By Fr. Louis Studer, OMI, Provincial, U.S. Oblate Province
Fall Province Meetings
Autumn and Spring Province meetings in each of the five localities where Oblates are concentrated (Tewksbury, MA; Buffalo, MN; San Antonio, TX; Belleville, IL; San Fernando, CA) provide good opportunity for province leadership to visit Oblate ministries in the province.
At the Fall Province meetings, Oblates who are Directors, Pastors, Superiors had the opportunity to share the latest happenings in their ministries. The number, and wide variety of folks we serve in our province and in the missions of Tijuana and Zambia is staggering and good reflection for giving gratitude to God for how gifted we are as Oblates to have the energy, capability, generosity to bring the gospel message of Jesus to so many in such a remarkable diversity of ways: spiritual accompaniment, homilies, idle conversation, Eucharist, home visits, Reconciliation, e mails, OMI/USA, sick calls, donor mission mailings, Oblate website, to name just a few.
In the U.S. Province we minister to the whole person, both spirit and body. Our way of ministering is characteristically Oblate: close to the people we serve, engaging lay leaders to minister alongside us, to the poor “with their many faces.” And, in tune with the mandate of the 36th General Chapter; we are mindful of the “intentional interculturality” in our first formation programs, in our ministry, in our Oblate community life. Specifically, it means a reflective sensitivity to those with whom we form to become Oblates, those with whom we live and minister who are from a culture, ethnicity, background, way of life, different from the predominant U.S. culture. We are committed to welcoming, fully integrating, happily accepting them in our communities, in our way of ministering, how we form those preparing to embrace our Oblate way of life. To Laotians, Haitians, Hmong, Vietnamese, Koreans, Guatemalans, Brazilians, Puerto Ricans, Zambians, Mexicans, to name a few of the more than 40 nationalities we serve each week in our ministries. Often, we find ourselves in places, ministering to these peoples, where the diocesan clergy has neither the know how nor the language skills or capability to serve them.
Greg Cholewa, Coordinator of Elder Care, helped us learn how to deal with aging issues of our senior members and an update on the role of Superiors was presented as we embrace a new administrative structure in the province. Each Oblate was afforded the opportunity to update End of Life directives and Power of Attorney concerns, where applicable.
Ministry in White Earth, MN, Area
The Oblates ministering at six parishes in Northern Minnesota (Joe Hitpas, John Cox, Dan Nassaney) with Native and White peoples, makes this one of the last remaining ministries in the province with Native peoples and in a rural area. Truly good Oblate missionary ministry!
Their presence is much appreciated by the people they serve here as I was told many times during my short weekend visit.
Visit from the Superior General
Speaking of an appreciated presence, our Superior General was able to spend a few days with our Washington community. He had been giving a lecture at St. Paul’s Oblate University in Ottawa and took the opportunity to spend a short time in the States. He has not had the time to get back to the home province much in the past seven years. We are hoping this changes in his second term!
Fr. Lougen and Fr. Warren Brown, the Councilor for the region of Canada-U.S., will be invited to attend the Oblate Convocation, scheduled for Easter week, 2020, at King’s House and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.
Table conversations and informal chats provided time for him to tell us about some of the ministry in the Congregation. He told us about several Oblates who are ministering in areas of the world where Islam is the predominant faith of the population (Pakistan, Southern Philippines, Turkmenistan). He spoke to us of some recent conversions where Muslims embraced the Catholic faith because of the awakened awareness that the Christian God is a God of love and forgiveness and is Trinitarian (a loving relationship of mutuality formed even in the inner life of this God). For some Muslims, this belief seems to verify for them truly that God is love. His own inner life attests to it!
San Antonio Ministries
At Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio, the Missionaries of the Holy Family were making their annual retreat, preached by Dick Sudlik. It was an added benefit to speak with them and see how busy this retreat center is. The Vance Lecture series at Oblate School of Theology,
Tuesday evening, featured an eminent Vietnamese theologian who spoke about the generous contribution of migrants in diverse societies, countries around our world. So many folks richly profit from these theological updates offered by OST on a regular basis. Our generous donors make these lectures series possible.
The 35th Annual Benefit at Oblate School of Theology took the Mazenodian theme of “Provence,” complete with delicious coq au vin and French pastries. As usual, there was a good crowd and live auction items that speak clearly about the generosity of many folks who are strong supporters of this fine academic institution. Oblate School of Theology proudly now offers a doctorate in Spirituality as well as the Sinkofa program which is theological education primarily for African American ministers in the black community. Change is enabled to happen through education which is a hallmark of Oblate School of Theology. The chair of Oblate Studies program is another recent addition to the school’s curriculum, thanks to the generosity of Bob and Ruth Kusenberger. The current chair of this program is Frank Santucci.
Ministries in Southern California
The Pacific Area meeting included an extended stay for me due to a sprained ankle. The enthusiasm and energy of an intense weekend of 17 masses, three funerals, several Baptisms, 5 hours of Confessions, left me exhausted, just hearing about all the ministry going on around me! One Oblate spent two hours counseling a woman who was suicidal during this intensely busy weekend. My hat and shoe is off (remember the sprained ankle) to Juan Ayala, Jim Taggart, John Curran, Feliciano Lopez-Ortiz, Peter Rajan Alphonse, Luis Valbuena and Amador Lopez for all they do every weekend. Jim Brobst also graciously gave ministry assistance that weekend. I rested and was provided good medical care, thanks especially to Juan Ayala’s attention.
The Oblate Associates in San Antonio and Eagle Pass are so proud and honored to be part of the Oblate charism. These Associates, through their formation program, the ministry they do, the regular meetings they have, the prayers they offer, are a significant part of the Mazenodian Family in the U.S.
St. Eugene made a surprise appearance to the Associates in Eagle Pass, much to their delight! Thanks to Geri Furmanek for her well designed formation program which initiates the Associates to Oblate mission, ministry and charism. Also to Will Shaw for his close connection with our Founder!
The Oblates in Eagle Pass (Jim Fee, Paul Dass Selvaraj, Lawrence Mariasoosai and Richard Kulwiec) give good support and encouragement to these folks and minister with enthusiasm and sensitivity to the good people on this border town.
Twice a year the Oblate leadership of the three Canadian provinces and the U.S. province meet. This November meeting was in Ottawa, a city founded culturally, educationally and pastorally by the Oblates, particularly the French Oblates.
Our mission day was spent at St. Paul’s Oblate University, Ottawa. Founded in 1845, St. Paul’s has successfully adapted itself to the signs of the times, proud of the theoretical knowledge offered in the human sciences, particularly Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law, and Psychology but also its practical application of this education to helping bring about societal change, assistance to the poor, disenfranchised and marginalized in Ottawa, in Canada and many nations of the world.
The six novices in Godfrey introduced themselves and they shared their vocation story, how they first met the Oblates and gave reasons why they decided to join our community. They hail from Australia, Zambia, India, Canada and the U.S. What a testimony to the internationality of our Congregation! Thanks to Pat McGee, Frank Kuczera (Lacombe Province, Canada) and Jack Lau for their good ministry in this sacred place.
Oblate Mission Society, Inc., is our united fundraising ministry with two locations: San Antonio and Belleville. The leadership of OMSI shared with the leadership team of the province their roles and responsibilities so we as leadership could have a better understanding of the good ministry they do. Stated very simply, “without their good ministry we could not continue our Oblate ministry in the U.S. and in the world.” I shared with them about the Mazenodian Family and the significant role they, as leaders of fundraising who share in the Oblate charism, play in our province ministry.
Special thanks to Billy Morell, Jim Chambers, Nino Lajo, Art Flores, John Madigan for their ministry with OMSI. Billy and Jim have successfully brought the Belleville and San Antonio sites to the point where they work together extremely well. There is a mutual respect and appreciation that these two entities have for one another.
Orientation Session For Oblate Leadership
The opportunity to meet other Provincials and Vicar Provincials from around the Oblate world is a welcome and helpful means towards becoming more familiar with the entire Congregation. It is easy for leadership to be concerned only with our own unit or province, forgetting that Oblates minister on five continents, in 66 countries. The challenge to encourage Oblates to minister in a foreign land, learn a new language and culture, sensitize them to become “intentionally intercultural” as the 36th General Chapter so often reminded us, is one of the many advantages of being an international congregation.
This two week orientation session in Rome presented many practical, helpful, ideas, approaches to our new roles and responsibilities as Oblate leaders. It was time well spent and much learned, and was useful for us in our roles as animators and leaders.
Provincial Council Meeting
The Provincial Council members arrived in Washington the evening of Thursday, December 7th. This extended meeting included a retreat day for the Council, led by Ray Cook. Our retreat day gave us the opportunity to celebrate Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and also witness the unveiling of the beautiful Trinity mosaic at the Shrine.
The Council spent Saturday, part of Sunday and Monday in a process of discernment and planning of our ministry commitments. We developed criteria upon which we will continue to look at the ministries in the province and also determine which ones we will embrace, which ones we will relinquish, which ones will be “ad personam”. Our planning also considered the timing of these decisions. A process initiated and developed by Jim Brobst in which Oblates of a particular area or district are engaged with the provincial administration to discuss and evaluate the ministries has been well received by the Oblates of the particular ministry areas themselves as well as endorsed by the Provincial Council. Jim will speak more about this process at the Spring Province meetings. Art will give an update on personnel changes and Jim Chambers will present on province finances.