Oblates of Mary Immaculate

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(OMI, Official Catholic Directory #0910); A congregation of religious men founded at Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1816 by Charles Joseph Eugène de Mazenod. The members of this society were known first as Missionaries of Provence, then as Oblates of St. Charles (1825). Their success in parochial mission work led to a rapid expansion of the institute, and houses were established in Marseilles (1822) and Nîmes (1825). A rule, written by the founder in 1818, was approved by the first members of the congregation and received episcopal approbation in November 1818. However, by 1823 certain bishops were contesting the validity of the vows pronounced by the missionaries and were threatening to recall their subjects who had joined the society. Further hostility to the group arose when its members opposed Jansenism and showed themselves favorable to papal infallibility and ultramontanism. It became clear that the stability of the society could be ensured only by approbation higher than that of the bishops. Mazenod, therefore, went to Rome and on Feb. 17, 1826, secured the definitive approval of the Holy See for the congregation, henceforth to be known as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Development. Although the first objective of the Oblates was the preaching of missions to the poor of the rural areas, it was not long before their field of work was broadened. In 1824, the congregation accepted the task of improving the clergy by the establishment of seminaries, and two years later the Oblates assumed charge of the major seminary at Marseilles. Seminary work was extended to Ajaccio, Corsica; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Frejus, Romans, and Quimper in France; and Ottawa, Canada. After the death of the founder, seminaries were accepted in Asia and Africa.

In 1831, a general chapter of the society voted to take up the work of the foreign missions. The first mission foundations were made in Canada in 1841 and a year later in the U.S. Subsequently, missions were opened in the Oregon territory (1847), Ceylon (1847), Algeria, Northwest Africa (184850), Natal, South Africa (1850), Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and Laos. The congregation's efforts began later in Latin America, where foundations were made in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, and Uruguay.

In addition, the Oblates went to England in 1841 and later spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Poland. Teaching was added to the original works because of the need in the mission countries. In 1848, Bishop Joseph-Eugene Guiges, OMI founded the College of Bytown which in 1866 was granted university status by the Parliament of United Canada, and in 1889 received its pontifical charter. In 1965 it became St. Paul's University and split into two entities: The University of Ottawa and St. Paul's University. St. Paul's retained the Faculties of Theology and Canon Law and related Institutes, one of which is the Ukranian Catholic Church's Skeptytsky Institute which conducts the only doctoral program of Eastern Christian Studies in the Western Hemisphere. Establishments of this kind were opened in a great number of countries in the years that followed. Parochial work, originally not considered a part of the congregation's apostolate, was included also, particularly in places like America, Africa, and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), where parishes were not only accepted but also established by the Oblates.

The development of the congregation is also associated with the care of Marian shrines. The founder accepted nine of them, and this number was increased through the years. The national Marian shrine of Canada, Our Lady of the Cape, Quebec, is under the care of the Oblates. Three shrines in the U.S. are under their jurisdiction: Our Lady of Lourdes, San Antonio, Tex.; Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, Ill.; and Our Lady of Grace, Colebrook, N.H. Under the direction of the diocesan clergy, the Oblates serve at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Approximately 185 years after its foundation, the congregation was divided into six regions, comprising 40 provinces, 18 delegations and 15 missions. It had more than 4,600 members, of whom about 3,500 were priests, including one cardinal, ten archbishops and 33 bishops. In addition 661 scholastics were preparing for the priesthood and 540 served as coadjutor brothers. It had given to the Church three cardinals, Joseph Hippolyte Guibert (180286), Archbishop of Paris, and Jean Mary Rodrigue villeneuve (18831947), Archbishop of Quebec, and Francis George, (1937), Archbishop of Chicago. Pope John Paul II canonized the founder, Bp. Eugene de Mazenod, on Dec. 3, 1995. Two other Oblates, Fr. Joseph Gerard and Fr. Jozef Cebula, have been beatified. Preliminary steps have been taken toward the canonization of four others.

Canada. When the Oblates arrived in Montreal in December 1841, they lost no time in taking over the care of the native missions, a work that led them to the remotest regions of James Bay and Labrador. In 1845, Alexander Taché, an Oblate seminarian, went to western Canada, where eventually he became successively bishop and archbishop of Saint Boniface. The conquest of western Canada for the Church was accomplished largely by the Oblates. They preached the gospel as far as Alaska, the shores of the Arctic sea, and Hudson Bay. Ten years after their arrival they had covered the entire expanse of Canada. They were named the first bishops of almost all the episcopal sees of the West: Saint Boniface, Edmonton, Saint Albert, Prince Albert, Gravelbourg, Vancouver, New Westminster, Mackenzie, Yukon, Grouard, and Hudson Bay. They also supplied the first bishop of Ottawa, the vicars apostolic of James Bay and Labrador, bishops to Timmins and Amos, and a cardinal archbishop of Quebec.

United States. From Canada, the Oblates spread to the U.S., where they preached their first mission at Cooperville, N.Y., in 1842. In the Oregon Territory they ministered to Native American tribes and newly arrived immigrants between 1847 and 1860. While still under superiors residing in Canada, they established foundations in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Buffalo and Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Burlington, Vt.; Detroit, Mich.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Lowell, Mass. In 1849, a mission was opened in Texas. The first attempt was shortlived, but a permanent foundation was made in 1851. They established a school in Galveston and made a foundation in Brownsville. In 1858 they crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico with foundations at Matamoros, Aqualeguas, and Victoria.

The Oblates in the U.S. were members of the Canadian province until 1883, when they formed a separate American province that included all the Oblate foundations within the U.S. Father James McGrath was named first provincial, and a year later the first novitiate was established in the new province at Tewksbury, Mass. Later, other provinces were created: the Eastern, with headquarters located at Boston, Mass.; the Southern, at Houston, Tex.; the Central, at St. Paul, Minn.; the Western, at San Fernando, Calif.; and St. John the Baptist province, which is not territorial but was established for the benefit of the French-speaking population, with headquarters at Lowell, Mass. Because of dwindling numbers and in order to focus efforts in evangelization, the five American provinces merged into one in 1999. American Oblates staff missions in Brazil, Japan, the Philippines, and Haiti. Some are in the Canadian north as well as in Africa, Sri Lanka, Laos, Chile, and Brazil. There are American Oblate missionary bishops in the Philippines and Haiti. The American Oblates conduct missions also in Denmark and Greenland; one member was named bishop of Stockholm, Sweden.

In the U.S., the Oblates preach parochial missions, direct retreat houses, conduct high schools, and care for numerous parishes from coast to coast. Without counting those working in foreign fields, American Oblates in 2001 numbered 531, of whom 454 were priests, including one cardinal, one archbishop and one bishop, 36 coadjutor brothers and 41 scholastics.

Rule and Administration. In addition to the three canonical vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Oblates take a vow of perseverance by which they pledge in a particular way to remain in the congregation until death, even in the event that for extrinsic reasons the members should be obliged to disperse.

Supreme authority is found in the general chapter, which is convoked by the superior general every six years to strengthen the bonds of unity and to express the members participation in the life and mission of the congregation. The ordinary governing authority is in the hands of the Superior General, elected by the general chapter for six years, with six renewable. He is assisted by a general council comprised of the councilors for the congregation's six regions of Canada, United States, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia/Oceania, as well as by a vicar general and two assistants general, also elected by the general chapter. A new general council is elected by the general chapter after it has elected a new superior general. A secretary general, bursar general, procurator to the Holy See and a postulator for the causes of canonization are named by the superior general with his council in plenary session.

The superior general is bound to visit the congregation, either personally or by means of his assistants or other visitors whom he chooses, every six years. The congregation is divided into six regions, 40 provinces, 18 delegations and 14 missions. Within the province, delegation or mission, each local community has its superior. Provincials are appointed by the superior general in council after consulting individually the members of a province. The provincial in council appoints the superior and council of a delegation subject to confirmation by the superior general in council, while the superior of a mission is appointed by the competent major superior. The congregation receives among its members candidates for the priesthood who are trained in its novitiates and scholasticates, and frequently also in its juniorates or minor seminaries. It also receives men who, while not aspiring to the priesthood, wish to devote their technical, professional or pastoral skills, as well as the witness of their life, to the work of building up the church as brothers.

Bibliography: Constitutions and Rules of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Rome 2000). g. carriÈre, Histoire documentaire de la Congrégation des Missionaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée dans l'Est du Canada (Ottawa 195763) 5 v. pub. j. e. champagne, Les Missions catholiques dans l'Ouest canadien, 18181875 (Ottawa 1949). k. cronin, Cross in the Wilderness (Vancouver 1960). b. doyon, The Cavalry of Christ on the Rio Grande, 18491883 (Milwaukee 1956). Études Oblatés j. leflon, Eugène de Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles, Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, tr. f. d. flanagan (New York 1961). Missions de la Congrégation des Missionaires Oblats de Marie-Immaculée chronological compilations of official reports and personal letters. t. ortolan, Cent ans d'apostolat dans les deux hemisphères: Les Oblats de Marie Immaculée durant le premier siècle de leur existence, 4 v. (Paris 1915). t. rambert, Vie de Monseigneur Charles-Joseph-Eugène de Mazenod, 2 v. (Tours 1883). a. rey, Histoire de Monseigneur Charles-Joseph-Eugène de Mazenod, 2 v. (Marseille 1928). g. m. waggett, "The Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.A. 18471878," Études Oblatés 6 (1947) 788.

[g. carriÈre/

c. hurkes]