By Will Shaw
On October 23, 2023, the U.S. Oblate Province officially installed the next Provincial and Provincial Council who will lead for the next three years. The installation took place at the Mary, Queen of Missions Chapel (commonly referred to as the Oblate Chapel) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, just across Michigan Avenue from the Oblate Provincial Headquarters in Washington, DC.
In addition to several members of the Provincial Staff, attendees at the Mass included: the new Provincial, Fr. Raymond Cook, and outgoing Provincial, Fr. Louis Studer, along with members of the next Provincial Council, Fathers Juan Gaspar, Ray John Marek, Emmanuel Mulenga, and Quilin Bouzi. Incoming Council members, Fr. Sal Gonzalez and Fr. Antonio Ponce were unable to attend. Other Oblates at the installation were: Fathers Bevil Bramwell, Leo Perez, Fernando Velasquez, George Kirwin, outgoing Council member, Mark Dean, and General Councilor for the Canada/US Region, Fr. Jim Brobst.
After the Installation Mass and a lunch break, the group went right to work with the first Provincial Council Meeting of the new leadership team. Asked about his first Council meeting as Provincial, Fr. Cook described it as: “…a pretty low-key meeting with not a lot of serious business yet, except that the Council did approve Fr. Antonio Ponce as Vicar, Fr. Emmanuel Mulenga will be part of the administrative team as well. Our current Treasurer, Fr. Jim Chambers, will continue in that roll until a new Treasurer is named at the Provincial Council Meeting in March of 2024.“
In his first weeks of leadership, Fr. Cook has a lot of travel on his plate: he will attend a Jubilee celebration in San Antonio before going to Tewksbury, MA to visit Oblates on All Souls Day. After that it’s a CROCUS Meeting in Vancouver, BC, Canada, followed by another Jubilee celebration in Belleville, IL.
Fr. Cook feels his experience as a member of the Provincial Council for six years helped prepare him for the challenges ahead, and he expressed thanks to Fr. Louis Studer for spending time with him in recent weeks helping him become familiar with the office and what will need his immediate attention. Fr. Cook also feels good about his Council: “The council is good, we’re young in general, not so much young in age, but young in years as vowed religious. Most of us have come along in the last 15 years. It’s also the first Council where all the members except one, joined one Province, (after the five Provinces merged in 1999) and I’ll be the first Provincial that joined one Province.”
Fr. Cook says he wants to spend his first months visiting with and listening to Oblates around the Province. “I need to hear where all the guys are first-hand. When we did the consultations that’s one thing a lot of folks expressed a desire for – to be listened to. One of the first things we really want to focus on is setting up a spring meeting, an assembly of all members in one place to listen to each other, give direction to where we think the province is going, and do we need to modify that direction? How do we grow verses maintain? How do we thrive and not just survive? How do we instill a sense of hope as well.” That’s one thing I put in a letter to my Oblate brothers, that I’ll always try to instill a sense of hope wherever I go in the province because that’s what will carry us forward. It’s a joyful hope, not just, ‘I hope this happens,’ it’s also part of the 37th General Chapter: ‘Pilgrims of Hope in Communion.’
Hope is really the key.“