By Will Shaw
The Immaculate Heart of Mary Oblate Residence in Tewksbury, Massachusetts is primarily populated with retired Oblates, so the atmosphere received a healthy boost of energy when this group of much younger Oblates descended on the house for a five-day meeting and retreat on September 4th.
“Under Ten” refers to Oblates who have been ordained and in ministry for ten years or less. The province has been sponsoring these meetings for many years gathering younger Oblates together to get to know each other better, share experiences in ministry, their struggles and to learn from one another. The meeting was also attended by the provincial, Fr. Louis Studer, council member, Fr. Ray Cook, and provincial Treasurer, Fr. Jim Chambers, who provided an opportunity for the younger Oblates to become familiar with province structures and the administrators, so they’ll feel free to approach them with their needs and issues in the future.
Fr. Ray Cook is the Facilitator / Presenter for the meeting, and he reflected on how things have changed for newer Oblates since he attended an “Under Five” meeting in 2012: “We were younger and were struggling with things like, finance and managing budgets and just trying to learn about where our place was in the province. These guys seem to know much more about the province already, they’ve been placed in parishes as pastors, vicars and leadership positions because of our aging population, so, they know a lot more today than we did because they had to in order to function.”
When asked if the “Under Tens” were forthcoming during the meeting Fr. Ray responded, “Oh, yeah they are, they’re being very transparent, very honest. They’re absolutely saying what they need, what they wish, so yeah, they’re very comfortable talking about all the things they are hoping for in their ministries.”
Fr. Elvis Mwamba, one of four “Under Ten” Zambian Oblates ministering in the U.S. felt strongly about what the meeting is providing the “Under Tens”, “…to allow us to express our emotions, our feelings, what is really stressing us in our ministry, what are some of the moments of joy in our ministry…that really helped us to see where we are and see where the Hand of God has been in all these moments of ministry.”
In addition to the dialogue sessions there will be topics of ongoing formation and presentations on practical issues for the men about protecting their health, psychology and maintaining a balance within the challenges and stress of doing ministry. They will also visit the historic Shrine of St. Joseph the Worker in Lowell and participate in a local ministry.
In between sessions the “under Tens” freely mingled with the residents of IHM at meals and social hours, hearing the stories of men who were missionaries around the world. The decades between the two groups presented no barrier whatsoever between these Oblates.
After all the sharing, dialogue, and after-hours socializing, what does Fr. Cook hope the meeting will accomplish? “I hope they rested a little bit, not worried about their ministries, got a break from that, and I hope they go back with a good fraternal connection to each other, and to the province.”