PROVINCIAL REPORT TO JUNE COUNCIL MEETING
After the March Provincial Council meeting, I traveled to St. Louis to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Holy Rosary Parish in Fairmont City, Illinois. Most Rev. Michael McGovern, Bishop of Belleville, presided and preached at Mass. Numerous former parishioners attended the ceremony. The church was packed. Planning for the occasion was spearheaded by Pastor Harold Fisher, O.M.I., and Jim Fee, O.M.I., Associate Pastor. Many young families attended the ceremony and expressed gratitude that the Oblates have chosen to staff this parish. Fr. Fisher and Fr. Fee also staff St. Stephen’s Parish in Caseyville. Bishop McGovern expressed his gratitude to the Oblates for their generosity in the diocese, most especially for the senior Oblates who minister in parishes all over the Belleville diocese each weekend. Fr. Mike Hussey, O.M.I., regularly also travels to the Springfield diocese for ministry. I’m not sure the title of “Reduced Active Ministry” applies to them. I think “Active Active Ministry” would be more appropriate!
I traveled to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to preach a Lenten retreat for the Sisters of St. Agnes. Thirty Sisters attended the retreat. I had preached a retreat for them a few years ago and was honored to be asked back.
I also preached a Lenten retreat at the Cathedral parish in Duluth, Minnesota where Fr. Tony Wroblewski, former Oblate, is Rector. I took the opportunity to visit Fr. Andy Knop, O.M.I., Pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Duluth. Andy has been able to bring much needed unity to the parish and offer many spiritual programs.
In between these two retreats, I chaired the Oblate School of Theology Board meeting, by Zoom. I’m not particularly adept at chairing these Board meetings, so as usual, I was especially grateful to Scott Woodward, President of OST, for his meticulous preparation for me to make my responsibilities easier! Bishop Sylvester David, O.M.I., Auxiliary Bishop of Capetown, South Africa, was able to attend the meeting in person. He always offers some valuable insights to our meetings. Special thanks to Fr. Ken Hannon, O.M.I., for accepting another year as Academic Dean, besides his teaching. We have a good number of Oblates at OST. This is a great blessing for us!
The Province Leadership Team met in person in Washington after I returned from Duluth. There are always a number of items that need to be addressed.
I met by phone with Oblates Frank Santucci and David Muñoz to look at some future possibilities to establish an office to coordinate the eight branches of the Mazenodian Family. Geri Furmanek, Coordinator of the Oblate Associates the past several years, left this position the end of April. She will be Pastoral Associate at the Benedictine Health Center on the grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. I am very grateful to Geri for her leadership with the Associates. She will remain close to us as she is staying at Benedictine Health Care Center as Chaplain and will continue to have a close connection with our senior Oblates there. Frank and David introduced some creative ways we can perhaps move forward with this office. Many more conversations will be taking place as we continue to look at various possibilities. I would like to try to make this office a united effort to organize and create programs and activities for all the branches of the Mazenodian Family to become more united to our charism. I continue to become more and more aware that this is the strong desire of many of them and this desire is also energizing for us in our vocation as Religious.
I traveled to Belleville for Holy Week and celebrated Holy Thursday Mass with the Oblates at St. Henry’s. They are always hospitable and welcoming. I visited several Oblates at the Benedictine Health Center that afternoon. I missed visiting with a few as some were visiting in other rooms. I also renewed acquaintances with several Sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ who have moved from their motherhouse in Ruma, Illinois to Benedictine Health Center. Thirty-seven Sisters now reside there.
On Good Friday, I visited the new Exhibit being designed and built at the Shrine. Tom and Jo Ann Foppe and their sons and daughter are currently planning and building this Exhibit which explains the connection between Oblate ministry in the Arctic with the beginnings of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. The Exhibit will also feature some ministries of Oblates all over the world, including a special room focusing on the ministries of the Oblates in Ukraine. There is also a room of numerous activities for children. The Exhibit will also feature up to date happenings at the Shrine and a special section devoted to vocations. The Exhibit will officially open August 5th, the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows.
During Holy Week, I had numerous conversations, emails, text messages, with members of the planning committee for the Convocation. Special thanks to Oblates Antonio Ponce and Frank Santucci for planning this Convocation three times! Not only that, but their planning took a dramatic turn, when, the third time, we decided it would be primarily virtual. Thanks also to the Leadership Team (Jim Brobst, Art Flores, Jim Chambers) for being present and coordinating the technology and programming at the four main centers in the province. Special thanks also to Chava Gonzalez and Mark Dean for planning Liturgies, Music and the tribute to Oblates who have died since the last Convocation in 2016. I’m told the response to the live streaming was appreciated; there was good energy at the numerous gatherings of Oblates in many parts of the country, with discussions, prayer, socials, meals together. It was an important, energizing moment for the province. Thank you for your participation, sharing, insights. I hope, in the future, we can do a similar program again. It helps unite and strengthen us in our calling. There was also good responses from several of the members of the Mazenodian Family. I am grateful for their enthusiasm and strong desire to embrace the charism of St. Eugene!
After the Convocation, I spent some time at the Novitiate. I met with Oblates Frank Kuczera and Pat McGee (Bro. George Litiya was on vacation), and was updated on the progress of this year’s class. All five Novices are still there and seem to be doing well. I also met with the Novices and did an informal evaluation of the year with them. They expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to discern their commitment and also offered some suggestions for how the experience of the Novitiate might be enhanced in the future.
Oblate Victor Patricio-Silva drove to the Novitiate to meet with me to give me a brief update about the “vocation picture” in the province. He has now completed eight months as Vocation Director. While remaining cautiously optimistic, he also told me how difficult and challenging this ministry is. I was happy to hear about the many activities he has planned for the coming months. He has planned a 10-day vocation discernment retreat at La Parra Ranch in Sarita, Texas this summer. He is also planning a ministry opportunity for those discerning their future at our parishes on the White Earth Reservation. He is in contact with some 12 young men who, he believes, are seriously considering joining us. He continues to plan the weekend “Come and See” programs; the next one in the Fall will be in Belleville and then another one in January, 2023, in San Antonio. Fr. Victor is assisted in Vocation ministry by Fr. Jesse Esqueda, O.M.I.,
Fr. Steven Montez, O.M.I. and Fr. Charlie Banks, O.M.I., all of whom are part-time. Currently, we have seven in our pre-novitiate programs; one in novitiate, four in post-novitiate programs in Mexico City, San Antonio and Rome.
At Novitiate, I also met with Fr. Raymond Mwangala, O.M.I., Delegation Superior in Zambia. Raymond recently defended his doctoral thesis at OST. He is in the States for a few weeks. He mentioned there is generally good enthusiasm about the Delegation becoming a province. Of course, there is the concern about financial sustainability with this independence. I was able to assure him that the U.S. Province will continue our close connection with Zambia. I’m grateful to Fr. Billy Morell, O.M.I., and Oblate Partner, Greg Blasko, for their continuing help in assuring the financial sustainability of several projects in the delegation, along with the watchful eyes of Raymond, his Council and Oblate Treasurers Jim Chambers and Rocky Grimard. I have not visited Zambia since May, 2019. I did attend their Assembly by live stream this past January. Raymond is planning another Assembly in January, 2023, which I hope to attend, assuming the pandemic will have subsided even more by then.
After a few days at the office in Washington, I traveled to San Antonio for the Mazenod Conference. This annual gathering of Oblate Partners and Oblates took a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. All of us were especially grateful to be able to be together once again. Gathering of members of the Mazenodian Family is always a good reminder to me of how much they appreciate knowing about, and sharing in, the charism. Oblate Partners have been very generous in their interest, their financial help, with our missionary endeavors all over the world. Thanks to Artie Pingolt for his leadership with the Partners and for planning this important event.
I joined the Oblate Associates in San Antonio for their monthly First Friday Mass and meeting. This group was founded to pray for vocations to the Oblates which they continue to do faithfully. Oblate Thomas Klosterkamp presided and preached at Eucharist. After breakfast, he gave a very interesting presentation on early Oblate history.
I was back in Washington for a few days to clear my desk and then returned to San Antonio for graduation ceremonies at Oblate School of Theology. This is one of my favorite events each year. Proud as I am of the number of Seminarians receiving academic degrees, I am proudest of the large number of lay persons receiving certificates, degrees, in various areas of leadership in ministry. These dedicated persons will be coordinators, leaders, in youth ministry, faith formation, pastoral outreach, RCIA programs in various ministry sites all over the U.S. and the world. Their love of the church, their dedication to the faith, is impressive! A big thank you to all the professors, administrators, staff, graduates, students, at this excellent graduate school.
I was the keynote speaker at the gathering of Oblate and lay persons who are involved in retreat ministry (NACORRC), held this year at Queen of Apostles Retreat Center in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. They had not met for the past three years due to the pandemic. It was a welcome opportunity to connect with the Oblates and lay persons who I had not seen for a long time. As always, there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the group, especially since we had not met for the past three years. I enjoyed the time with them very much, especially their stories about retreatants who visit these sacred places to become more aware of where Jesus is leading them, what He is asking of them, what is His will for them. Retreatants often come to these holy places because they are at a crossroads in their lives and are seeking special help, advice, direction. These places are part and parcel of the Oblate charism. Unfortunately, it looks like we must begin to evaluate which retreat center we will have to relinquish in the U.S. province. More on that later.
The 2016 Chapter Delegates recommended to the Superior General and Council that there be a gathering, either virtual or in-person, of Lay Associates before the next Chapter in 2022. Such a gathering has been organized by the Congregation and San Antonio (Whitley Center) will be the physical gathering site for our region. Oblate David Muñoz is the Regional representative for planning this Congress. Thank you, David! The Congress began on Friday evening, May 27th, and ended Sunday afternoon, May 29th. The focus was on the Mazenodian Family, sharing their vocation stories. It is always impressive to listen to these stories from all over the Oblate world, thanks to technology. The gathering of Oblates and Mazenodian Family in San Antonio was also a welcome opportunity to pray and share together. This gathering served to deepen our knowledge and appreciation of our Oblate charism. It served its purpose well!
Vicar Provincial Jim Brobst and I traveled to the Convocation of the Lacombe, Canada, Province. Provincial Ken Thorson warmly welcomed all of us. Each of the four provinces of the Canada-U.S. region are gathering in their own province Convocations this calendar year. At each one, Provincials of the other three provinces will join in the meeting to discuss, plan, suggest, how we can move forward with administrative restructuring. Each Convocation will devote two hours to this topic, with Oblates of each province being given the opportunity to offer comments, suggestions, questions about this important topic. I joined the discussion of administrative restructuring with Notre Dame du Cap Province in late April and will also join the Assumption Province at their Study Days in June. We continue to look at ways some younger Oblates in the region can get to know one another better; minister together (one parish in Edmonton: Sacred Heart and two parishes in Ottawa: St. Joseph’s and Sacre Coeur) and welcome the opportunity to become more united in our community life and ministry as a region. This is our future! I will keep you posted on our progress with restructuring, or the lack thereof!
I spent part of the following week preparing for the June Council meeting which began Monday, June 13th.