Former Superior General Comes Home to Oblate Novitiate

Oblate Novitiate

By Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI

Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI

I am someone who enjoys transition, who likes a change and looks forward to new missionary opportunities.  It is part of our identity as pilgrims on a journey to the Father’s House.  The twelve years that I served as Superior General of our Congregation were a profound blessing that enabled me to know the vastness of our missionary life and our dedication to the People of God, especially to the most abandoned.  I have witnessed generous oblation in the lives of the members of our Oblate Family, who live our charism as consecrated Oblates, lay people and young lay people over the world. The years I spent as Congregational leader were a very beautiful and life-filled adventure! 

After the 37th General Chapter and a time of transition spent with the newly elected Superior General and Council, I departed from Rome in late November 2022.  Since then, I have had a variety of sabbatical experiences: a period of rest in which I was accompanied by a spiritual director and a psychologist to review the previous 12 years; a 3 month-long renewal program for missionaries in Jerusalem under the orientation of the Missionaries of Africa, made with 3 Oblates of the General Council and other Sisters and priests from around the world; visits to reconnect with Oblates in Tewksbury, San Antonio, Belleville and Washington; and a period of vacation with family and friends. These and some other activities took me to the end of September 2023. 

When I received the obedience to the U.S. Province, I began a dialogue with Fr. Lou Studer about my future ministry here.  I shared with him that after eighteen years in governance and administration, I would like to go to a pastoral situation among the poor; I would prefer not to work in formation ministry; and I was available to serve the Province wherever he needed me.   

I was very surprised and a little unsettled when he asked me to discern about going to the novitiate in Godfrey, IL.  I had been novice master in Brazil and in the U.S. and I did not want to return to that ministry at this point in my life.  In July 2023, I made a visit to see the Oblates in the Belleville area and I was invited to visit the novitiate by Fr. Frank Kuczera, the novice master.  At the time, Bro. George Litiya, who is on the novitiate staff, was away.  I had a good visit with Fr. Frank who encouraged me to consider going to the novitiate.  After a couple of weeks of prayer, I wrote to Fr. Lou and accepted this call to be a member of the novitiate staff. 

I have been here in Godfrey since the beginning of October 2023.  I made my first oblation here almost 51 years ago and served as novice master from 2001 to 2004.  It’s a strange feeling to go back to a place I know and yet it has changed so much!  Along with Fr. Frank and Bro. George, there are presently five novices in the community: two from the U.S. Province; two from Zambia; and one novice from India.  It has been a very rich experience of Oblate community life with a strong intercultural flavor expressed in how we live and interact, in our prayer and liturgy, in the food we eat and, in our ability to laugh and joke with one another.   

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate has been completely renovated

Another enriching aspect of novitiate life is the good relationship we enjoy with many lay people who are friends of the Oblates and who come here for many different reasons.  We live in a beautiful environment provided by the hand of God on the cliffs of the Mississippi River.   We are involved in various ways in our local parish, St. Ambrose, which is nearby.  We participate in the intercongregational novitiate program which for decades has been one of the best programs in the U.S.  There are several ministry opportunities for the novitiate community such as making and serving a meal to women in a shelter in St. Louis, visiting prisoners and taking communion to shut-ins and infirm people.  The novitiate staff have taken to heart the call of the Superior General, Fr. Chicho Rois, that the poor and most abandoned should be at the center of our communities.   

I feel very blessed to live here with a fraternal team of Fr. Frank and Bro. George.  They have welcomed me right from the first moment here.  The novices have been very open in receiving me and making me a part of the community even though I arrived six weeks after the novitiate year had begun.  I am happy to be back in the Province and to meet more regularly with Oblates and friends I knew in Belleville, Godfrey and Alton some twenty years ago.   I want to thank Fr. Lou Studer who has graciously welcomed me back to the Province and who gave me much support during my sabbatical time.  I am very grateful to Fr. Jim Chambers, Fr. Rocky Grimard and our staff in Washington for their assistance in many practical details involved in re-entering the U.S. as a resident.  Fr. John Hanley, the community of IHM Residence and the lay staff in Tewksbury also have been a great help to me in this time of transition.  Thanks to all of them!  It has been a very good experience visiting the Oblate community whenever I was in Buffalo, NY and I thank Fr. Felix Nyambe and all the Oblates there for their warm welcome to me.  Finally, I am very grateful to my sister, Kathy Lougen, who did so much for me whenever I was in the Buffalo, NY area during this time.  

My return to the U.S. Province and this obedience to the novitiate help me live in a concrete way our Chapter theme, “Pilgrims of Hope in Communion.”  I realize I am indeed a pilgrim on a life journey that has many stages.  I feel my own poverty on this journey, and I try to live this in a spirit of acceptance and serenity.  I am called to live missionary flexibility by having my roots in God and not in one place or in one ministry that I like to do or that I feel I am good at doing.  As I am called and sent, I renew my trust in God, in my brother Oblates and in myself that by God’s grace it will all work out.  This pilgrimage is done with immense hope because I know the good Lord is traveling on the road with us and is faithful.  The Source of all Being sustains us as we welcome his grace-filled action in our lives.  “And all shall be well…”