By Fr. Gene Tremblay, OMI
The Lowell Mission Center celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the first Mass celebrated at what is now the Shrine of St. Joseph the Worker on May 3. As it does so, it continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of the people. In 1868, it was the need for French-speaking priests that brought Fr. André Garin, OMI to preach a mission to the French-Canadian immigrants who had come to Lowell to work in the textile mills – the Oblates came to stay! In 2018, the Oblates still serve the faithful in sacramental and preaching ministries and in a number of other ways unimagined by Fr. Garin but designed to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population in the greater Lowell area.
Here, from a recent report by Fr. Terry O’Connell, OMI, Superior of the Lowell Mission Center/ Shrine Director are capsule descriptions of several of the current activities of the Oblates of the Lowell Mission Center.
“Pure in Heart.” Originating in Ireland and well established in Boston, is a movement that seeks to gather youths and provide spiritual formation based on the “Theology of the Body” enunciated by Pope St. John Paul II. A chapter of the group found a home here 4 years ago. A gathering of some 6-10 young adults have been meeting here on a bi-weekly basis. Fr. O’Connell serves as their chaplain.
A missionary dynamic moved the group to want to expand its activities and so last year, an outreach expanded its benefits to a wider geographical area” thus “Jesus aCross the Border” was launched. This grouping of between 130-150 young adults gathers every 3rd Friday – drawing its membership mostly from college youth ministries in Massachusetts & Southern New Hampshire. The monthly meeting venues are rotated from parish to parish – the Shrine regularly hosts this larger gathering and we provide the confessors for these sessions both here and wherever the group meets. Such large-scale gatherings provide a boost to these young people who can sometimes experience their quest for a deepened spiritual life to be a lonely exercise.
A program of Adult Faith Education is currently in its 17th iteration here at the Shrine. Twice each year (Fall and Spring) for 7 successive Wednesdays, college level theology presentations are offered by staffer Fr. Gene Tremblay, OMI, S.T.L. The topics vary among Scripture, moral and doctrinal offerings. The format is “Soup and Substance” – from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, a selection of soups, chili, chowder as well as artisan breads, desserts and beverages are proffered for those who wish; the class presentation follows from 7-8:30 pm. The program consistently draws some 45-50 participants.
The greater Boston area has become a “hub” for the scourge of Human Trafficking. Last year, the Shrine hosted a presentation from the Department of Homeland Security with responsibility for addressing the problem of human trafficking in the Northeast. As a result of this raising of our consciousness, a group of people came together to prepare “Care Packs” for victims who have been rescued and relocated. These “Care Packs” serve to reassure those victimized that the rebuilding of their lives can begin using the personal contents of these parcels that have been lovingly assembled by those who care.
The Shrine also maintains a food pantry. Contributions of non-perishable food stocks in a donation basket in our lobby are shelved in our food pantry room. Twice per month, the inventory is transferred to our local Catholic Charities for use in their soup kitchen.
At times, homeless and/or needy folks present themselves at our doors asking for food assistance. They are shown to the food pantry to pick up items they can use in their immediate need. We also provide food voucher cards to a local supermarket for those who simply run-out of food at the end of the month.
Those who worship here generously contribute to the Saint Anthony Fund (a donation chute is located at the foot of the his much-venerated statue;) those funds are also used to meet charitable needs including: donations to the St. Vincent de Paul Society at nearby St. Patrick parish, homeless shelters and community outreach agencies. Any direct appeals for Disaster Relief assistance (e.g. the recent devastation in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria) are always met with a generous response here.
During the holiday season, our “Giving Tree” solicits designated items requested by needy single mothers who want to provide a Christmas for their children. At Thanksgiving, folks who are either basically home-bound or having no remaining family ties are invited to a sit-down turkey dinner with all the fixins’ on the Sunday before the holiday.
Beyond material needs, the Shrine also provides sustenance for those in the throes of addiction. We host a weekly evening meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous – a group of some 50 men and women who gather in our conference hall to learn the principles of sobriety following the A.A. model and to sustain each other in mutual support.
We also open our doors for a discreet weekly meeting of women who protectively gather for guidance and assistance as a result of spousal abuse/domestic violence. Their coming together is sheltered and known only to the participants.
Along with social services and ministerial outreach, Sacramental ministry remains central. The Shrine of St. Joseph the Worker opens its doors for 14 hours each day. Sacramental Reconciliation is celebrated for 3 hours each day (morning and evening – totaling some 10,000 confessions per year). The celebration of the Eucharist occurs 3 times each day at convenient times for working people (8:00 am, noon, and 5:30 pm); on weekends, Sunday Masses are celebrated at 4:00 p.m. (Vigil) on Saturday and 3 Masses are celebrated on Sunday morning: 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. and 12 noon.
In addition, Spiritual Direction is offered as an adjunct to our Reconciliation ministry, all day Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place every Saturday and First Friday, Sacramental Anointing for healing is celebrated every First Saturday after all Masses, the Rosary is prayed daily by those who gather 15 minutes before every Mass, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is prayed at the 3 o’clock hour each weekday.
One of the features that draws folks to our doors is the quality of our preaching – a recognized Oblate charism. There are multiple “voices” heard from our pulpit – each distinct in approach and style but all animated by the OMI charism and impacting the faithful in uncommon ways. The presence of 3 full-time Oblates on staff and the supplemental assistance of several RAM’s residing in the adjacent Garin Residence are what make all of our sacramental ministries so singular and well appreciated.
Special events held at the Shrine include: “24 Hours for the Lord” which takes place annually on a March weekend. Confessions are heard for 12 straight hours on Friday and again for 12 straight hours on Saturday; all the while, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place; an annual Sunday afternoon outreach Mass is celebrated for those impacted by the death of a child (abortion, still-birth, crib death, etc.) and similarly, a special Mass is offered each year for those impacted by the suicide of a loved one. The recently inaugurated St. Joseph the Worker Award is annually bestowed on 2 individuals who exemplify the virtues embodied by St. Joseph in the home, workplace and civic community. To date, the Award has been presented to a local businessman, a nurse, an electrical contractor and a prison counselor who is also active in promoting cultural heritage programs.
The on-site Oblate Heritage Museum under the curatorship of Bro. Richard Coté, OMI welcomes visitors year-round – the merely curious and some serious history students. The Shrine Gift Shop/Bookstore is open daily and makes quality religious items and literature available to the larger Catholic community of Lowell and its environs.
The Lowell Mission Center is comprised of multiple Oblates residing in disparate area locations: the Shrine Residence, the André Garin Residence, and the nearby St. Patrick Parish. Internationality is also a hallmark our Lowell Oblate Community – recently welcoming Oblates from Europe, Canada and the Far East to spend some extended time with us. The Oblate ministries of the Lowell Mission Center remain vibrant and poised to extend well beyond 2018, this year that marks the sesquicentennial of our first arrival in this city.