Reflection: Twenty-five Years of My Oblate Life
By Bro. Andrew Lawlor, OMI
I am finding it hard to believe its been 25 years since that day I walked into Holy Angels Church in Buffalo, NY to begin the journey God called me to, as a brother living the Oblate way of life. But the journey began long before that day as everything does with God.
When I was a young boy in Ireland, I loved to watch the priest celebrate Mass and I wanted to become an altar boy, but could not learn Latin. I was 18 when I first thought of becoming a priest. ‘But after I talked to a missionary priest who was home visiting family, he spoke with the head master of the school I attended and was told I could not do the class work, studies and paper work that would be required to become a priest. I was told to think about the brotherhood.
So, I began my first journey with the Jesuits in a town far away from my home. I remember the train ride to their house where I lasted only two months as I got very home sick. I was told I did not have a vocation. It was forty-seven years later that I joined the Oblates in Buffalo and finally continued the journey that God had called me to so many years before.
My first year was hard but God was with me and all my classmates encouraged me to not give up. I also had the help of a good Oblate: Fr. Tony Rigoli, my spiritual director. I remember after a long day he would come to the TV room and join us watching whatever was on. Then came my year in the Novitiate at Godfrey, IL where I don’t think I would have made it without the help of Fr. Paul Waldie. Again and again he was there for me on days when I felt I could not go on. I was very blessed with brother novices who were so good to me and helped me in every way. They called me “grandfather” because I was so much older than they were. Then came first vows and I was blessed that my parents were able to come with my sister all the way from Ireland.
Next was the Oblate Scholasticate in San Antonio for three years of studies where I was allowed to audit classes at Oblate School of Theology. Here were more good Oblates and friends who helped me on the journey. I was treated just the same as my brothers who were studying for the priesthood. I learned so much that would help me in my ministry. I was also blessed to spend a year at the Baptist Hospital where I learned about chaplaincy.
Still the classes were difficult and my self-doubts remained. One night when I was having a very hard time at school, I drove around town thinking, “this is not for me.” When I finally got back to the house, there was only one priest at home, Fr. Leo Perez. I asked if could talk to him and when I told him my problems, he said, “Don’t worry, you are going to be an Oblate for a long time.” He was right, I am still here.
I was given a pastoral year at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Midland TX. This was a great blessing. Even though I could not speak Spanish, the people were wonderful to me. Fr. Art Flores was the associate pastor and I learned so much from him, not only about ministry but about how to have fun as well. We also had an OND Sister from the Philippines in the parish, she was also a great blessing and so much fun. When my year ended I was sad to leave.
I was set to make my final vows but the Provincial felt I was not yet ready. I was sent to St. Henry’s Oblate Residence in Belleville IL. When I asked what ministry I would be doing, I was told the Superior, Fr. Urban Figge would tell me what to do. When I arrived, I asked Fr. Urban what I should do and he assigned me to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows where I would spend the summer while continuing my studies. At that time, Fr. Tony Wroblewski was the associate director and he asked me what I would like to do. I told him I would like to help in the church in any way I could. He and the man who was Coordinator of Music and Liturgy, Orin Johnson, trained me to be the Master of Ceremonies.
I had to laugh: here was the boy who could not learn Latin helping Priests, Bishops, and even two Cardinals at all the Masses. At forty seven years of age, after thinking my life was going one way, our loving God opened my eyes to the purpose for which I was born. All those years prepared me for the life which I still live today.