Provincial Update: Recent Visits and Activities of Fr. Louis Studer, OMI

U.S. Oblate Province

By Very Rev. Louis Studer, OMI, U.S. Provincial

                                                              Visit to Mission, Texas, Palm Sunday

Very Rev. Louis Studer, OMI

Actors in the Palm Sunday Passion Play, pose prior to leaving on the 5 mile walk from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Mission, TX, to the mission chapel of La Lomita, where hundreds go to Confession, a Passion Play is held and a barbeque follows. Attended by over 2500 of the faithful, this is the 26th celebration of this event. Art Flores and I spent a good part of Palm Sunday enjoying the festivities and greeting the folks.

            Holy Week in Buffalo, New York

Eight Oblates (Greg Gallagher, Paco Gomez, Jim Loiacono, Humphrey Milimo, Paul Nourie, Alex Roque, John Staak, Steve Vasek) minister at three parishes on the west side of Buffalo, New York, teach at a local seminary, operate a pre-novitiate formation program, minister at a nearby prison, a local hospital and at D’Youville College where Oblate pre-novices study Philosophy. Twelve nationalities and sixteen languages comprise this ethnically diverse west side community of Catholics where Oblates have ben ministering since 1851. Oblate Founder St. Eugene de Mazenod himself sent Oblates to minister in Buffalo.

Five of the Oblates speak Spanish; four are fluent in French (a large group from Congo and central Africa have moved into these parishes). A couple Oblates are dabbling (their word) in Karini (one of several native languages of a large population from Myanamar who are fleeing oppression from an unstable government) and have made Buffalo their home in the past several years.

A rich variety of languages was used in the Holy Week liturgies and music from a wide variety of these native cultures had been carefully rehearsed.

Several parishioners repeatedly expressed to me their thanks for the Oblates ministering here and also for the generosity of the seminarians in ministering in these parishes.

The four pre-novices (Chris Din, Mark Anthony Hernandez, Mateusz Garstecki, Henry Zayamore) are afforded many opportunities for ministry at these culturally diverse parishes, besides their full-time studies in Philosophy along with a program of Oblate formation, geared to preparing them for the Novitiate, the next step in their training to become Oblates. Some of them also minister at the senior high-rise facility, a short walk from the seminary. All of this provides them with a busy, well rounded program and introduction to Oblate spirituality, community life and ministry.

Convocation of Lacombe Province, Canada, April 9-13, 2018

One hundred ten Oblates and fifteen Oblate Associates gathered in convocation in Cornwall, Ontario for four days to dialog about and express gratitude for the ministries of the province and the generosity of the Oblates who are engaged in these ministries.

Very Rev. Ken Forster, OMI

Ken Forster, Provincial, expressed some laments as well as some reasons for celebration in the province.

Ken mentioned that the mission centers have not always successfully been the witness of community life and vibrant ministry they were meant to be. Individualism militates against the witness of a joyful life of sharing in community that we are called to in our Constitutions and Rules. Poor communication by leadership and with one another also hurts the province. It separates us, divides us and sets up barriers to being able to minister more effectively together.  There needs to be a greater sharing of life together as our Rule calls us to do.

Signs of life and celebration in the province was the visioning of new ministries in the province, the collaboration of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation ministry with St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, the new OMI/Lacombe website, communication from the Provincial office, the Oblate Associates and the new life they bring to living the Oblate charism, new direction/vision being given to the retreat ministry in the province and the new life that has been given to the mission of the province in Kenya.

Priorities for the future include better training for future leaders in the province, ensure that there be good support especially for younger Oblates, plan for better and more effective communication in the province, serious re-look at province administrative structures and how well they serve the province and our common life together. Collaboration with other provinces of the region and intentional interculturality were also identified as key priorities for the future of the province.

Visit to Immaculate Heart of Mary Residence, Tewksbury, MA

The senior Oblates always express a lot of gratitude when I visit. Their missionary stories are inspiring. Several of them commented how they offer their sacrifices and prayers for Oblates busy in ministry. What a great contribution they continue to make to the province in this way!

Greg Cholewa, Coordinator of Oblate Elder Care, gently reminded me to stop using the term “infirmary” and replace it with “medical wing.” Good advice!

The senior Oblates reminded me of how many of them pray which seems to be good practice for all of us: reflection about how God journeyed with them through many years of ministry. Journeyed with them in people they met, events that occurred, friendships formed, places they were sent, prayers and sacrifices offered to God. Their prayer has often become, in these senior years, a look back at a God to whom and for whom they are filled with gratitude and praise. And a life fully and well spent!

Blessing/Dedication of the Formation Residence, San Antonio, TX

The gratitude of the Oblates was so great that the celebrations of thanks were carried out over two days, not just one!

On Tuesday, May 1st, our twelve Scholastics were on hand at the newly constructed houses of formation (Blessed Mario Borzaga Formation Community at the Vance Residence) to give tours to our mission supporters and to the Oblates, explaining to them how these houses will serve the seminarians who will reside here beginning in Fall, 2018.

This gathering of mission supporters, architects, contractors, builders, landscapers, Oblates, families and friends (the Mazenodian Family) became a festive occasion to celebrate the internationality of the Oblate Congregation. Currently our Seminarians studying at Oblate School of Theology hail from six countries. It was also a celebration of the U.S. Province providing a  quality education at Oblate School of Theology and ensuring this for generations to come. The new houses can accommodate twenty Seminarians and five Oblate Formators.

The evening provided opportunity for the Oblates to thank our generous mission supporters for making these badly needed houses a reality. The Oblates sold the property on which the former formation houses were located so the move became a necessity.

As members of the Mazenodian Family, these mission supporters took to heart the need of some members of this Family, the Oblates, to build houses for formation of our Seminarians. As members of a family typically do for one another, these mission supporters recognized the need and stepped forward with their prayers and gifts. The Oblates and Oblate Seminarians especially promised to hold good on their promise to pray daily for these mission supporters and builders.

Beautiful memorial plaques decorating the rooms of these houses will remind the Seminarians about the generosity of these mission supporters and their need for prayers for themselves, their families and friends.

It was Brother Victor Patricio-Silva, O.M.I., who put the evening in proper perspective: our gratitude is first and foremost to God for the gift these Seminarians are to the Congregation and to the Church for their desire to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the most abandoned. The houses provide the means, the place for them to learn how to best do that.

The second evening of celebration provided the opportunity for the local Oblates and friends of Oblates from the area to give thanks as well. The formal blessing and dedication of the houses followed the celebration of Eucharist. A mariachi band led the congregation of over 400 for the official declaration of these beautiful houses as the Post-Novitiate Formation Community of the United States Province, putting the capstone on a project, three years in the making.

Fifteen Oblate Seminarians from six countries will move into their new residence in early August.

Retreat for Oblates ministering in Hong Kong and mainland China

Fourteen Oblates gathered for their annual retreat at St. Paul’s House of Prayer in Hong Kong, China, Sunday evening, May 6th. These Oblates all belong to the delegation of China and they minister at two parishes in Hong Kong, at four colleges (high schools) and to several groups of immigrants in Beijing, mainland China. Two Oblates minister at several prisons in Hong Kong. A total of eighteen Oblates belong to this delegation of the province of Australia and hail from various areas of the Oblate world, proudly bragging to me that they represent all five continents (if you count the country of Haiti as representing the continent of South America). The Superior, Fr. Slawomir Kalisz, is from Poland and the other Oblates are from Haiti, United States, Madagascar, Mauritius (no Oblates ministering on this island but this is his home), Philippines, Australia, and Italy.

Fr. Louis Studer (L) with Fr. David Ullrich

David Ullrich, originally from the U.S. Province, will return to the States to serve as an Oblate Formator at Blessed Mario Borzaga Seminary in San Antonio. David has been ministering both in mainland China and in Hong Kong the past 14 years. Welcome back, David. We have plenty of ministry for you to do here in the U.S.!

The Oblates are receiving vocations from this non-Christian country! There are four Oblates in first formation in the Philippines and one native Chinese Oblate was ordained a couple of years ago.

The Oblates asked me to put out an urgent request for an Oblate to replace David Ullrich who has done a lot of ministry with youth his many years there.

The language of the Oblate communities is English so, if that language is not familiar to the Oblate who wishes to minister in China, he will spend two years learning English in Australia. And then three more years, as a minimum, learning Mandarin or Cantonese. Mandarin is the easier one as it has fewer high pitched sounds of the same words, giving the word an entirely different meaning, depending on the pitch! Some very interesting homilies have resulted in sounds not correctly pitched!

The Oblates are actively interested in recruiting volunteers to come to China (either to Hong Kong or the Beijing area) to teach English. The commitment could be for only one semester, room and board included, a stipend, with teaching only in the morning. Afternoons and weekends would remain free.

This China delegation is an excellent example of intentional interculturality in the Oblate world. Their ministry together, mutual community sharing, prayer in common each day, teaching each other about their home culture and country, besides learning together about the Chinese culture, makes for an Oblate presence that is sustainable, strong and stable in this part of the world.

75th Anniversary of Oblate Presence in Haiti

Cardinal Chibly Langolis,

More than 60 Oblates concelebrated Mass Saturday morning, May 19th, with Cardinal Chibly Langolis, Bishop of Les Cayes, Haiti diocese, presiding, honoring 75 years since the Oblates began ministry in Haiti. Another 30 diocesan priests also attended as well as 25 Oblate Associates. Oblate Provincial Ellince Martyr shared a brief history of Oblate presence on this tiny island country in the Caribbean.

The evening before, the Provincial presided at a ceremony honoring Oblate missionaries from the United States who have spent their entire lives of ministry in Haiti. The former Northern U.S. Province (St. John the Baptist) sent Oblates to Haiti in 1943 at the request of the then Bishop of Les Cayes diocese, on the far southern tip of the island. The Oblates now staff 24 parishes in several dioceses, have established several schools, both primary and secondary, a pre-novitiate, novitiate and scholasticate. At present, 25 seminarians are preparing for Oblate life and ministry for the province of Haiti.

A group of Oblate Associates, some 35 in number, have been instrumental in helping Oblates in their ministry and have been invaluable in helping them learn the Creole language and the culture and background of the Haitian people.

Fr. Real "Joe" Corriveau, OMI

Fr. Joe Corriveau, OMI

Provincial Fr. Martyr presented awards to Joe Corriveau and Fred Charpentier, both former U.S. Province Oblates, who together total 103 years of ministry in Haiti! Several other Oblates from the former St. John the Baptist Province ministered here their entire lives and returned to the States usually because of poor health or to receive another obedience.

Cardinal Langolis thanked the Oblates for their many years of “generous, faithful service” and said, when the Oblates first arrived in January, 1943, during World War II, priests in Les Cayes and southern Haiti were few. There was a debilitating sense of hopelessness in the Church and in society. The poor had been largely neglected by the few remaining clergy and from any government assistance.

The Oblates sent many Brothers and priests, he went on to say, and they built and staffed schools to provide quality education so the youth especially could find jobs and better themselves with an education. They built parishes among the poor, housed street kids who would otherwise likely have been killed or certainly uncared for.

“Through their schools, the Oblates found vocations to their way of life and, they have been a wonderful, necessary blessing,” he said. “May they be here for many years to come!”

Today the Oblates number 110 in Haiti and they have established two missions: Colombia and French Guiana. They continue to be blessed with vocations with 25 currently in various levels of first formation.

The ministry in Haiti has been financially supported by the United States Province, Notre Dame du Cap French Province in Canada and the Province of Germany, as well as other Oblate organizations and Catholic relief efforts and associations throughout the world. Their contributions to this Caribbean island were acknowledged and affirmed by the Haitian Provincial as well, both at the Anniversary Mass and at the award ceremonies the evening before.