound effect on him and his young Congregation. Encouraged by the Pope, he visited Constantinople and soon thereafter decided to invest much of his time, energy, and resources in addressing the needs of the Church in Eastern Europe. In a profound desire for the unity of the Church, he especially wished to reconcile orthodox Christians with Rome.
Within a few years, he had sent some of his first religious to Bulgaria and eventually to Romania and Turkey. In 1865, father d’Alzon founded a congregation of religious women, the Oblates of the Assumption, to assist the Assumptionists in the foreign missions.
In 1870 d’Alzon returned to Rome, where he fought for the declaration of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Throughout his life, he was an ardent and unrelenting supporter of the papacy which he considered to be “the guarantor of Church unity”. After his death communities would be established in the Holy Land, Russia, Greece, and Yugoslavia.