By Fr. James Allen, OMI, revised and adapted by Will Shaw
After cancelation (or postponement) in both 2020 and 2021, the Convocation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate of the United States Province finally took place on April 18-20, 2022. But the format of the Convocation was much different from the one postponed because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. It was a “hybrid convocation.”
Rather than one large gathering as was originally planned, several gatherings were held around the country all connected by streaming video. Oblates gathered in four major “convocation sites”: San Antonio, TX; Belleville, IL; Tewksbury, MA; and Chula Vista, CA. But there were also smaller communities of Oblates “on line” in such places as Oakland, CA; New Orleans, LA; Washington, DC.
“Renewing our lives as Religious” was the title and theme of the Convocation, a theme chosen long before the pandemic called for a continual change of strategies. The Convocation planning committee (Frs. Lou Studer, Antonio Ponce, Frank Santucci, David Muñoz, David Uribe, Salvador Gonzalez and Mark Dean) worked patiently with the ever-changing pandemic predictions and the venues that would eventually host the Oblate gatherings around the province. The local superiors of the various sites were also of great assistance.
With a prayer service live streamed from the Church of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, IL, the Oblate Provincial, Fr. Lou Studer, opened the Convocation. As part of the prayer service, there was a video featuring 85 photos of Oblates from the U.S. Province who have died since 2016, the last Convocation. In his remarks, the provincial especially thanked all members of the Mazenodian family who were tuning in, along with Bishop Michael McGovern of the Diocese of Belleville who was present for the service, as well as the young men in our novitiate and pre-novitiate programs.
The Superior General
Signing in from the General House in Rome on Tuesday morning, the Oblate Superior General, Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI, spoke from across the planet to encourage his brother Oblates and wish them well.
Of course, Fr. General is well known to the U.S. Oblates since, until his election as the 12th successor of St. Eugene de Mazenod in 2010, he was a member of this province and, at the time of his election, was the Provincial. A native of Buffalo, NY, he has been a professed Oblate since 1973 and a priest since 1979. His mandate as Superior General will end with the upcoming General Chapter in September.
His message to the U.S. Oblates was one of encouragement, especially at a time when our numbers are greatly decreasing, not only in the United States but in many places where the Oblates were very strong 50 years ago. He spoke of positive and hopeful signs of new life in other parts of the Oblate world where the Oblate spirit is being carried forward by a younger generation and a vast number of laity who love the Oblates, St. Eugene de Mazenod and the mission we continue to carry forward.
Four Oblate provinces make up the Canada-U.S. Region (CROCUS). In Canada, the provinces are Notre-Dame-du Cap, OMI Lacombe, and Assumption. Each province will have representatives participating in their respective convocations in the course of 2022.
A feature at each of these assemblies was or will be an open forum regarding the future of Oblate ministerial presence in the Region, as well as thoughts and ideas about administrative re-structuring.
From the Oblate General House in Rome, the General Councillor for the Canada-US Region, Fr. Warren Brown, spoke of the beginnings of regional cooperation among Oblates in the 1970’s and the way it has developed, especially since the merging of the United States and Canadian Oblate Regions into CROCUS in 2015. The Oblate Central Government is strongly encouraging the North American Oblates to move forward to restructure in order to better serve the mission and Oblate presence in the future.
Formation of future Oblates is now a Regional project; so too is ministry with youth. A region-wide youth rally had been planned for this summer, but it too has fallen victim to the pandemic. For a number of years, younger Oblates have held regular meetings and now have a committee that has studied and suggested two ministry sites, both in Canada; there is presently a search for Oblates on both sides of the border to staff them. The North American Committee of Oblate Retreat Centers will hold its 42nd annual meeting this summer. Oblate Treasurers of the four provinces meet regularly to share ideas.
The provincials of the three Oblate provinces in Canada were present electronically to speak about the current situation in their own provinces, primarily regarding possible restructuring to the administration and mission in their areas. Fr. Luc Tardif is provincial of the Notre-Dame-du-Cap Province; Fr. Alfred Grzempa, provincial of Assumption Province; and Fr. Ken Thorson, provincial of the OMI Lacombe Province.
On Wednesday, April 20, the morning session was dedicated to presentations by two nationally known speakers about religious life: Brother John Mark Falkenhain, OSB PhD, and Brother Paul Michalenko, ST PhD. The Benedictine and Trinitarian Brothers offered pre-recorded comments related to the theme of the Convocation.
The title of his presentation was “Community.”
Wednesday afternoon brought a presentation celebrating the Mazenodian Family by Oblate Fathers Frank Santucci and David Muñoz: “What do the laity offer in our Oblate mission and spiritualty?” This was followed by a video presentation by the Oblate laity: “Leaving nothing undared – the Founder’s legacy to the Mazenodian Family.”
The Convocation ended with a closing Mass celebrated by U.S. Provincial Louis Studer which was live-streamed across the nation. A “festive dinner” followed in Belleville, and probably something similar at all the other Oblate locations.