1. At the time of the Founder
  2. Evangelization after the death of the Founder
  3. Conclusion

“He has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor […]. The Good News is proclaimed to the poor” (Luke 4:18; Matthew 11:5). This double Gospel expression makes up the motto inscribed on the coat of arms of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and of its founder, Eugene de Mazenod. It highlights the missionary character of the Oblate charism and its primary activity. The Oblates find themselves reflected in it no matter how diverse their ministries might be.

The word mission has perhaps attained an even more common usage in the Institute. Indeed, it reflects the very name and the double ministry set forth by the Constitutions: parish missions and foreign missions.

The present study is divided into two parts: the first deals with the period of the Founder (nos. 1-6), the second with the period which followed his death.



It was Eugene de Mazenod’s personal experience that led him to discern the salvation needs of people. His years in Italy and his return to France after the Revolution helped him become aware of these needs, especially as they applied to poor people. Nothing could make him back off and as a young lay person he was committed. He worked among prisoners, taught catechism to the rural youth, took a stand against Jansenism, etc. His “conversion”, one Good Friday, committed him to a new relationship with Christ and a new vision of the Church purchased at the cost of his blood. He was ready to leave everything behind to dedicate himself unconditionally to their service.

Subsequent to his formation at the seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris during which he personally got to know the difficulties imposed upon the Pope and the Church, he returned to his native city of Aix-en-Provence and dedicated himself to an apostolate which was out of the ordinary. He preached to the poor, the workers, the domestic servants in a simple, solid and consistent way. He gathered together youth of all ages, offering them entertainment and Christian formation through the Association of the Christian Youth of Aix which he established.

The feverish apostolate of these three years made Abbé de Mazenod aware of the vastness of the needs he faced and the inadequacy of his personal response. Under the influence of an “impulse from the outside”, he made the decision to establish a community together with a few priests to evangelize the forsaken rural population through the means of missions.

From the first documents dealing with the foundation, Eugene’s intentions are clear. His letters to Abbé Henry Tempier and to the Vicars General of the diocese, the 1818 Rule, his personal recollections and those of his first companions give witness to this. He takes his starting point from the circumstances of his own need for salvation. To Abbé Tempier he wrote: “Dwell deeply on the plight of our country people, their religious situation, the apostasy that daily spreads wider with dreadfully ravaging effects. Look at the feebleness of the means employed to date to oppose this flood of evil.”

[1]The request addressed to the Vicars General of Aix for authorization to set up a community in that city is in the same vein: “The undersigned priests: deeply moved by the deplorable situation of the small towns and villages of Provence that have almost completely lost the faith; knowing from experience that the callousness or indifference of these people renders the ordinary help supplied by your concern for their salvation insufficient and even useless […]” [2].

As a solution, he proposes the preaching of parish missions. In doing this, he is following the recommendations of the Pope and the example of other dioceses in France, in particular, that of his seminary confrere, Charles de Forbin-Janson. To Abbé Tempier, he wrote: “Well, dear man, what I say to you, without going fully into details, is that you are necessary for the work which the Lord inspires us to undertake. Since the head of the Church is persuaded that, given the wretched state in which France finds herself, only missions can bring people back to the Faith which they have practically abandoned, good men of the Church from different dioceses are banding together in response to the views of our supreme Pastor. We likewise feel that it is utterly necessary to employ the same remedy in our regions and, full of confidence in the goodness of Providence, have laid down the foundations of an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries. [3]” To the Vicars he wrote: “Convinced that missions are the only means by which these people who have gone astray can be brought out of their degradation […] the Missionaries will [tour] the rural areas proclaiming the word of God” [4].

The analysis of the situation of the need for salvation and the desire to respond to this need by means of missions emerges even more strongly in the Preface of the Constitutions and Rules, considered as the charter for the missionary ideal of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. From the outset, Eugene de Mazenod proposed, not only a concrete missionary endeavor, but also a well defined and demanding community life style – an ideal of the missionary constantly devoted, not only to equip himself for his important ministry, but also to become a saint.


At the time of the founding of the Congregation, Eugene de Mazenod held the view that the preaching of parish missions was the most effective means to Christianize the rural areas of southern France in order to “rekindle the flame of faith that has all but died in the hearts of so many of her children… We must lead men to act like human beings, first of all, and then like Christians, and, finally, we must help them to become saints.” [5]

In the note that he addressed to Mgr. Adinolfi, Under-Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, Eugene de Mazenod wrote: “Our Society works in towns, as you could notice from our Rules, and is engaged there in all sorts of good works, but its preference is to evangelize with all the zeal it can the poor who are abandoned… to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ and to extend his spiritual kingdom in souls” [6].

In the Letter of Approbation of the Rules signed by Pope Leo XII, we read: “About eleven years have already passed since our predecessor, Pius VII […] expressed the desire to see, in the wake of the storm of the Revolution, missionaries to bring the scattered sheep back to the right road of salvation. Meanwhile, to respond to this desire, a small group of priests was being formed in the diocese of Aix in the heart of the southern provinces of France with the purpose of devoting themselves to this ministry […].”

“Now, this Congregation has set for itself a variety of goals, the first and most essential of which is that its members, bound by vows […] should dedicate themselves especially to the holy exercise of missions, taking as their priority for the focus of their zeal the countryside devoid of spiritual assistance, and in their preaching, using the local dialect. In addition, this Society sets as its goal to be of assistance to the clergy, either by taking on the running of seminaries […] or in making themselves always available to parish priests and other pastors to work for the reforming of morals by means of preaching and other spiritual exercises. Also, it devotes all its care and solicitude to the youth, this chosen portion of the Christian people, which it gathers in pious groups in order to hold at bay the seductions of the world. Finally, it administers the sacraments and distributes the Word of God to prisoners […]. [7]

The pontifical Letter of Approbation, certainly written with the suggestions of the Founder [8], mentions the various ends of the Institute: parish missions, assistance to the clergy, youth ministry, care of prisoners. Parish missions are presented as the primary reason for the founding of the Congregation and its main purpose.

a. Involvement in parish missions

This giving of priority to parish missions was included in the first Rule of 1818 and in the approved edition in 1826 without it being understood as an exclusive ministry [9]. From 1816 to 1861, the Oblates preached some 3,000 parish missions and retreats [10]. At the time of the Founder, they constituted the main ministry of the Oblates in Eastern Canada. The first year, at least fourteen parishes had the benefit of being ministered to by the first group. From 1842 on, the Oblates preached parish missions in the United States, traveling from their Canadian base in Longueuil. From 1856 to 1862, under the leadership of Father Édouard Chevalier, the Oblates from Buffalo preached 108 parish missions or retreats, speaking to the immigrants of Irish or French-Canadian extraction.

Preaching as it was conducted in parish missions served as a model for all the other forms of ministry. Thus it was that the evangelization of the Amerindians of Canada was carried out according to this method. These were still a nomadic people. Consequently, the Oblates evangelized them in the places and the times of their general gatherings, giving them continuous instruction. The ministry to the lumber men in the bush camps also drew its inspiration from this method. In Texas, the parishes they accepted to take care of the Mexican people were considered as permanent missions and centers for the spread of evangelization. In a special way, the presence of Oblates at Marian shrines offered the possibility of going out to preach missions in the local area. At the same time, while receiving pilgrims they could prepare them for the preaching of missions, or deepen the results of missions already preached.

Throughout his life, the Founder insisted on the importance and effectiveness of parish missions. Father Alfred Yenveux dedicated 144 pages of his commentary on the Rule to recording the many things the Founder said on this matter [11].

b. The purpose and format of these missions

Eugene de Mazenod chose parish missions as the primary means to evangelize the most abandoned souls, those with whom ordinary ministry would have the least contact. His goal was to lead them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and to extend his kingdom in them, to lead them back to the Church and to Christian living by instructing them on the fundamental truths of the faith and its concrete demands. The missions entailed a rather long and intense period of preaching which led to a Christian transformation of morals [12]. Their object was not only to instruct, but to convert [13]. The sacrament of confession or reconciliation played a prominent role in this process [14].

The missions were duly prepared by the missionaries who, in order to do this, were obliged to devote a part of the time spent in community to study, to prayer and to the preparation of themes on which to preach.

The mission was announced beforehand in the parish to be evangelized. After a day of fasting and praying, the missionaries would generally walk to the designated place where the clergy and the people would welcome them in the context of a special ceremony. The mission was carried out by several missionaries – two at least – but generally four or five. It lasted from three to six weeks. The first days were spent in getting in touch with the local people through visiting families and inviting them to the exercises.

During the day, there were two intense periods for everyone in general. Early in the morning before people went to work in the fields, there was Mass with a catechetical teaching on the duties of Christians, the truths contained in the Creed, the commandments and the sacraments. In the evening, in a context of prayer, the major mission preaching was held; this is how it took place: recitation of the rosary, invocation of the Holy Spirit, sermon, penitential prayer, benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the notices regarding the mission. The sermon lasted about forty-five minutes and dealt with the love and fear of God, with salvation and grace, with sin and conversion, with the four last things (death, judgment, heaven and hell) and with Mary.

During the day, there were other instructions addressed to various groups. There were two or three days of retreat for children who promoted the mission in their own families. Special sermons were addressed to young people and women, especially on Sunday when they were free from their tasks. Even the men had some instructions adapted particularly to them.

In the course of the missions, special ceremonies offered people the opportunity to pray, to learn and to reflect. In addition to the opening of the mission and its conclusion when a cross was erected in a central location in the parish, there was a ceremony for the renewal of baptismal vows or the promulgation of the law of God, a ceremony dedicated to the dead with a procession to the graveyard, and the penitential procession.

Confession was the culminating event of the conversion process. It could entail several encounters with the priest. The missionaries prepared for confession with care and made themselves available to receive penitents. They were constantly invited to pray for the conversion of sinners. In the evening, the bells were rung for ten or fifteen minutes. At that moment, the whole village was invited to kneel and pray for the conversion of sinners.

The mission also had as its objective conversion of the community and the resolution of certain social moral problems. It is thus that, in the first years following the Revolution, tribunals were established to settle the problems of goods acquired illegally. Groups and gathering places were organized to overcome common vices such as men going to bars and young people going to dances. In the months that followed, one or two missionaries would return to the place to rekindle and reaffirm the renewal brought about by the mission.

In these parish missions, we can point out certain characteristics:

– Above all, they were characterized by the fact that the Word of God was given center stage and was proclaimed in a way adapted to the people so that they could grasp it; the local dialect was used for solid sermons which could have a lasting effect.

– The mission took place in a context of faith where people called upon the grace of God through prayer; personal and community conversion was stressed. The entire parish community was involved: from priests through to the laity, from children to various categories of people. There were a number of ways of getting close to the people; they ranged from family visitation to making themselves available for hearing confessions, to preaching every day and at special ceremonies.

– The witness of the missionaries was just as important as the words they spoke. Their lifestyle, their prayer, their availability were all an integral part of the mission. Their preaching about Christ and their witness was based on their own experience of Christ.


In 1840, twenty-five years after its foundation, the Congregation was characterized by its apostolic zeal, but it was experiencing difficulty in its growth. Among its members, it counted fifty-five professed, forty of whom were priests. The members lived in six missionary communities with the addition of two other communities responsible for the major seminaries of Marseilles and Ajaccio. The accepting of foreign missions in 1841 constituted a decisive turn of events for the Congregation. It was responsible for its geographic expansion, its increase in numbers and a deepening of its evangelizing charism. Twenty years later, at the death of the Founder in 1861, the Oblates would have over four hundred members; they would be found on various continents and their average age would be 35.7 years.

The option for foreign missions was not a decision made on impulse. It was grounded in the logic of the Founder’s vision and the aspirations of the Oblates. In the 1818 Rule, the first Rule, Eugene de Mazenod wrote: “They are called to be cooperators of the Savior, co-redeemers of the human race. And even though, because of their present small number and the more urgent needs of the people around them, they have to limit the scope of their zeal, for the time being, to the poor of our countryside and others, their ambition should, in its holy aspirations, embrace the vast expanse of the whole earth.” [15]

From the time of the original approbation from Rome in 1826, some of Eugene de Mazenod’s companions declared themselves ready to leave for the foreign missions – among whom were Fathers Domenico Albini, Hippolyte Guibert, Pascal Ricard and Jean-Joseph Touche. That is what allowed the Founder to write to Cardinal Pedicini, ponent of the cause for the approbation of the Rule: “Several members of the Congregation would willingly go and preach the Gospel to non-believers; when they will be more numerous it is possible that the superiors will send them to America, either to be of assistance to poor Catholics who are bereft of every spiritual benefit, or to win new members to the faith.” [16]In 1831, the Chapter presented a motion, adopted unanimously, in which a request was made of the Superior General “that some of our members should be sent to the foreign missions when a favorable opportunity presents itself” [17]. The following year, he made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a mission in Algeria. The favorable opportunity was to emerge ten years later when the new Bishop of Montreal came to Europe to find priests, and discouraged by the failure of his endeavors, passed through Marseilles on his way to Rome. That is when he met Bishop de Mazenod. When the Congregation was consulted, a favorable response was received and action was taken.

Four priests and two brothers set sail for Montreal on October 16, 1841. That same year a foundation in England would be undertaken by the sending of Father William Daly. Four years later, the Oblates left for Western Canada and the diocese of Saint Boniface and immediately launched into their ministry to the Amerindians. In a few years they spread out over the entire expanse of the prairies and the polar region in search of tribes which were still nomadic. In 1847, two new foundations were undertaken: one in the United States on the Pacific Coast and the other in Jaffna in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. In 1848, a mission was established in Algeria, a mission for which the Founder had been offering his services since 1832. In 1851, the failure of the mission in Algeria made it possible to accept a mission in Natal, a mission suggested by the Congregation of the Propaganda. In the meantime, from 1849 on, the Oblates had forged on to the Mexican border and three years later established themselves in Texas. A simple listing of the foundations is totally inadequate to reflect the daring that was called for here when we take into consideration the difficulties presented in travel and cultural integration as well as the tasks rapidly assumed in ever more extensive territories.

a. Foreign missions, a more radical understanding of the charism

In his letter missioning the first Oblates leaving for Montreal, the Founder revealed his fatherly concern and his intuition that they would be opening up a new field of apostolate and a door leading to the conquest to souls in other countries. He stressed the witness they were to give and their charity to each other.

He would soon become aware that the foreign missions were a further development of his original vision of evangelization, of the gift of self, of following the example of the Apostles, and of seeking out of the most abandoned souls [18].

In the foreign missions, evangelization was not only a question of reawakening a lapsed faith, but of communicating the faith in its most basic form. On January 8, 1847, he wrote to Father Pascal Ricard, sent to the diocese of Walla Walla in the United States: “I say nothing of how magnificent in the eyes of faith is the ministry you are going to fulfill. One must go back to the birth of Christianity to find anything comparable. It is an apostle with whom you are associated and the same marvels that were wrought by the first disciples of Jesus Christ will be renewed in our days by you, my dear children, whom Providence has chosen amongst so many others to announce the Good News to so many slaves of the demon who huddle in the darkness of idolatry and who know not God. This is truly the real apostolate which is renewed in our times. Let us thank the Lord for having been deemed worthy to be participants therein in so active a manner […].” [19]

Four years later, he would write to the same Father Ricard: “Foreign missions compared to our missions in Europe have a special character of a higher kind, because this is the true apostolate of announcing the Good News to nations which have not yet been called to knowledge of the true God and of his Son Jesus Christ […] This is the mission of the apostles: Euntes, docete omnes gentes! (Matthew 28:19); this teaching of the truth must penetrate to the most backward nations so that they may be regenerated in the waters of baptism. You are among those to whom Jesus Christ has addressed these words, giving you your mission as he gave their mission to the apostles who were sent to convert our fathers. From this point of view, which is a true one, there is nothing higher than your ministry […]” [20].

The foreign missions were not a carbon copy of those being preached in France to the people overlooked by ordinary pastoral ministry. The primary focus of the foreign missions was on non-Christians to make the initial proclamation of Christ to them and to convert them to Christ.

b. The fervor of first evangelization

Ever since he met Bishop Bettachini, the Founder cherished great hopes for the mission of Jaffna. He wrote to the superior of the Jaffna mission, in a letter tinged with some impatience: “You do not give me enough details on your way of life, where you live, and your ministry. When will you begin to win over the unbelievers? Are you only on your island as parish priests of old Christians? I had always thought the idea was to convert the pagans. That is what we are made for rather than anything else. There are enough bad Christians in Europe without our having to go and look for them so far away. Give me plenty of information on this, even if all there is to report so far is hopes.” [21]Two and one half years later, he would bring up the same topic again: “Be patient, and when you are able to launch an attack on idolatry, you will see that you will find less difficulty and more consolations in that work than in battling with those degenerate Christians who discourage you so much”. [22]

To Bishop Jean François Allard, Vicar Apostolic of Natal, he wrote: “There is a matter for extreme concern in the lack of success of your mission to the Africans. There are few examples of such sterility. What! not a single one of those poor infidels to whom you have been sent has opened his eyes to the truth you were bringing them! I have difficulty in consoling myself over it since you were not sent to the few heretics who inhabit your towns. It is to the Africans that you have been sent, it is their conversion that the Church expects from the holy ministry she has entrusted to you. It is, therefore, to the African that you must direct all your thoughts and efforts. All our missionaries must know this and take it to heart.” [23]

A few months later, he further developed the same theme in a letter to the same bishop: “I must admit, my dear Lord Bishop, that your letters still trouble me greatly. Up till now your mission is a failed mission. Frankly, one does not send a Vicar Apostolic and a fairly large number of missionaries for them to look after a few scattered settlements of old Catholics. A single missionary would have been enough to visit these Christians. It is clear that the Vicariate has been established in this area simply for the evangelization of the Africans. Now, we have already been there for several years and you are involved in something quite different. I think, to speak truthfully, that you are not fulfilling your mission and at the same time are doing all in your power to help the English colonists. […] Elsewhere I see the Vicars Apostolic putting their hands to the plough like any other missionary, in some territories taking charge of one mission station on their own and in others exploring the country themselves and founding mission stations here and there among the pagans to whom they are sent, to which they then send missionaries to continue their work. They learn the local languages in order to carry out the ministry which is their responsibility, however difficult this study may be. In short, they are at the head of everything that zeal for the salvation of the pagans can inspire. It seems to me that you are not acting in this way and perhaps one ought to attribute the failure of your mission so far to the methods you are using.” [24]

To Father Joseph Gérard who was seeking by every means possible to evangelize non-Christians, he lent his encouragement and his hope: “I take great interest in reading about what you are doing in your work for the conversion of those poor Africans who resist with a diabolic stubbornness all that your zeal prompts you to do to bring them to a knowledge of the true God and to their own sanctification. Their obstinacy is truly deplorable and must be the source of great sorrow for you. After so many years not a single conversion; it is awful! You must not lose heart because of it. The time will come when the merciful grace of God will produce a sort of explosion and your African Church will be formed. You ought perhaps to penetrate deeper among these savage tribes in order to bring this about. If you were to meet some who had not already been indoctrinated by heretics and who had had no contact with white men you would be likely to do better.Do not forget that you have been sent for the conquest of souls and remind Father Bompart of this also. You must not be unwilling to make an assault and you must pursue the enemy to his furthest hideouts. Victory is promised only to perseverance. Fortunately the reward is not measured solely by success and you need only to have worked to that end in order to achieve it.” [25]These texts all show that, as far as the Founder was concerned, the object of the foreign missions was above all the evangelization of non-Christians and that the proclamation of the Word lies at the heart of the Oblate charism.

c. Missions, a radical imitation of the Apostles

Furthermore, it is through the foreign missions themselves that one can reach the most abandoned souls. To the Fathers of the Red River, the Founder wrote: “You go out from my embrace to fly to the conquest of souls and, one can truly say, of the most abandoned souls, for is it possible to find souls that are more lost than those of these poor Indians whom God has called us to evangelize, a priceless privilege? I am well aware of the sacrifices, the privations, the torments that you have to pass through to obtain the results that you seek, and it is this that weighs so heavily on my heart, but what will your merit be before God if, faithful to your vocation, you become the instruments of his mercies towards these poor infidels whom you are rescuing from the grasp of the devil who had made them his prey, and if in this way you extend the Kingdom of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth!” [26]

It was in the context of the missions of first evangelization that the ideal of total gift of oneself as described in the Preface of the Rule found its highest expression. Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Augustin Maisonneuve: “The tiniest detail of what concerns you interests and touches me. How could I be insensitive to the sufferings that you are enduring to extend the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and to respond to your beautiful vocation, which has called you to the most meritorious mission that I know. There is no doubt that you are buying souls at the price of your own blood, you, the first apostles of those souls whom God wishes to save by means of your ministry.” [27]

On January 26, 1854, the Founder wrote the following to Father Joseph-Alexandre Ciamin, seriously ill in Jaffna: “If the good Lord calls you to himself, what does it matter whether it is through the arrows of the infidel, death inflicted by a torturer, or the little fire of sickness contracted in the exercise of the great ministry of preaching the gospel and calling souls to sanctity? The martyr who dies for charity will be rewarded no less than he who dies for the faith.” [28]

The Founder sees the Oblates as imitators of the Apostles through their option of choosing to follow Christ and through the ministry of the word to which they consecrated themselves. In the work of first evangelization, conformity to the Apostles seems even more radical to him because it is rooted in faith. [29] Expressing his admiration for what Father Henry Faraud had endured so as to conquer souls for Christ, he replies: “One has to go back to the first preaching of Saint Peter to find anything similar. An apostle like him, sent to proclaim the Good News to those savage nations, the first man to speak to them of God, to bring them to knowledge of Jesus the Savior, to show them the way that leads to salvation, to give them rebirth in the holy waters of baptism – one can only prostrate oneself before you, so privileged are you among your brothers in the Church of God by reason of the choice that he has made of you to work these miracles.” [30]

Two years later, he wrote again to Father Faraud: “I know that you are offering all your sufferings to God for the salvation of those poor lost souls whom you are leading by grace to the knowledge of the truth, to the love of Jesus Christ, and to eternal salvation. It is this that consoles me most of all when I consider that you have been chosen as the first apostles to proclaim the good news to nations which without you would have never known God… It is wonderful, it is magnificent to be able to apply in so real a way the beautiful words of the Master Elegi vos ut eatis(Jn 15,16).What a vocation!” [31]

On the same topic, he wrote to the missionaries of Ile-à-la-Crosse: “My dear children, I think of you as true apostles. You have been chosen by our divine Savior to be the first to go and announce the good news of salvation to the poor Indian people who, before you arrived among them, were wallowing under the power of the devil in the thickest darkness. You are doing among them what the first apostles of the Gospel did among the nations that were known in earlier times. This is a privilege that has been reserved for you, and it makes your merit, if you are well aware of the sublime character of your mission, like that of the first apostles, propagators of the teachings of Jesus Christ. For the love of God, be sure that you do not lose even the tiniest jewel in your crown!” [32]


Eugene de Mazenod did not allow himself to be restricted by preconceived plans. A man of grand desires and of healthy realism, he sought the will of God for his personal life and for the direction of his Congregation. He was not lacking in prudence, but it was his daring which characterized him even more. Within the clearly defined limits of proclaiming the Word of God in order to make Christ known through parish and foreign missions he knew how to face new challenges, which became an opportunity for him to broaden his field of apostolic action. He was receptive to new suggestions from bishops and fellow Oblates, and after an appropriate period of discernment, was able to give them his support.

When he founded the Aix community, his intention was to dedicate himself to missions in the Archdiocese of his origins. Two years later, when the Bishop of Digne offered him the shrine of Notre Dame du Laus, he prayed to God and consulted his fellow Oblates. His memoirs record: “Everyone was of this opinion and they asked me to take matters in hand seriously and swiftly to prepare the constitutions and rules that they would require” [33]. With the acceptance of this shrine, the Congregation experienced its first move to expand; it adopted a rule, a kind of religious life and it became open to ministry in Marian shrines. In the latter “we carry on a perpetual mission and in addition to that we spread devotion to the Virgin” [34], as the Founder wrote in his acts of visitation to the shrine of Notre-Dame de l’Osier, on July 16, 1835. The shrines provided ideal locations from which the Oblates were able to circulate throughout the region to preach parish missions from November to Easter. In the summer season, they received pilgrims there.

From the beginning, the forlorn state of the clergy both moved and irritated the Founder. In order to respond to this need in a positive way, he chose the priesthood and then founded a community of missionaries, who, according to the first Rule, was to collaborate in reforming the clergy by welcoming priests and preaching retreats for them. The staffing of seminaries was excluded from their purposes. But as a consequence of a positive opinion expressed by the 1824 Chapter and especially in the light of encouragement received from Rome in 1825-1826, he looked favorably upon the staffing of seminaries. He saw it as something closely related to the main end of the Congregation: the evangelization of the poor. The Founder would accept to take on the direction of five seminaries in France, one in the United States and would offer to take over two others. In the year following his death, however, there would remain only two seminaries under the direction of Oblates.

In their apostolate, the missionaries gave preference to the rural poor. That is how the Oblates began their apostolate in England, by ministering to small Catholic communities under the protection of some nobility, and from there they reached out to the Anglicans. But when in the aftermath of the potato famine of 1848-1849, hordes of Irish Catholics flocked to the industrial centers, the Founder encouraged the Oblates to take care of them in the cities. In this way, the focus shifted from ministry to the farming people in the rural areas to the immigrant workers concentrated in the urban areas. He then wrote to Father Casimir Aubert: “I had thought it was understood that you were to establish yourselves in the big city of Manchester, just as you were proposing to do at Liverpool. I am most concerned that you be able to establish yourselves in big cities where there is much good to do though you must be in a place of your own. [35]” In Canada, he encouraged the Oblates to establish themselves in Montreal, Quebec City and Bytown (the future city of Ottawa). What was of particular interest to him was not the place, but the people, especially those who were in need of evangelization.

Similarly, new challenges were offered through the assistance offered to the seasonal workers in the lumber camps of Canada and, later on, the care given to settler families who set off to colonize the land. It was the Founder’s wish to evangelize those most in need. All the more so, he encouraged the evangelization of the Amerindians in spite of the sacrifices, the travel and the loneliness this entailed. He did not want them to let any opportunity pass them by. When Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat was hesitating about accepting the foundation of Bytown he received this letter: “You certainly need to be enterprising if you are called to the conquest of souls. I was fuming at finding myself 2000 leagues from you and unable to make my voice reach you in less than two months… This was not something tentative to be tried. You had to go there with the firm resolve to stay, to take root there! How could you hesitate? What more beautiful mission than this! Ministry in the lumber camps, missions to the Indians, an establishment in a city which is wholly of the future. But it is the beautiful dream coming true and you would have let it escape! The thought makes me shiver! Take all your courage in your hands once more and establish yourself there properly. Urge each one to do his duty. It is only thus you will bring upon yourselves the blessing of God.” [36]

The Texas mission accepted in 1852 presented still other challenges. The Catholic population, deprived of priests and scattered over an immense territory, needed pastors. Consequently, the Oblates accepted parishes that would become centers of evangelization and bases from which to travel throughout the area, that is, permanent missions – as Father Augustin Gaudet called them on August 28, 1858. An historian described the situation in this way: “At that time, we had residences with parishes in Brownsville and Roma and, for a time, at Matamoros and Ciudad Victoria in Mexico. But one was more certain of finding an Oblate from Texas on horseback traveling the sandy plains, wearing a large sombrero and carrying with him a portable altar.” [37]

Eugene de Mazenod made definite apostolic choices to which he remained faithful in his leadership of the Congregation. His choices were not based on abstract considerations, but rather on a deep faith which took into account the contemporary needs of the Church, through the vision of Christ as his point of departure. It was his desire to collaborate in the salvation of the most abandoned souls by proclaiming the Word of God and through the witness of a consecrated life.

a. To respond to the needs of the Church

Experiencing exile, repatriation, then being a seminarian in the context of persecution and, finally, being a zealous priest working outside parish structures, Eugene was refined in his way of looking at society and the Church. As he wrote to his mother in 1809, he became a priest in order “to help this good Mother who is almost in desperation” [38], “this poor Church, so horribly abandoned, despised, trampled underfoot and which, nevertheless, has begotten all of us in Jesus Christ […] the Spouse of Jesus Christ, whom this Divine Master brought into existence by the shedding of his blood” [39]. It was in view of the needs of the Church that he would make the particular choice of his ministry and that he would found his Institute. But his view of the Church is a vision of the mystery of his own relationship with Christ, as well as the vision of the Church’s abandoned state caused by the ignorance of the masses and by the clergy’s lack of concern, a Church often subjected to persecution. It is of this Church that he has perceived the urgent needs. [40]

b. Like Christ, the Evangelizer, whose co-workers we are

To respond to the needs of the Church, he looks to the conduct of Christ. “How, indeed, did our Lord Jesus Christ proceed when he undertook to convert the world? He chose a number of apostles and disciples whom he himself trained in piety, and he filled them with his Spirit. These men he sent forth […] to conquer the world […].” [41]

The Founder grasped the role of the evangelizer from Christ. That is the specific nature of his charism as expressed in his motto: “He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor […] The Good News is proclaimed to the poor” (Luke 4:18; Matthew 11:5). It is in this particular manner that he wants to follow the route traced out by Christ. [42] Surveying the Congregation’s history in the light of the Rule, he wrote in his retreat notes of 1831: “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. Venit enim filius hominis quaerere et salvum facere quod perierat (Luke 19:10). 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. […] The means we use to achieve this end share its excellence. They are unquestionably the most perfect, since they are the very same ones used by our divine Savior, his Apostles, and Disciples, namely, the strict practice of the evangelical counsels, preaching and prayer, a happy blend of the active and contemplative life, of which Jesus Christ and the Apostles have given us the example. By this very fact, this is beyond any doubt the culminating point of the perfection which God has given us the grace to accept, and of which our Rules are only the development […].” [43]

Eugene de Mazenod was a man “passionately dedicated to Jesus Christ”, as Pope Paul VI characterized him on the occasion of his beatification. His Good Friday experience, probably in 1807, was the culmination of a conversion process and the beginning of a life totally dedicated to Him in a continuous progression toward Him.

It is through evangelization of the poor and the commitment to become saints that we become cooperators with Jesus Christ. In a difficult time of trial, he wrote to his community from Paris: “Our Lord Jesus Christ has left us the task of continuing the great work of the redemption of mankind. It is towards this unique end that all our efforts must tend; as long as we will not have spent our whole life and given all our blood to achieve this, we can say nothing; especially when as yet we have given only a few drops of sweat and a few spells of fatigue. 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, a small one, to be sure, but which will always be powerful as long as she is holy.” [44] In the first Rule, he had written: “They are called to be cooperators of the Savior, the co-redeemers of the human race”. [45]

c. Especially through the ministry of the Word

From Christ’s response to the needs of the Church was born the Founder’s vision and undertaking: the evangelization of the poor. It was through missions within the country for Christian groups of the most abandoned, and even more through the foreign missions for the non-Christians, that this evangelization was realized. Both forms communicate to people who Christ is and lead them to him. Proclamation of the Word of God is the preferred means for leading people to conversion. [46]

It is from meditation on the Scripture and from its assimilation in prayer and from the relationship with Christ that the proclamation of the Word has to flow. It is done in the name of the Church. “[The missions] are nothing other than the exercise of the power to teach bestowed by Jesus Christ on his Church; when one realizes that the priests who conduct these missions […] are sent by the bishops, who in turn are sent by Jesus Christ […] [these missions] are the legitimate preaching of the Word of God to instruct and convert souls […] they are the very preaching that Jesus Christ had prescribed for his apostles and which they brought about all over the universe.” [47]

Experience shows the effectiveness of the action of the Spirit in the direct proclamation of the Word: “You have realized, as we have, that the entire success of our endeavors is due to his grace and to his grace alone. Grace penetrates hearts while our words reach the ears. Herein lies the vast difference between our preaching and the sermons, from other aspects infinitely superior, of the great-occasion preachers. Miracles multiply at the sound of the missionary’s voice and the prodigious number of conversions is so striking that the poor instrument of these marvels is the first to be amazed: as he blesses God and rejoices, he humbles himself because of his own insignificance and nothingness. What an approval these miracles are! Have there ever been greater miracles than those which occur during missions, than those you have worked yourself?” [48]

That is why preaching should go hand in hand with confidence in the grace of God and prayer. The Founder wrote to Father Jean-Joseph Magnan conducting a mission at Brignoles: ” Come on! When you are sent in the name of the Lord, leave aside, once and for all, all these human considerations, the result of a poorly disguised pride and of a lack of trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, whose instruments you have indeed been for so many years. Should you deserve to have this divine grace withdrawn from your ministry, then you would have reason to dread the people’s judgment; as long as it abides with you, however, you will convert the people by your simple sermons which are unpretentious but inspired by the spirit of God, who does not operate by way of circuitous phrases and the flowery language of orators […].” [49]

Along with this confidence in God and prayer, proper preparation is still required. In his Acts of Visitation of England, the Founder wrote: “It is by preaching, accompanied with prayer, that you will introduce the light into men’s minds. The world is disposed to hear you, you need only speak in the proper manner and in this you cannot succeed but by study.” [50] He wrote to Father Marc de L’Hermite in accordance with the Rule: “I also urge everyone of you: do not neglect study. […] Do not pursue what is brilliant but what is solid, what can be understood by everyone in your audience, what is instructive and conducive to lasting conversions. This advice is meant not only for you but for everyone, for the greater good.” [51]

d. Through the witnessing of a consecrated life

The ministry of preaching should go hand in hand with the witness of an exemplary life. That is what he wrote in his memoirs: “I have said that my intention in dedicating myself to the ministry of the missions to work especially for the instruction and conversion of the most abandoned souls, was to follow the example of the Apostles in their life of devotedness and self-denial. I became convinced that, in order to obtain the same results from our preaching, we had to walk in their footsteps and as far as we could, practise the same virtues. Hence I considered choosing the evangelical counsels, to which they had been so faithful, as indispensable, lest our words be no more than what I have often noticed about the words of those who proclaim the same truths, namely sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. My consistent thought has always been that our little family should consecrate itself to God and to the service of the Church through the vows of religion […].” [52]

Only apostolic men can evangelize with success. The practice of the evangelical counsels, faithfulness to the Rule, community life in obedience and charity, the life of faith and prayer are essential for the one who wants to be a genuine missionary.

A Congregation receives its charism from the Holy Spirit; this charism is mediated to it through its founder. All those who share in this charism have their own impact on it, especially those persons who played important roles in the early days of the Institute. Because they lived close to the Founder and because of their influence on the Institute as a whole, Oblates like Fathers Henry Tempier, Casimir Aubert, Hippolyte Guibert, Domenico Albini and Joseph Gérard have made a contribution in shaping the charism.

An historian wrote: “In this evolution, we can distinguish four driving forces: practical living at the grassroots level, the leadership and direction of the Founder who was also Superior General, decisions of the General Chapter, and the codification of these main decisions in the Rule”. [53] During his lifetime, Eugene de Mazenod knew how to keep his hand on the helm of the Congregation, while being conscious that he was interpreting its spirit and purpose.

The Oblates would soldier on in the wake of the Founder, sometimes in a more inflexible manner than his. They shared his outlook and his involvement in parish missions and foreign missions, all of these efforts directed toward evangelization of the most poor and insignificant. This is well illustrated by the studies made in preparation for the congress on evangelization. [54] The spread of the Oblates to the various continents, the diversity of contexts, and an increase in personnel were at the basis of the accepting of new ministries and other responsibilities to answer new challenges. However, the orientation towards the evangelization of the poor has remained unchanged and the new initiatives drew their inspiration from the experience of parish missions. It can be said that it was evangelization of the poor through the means of the proclamation of the word that was the common priority of the Oblates who were contemporaries of the Founder.

In this regard, the response of the Oblates of France was characteristic. [55] Among them there was a “common inclination” in favor of home and foreign missions. Even if he was not a skillful preacher, Father Tempier was an ardent defender of the missions and when he was in charge, he almost exaggerated in the demands he made on the priests. The twenty-four houses founded in France under the direction of the Founder were dedicated to mission work. Marian shrines accepted at this time were also involved in this kind of preaching. The common sentiment among the Oblates in this regard ran so deep that it was only with hesitation that secondary ministries were accepted. That is how it happened that when Father Toussaint Dassy was asked by the Founder to do some Lenten preaching in order to make the Congregation known in new dioceses, he replied by expressing his preference for parish missions. Parish ministry was not easily accepted. Father Melchior Burfin obtained Father Tempier’s support in his request to the Founder to release his community from parish obligations in the diocese of Limoges. Although formation ministry gradually became one of the ends of the Congregation, it was not sought after by men as holy as Fathers Albini and Guibert. In 1840, when he was superior of the seminary in Ajaccio, Father Albini wrote to the Founder: “I was happy to be able to leave aside my usual duties to take up once again a ministry which is only a memory for me. I felt real joy in being able to return to our apostolate, and even if my delicate health prevented me from plunging into the work with all the ardor I wished, I would ask you a thousand times to send me back to the poor that Jesus Christ has given us to evangelize.” [56] Twenty years later, Father Antoine Andric, a professor in the same seminary of Ajaccio wrote to Father Tempier: “The missions had always been the object of my desires […]” [57] It was because of the general preference for the preaching of missions that youth apostolate, even if it was undertaken in view of evangelizing the poor, fell into disuse among the Oblates, while the Founder encouraged other institutes to take charge of this work. [58]

It was in the same spirit that new challenges were faced in England as they arose in different situations. [59] Initially it was the support received from some Catholic nobles which enabled the Oblates to take care of small rural Catholic communities and to turn their attention to the conversion of the Anglicans. With the arrival of large numbers of Irish, the Oblates settled down in the cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. Their apostolate targeted poor needy immigrants who were open to their pastoral care. The Founder’s preference was for centers from which the Oblates could reach out to an entire city rather than parishes, but concrete needs led him to accept the second, less desirable solution. This shows us his adaptability in realizing his vision – as long as Christ was proclaimed to the poor.

In Sri Lanka, the work of evangelization did not develop according to the expectations of Eugene de Mazenod in spite of the quality of the men he had sent. [60] It was the Founder’s wish to evangelize and bring the Hindus and the Buddhists to conversion, and he expressed his impatience when he raised this point again with Father Étienne Semeria and other Oblates working on the island. [61] He did not let the opportunity escape to express his joy when Father Constant Chouvanel obtained some results with the Buddhists. [62] Perhaps he was aware of the difficulty of conversions in an Asian context. There, through parish missions, the Oblates obtained more success in reorganizing the Christian communities.

The Founder showed his satisfaction with the response of the Oblates in Canada in the evangelization of the poor. [63] Parish missions were organized with success among French speaking Catholics, and the same approach was adopted in the lumber camp ministry. Evangelization of the still-nomadic Amerindians moved forward rapidly with success and heroism, to the extent that it drew the deep and lasting admiration of the Bishop of Marseilles: “A heavenly mission it is and we can hardly thank the Lord enough for having confided it to us.” [64] A few years later, he wrote to this same priest: “It must be admitted that this mission to the Indians of Hudson Bay is more than purely natural strength can endure. Ceaseless miraculous aid is necessary if a man is not to succumb in it.” [65]

In the Canadian West the mission experienced perhaps even greater difficulties from the beginning, but its development was even more typical. The missions of the Canadian North rapidly became the symbol of missionary heroism. Father Henry Grollier, who died from exhaustion at thirty-eight years of age while seeking out a group of Amerindians and Inuit, exclaimed: “The glory of God has been the only motivating factor for my actions during my life, if it is for the greater glory of God that I should depart from this earth, I do so gladly.” His companion, Father Jean Séguin added: “The glory of God and the salvation of souls was the exclusive goal of his life and it was also the subject of his ravings when he was delirious.” [66] Bishop Alexandre Taché wrote to his mother: “What a consolation it is, dear Mother, to see God loved and served in these places where ten years ago his supreme existence was, so to speak, unknown… How can you ever suppose that I would not be happy to be a missionary.” [67] The missionaries did not only seek to evangelize by making the Lord known, they built schools, and facilitated contacts between the Amerindians and the European colonists. But the salvation of souls through evangelization was the goal for which they would risk anything. Bishop Taché wrote to one of his confreres: “This mission is not very imposing as far as the number of Indians involved, but even if there was only one, was not his soul bought at the price of all the blood of our Savior, and can the missionary, then, hesitate to come to their aid.” [68]

It was through the preaching of parish missions, using Canada as a base, that the Oblates established contacts in the United States. The first permanent foundation in Oregon in 1848 was with the Amerindians. The founding of the Texas mission followed shortly after. Special attention was paid to the Spanish speaking population, by carrying out an itinerant ministry which reached right to the Mexican border. In a very typical decision, the Oblates withdrew from the two dioceses in Oregon because the bishops did not acknowledge that the missionaries were religious. In the same manner, they withdrew from Saint Mary’s College when it ceased to be a seminary. [69]



In the course of the century which followed the Founder’s death, the Congregation experienced a numerical increase, going out to many countries and taking on a variety of ministries. Evangelization of the poor remained the apostolic ideal in all its various commitments. The study of this topic under the aspects of General Chapters, Superiors General and the Constitutions and Rules has been started, but its concrete development has not yet been studied even though documentation is not lacking on this theme. It is enough to think of the reports from the provinces presented for each General Chapter and to the reports published in Missions, the official publication of the General Administration.

a. General Chapters

The main preoccupation of the Chapters that were held during this century was to evaluate the observance of the Constitutions and Rules, making their contribution to evangelization in this way. [70] The preaching of missions as a primary end of the Congregation emerged on a regular basis to such an extent that the Chapter of 1947 asked that houses of mission preachers be established even in mission countries. The priority given to parish missions was at the basis and sometimes the cause of controversy regarding parishes and institutions of learning. The foreign missions were always held in high esteem and encouraged. As far as defining who the poor were, several Chapters (1904, 1920, 1926, 1932) limited themselves to the working class. The Chapter of 1947 expressed itself in a very significant way: “The only genuine Oblate is the one who is truly striving to win for Christ the masses who are withdrawing from him. The Chapter also requested that our apostolate should increasingly seek the support of the laity in the form of Catholic Action.” [71]

b. The Superiors General

The Superiors General have supported parish missions in Christian countries, insisting on holiness of life as the source of apostolic fruitfulness, and on the competence of the missionary. [72]

Father Joseph Fabre sought to lead the Congregation by remaining as faithful as possible to the Rule: “a family treasure, its precious wealth”. From the very beginning of his mandate in 1862, he reminded his Oblate confreres: “To what are we called, dear Brothers? To become saints, in order to more effectively work for the sanctification of the most abandoned souls. That is our vocation, let us not lose sight of it and from the very outset apply ourselves to achieving a thorough understanding of it.” [73] Commenting on the first article of the Rule, he wrote: “There you have the objective our venerated Father gave us. We are to evangelize the poor, the most abandoned souls, and to succeed in this lofty calling we must imitate the virtues of which our Divine Master has offered us such a wonderful example. To be missionaries of the poor and to live the religious life, such is the vocation of the genuine Oblate of Mary Immaculate, such is your vocation, such is ours.” [74]

Father Louis Soullier wrote a long circular letter entitled: “The Preaching of the Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate according to Leo XIII and the Rules of the Institute”. In fifty-one pages, he dealt with the regard in which preaching was held, the need for it, its dignity and fruitfulness, the learning and preparation it demanded, and its distinguishing features. In an appendix, we find the circular letter on preaching, published by the Congregation of Bishops and Religious at the command of Pope Leo XIII.

Father Soullier wrote: “If the aspect that characterizes our apostolate […] is mission, our special vocation is that of being missionary; but what especially constitutes being a missionary is preaching.” He continued in the style of his day: “When God created an apostle, he put a cross in his hand and told him to show forth this cross and preach it. But beforehand, he planted that cross in his heart and according to how firmly planted this cross remains in the heart of the apostle, the cross he holds in his hand will win many or few victories.” The themes developed are the basic themes of Christian life centered on Christ so as to convert souls by the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. He wrote: “To make known and loved Jesus Christ, so little known by our decadent Christians, to extend his kingdom by the observance of his law, to stamp out sin and thus overturn the devil’s rule, to put to flight every kind of crime, to cause to be held in high regard and to practice all virtues, there, o Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, lies your lofty endeavor.” [75]

Bolstered by the decisions taken by the Chapter at which he was elected, Father Cassian Augier referred Oblates back to the letter of his predecessor on preaching and added this: “Our priests should draw their inspiration from these teachings.” [76] A few years later, after the 1904 Chapter, he stated: “Even though the missions are the primary and principal end of the Institution, nevertheless, the apostolate to the workers in all the forms approved by the Holy See and the Episcopate […] is not only in harmony with the end of the Institute, but must also be vigorously encouraged in our times.” [77]

Father Theodore Labouré affirmed that the mission is “the work, or rather ministry par excellence of our beloved Congregation”, and Father Leo Deschâtelets declared: “First and foremost among us, this is what constitutes being a missionary”. The development experienced in western countries led Father Hilaire Balmès to accept dechristianized or quasi-pagan parishes. Father Deschâtelets invited the capitulants of the 1953 Chapter to foster an apostolate which would oppose Communism; he invited the capitulants of the 1959 Chapter to promote the apostolate which targeted the working class. He reminded the capitulants of the 1972 Chapter that “the problem of justice in the world forms the backdrop for our entire apostolate of evangelization. As missionaries to the poor we are among those most involved in the struggle for peace in the world by achieving justice in every area.” [78]

In the 1966 Chapter, Father Deschâtelets raised the question of the ends and the means of our mission. “The question is asked and comes from several quarters and one would be led to believe that it received some favorable responses. That could be one of the most basic causes of the weakness of our present recruiting policy. Since we do not have a clear idea of who we are and why we exist in the Church, the Congregation is unable to project a clear image of who she is to those who might be considering joining us.” [79] The response to this can be found in the new Constitutions and Rules of 1966.

The Superiors General played a role with regard to the foreign missions by accepting new fields of endeavor and by the conferring of first obediences. Father Fabre, the immediate successor to the Founder, strove to develop the missions we already had. He accepted two new missions: the mission of Colombo, something the Founder already wished to accept, and that of Windhoek, in the present Namibia, in order to help develop the implantation of the Congregation in Germany. Father Soullier was the first to visit the mission territories and Father Auguste Lavillardière made religious authority distinct from ecclesiastical authority. Bishop Augustin Dontenwill, a former British Columbia missionary, accepted the missions of Pilcomayo and the Belgian Congo. On the subject of missionary work, he wrote that his role was to “sustain the faith among people converted to the faith, to create and support works of every kind to ensure their continued existence and the fervor of their supernatural life and always continue to move forward in the evangelization of peoples still caught in unbelief”. [80] Father Théodore Labouré reorganized the structure of the missions to the Amerindians and did the groundwork for the transfer of certain areas to the diocesan clergy of Sri Lanka.

General administrations were generally reticent about accepting new territories so as to be able to develop the missions already confided to us, and thus respond to the continued demand for additional personnel coming from our Vicars Apostolic. They perhaps did not become aware of the significant needs which existed in territories entrusted to others. Father Deschâtelets was bolder. In spite of the 1947 Chapter’s admonition to strengthen only the missions we already had, he knew how to respond to the needs of the Church. Due to the growth in vocations, he was able to accept at least twenty-eight new foundations.

In the process of development of the missionary commitments during the century which followed the death of the Founder, I think I can find the following major tendencies: [81]

– The ministry of parish missions was maintained in several provinces especially in Europe and in Canada. Other provinces, like that of Argentina, were founded with this in mind. [82]

– New missionary territories such as Namibia, Zaïre, Laos, Cameroon, Pilcomayo, etc., were accepted as areas of first evangelization.

– Provinces were founded to serve the spiritual needs of immigrant Christians: Saint Mary’s in Canada and the Central Province of the United States for immigrants of German extraction; Assumption Province in Canada and the vice-province of France-Benelux for Polish immigrants, Saint John the Baptist Province in the United States for Franco-Americans.

– Some provinces were established to assist the working class people of Chile and Bolivia.

– In the old established missions, a stronger Oblate presence assured greater stability and enabled them to organize parishes and schools.

– Practically everywhere, but especially in English-speaking provinces, parishes were accepted which then became their main ministry. However, the parishes varied widely in nature.


During the first half of the decade of the 60’s, the Second Vatican Council was held (1962-1965). It was an event which generated great hope, active communion, reflection and theological discernment. Sign of a turning point in the Church, it allowed her to better understand her nature and her mission. For some it seemed that everything in the Church was starting again from the beginning. The conciliar decisions, communicated in the respective documents, established the points of reference for the action and for the teaching of the hierarchy, and for the entire movement of renewal which followed, including renewal of religious life.

The Council occurred at the time of the emergence of an increasingly radical socio-cultural turning point: the end of the colonial era and the emergence of new nations, the explosion in the means of mass communication, technological development and growing economic division among peoples, a growing pluralism in cultures, religions, opinions, and immigration from the southern hemisphere to the north. It is not easy to distinguish the impact of the Council from that of these other changes.

Religious life itself was profoundly influenced by this conciliar thrust and by the socio-cultural changes. After the postwar rise in vocations, we witnessed a decline in vocations and a rise in the number of those leaving. The challenge of the Council and the renewal it unleashed was received at varying levels and paces.

It was in this climate of effervescence, less than three months after the close of the Council, that the General Chapter took place (January 25-March 23). Using the language and outlook of the Council, it gave the Congregation a completely new text of the Constitutions. In the perspective of our topic here, it seems to me that the most significant elements in the text of the 1966 Constitutions are the following:

a) A clear distinction is made between the end and the means, between the evangelization of the poor (C 1, 3) and the means to carry it out (R 20-36). Parish missions are presented as a means of evangelizing (R 21-23). [83]

b) Among the various means available, they recall the need for discernment regarding present commitments and regarding the priorities to be adopted so as to achieve the goal. It was a precondition for renewal in the area of pastoral activity. This aspect would be put forward by the succeeding General Administrations, the first of which was that of Father Deschâtelets. [84]

c) Activities related to evangelizing are seen in the light of the charism as a gift from the Holy Spirit, as a sharing in the mystery of Christ and as service of the Church. The Founder’s Preface is the privileged expression of this. In this light, religious life and the apostolic life are complementary elements. The Oblate is presented as the apostolic man. The charism, as a living reality, needs the institution which, at the same time, it goes beyond; it must, then, adjust to its evolution.

d) The Rule reveals the missionary character of the Congregation while drawing its inspiration from the missionary decree Ad Gentes, especially paragraph 6 which also interprets our experience. Article 3 of the Constitutions is very characteristic: “The entire Congregation is missionary in character and its principal aim is to help those souls who are most in need. It will proclaim to all “who Christ is” by the witness of its life as well as by the ministry of the Word. This it will do to awaken or to re-awaken the faith, and to establish on that faith a living Church radiating charity throughout the world. Thus it advances toward its ultimate fulfillment. That is why the Congregation brings the message of the Gospel to those who have not yet received it, and where the Church is already established, to those regions and human groups further removed from its influence […].” [85] The words which most often recur in this text are mission and missionary. [86]

e) The option for the poor is confirmed and stressed. It recurs frequently in the text. [87] It is through a faith perspective that we can focus on the socio-economic situation of the poor. [88]

f) The text makes adequate reference to the ministry of the word, [89] but at the same time the commentaries put it in context. It is seen in relation to human words and their credibility rather than in its relationship to the Word of God. The insistence is on the necessity of a word which is lived rather than proclaimed. The link between evangelization and the word communicated is rather eclipsed. [90]


The new 1966 Constitutions and Rules ad experimentum, traced the path for the Congregation to follow, especially on the points indicated above. The sociological survey prepared for the 1972 Chapter permitted a review on how these Constitutions and Rules had been perceived and lived by Oblates. [91] The survey revealed the following:

– 90% of the Oblates indicate that to be a genuine missionary the Oblate must occupy himself, above all, with the proclamation of the Good News (Q 145).

– 97% think that to preach the Gospel to the poor is an element which reveals the missionary action of the Congregation (Q 150).

– 61% consider that to work for the conversion of non-Christians is an element which shows forth the missionary action of the Congregation (Q 153).

– 69% think that bringing back those who are the furthest removed from Christ manifests the missionary action of the Congregation (Q 156).

– 45% maintained that the prophetic decrying of flagrant injustices is an integral part of evangelization (Q 147).

The evangelization of the poor thus remains a value clearly present in the consciousness of the Oblates even during a period of overall revision. The only value the Oblates considered more important was fraternal charity.

It was this which was confirmed once again by the congress on the Oblate charism in 1976. [92] Evangelization is one of the characteristic elements and recognized by all as essential. Consequently, what one is dealing with here is one of the four basic elements to be considered in the evaluation and the renewal of the life and works of the Congregation. These elements are: Christ, evangelization, the poor and community. Among other things, what is being affirmed is this: “Evangelization is our basic mission […] Evangelization is done by means of our speech, our actions, and our life […]. For us Oblates, to proclaim clearly who Christ is has been and remains a priority.” [93]

Next in line to the congress on the charism, we have to consider the 1982 congress on evangelization to which we have often referred in this article. [94] The studies presented were discussed in general assembly. A committee made a synthesis of the discussions [95] according to the five approaches that had been established: the vision and practice of the Founder, the response of the Oblates to the vision and practice of the Founder, evangelization according to the General Chapters and the Superiors General, evangelization according to our Constitutions and Rules and Oblate evangelization today.

The judgment on the evangelization of today is positive: “1. Our best Oblate tradition of evangelization is very much alive and we must continue it. The goal to be attained is the credible proclamation of Christ, Savior and Liberator, and that as proclaimed to the poor, that is, to those who are far removed from Him and also against the idols of the western world […] 2. We, the Oblates, also need to be evangelized […] 3. Our mission is not determined by ideology or by partisan politics, but rather by the will and the mission of the Lord […] 6. We must carefully listen to Christ and become familiar with his life and his charity like the Founder did. We must preach the same message as Christ preached and communicate the same assurance. We must listen carefully to the world as well […]7. We cannot ignore the negative side of our world; but it is the positive side in our world which offers us the challenge: God loves the world as it is, He wants to save it, and that is why he calls us and sends us.” [96]

That same year, another congress took place in Ottawa from August 9 – 20. Its theme was Oblates and evangelization in secularized societies. [97] It was meant to be complementary to the congress held in Rome and to posit some answers to contemporary problems. The congress participants were three times as numerous as those at the congress in Rome and the conference speakers were chosen from the great specialists in today’s world, but the conclusions were rather meager. In the final synthesis which dealt with the points of view involved, the elements brought to the fore were the positive aspects of secularization, the global injustice of the world economic system, the unity that exists between human history and the history of salvation, and finally the need for inculturation. From the practical point of view, “the first endeavor of evangelization is for we, ourselves, to listen to the Good News. In this way, we preserve a missionary outlook and a perspective of evangelization through conversion to Christ, a renewed and personal conversion, in a life of service and dialogue, forged together by prayer and action. Evangelization takes place in and by a community of believers open to the Spirit and celebrating the living God. Each member of the Christian community is called to evangelize […]. We promote the full responsibility of the laity and we develop small ecclesial communities […]. We should explore new avenues in catechetics, especially for youth and the family. As an absolute priority we go to the poor, to those who seek liberation and who are struggling against oppressive social structures.” [98]

Three months earlier at the shrine of Notre-Dame du Cap, Father Fernand Jetté had delivered a speech on evangelization of the secularized world – a conference that is his finest reflection on the proclamation of Jesus Christ by the Oblates. [99]


The Superior General and the members of his council regularly have contact with all the members of the Congregation and are in a privileged position to be able to observe of what is being done in the field of evangelization and the thinking surrounding it. Communiqué, their only official publication, deals with this on a regular basis. [100]

Similarly, the reports of the Superiors General to the various General Chapters present a studied and pertinent review of the missionary trends in the Congregation. In 1980, Father Jetté pointed out four basic trends:

– option for the poor;

– the search for commitments that were more specifically Oblate;

– a consistent interest in missions ad Gentes;

– fostering the role of Christian laity. [101]

With regard to missionary action, Father Jetté brought to the attention of the 1986 Chapter a few particular points concerning the activities, the new foundations and the criteria upon which action was taken. With reference to activities, he noted among other things:

“1. In some Provinces, a serious effort is being made to take up again the ministry of preaching. The response of the people has surpassed all expectations.

2. The dimension of ‘social justice’ is slowly but nevertheless really becoming an integral part of our missionary commitment […]

3. There is a greater openness to interprovincial cooperation in view of maintaining or developing certain important Oblate works [..]

4. Meetings, studies and research on an interprovincial level that are specialized and most useful for specific ministries […]

5. [..] gradually withdrawing from parishes that are rather bourgeois […]

6. the effort […] to give the laity a greater part in the Church’s life and to associate them still more with our ministry.” [102]

As for new foundations, he admitted that “in the years that lie ahead, [the Congregation], after serious evaluation, will have to reduce the number of its works and to keep, strengthen and develop those which are more in line with its missionary charism and, at the same time, take care to reserve some forces for new commitments in response to new challenges […]” [103]

With regard to our action, he highlighted two criteria regarding the nature of Oblate ministries: “To proclaim the Gospel of God by our behavior, our work and our word – this we find in articles 2 and 7 of our Constitutions; and secondly, to be very flexible, free and daring in the choice of other ministries, doing so ‘according to the need for salvation’ of the world of the poor, wherever we find ourselves called to serve. This is illustrated by articles 8 and 9.” [104]

In his report to the Chapter of 1992, Father Marcello Zago, who from 1966 on had closely followed the missionary evolution of the Congregation, dedicated a considerable amount of time to the Oblate mission, measuring up the reality of our life with the ideal of the new Constitutions and Rules.

After having recalled the unity between life and action, he took up once more the theme of the sensitivity of missionaries to people’s need for salvation as the driving force for zeal and renewal, and as the necessary condition for a valid choice of priorities. The option of the poor is growing. “Teaching who Christ is has been the major scope of our commitment throughout our history since our foundation. […] The proclamation of the Gospel, however, still remains the principal aim of our mission and therefore needs to be highlighted.” [105] After taking a look at parochial ministry, the work in which most Oblates are engaged, but in a great variety of contexts, he examines some ministries related to the explicit proclamation of the Word of God: parish missions that are being rediscovered in new contexts, retreat houses, shrines and social communications. He evaluates how the three demands of all missionary activity are being carried out, that is, promotion of justice, dialogue and inculturation.

The fostering of lay involvement in all its forms is understood in the light of its relationship to the Church and in its sharing in the Oblate charism. He concludes by stressing five criteria for evaluation and for effectiveness:

“a) The mission characterizes us as Oblates. The new foundations both internal and external are a sign thereof. This missionary mentality and openness must be characteristic of all members, especially of growing Provinces with an abundance of vocations.

b) Problems caused by a shortage of personnel will increase in the coming years, especially in the northern hemisphere. Increasingly, choices will have to be made based on a healthy realism which takes account of available personnel and favors collaboration.

c) We must not, however, become closed in on ourselves. We must maintain and increase our daring in choosing new challenges which respond to the missionary needs both where we are already present and in other countries.

d) Evangelizing the poor must increasingly become characteristic of our apostolate. Proclamation of the Word must not weaken dialogue as a method and as a specific activity, nor can we overlook the integrality of its dimensions, like commitment to justice.

e) An ever greater number of laity are showing interest in the Oblate charism. I believe the time has come to coordinate and animate the lay movement inspired by the Oblate charism, not merely by gathering information but by facilitating a common Oblate formation for lay people.” [106]


Decisions taken by Chapters express the perception the capitulants, at a specific moment of the Congregation’s history, and of the challenges to be faced, together with the appropriate responses. They have had an impact on the life of the Institute in virtue of the representative quality and authority of the Chapter. The Chapters of 1972 and 1992 showed their creativity in the position they took with regard to the question of missions. [107] Those of 1966 and 1980 concentrated on the text of the Constitutions and Rules and deserve separate treatment.

The 1972 Chapter produced the document Missionary Outlook, a text which stirred up debate and enthusiasm as well as opposition. Following the example of the Founder who set himself “to serve the most abandoned”, [108] the capitulants turned their gaze upon the world to uncover the needs of salvation of humanity (nos. 1-8). They recalled some characteristics of Oblate identity: consecrated for mission, in apostolic communities with missionary priorities (nos. 9-13). Three lines of action are proposed: option for the poor, solidarity with the people of our time and the will to be creative (nos. 14-17).

The issue in question is evangelization in the context of option for the poor. “We will never forget that the worst form of poverty, as our Asian brothers have reminded us, is not to know Christ. And that today two-thirds of the world’s population still awaits first proclamation of the Good News of Salvation. We will attempt to proclaim the Gospel to those who have yet to hear it for the first time, as well as to those who once lived by the Gospel but no longer feel the need for Christ’s presence in their lives (no. 15b).” Basing themselves on Constitution 3 of 1966, the commitment of explicit proclamation of the Gospel in the context of the overall mission of the Congregation is evoked. The other aspects of missionary activity such as those of development and liberation are treated in a more general way without arranging them in an order of importance or of priority in practice.

The 1974 Chapter addressed a letter to the Oblates in which they affirmed their own faith in the living Christ, the apostolic religious life and in community life. By doing this, they put the accent on being rather than doing, in the knowledge that the latter depends on the former. It was a response to the crisis caused by the resignation of the Superior General.

The 1986 Chapter concentrated on the missionary challenges in today’s world. In the introduction of the document it issued, it recalls the priority of our missionary life: “Like our Founder, we are convinced that the first need of all people is ‘to know who Jesus Christ is’. Primarily, our mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ and his kingdom both to those who do not know him and those who have lost sight of the hope which he brings us; in this way to lead them to the fullness of life.” [109] In today’s world, our work of evangelization should call attention to six challenges: the poor and justice, secularization, inculturation, collaboration with the laity, our relationship to the Church, and community life. All of that calls for adequate formation. The 1986 Chapter raises, several times in different contexts, the explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ. [110] This proclamation is seen as a characteristic aspect of our charism: “In the Church we have a special service to render: ‘to make Christ and his kingdom known to the most abandoned’.” [111] That is one of the things that motivates the recruiting of Oblate vocations. [112] It determines Oblate formation itself. [113] Insertion among the poor, inculturation, collaboration with the laity, and community life are seen in function of a more credible and effective proclamation. It is “by emphasizing the re-evangelization of Christians who are indifferent or separated from the Church” [114] that these same ministries such as parish ministries should be characterized.

We can say that evangelization, in as much as it is a proclamation which exercises a transforming influence over people and society, is considered as having a central role in the overall mission of the Oblates.

Through its document Witnessing as Apostolic Community, the 1992 Chapter invites everyone to “re-read our main Oblate sources from the vantage point of the quality of our life in view of improving our testimony at the core of today’s world”. [115] After having described humanity’s need of salvation, it stresses the link between community and evangelization: “Therefore, we choose community as a way whereby we are continuously evangelized and can be witnesses of the Good News in this graced moment of today’s world. […] We can be effective evangelizers only to the extent that our compassion is collective, that we give ourselves to the world not as a coalition of free-lance ministers, but as a united missionary corps. To seek to achieve quality in our community life and in our being, with each other as Oblates, first of all, as well as with all persons of good will: that is the first task of our evangelizing activity.” [116] By becoming authentic communities animated by the Spirit, “we can issue an invitation to communion, a sign of the new world born of the Resurrection”. [117] “As we become ‘one heart and soul’ (Acts 4:32), our communities will become more and more apostolic; by the quality of the witness they give, they will “bear fruit that lasts” (John 15:16).” [118] The theme of preaching is linked to vocation, [119] and to Mary who invites us “to love the people to whom we are sent to proclaim the Good News”. [120]

It can be said that the Chapters from 1966 to 1992 broadened the concept of mission by acknowledging the central role played by the proclamation of Jesus Christ to the poor. Mission is not concerned solely with apostolic activity, but with the entire personal and communitarian life of the Oblate, his being and not merely his activity. It exercises an influence over all aspects of the charism such as spirituality, community and structures. It should transform the lives of the people and the societies to which they are sent. That is why the commitment to justice, dialogue and inculturation constitute essential elements of the mission to evangelize. Even when they stress the aspect of being prophetic in denouncing negative elements, they still gaze with sympathy on the people and cultures they are addressing. Christ lies at the heart of the message which is transmitted and, even more, he is the foundation of personal and community life.


The 1982 Constitutions and Rules present the Oblate charism such as it is perceived and set forth by today’s Oblates. Starting with the 1966 Rule and a comprehensive vision which goes beyond that of the Founder’s Rule, their mode of expression takes into consideration the Church’s contemporary theological awareness as well as that which the Oblates perceive. Following the many consultations conducted with all the members of the Congregation, the 1980 Chapter revised, debated and approved every portion of the Constitutions and Rules. The competent authority of the Church approved the whole text in 1982, after requesting a few modifications. The first ten articles present the various aspects of the mission of the Congregation. [121] In the Oblate mission, the announcement-proclamation is constantly present. Certain articles are more explicit and successfully reveal the continuity with the Founder and the centrality of evangelization. [122] The additional insights of the 1966 Rule such as the distinction between the objective and the ministries are taken up again. The text stresses the role of Christ, not only as the center of evangelization, but in addition to this as its protagonist. That is how our cooperation with Christ, so dear to the heart of the Founder, is shown under a new light. To cooperate with Him, one must share his view of humanity and his love for it. New attitudes toward persons, cultures and the world, new approaches to things like respect, dialogue, prophetism as well as the new aspects of evangelization such as the commitment to justice, inculturation, collaboration with others, especially with the laity find their origins in this kind of a vision of Christ and his Kingdom. The implementation of all of this is rooted and in some way flows from our association and identification with Him.

Option for the poor is linked to the proclamation of Christ, both to stir up or to awaken people to a new world born of the resurrection. Numbers 5 and 7 of the Constitutions deserve to be quoted in full because of their precision of expression. Rule 2 [R 7b in CCRR 2000] draws these practical conclusions: “Preaching missions at home and sending missionaries abroad have been traditionally central to our apostolate. There is no ministry, however, which is foreign to us, provided we never lose sight of the Congregation’s primary purpose: to evangelize the most abandoned.” Consequently, each province must establish its priorities and regularly evaluate its apostolic commitments. [123]


In the entire history of the Congregation, the ideal of evangelization of the poor as the goal of its mission has remained much alive in the spirit and the Rule of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It was implemented in different situations and diverse ministries. Evangelization of the poor was contained in the body of the charism as flowing directly from the ongoing experience of Christ. It is linked to the quality of the apostolic community and of the apostolic man and therefore to witnessing.

In considering the evolution which evangelization has undergone in the way in which it has been perceived and put into practice from the Founder’s time until today, some significant trends are noticeable. There has been a transition from:

– an evangelization focused, even in a quantitative manner, on the explicit proclamation of the Word through parish and foreign missions, to a mission to evangelize through a wide variety of activities and ministries;

– from an evangelization centered above all on religion and morality to a comprehensive evangelization which should enlighten and transform all aspects of personal, collective and cultural life; [124]

– from an objective teaching-style evangelization to an evangelization adapted to the personal journey of the listeners to respond to their expectations. The Founder asked us to “teach who Christ is”, the main article in the new Constitutions speaks of “making Christ known”;

– from an explicit preaching to sinners deprived of salvation to an evangelization which speaks to people who, while they are in need of salvation, are loved by God, among whom God is already at work and through contact with whom the missionary can be enriched;

– from an announcement made by a group of priests to an evangelization which is the work of the whole Church;

– from a presentation concentrating on the conversion of souls to an evangelization with a three-fold objective: personal and community conversion, the building of an inculturated and responsible ecclesial community, and the promotion of the Kingdom of God. [125] From this perspective, certain activities such as human development, inculturation, dialogue and commitment for justice and peace are truly missionary in character. [126]

It would, perhaps, be rash to simply state that in the Congregation evangelization of the poor has become ever more radical. The Church’s thinking as well as her experience has certainly enabled us to achieve a better grasp of all that this implies. In pastoral praxis, explicit preaching may not only have lost some of its quantitative importance but also the high regard in which it was held. The Word of God proclaimed appropriately has a unique power and missionary effectiveness. One would have to study in depth its value based on the Scriptures, Tradition, Vatican Council II, especially the constitution Dei Verbum, Pope Paul VI’s exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi and John Paul II’s encyclical, Redemptoris Missio. One would also have to rediscover the need of such a proclamation for the Church and even more for the people of our contemporary world. The human race is often disoriented and lives perpetually in a pluralism which, even more so than in the past, demands a clear statement of issues in order to make an adequate religious and human choice. Then, for today’s Church, one would have to find avenues, new and old, which would amount to what the Founder sought in parish and foreign missions giving priority to the proclamation of the Word. The three-fold distinction made in Redemptoris Missio [127]namely, pastoral evangelization, new evangelization, missionary evangelization, could be used as a point of departure. [128]

What John Paul II stated concerning the Church corresponds with the insight, the will and the action of Eugene de Mazenod and the charism he passed on. “Proclamation holds a permanent position of priority in mission. The Church cannot escape the explicit injunction of Christ; She cannot deprive men of the Good News that they are loved of God and saved by Him […] Every form of missionary activity leads to this proclamation which reveals and initiates one into the mystery hidden for centuries and revealed in Christ, the mystery which is at the heart of the mission and life of the Church and which is the source of all evangelization. […] Faith is born from hearing and every ecclesial community takes its origin and life from the personal response of each one of the faithful to this proclamation. Just as the economy of salvation is centered on Christ, in the same manner missionary activity leads to a proclamation of its mystery.” [129] In this regard, the Congregation has a significant challenge to face and address to be truly missionary in our world and faithful to its charism.