John Eudes was born at Ri, Normandy, France, on November 14, 1601, the son of a farmer. He went to the Jesuit College at Caen when he was 14, and despite his parents wish that he marry, joined the Congregation of the Oratory, a religious community of France and studied in Paris. He was ordained priest in 1625.
He worked as a volunteer caring for the victims of severe plagues that struck Normandy in 1625 and 1631. Lest he infect his fellow religious, he lived in a huge cask in the middle of a field during the plague.
At age 32, John became a parish missionary. He spent the next decade giving Missions, gaining a reputation as an outstanding preacher and confessor and won him great popularity. He even preached in the presence of the king of France. He preached over 100 parish missions, some lasting from several weeks to several months.
In the course of conducting missions in the parishes, John was disturbed by the sad condition of fallen women who sought to escape their miserable life. Temporary shelters were founded, but arrangements were not satisfactory. A certain Madeleine Lamy, who had cared for several women, one day said to him, “Where are you off to now? To some church, I suppose, where you’ll gaze at the images and consider yourself pious. And all the time what is really needed is decent house for these poor creatures”. The words and the laughter of those present, struck deeply within him. He then founded a religious community of women called the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge in 1641.
In his concern for the spiritual improvement of the clergy, he realized that the greatest need was to establish seminaries. He had permission from his general superior, the bishop and even Cardinal Richelieu to begin this work and he established several seminaries in many dioceses in France, and helped in the spiritual formation of the clergy, but the succeeding general superior disapproved. After prayer and counsel, John left the Congregation of the Oratory in 1643 and established the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, ultimately called the Eudists, devoted to the formation of the clergy by helping in the diocesan seminaries.
John is probably best known for the central theme of his writings: Jesus as the source of holiness, Mary as the model of the Christian life. He shared with St. Mary Margaret Alacoque the honor of initiating devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He composed the Mass for the Sacred Heart in 1668. He also popularized the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
John Eudes died at Caen, France on August 19, 1680. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 31,1925 and declared him the father of the liturgical cult of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.