By Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI
On February 2, 2021, Bishop Michael McGovern, Bishop of Belleville, presided over a dual-celebration of The Presentation of the Lord, and The World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, IL. Bishop McGovern was consecrated Bishop of Belleville on July 22, 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and has worked tirelessly and safely to meet the people of the Diocese entrusted to his care.
Soon after taking office as pastor and shepherd, Bishop McGovern made his first visit to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows on August 3, 2020, during the Annual Healing Novena. On that occasion, Bishop McGovern thanked the pilgrims and, particularly the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for their prayers and warm welcome. At the end of the novena Mass, Bishop McGovern said: “We need a devotion to Mary; we need the Blessed Mother to place us closer Jesus her Son. We come together as people and especially as people of this Diocese of Belleville, and we ask her intercession.”
On Tuesday, the Shrine church was as full as COVID-19 restrictions allowed for the celebration. Some laypeople were in attendance and many others followed the live-streamed Mass from home. Twenty-six Oblates and many women religious were present at the Mass to celebrate World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. In his homily, Bishop McGovern thanked the Consecrated women and men present in the Diocese: “As Bishop of the Diocese, I want to thank all the men and women who are in consecrated life who so generously serve the Lord here in the Diocese of Belleville and the Universal Church.” Bishop McGovern also prayed for an increase in vocations to the religious institutes present in the Diocese.
At the beginning of Mass, candles were handed out and in his homily, Bishop McGovern sought to remind the consecrated men and women present that they too are to be that light in our current world: “May truly the Lord’s love, and goodness and mercy, reach out and be that light that shines brightly in our world today in the men and women in consecrated life.” At the end of Mass and at a safe distance, Bishop McGovern greeted the attendees and personally thanked every consecrated religious for their vocation. Afterwards, Bishop McGovern joined the local Oblates at a luncheon where he could meet and converse with them.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been serving the Diocese of Belleville since 1917 when a group of German Oblates serving missions in Sri Lanka, had to leave because of World War 1. In 1926 at Bishop Althoff’s invitation, the Oblates began St. Henry’s Minor Seminary that later became a high school operating until 1984.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Snows has been at its current location since 1958. Still, devotion to Our Lady in Belleville began in 1941 at St. Henry’s Seminary. King’s House Retreat Center, which opened its doors in 1951, will celebrate 70 years of continuous ministry of preaching retreats this year.
Two relatively new Oblate ministries include: Holy Rosary Church in Fairmount City where the Oblates have been since July of 2019; and the pre-novitiate community for the US Province, which moved to the Shrine grounds from Buffalo, NY in the summer of 2020.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have given the fruits of their consecrated life to the people of the Diocese of Belleville for 104 years. The ministries have changed, along with the landscape, but what has remained constant, is the missionary zeal of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, continuing to respond creatively to the new challenges of the Church in Belleville.
The Missionary oblates of Mary Immaculate are still welcoming young men to join in this great adventure called Consecrated life, if you feel called to join us, or discern with us a possible life dedicated to serving and loving the Church, talk to a local Oblate near you, or call one of our Vocations Directors near you. Oblate Vocations