By Will Shaw
In gatherings all over the U.S., Convocation 2022 commenced on April 18. Given the lingering pandemic, this year’s Convocation is being held in four different locations, Tewksbury, MA, Belleville, IL, San Antonio, TX, and San Diego, CA. Those Oblates who cannot attend in person at one of those locations may also participate via streaming video from wherever they may be.
In Belleville, IL, local Oblates gathered at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows for dinner at 6 PM local time. U.S. Provincial, Fr. Louis Studer is in town for the event along with other out-of-towners, Fr. Rufus Whitley from San Antonio, and Fr. Andy Knop from Duluth, MN. In addition, the Oblates were honored by the presence of the local Bishop, Michael McGovern.
After dinner, the Oblates and guests moved to the Church of Our Lady of the Snows for an opening video written by Fr. Sal Gonzalez featuring the words of the Founder, followed by a prayer service video-streamed to all the Oblate locations and presided over by Fr. Studer. In his homily, Fr. Studer welcomed all those present in person and through video. He spoke of the Convocation’s theme: Renewing Ourselves (including all members of Mazenodian Family) in the Spirit of Our Vocation, and his hope that while coming together over the next three days Oblates will also renew their mission as well.
The service ended with a touching video tribute by Fr. Mark Dean remembering all the U.S. Oblates who have passed on since the last Convocation in 2016. Afterwards, they all went back to the visitors center for a social hour.
Tuesday morning began with breakfast across town at King’s House Retreat Center, followed by a prayer service in the chapel. At 9:30 the national video-stream went online with a video featuring the ministries of the Province, after which a video connection was made with Rome where the Superior General, Fr. Louis Lougen was waiting to address the U.S. Oblates.
Fr. General commented on the hospitality received in Tewksbury, MA where he recuperated from surgery in 2020, reporting that he is fully recovered. He spoke a bit about how Oblates in Ukraine are ministering under the terrible violence of the current war. He thanked the U.S. Province for its generosity in supporting the Ukrainian Oblates.
After lunch the international streaming video conference continued with a presentation by General Councilor, Fr. Warren Brown and the three Provincials of the Canadian Provinces: Fr. Alfred Grzempa, Assumption Province, Fr. Ken Thorson, OMI Lacombe Province, and Fr. Luc Tardif, Notre-Dame-du-Cap Province. The subject was Regional Restructuring, the continuing study of how the Canadian and U.S. Oblate Provinces might one day combine into one North American Region.
Over the past few years small steps have been taken to increase collaboration and cooperation between the U.S. and Canadian Oblates, meetings of Treasurers from all the areas are held regularly, candidates from Canada have been invited to participate in Oblate formation programs in the U.S. a committee of “Young Oblates” has been formed to investigate opportunities for cross-border ministry, and for many years the staffs of Oblate Retreat Houses have met annually to share their experiences and discuss the future.
The three Canadian Provincials described the unique challenges they face in their respective areas which will need to be reconciled as the process goes forward which is expected to take several years to complete. as one said, Oblates in the region are being called to think beyond provinces, to now think about the Congregation.
Tuesday ended with prayer, dinner and a social hour. Wednesday will see video-streamed presentations by guest speakers, Bro. John Mark Falkenhain, OSB, and Bro. Paul Michalenko, ST PhD. In the afternoon, the Oblates will be joined by Oblate Associates and other members of the Mazenodian Family for a presentation by Fathers Frank Santucci and David Muñoz: “What do the Laity Offer in our Oblate Mission and Spirituality?” A report on this portion of the convocation and the conclusion will be delivered in next week’s E-Newsletter.