By Fr. Louis Studer, OMI, Provincial, U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are an international, intentionally intercultural Roman Catholic religious community whose purpose is to evangelize the poor and abandoned with the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Founded in 1816 in France by St. Eugene de Mazenod, we currently serve in 68 countries of the world. We number 3,700 Brothers and Priests. Our headquarters are in Rome, Italy.
We were called “specialists in difficult missions” by Pope Pius IX. “Specialists” not so much in a professional sense that we are well trained in a particular science or discipline but, rather, that we are adept and flexible in determining what is most needed in a particular mission and, with the advice of the locals, we respond to that call.
We take seriously the mandate of Vatican II that all the baptized are called to a life of holiness and we are easily identified by our closeness to the people we are called to serve. We honor and respect the gifts and talents of those called to mission with us.
We value and lift up the diversity of cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, ways of life of the people we serve in our missionary work and we honor the same rich diversity of the Oblates themselves with whom we live and minister.
In the United States, we have identified and we celebrate that eight groups in our Mazenodian Family, totaling almost one half million people, share in the charism of St. Eugene with us Oblates. They are the Honorary Oblates, Oblate Partners, Oblate Associates, Oblate Affiliates, Families and Friends of Oblates, Oblate Mission Supporters, Oblate Youth and Young Adults, Oblate Employees. These groups believe in who we are and what we do and they want to share more fully in our charism and ministry.
We serve in parishes, retreat centers, Shrines, educational institutions, hospitals, prisons, wherever the spiritually and materially poor and disenfranchised are.
As missionaries, we are adept at establishing churches, clinics, community centers, outreach programs, responding to the urgent needs of the people. This is no more true than our current mission in Tijuana, Mexico or Zambia, Africa, two missions of the United States Province.
In Tijuana, we are giving to the Archdiocese of Tijuana a church, six mission chapels, a community center and a well-established medical clinic. Our five Oblates serving here will re-locate to where the “new poor” are moving to the south and east of where we currently are. These “new faces of the poor” come to Tijuana from Central America with only the belongings on their backs, looking for work in one of the many factories in Tijuana. There is no one to serve their needs or bring the gospel to them. The Oblates are answering the call and responding generously to this need by re-locating closer to them.
In Zambia, the government has asked the Oblates to coordinate the prison ministry of the entire country. There are 35 prisons in Zambia. Our challenge will be not only to provide spiritual assistance to the prisoners but to provide food for them since the government doesn’t even give them proper sustenance. Helping these prisoners re-integrate back into the community once they have served time will also be a challenge these Oblate Chaplains will face as the community where they return is often not receptive to their presence after they have served time.
In the United States, in our 35 parishes, 4 Shrines, 4 retreat Centers, the Office of Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation, academic institutions, preaching ministries, hospital chaplaincies, just to name some of our ministries, our 240 Oblate missionaries bring the gospel message of Jesus to a wide variety of folks in a wide variety of ways.
It is perhaps not accurate to call us specialists in the sense of being professionally trained or particularly adept for some of our missions but our practical know-how, our engaging with the local populace, our respect of their gifts, have blessed our efforts with numerous stories of success and helped many of them achieve a richer, fuller life here and hopefully in the hereafter.