Assembly Refreshes the Province Spirit

San Antonio, TX

By Will Shaw

On April 9, and 10, the Missionary Oblates of the U.S. Province gathered at the Whitley Center on the campus of OST in San Antonio for their first, province-wide face-to-face meeting since 2017. About 120 men came from all around the country to attend in person, those who could not be there participated virtually via Zoom. For some, it was their first opportunity to hear from Fr. Raymond Cook in person since he was installed as Provincial last fall. Having missed a scheduled Convocation and other meeting opportunities during the long Covid shutdown, the congregation expressed a need for an assembly to be held within the first six months of the new administration. While at the assembly, former Superior General, now member of the formation team at the Oblate Novitiate in Godfrey, IL, Fr. Louis Lougen, summarized the feelings of many in attendance: “…with recent events such as Covid, the Oblates of the US Province have not been able to gather. It was a joyful reunion of brothers and friends who have not seen each other for a long time.”

Fr. Cook addresses the gathering

The general purpose of this assembly was to allow the administration to provide a “State of the Union” snapshot, and some of the new Provincial’s vision for the province. In addition, a few select ministries got an opportunity to talk about their work and hopes for the future. The assembly was also an opportunity for all to discuss possibilities and ideas for the near- and long-term future. It was not an arena where votes were taken or policies adopted, it was a place where ideas were shared, questions asked, and needs expressed for continuing consideration. Fr. Frank Santucci, Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies at OST, clearly agrees with this approach: “The whole meeting was an information-giving session, which is very important. We needed to hear from the various Oblates involved in what is happening.”

The men enjoyed being together as a province for the first time in 7 years

In addition to the “business,” the assembly is an opportunity for the men to get together with brother Oblates they may have worked or lived with in the past. During meals and free time, the men reminisce and exchange stories about their ministries and the needs going forward. They give each other the benefit of their own experience, and in some cases, hash out items to bring up for discussion when the meeting is in session. The joy at being together for the first time in years was universal. For Sch. Bro. Pablo Henning this was a “first” in his experience: “Being able to meet with most of the Oblates I’ve met at the same place for the first time since I have joined was honestly amazing. I even got to meet new Oblates that I have only heard by name and have conversations with groups of Oblates I had never been able to mix with before.” Fathers Louis Lougen and Art Flores seconded Bro. Pablo’s feelings: Fr. Lougen said, “I was happily surprised by the number of Oblates who were present and by those who accompanied the assembly via Zoom from Tewksbury and Belleville. The interest and enthusiasm that was expressed for renewing the missionary vision of the province and concretely, the support and openness to new ministries.” Vocation Director, Fr. Art Flores said simply, “What I liked best about the meeting is that we all met together, in the same place. I heard comments from many of the men how good it was to finally meet together as one province.”

In his remarks to the gathering, Fr. Cook shared some specific ideas for the Province: one is an expansion of the ministry in Baja which currently consists of the Casa Estudiantil de Mazenod pre-novitiate and the Parraquia Maria Immaculata which also includes Oblate youth groups, Afiliados, and other lay ministries headed up by Fr. Jesse Esqueda. It’s too early to determine exactly what those “expansions” will entail, but Fr. Art Flores is already on board: “I’m excited to hear of the expansion of the Baja Mission…” Fr. Cook also prioritized facilitating the Zambia Delegation’s anticipated evolution into an independent province and talked about an as-yet-unnamed new US ministry.

Assuming the goals of this assembly were to introduce the men to the new administration and hear about some new priorities, along with creating an opportunity for the congregation to touch base with their fellow ministers, friends and brothers, the assembly appears to have been a success. Perhaps it signaled a return to “normalcy” after the long separation and “shelter in place” necessitated by the Covid lockdown.

The Oblates themselves summed up the meeting best:

Fr. Richard Sudlik, OMI

Fr. Richard Sudlik, Director, Christ the King Retreat Center: “To me the most significant aspect of the Assembly is that it is turning a page. All of the new administration except one (Fr. Ray John Marek) became members of the community after the consolidation of the five provinces into one. What is also important is that the new administration is so culturally diverse. Only two of the seven are “Anglos.” Our leadership reflects the reality of those we were sent to serve.”

Fr. Art Flores, OMI

Fr. Art Flores: “This will enable us to move beyond the former five province memory. I heard words of excitement from young as well as older members of the province. I’m hopeful and looking forward to the years ahead!!

Bro. Pablo Henning, OMI

Sch. Bro. Pablo Henning: “…this Assembly was an awesome, inspiring, and joyful experience. While some of the older Oblates are aware of the reduction in size and work of the Oblates during their lifetime, what I experienced in the Assembly was opportunity, potential and zeal.”

Fr. Frank Santucci, OMI

Fr. Frank Santucci: “…we saw our new Provincial in action, and I was impressed with the opening talk he gave us and in the way in which he led the proceedings. He was calm and gave the impression that he and his Vicars (Fr. Antonio Ponce and Fr. Emmanuel Mulenga) are willing to listen to us in the future. “

Fr. General Louis Lougen, OMI
Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI

Fr. Louis Lougen:Fr. Ray Cook’s vision for the Province is filled with Mazenodian (not macedonian!) fire and courage. In the face of the challenges that society places before us, and our Oblate challenges, viz., our reality of diminishment, aging, and the self-referential tendency to focus on one’s personal project and not be willing to be moved to another place of mission. Fr. Ray is counting on our generosity and missionary zeal to extend ourselves and ‘to leave nothing undared’ so that we can respond to this missionary call”

Very Rev. Raymond Cook

Very Rev. Raymond Cook:” “My vision is based on a real hope that is embedded in our faith. I was very pleased by the turnout of the meeting and all the positive feedback received. Many thanks to everyone involved!!! The men in the province are a gift to the Oblate Congregation and a gift to the people of God.”