1. Introduction
  2. The Spirituality of Saint-Sulpice
  3. The Church in the Constitutions and Rules
  4. General Chapters
  5. Vatican II, a Turning Point for the Congregation
  6. The Superiors General
  7. The Oblate Tradition



If someone were to ask us to define who is an Oblate, we would not hesitate to answer: “The Oblate is a Man of the Church”. From the very beginning, in fact, Eugene de Mazenod established a relationship between the Oblate vocation and the Church.

“I saw the Church threatened by the most cruel persecution […] So I entered the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice with the desire or rather with the set determination to devote myself, in the most complete way, to the Church’s service, in the exercise of the ministry most useful to souls, for whose salvation I was burning to consecrate myself […]”. [1]

The French Revolution had decimated the better elements in the Church; Napoleon had imprisoned Pope Pius VII in Savona and obliged the College of Cardinals to settle in Paris. A few seminarians – among whom we find Eugene de Mazenod – had made themselves available to serve them.

“While still a deacon and then as a young priest, in spite of the most active surveillance of an easily provoked police force, I had the opportunity of devoting myself to the service of the Roman cardinals through daily contact […]”. [2]

When he wrote the Rule for his budding congregation, his first thought was for the Church: “The Church, that glorious inheritance purchased by the Saviour at the cost of his own blood, has in our days been cruelly ravaged. […] Faced with such a deplorable situation, the Church earnestly appeals to the Ministers whom she herself enrolled in the cause of her divine Spouse […]”. [3]

In the mind of the Founder, the Oblates were called to bring the Church back to life again; their vocation was identified with that of the Apostles: “On earth, there is no loftier vocation than ours. Amongst religious, some are called to one good work, others to another; some are destined, be it indirectly, to the same end as ourselves. But as for us, our principal end, I would almost say our only end, is the self-same end that Jesus Christ set for himself upon coming into the world, the self-same end that he gave to the Apostles, to whom, without any doubt, he taught the most perfect way. And so our humble Society knows no other founder than Jesus Christ, who spoke through the mouth of his Vicar, and no other Fathers than the Apostles”. [4]

Another indication of the very close relationship which existed between the Oblate and the Church was the Founder’s desire to refurbish by means of the Congregation the glory of the Religious Orders destroyed by the French Revolution: “That is why they will endeavour to make alive again in their own persons the piety and fervor of the Religious Orders destroyed in France by the Revolution”. [5]

The Oblate’s love for the Church is a love of identifying with the Church. In a number of mission areas, the Oblates constitute the only Church presence; they are the Church. It is also a fruitful love. In a number of places in the world, the Oblates have been the community builders, the founders of dioceses and parishes.

The vocation of the Oblate is to build the Church where it has not yet been established, or yet again where it is undergoing trials. The Oblate is therefore called to bring the church into being through the proclamation of the Gospel and through gospel witness. In this sense, one can say that the Oblates are men of the Pope and of the bishops.

The distinctive character of the Oblates is love and evangelization of the poorest; their style is simplicity, their modus operandi is mobility, their main objective to create the Christian community and to go towards those who still ignore the message of salvation.

John XXIII stated that Eugene de Mazenod is “worthy of being listed among those who have won a place in the rebirth of the missionary movement of the times, the emulator of those priests and bishops who have felt beat, in their own breasts, the heart of the universal Church”. [6]


One of the characteristics of Oblate spirituality is the intimate union of Christ with the Church: “The experience of Eugene de Mazenod reveals a characteristic trait that we would like to briefly underline. The love of Christ and the love of the Church make up the lifeblood of every Christian. They are the two poles of attraction of the lives of all the saints. These two loves must come to the fore in a more or less explicit way. In the lives of the saints in general, it is only after the encounter with Christ that the encounter with the Church comes gradually to maturity. Just consider – even if we will not treat of these people in depth – Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, etc. It was only after their encounter with Christ that the Church slowly came to full bloom, sometimes painfully and after misunderstandings and hesitations.

“From the very beginning, Eugene de Mazenod seems to have possessed a fully realized fusion of these two loves. In his case, it reached such a point that one could apply to him the principle of the two communicating containers: When his love for Christ increased, his love for the Church increased in equal measure and vice versa”. [7]

In his famous pastoral letter of 1860, a letter which lays out for us a synthesis of the Eugene de Mazenod’s ecclesiology, we read the following: “How is it possible to separate our love for Jesus Christ from that which we owe to his Church?” These two kinds of love merge: to love the Church is to love Jesus Christ and vice versa. We love Jesus Christ in his Church because she is his immaculate spouse who came out of his opened side on the cross […]. [8]

The union of Christ and the Church also represents the union of Christ and our soul as well.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to reenact in his mortal life all the fortunes of the sons of men whose nature he had assumed through his mysterious incarnation. In the state to which sin had reduced him, poor, suffering, humiliated, man under condemnation to death, such was the state to which the only Son of God chose to reduce himself. And so he became as well the son of man,a title he gave himself. He espoused our cause to the point of identifying with us, to the point of adopting from us everything human which was compatible with the infinite perfection of his divinity. As the Apostle stated, he accepted to undergo every trial – except sin (Hebrews 4:15). So it is that he is the spouse of his Church and of our souls, that his Church herself is his mystical body and that all of us who have been baptized in the same spirit (1 Corinthians 12: 13), together with him, we are all members of this same body (1 Corinthians 12:27) which is his.

“In this admirable union between Jesus Christ and our souls is found the mystery of our, participation in his grace and, by his grace, a participation in his glory. But just as he became one with us in humiliation in suffering, in the complete poverty of our fallen nature, it is required that by the faithful cooperation of our wills we unite ourselves to him in the ways of his mercy and of his love in order to raise us up from our fallen state and be led back to his Father.” [9]

The spirituality of Saint-Sulpice
The intimate union between Christ, the Christian and the Church is one of the key elements in the Founder’s spirituality. He borrowed it from the priestly spirituality received at the seminary of Saint-Sulpice.

The seminary of Saint-Sulpice was founded in 1642 by Jean-Jacques Olier in response to the requirements of the Council of Trent for the reform of the clergy. Father Olier’s spirituality insists on the incarnation and the priesthood of Christ: “There must be nothing of me in the priest, for the me in the priest must be changed into Jesus Christ who makes it possible for them to say at the altar this is my body, as if the body of Jesus Christ was the very body of the priest. [10]” The priest is the one who continues the life of the living Christ, a Jesus Christ who is head of his Church. [11]

Imbued with this spirituality, Eugene de Mazenod understood that his love of Christ was to lead him to identify with Him.

“[…] The novices’ devotion should especially concentrate on the sacred person of our adorable Savior. In times of trial, the only thing they should try to do is to establish in their hearts the reign of Jesus Christ and to arrive at the point that they live only by his divine life and that they can say with St. Paul: I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me, vivo, ego jam non ego, etc. (Galatians 2:20).” [12]

To identify with Christ means to live His life, to travel with him on the road to Calvary, to endure all the trials that He endured on this earth: the desert, fasting, temptation, suffering, weariness, the conflicts of public life.

“During the night, we will find ourselves assembled on the mountain to gather the fruit of his prayer [oraisons] and, during the day, […] in recollection, we will listen to his divine word and like Mary, his holy mother, we will take counsel in our hearts (Luke 2:19); we will imbue ourselves with the sentiments of our Redeemer, we will surrender ourselves to the inspirations of his love; we will mold our souls to conform to his, until that point when he has so taken form in us (Galatians 4:19) that we live his humble, strenuous and penitent life to such an extent that we become so conformed to his image, ceaselessly reproduced before us, that he should be in our regard the firstborn of a multitude of brothers and after having been called, we should be justified, and after having been justified, we should be glorified (Romans 13:29-30)”. [13]

The Oblate “cannot resurrect with Christ unless he has first died with him” [14]. His consecration identifies him with Christ, with his life, his virtues, his trials, his body which is the Church.

Life in Christ, the redemption and the blood of Christ, are three themes intimately linked to one another. They represent the regeneration and the reincorporation of man in Christ through the mystery of salvation and Baptism. Christ, by his blood, gives man new life and renews him. From the cross is born a new man, the “new Adam”. It is through Christ’s blood and through Baptism that the Christian begins to live in Christ.

Eugene de Mazenod observed, judged, understood the issue and acted with this internal perspective, as it were, from the inner life of Christ.

Man “united to Jesus Christ, proceeding through him to his goal which is God, being enlightened by his light and living with his life, already clothed in Jesus Christ himself […] would work to climb ever higher through the process of an internal ascension to transcend his own nature, to the state of the perfect man and the mature age of the plenitude of Jesus Christ”. [15]

This union between men and Christ [16] form the theme of his teaching as Bishop and Founder: “My dear children […] you are all present to me, just as you are, and most willingly I concern myself about you before God! That is where I give you rendezvous. Speak often of me to our common Father who is, with his divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, at the centre of our hearts; love him, ever let us love each other more in him”. [17]

Father Léo Deschâtelets also stressed this reality: “Above all, the Oblate is one who is consecrated. That summarizes the whole thought of Bishop de Mazenod. The Oblate is bound to the Lord, to Christ, to Jesus, the Son of God. The incarnate Word is everything in the life of the Oblate and, in a certain sense, the Oblate seeks with unflagging persistence to live Jesus in everything and in every way. For me, that is essential. The grace of being an Oblate consists in the fact that he should be a prisoner of the love of Christ in the selfsame way as St. Paul was. For me, he feels compelled to say: to live is Christ. If we have understood that, we have understood what it means to be an Oblate. The Oblate loves Christ; he allows himself to be completely taken over by Him: such is his special grace; it is part and parcel of his charism. If I do not have this love in myheart, if this love of Christ has not taken total possession of me, I am not an Oblate as the Founder wished and according to the way living tradition has interpreted it.” [18]

This relationship with Christ was the foundation of Eugene de Mazenod’s “interior castle”. In spite of the limits and the poverty of the ecclesiology of his times, he saw the Church from the starting point of the “life of Christ”, contemplating the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Spouse, Mother, Humanity reborn.

Gallicanism and Jansenism had left their mark on the theology of the time. Seminary education had been fragile and uncertain [19]; the only spiritual sources worthy of profound reflection had been the theology of Bossuet and the spirituality of Father Olier. [20] There were no courses in church history in the seminaries. Ecclesiology was taught by Father Boyer – accommodating and compliant in regard to the powers of Napoleon, he was of the Gallican school of thought. He also defended openly the thesis of the superiority of the council over the Pope, namely, that the power of the Pope was an abuse, his authority was subordinate to the authority of the universal Church.

On the other hand, even the manuals approved later on by the Founder would not be richer in content. A case in point was the seminary manual approved for use by Eugene de Mazenod as bishop of Marseilles. In a total of two hundred and seventy-seven pages, sixteen treated of the institution of the Church, fifty-four dealt with the marks of the Church and two hundred and seven pages dealt with questions of Canon Law.

The richness contained in the Founder’s spirituality and his thought was evidently the fruit of his experience and his personal insight. Eugene de Mazenod was a practicing Catholic, one with a habit of spiritual reading, of constant study and one familiar with apologetics. [21] Moreover, it seems important to me to stress that the nobles of that time – and Eugene was one of them – never engaged in manual work. Therefore, it was not difficult for him, avid reader that he was, to acquire a well-developed knowledge and erudition.

Even before entering the seminary, Eugene discovered the reality of the Church as the Mystical Body. His spirit soared at the idea of being “a member of this great family of which God himself is the head”. [22]

In 1808, Eugene decided to enter the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. He was already twenty-six years of age. Ready for martyrdom, he brought with him his civilian dress. He did, in fact, foresee that the persecution of the Church, Napoleon’s doing, would become more severe. In the suffering Church, Eugene saw the suffering Body of Christ himself.

“Born from the blood of a God dying on the cross, she will lead an existence worthy of her origins and always, whether robed in triumphant purple or cowering in dungeons, she will bear this cross of suffering upon which hangs the salvation of the world. Inseparably linked to Jesus, the one who was calumniated, persecuted, condemned by the ungrateful people he sought to save, she will go on steadily to the end of time in the ways of his sufferings and in a union which mere words cannot express, a union which Hell, quivering in its rage, will ceaselessly strive to throw into turmoil. Like her divine Spouse who is also for ever and always her model, she will have to contend with all the errors and the passions stirred against her and to firmly uphold the irrevocable laws of God which are those of truth and justice”. [23]

In 1809, Eugene was put in charge of teaching catechism in the parish of Saint-Sulpice. Among other things, he wrote out a catechetical instruction on the communion of the saints and on the Church as the Mystical Body. Émilien Lamirande considers this teaching “the expression of a mature thought and one that is especially lived in depth”. [24]

The language of this young seminarian who spoke of the Church with such conviction surprises us today.

“If you paid attention to the previous lessons, you will have learned that the Church is a body made up of several members classified into three groups which we called the Church triumphant, the Church suffering and the Church militant. Among these three groups there exists the most intimate union, since they form, as we said, one and the same body of which Jesus Christ is the head, so that it is true to say that they are all members of the mystical body of Jesus Christ and members of Jesus Christ”. [25]

In his pastoral letter of February 24, 1847, Bishop de Mazenod showed how, in each local community, in each particular region of the earth, the totality of the Mystical Body was expressed. While incarnating itself into the various cultures, the Church remained united as one in Christ: “Let us teach those who are ignorant thereof that in all the regions of the universe, the Catholic Church forms an indivisible body of which Jesus Christ is the head and we are the Members. Let us teach them that none can suffer without our recognizing Jesus Christ himself in his suffering members, without anyone imbued with his spirit of charity not being able to say with Saint Paul: “Who amongst you is in sorrow without I myself being sorrowful too?” (2 Corinthians 11:29) Why then distinguish one nation from another in the Catholic Church? There is no distinction, says the Apostle, of Jew and Greek; they all have the same Lord who is bountiful towards those who invoke him (Romans 10:12). “You have all been clothed with Jesus Christ,” the same Apostle says energetically elsewhere, “there is not amongst you Jew, or Greek, slave or free man… You are all one in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28)”. [26]

The expression mystical body, frequently used by Eugene de Mazenod, was found only rarely in the writings of Father Olier and never in the writings of Bossuet. In any case, Eugene had read Fénélon and Suarez, both of whom had made accurate use of the term. [27]

Eugene lived this reality so intensely that he transmitted this feeling to the Congregation: “However far away you are from the centre of the Congregation, remember that you must live the life of the family of which you are a part. It is a consolation at the ends of the earth, where you are, to think that you are living the same life and in intimate communion with your brothers scattered over the entire surface of the globe”. [28]

“We are all members of one body, let each strive by every means and by making sacrifices, if he must, for the well-being of this body and the growth of all its potentialities. I do not know why I remind you of these things. I am quite aware of the fine spirit which animates you. It is just that I enjoy conversing with you about what we hold in common”. [29]

“When it [your letter] was delivered to me, your consecration to God had already taken place and you were decidedly one of us, that is, you had become a member of a body which has Mary for Mother […]. [30]

“There [on the cross] the Man-God prayed and died. Through his prayer and his death, he fulfills the most stringent demands of justice and he draws down the most abundant outpourings of grace. Through the grace which flows down from the cross, man, raised to God and in unity with him, prays with God and contributes to his prayer the merit of a divine death. It is done. It is the blood of the Lamb without blemish who cries out to God to ask for mercy. How could his prayer, fail to be granted? This blood, shed for the salvation of the world, reaches our heart and gives it the strength to send up from the depths of its misery an all-powerful cry which resounds right into the very heart of God”. [31]

In the spirituality of the Founder’s time, the blood of Christ, which is a symbol of the redemptive passion of Christ, was a theme with a thousand facets. Blood is the grace which imbues all reality to recreate it and to renew it in the eyes of God. The blood of Christ redeems, frees from death, and creates new relations among Christians.

“This union among the children of men and of Jesus Christ was accomplished on Calvary, while the divine blood was shed for redemption and while through the passion and death of the Savior, grace was merited for them… The Church, therefore, is the price won by the blood of Jesus Christ […].” [32]

Blood is an image rich in content which suggests several aspects of the Redemption and of the union of those saved in Christ. “They are all brothers in the most perfect manner, for the same blood runs in their veins and this blood is that of a God. This adorable blood in which they have been regenerated flows, so to speak, in their souls. It even becomes incorporated into them by actually becoming their drink while the body of Jesus Christ truly becomes their food (John 6:56) in Holy Communion. Among them spiritual goods are their common possessions and a holy common participation in merit, a participation in no way prejudicial to the rights the person already possesses”. [33]

Émilien Lamirande is fully justified, then, in saying that here we are dealing with a central theme of the spiritual doctrine of Bishop de Mazenod. [34]

The theology and pastoral practice subsequent to Vatican Council II have especially brought forth the dimensions of local church and faith communities. The Council stirred up sweeping changes in the Church by highlighting the role of small communities, of the laity, of the Church’s relationship to the world, of its “inculturation”, of its commitment to build up the Kingdom of God, etc., perhaps to the detriment of its mystery.

It is important to situate Eugene de Mazenod within the context of his own era. Even if certain aspects of his ecclesiology already suggested the Church of today, there can be no doubt that his vocabulary, his thought and his spirituality are of his period in time. When treating of the Church, he focused on and stressed especially its mysterious dimension: the indissoluble union between the Church and Christ, the mysterious transmission of Redemption to all the faithful, the union in Christ of the living and the saints in heaven, the universal union of believers, the sharing in the mysteries of Christ.

In any case, we must point out that another of the basic elements of Eugene de Mazenod’s spirituality, the communion of the saints, had been largely consigned to oblivion in his time. To the individualist mentality which was also the fruit of the “humanist” French Revolution, he opposed the communitarian dimension of life and of faith. [35]

“We call the communion of the saints the union which exists between the members of the Church […] Communion is a Latin word which means the same thing as bond, society, communication, union. That is, through this one word, we express something which belongs to several persons, as for example you might speak of a certain field as belonging to the city of Paris, a field where all the inhabitants of the city can go cut hay, harvest, gather grapes as individuals acting on behalf of the whole group. This comparison is very accurate because Our Lord himself often compared his Church to a field. All the good seeds cast there, that is, all the good works carried out by a member of the true Church and all the good resulting from these actions do not belong exclusively to the author of these good deeds, but to all the faithful in general. Each member of the Church is like a common fund: no one can claim: this is mine; that is yours; but all is held in common among them and each individual has a right to benefit from the good which is accomplished by the others. That is what we understand by communion”. [36]

Then, Eugene spoke to the children of his catechism class. He needed only to draw a couple of logical conclusions to formulate, in addition to the spiritual doctrine, a human, psychological, social and political doctrine which was simply revolutionary: the revolution of goods held in common.

It is the communion of the saints which saves. The community and the person are both essential elements in it.

“One drop of the blood of Jesus Christ, one of his tears, would have been enough to redeem the world. On the other hand, the saints practiced penance and made atonement for sins for which they were not responsible. But nothing of this surplus of merit is lost. The Church has gathered up all of these treasures and, by a providential unity, it brings about the participation of those who, strictly speaking, have no claim to it. No doubt, those who gained this merit receive the glory which is their due, but their glory is increased due to the fact that the ownership of their riches is shared with us and thus the infinite charity of God and that of the saints carry off the victory in our favor”. [37]

“The communion of the saints, one of the articles of the creed, consists in the participation of all the faithful in the same spiritual benefits and the same merits which can be shared with one another. It is a kind of common possession of goods in the order of grace. Although the bonds which unite them cannot be seen and that distance is no obstacle to them, going even beyond the confines of this world, nevertheless, we find a warm and moving image of this common possession of goods and of this mysterious unity of all the children of God when they gather around the altar, while with a common voice they sing in unison the same praises, sending heavenward the same petitions and at the same time participating in the same sacrifice. Just like in the early Church where they were of one heart and one soul, they were all of one mind united in word and in voice”. [38]

The common treasures of Christians were the blood of Christ and the Spirit.

“Not only is the blood of the same human brotherhood common to us but the blood of our Redeemer in which we share as recipients of the same grace and the same sacraments. Let us teach those who are ignorant thereof that in all the regions of the universe, the Catholic Church forms an indivisible body of which Jesus Christ is the head and we are the members. Let us teach them that none can suffer without our recognizing Jesus Christ himself in suffering members, without anyone imbued with his spirit of charity not being able to say with Saint Paul: Who amongst you is in sorrow without I myself being sorrowful too? (2 Corinthians 11:29). Why then distinguish one nation from another in the Catholic Church? There is no distinction, says the Apostle, of Jew and Greek; they all have the same Lord who is bountiful towards those who invoke him. (Romans 10:12)”. [39]

Eugene, a young man at the time, was reacting to the sermon of a priest who praised to the skies the victory of the French armies when he wrote: “In the house of our God who is equally the God of the Italians, the Austrians, and the Prussians, all of them our brothers, whom we are strictly enjoined to love as the children of the same father before whom, according to the Apostle, there is no distinction of persons or of nations when they profess the same belief”. [40]

Eugene communicated to the Congregation and to the Oblates sharing the common life the spirit of the communion of the saints.

“Let us rejoice then mutually over all the good done by our brethren in the four quarters of the world. With us, it is wholly a question of solidarity. Each works for all and all for each. Oh! how beautiful, how touching is the communion of the saints”. [41]

When speaking of the first four Oblates to die, he comes back to the notion that, as a catechist at Saint-Sulpice, he had explained to the children the unity through the common bond which links the living and the dead: “We are linked to them by the bonds of a special charity. They are still our brothers and we are theirs. They now live in our mother-house, our high place. The prayers and the love they retain for us will one day draw us to them and we shall live in our place of rest together with them. I presume that our community up above must have its place very close to our Patroness; I see them beside Mary Immaculate and consequently in the vicinity of our Lord Jesus Christ whom they have followed on this earth and whom they are contemplating with delight”. [42]

Even the Eucharist was seen in the perspective of communion: “You cannot believe how much I think in the presence of God of our dear Red River missionaries. I have only one way of drawing near to them, and that is in front of the Blessed Sacrament, where I seem to see you and to touch you. And you for your part must often be in His presence. It is thus that we meet each other in that living centre which serves as our means of communication”. [43]

Profoundly imbued with the mystery of Christ and the Church. Eugene de Mazenod saw everything in this perspective, considered everything that did not fit into that framework as lost or on the way to perdition.

The Church had not yet examined in depth the reality of the world and consequently was oblivious to an important dimension: that grace followed a path which was uniquely its own and that God was present and active in the heart of each human being.

The Second Vatican Council helped remove this obstacle which separated the Church from the world. One of the consequences was a new-found freedom for ecclesiastical vocabulary. The words pagan and infidel no longer found a place in it and in their stead, we find men of goodwill.

Nevertheless, we would never have attained to the rich ecclesiology of our day without the forerunners who appeared in the last century and in the first half of the present century. Rosmini, Newman and Congar, are only a few of the host of those who were the forerunners of Vatican II.

With a bit of humility and some pride, the Oblates made their contribution as well. Eugene de Mazenod was one of them. In a world where the Church was running the risk of breaking up into so many national churches, Eugene insisted on its universality. In general, in today’s world which is becoming more and more universal, the urgency is rather to develop the incarnation of the Church within the various cultures. That is how we can respond to the danger of seeing people ‘lose their identity and their culture.

The Founder’s fidelity to the see of Peter was another mainstay in Oblate spirituality. [44] In the person of the Pope, Christians paid homage to Christ in his zeal for the Church and for the human race. [45] The Pope continued the merciful presence of Christ on earth. [46] He guided the people of the New Covenant; he reawakened faith, stirred up resistance to oppression, preached peace, spoke on behalf of the vanquished, protected the oppressed. [47]

In an era of persecution of the papacy, a few years before the termination of the papacy’s temporal power, but at the outset of a golden age of the Church which would culminate in the Second Vatican Council, Eugene de Mazenod acclaimed the greatness of the papacy by means of comparisons with the great prophets of the Bible: “If, in the meeting place with the living God, he plays the role of Aaron, he plays that of Moses as well, leader of the tribes of Israel. If his peaceful reign denotes a Solomon whose wisdom he teaches, in his militancy, he is a David against whom the nations have trembled and the people have hatched vain plots (Psalm 2:1); more accurately, as the genuine anointed of the Lord, he is Jesus Christ an the cross, victim of the sins of mankind and saving them at the cost of his sacrifice. Thus it is that the disciple is not above his master (Luke 6:40) and that the vicar of the divine Savior portrays the one he represents”. [48]

For Eugene, this was not a question of an abstract principle, but the deion of a father with the face and the heart of Christ.

“Chosen from on high to represent throughout the earth the Sovereign Pastor of souls, he sees the militant Church ceaselessly obliged to bear the brunt of terrible attacks and sustain rude combats. He feels all the anguish of the spouse of Jesus Christ. His heart is struck by all the blows directed against her and torn by all the wounds that she receives. His head bears the crown of thorns of the divine Saviour under the tiara of the Pontiff King. And like Jesus Christ from the height of the cross, his Vicar from the height of the throne of the Prince of the Apostles gives forth a great cry to the world”. [49]

Among the many images used by the Founder to define the Church, the richest in content is that of Church-Mother. It is an image which he enriched with innumerable subtle elements.

“The new Eve destined to crush the head of this abominable serpent is at the same time a perfect and sublime reality and an exemplification of the Church. Mother of all Christians, just as the most holy Virgin is mother of Jesus Christ and by adoption mother of all Christians as well who form one unity with him […] She watches over them with unremitting care from the cradle to the grave to ward off all danger, to direct them in their ways, to help them up after their falls, to console them in their afflictions, to strengthen them in their weaknesses, to illumine their ignorance and uncertainty and to sustain them in their struggles against the enemy of their salvation. These helps, these illuminations, this strength, she communicates to them through the word of truth and by the sacraments while she enables them to participate in all the spiritual riches which the divine Spouse has confided to her to guard and to distribute”. [50]

It often happened that the literary expressions of the Founder were not the most attractive. He would never be assigned an important place in French literature, but his ability to understand the deep meaning of the faith and to apply it to everyday life is undeniable.

Within the Congregation, he was to the end both father and mother of the Oblates scattered all over the world: “You know, my dear son, that my great imperfection is to love passionately the children God has given me. No mother’s love can equal it. Perfection would consist in being unaffected by the desultory response of my children to this maternal affection. There is where I sin”. [51]

“I have seen many religious orders and I am in very close and friendly contacts with those of the greatest regularity of life. Well, I have noticed among them, quite aside from their virtue, a strong esprit de corps. But this more than paternal love of the head for the members of the family, this heartfelt attachment of the members for their head which gives rise among them to relationships that flow from heart to heart and which create among us genuine family bonds of father to son, son to father, that I have discovered no place else. I have always thanked God for this as for a special gift that he has given me, for that is the kind of heart he has given me, that radiation of love which is special to me and which pours out on each one individually without depriving anyone, just as is the case, if I may say so, of the love of God for mankind”. [52]

This is not presumption, but rather the characteristic of a Founder who gives life to a new charism, in the same way each missionary gives life to the Church through the grace of God and of the Word.

The main image singled out by the Second Vatican Council is that of the People of God. This biblical characterization highlights the communitarian and human aspect of the Church, the difficult road it must travel, its journey through history, its link with the world, its unity in baptism, its ministerial character.

When Eugene de Mazenod spoke of the Church as People of God, he wanted to stress its universality, its transcendence and its divine origin: “The divine word has infused new life into all these bones; they have received spirit and life, and behold, they have become once again the chosen race, the holy nation, a people redeemed (1 Peter 2:9). After having been daily instructed in the truth and having confessed its lapses, this people renewed its covenant with the Lord and now comes to partake of the lamb without blemish and to feed on the bread of immortality”. [53]

The royal priesthood of the laity was one of the controversial questions in theology because the Protestants had coopted it as their favorite bone of contention, that is, Scripture speaks only about a priesthood which is common to all the faithful. The Catholic Church formulated its official answer at the Council of Trent and the “ignorance” concerning the common priesthood of the faithful lasted until Vatican II. However, is there really such a great difference between the thought of the Founder and contemporary thought on the subject? No! In Eugene de Mazenod’s sweeping portrait of the extraordinary riches of the mystery of the Church, we find various elements of the new ecclesiology of Vatican II. Historic and cultural limits notwithstanding, he was a promoter of lay associations, of the common priesthood of the faithful, of a more direct participation of the laity in the work of the Church.

According to the Oblate spirit, the presence of the laity is not incidental; rather, it is an integral part of the charism. The Oblates work with the laity, support them in their work in the world and organize activities, communities, movements, as well as ministries of the laity. Among these latter, the poor are naturally the ones we prefer: “You, the poor of Jesus Christ, the afflicted and wretched, the sick and suffering and covered with sores, etc., whom misery overwhelms, my brethren, my dear brethren, my dear respectable brethren, listen to me.

“You are the children of God, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the co-heirs of his eternal Kingdom, the cherished portion of his inheritance; you are, in the words of Saint Peter, the holy nation, you are kings, you are priests, you are, in some way, gods: Dii estis et filii Excelsi omnes“.

“Now you know your dignity as Christians, children of God, brothers and co-heirs of Jesus Christ, holy nation, chosen portion of the heritage of the Lord, destined to rule eternally in heaven as kings, priests, in a word, to use the expression hallowed by its usage in Scripture, you have been able to compare these lofty destinies with what the world promises you, that tyrant which sees only your humble external appearance and rewards you by despising the useful services that you ceaselessly render it, perhaps to the detriment of your souls”. [54]

As a result, he undertook to have the laity participate more actively in the liturgy: “Those in attendance […I during high Mass are not mere listeners, but engaged in everything, they intervene constantly to express loudly their total solidarity with what is going on at the altar and the participation of those in attendance is not limited to the clergy alone, but is the privilege of every individual member of the faithful present in this holy place”. [55]

His judgment of the realities of the secular world which have as their goal the building up of the Kingdom of God also springs from this insight. That is what he expressed in a speech about the importance of railways: “Do not think, Gentlemen, that she [the Church] wishes simply to contribute further conveniences to the material existence of people. No, she wants to bring them together, to lead them to mingle on the physical level in view of bringing them to unity in the moral level. By increasing these means of communication and increasing the number of encounters, the occasions for unity become more frequent and the movement toward this mysterious unity of the children of the human family under the same God, one faith, one Baptism gains momentum”. [56]

In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles, he stated: “But the Church, which comes to outline for you the rights of God and the duties of conscience, is certainly not indifferent to the commercial affairs of our city. If commercial transactions increase the relationships of people with each other, if it succeeds in carrying civilization to the furthest shores, it is because it is working in harmony with the faith that unites all peoples in the same family and which has brought civilization to a large part of the world. The trader and the navigator are the missionary’s collaborators.

“Your sailboats and steamships are at the service of the Gospel as well as serving your commercial interests. In the designs of Providence, the growth of our commercial relations is linked to the spread of the Reign of God. And if in our day, through modern inventions, God grants to these relations the kind of growth unknown heretofore, it is because He wishes to extend more and more, to all the islands and continents, the spiritual realm of the Church. Do not doubt it; with regard to the various projects on behalf of the faithful, this is the reason for the progress which we admire”. [57]

Saint Matthew’s statement, “For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”, stressed also the fact that the ecclesial dimension is not necessarily linked to the presence of the ordained minister. We find in this text the principle of the particular Church. Naturally, there was contained here another point of disagreement with the Protestants which, through the conciliar revolution became transformed, especially among the laity, into an element contributing to the reunion of Christians.

Eugene de Mazenod’s style was to follow his insight, his instinct, his capability of responding to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. And that is what he did in this case as well.

“Just like in the early Church where they had only one heart and one soul, they share the same sentiment, the same word and the same voice. Upon seeing them thus assembled in the holy place to adore together with the most solemn liturgical gestures the mystery which is being worked for them and to partake of the graces which are its fruit, we recognize the brethren happy to share the common life under one roof (Psalm 133:1) and to sit at the same table. Christian brotherhood, their union in God becomes evident in the most tangible way: we feel that we are in the house of the Lord, the only genuine bond of spirits and hearts. Something speaks to the spirit, telling it that in that particular moment is especially realized this word of the divine Master: “For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”, to answer their prayer”. [58]


It is the Congregation which conserves and incarnates the charism of the Founder in the history of humanity and of the Church. The guarantee of its continuing existence depends on its fidelity to the original inspiration of the Founder.

This fidelity has a variety of aspects: respect for the fundamental ideas of the Founder and a regular return to them; the development and deepening required by the passage of the years, by the encounters with other cultures, other experiences and other theologies, the renewal of the charism in the light of the Church.

Already in 1816, at the very beginnings of the Congregation, Eugene de Mazenod understood that God was calling the Oblates to restore to the Church its splendor by leading “the multitude of lost sheep back to the fold” [59], by bringing “people back to the Faith” [60], by preaching “the divine word to the poor” [61], and by poor, he understood the people of rural Provence who were left to their own devices and deprived of the spiritual assistance of the Church. [62]

Eugene de Mazenod wanted to renew the life of the Church of his country where one of the most painful realities was “the defection of such a large number of priests”. [63] According to the thinking of his time, the non-Christian was an infidel who needed to be brought back into the fold or to be won to the Lord.

Later on, the Congregation updated this way of thinking: “The Church and the world of today are subject to constant change: this in turn affects our life and ministry as Oblates. The Second Vatican Council in particular and the events which followed it have profoundly modified the life of the Church. The Church has come away from this experience with a greater understanding of herself. As a result, we Oblates have a clearer understanding of the place God has given us in the Church so that we might serve the world”. [64]

Just like all other Christians, Oblates are called to live the fullness of the faith they have assumed in Baptism, and as bearers of a charism, they bring out some aspects of it.

One of the concerns of the Founder was, for example, the proclamation of the word of God in a way that took into consideration the people being evangelized: “It is explicitly recommended that only simple, easy sermons be written, sermons characterized by solidity of content and power, in a word, sermons adapted to those to whom they are to be preached”. [65]

Treating this reality more in depth, the reality which theology later defined as “inculturation”, the General Chapter of 1986 stated: “Inculturation is not only a way of acting, it is also a way of being. It implies a spirituality which affects our entire being as well as our missionary outlook. […] Inculturation demands the spirituality of an “Oblate”, that is, a person completely available to others […].” [66]

Along with these changes, it is interesting to note the elements that remain constant: relationship with the laity, the merciful attitude toward sinners, the close ties with the local church, the ministry of the mission as a communitarian and ecclesial expression.

The Constitutions and Rules of 1818 treated at length on the relationship between the Oblates and the youth association which they were guiding: “The direction of youth will be considered as an essential duty of our Institute. The Superior General […] will require that a report be made to him on the state of the Youth Association […] with the same care and detail as a report made on the novitiate itself. He will make it his duty to know all the youth associates by name. He will have frequent contact with their families […].” [67]

The 1982 Rule stated: “In various places lay people feel called to participate directly in the Oblate mission, ministry and community. The terms of their association can be drawn up at the provincial level, in agreement with the General Administration”. [68]

“They will take care in the administration of the sacrament of penance to avoid too great a laxity as well as too much rigor […]. The missionaries always welcome sinners with an inexhaustible charity. Let them encourage them by their relaxed manner while showing them a heart of compassion […].” [69]

The Oblates should submit their ministry of missions to the local church in the persons of the bishops and the parish priests. [70]

“In accordance with the directives of the Church, an effective missionary apostolate can be realized today only within the scope of a comprehensive pastoral program. For this reason, the Oblates in all of -their undertakings will seek to cooperate closely with diocesan, national and international organizations, in the field of evangelization and of pastoral ministry.

“In the spirit of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, the Oblates will seek to promote an atmosphere of charity and dialogue with neighboring Christian communities, and also with the members of non-Christian religions”. [71]

The top priority ministry is naturally the ministry carried out in community: “We will never go on mission alone; there will always be at least two together”. [72]

Finally, as builders of the Church and of new ecclesial realities, the Oblates must be an authentic expression of this by being the bishops’ men and the Pope’s men. [73]

The model of the Church that is proclaimed and that is to be lived is “the community of the Apostles”, [74] the form the early Church took to go and conquer the world. “Our communities, therefore, are apostolic in character”. [75]


General Chapters reflect the thinking of the Founder and of the Rule as well as the Church whose illumination permits the charism to renew itself. But they also reflect the missionary experience of the Oblates who, by their lives, continue to deepen their understanding of what it means to evangelize the poor.

In a circular letter on the Rule, Eugene de Mazenod reaffirmed that the end of the mission-is “to collaborate in the extending of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and to sacrifice their life to lead a great number of souls into the fold of the Father of the family”. [76]

In the mission fields, this central theme is enriched with new elements such as the works of human development that are beginning to be perceived as essential factors in human and spiritual growth.

The presence of missionaries in far off regions difficult of access as well as the diversity of cultures compelled a modification of the rigid model of Church, required changes and adaptations to religious life and church life. [77]

“Even though the missions are the first and main end of the Congregation, nevertheless, the apostolate with the working class […] according to the principles of Leo XIII’s encyclical, De conditione opificum […] is not only in conformity with the end of the Institute, but should moreover be strongly encouraged at the present time”. [78]

The General Chapter of 1947 made the decision that the Congregation should collaborate in the formation of members of Catholic Action. [79]

“No province, even though it may rarely send missionaries to the missions, should dispense itself from the obligation of cooperating concretely in the apostolate with non-Catholics and the native peoples”. [80]

In mission countries, the newly arrived missionaries should learn the language, prepare themselves to carry out the tasks of the ministry and, if necessary, become citizens of that country. [81]

The General Chapter of 1953, under the guidance of the expression “renew or die”, an expression used by Bishop Larraona during his visit to the Chapter, spoke of renewal. [82]

“Love of the Church was the overriding theme in all our discussions. It was: at the centre of all our debates”. [83]

A new expression, “democracy”, which the Church had borrowed from Maritain found its way into the Chapter discussions. “The conclusions of our studies and of our discussions will be arrived at in the most democratic manner possible: by majority vote. Thus, for all of us, the will of God will be made manifest […]. [84]

As for the missions that had been founded long ago, the Superior General asked himself whether it would not be better “to let the Church know that we think the time has come, the work has reached the proper stage of maturity and the situation is sufficiently developed for us to relinquish our missionary role with exclusive responsibility for these territories”. [85]

Vatican II, a turning point for the Congregation

The Chapter of 1966 took place immediately after the Second Vatican Council. The influence of this Council was so strong that the Oblate tradition was almost overwhelmed by the newness it brought. From his opening speech, Father Deschâtelets kept returning to the central theme of the Council: the Church, the People of God. [86]

His whole speech was centered on the renewal of the Congregation. Five of the numerous images he used had to do with the Church as the People of God and four deal with the Church as the Body of Christ.

There was no longer any talk of making converts. “The Oblates have as their mission to come to the aid of the Church and of the world”. [87]

“The Oblates should always carry out a missionary task, proclaiming Christ by the witness of their lives and that of their words in order to awaken or to reawaken the faith and to build upon the foundation of this faith a living Church in a state of striving toward the Kingdom in a community of worship and of charity”. [88]

“[The Oblate] must support the laity in their particular role of cooperating in the mission of the Church”. [89]

“The Chapter could not fail being strongly influenced by the conciliar thinking of the Church evolving in the divine plan of salvation and inviting its children to a pastoral approach to contemporary humanity”. [90]

The influence of renewal of the Church raised up by Vatican II was even more evident in the Chapter of 1972. We already noticed this in the questionnaire of the Antepreparatory Commission: “What doors does the Province presently have opening onto the major world problems that affect the lives of the poor […]?” [91] “Does the need for new ways of doing things in the apostolate […] spring from the needs for new kinds of apostolic presences in the world?” [92] “How and in what measure are the communities of your Province open to the world?” [93]

On the other hand, there was less optimism than in 1966: “In the overall picture of fidelity to the Founder and to traditions of the Institute some shadows appear. In the context of the problems presented by modern ecclesiology, some people have the tendency of attributing only secondary importance to the Oblate identity and the Mazenodian ideal”. [94]

Already appearing charged with all their conflicting elements were the themes of our relationship with the world and with the laity, of justice, of insertion into the world of the poor”. [95] The Chapter document was drawn up according to the “see-judge-act” method. On the South American situation, the following was said: “Our brother Oblates ask themselves how they can best contribute to the true and total liberation in Christ of the Latin American continent”. [96]

The mission must be deeply committed to developing the local church.

“In other places, the mission seems to demand a presence more clearly responsive to injustices and to economic and social aspirations”. [97] Questions were raised on the possibility of new ways of belonging to the Congregation”. [98]

“We commit ourselves to the movement toward authentic liberation that so characterizes our times”. [99] “We give our full approval to those Oblates who have the particular charism to identify themselves completely with the poor by taking on their social, cultural and economic conditions”. [100] “We realize we may not always be able to preach the Gospel explicitly. Especially in areas where the great non-Christian religions are a living reality, our evangelization should include a common search for Truth…” [101]

The Chapter encouraged experimentation in community living, in formation, in structures, in the missionary presence in the world, among others things, small Christian communities.

“Within these basic Christian communities, concrete images of the universal Church, we will help to form responsible lay leaders capable of serving the needs of the people”. [102]

It also presented the possibility for Oblates to engage in a secular profession and even to take part in “the social and political struggles which influence their future, particularly in the working man’s world”. [103]

Finally, it exhorted the membersto support and not to extinguish the prophetic voices. This manner of seeing things, lucid, very beautiful, but controverted, produced the same effect on the Congregation which the Council had on the Church; it lit up the dark areas. Moreover, this outlook was so broad that it ran the risk of obscuring the characteristics of the Oblate charism and of giving rise to interpretations and implementations that were extremely different.

The Chapter of 1974, convoked because of the sudden resignation of the Superior General, Richard Hanley made some changes in The Missionary Outlook by correcting the idea of liberation and by reaffirming certain characteristic values of the Oblate charism.

In his report to the Chapter, Father Fernand Jetté said the following: “The Congregation should be a leaven in the life of the Church, not a “fifth column”. As Oblates we are nothing without the Church and our mission is given to us by the official hierarchy of the Church (i.e., by the Pope and the Bishops)”. [104]

The 1974 Chapter did not disassociate itself from the ecclesiology of the 1972 Chapter, but rather modified it and incarnated it into the life and the structure of the Church and the Congregation. Father Jetté took up once again the themes of The Missionary Outlook and applied them very serenely and in a non-polemical manner.

The Chapters of 1980 and 1986 confirmed the direction taken in 1974: insertion into the universal and the local Churches and renewal of the same, and the rediscovery of the original characteristics of the Oblate charism.

“We believe in the God of Exodus, the God of yesterday and today, the liberating Savior of history, fully revealed in Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the sick and with prisoners. He wants us to find him in those who suffer, in those who are abandoned or are persecuted for their stand on behalf of justice.

“We Oblates are sent to evangelize the poor and the most abandoned, i.e. to proclaim Jesus Christ and his Kingdom (C. 5), to be witnesses of the Good News to the world, to motivate actions which might transform individuals and society, to denounce whatever is an obstacle to the coming of the kingdom”.

“Eugene de Mazenod opened up the way for us by devoting himself to the service of the poor and the most neglected people of Provence in order to bring the Gospel to them”. [105]


On reading through the circular letters of the Superiors General, one is struck with admiration at their coherent adhesion to the Founder and his message. They explored that message more in depth and reinterpreted it with the greatest fidelity.

Father Joseph Fabre, he first successor of Eugene do Mazenod, studied with meticulous care the essential points of the charism and especially the aspect of fraternal charity: “Yes, my dear brothers, know this well, it is charity which will create one heart out of many hearts, out of many spirits, one single spirit. It is charity and charity alone which creates community such as our venerated Founder wanted to see it established. Without charity individual life reasserts all its demands and all its concerns; we give the impression of living in community, but there are as many viewpoints as there are individuals; their interests diverge, clash, and egoism settles within and without accompanied by all its frightening consequences. Are we really living the common life? Are we really working for the community? Do we really have genuine charity? To answer these questions, let us see if we undertake to regulate our thoughts, our words and our actions according to the maxim of the Imitation of Christ: Ama nesciri et pro nihilo reputari (Lib. I, cap. II, 3). Yes, the community, always the community… from then on devotion, abnegation and generosity; from then on no more envy, no more jealousy, no more individualistic existence, fraternal charity in full perfection. Tanquam fratres habitantes in unum (Const. art. 1)”. [106]

At the time this characteristic and traditional element of the Congregation was a new thing for the Church which concentrated almost exclusively on the sacramental and the soteriological dimensions of the faith. It is in this context that one must view the problem of indulgences that the Pope would grant on particular occasions. Among those who benefited from these indulgences were the missionaries if they went to confession once a month.

However, among some of them were the missionaries of the Mackenzie who, because of the distances involved, could go to confession only once a year “because of the total lack of roads in a country covered with mountains, forests, rivers and lakes, where the best roads were the ice on the rivers in winter. Finally, the nomad existence of the primitive tribes who have no fixed abode and with whom the missionary can come in contact only at certain times of the year and at certain predetermined places […]” [107] The indulgence was granted all the same, thus modifying the Church’s norms. Similar cases proved very frequent. Because of difficult living conditions, changes were brought in especially in the areas of liturgy, prayer and the common life.

Even the mission itself wanted to adapt to human and cultural conditions: “As for the missions, the General Chapter […] wondered if these works were still being conducted just like they were from the beginnings of our Congregation […] It is evident that some changes must have taken place due to the different customs in various countries”. [108] Nevertheless, the Congregation remained a faithful expression of the Church: “In the bosom of the Catholic Church, our religious family is like a church in miniature, called to represent, in a limited but real way the rights and the duties of the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ”. [109]

In Oblate spirituality, the Church is like a mother who guards her children well, who fosters their growth in “power and wisdom and grace”, but who knows how to learn from them the new things of the Spirit. The Oblates feel like sons of this Mother, members of this Mystical Body of Christ: “Jesus Christ […] has two bodies on this earth: one which is real in the tabernacle and one which is mystical in the Church.

Vos estis corpus Christi [You are the body of Christ], Saint Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:27) […] Jesus Christ and the Church are united in some way in the unity of one single person: he the head, she the body […] Only one man whose body walks the earth, but whose head is swallowed up in the highest heavens […] One man alone whose body extends throughout the whole earth, where he speaks the language of every nation […] Only one man whose body is extended throughout the centuries, who strides through the ages incorporating new members and fulfilling in them what is lacking in his passion”. [110]

These, therefore, are the themes dear to Eugene de Mazenod which Father Soullier took up again: the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ and the union of Christ and of the Church.

In the eyes of the Congregation, Father Deschâtelets is the one who, by following up on the preconciliar and the conciliar inspirations, made a decisive contribution to the reformulation of the Oblate charism in response to the questions being asked by the modern world. It was a question of rediscovering the role of the Institute within the Church with a closer cooperation and sharing, accepting the laity as equals. In the following quote, the expressions are somewhat dated, but it is the content that counts.

“We would like to see a real army of the faithful gathered around us, forming a kind of rearguard on this vast battlefield where our valiant missionaries are engaged in the holy battles of faith and charity. This throng will be made up of parents and young people authentically Christian who are sincerely interested in the youth of our juniorates, of our novices, of our scholastics, as if they were their own children and their brothers. And we would wish to see as the heraldic device of that great army of charity the motto which the great Pope of the Missions set forth as a challenge to all of Christianity: “All of the faithful, for all of the infidels”. To which we would add the words from our, Holy Rules: “Nihil linquendum inausum ut proferatur imperium Christi” [We must spare no effort to extend the Saviour’s empire (Preface)]”. [111]

The participation of the laity in the mission is a pressing priority. It will enable the Church to express fully its universal mission. Paul VI stated that “the whole Church is missionary” and the 1982 Rule in turn stated that “the whole Congregation is missionary”.

The “springtime” of the Council to which Fr. Deschâtelets was personally invited made a profound impact on him; he radiated its enthusiasm. But the Spirit had prepared him for this enthusiasm: “Missionaries of the poor, more than ever today, let us think of the poor, “praecipuam dent operam pauperibus evangelizandis” [they will work especially to evangelise the poor] (CC and RR of 1928, art. 1). Let us become totally immersed in them; let us become one with them. Let us tear down all the barriers set up between the working class poor and the Church. Let us be afraid of adopting a middle class outlook since we are meant to work for the poor! Let there be only one preoccupation for us: their evangelization! […] May Saint Joseph, the poor worker, help us to serve Jesus like he did in the person of the poor!” [112]

This attitude of openness enabled the Congregation to enter quickly into the movement for renewal and to deal successfully with the crises involved. At this period in time, the Oblates shared in every aspect in the mystery of the Church with the Spirit steadfastly guiding it on the road to renewal. The Congregation, like the Church, had seen Salvation being presented in new terms in these difficult times, times of profound transformation of the human race. It experienced the doubts of facing what is new and saw the defection of so many of its sons; like the Church, it had doubts about its future existence: it was wounded by betrayal and was compelled to start over again in all humility.

The Oblates are men who make common cause with the Church, not out of servile duty and inertia, but rather as sons who bring to their family all their energy, their youth and their imagination. “In virtue of a privilege which we can never fully appreciate and through the grace of our vocation, in many places we make up the only clergy of the Church under the jurisdiction of missionary bishops who represent her. Narrowness of spirit does not belong among us, the kind of narrowness that would consider the Congregation a parallel Church, a thing turned in on itself”. [113]

In the wake of the Council, the Congregation underwent the humiliation of a purification by way of self-criticism, loyal recognition of its errors and submission to the Church which required acceptance of the “new trend”.

“Since our Congregation is an individual society within the great assembly of the people of God, the General Chapter should also pursue its task in an atmosphere of the most complete submission to our Holy Mother the Church who has-welcomed us as her children for the building up of the Body of Christ […]” [114]

In the eyes of Father Deschâtelets, the Council represented a shift on the theological scene as well as in language. Less bombastic words and expressions express more effectively the conciliar realities: the Church, the People of God, “apostolate of the laity […] ecumenical life, apostolate in the Third World, the presence of the Church in the world, openness to the world which one must love […] catechesis […]” [115]

The charism acquired other shades of expression and the very structures of the Congregation changed profoundly. “If Jesus really wanted to identify with the poor (Matthew 25:40), then our brotherhood in Christ can only aim at sharing in this mysterious identification. Missionaries to the poor, we are first of all at the service of our Mother, “Church of the Poor”. [116] […] Along with our Provincials and Vicars, we foresee an ever closer cooperation in the government of the Congregation […]” [117]

The newness brought by the Council showed its impact even more strongly in the circular letters of Father Richard Hanley. He quoted from Abraham Lincoln, McLuhan, the musical comedy,Hair, Paulo Freire. The themes he treated were: renewal, inculturation, the Church in the world which presents itself as humbly asking pardon for past faults, the brothers’ right to vote on all issues that concern the Congregation, a new system of values, the service of the “new poor”, decentralization, the “grassroots”, the Kingdom of God, the new structures, communications, “a new name for government”, community as “contact with life”. [118]

In a circular letter written on the occasion of his visit to South America, the themes treated were: underdevelopment, liberation, social ministry, “consciousness raising”, base communities, the formation of “leaders”, the local community, the laity. [119]

The post-Conciliar wave of enthusiasm was followed by the search for Oblate identity: “Why be a priest, religious, Oblate? We forget that no one was closer to the poor, the oppressed, the sinners than Christ – to the point of taking upon himself their misery and identifying with them. And yet, it was by living his mission of the “consecrated one”, by remaining faithful to his “identity”, of the One Sent by the Father that he carried out his work of salvation for the liberation of his brothers […]. It is by returning to the Founder, to his spirit and his Gospel ideals that one can rediscover the criteria capable of sustaining in full vigor, the life of each one of the members of the Congregation”. [120]

“Our attachment to the bishops is linked to the attachment we profess to have for the Sovereign Pontiff. Let us summarize the thought of the Founder: “The Oblates are men of the Pope and of the bishops”. [121]

“The missionary future of the Church is brighter than ever, and our future as well since the Institute, like all the other institutes, forms an integral part of the ecclesial institution. We have proven our worth. We will continue to evangelize in new ways, according to the concrete needs of the People of God. Since we are aware of these demands, we sense at work in us in a number of places a radical transformation and upheaval which puts us into close and daily contact with the poor, the oppressed, whom we must liberate by presenting the message of Christ. As we examine our methods and ministries, old and new, more than ever we are seeking to define what in the Church gives us our special character, our missionary meaning. Let us recall the words of Christ: the poor you will always have with you. The Church expects that we will be at the service of the poor; we should do everything in our power to make this service a concrete reality”. [122]

Concerning this issue, two things seemed clear: first that the opening of the Congregation toward the Church is genuine only to the extent that it incarnates this ecclesial spirit in the life and the activities of Oblates and then that the religious Oblate family is authentically a gift of the Spirit only on the condition that it continues to bring to the Church the creative power of its charism.

Father Fernand Jetté treated the relationship of the Church and the Congregation with a very penetrating discernment. The Spirit must become incarnated in the options, the structures, the choices, the discernments.

“A few months ago, […] I heard this reflection from a Father: ‘Religious life is simply ordinary human life, the life of men andwomen today looked at from a religious point of view. Every life is religious provided the religious aspect enters.’ To think that is to reject the idea of a religious Institute, to reject religious life as an organized group, to reject even every specific element or value making up that type of life, for instance, the consecration by vows. On the other hand, other Oblates can see religious life only in communities with the traditional religious life-style, with the result that they have the feeling that religious life has practically disappeared in the Congregation.

“I aminclined to think that the majority of Oblates are found between these two extremes. They hold on to apostolic religious values and seek a real updating of the Institute”. [123]

In his Christmas message of 1975, he compared the Incarnation of Christ to the incarnation the Oblate is called to realize: “To make ourselves poor with the poor and to go to them and live with them in order to reveal Jesus Christ […] Christ could just as well have lived his life as a man within the conjugal state. He did not want to do so. The transcendence of its mission, it would seem, prompted Him to witness by the free choice of celibacy that his kingdom was not of this world”. [124]

The concerns of Father Jetté were: the mission of Oblates to the new poor, a community life which should lead to a common undertaking, our relationship to the laity, our commitment to justice, the Oblate identity and his belonging to the Congregation.

The relationship of the Oblates with the Church encompasses all these issues: the Oblate supports renewal in the Church, the Oblate responds to the urgent needs of the Church, he is in the front ranks among those implementing the most radical options such as insertion among the poor, and commitment to the defense of the rights of the human person. He is a unifier who knows how to maintain his distinctiveness within the People of God and the local Church.

Father Jetté’s thinking concerning the Church is like a grand symphony with well defined tempos, variations and adaptations due to cultures, regions, different fields of action: formation, mission spiritual life. The instruments used to play this symphony are personal maturity and the relationship to Christ, community life, a relationship of respect and affection for the Church and for Mary.

The missionary experience of Father Marcello Zago and his commitment to dialogue with other world religions confirmed the Congregation in its broad renewed conception of ministry: “The mission is not limited to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the building of Christian communities; it also includes recognition of others and the values they bear, it includes collaboration with everyone for the good of mankind”. [125]

Another important aspect was that of ecumenism. In regard to the laity, he confirmed the guideline given by the Congregation: “Only through “mission with the laity” will the faith be deepened, spread, and enabled to pervade all aspects of personal and social living”. [126]


The Oblate tradition reflects this relationship between the Church and the Congregation that we have tried to describe. It would be rash to summarize everything in a few words. Consequently, we will confine ourselves to citing a few typical experiences.

The mission, unity and continuity: “A Church is not built in a matter of a few years. On the contrary, it is a work which requires time and consequently perseverance. The spiritual edifice will be all the more solid and its proportions more harmonious in the measure which the builders would have been guided by the same spirit”. [127]

Evangelization and human development: “A mission, a Church without any developmental impact on the society in which it lives will always be incomplete and lack stability”. [128]

Insertion: “With the Indians, he will become one of them; he will mingle with them like the yeast in the dough to make it rise”. [129]

When they came into contact with cultures that were new to them, the Oblates were compelled to adapt their proclamation of Christ and to find new ways of “founding” the Church.

Thus it was that we progressed from a mentality of conquest to a mentality of dialogue, from confrontation with the world to acceptance and exchange with the world, from separation to cooperation with the laity.

In this search for new ways to carry out our mission, the Oblates became used to living with the poor, to merging Evangelization and human development, to promoting small groups, to defending the native population to the point of taking stands for justice.

Renewal of the Congregation in the light of the Council has not yet reached completion, but after so much hard work, we can affirm that the Oblates are still the bishops’ men, the Pope’s men and men of the Church.

Giuseppe Mammana