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The Assumptionists were born in France, founded in 1850 by the Venerable Emmanuel d'Alzon (1810-1880). The nineteenth century in which he lived was a time of great upheaval in France. The old society was giving way to a new one, and the birth was painful. Emmanuel d'Alzon was to witness a succession of French political regimes, several revolutions (those of 1830, 1848, 1870) and some bloody repressions of labor demonstrations (1848 and 1871). Violent outbreaks erupted regularly in the highly charged political atmosphere. The stakes were high and the victory of the modern secular state conclusive: liberal constitutions, universal male suffrage, abolition of slavery, laws governing the press and education, early attempts in social and labor union legislation. Yet Emmanuel d'Alzon found something missing in the midst of the modern liberal democratic regime which had proclaimed the Rights of Man - that is, the Rights of God. In the wake of the French Revolution, which defiantly declared the "Rights of Man", Father d'Alzon was an apostle of the "Rights of God" - the right of God not to be excluded from human society.
Emmanuel d'Alzon was called the "Knight of God." This man of action, fiery and impetuous, was a soldier of God, totally devoted to his Master, Jesus Christ. In Southern France, his homeland, people called him the
"Saint Paul of the Nineteenth Century." His faith compelled him to proclaim the Word of God.
Ordained at the young age of 24, Emmanuel d'Alzon gave his life to Christ and to the Church to serve God's purposes, so that His Kingdom might come. His whole life was one of boundless activity. He seemed to take on everything at once. He was Vicar General in the Diocese of Nîmes, a preacher and confessor, and yet found time to spend hours in prayer and write thousands of letters and articles on a wide variety of subjects affecting the Church of his day.
He joined every battle involving God and the Church. As head of the school he founded (Collège de l'Assomption in Nîmes), he fought for academic freedom and still found time to train his disciples in the spirit of Assumption.
A tireless missionary, he seethed with new initiatives, and developed them with others who were attracted by his faith and dynamism. Selfless and energetic, he was at the cutting edge of every project serving God's purposes. His alert mind discerned needs and came up with original answers to meet them. He broadened his field of activity from the south to the whole of France, and from France to Europe and beyond. "May Thy Kingdom Come" - this was his motto and his passion - and the motto he gave to his young Congregation. His great passion was to see Jesus loved by every man and woman.
In the nineteenth century, religious problems were intertwined with political problems. Heirs of the Revolution, the leaders of social movements wanted a society founded on "Rights of God." The option of being
for or against God therefore played an important role in a person's social and political stance.
Emmanuel d'Alzon could not accept a system that rejected God. He was not beholden to any particular regime or party. God alone mattered to him. He was ready to fight for him, for Jesus Christ and His Church, through prayer, the word, and action. His only party was Jesus Christ's party. He was on God's side. His great passion was the Reign of God.
The same could be said of his sons. True to the spirit of Saint Augustine, they were called Augustinians of the Assumption. Heirs to the charisma of their founder, they were men of prayer and witnesses to God, involved in their times. They accepted as their own the dual mission of their aging founder: to bring Christianity back to the masses by sweeping means such as pilgrimages and the press, and to rebuild the unity of the Christian churches around the Pope.
A man of his times, which were so different from ours, Emmanuel d'Alzon vigorously confronted the adversaries of God. He was touched to the quick at any slur regarding God, Jesus Christ, or the Church. Defending the rights of God that were being violated by a government which flaunted its secular character - that was his constant struggle. His zeal was fired by the flame of God's love in his heart. Emmanuel d'Alzon was transfixed by God's love. He could not bear any attack on God's majesty or goodness.
"The Spirit of the Assumption is summed up in these few words: love of Our Lord, of Mary, His Mother, and of the Church, His Spouse."
This insight of Emmanuel d'Alzon, this "Triple Love," acts within an essentially apostolic plan: Christ is the Father's envoy for the salvation of the world, and Mary and the Church are at the service of this mission. This attachment was to be strengthened and purified by trial over the years. Emmanuel d'Alzon yielded himself more and more to Jesus Christ, giving himself to Christ so as to give Christ to others.
Born during the lifetime of the founder, the press and pilgrimage ministries have been blessed with the faith and dynamism of men of vision, both religious and lay, in every era. The ministries are still very much alive today. Their mission has undergone some rethinking, to be sure, yet it remained on target amid highly divergent situations. The original motivation and the traditional love of the Church have been the major contributing factors. For the past 110 years, La Croix (The Cross), that great French Catholic daily newspaper, has charted a Christian course through many rough seas.
His total commitment to the Church helped him fathom its deepest mysteries. The divisions in the Church grieved him deeply. The unity of the Church was his call to arms. In consequence, he was careful under all
circumstances to remain faithful to the Pope, the symbol of that unity. Throughout his life he remained loyal to Rome, sparing no effort to become more submissive to her authority. He wrote, "One of the reasons
for our little Association consists in the efforts of its members to bring hearts and minds closer, through teaching, to the common center that Jesus Christ has given to His Church..."
Emmanuel d'Alzon loved the Church, our spiritual homeland and our mother. He bequeathed this understanding of the Church to his Congregation, whose cornerstone is Christ and whose goal and motto are to spread the Kingdom of God. In this mission, the Assumptionist has recourse to the whole arsenal of the faith: education, preaching, publications, research, works of charity and foreign missions, in which the Oblates of the Assumption, founded by him in 1865, were also to participate.