1. A specific identity
  2. The possible ARTICULATIONS of oblate spirituality
  3. Oblate values and the missionary outlook
  4. The Oblate Charism

The Holy Spirit animates, renews and continually gives life to the Church in Christ in such a way that it can always accomplish more fully its mission of being a sign and sacrament of salvation and unity for the entire human race. It is the Spirit that guides it on its way to the Father, towards a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. In this plan of salvation, the Spirit gives the Church the necessary charisms for it to adequately fulfill her mission according to the needs of the times.

In this mystery of salvation, Eugene de Mazenod emerges as a person who allowed himself to be docilely led by the Spirit and became the Spirit’s instrument to raise up in the Church a new way for the charism of evangelizing the poor to be present.

Reflecting on the nature of the Oblate vocation in terms of charism is a relatively recent development. For more than a hundred years we commonly spoke of the “spirit”. It was only from 1940 on that the use of “spirituality” slowly replaced the word “spirit”. We had to wait until the post-conciliar period to come to the point of rethinking the Oblate vocation in terms of “charism”.

Beyond the terminology which does have its importance, we will seek to understand how the Oblates perceived the identity proper to them in the Church.


For the Oblates it is life which always comes before reflection. Throughout their history they have concentrated on living and on carrying out their particular missionary work with dedication and courage, more concerned with promoting life around them than with intellectualizing about their own life. Recently the following question has been asked: “Should we express our identity in words, in slogans, or through means of the life and pastoral directions we have already implemented? The immediate response was: “The challenge is found in living”.[1]

In 1959, speaking to the Oblate educators of the United States, Father Leo Deschâtelets denounced the lack of critical analysis in the area of Oblate spirituality: “Our venerated Founder never wrote any scientific treatise on this question. It has only been during these last few years that some of our theologians have attempted to capture in words exactly what it is we call Oblate spirituality”.

“If the Founder himself has left us no classical account of our spirituality, we can reasonably suppose that he expected that the Superiors General who followed him would give an official interpretation of what it really was. But that has not been the case. My predecessors have written a number of inspiring circular letters on various aspects of our religious and spiritual life. But the circular letter or the document unveiling for us the true meaning of Oblate spirituality has yet to appear. And it will not appear as long as our theologians and our specialists will not have conducted exhaustive research in the area of our religious and spiritual teachings. At the present moment, in spite of the publication of a certain number of serious articles based upon trustworthy documentation, and the fact that certain ideas have been definitively established, the study of our spirituality simply resembles a great cathedral under construction where a number of qualified workers have laid the foundations while the construction site is covered with material awaiting the hands of other workers. Research in this area is going forward. But we are still looking for an architect capable of carrying out this monumental task […]”. [2]

The priority given to life does not prevent reflection on what has already been lived; on the contrary, this kind of reflection is necessary. It can be affirmed that “it is better to be imbued with the Oblate spirit rather than knowing its definition”. [3] But there is no denying the necessity of understanding more in depth the elements connected with lived experience if one wishes to experience a harmonious and progressive growth, and as the needs arise, to make the necessary new choices in the journey through history and in response to the impact of new cultures.


At the time of the origin of the Institute, in spite of the absence of an explicit and systematic doctrinal reflection on the identity proper to it , the awareness of its existence has always been very clear. Eugene de Mazenod spoke with conviction and as though it was something taken for granted when he spoke of a spirit specific to the Congregation. Already in 1817, he wrote to Father Henry Tempier: “Each Society in the Church has a spirit which is its own; which is inspired by God according to the circumstances and needs of the times wherein it pleases God to raise these supporting bodies or rather it would be better to say these elite bodies […]”. [4]

And later on, to Father Hippolyte Guibert: “We must be filled with our spirit and live by it. This is so evident that it needs no explanation. Just as in a Society there is a common dress, common Rules, there must also be a common spirit that gives life to this particular body. The spirit of the Bernardine is not that of the Jesuit. Ours spirit is also something particular to us”. [5]

In the period which followed the Founder’s death, the Oblates, beginning from the Superiors General, continued spontaneously to talk about the Oblate spirit or the spirit of the family [6]. It was simply the affirmation that such a spirit existed as if it was something tangibly evident. The awareness of belonging to the Congregation was clear. Similarly there was complete continuity between what the Founder held up as a model of life and the family tradition which became established, little by little. The question as to whether or not a special spirit existed was not even asked, it seemed all too evident.

Father Joseph Fabre, Eugene de Mazenod’s successor in directing the Congregation, made a decisive contribution in keeping alive the sense of family, the memory of the Founder and his spirit [7]. He was recognized by his contemporaries as being the one who genuinely continued Eugene de Mazenod’s work – to such an extent that the first companion of the Founder could say: “No doubt, we will always mourn our first Father, and you will mourn him with us. But nevertheless, allow us tell you that this Father has not entirely abandoned us, he left you his spirit and his heart”. [8]

Aware that he was not able to fill the void left by the death of the Founder, of not being able to speak with the same authority and the same ardor, Father Fabre declared that he was ready to let himself be “imbued with his spirit”, in order, simultaneously with all the Oblates, to be constantly renewed “in the spirit of our holy vocation” and to walk in his footsteps [9]. From here came his firm resolution to keep alive the heritage received: “To renew ourselves in the love of our holy vocation, to confirm ourselves in that filial affection which constitutes its strength and its life, that is the goal of my constant concerns and I consider it my primary duty to take advantage of all circumstances to rekindle these sentiments in your hearts”. [10]

He demanded the same attitude on the part of all superiors and asked them to “maintain the family spirit”, to instill “love of our holy vocation”, to demand observance of the Constitutions and Rules because “one cannot love the Congregation without loving the Rules which constitute it and make it live with real life”. [11]

To keep the spirit of the Founder alive and to safeguard the unity and identity of the Congregation, he wrote some fundamental letters in which he carefully explained themes related to our vocation such as fidelity to the Rule, evangelization of the poor, love of one’s religious family, charity and fraternal unity. Moreover, he set up a whole series of concrete tools for animation. He regularly published the Necrological Notices which made it possible to come to know the spiritual experiences of Oblates. He founded the review Missions O.M.I. which immediately became a very rich mine of knowledge about the life of the Congregation. He established the custom of annual retreats in the provinces. He realized the publication of the first prayer manual and ceremonial for Oblate use.

Thereafter, the Superiors General, like all Oblates in general, continued to speak of the Oblate spirit and the family spirit. They were aware of being heirs to values that fully characterized their particular life and they found them contained especially in the Constitutions and Rules, and in the Preface in particular. All through the history of the Congregation, people constantly turned to the Preface as an especially authentic source for the identification of the Oblate spirit.


Whereas the Oblate “spirit” has always been spoken about, the question of the existence of a specifically Oblate spirituality is of more recent origin. The General Chapter of 1939 had felt the need of a more thorough, systematic study in this vein. In one of its proposals, “the desire was expressed to see the development of a spirituality that was specifically Oblate, elements of which would be drawn from our Holy Rules, the writings of our venerated Founder and our family traditions; the suggestion was made that a special body be constituted to get this development under way”.

“The Chapter does not believe that the principles and practices of our Oblate spiritual life are already sufficiently organized into a body of doctrine able to take its place among the first ranks of the great schools of classical spirituality. It declares, however, that the Oblates have a spirit particular to them which should be ceaselessly cultivated in the annual and monthly retreats, in spiritual conferences, especially in our houses of formation, and above all, through the explanation and the practice of the Rule, of our traditions and our Oblate history”.

But it seemed that the time had not yet arrived. “As for the structures destined to establish an Oblate spirituality, it [the Chapter] does not think the time has arrived to set them up. But it is anxious to encourage the personal initiatives and individual efforts aimed at developing this Oblate spirituality, however, under the special supervision of the Reverend Fathers Provincial and the General Administration”. [12]

One would have to wait for the years immediately after the Second World War to see the first results of this research, at a time when studies aiming to define Oblate spirituality were taking place in a much broader ecclesial context, where each religious family was seeking its own identity. In the domain of theology, the academic studies of spirituality initiated in the 1920’s began to bear their first fruits and to be applied by a large number of religious families to the search for their spirituality.

If, until this time, it was “spirit” that was generally spoken of, now under the influence of this new ecclesial awareness, people preferred to speak of “spirituality” in the sense of a systematic, scientific reflection on the spirit which animated lived experience. As a result, the following questions we asked: Can one speak of Oblate spirituality? Does an Oblate spirituality really exist? Can one speak of the Oblate spirit in terms of a school of spirituality? Furthermore: from which sources did Oblate spirituality draw?

Certain internal factors in the Congregation inspired this new period of reflection as well. It was during this period that an intense research took place on the person, the writings and the works of Eugene de Mazenod – a work demanded by the historical section of the beatification process and stimulated by the new Superior General’s marked interest in the subject. Work was earnestly going on to prepare a biography of the Founder under the authorship of Jean Leflon, to research newly found documentation, to systematically organize the fruit of this research, and to publish the Founder’s writings and the studies done on him. [13] The first doctoral theses on Oblate spirituality began to appear in Rome. It was also during these years that the review, Etudes oblates and Oblate Studies Editions were born. They immediately became mandatory sources for reflection on Oblate life. [14] Rome and Ottawa became the major centers of attraction and training.

a. The Existence of a Spirituality or of a School of Spirituality

Father Marcel Belanger was one of the first Oblates who, in this new context and this new ecclesial awareness, asked himself: “Is there a spirit that is uniquely our own, a spirit which characterizes us all and distinguishes us from other Institutes?” [15]

It was a question which would guide the research of several authors from now on.

By identifying the originality of the founding with that of its associated spirituality, Father Ovila A. Meunier acknowledged that a school of Oblate spirituality does exist: “In the same way that the foundations made by Eugene de Mazenod are clearly recognizable by their particular and original traits, so does its spiritual doctrine, in its major features, constitute an original synthesis, a personal way of approaching God”. [16]

Nonetheless, preference, in general, was to speak of a special spirit, a new spirit, a new spirituality, and even more, of “a spiritual doctrine truly unique to us” [17], of “a whole, complete, balanced and organic” [18].From the point of view of the Oblate, such a spirituality is seen as a supernatural instinct; from God’s point of view, it is seen as a plan he has, a divine idea, a vocation, an economy, “God’s designs” on us. [19]

Yves Guégen, in his modest yet profound book, Missionnaire Oblat de Marie Immaculée, does not speak of a school of spirituality any more than he sets forth a system. We do not have, he states, “a system neatly outlined and distinct from the major spiritual currents […] In this sense, it has no spirituality unique to it”. But there does exist among the Oblates “a certain set mentality, clear enough, though not exclusive, a certain theoretical and practical idea of union with God through charity and of the means to use to get there”. It is only in this sense that we can speak of an Oblate spirituality. Understood in this sense, “There can be no doubt we have an Oblate spirituality”. [20]

In 1950, the review, Etudes oblates, launched a survey focusing on the existence, the nature and the characteristics of an Oblate spirituality by presenting an initial definition of it: “By ‘Oblate spirituality’, we understand a doctrine of the spiritual life embracing the aspects of the interior and apostolic life, the means of sanctification, an ascesis and a mysticism which especially suits the members of our religious family” [21]. At the same time, it offered a good questionnaire for the purpose of research [22]. One of the questions was: “Can one and should one speak of an Oblate spirituality?” The answer, once one has excluded the possibility of considering the Oblate experience as a “school of spirituality” [23], is clearly positive – even if some difficulties were voiced about the use of the term “Oblate spirituality” – with a preference expressed for other expressions such as “the Oblate way” of viewing the spiritual life, or the more traditional and concrete expression: “the spirit of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate”. [24]

The following year, a circular letter from Father Deschâtelets appeared. It could be considered as the summit of this period of research on Oblate spirituality, research which would, however, continue. Circular no. 191, Our Vocation and our Life in Intimate Union with Mary Immaculate, in effect, establishes a determining step in the growing awareness of the whole Congregation concerning its identity. It encompasses “the originality specific to our life as Oblates”, “a kind of life special to our Institute”, “a spirit, a special kind of mentality, spiritual life as religious and apostolic, a very distinct lifestyle with clearly defined features, with its graces, its demands, its principles of action, its uninterrupted tradition, its technique for personal sanctification, its ministries with well defined methods”, “a kind of man who is spiritual and apostolic”. [25]

The fact that an Oblate spirituality really does exist now remains a firm conviction confirmed in some way by Paul VI in his speech to the members of the General Chapter of 1966. [26]

Whatever the case may be, the question of which terminology to use remains an open question, and in fact, one of secondary importance with regard to the awareness of the existence of a particular Oblate identity. In this regard, we could re-read a perfectly clear page written by Emilien Lamirande which seems to synthesize the ground already covered in the course of the study of “Oblate spirituality”. At the same time, it expresses a new awareness which will find its full expression in reflection on the Oblate charism: “For some people, the very word spirituality conjures up the idea of a closed system, or even of some sort of recipe or formula. It would cause us to lose sight of the unity of the Christian life, animated by the unique Gospel of Jesus Christ. So it is that some people take pleasure in stating that their Order has no spirituality of its own, but nourishes itself directly at the purest sources of the great Catholic spirituality”.

“Rather than use the term spirituality, a number of people prefer to speak of the style of life or action, of the spirit, of the way of living, of the tradition of the family, of the mentality or of the particular distinguishing features”.

“I will not hide my preference for the old word spirit, used a number of times by Bishop de Mazenod with reference to the Congregation, a word, as Bishop Garonne stressed, which has the advantage of pointing to the Spirit. It is a word which speaks to us of the spontaneity of life, as a study on Saint Vincent de Paul very well shows: ”The spirit is at once a force and movement , insight and expression. It does not allow itself to be bound and no one can imprison it. It is perpetually creating and revealing itself through new forms. It lives only by transforming itself in order to remain itself. Mysteriously, it conceives itself and gives birth to itself in order to survive'”. [27]

b. The sources of Mazenodian Spirituality

Research on the existence of a specific spirituality clearly necessitates the study of its sources as well. From the very first issue of Etudes oblates, we find on this subject a synthetic but nonetheless complete study. According to this article, in Eugene de Mazenod’s formation “three great schools worked in fraternal collaboration. The French School at Saint Sulpice gave shape to his piety and ,through Saint Vincent de Paul, it contributed to the development of his Rule.

“The Italian School entered into our religious legislation with Saint Philip Neri, Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint Leonard of Port Maurice; then, with Saint Alphonsus de Liguori this School extended its action and stamped its mark on the whole domain of our family life”.

“Finally, through the Rule and the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius, through the spiritual works of Fathers Judde and Rodriguez, the Company of Jesus exercised an undeniable influence on the disciple of Father Magy, and through him, on the whole family of which he became the head”.

“And if we accept the claim that the French school, in turn, drew its inspiration from Saint Teresa of Avila and the German Mystics of the fourteenth century and that the Liguorian school is tied not only to Saint Philip Neri and Saint Vincent de Paul, but also to Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Francis de Sales, might one not be allowed to conclude that the Founder of the Oblates belongs to one of the richest, purest, most brilliant spiritual lines of Christian sacred writing”. [28]

The more extensive studies that followed – better documented from the critical point of view – have substantially confirmed the contribution made by all these spiritual currents. [29]

As a result, one would be tempted to see Eugene de Mazenod as an eclectic without any identity of his own. On the contrary, it would be more fair to bring out the ecclesial spirit of the Founder and the positive aspect of his being rooted in the great Christian spiritual tradition. Already, Father Deschâtelets noted: “In this regard, was not our Congregation born from the desire to assure a continuation of the old Orders and Institutes by accepting the weighty heritage of their spiritual and religious life?” [30] That is what would allow each generation of Oblates to remain continuously open to the spiritual movements of the past and the present without being untrue to its own identity. Moreover, this is a protection from the “myth of independence” and the “seduction of monopoly”, as Father Bélanger put it: “In addition to being an illusory claim, it is an unconscious attempt at spiritual suicide to want to assert one’s personality in strict contrast to other religious families. Such an attempt could only lead to an impoverishment and a refusal to avail ourselves of the spiritual treasures amassed by the Church through the centuries”. With reference to the seduction of monopoly, the same author wrote: “Of course, our personality is made up of elements and of traits which undoubtedly belong to us […] But, taken separately, none of these elements is exclusively unique to us. They are all found elsewhere in one Institute or other […] Consequently, our personality or the distinguishing features of our spirituality do not consist in an exclusive possession of one element or other. It would be the taking of a wrong direction to seek to define the Oblate in this manner, even if one feels instinctively drawn to do so […]. Personality […] is more about the unity of the whole rather than a putting together or a juxtaposition of qualities which exist in greater or lesser quantity; unable to be substituted with anything else, this unity of the whole is expressed concretely in a unique, personal way of existing or having – which others already are or possess in a different way”. [31]

The problem will thus be that of knowing whether there exists a characteristic mode of living these elements, common to all, and if there is an integrating element that gives unity to the spiritual experience of the Oblate. We now move on to look at different attempts which have been made to organize and synthesize the components of this spirituality.

The possible ARTICULATIONS of oblate spirituality

Reflection on the Oblate spirit or spirituality is clearly not limited to an abstract discourse on whether it exists or not, or to research into the sources upon which it might depend. This preliminary work has been carried out with the purpose of defining the central content of Oblate spirituality, of schematizing it and working it into a synthesis, in a consistent and systematic fashion.

While going through the Oblate bibliographies, we notice that until the middle of this century, no effort has been made to make a synthesis or an overall coherent presentation. In the letters of the Superiors General, as well as in the writings of other authors, the authors restricted themselves to speaking of Oblate virtues such as zeal, unassuming manner, humility and especially charity. In other instances, what was stressed was the spirit of family, almost always understood as the spirit of charity and unity with constant reference to the testament of the Founder. More generally, reference was made to the spirit of Eugene de Mazenod to be communicated to the Institute or to that of our holy vocation. They preferred a concrete presentation through lived reality rather than an abstract definition of the Oblate vocation. In this regard, it was quite significant to read the 
definition of the Oblate given in one of the first brief works designed to make the Congregation known, Notice sur la Congrégation OMI, which had already made its appearance in the Founder’s time and was, therefore, certainly under his direction [32]. A further way of describing Oblate spirituality would consist in a commentary of a few articles of the Constitutions and Rules and the Preface in particular, which, as has been written, “would in itself alone suffice to characterize a school”. [33]

Naturally, it was Eugene de Mazenod who initially on a number of occasions sketched out a concise 
definition of his own ideal of life. The 
definition presents from time to time slightly different variations, different perspectives. For example, commenting on the first article of the Constitutions and Rules, he wrote: “Everything is there: Virtutes et exempla Salvatoris Nostri Jesu Christi assidua imitatione proseguendo. Let them carve these words on their hearts; let them write them everywhere so that they have them always before their eyes”. [34]

At other times, the synthesis was built around the specific mission of the Institute: “Will we ever have an adequate notion of this sublime vocation? For this, we must understand the excellence of our Institute’s end. The latter is, beyond doubt, the most perfect that could be proposed here below since the end of our Institute is the very same as that which the Son of God had in view when he came on this earth, namely, the glory of his heavenly Father and the salvation of souls […] He was especially sent to preach the Gospel to the poor, ‘Evangelizare pauperibus misit me’,and we have been founded precisely to work for the conversion of souls, and particularly to preach the Gospel to the poor” [35]. Another concise synthesis which flows from his pen like a refrain is a reflection of the three basic ideas of the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of souls: “This spirit of being wholly devoted to the glory of God, the service of the Church and the salvation of souls, is the spirit that is proper to our Congregation”. [36]

At other times the synthesis organizes itself around the interior profile of the Oblate: “For the love of God, never cease to inculcate and preach humility, abnegation, forgetfulness of self, disdain for worldly esteem. May these be ever the foundation of our little Society which, combined with a truly disinterested zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and the most tender, affectionate and sincere charity amongst ourselves, will make of our house an earthly paradise and will establish it in more solid a manner than all possible orders and laws” [37]. In addition, we might consider the 
definition given of a candidate to become an Oblate: “Whoever wishes to become one of us must have an ardent desire for his own perfection and be enflamed with love for our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church and a burning zeal for the salvation of souls. He must free his heart from every disorderly affection for things on earth, and from excessive attachment to parents and native land; he must have no desire for money, but will rather look upon riches as so much rubbish so as to seek no gain other than Jesus Christ; his desire must be to commit himself to the exclusive service of God and of the Church whether in the Missions or in the other ministries of the Congregation. Finally, he must have the will to persevere unto death in fidelity and obedience to the Rules of the Institute”. [38]

The unifying element and almost the key to interpret this internal dimension of the Oblate vocation comes back to charity, which “is the pivot on which our whole existence turns” [39]. It is charity which guides and energizes consecrated life, community life and evangelization. Nevertheless, the Founder does not worry about formulating his own thought in a systematic way, convinced as he is of having passed on his spirit with sufficient clarity in the Constitutions and Rules.


[40] To arrive at a first synthesis, we had to wait until the arrival of the Founder’s successor, Father Joseph Fabre. His reflections concentrate on the Constitutions and Rules. His expressed purpose was to remain as faithful as possible to their letter, convinced as he was that the Rule “is the family treasure, its most prized possession”. [41]

It was precisely from the first article of the Rule that his 
definition of the Oblate spirit began: “There is the goal assigned to us by our Venerated Father. We must evangelize the poor, the most abandoned souls, and to succeed in this sublime vocation, we must imitate those virtues of which our Divine Master offered us such a wonderful example. To be missionaries of the poor and to live the religious life, such is the true vocation of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate, such is your vocation, such is ours” [42]. The key of interpreting the Oblate spirit is summarized in these two phrases which constantly appear in his writing: “We are priests, we are religious” [43]. From this follows “that which we must do: evangelize the poor, and that which we must be: real religious”. [44]

This is the kind of double emphasis which lies at the heart of the refrain of his circular letters. At the beginning of his mandate in 1862, he wrote: “To what are we called, my very dear brothers? To become saints, in order to be able to work effectively for the sanctification of the most abandoned souls. That is our vocation; let us not lose sight of it and let us apply ourselves, first and foremost, to achieving a good understanding of it”. [45]

This double emphasis would remain constant in the teachings of all the Superiors General who would follow him [46], right up to Father Fernand Jetté who would develop his own synthesis around two themes: “The Oblate, an apostolic man”, “The Oblate, a religious” [47]. Before continuing any further, we have to point out that bipolarity does not necessarily imply dualism, even if in practice there was more than once the risk of doing so Rather, it expresses the richness, complexity and fertility of a life which is part of the paradox of Christianity of which it radicalizes some aspects of its most paradoxical elements. Here, we could skip over the Congregation’s journey through history, by rereading what Father Jetté said to the General Chapter of 1980.: “Many are still apprehensive of dualism. Unity between prayer and action, between religious life and the apostolate is essential in a vocation such as ours. […] Our prayer, our community life, our vows, far from taking us away from people and from activity, rather impel us thereto; and the reverse is also true: meeting people and apostolic activity become a source and nourishment for our prayer. […] this unification of our being […] is the work of an entire lifetime”. [48]

Father Louis Soullier’s thinking was certainly influenced by his experiences and his contacts with the concrete world of the missions. For twenty-five years he held the position of first Assistant General. He also had the opportunity of visiting almost all the provinces and mission territories, something he was to continue doing even as Superior General. As a result he had become particularly aware of the reality of evangelization. That is why in his synthesis of the Oblate spirit, he approached it rather from the point of view of evangelization: “And we too, Oblates of Mary, we are sent by the Holy Church to preach; that is our purpose, our mission; it is our duty”. [49]

“If the distinguishing aspect of our apostolate […] is the mission; our special vocation is to be missionaries; but what especially makes the missionary is preaching” [50]. It was to preaching that he dedicated one of his most important circular letters. In it, he outlined the profile of the apostolic man. Basing himself on the Preface and the Rule, he tried to describe its characteristics and to put in relief the necessary tools to achieve the holiness essential for an apostolic man: “Our holy Constitutions outline for the Oblate of Mary a complete plan for a life of piety which should animate our ministry”. The spirit of total dedication which incarnates the word ‘oblation’ is the first feature of the apostolic man: “When God creates an apostle, he puts a cross into his hand and tells him to go and show it abroad and to preach it. But before doing this, he plants that cross in his heart and in the measure in which that cross is more or less deeply embedded in the heart of the apostle, the cross he holds in his hand works more or less conquests”.

“Oblates of Mary, you who bear the cross on your breasts as an authentic sign of your mission, look upon it as the symbol of all the sacrifices your holy ministry imposes upon you to fulfill it worthily and faithfully” [51]. Then, in his letter, the 
definition of the internal profile of the Oblate follows, “a living mirror of all the virtues” [52], as well as the means of sanctification.

Father Cassien Augier took up again the double emphasis in the Oblate vocation. Toward the end of the acts of the Chapter of 1899, he wrote: “We know that it is made up of two elements so closely united that one would not be able to separate them with out incurring danger: the religious element and the apostolic element. The Oblate must be a man of the rule and sacrifice while he is at the same time a man of zeal and of dedication” [53]. To prove it, one has only to quote at length from the Preface in order to then end off with the 
definition of the internal features of the sons of Bishop de Mazenod: “Zeal for our own sanctification, the spirit of self-denial and of self-sacrifice, the life of prayer and of recollection, charity toward our brothers, supernatural respect and filial submission toward our superiors, the love of souls and the attitude of never shrinking from any sacrifice to save them”. [54]

Bishop Dontenwill followed the same line: “We are missionaries, but we are also religious. What am I saying? We are religious before being missionaries and we should be fervent religious in order to be and remain fervent missionaries” [55]. In his circular letter written on the occasion of the first centenary of the Congregation’s foundation, he outlined the ideal of the Oblate vocation following this double parameter.

We could find one other important 
definition of the Oblate, especially of his interior profile, in the circular letter presenting the acts of the 1920 Chapter. In it are also indicated the means of growth in the spiritual life to the point of achieving sanctity. [56]

Father Theodore Labouré put heavy emphasis on the Congregation’s dimension of evangelization, seeing in it the unifying element of his own program of life. At the beginning of his term as General, he wrote: “At the beginning of my term as General, there is no need to speak of a program of action: It is all set out in our Holy Rules and by our traditions ‘Evangelizare pauperibus misit me‘;and in my last hour, when I will render an account to God for my administration, I hope to be able to say as my venerated predecessors have said: Pauperes evangelizantur.

“It is because the Oblates have always shown themselves to be faithful to their vocation that the Holy Father entertains for them the esteem of which your are familiar. How many times has he not, in public and in private, praised the zeal of our fathers and their spirit of poverty, self-denial, dedication and sacrifice which has made of them ‘specialists of difficult missions’!” [57]

And again, “Love of the poor is our sole and unique reason for existing: Bishop de Mazenod founded the Congregation of the Oblates to evangelize the poor; it was to evangelize the poor that the Church received us into her bosom; it is to our love of the poor that we owe the fact of being today an active, flourishing, numerous, fine and glorious society. Let us not forget what the Pope spoke to the representative of another very worthy congregation, which, in view of its lack of personnel saw itself obliged to refuse some poor missions: ‘I already asked a number of others; you, yourselves, you refuse me; consequently, I have only one recourse left to me, that is to speak to my dear Oblates. They never say No.’!” [58]

Evangelization derives its distinguishing feature precisely from this boldness and this preference for the poor: “My very dear Fathers and Brothers, if we ever have the opportunity of making a choice between a fine, rich, dazzling work in the heart of our urban centers, and a poor, neglected, discouraging, difficult work, be it in our Communist suburbs, be it in the foreign missions, let us not hesitate: Let us opt rather for that which is humble, obscure, arduous. Are we not pioneers of the Gospel, missionaries of the poor, sons of Bishop de Mazenod? In a word, are we not Oblates?” [59]

For Father Labouré, another characteristic element of the Oblate spirit was fraternal unity. At this stage of the Congregation’s history, we were on the verge of the Second World War; fraternal unity was called to fully manifest itself in response to the challenge of the different nationalist sentiments which had become more and more evident within the Congregation. If, at a previous time, Father Augier had expressed fear about “the spirit of nationalism” within the Congregation [60], Father Labouré could subsequently give witness to a different attitude and awareness on the part of Oblates: “The Oblate spirit is expressed not only externally by the union of resources and wills in the field of the apostolate; it is expressed as well in the need we feel to get to know each other better to remain strictly united in the bonds of one charity. […] In the past as in the present, our family has been made up ex omni tribu, et lingua, et populo, et natione; and yet the work of evangelization was always carried out successfully because it was done more Oblatorum. At that time, we were not worried about channeling our efforts according to our nationality: an Oblate went wherever obedience called him and he devoted himself totally to the work of God and the Church to evangelize the poor without asking himself whether or not his companions came from the same country as he did. They were Oblates; that was enough and unity of hearts brought unity of action”. [61]

Immediately after the Chapter of 1939, Father Labouré also stressed the most outstanding interior characteristics of the Oblate vocation in such a way as to “raise the level of our spiritual life […] in the light of our Holy Rules and of our family traditions”. [62]

Father Deschâtelets’ long and intense term of office marked a basic phase in the understanding of Oblate spirituality, not only because it was the period when, for the first time in the Congregation, they were studying this theme thoroughly and explicitly concentrating on it, but also because he himself played a determining role in this orientation. His thought underwent a gradual evolution – at least in regard to the systematic organization of the Oblate vocation. He, in fact, stood at the helm of the Congregation in a period of profound changes: the years of post-war growth, the pre-conciliar unrest, the crucial years of the Council and the post-conciliar years. [63]

His most notable and complete systemization of our spirituality is found in his circular letter no. 191 which bears the significant title Our Vocation and our Life of Intimate Union with Mary Immaculate. In this work, he described the model Oblate of Mary Immaculate as a spiritual and apostolic person as he perceived him through his intense, gripping and attentive personal reading of the Rule which he cut down to the following characteristics: “The type of spiritual and apostolic man as described by the Rule is a) a priest, b) a religious, c) a missionary, d) an Oblate, that is, one dedicated to the pursuit of holiness and apostolic endeavors like the Apostles themselves, e) burning with love for Jesus, our Savior God and for Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God and our Mother, a love constantly nourished by a profound spirit of prayer, f) learning in prayer a total detachment from himself by obedience, poverty, a simple and upright intention, g) with the most authentic family and fraternal charity, h) drawing from them a heart filled with limitless zeal and inexhaustible mercy, especially to hasten to the poor and most abandoned masses”. The whole of this long letter is a commentary on these distinguishing elements.

These are characteristics which make up a harmonious and unified framework, as he himself was bent on stressing: “Although they are listed here separately, these traits, far from being in opposition to each other, have an affinity for each other and all contribute to make up the complete notion of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate. Even when we separate them, we must at the same time consider them in their overall context and in the light of the influence they exert upon each other in the make-up of the entire picture”. [64]

Later on, he would set forth a new synthesis: “We are religious who live in community, religious dedicated to the apostolate and to the missionary life. Special is this formulation of the contemplative life which should be ours and that of the missionary life which is ours as well […] By vocation, we are active-contemplatives […] contemplative missionaries”. [65]

After the Second Vatican Council, Father Deschâtelets summarized his thought at the conclusion of his circular letter on the evolution of religious life: “A religious, priest, missionary, the Oblate does not live a compartmentalized life, but always and everywhere, he bears in his person and in his works this triple characteristic of being a consecrated person [religious], a sanctifier [priest], a preacher of the Gospel message [missionary]. Oblates are priests and co-workers with the priesthood who, in view of satisfying more adequately the demands of the apostolic ministry have taken on the religious life as the most suitable means to becoming genuine apostles”. [66]

In 1969, in a concise formulation according to a scale of values, he would give the five criteria for the Oblate vocation: We are “missionaries – to evangelize – the poor – according to the urgent needs of the Church and the world – in apostolic communities”. [67]

Towards the end of his life, Father Deschâtelets seemed to come back to his original insight. At the beginning of his term as General, he had summarized the Oblate ideal in one word: charity: “Dear Fathers, what is Oblate spirituality? Charity! Charity! Love! Love! Charity and love abound in the pages of the Founder’s life and the Rules he left us to guide our lives and our apostolate. We can make all kinds of distinctions, but Oblate spirituality means love!” [68]

At Ottawa, not long before his death, he set forth once again the same magnificent synthesis in a letter to the Italian novices. [69]

The teachings of Fathers Fernand Jetté and Marcello Zago will be presented further on when I will address the final phase in the Congregation’s reflection on its own identity which would express itself as “Oblate values”, “missionary outlook”, and “charism”. The contribution made by these two Superiors General in this new phase of reflection was decisive. Father Jetté worked carefully to achieve a definition of Oblate values and Father Zago worked on the themes of the missionary outlook and charism. Without making explicit mention of them, we have reproduced their thought in the fourth part of the present article. Suffice it here to restate the key words while referring the reader back to their writings for a more thorough exposition of their thought. Father Jetté stressed the “clearly apostolic” dimension of our vocation. “In the Church of God, the Oblate is an apostolic man; everything else must be understood in that light” [70]. Father Zago especially highlighted the typically missionary dimension of the Oblate vocation. [71]


Those who have studied Oblate spirituality and written about it have, for the most part, sought to present it in an organized fashion. Their work has developed in three directions. A first area of research has been historical research on Eugene de Mazenod’s spiritual journey to get a grasp on the basic and constant elements of that journey. Authors who have developed this aspect are people like Maurice Gilbert [72], Joseph Morabito [73], Jozef Pielorz [74], and Alexandre Taché [75],. Among those who have worked on the second aspect, names that stand out are Emilien Lamirande, Maurice Gilbert once again, Fernand Jetté and others. These authors have investigated in depth the different themes of our spirituality such as our relationship with Christ, the Church, the poor, religious life, the priesthood, our Marian spirit and so on. A third aspect dealt with an overall organic presentation of our spirituality. We will now endeavor to pursue this third train of thought by selecting from it the most important examples and by going in chronological order, without however claiming to give it an exhaustive treatment.

In his commentary on the Rule, Alfred Yenveux was one of the first to define in a clear way the main distinctive traits of the Congregation [76]. In large part, he anticipates the results of subsequent research. This work was probably unknown by most people because of the misfortunes suffered by this manu when it was published [77]. For example, we will be impressed by the convergence between the results of his research and those presented on the occasion of the Congress on the Charism of the Founder, held at the General House in 1976. In his comments on the first article of the Constitutions and Rules, Father Yenveux wrote: “According to the first article of our Holy Rules, the Congregation ought to bear seven main distinctive characteristics: 1. It should be poor and humble; 2. It should be especially devoted to Mary; 3. Its members should be diocesan priests bound to the Society by the vows of religion and 4. closely united among themselves by the bonds of fraternal charity; 5. Their function is to be missionaries, and especially, 6. missionaries to the poor and the abandoned souls, following the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ 7. In fact, a complete conformity with the virtues and example of our divine Savior should be the object of their constant efforts”.

– The first distinctive trait of the Institute flows from its quality of parvae Congregationis (small Congregation). Parvae does not refer to the small number of it members or to the importance of its works, but to “their humility, their unassuming manner and their simplicity”, without seeking grounds for competing with other Orders or Congregations for which, on the contrary, they maintain great esteem.

– The second distinctive trait, the Marian trait, derives from an analysis of the name itself of the Congregation.

– The third concerns its priestly nature.

– The fourth deals with fraternal charity, considered “the special mark of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate”, “their family spirit”, “the particular physiognomy” of the sons of Eugene de Mazenod.

– The fifth distinctive character – missionary – is drawn once again from the name, Missionaries: “The title of Missionaries is their main characteristic and is truly characteristic of them”. Here, Father Yenveux makes reference to imitation of the Apostles and concludes in this way: “We can say that the title of Missionaries explains all the Rules Bishop de Mazenod left us and which constitute the rule of life of the Oblate Missionary. We can even add that the Rule of personal sanctification which he outlined for us has as its exclusive goal to make the Missionaries powerful in work and word”.

– The sixth distinguishing trait has to do with those who receive evangelization: the poor. An analysis of the Founder’s writings leads us to define them as follows: “By the poor, pauperibus, we must not understand only those who suffer spiritual indigence, even though they may be blessed with material wealth, but the poor strictly speaking”.

– The seventh and last character is that of conformity to Christ as the distinctive trait of the Oblate’s perfection: “Each religious society, while setting for itself in a general fashion, Christ as its model, usually chooses from the life of the Divine Master a special virtue which it makes its special character; it is usually the virtue which shone with the greatest brilliance in the life of the founder of that institute. So it is that the followers of Saint Francis have poverty as their special virtue. Since the Oblates of Mary have as their goal to replace, in a certain measure, all of the old Religious Orders destroyed by the upheavals of 1793, they should strive to reproduce the virtues of all these societies by making themselves a perfect and complete copy of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must be able to say of them: Oblatus alter Christus”.

In addition, Father Yenveux lists the virtues which are required in a special way of the Oblate: self-denial, humility, gentleness, patience, obedience, chastity, poverty, detachment from the world and his family, love of solitude, prayer, study, purity of intention, presence of God, spirit of penance, strength of spirit, fidelity to the Rule, the theological virtues, charity and the spirit of family, good example, love of our Lord Jesus Christ with the most tender devotion to the Church and the most ardent zeal for souls.

Father Meunier sets forth four characteristic traits of the spirituality or, if one prefers, of Oblate piety.

– A piety of salvation through which the whole life of the Oblate gravitates around the mystery of the Redemption.

– The primacy of love. It finds its origins in the temperament peculiar to Eugene de Mazenod – his spirit is “a dialectic of love” – where “everything flows from love and flows back to love”. From such a love flows the relationship of love among the Oblates themselves, love for our Lord Jesus Christ, and finally, love for those to whom the Oblates are sent.

– A Christian optimism which reveals itself either in the proclamation of the love of a redeeming God through preaching, or in the mercy-filled attitude which stands in sharp contrast to the rigorism of Jansenism.

– Veneration for Mary and the Holy See. “We must go to Jesus through Mary Mediatrix and the Church of Rome”. The ecclesial aspect of the Oblate vocation is seen especially in relation to the See of Peter, with the Church of Rome, to which the Oblates are called to show a special fidelity. [78]

Father Bélanger based his thesis on three elements. That which above all characterizes the Oblates is their missionary character. They present themselves as apostolic men. There is the basis of their personality. The specific character – second element in the 
definition of the Oblate – is given by his particular missionary orientation: evangelization of the poor. The third accent in the picture comes from the models to follow: the Savior and Mary Immaculate. Thus the synthesis presented is found in three passages of the Constitutions and Rules of 1928: “Apostolic men [..] evangelical laborers” (Preface,article 263); “devote themselves, above all things, to the preaching of the Gospel to the poor, diligently striving to imitate the virtues and example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (article 1); “under the title and patronage of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary” (article 10). Everything is lived in the light of mercy: the Oblate is willed, chosen and sent by God to pour forth his divine mercy in our age. From that moment on, the plan of salvation is seen as a plan of mercy where Christ appears as incarnation of mercy and Mary as the first fruits of that mercy. [79]

Father Germain Lesage set forth “ten elements which seem to constitute the basis of our interior life: 1. Imitation of the virtues of Jesus Christ and of the Apostles; 2. Veneration for the glory of God; 3. Dedication to the service of the Church; 4. Salvation of the poor and the most abandoned souls; 5. Love of the Savior in his work of Redemption; 6. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; 7. Devotion to Mary Immaculate; 8. Obedience to the Pope and the bishops; 9. Fraternal charity within the family; 10 Zeal and dedication for souls”. [80]

The unifying element for all of these different aspects is the orientation towards the work of Redemption. Each element of Oblate spirituality finds here its specific character: “Our devotion to the Sacred Heart and to Mary Immaculate, our veneration for the glory of God, of the Church, of the papacy and the episcopacy as well as our practice of fraternal charity have as their object the salvation of souls, especially the most abandoned, in conformity with the example given to us by Jesus Christ in his work of Redemption” [81]. The other orientation which determines our spirituality is that of going to evangelize the poor in particular: “Our zeal for the salvation of souls should lead us especially to the poor, to those who are the most abandoned, in such a way as to make us walk in the footsteps of our divine Savior”. [82]

In conclusion, Father Lesage says: “Mazenodian spirituality is the spirituality which has as its goal to reproduce the apostolic life of the Savior by imitation and by the love which makes reparation – in a hierarchical and Marian apostolate. More briefly still, Oblate spirituality would be the one that seeks to concretely reproduce the apostolic life of the Savior”. [83]

In another study, the same author tries to make a more systematic philosophic and theological organization of the spirituality, defining it from the point of view of the three causes (presupposing that the material cause of spirituality is found in the Christian life itself and that it is a common element to all spiritualities).

The final cause is found in the commitment to save souls through the communication of the truth, that is, through evangelization. The formal cause is to be found in the example of Christ and the Apostles. The efficient cause is found in the mixed life where anthropocentrism and theocentrism counterbalance each other. In this way, he arrives at the following definition of Mazenodian spirituality: “A particular form of Christian life whose goal is to cooperate with the Savior in the redemption of the human race by seeking the glory of God, the service of the Church, the salvation of souls obtained by evangelizing the poor and through the virtues and the ministries of the old Religious Orders; thanks to some exercises that make use of both the dynamism of the goal and a powerful asceticism, it directs souls to reproduce the apostolic life of Jesus Christ by means of the key idea of collaboration in his concrete work: 1. by recourse to powerful mediators through devotion to the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate, 2. by the exercise of a hierarchical apostolate through obedience to the Pope and the bishops, and 3. by an apostolic action whose unifying elements are fraternal charity and zeal for one’s neighbor”. [84]

In his book, Missionnaire Oblat de Marie Immaculée, Father Yves Guéguen especially shows how the spirit of family is characterized by fraternal charity, apostolic zeal and simplicity. The spirituality is then described through four traits: Marian, Christocentric, Eucharistic and Apostolic. [85]

Father Robert Becker points to three Oblate characteristics: the breadth of its missionary horizons everything that the Church and the glory of God demands; zeal, boldness, total gift of self; Mary. At the conclusion of his study he presents a concise definition: “The Oblate is a religious who is always and everywhere present where the glory of God and the salvation of souls summon him, irresistibly urged on by a love which neither counts the cost nor hesitates, which dedicates itself without reservation to his own personal sanctification and to the apostolate which is animated by a burning zeal for the salvation of souls and held together by the bonds of a profound charity for his brothers, a love guided by the motherly hand of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, relying upon her and recognizing one great goal only: Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri [So that in all things, God may be glorified, the God who desires all men to be saved]”. [86]

The survey carried out in 1950-1951 through the review, Etudes oblates, revealed a basic convergence among the different authors in their choice of the main elements of Oblate spirituality. The agreement is complete not only with regard to the double Christological and Marian characteristic, but also on several other points which move from the missionary dimension to community life and right up to a few characteristics of family such as friendliness, joviality, availability for service to the Church, the total gift of self through oblation… Much more complex and varied are the attempts at establishing a hierarchy and uniting the different components around a central point, with the constant underlying problem of unification of the apostolic-active and the contemplative aspects. The report of the survey remains a text of prime importance in the understanding of the entire question surrounding Oblate spirituality. [87]

A number of authors based their studies on an analysis of the name of the Institute, emphasizing in this way its missionary, Oblate and Marian dimensions. [88]

Father Gerard Fortin, in turn, put forth a more explicitly detailed synthesis: “The Oblate is an imitator who is totally committed to the Savior and his Apostles. He imitates their ministry, his vocation is to preach the Gospel to the poor. He imitates their methods; he dedicates himself so that the souls of the most abandoned might also be consecrated in the truth”.

“The religious life provides the best possible means for his dedication to the apostolate. Most of the time, hard at work, it is especially in the exercise of his ministry that the Oblate acquires and practices the religious virtues that ensure its fruitfulness. But the community to which he joyfully returns after his apostolic endeavors does not fail to make him ‘exercise’ these same virtues [..]”

“The effort on the part of the missionary [….] is the matter of charity among Oblates, of zeal for the most abandoned souls, of obedience to superiors […]”

“This religious and apostolic life centers around the Eucharist”.

“All the other virtues – especially prayer which lingers over considerations of the virtues and examples of the Savior – flesh out the life of charity and zeal. That is how Oblates want to become other Jesus Christs, spreading everywhere abroad the good odor of his gracious virtues”.

“Their missionary cross […] constantly reminds them that as ‘co-workers of the Savior’ and sons of an Institute whose spirit is a spirit of reparation, they should be ready to sacrifice their very lives for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of their neighbor. Martyrdom! That is an example of genuinely heroic apostolic charity”. [89]

The research to achieve an in-depth, systematic understanding of the spirituality and to express it in objective, and I would say, scholastic terms, covered the period from 1940 to the Council. This research was fruitful. It addressed the areas of history, theology and psychology. The interest focused on historic evolution, to thoroughly study the different components and doctrinal architecture, has led to broad knowledge and a doctrinal grasp of Oblate spirituality. Even if these syntheses and the overall presentations that have been developed differ from each other, the fact is that these years of research and study have, for all practical purposes, covered the whole field of Oblate spirituality, offering a body of elements which make up the fundamental values.

Oblate values and the missionary outlook

The new cultural, spiritual and pastoral awareness of the years of the Council has led Oblates to rethink their own vocation in more existential terms. The interest shown for a systematic, almost scholarly presentation of Oblate spirituality gave way to new interests such as aggiornamento and renewal. The Congregation was completely absorbed in the redrafting of the Constitutions and Rules asked for by the Council, an enormous work which, once again, demanded a reflection on our vocation from the point of view of new ecclesial horizons and new missionary demands. The work was destined to last for some twenty years. During this period, we note various tendencies which we can group around three themes: Oblate values, missionary outlook and charism.

In an early stage, a change of rhythm is noticed. Up until that time, the direction of study was rather that of the past (the Founder and Oblate tradition). It now turns toward the future. Research of the essential elements which characterize the Oblate was carried on, but in view of the new needs of society and the Church. The words “spirit” or “spirituality” were then replaced by another key expression: “Oblate values”. Research concentrated on the permanent values that characterize the Oblate in order to be able to reincarnate them in a new way. Consequently, it was no longer a case of a systematic construction, and under certain aspects, of a spirituality, but rather of attention focused on its dynamic components.

A second movement developed around the idea of “missionary outlook”. The view of the world – which is simultaneously sociological and of the order of faith – offered a new basis of unity and a particular sense to the body of Oblate values.

A third movement used the information provided by research on the values as perceived by Oblates with their contemporary awareness and of the studies on missionary outlook. At the same time, it reintroduced the historic dimension of the past. This third movement revolved around the idea of “charism”.

These three movements overlap and succeed each other in time. It was especially the General Chapters of 1966, 1972 and 1980 which established the main points of reference in the study of the new awareness and of the new development of Oblate spirituality and charism.

The General Chapter of 1966 – certainly the most revolutionary in the whole history of the Institute – was studied with a particular attention because it entirely redrafted the Constitutions and Rules by completely re-interpreting the data of the Oblate tradition. In referring back to the studies on the subject, we only point out here the overall structure of the first part of the Constitutions. The six articles which make it up “are built around five key words which the Chapter considered the essential characteristics of the Congregation: article 1. To the call of Christ who gathers us, article 2. members of the Church, article 3. to evangelize the most abandoned, article 4. and especially the poor, article 5. in apostolic community, article 6. under the patronage of Mary Immaculate”. [90]

The Chapter of 1972 was another beacon on the post-conciliar road. Preparatory work for this Chapter was more extensive than for any other. The Extraordinary General Council of 1970 had invited the General Conference on Mission to prepare a working document for the Chapter where the doctrinal part would be centered on the theme of missionary outlook in view of “helping the next Chapter to make of this missionary outlook an important factor of unity among all Oblates, no matter what their ministry, and to bring out in a synthetic way the values of our religious consecration, lived in apostolic community at the service of the mission”. [91]

The following year, a complete issue of Etudes oblates was dedicated to the theme of the missionary outlook. [92]

Again as part of the preparatory work for the Chapter, the Extraordinary General Council held from October 28 to November 8, 1970, outlined the profile of “the Oblate, missionary in today’s world”. In the report, we read: “Under this title, three basic realities are evoked: Oblate (a consecrated person); missionary (for evangelization); today (confronted with the situation of today), re-appropriating the insight of the Founder which was born from a three-fold vision: 1. A view of Christ, the Savior (union with his person and his mission of love and of salvation for men); a view of the Church (on the mission which we share according to our own limitations, in the present circumstances); a view of the world (on its poverty, its spiritual straits)”. [93]

Always in the context of preparation for the General Chapter of 1972, Father John King, on behalf of the pre-capitular commission, summarized the meaning of Oblate commitment in four fundamental values [94]: the primacy of the religious dimension of life; identifying with Christ Savior; life and apostolate in community; the priesthood. [95]

Another preparatory work for the Chapter consisted in the drawing up and circulation of a detailed questionnaire whose accumulated responses (collected in three volumes) constituted a precious storehouse to find out what was the perception that Oblates had of their own vocation.

In the body of the responses, before all else, we can note a categorical refusal to describe the Oblate vocation in dualistic terms: “Our apostolate, in fact, is religious in nature and our religion is apostolic […] Either our mission is religious or it is not. Either our religion is missionary or it is not”. [96]

Even in the extreme variety of responses, we can see a convergence on a few fundamental values, perceived as common to all Oblates and an inalienable inheritance: religious-apostolic life in a full living out of the evangelical counsels; community life; a Congregation priestly in nature; a lively relationship of profound communion and fidelity to the Church; evangelization of the poor; Marian spirit. [97]

On the other hand, for certain people, the research of values still seemed rather “a fine abstract question which resurfaces constantly and which, in practice, changes almost nothing”. That is why they preferred to speak of “the meaning of our Oblate commitment” [98]. Others revealed a certain weariness about reflecting on their own identity: “There exists a certain feeling in the Province to the effect that our values and our Oblate orientations seem geared to maintain the system rather than to renew it by putting us like ostriches with our head in the sand of the goals and structures of the past rather than seeking new goals or even entirely new forms of Oblate life”. [99]

We notice yet again a different accent. Some people showed themselves more aware of the missionary dimension, others to the interior values which animate and guide missionary choices.

The first group starts from the fact that “a good number of us have been attracted to the Oblates by their essentially missionary work. We are missionaries first and foremost, and the Oblate life permits us to fulfill this desire” [100]. The second group prefer to stress the dimension of being from which was born commitment for evangelization.

As was quite rightly pointed out, the reasons giving rise to choosing the Oblate life can be subjective; in any case, they must fit into the Oblate project as a whole: “We have to adopt a kind of life, a particular life style, one that is not dictated by our own personal reflections alone, but channeled by the Institute to which we have chosen to belong. It is a function which presupposes a style of life. It is a way of living the Gospel which enables us to preach it. Each Oblate is aware of the values which attracted him to the Oblate community. Among us, certain people admit that they asked to be admitted to the Oblates and not to some other group because they wanted to go and work in the missions in northern Canada (Indian missions). Others joined the Oblates “to achieve holiness”, “to follow Christ”, “flee the world”, and they were ready to do everything the Institute asked them to do to achieve this ideal. We need not base ourselves on the ambitions of one or the other to determine the true meaning of Oblate commitment. This commitment is not a simple one; it is complex; it embraces more than one mission, a life style. [101]

In general, these answers tended to stress the integration of the different components of the Oblate vocation in a systematic, unified whole. “Insofar as what concerns us, our commitment is a commitment for a ‘mission’. But for us, the mission is not ‘simple dedication to one function’. It embraces a fundamental way of life and we are involved in this form of life only to the extent that it showed itself to be essential in the effective service of the poor. We are missionaries for the poor and that implies more than the functions of ‘doing'”. [102]

At the end of its work, this Chapter, in one of its documents, The Missionary Outlook – a profile of the Oblate using deive terms rather than giving a profile through a scholastic definition – states: “We see ourselves as apostles according to the spirit of Father de Mazenod and the teaching of the Word: men called to be witnesses of the living God to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, 21, 22); men who have already experienced in their own life the generous love of God made visible in the person of Jesus (Titus 2:11, 13); men urged on by their love to risk their lives for the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:14; Acts 15:26); men who live their apostolic poverty in order to free themselves from everything that could be an obstacle to their mission (Matthew 10:9-10); men who celebrate their common hope in the Kingdom by breaking bread in the Lord, together and in joy and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:44, 47) like the first Apostles, gathered around the Virgin Mary (Acts 1:14)”. [103]

Finally, going beyond the attempts of systematization of the 1940-1960 period, we again took up talking about the Oblate vocation by following the deive method or narration of the beginnings of the Congregation.

The Oblate Charism

Unbelievable, but true, after all of this immense labor, in the Chapter of 1974 “some Oblates […] spoke of a lack of “spirituality” and others asked, in rather abstract terms, for a clarification of our “fundamental values” or for an official affirmation of our “consecrated life”. [104] Was this the sign of a certain confusion around the resignation of the Superior General, Richard Hanley, of the need of rediscovering historic and traditional foundations through the process of up-dating going on in the Congregation? Whatever it was, to dispel any ambiguity and dichotomy between religious life and the apostolic life, “the General Administration […] decided to situate Oblate mission […] in relation to another context: not only the Church’s teaching and the actual situation of mission in the world today, but also, thirdly, the Founder’s charism”. [105]

Thus it was that the General Administration announced a congress on the charism of the Founder to be held in Rome from April 26 to May 14, 1976. That inaugurated the third stage of post-conciliar reflection on the part of the Congregation, a stage that would lead the Congregation to a new understanding of the Oblate vocation, starting this time from the charism. The fruit of this new understanding would be the Constitutions and Rules of 1982.

In 1972, an entire issue of Etudes oblates was devoted to the theme of charism [106]. In this issue, the key to a new understanding, already used by the General Chapter of 1966 in the wake of Vatican II, was thoroughly put to the test. However, the congress in Rome reflected on the Oblate charism with a methodology and perhaps a thoroughness unknown until that time. [107]

The congress unfolded in four stages, stages which revealed a dynamic and fruitful interpretative method. An introductory phase to provide a climate of genuine discernment of the charism grew to a crescendo of fraternal relationships. During this first stage, through an analysis of personal experiences and life such as it was found in the geographic region of each one, there already emerged the different aspects which characterize the Oblate charism. Based on lived experience, the method showed itself to be a particularly suitable way of introducing the interpretative process. In fact, it helped the participants to become aware immediately of the fact that the charism is not a fossilized fact from the past, but rather a living reality, lived by those who are called, through a special vocation, to become a part of the Institute.

Then, came the second stage devoted to the study of the charism of the Founder, especially from the historical point of view, thanks to the input from experts by lectures or in round-table discussions. It was a matter of a basic moment, a necessary moment like that of the existential approach. The presentation of origins and history in the context of lived experience allowed them to recover the dimensions that had not appeared clearly in the analysis of the actual awareness of charism. Measured by lived experience, the other elements presented by the historical studies seemed to be irremediably out-dated. The joint and discreet use of the method of experience and the historic method proved fruitful and led to a 
definition of the Founder’s charism with new essential traits.

In a third stage, the participants entered into the interpretative work specific to discernment of the charism such as it can be lived today in the Congregation, according to the appeals from the Church and the needs of the world. The new essential traits used to describe the charism of the Founder were studied in depth in groups with common interests or special expertise, starting from six different and complementary approaches: the historical approach, to accurately define the precise meaning of each element of the Founder’s thought; the missionary approach, to get a grasp on the needs of the world on the basis of each one of the characteristics of the charism and to compare the values with the appeals of the world; the Oblate approach, to discern the needs of the Congregation in relation to the various aspects of the charism; the Biblical approach, to get a grasp on the Gospel dimensions handed on to us by the Founder and the Biblical resonance with the characteristics of the charism; the theological approach, to discern the meanings given to the elements of the charism and the new basic emphases in today’s theology; the evaluation approach, to analyze how the congress had perceived the values of the charism to indicate the constant elements and the divergent elements. Done successively in full assembly, this work permitted the participants to go on to the final phase. [108]

The search for new paths for the future of the Congregation and the pointing out of new concrete avenues for renewal and animation were the matter treated during the last phase of the congress. [109]

In their final statement, the members of the congress selected the essential elements that make up the charism of the Founder in the form that the Oblates intend to live it today [110]. Here they are in summarized form:

1. Christ

2. to evangelize

3. the poor

4. the Church

5. in community

6. religious life

7. Mary

8. Priests

9. most urgent needs.

The ten first articles of the Constitutions and Rules of 1982 take up these themes again and give unity to the first chapter “Mission of the Congregation” and the second, “Apostolic religious life” under the one title “The Oblate Charism”. [111]

The road laid out by the congress of 1976 was then followed with the thorough study of the different components of the charism. Consequently, there followed two study sessions, each on a different aspect of the charism: Evangelization and Oblate apostolic community. The first theme was addressed during a congress held in Rome August 29 to September 14, 1983 [112] and the second was held in Ottawa August 6 to 11, 1989. [113]

A final text, outstanding in value because of its 
definition of the Oblate charism was made available to us as a fruit of the 1986 General Chapter: “Missionaries in today’s world” [114]. In this text, the ministry for justice finds its place completely and harmoniously in the context of the Oblate charism, as an explanation and an inalienable component.

The most recent General Chapters, those since 1966, laid out a new road different from the one followed by previous chapters. Their distinguishing quality was that, in point of fact, they were directly devoted to a reflection on our Oblate identity. They are, therefore, established as fundamental authoritative reference points when it comes to understanding the Oblate charism.

Ongoing research To speak of the Oblate vocation in terms of charism seems to be the best way to describe it in its entirety and avoid the always latent dichotomy between action and contemplation, mission and interior life, in other words, between the ends of the Institute and its spirit or its spirituality.

Leaving the development of the notion of “charism” to another study [115], in concluding, I would like to point out some avenues of reflection to follow up on the work of research on the Oblate charism. Here it is a question of a never-ending journey. In fact, it is because a charism is something living that each generation is called to reinterpret and update the one handed on to them as their inheritance.


Since, in the words of Mutuae relationes (no. 11), it is an “experience of the Spirit”, the charism of the Founder is, of its very nature, dynamic: an evolutionary process reducible with difficulty to the form of a rule or a definition. In this sense, I believe that the methodology followed at the beginnings of the Congregation and for so many years after that in presenting the Oblate charism is legitimate. It simply consists in “telling” the experience (even if this is not the term used) lived by Eugene de Mazenod and shared by his first companions and then by the Institute as a whole.

That was the methodology adopted in excellent fashion by Father Jetté who carefully avoided defining the Oblate charism, preferring to describe it and to tell its story. From 1962 on, he recalled the origins of Oblate spirituality [116]. Since that time, he has remained faithful to that method. For example, the first letter he wrote to the Congregation as Superior General is revealing [117], as are his other texts for orientation, such as the “Oblate charism” of 1975. [118]

It is certainly legitimate and even necessary to distinguish the components of the charism and to organize them in such a way as to enable an ever deeper understanding of them. Each individual needs to express his own experience, to clarify for himself his own journey and the motivation which is his driving force [119], but each organizational attempt remains provisional. We can make no claim to determining the charism once and for all, any more than we can the Spirit who, of its very nature, enables it to escape the limitations of a definition and remain dynamic. No one can define life. We can understand charism by experience, by grace, by sharing in its own special dynamism. That is why definitions are nothing other than “limited formulations” which, from time to time reinterpret and express the ever living experience of the Spirit in the light of new needs. Each new formulation should, however, be seen in the light of the historic journey of the Founder and, after him, of the whole Congregation. We could have recourse to the analogy of formulations of faith. They express the Gospel in a movement that goes from the Gospel to the Creed. But the Creed must always be re-read in the light of the Gospel, traveling the same road in reverse: from the Creed to the Gospel.

Each generation is called to re-read this history and to reinterpret it. It is called to consider its own past with his own roots, in such a way as to be able to extend ever more energetically its branches and to bear fruit in the present time. As Father Deschâtelets wrote, using an especially appropriate image: “The tree lives from its roots” [120]. The past is a root, a living reality which helps us live; it is not a tomb, something definitely dead, archival material! We study the past to interpret the present and to have the key of how to respond to contemporary needs and to prepare in a creative way for the future: the Founder does not hold back, he is “ahead of us, calls us, leads us”. [121]

It is at this point that the problem of interpretation emerges: how can one study the past and make it live in the present?


The problem of interpretation embraces determining the object, the subject and the methodology of interpretation. [122]

The charism of the Founder makes up the main object of the process of interpretation. By the charism of the Founder, we understand the substance of the experience born from a supernatural inspiration which served him as a guide in the existential understanding of the mystery of Christ and of his Gospel. It made him sensitive to certain signs of the times and led him to determine the character of a work which, while responding to precise needs, took concrete form in a service of the Church and of society.

The object of interpretation of the charism is not limited to a study of the Founder. Often in a decisive way, other persons at the Founder’s side, the first companions, made a contribution to the birth of a religious family.

Normally, the inspiration at the beginning of a work in the Church takes on its visible expression and its character in the measure that it becomes visible in its concrete form, in its passage from inspiration as a moment of illumination to its “incarnation” in the structures and forms of expression. The first companions contributed their collaboration in giving concrete expression to the content and the essential lines of a particular charism given to a founder. They have experienced it in their own lives and in their own endeavors to the point that the inspiration took on an ever better defined appearance with easily identifiable characteristics. In order to understand the Oblate charism, we should, therefore, always keep before us the influence and the contribution of individuals like Fathers Henry Tempier, Hippolyte Courtès, Hippolyte Guibert, Domenico Albini, etc.

While confining itself to the origins the moment of foundation and of basic models, the study of charism cannot limit itself to an investigation of the first phase. As Mutuae relationes (no. 11) reminds us, the charism is not meant to be conserved and thoroughly studied, but to be developed throughout history. The charism of a founder becomes the charism of an institute. In this second expression we see the historic journeying of the different ways of adaptation of the charism of the founder, that is, of the charismatic content lived and expressed by the founder as such. The charism of the institute is like the collective reflected image of the charism of the founder. It sets up a relationship with life and the charisms of people destined by the Spirit to perpetuate in a dynamic way in time the full force of the original inspiration of the founder and to work out everywhere the forms in which it is able to be expressed. It constitutes the identity of his vocation expressed by the entire community which incarnates in time and in different ways the same inspiration and the same charismatic intentions of the founder.

In its journey through history, the charism of the founder, as it is lived by the institute, in its identity as well as its fidelity, develops unforeseen qualities and enriches itself with an ever new creativity.

To completely understand the Oblate charism, one would have to go through the entire history of the Congregation. The issue at stake is a growth in holiness and in the different ways of adaptation to the times, to places and to ever new pressing needs. Indeed, we discover an entire evolution and development of Oblate life. [123]

It is above all, the openness to new fields of apostolate, either in new territories, or in new activities or ways of evangelizing, which contributed to the development of the charism of the Congregation. Taking on responsibility for the sanctuary of Montmartre in Paris, for example, brought to the Congregation a remarkable development of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Toward the end of the XIX century, the 1898 General Chapter drew the attention of the Congregation to two particular ministries: youth ministry and evangelization of those farthest away from the Church “in order to not fall behind the pace set by our century”. [124]

In like manner, the Chapter of 1904, faced with the changes at the beginning of the century, the industrial revolution, the social and working men’s issues, urged the Institute on to new ministries, saying: “Even though missions are the first and main end of the Institute, the apostolate to the working men in all its approved forms […] is not only in conformity with the end of the Institute, but also must be strongly encouraged in the present times”. [125]

The 1938 Chapter focused on the issue of Catholic Action and on the need to become actively involved in the new movements which constitute a new priority to respond to the contemporary needs of the Church. The Chapter of 1947 issued the invitation to renew the methods of apostolate in view of getting back in touch with the masses who from this time on were abandoning the Church. [126]

The witness of the life of our “saints” contributed, in turn, to give emphasis to and develop certain aspects of the charism. The introduction of causes for beatification also helped the whole Congregation to become aware of its spirituality. A great number of factors stressed certain aspects of the spiritual life. I am thinking, for example, of the development of the Marian aspect of Oblate spirituality as, among other things, the introduction of the scapular or the act of consecration of the Congregation requested by the Chapter of 1906 bear witness. The Chapter of 1932 ,as well, recommended to “the body of the Fathers of the Congregation to teach and to preach more often and with more insistence to the minor seminarians, novices and scholastics and to all the faithful we evangelize, the cult of devotion to the Immaculate Conception of Mary”. [127]

Naturally, this is not a question of information developed on a working chart, but rather of privileged moments which give witness of an awareness already present and which, at the same time, constitute a point of departure for new developments.

On must also take into consideration the impact that the charism had beyond the confines of the Oblate community, as for example, on the members of the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate [128] or in the religious families and institutes of consecrated life born from their contact with the Oblates. [129]

It is clear that the charism makes its own way without losing its identity which is in constant growth. We could say that the Congregation, like the Church itself, instead of always being reformed is always in evolution.


Since it belongs to an institution which is communitarian in nature, the charism can only be interpreted by the institute as a whole.

Above all, it is a case of the body of the institute which finds its times of singularly important interpretation in the General Chapters. Then come the local communities called to a constant reflection on themselves in view of making daily choices, the concrete details of life and of ministry which respond to the ever new concerns. Finally, what is needed is the constructive contribution of each individual member of the institute.

While remaining united to the entire Congregation, a body of communities, living in a specific milieu, can be called a particular interpretation of the charism which would take into account the particular appeals coming from a defined territory or a particular culture. It is in this context that one should understand the attempts made by various regions of the Congregation. The contribution made by the Latin American region are revealing examples. [130]

In order to fulfill its particular interpretative function, the community should submit itself to the dynamic of community discernment based on the presence in its midst of the Risen Lord. The Emmaüs event narrated by Luke remains the model for that type of a communitarian interpretative process. When the Risen Christ joined up with the disciples, diermèneusen, that is, he explained and interpreted the Scriptures to them. (See Luke 24-27). “The presence of the Lord among us” (C 3) brings to the community the gift of the Spirit to understand the charism as well. Since the charism is a work of the Spirit, it cannot be understood without being vivified by that same Spirit.

The study and the implementation of the charism also requires a special methodology in order not to lapse into subjectivism and arbitrariness. This, however, is not the place to set forth such a method. [131] In any case, it will be necessary that each work on the Oblate charism be carried out keeping in mind the needs and appeals of people in their cultural milieu today and in the broader perspective of the Church. The Oblate charism is, in fact, a charism of evangelization. a charism in the Church and for the Church; a charism which evolves “in harmony with the Body of Christ in perpetual growth” (Mutuae relationes, no. 11); a charism among many other charisms with which it is called to live in intimate communion.

I think I can bring this study to a close by reaffirming that the understanding of the Oblate vocation should, therefore, always start from the story of our origins and return to them. As for myself, when I am asked: “What is your charism?” I can do nothing other than to tell the story of a young man, Eugene de Mazenod, who experienced in his depths the merciful love of God in Christ crucified, and Savior. Redeemed by him, he felt called to become, in him and with him, an instrument of redemption, co-worker with Christ, the Savior. In the light of this mystery, with his new eyes of faith, the very eyes of the Savior because he identifies with Him, he looks at the Church and recognizes her as the Spouse of Christ, fruit of his martyrdom; he sees her state of abandonment, hears her calling loudly to her sons and he declares himself ready to respond. He is moved with compassion at the sight of the poor for whom Christ poured out his blood and decides to dedicate his life to them in the priesthood to make known to them through the ministry of evangelization who Christ is in order to make them aware of their dignity as sons and daughters of God. He gathers around him other priests, then laity as well, with whom he chooses to live the evangelical counsels and the common life modeled on that of the Apostles in order to live, radically and in its fullness, the Christian vocation of sanctity and to launch together the ministry of evangelization of all, all persons, especially the poorest and most abandoned. Gradually, he discovers the presence of Mary in his own life and in his ministry, recognizing that he is an instrument of her merciful love for others and he feels called to lead to her, Mother of Mercy, the scattered children of God. In this way, with his brothers, he begins to go toward those whom the ordinary pastoral outreach of the Church has difficulty reaching, areas where others do not or cannot go, with a bold, pioneering, style of evangelization. By daring everything, he is able to blaze new paths where he commits himself totally.