Peter Julian Eymard was born on February 4 1811 at La Mure in the French Alps. From an early age Peter had an intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Before making his first Holy Communion on March 16 1823 he made a pilgrimage on foot to the shrine of Notre-Dame du Laus.
After his mother died in 1828, he entered the novitiate of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, despite his father’s opposition. But a very serious illness forced him to abandon the order.
After his father died in 1831 he managed to gain admission to Grenoble diocesan seminary and was ordained a priest on July 20 1834.
In 1839 he joined the Marist Fathers. He worked with seminarians and priests. He also served the Third Order of Mary and other lay groups, promoting devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Blessed Sacrament, especially through the Forty Hours’ Devotion. He eventually became provincial of the Marists at Lyon in 1845.
In 1849 he met members of the Association of Nocturnal Adorers, who had established exposition and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories in Paris. After praying at the shrine of Our Lady of Fourvière on January 21 1851, Peter decided to establish a Marist community dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration but this was opposed by Marists, who did not regard it as part of their charism. Peter decided to establish his own congregation with diocesan priest Raymond de Cuers.
On May 13 1856 the bishops approved Peter’s plans for a Society for the Blessed Sacrament. The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament began working with children in Paris in order to prepare them for first Holy Communion and reached out to lapsed Catholics to try and bring them back to Communion through repentance. The congregation was approved by Pope IX in 1858. In the same year Peter also established the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, a contemplative congregation for women.
Peter died at La Mure on August 1 1868. He was beatified by Pius XI on July 12 1925 and canonised by John Paul II, who described the French saint as the “Apostle of the Eucharist”.