By Fr. James Allen, OMI
On February 16, 2021, the eve of the 195th anniversary of Papal Approbation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, four Oblates professed their perpetual vows at Blessed Sacrament Parish Church in San Antonio, TX. The ceremony had been scheduled for the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Oblate of Theology, but because of the excessive cold snap suffered in much of the country, and in especially in Texas, OST had no electricity!
Steven Montez, OMI, and Jean Emmanuel Meloncourt, OMI, United States Province; Fani Zane Nong, OMI, Botswana Mission of the Lesotho (Africa) Province; and Herat Mondal, OMI, Bangladesh Delegation of the Colombo (Sri Lanka) Province, vowed poverty, chastity, obedience and perseverance for life before Fr. Arthur Flores, OMI, Vicar Provincial, delegate of the Superior General and substituting for the Provincial, Fr. Louis Studer, OMI, who could not be present because of the Covid-19 situation.
Both of the US Oblates began Oblate formation in 2013 in Buffalo, NY. They were classmates also in the novitiate in Godfrey, IL, and in 2016, professed their first vows. Their formation continued at the Blessed Mario Borzaga Community in San Antonio as they studied theology and ministry at Oblate School of Theology.
Brother Herat joined Oblate formation in 2008 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. and pronounced his first vows in 2014 in Sidupiyanila, Bandarawela, Sri Lanka. Brother Zane entered Oblate formation in 2012 at the Maryland prenovitiate in Leribe, Lesotho. In 2014, he professed his first vows also in Lesotho
Brother Jean Emmanuel was born in 1976 to George and Marie Therese Meloncourt in Port au Prince, Haiti. He came to the United States in early 2000 and completed his studies in Electrical Engineering. He worked in Nano Technology for four years and later obtained a master’s in Energy Engineering. In 2013, he entered Bishop Fallon’s pre-novitiate formation at Buffalo, NY.
During his recent internship at St. William’s parish in Tewksbury, MA, he supported the staff and learned about parish life. Among other things, he built a greenhouse with solar panels for a parishioner and took part in the homebound ministry of the parish by calling people during the pandemic. He also shared Taizé-style prayer with young adults.
Upon his return to San Antonio, he has been working with a parish to help renew its homebound ministry by adding a telephone ministry to help those who remain at home during the pandemic. He continues to think about the older Oblates he met in Tewksbury, some of whom passed away from Covid-19.
Brother Steven was born in 1993 to Victor and Leticia Montez in Kingsville, TX. Since his first profession of vows in 2016, he has been a theology student at Oblate School of Theology and a member of the Blessed Mario Borzaga Community in San Antonio. Most recently, he completed a year of pastoral internship at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville, TX. The Covid-19 pandemic threw the proverbial wrench into his internship program. Prior to the March lockdown, he was learning more about how to minister with youth and young adults as well as being introduced to parish administration ministry.
About this experience, he writes: “By being in the field when the pandemic came to this country I was able to see first-hand how quickly our approach to ministry can change out of necessity. COVID has impacted my final years of formation by acting as a sort of wake-up call to me that says, ‘the way we have always done things might not be the way we will do things tomorrow.’ As I come to the end of my studies, I notice this perspective of adaptability, flexibility, and imaginative thinking color my view of the classes I take.”
At this point in his Oblate formation, he reflects: “On the one hand, this step feels more like a continuation of my life as an Oblate rather than taking a giant leap. However, it feels so much more different, more profound because these vows I will profess for life. I don’t know how long that will be or what will be in store five, ten, twenty or thirty years in the future, but I do know that I will always have my brothers as my family, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.”
Brother Herat is the son of Shimon Mondol and Pasu Mondol. Born in 1989 in Bhaparpara, Mujibnagar, Bangladesh. He arrived in the United States in 2016 to continue his formation as a member of the multicultural Blessed Mario Borzaga Community in San Antonio.
During his internship year in Mission, TX, he visited nursing centers, gave short reflections on the Scriptures in the parish, taught catechism and participated in other parish activities, learning how to engage with people wherever they are in life. He had the chance to learn about American and Mexican culture in this bilingual parish.
The pandemic has made it difficult to engage with the Oblate School of Theology community and other outside contacts. He misses the human touch.
He states at this important moment in his journey: “I believe that God has called me to be a light and show light to people by following the Oblate way of life. I feel happy and blessed to be a part of the Oblate family and the family of the Church. As I will make my perpetual vows soon, I realize that my inner being is excited with happiness and cheerfulness. With God’s grace and people’s prayers, I will be a happy and cheerful Oblate.”
Brother Zane was born to Selinah Lillian Nong and the late Joseph Mooki Sepako in 1992, in Mogobane village, near Botswana’s capital of Gaborone.
His superiors sent him to the United States for his theological studies in 2018 at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. He had completed his pastoral internship in Africa where he was involved with youth ministry in a parish and started a still active Catholic community in a nearby university. He also visited the sick every week and worked in a prison each month.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been like a new member of the community. He states: “(Covid) has helped me spend more time with my brothers. We have more time for community building. Doing virtual learning is a bit hectic, but I do what is necessary to keep up with my academic life. I had to find safe ways of being close to the people to whom I minister each week. Covid robbed us of many things, but most of all, we have been robbed of the presence of others.”
“Professing perpetual vows is not a result of preference but of having encountered Christ who first called me. It is a response to the invitation that exhorts me to share the love of Christ with all people. The joy that I had in encountering Christ moves me to want to give myself totally to him and his Church as a servant in this religious institute. The encounter moves me to partake in God’s unending mission.”