By Fr. Louis Studer, OMI, U.S. Provincial
Oblates have been ministering at Lebh Shomea (Hebrew for Listening Heart) eremitical House of Prayer since 1974. Founded by Oblate Kelly Nemeck and Sr. Marie Coombs, Lebh Shomea offered quiet retreats, spiritual guidance, conferences for reflection and prayer to the public.
When the pandemic struck this southeastern Texas desert area, the number of retreatants, lay and Religious alike, was brought to almost a complete halt. Added to this was the few number of Oblates available for this specialized retreat ministry as Kelly and Marie envisioned and very successfully accomplished.
The Oblates were faced with the dilemma of how to move forward with this sprawling, beautiful acreage where private hermitages had been built, the center house having undergone renovation, the property carefully groomed and beautified.
What could become of the ministry so central to the U.S. Province, to the widely recognized library of spirituality, to the retreatants, now fewer in number, for whom this holy ground was, indeed, the venue where their “listening heart” re-discovered God working in and blessing their lives?
Enter three Oblates who volunteered to come here, to the ministry of this place, to ministering in Southeast Texas at four parishes offered to the Oblates by the Bishop of the Corpus Christi diocese, to the possibility of prison ministry in the area, to providing spiritual guidance to retreatants who call this House of Prayer their spiritual home.
Oblates David Ullrich, Roger Bergkamp, Jim Chambers (temporarily) will join Oblate Andy Sensenig, already ministering at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in nearby Sarita, Texas, to form an Oblate community, beginning July, 2021.
These Oblates will be ministering at three additional ministry sites: Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Vattmann, and the two mission parishes of Sacred Heart in Ricardo and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Riviera, TX. Fr. Andy continues as Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sarita.
Although the focus and direction of this formerly eremitical house of prayer has changed, the presence and ministry of the Oblates continues, in this remote area of Southeast Texas.
These Oblates will most assuredly be a great help toward alleviating the priest shortage in the Corpus Christi Diocese as well as a blessing for the retreatants whose numbers will certainly increase as the pandemic diminishes. While the focus and direction of Lebh Shomea has changed, the warm hospitality, welcoming spirit, reflective quiet, and spiritual guidance will still be the hallmark of this unique Oblate community.
Special thanks to Maurice and Regina Lange for their hard work, dedication, love of Lebh Shomea, welcoming spirit, as they cared for the retreatants, and for the property these past several years with “listening hearts” and with joyful spirits!