Tuesday, August 2, 2011

St. Peter Julian Eymard and Rodin

St. Peter Julian Eymard
August 2nd is the feast of St. Peter Julian Eymard. He is the founder of the religious order of men, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, that have staffed my parish, St. Jean Baptiste, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1900 (http://www.stjeanbaptisteny.org/).

He was born in 1811 in the south-eastern French province of Isere, in the town of La Mure d’Isere. In spite of multiple serious obstacles, St. Peter Julian followed a steadily advancing path, first to the diocesan priesthood, then to the Marist Fathers and finally to found, in 1856 at Paris, a congregation of men dedicated, as their name suggests, to the Eucharist. His followers endeavor, through carefully celebrated liturgy, prayer, preaching, teaching, writing and other apostolic work to uncover multiple layers of the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist and among His church.

One of Fr. Eymard’s early recruits was the young Auguste Rodin.
Sugust Rodin, The Burghers of Calais
French, 1884-1895 (cast 1985)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Rodin came to him in 1862 during a period of guilty mourning following the death of his much-loved sister, Marie. Although he tried, Fr. Eymard perceived that the young man was not a particularly good candidate for the congregation and kindly suggested that Rodin return to that for which he was obviously gifted. Rodin obeyed and the rest, as they say, is history. Rodin became the great maverick sculptor of late 19th century France, known for works like “The Thinker”, “The Kiss”, “The Gates of Hell", and “The Burghers of Calais”.

Rodin at work on the bust of Fr. Eymard,
Paris, 1863

When Rodin returned to work as a sculptor, he did not forget his former Father Superior. St. Jean’s owns one of the bronze copies of his portrait bust of Fr. Eymard.                                              

Rodin, Cast of Bust
St. Peter Julian Eymard,
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
In this bust, Rodin captures more than St. Peter Julian’s likeness. He seems to present the inner energy and fire which helped Fr. Eymard successfully overcome the many obstacles he faced and the zeal with which he strove to serve Jesus in the Eucharist. As he wrote to Mme. Antoinette de Grandville, in July 1859: "Be the apostle of the divine Eucharist, like a flame which enlightens and warms, like the Angel of his heart who will go to proclaim him to those who don’t know him and will encourage those who love him and are suffering." (courtesy Blessed Sacrament Fathers website, http://www.blessedsacrament.com/).

Fr. Eymard, who died in 1868, was canonized in 1962 and is known as “The Apostle of the Eucharist”.

© M. Duffy, 2011

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