We asked Fr. Fabio Ciardi, OMI, the Director of the General Service of Oblate Studies, what the most significant General Chapters in our history are, according to him. Following is the transcription of the video.
37th General Chapter! That means that we have already organized 36 General Chapters. So I’d like to introduce you to all these General Chapters. There are too many. So we choose just a few.
I guess that one of the most important was the Chapter in 1926. It was the largest assembly of the Congregation at that time. Here we have the list of all the participants. Why is so important this General Chapter? Because it was the Chapter of the centenary of the Congregation. After 100 years of the foundation, they organized this General Chapter. So it was a very important event for the Congregation. It was important because this is the greatest renewal of the Constitutions and Rules. They renewed completely the Constitutions and Rules according to the Canon Law, the new code of the Canon Law.
The first General Chapter. Later, they call it “General Chapter.” It was just the first meeting of the first few Oblates in 1818, where they read together, in October, the Rule the Founder had already prepared. The first edition of the Constitutions and Rules. And this is the first edition that he prepared in September-October, 1818. You know, this is the first edition of the Constitutions and Rules. And it was written by the Founder himself. This is the handwriting of the founder. And so in October, at the end of October, the first group of Oblates – not yet called Oblates, but just missionaries – read together this document “Constitutions and Rules”.
And he said, “Do you want to approve these Constitutions and Rules?”
And they said, “No, why did you introduce Vows? You said at the beginning, ‘no Vows’ because you said we will be united only by the most ardent charity. No Vows. Why did you introduce here some Vows?” (There was no Vow of Poverty yet.)
Anyway, they approved these Constitutions and Rules. And this was the first General Chapter, even though they didn’t call it “General Chapter”. It was just a meeting. Starting from this moment, a new congregation started: The Society of the Missionaries of Provence.
So during the Fourth General Chapter, after the approval – the pontifical approval of the Constitutions and Rules in 1826, they said, “We have not yet written anything about the first Chapter. So in the Acts of the Chapter of 1826, we have the insertion of the First General Chapter – “Acts of Chapter, 1818”. It was written by Father Suzanne, who was the General Secretary. 1826 is one of the major General Chapters because it was after the approval from the Pope of the Constitutions and Rules. So the Missionaries of Provance became the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The journal of Suzanne explains what happened during the Chapter, at the end of the Chapter. It was so beautiful because at the end of the Mass they went back to the sacristy and they started to embrace each other, saying, “Finally, we are really friends. We are really friends.” And they started to cry. They were so happy to be the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Here we have the signatures of this General Chapter. So nice to see the members of the Congregation. Jeancard, Marcou, Dupuy, Tempier, Courtès, Mazenod, Suzanne… all these people.
Now we go from the first the General Chapters to the last ones. 1966, after the Vatican Council, they decided, because the Council asked this, to renew completely the Constitutions and Rules. The Chapter was a very… very long period. Two months! Never we had a Chapter for two months. And during these two months, they rewrote the Constitutions and Rules. Here we have the Acts, the Minutes. You can see the two volumes. So every day you have what happened. So they used to do a hard work.
“Wednesday, February 16, in the afternoon…”
Each member said something. So everything is recorded. So if you really want to know what happened during the Chapter, day by day, intervention by intervention, here… we’ve two volumes.
Again, look at this! Day by day, all the interventions. Why is this General Chapter of 1980 so important? Because from this Chapter the new Constitutions and Rules that we have today, came out. This General Chapter prepared the Constitutions and Rules that we have in our hands now. And all the work that they did is here. Four volumes of all the reports. The Lay Commission… Pre-capitular Commission… So they did a lot of work. Here again we have all the material of this great Chapter.
Can we then call these the most important General Chapters?
According to me, these are the most important – the four most important Chapters in our congregation apart the Chapter of 1926.
1818 – The first one. When the Missionaries of Provence started their life.
1826 – With the approval of the Constitutions and Rules when they became the “Oblates of Mary Immaculate”.
1966 – The Chapter after the Vatican II Council because it was a shock for the congregation.
1980 – And then finally, 1980 with the last edition of the Constitutions and Rules.
Later, we have simple changes done to the Constitutions and Rules but the main part remained always the same. So thanks to this Chapter of 1980, we have our Constitution and Rules today.