A version of this article appeared in the March 2016 edition of the Canadian Martyrs Epistle
“We must spare no effort to extend the Savior’s empire. We must lead people to act like human beings, first of all, and then like Christians, and, finally, we must help them to become saints.” St. Eugene de Mazenod
This year, 2016, marks the 200th anniversary of the Oblates. Let us explore the Oblate history and their potential future.
The Founder – Eugene de Mazenod: a short time line
- The founder of the Oblates, Eugene de Mazenod, was born August 1st, 1782.
- The French Revolution in 1789 heralded a period of time when the de Mazenod family became political refugees in the neighbouring country of Italy.
- In order to return to France in 1802 under the rule of Napoleon, Eugene’s parents had to legally separate, to be able to retain the de Mazenod properties and finances from the revolutionaries. Eugene was twenty when he returned and was no longer a privileged young nobleman.
- In 1806, Eugene de Mazenod’s mother passed away and a twenty-five year old Eugene fell into a depression.
- Eugene experienced his first special grace while reflecting on the cross during a Good Friday mass. Eugene was struck with a profound sense of deeper understanding of God’s love and goodness. The cross was the reminder of Christ’s shed blood, done to obtain forgiveness of all sins – a culmination of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Eugene grew aware of his sins and decided to give his life up to Christ.
- The second grace was his decision to become a priest. He joined the seminary in 1808.
- He was ordained a priest in 1811. His dream was to be a servant and priest to the poor. Eugene ministered to prisoners in jail, the youth of the city, the elderly and the poor.
- Overcome with the scope and breadth of his task, he asked six like-minded fellow priests to join him on this new radical/daring journey of priesthood. On January 25th, 1816, the Society of Missionaries of Provence (the Oblates) was born, a community of hope, a family of faith. These Missionaries lived in community and imitated the virtues and examples of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God to the poor.
- On February 17th, 1826, the pope, Leo XII, formally approved the young congregation, now called the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Eugene de Mazenod became their Superior General.
- In 1832, Eugene was named Bishop of Icosia.
- In 1837, Eugene was named Bishop of Marseille.
- He died in May 1861.
- On December 5th, 1995, St. Pope John Paul II canonized Eugene de Mazenod in Rome.
Canada – the first Oblate international mission
In 1841, the Bishop of Montreal, Bishop Ignace Bourget, asked de Mazenod to send some missionaries over to Lower Canada. Six Oblates came (13% of the then total population of Oblates in France), to begin their journey in Montreal. Soon they were spreading to other regions of Canada, east, west, north and south.
Today, over 70 countries have Oblate missions within their boundaries, serving all people, especially the most abandoned. Oblates certainly impacted Canada and Ottawa. In 1861, the Oblates took over the College of Bytown – this would eventually become the University of Ottawa. During the depression, Oblate Fr. André Guay started the Catholic Centre at the U of O, to hold families together and keep them close to the Church. This became Novalis, Canada’s Catholic Publishing House. In 1965 when the University of Ottawa came under the government auspices, the Olbates formed Saint Paul Pontifical University.
In 2014, Oblate Associates were welcomed officially as part of the OMI Lacombe Canada Province, one of three Oblate provinces in Canada. However it should be noted that Oblate Associates (or versions thereof) have been working in various districts and provinces for several years, though not officially recognized.
The Mazenodian family is increasing in diversity and faith, even if the numbers of religious in Canada are significantly lower. The blessing in today’s world is that the call to religious life is being answered heartily by those in developing countries.
In 2015, the Canadian Oblate community re-invigorated itself and has focused on five mission centres across Canada. Its aim is to continue to minister to the marginalized and the poor.
“Practice well among yourselves charity, charity, charity, and outside, zeal for the salvation of souls.” St. Eugene de Mazenod
- Catholic Register Special Pullout Section, January 24, 2016
- Francis Santucci OMI, Eugene de Mazenod: Co-operator of Christ the Savior, Communicates His Spirit. Doctoral Thesis, Association For Oblate Studies and Research, Rome, 2004