Devotion to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts seems timeless to modern-day Catholics. Today it's a given that we honor their purity and sacrificial love, but that was not always the case. St. John Eudes, a French priest, missionary, seminary founder, and father of two religious communities, was the first to compose and offer a Mass in honor of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, and to establish a feast day for them in France. Here are six fascinating facts about this holy saint devoted to the Two Hearts.
1. French Priest & Missionary
Born in France in 1601, St. John Eudes studied with the Jesuits in Paris, then joined the religious community of the Oratorians. Founded by a cardinal who was a friend of St. Francis de Sales and teacher of St. Vincent de Paul, it was a community that brought many graces to the Church over time.
Recognized as a gifted preacher who led an impeccable life of holiness, he volunteered to serve the sick during the plague. He became a wandering missionary who desired to stir the hearts of the French people for God.
2. Life of Sacrifice
So that John would not infect his brother priests, he lived in a large cask or barrel in an open field, where nuns from a nearby convent would bring him food regularly.
He walked the French countryside during a time when many were fearful of dying from the plague, living lives of despair. He preached throughout France to reinvigorate the faithful.
The saint soon saw that priests also needed rejuvenating after the wars in France, the heresy of Jansenism, and the devastation of the plague. He decided to concentrate his efforts on reform of the priesthood when he was not preaching outdoor missions.
3. Founder of Seminaries & Orders
St. John Eudes established several seminaries dedicated to forming holy priests who could lead and guide the people. During his missions, he met many prostitutes who heard his message and desired conversion.
He established the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge to serve and support destitute women and many prostitutes in their social, spiritual, and emotional recovery.
When St. John recognized that the spiritual shortfalls of his people were largely due to the poor formation of priests, whose souls needed to be rekindled, he founded the Congregation of Jesus & Mary, later known as the Eudists.
The Congregation's role was to open and direct seminaries throughout France in an effort to reform the priesthood.
4. Father of the Cult of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary
To revitalize the faith of French priests and the French people, he became a tireless promoter of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, which he referred to as the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Devoted to the Two Hearts, he named his seminary chapels in their honor. He was the first to compose special Masses in honor of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts and celebrate them with ecclesial approval.
He also established the first feast days for the devotions, which he celebrated beginning in 1648, years before Christ appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675, asking her to promote devotion to His Sacred Heart.
For his devotion and contribution to the Church, Pope Pius XI declared him the Father of the Liturgical Cult of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary.
5. Heart-Centered Spirituality
His spirituality centered around the love for the Two Hearts, and the people took up the devotions quickly. The Masses he composed allowed the Church to guide and participate in spreading the devotions within and outside of France.
He dedicated many of his writings to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, emphasized their perfect unity, and developed a doctrine of the Two Hearts, expressed beautifully in such writings as his The Life and the Kingdom of Jesus, and Devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of the Virgin Mary.
He taught the people about the mystical unity of the Two Hearts, saying:
“You must never separate what God has so perfectly united. Jesus and Mary are so intimately connected with each other that whoever sees Jesus looks at Mary; whoever loves Jesus, loves Mary; whoever has devotion for Jesus, has devotion for Mary.”
6. Model of a Sacrificial Heart
St. John Eudes contracted the plague while ministering to the sick and dying, but he recovered miraculously after a short time. He continued his missionary duties into his old age, despite the increased physical demands of such an active life.
He died at the age of 78, after preaching outdoors for more than nine weeks in the harsh winter. Sick and weak in his old age, he shared his message with as much vivacity and zeal as he had in his youth, but was unable to recover his strength after this final mission.
Conforming Our Hearts to Theirs
St. John Eudes's greatest desire was for his own heart, and those of the faithful, to be formed by and conformed to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He spent his lifetime devoted to these Two Hearts and promoting devotion to them.
St. John, who shaped the hearts of the faithful, molding them to be more like those of Jesus and Mary, it was your desire that we come to know, love, and honor the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. From your place in heaven, pray for us to have pure and loving hearts, with which to love Our Lord and Our Lady better. Help us to give our hearts to them in complete trust and love. St. John Eudes, pray for us!
Salutation to the Hearts of Jesus & Mary by St. John Eudes
Hail, Heart most holy, Hail, Heart most meek, Hail, Heart most humble,
Hail, Heart most pure, Hail, Heart most devout, Hail, Heart most wise,
Hail, Heart most patient, Hail, Heart most obedient, Hail, Heart most vigilant,
Hail, Heart most faithful, Hail, Heart most blessed, Hail, Heart most merciful,
Hail, most loving Hearts of Jesus and Mary;
We adore Thee, we praise Thee, we glorify Thee, we give Thee thanks;
We love Thee with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength.
We offer Thee our heart; we give it to Thee; we consecrate it to Thee; we immolate it to Thee.
Receive it – and possess it wholly.
Purify it, enlighten it, sanctify it.
That Thou mayest live and reign in it now and forever.