U.S. Provincial Reflects on the New Year and What’s Ahead for 2021

U.S. Oblate Province

By Will Shaw with Fr. Louis Studer, OMI

Fr. Louis Studer, OMI

On January 5th U.S. Provincial Fr. Louis Studer, OMI took some time to reflect on the new year and discuss some of the important events taking place in the province in 2021.

COVID in the Province

The men of the U.S. Province have not escaped the devastation of the COVID virus. Fr. Studer reported that a total of 10 Oblates have passed away from complications of Covid during 2020 and into the first week of 2021. Many more Oblates who had COVID infections are now recovering or have recovered.

Oblates are known for being “close to people,” and that closeness makes it especially risky for Oblates as they do ministry. Oblates in Tijuana, San Fernando, CA, New Orleans, LA and San Antonio, TX all contracted the virus after coming into contact with COVID positive individuals in the course of doing their ministry. Fr. Studer discussed the Oblate response to the pandemic:

“We’re called during this emergency to find and develop new and creative ways to do ministry that will enhance the safety of our men and the people to whom we minister,” said Fr. Studer. “I’m impressed that many of our parishes are now streaming masses and reaching out through ZOOM meetings and phone calls. I saw that Fr. Jack Lau gave out communion at Sacred Heart in Oakland to people who drove by in cars, Oblates at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows offered drive-by blessings on special days. Though we look forward to the time when distribution of the vaccines will allow us to go back to doing things in a more normal fashion, we will continue to utilize technology to enhance our ministries and reach more people.”

Canada-US Regional Meetings

The 2016 General Chapter identified a tremendous need for re-structuring throughout the Oblate world with an emphasis on more vibrant mission and community life. During this process, the chapter mandated that the entire congregation including the US Province and the Canadian Provinces of Notre-Dame-du Cap, Lacombe, and Assumption look into re-structuring.

2016 General Chapter in Rome

Administrative re-structuring, which might ultimately result in a change to the number of provinces in a region is often the first thing that comes to mind when “re-structuring” is mentioned. But according to Fr. Studer, the primary reason for this “… is for the sake of mission.  There are all kinds of re-structuring: the chapter calls us to better use the gifts and talents of Oblates from a wider area in better, more efficient ways. For example, Ron Rolheiser is at OST, borrowed from the Lacombe Province because it is a ministry he is particularly well-suited to. We have done this sort of thing for years and years and we’re certainly going to be doing more of it. Another example are the meetings we have held with younger Oblates from the four provinces seeking ways to minister more effectively by moving men around to areas where their particular expertise is needed, they don’t have to be bound to just their home province.”

Very Rev. Ken Thorson, OMI

According to Fr. Studer, the efforts regarding younger Oblates have largely been the work of Lacombe Provincial, Fr. Ken Thorson, U.S. Vicar-provincial for Mission and Ministry, Fr. Jim Brobst, and Fr. Juan Gaspar, Director of Pre-novitiate who have brought 20 younger men from throughout the four provinces together to get to know each other and discern where they might enhance ministry that is already being done, or begin new ones where needed.  No definite plans have been made but two areas of the region which are in discussion are parishes in Edmonton, ONT. and Eagle Pass, TX.

In preparation for the 2022 General Chapter, re-structuring and other topics will be the focus at the upcoming Joint Session Meeting to be held at Queen of the Apostles in Mississauga, ONT. This once-every-six-years gathering will include the provincials, provincial councils, and treasurers of the region, along with the entire General Council in Rome.

Oblate School of Theology

Saturday January 9, 2021 will be the annual “Visioning Day” of the OST Board of Directors and staff members at OST. This is a day where the administration looks at new ways OST can move forward with new classes, workshops, and possible new presenters.

For the remainder of this semester OST will be conducting classes virtually with an eye toward re-starting in-person classes in the fall.

Fr. Studer expressed his admiration for OST’s new president, Dr. Scott Woodard. “He’s more “Oblate” than some Oblates,” said Fr. Studer. “During his 16 years at OST he has really come to know the Oblates and the charism.”

Oblate Formation

Re-construction on the Oblate Novitiate in Godfrey, IL is underway. Renovation to the original structure and the new additions are expected to be completed this summer, along with renovation of the lodge. If all continues to go well, the novices will be able to move in in August.

“The province has seen considerable savings on the project due to the generosity of the engineering contractor who happens to be an Oblate Partner,” Fr. Studer remarked.

On February 16, two Oblates at the Borzaga Scholasticate will take perpetual vows: Steven Montez, OMI, candidate for the priesthood, and Jean Emmanuel Meloncourt, who is an Oblate Brother.

Current Borzaga Scholastic Community. Steven Montez is in the front row on far left, Jean Emmanuel Meloncourt is in back, second from left

Fr. Studer also said he was in contact with Oblate Superiors around the world inviting them to send novices and scholastics to study at the U.S. Novitiate in Godfrey, IL and the Borzaga Scholasticate in San Antonio, TX. “I’ve been in contact with provincials in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cameroon and Zambia inviting them to send their novices and scholastics to our facilities in the U.S. I think the world-class education received by the novices at our novitiate and the scholastics at Oblate School of Theology is beneficial to their men and we see a great benefit in having these multi-cultural candidates from around the world living and studying with the men in our region.”

Employee Enrichment Meeting (Zoom)

Fr. James Brobst, OMI

February 3, 2021 will see the first of three yearly Employee Enrichment Meetings led by Fr. Jim Brobst, and the Province’s Human Resources Managers: Dalevonne Davis, Magda Valdez, and Diann Donjon.

Employees will gather in ministries all over the country to view these online presentations which will include information from Human Resources about their status, benefits, etc. They will also learn about Oblate history and the charism. In many locations a local Oblate will attend the gatherings to answer questions after the online presentation. These new Employee Enrichment sessions will last 30-60 minutes.

Fr. Salvador González, OMI

In addition, Fr. Sal Gonzalez, OMI has agreed to produce three videos for online presentation to employees for Oblate Day (February 17,) Labor Day (first Monday in September) and on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8,) featuring Oblate history, Bible readings, homilies and blessings related to the specific days.

World-wide Congress of Lay Associations

July 16-18 is an online and in-person world-wide gathering of Lay persons around the Oblate world who share and participate in the Oblate charism. It will be an opportunity for all lay groups to get to know each other, share their experiences and ministries with the Oblates and  discuss how they participate in the charism. In-person groups will gather at a central location in each region, they will meet virtually online with all groups for two hours per day, then meet locally in-person for the rest of the session. The Canada-US Region will meet in San Antonio.

This meeting is headed internationally by Fr. Peter Stoll, General Councilor of Asia-Oceana, and in the U.S. by Oblate Fathers, David Muñoz, and Frank Santucci.

Due to the COVID Pandemic, this event is considered “tentative.” Since regional in-person gatherings are considered an essential part of the Congress, it is possible the event might need to be postponed if it is considered unsafe for in-person gatherings in July. A determination will be made within the next several weeks. If the Congress is postponed, it will be re-scheduled.