The following is the Introduction to the inaugural ceremonies by Fr. Warren A. Brown, OMI, General Councilor for the Canada-U.S. Region.
Photos by Fathers Shanil Jayawardena, OMI and Billy Morell, OMI.
The Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies has been in discussion for some time, especially since a prolonged visit to Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas by Fabio Ciardi, OMI a few years ago (around 2010) who began the discussion about founding an Oblate Chair just as he was beginning his work in Rome as the director of Oblate Studies.
The vision has been to integrate and strengthen synergistically our three major Oblate resource centers for theological reflection and study on the charism, spirituality and our history. First, we have what we call the “General Service of Oblate Studies” here in Rome, of which Fabio is now the director. This is a rather recent branch of the Oblate general administration and is responsible for research, journals and other publications related to studies in the life and spirituality of St. Eugene de Mazenod and the Oblate Congregation. Fr. Fabio is responsible for the publication “Oblatio” a journal which is published in Rome three times a year along with special publications relating to certain Oblates whose lives bear particular historical and spiritual significance for the Congregation. Second, there is the Eugene de Mazenod International Centre in Aix-en-Provence, France which was the first house of the Oblate congregation founded and established by St. Eugene de Mazenod. In this center, the Congregation sponsors a variety of programs for Oblates, members of the Mazenodian Family and their collaborators on the life and spirituality of St. Eugene and the early Oblates. The Oblate community in Aix is composed of 5 members whose mission, led by Fr. Krzysztof Zelenda, OMI, superior, consists in living the Oblate charism as an international community; animating the Oblate charism in service to the congregation and the Mazenodian family; and continuing Oblate pastoral service to the local Church. This Centre is referred to as our Oblate “Holy Land” since it is the first and oldest foundation we have and where the life of the Congregation began in 1816. It is located in the town where St. Eugene was born, where he first came to know the faith and later minister as a young priest.
Thirdly, we now have the Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies at Oblate School of Theology which will work in collaboration with the other two centers in Rome and Aix as a place where Oblates and others can engage in professional academic studies in Oblate spirituality and history.
For this reason, today at the actual Inauguration of the Kusenberger Chair, Fr. Henry Asodo, a member of the Aix Community along with Fr. Ciardi are present. Through the generosity of our benefactors, Robert and Ruth Kusenberger, the Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies is founded at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio and is envisioned for the enrichment of the entire Oblate Congregation as an academic resource center of studies regarding the Founder, the Oblate charism, our spirituality and history.
The first Kusenberger Professor of Oblate Studies is Fr. Frank Santucci, OMI, who has a Doctorate in Theology with specialization in Religious Life and has made a particular study of the life, charism and spirituality of St. Eugene de Mazenod. The Chair’s foundation is an important invitation and encouragement to a new generation of Oblates and their collaborators to undertake serious studies into the life and spirituality of St. Eugene de Mazenod and the Oblate Congregation’s history and traditions. We recognize that there are other religious congregations which also trace their roots and spirituality to St. Eugene de Mazenod and so the intention is always to be inclusive of them also as part of the Mazenodian family. In light of our Congregation’s close relationship and collaboration with lay men and women aligned to the spiritualty and mission of St. Eugene, it is our intention that they benefit from the foundation of this new Chair of Oblate Studies and its programs.
It is significant therefore, that the inauguration of the Chair take place at the Oblate General House in Rome, a sign that the Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies is at the service of all Oblates and the Mazenodian family worldwide. This inauguration comes at the actual conclusion of the Oblate Triennium, a three-year period of remembering and renewing ourselves as an Oblate Congregation for the 200th anniversary of our foundation. This three-year project involved faith sharing programs for Oblate communities and their collaborators and an invitation for concrete acts of conversion of heart and soul to launch ourselves with audacity for the third century of Oblate mission to the poor and most abandoned. In fact, the conclusion of our Oblate Triennium and the bicentennial celebrations is January 25, 2017.
Thus, the inauguration of the Kusenberger Chair on January 20th is intimately connected to this milestone event. As we conclude the Oblate Triennium, the establishment of the Chair will further our capacity to understand and live the charism for the third century of Oblate life and mission. It is essential that we continue to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the spiritual richness of our Founder with his great passion for Jesus Christ and evangelization of the peoples, especially the most poor. The effect of the generosity of our benefactors thus extends far beyond San Antonio to reach into the future and to the more than 65 countries in which the Oblates and members of the Mazenodian family minister throughout the world. The person of St. Eugene and his charism are a gift for the Church. It is our responsibility to ensure that this gift continues be a source of blessing for everyone.