The Catholic Defender: Saint Peter Julian Eymard “a little like Jacob, always on a journey,”
Born in La Mure d’Isère in southeastern France, Peter Julian’s faith journey drew him from being a priest in the Diocese of Grenoble in 1834, to joining the Marists in 1839, to founding the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in 1856.
One day, young Peter Julian Eymard just five years of age, wandered off from the family home. His sister and half-sister searched frantically for the boy and finally located him in the parish church, standing on a stool close to the tabernacle of the high altar. In response to their anxious questioning, he answered simply, “I am here listening to Jesus.”
He once described himself as “a little like Jacob, always on a journey,” always seeking. But, in truth, it was there from the beginning ― the great love and the driving passion of his life: Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
In addition to those changes, Peter Julian coped with poverty, his father’s initial opposition to Peter’s vocation, serious illness, a Jansenistic overemphasis on sin, and the difficulties of getting diocesan and later papal approval for his new religious community.
He was an outstanding organizer of lay societies, a zealous educator, a well-prepared preacher, and something of a prophetic figure in his Marist community and even to his superiors. Father Eymard was especially effective at preaching Eucharistic devotions, very popular at the time.
In 1851, he answered a call to establish a community of men dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration, called the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Its mission was to promote the importance and significance of the Eucharist. The congregation also worked with the poor and helped them to prepare for first Communion.
Peter Julian’s road to the priesthood, as well as his life as a priest, was shadowed by the cross. An intransigent anti-clericalism marked French society, and his father, having seen several sons die, did not want his only surviving son to become a priest. His first attempt to pursue the priesthood ended in serious illness. Following his father’s death, he tried once again, and on July 20, 1834, at age 23, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Grenoble.
His years as a Marist, including service as a provincial leader, saw the deepening of his Eucharistic devotion, especially through his preaching of Forty Hours in many parishes. Inspired at first by the idea of reparation for indifference to the Eucharist, Peter Julian was eventually attracted to a more positive spirituality of Christ-centered love. Members of the men’s community which Peter founded alternated between an active apostolic life and contemplating Jesus in the Eucharist. He and Marguerite Guillot founded the women’s Congregation of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament.
Peter Julian Eymard was beatified in 1925 and canonized in 1962, one day after Vatican II’s first session ended.
God used this humble priest to renew Eucharistic devotion in 19th-century France, making him a fitting example and patron for our own nation's Eucharistic revival.
We are inspired by the teachings and example of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, “Outstanding Apostle of the Eucharist.” He responded to the needs of the people of his time by proclaiming God's love manifested in a special way in Christ's gift in the Eucharist;
The life of “the Apostle of the Eucharist” has inspired people around the world to live a more dynamic and transformative eucharistic life by uniting regular participation in the Mass, times of contemplation and prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and service to others in Christ’s name.
In every century, sin has been painfully real in the life of the Church. It is easy to give in to despair, to speak so strongly of human failings that people may forget the immense and self-sacrificing love of Jesus, as his death on the cross and his gift of the Eucharist make evident. Peter Julian knew that the Eucharist was key to helping Catholics live out their baptism and preach by word and example the Good News of Jesus Christ.