Throughout its history, formation has always been a major concern for those in charge of the Congregation. We will seek out the principles that our Founder wanted to inculcate in the educators and in those in their care, then we will look at how faithful his followers were to his directives.
FORMATION ACCORDING TO THE FOUNDER
It is especially in his letters to the Oblates of France that Saint Eugene expresses his views on formation, since in his day the majority of the formation houses were in France.
The Founder’s texts are clear and forceful. They hardly need any commentary. Rather than give an exposé of his thought, it seemed preferable to quote him textually, arranging the selections from his letters according to the subjects treated.
Because he is convinced that the only way of guaranteeing the future of the mission is by assuring that we have Oblates who are well formed, Oblates progressively more steeped in the spirit which brought about the foundation of the Institute, Father De Mazenod takes a serious interest in formation. Throughout this article, we will see this in the letters he wrote to educators and to the candidates in formation, as well as in the reports he demands.
Moreover, he wants to participate as much as possible personally in the preparation of candidates in formation: “As long as I am in Marseilles, I will endeavour to have the novitiate moved to that city because I will be able to give the Novice Master a hand and keep my eye on the students” . This letter is of the 10th of January 1826.
The same concern is still present several years later as regards Montolivet: “I will have my days of visiting this interesting youth, and by the grace of God all will go well” .
He even intervenes in the organization of the novitiate, for example, by deciding on the role of the brothers who are admonitors .
His visits are an opportunity for him to meet the scholastics personally: “I am very pleased with our Oblates. I have already seen sixteen of them in individual interviews, and I was delighted with the experience” .
In spite of a very heavy schedule, he goes to Montolivet to receive the vows of two scholastics . In the same letter where he asks news of Montolivet, he makes the following suggestion to Father Mouchette: “Why don’t you take one day a week to come to see me, especially when you notice that I have been unable to come and call on you myself” .
He plans to hold a meeting of the superiors of the seminaries run by the Oblates: “I would very much like to hold a meeting of our superiors of major seminaries in order to work out something which is the same for everyone, as regards the teaching as well as the exercises in their communities” . In this regard, even if he allows participants to express their point of view, he also intends to express his own personal opinion: “I want to remain neutral in this discussion which should especially be based on experience. I speak when it is a matter of choosing authors. As for the rest, that is different” .
It is because he keeps close watch over the formation of candidates that he goes to the trouble of writing to them personally on the occasion of their oblation or their ordination to the priesthood. Examples of this are numerous and easy to find in his published letters .
Therefore, it is with a good grasp of the situation that he describes the houses of formation in his circular of February 2, 1857: “Since my last circular, a large number of vocations have materialized and we have had the consolation of seeing our novitiate of Notre Dame de l’Osier with a constant supply of edifying subjects. Since the numbers have increased these last years, we have had to establish a second novitiate in Nancy. The novitiate in England as well is beginning to be have some good novices. These different novitiates supply good subjects to the scholasticate at Montolivet near Marseilles, that model community where I often come to receive edification, and from which I am sending you the present circular” .
2. FUNDAMENTAL VALUES
Our Founder never wrote a treatise on formation, but like the Apostle Paul he reacted to concrete situations. What is meaningful for us is to rediscover his most profound convictions expressed spontaneously here and there in the corpus of his letters. We can present his thought in the following fashion:
The foundation stone of all formation is the love of Jesus Christ. Rooted in this solid base, young Oblates are able to:
– detach themselves from all that which is not Jesus Christ;
– give themselves totally to God through the vows;
– give themselves for life;
– and therefore to prepare themselves seriously for this;
– live their gift of self with generosity;
– love their brothers in community, love the Congregation and value their vocation, love the Church and the Virgin Mary.
a. Attachment to Jesus Christ
“Passionately devoted to Jesus Christ”, he wants to share this passion with all Oblates so that they can be true apostles: “We should often come together like this, in Jesus Christ, our common centre where all our hearts become as one and our affections are brought to fulfillment” .
It is especially in the Eucharist that one encounters Christ: “You must inspire a great love for our divine Saviour Jesus Christ, which is manifested especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist of which we must try to become the perfect adorers” .” That is why he does not find it acceptable that there is no chapel with the Blessed Sacrament in the novitiate: “I see a great disadvantage in not having the Blessed Sacrament within easy access of the novices. It is to Jesus Christ that they should go to be filled with fervour. Each should be able to go often according to his inspiration and present himself before the Saviour and converse with him for a few moments in silent meditation” .
It is in loving Jesus Christ and in becoming permeated with his spirit that the young Oblates prepare themselves to be missionaries: “It Is a question of forming men who are to be imbued with the spirit of Jesus Christ capable of fighting the terrific power of the devil […] of edifying the world so as to bring it to the truth, and of serving the Church” .
What is worth noting is that, in recommending the love of Christ and the imitation of Christ, he insists on the missionary vocation in the footsteps of the Apostles. For example, on February 17, 1859, he goes in spirit to Montolivet among the scholastics: “I seem to see in each one of them an apostle called by a remarkable favour of the mercy of God, like those whom Our Lord chose for himself during his sojourn on earth, to proclaim everywhere the good news of salvation” .
Writing to the scholasticate after his retreat in 1831, he takes up again, in substance, his reflections on the Oblate vocation. As published by Father Fabre in circular No. 14, May 20, 1864, the Founder’s text reads: “Our principal end, I would almost say our only end, is the selfsame end that Jesus Christ set for himself on coming into the world, the same end that he gave to the Apostles, to whom, without any doubt, he taught the most perfect way. And so our humble society knows no other founder than Jesus Christ […] and no other Fathers than the Apostles” .
It is by following Jesus Christ that one achieves detachment from all the rest: “One is not good for very much when one cannot imitate the detachment recommended by Jesus Christ and practised by the saints. Oh! How lax we are! We arrive only by much reasoning, when we should soar as though by supernatural instinct” . Detachment enables Jesus Christ to take over all the room in our interior life: “One must begin with self-renunciation; room must be made for the Lord to work in […] Abnegation, humility and finally holy indifference to all that God can ask of us, and which he makes known to us only through the voice of superiors” .
Detachment in regard to their parents and their country give Oblates the freedom to do good wherever God calls them: “You will emphasize holy indifference in everything demanded by obedience. It is the cornerstone of religious life. Detachment from one’s parents is a very meritorious virtue which one must absolutely possess if one wants to become good for something, all the more so when it is a case of one’s country. The whole earth belongs to the Lord and we are called to serve it without regard to individual preference according to the need, the choice and the will of the superiors” .
c. Gift of self through the vows
In several letters, the Founder presents the vows as the road by which one gives oneself totally to Christ for the service of the Church. Here is a particularly clear example: “Keep repeating to the novices that by their consecration they give themselves to the Church without reservation, that they completely die to the world, to their families and to themselves; that they vow a perfect obedience by which they sacrifice unreservedly their own will so as to wish only what is prescribed by obedience; it is not only a question of obeying, but also of acquiescing in heart and spirit with obedience, of being indifferent to places, things, even persons whom they should all love with the same charity; that they vow also voluntary poverty which obliges them to demand nothing, to be content with everything, to consider themselves blessed if something is wanting to them and if they suffer, as a result of holy poverty, privations and even destitution. Without this disposition, poverty is only a word void of meaning. Chastity obliges then not only to avoid everything that is forbidden in this matter, but also to preserve themselves from the least harm that could befall this beautiful virtue. It is in accord with this principle that we hold in such horror the sensual tendencies that bear the stigma of particular friendships, to call them what they are, for they really wound this most delicate virtue that the slightest breeze can hare. Be inflexible on this topic” .
In his warning against particular friendships, he describes attitudes we now recognize as tendencies toward homosexuality: “It is a very dangerous passion which becomes as violent as what we call love, or rather let us say it is really love that is no less to be feared when it has as its object a person of the same sex” .
As one can see, the Founder is clear and definite in the positions he takes. At the same time, he is understanding in helping the person involved to conquer this tendency: “My first thought had been to immediately send away the brother who had demeaned himself to the point of scandalizing the young novice whose name you do not tell me. However, I still retain the hope that this poor child may have checked himself at the edge of the pit and that he can still be reached by the advice that I have in store for him. I have decided to call him here to finish his novitiate if he gives me grounds to believe in a sincere return to virtue on his part, or to be sent away if his disorder seems to me to be incurable” .
Let us finish our consideration of these directives on the vows by quoting a few words in praise of obedience: “Who can tell the strength, the light, the power that obedience gives. God himself acts through this means, we become the instruments of his action in the exercise of the functions that he requires of us” .
d. Gift of self for life
For a man of faith such as Saint Eugene was, it is inconceivable to renege on a commitment made to God, made in the presence of Christ, who makes the gift of himself at the moment of oblation: “Stress very much the importance of the obligation undertaken by oblation. They are free not to advance that far, but this consecration cannot be revoked. It is perpetual. It is not without reason that this sacred commitment is made in the presence of Jesus Christ, the divine Master, who approves it by his holy Body and his precious Blood. Woe to him, a thousand times woe to him who might break ties that should never be broken by the will of him who has taken them upon himself” . “Apostasy is such a horror to me that I cannot recommend enough that you be quite cautious with Brother Pianelli” .
e. Serious preparation for the gift of self
Immediate preparation necessarily entails a retreat: “If you plan on coming to me, come eight days before the date set for your profession so that, through a good retreat, you can prepare yourself for it” .
Preparation takes place as well throughout the novitiate. The beginning of missionary religious formation has a great influence on all the rest of one’s life. On the novitiate rests the hope of the Congregation: “The hope of the Society rests on the good use of the time of the novitiate, that is a conclusion I cannot avoid” . The novitiate, therefore, must be a place of regular observance: “I intend the novitiate to be a place of extreme regularity…. When good habits have been acquired during the novitiate, one will not likely be sent away during the oblateship” . Since the novitiate is short, it is fitting that it be used in the best fashion possible: “Far from finding long the short period of time devoted to preparation, it must be confessed that it is not ample enough for the purpose of divesting oneself of what remains of the old man, of adorning one’s soul with the many virtues we lack and thus disposing ourselves to make to God an offering as little unworthy of him as possible” . “One whole year is such a short time to prepare oneself for an act as important as oblation that, if we use part of that time badly, we will find ourselves deficient in virtue and preparation when the day of fulfilment comes. Ideo dormiunt multi. That’s the reason we become such poor religious” . The superior general does not have the right to shorten it: “It is not in my power to shorten the canonical time, I will not call it a trial but a preparation” .
In spite of its monastic traits, the novitiate is an ideal period to prepare oneself for the mission: “This temporary rest should be looked upon as a great act of kindness from the mercy of God. It is in this all too short space of time that one works for himself, for his own sanctification […] Please note that you did not join the Carthusians […] On the contrary, you were admitted among those who, in imitation of the Apostles in whose footsteps they are called to walk, spend only a few months apart in order to make themselves more fit for the very active life of the missionary in the most varied and fruitful kind of ministries as witnessed by the truly miraculous blessings which flow from them. And yet again these few months consecrated to living apart and to the holy exercises of fervour are often mitigated for the priest by his participation in a few missions which initiate him to the marvels of such a great ministry” . This comment was directed to an Oblate novice who was already a priest, but who could not understand why he had to remain for such a long period of time without being involved in the active ministry.
f. Gift of self lived in generosity
For Saint Eugene, the call to generosity should naturally evoke a corresponding echo in the hearts of the young: “I do not accept bargaining with the good Lord […] they are to put themselves heart and soul into acquiring the virtues that are proper to the state of perfection they have vowed […] Is it possible to achieve these results with people who are not generous, who have no courage, are devoid of love and have fallen into a rut? When does a person entertain such sentiments if he does not have them during the period of fervour?” 
Generosity prepares one for the apostolate: “It is a question of forming men of God, and you well know whether men like that are tempted to spare themselves. […] Let the Oblates assimilate well what the Church’s expectations of them are. It is not mediocrity in virtue which is required to respond to the exigencies of our holy vocation. […] They must understand that their ministry is the continuation of the ministry of the Apostles, and that it is nothing less than a question of performing miracles. The reports that reach us from the foreign missions give us proof that this is so” .
It is by its generosity that the Congregation will be capable of accomplishing these marvels: “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. Our novices must steep themselves in these thoughts” .
When Father Vincens asks him to be lenient in regards to a young man whose conduct left much to be desired, his reaction was vehement and he noted in his journal: “I do not want any smoldering wicks in the Society. Let them burn; let then shed heat; let them give light – or let them leave” . He invites the young Oblates to set very high ideals for themselves: “Keep always before your eyes the very peak of the mountain where the burning bush awaits you. By your holy desires and by a sustained fervour hasten your transformation” .
In all these appeals, he is speaking to future apostles who should be equipped for the mission to which they are destined: “[…] that all their actions ought to be done with the dispositions in which the apostles were when they were in the Cenacle waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and inflame them with his love and give them the signal to go forth swiftly and conquer the world. Ours must make provision thereof doubly, both for themselves and for those whom they will have to lead to the knowledge of the true God and to the practice of virtue” .
g. Gift of self lived in charity
Fraternal charity is a characteristic of Oblate life according to the testament which the Founder left to his sons: “Love one another. Let all agree in maintaining good order […] The Church expects you all to be a powerful aid in her distress; but be well persuaded that you will only be good enough to achieve something inasmuch as you advance in the practice of religious virtues” .
Therefore, failings in charity are to be avoided at all costs: “How these petty quarrels amongst the Brothers distress me! I know that they do their best to quickly heal these wounds to charity, but they should not fall into these faults which inevitably damage a virtue they ought to have in the highest degree. I strongly exhort them to take pains to uproot this kind of petty antipathy that does them injury in their hearts” . “Let charity reign among us to such an extent that it isn’t possible for anyone to fall in it in the slightest manner” . He tells the master of novices: “Insist much on mutual love, on helping one’s neighbour, and especially one’s brethren. ”
It is in loving the Congregation that the young Oblates will grow in their vocation: “It is a question of forming them, of passing on to them our spirit, of inspiring in them that love of the family without which they will not achieve anything of value” . “Those who do not attach themselves wholeheartedly to the Congregation are not made for it. We must show them the Congregation as it is in the Church. It is the youngest of the religious families, but it enjoys the same dignity as all its older sisters […]. Thanks be to God it is still faithful to its vocation, and no one can question that it works more in the common Father’s field than can be expected of it” .
So that this love can be concrete, the young Oblates should take an interest in the missions of the Oblates and knowledge about these missions must be communicated to them: “Moreover, you know that our young Oblates are very much interested in the success of your ministry. Again yesterday, they asked me to tell them something about your work” . He writes to Father Bellon who is resting at Notre-Dame de Lumières: “Rest then a few days in the presence of Mary, our good Mother, and console our dear youth by your pleasant company. They will be much encouraged by everything you tell them about the victories wrought by grace in our missions in England – especially in Leeds where it seems that we are called to do a great deal of good” .
It is by loving the Congregation that candidates deepen their appreciation of their Oblate vocation: “It is most essential among other things to solidly confirm the novices in the appreciation of their vocation and their attachment to the Congregation” . He himself gives the example of his faith in the grace of the priesthood. He goes to say Mass in the chapel of the Capuchin sisters to celebrate in quiet meditation the anniversary of his priestly ordination and he adds: “I will remain on retreat the rest of the day in order to prepare myself for the ordination which I must perform tomorrow” . More than twenty years after his episcopal consecration he prescribes for himself a day of retreat in order to prepare himself to ordain some young Oblates. This is a very clear manifestation of the fact that the celebration of one’s ordination has not become a habit with him. Rather he retains a very lively faith in the priesthood.
In one and the same filial love, the Founder includes the affection Oblates have for the Virgin Mary and their devotion for the Church: “[…] a filial devotion to the most holy Mother of God, who is also our Mother in a special manner; a devotedness to the Church that can stand any test” . Other quotes have shown us how many times he invites the young Oblates to be ready to respond to the expectations of the Church.
These directives, suggested by the circumstances of life, make up a whole which deserves to be presented as a program of formation. Now we must look at the example that the Founder gives in his contacts with the young Oblates and what he expects of the educators.
3. THE FOUNDER’S AFFECTION FOR THE OBLATES IN FIRST FORMATION
His directives are categorical and he intervenes with authority to correct abuses. But if he is exacting, it is because he loves the young Oblates and he wants what is good for them. Thus it is that he could speak to the novices and the scholastics as follows: “How much I love you. I feel it when I am with you. I feel it when I am far from you, you are always present to my thoughts and you live in my heart” . It is always a joy for him to be with the scholastics: “I am so happy when I find myself in their midst. I enjoy their own happiness. In a manner of speaking, I savor with my eyes the virtues that I see in them. I thank God for it” . As in many other letters to Oblates, he recognizes in his affection for the Oblates in training a gift from God: “I have always thanked God for this gift as a special gift which he deigned to grant me. For that is the nature of the heart that he has given me, this effusive love which is proper to me and which pours forth for each one of them without depriving any of the others. Such as is the case, if I dare say so, of the love of God for men” .
This affection compels him to take into account the particular situation of certain candidates. The novices who are priests have a right to expect some consideration, even if it is necessary to be exacting with them. Here is the principle that he establishes for priests during the novitiate: “In general, while demanding a strict observance of the rule of the novitiate, we must have a lot of regard for the priests. But see to it that they are not required to work more than one mission during the course of their novitiate. Priests, even more than young people, need the strict observance and the direction that is given in the novitiate” . The sick have a right to expect certain mitigations: “I do not hesitate to say that if Léon de Saboulin’s health permits him to recite the Divine Office, we should not discourage him from becoming a priest. But we should allow him a great deal of latitude in his studies to prevent him from exhausting himself. He would even do a lot of good in only celebrating Holy Mass and in giving an example of a holy priestly life” . It is necessary to take age as well into consideration as in the case of Father Tudès a 40 year old novice . He recommends special concessions in the case of George Crawley, a Protestant minister of Leeds, who converted to Catholicism and entered the Oblates: “I think that you will have recommended that at l’Osier they should take the greatest care of Mr. Crawley. In the beginning, it will be necessary to be very careful. Above all, it is essential that we give him tea when he thinks fit, even every day. Let us be kind and considerate in his regard. In coming to us he is making such a big step” .
The affection the Founder had for the young Oblates explains, no doubt, a leniency which we sometimes find astonishing. In response to a group of scholastics who had sent him a collective letter attacking their superior he wrote: “Even while praising your good intentions, my dear Brothers, I cannot help but blame the course you took in manifesting collectively a wish, a desire, if you will, for a demand which is not within your prerogatives to express”. He shows them that it is against obedience and he concludes his letter in the following fashion: “I will say no more about this bit of a lapse in propriety; only, I am surprised that there was not a single one among you who, through better counsel, did not turn the rest away from such false proceedings. Besides, do not be uneasy, I do not hold it against you, since I take into consideration your good intentions. I only had to remind you of the principles involved, and I embrace and bless all of you from my heart” .
Even in the case of certain ones whose conduct is reprehensible, he stretches leniency to the limit. In order to help Brother Saluzzo to reflect on his difficulties, he suggests that he go to Notre-Dame du Laus “to place himself until further orders under the mantle of our Good Mother”. At the same time, he addresses him firmly: “Go there with an upright heart, call fervently upon this powerful protector, ask her to enlighten the director I appoint for you in this holy place and to give you the simplicity and docility you need in this situation, decisive as it is for your life” .
In a letter to Father Tempier, he discusses the case of a scholastic who had rebelled. In spite of that he calls him to the subdiaconate and he adds: “What is to be done? To confide oneself to the mercy of God who we have to hope will bless our decision more charitable than prudent […] Make him feel profoundly the new obligation which he will undertake to become a holy religious” . It really seems that, in these two cases, the Founder does everything possible to save men who already have taken on the commitment of perpetual vows. He is so convinced of the importance of vows made to God that he uses every means to see that this commitment is maintained and succeeds.
Since he is persuaded that gentleness is much more effective than severity with youth, he does not accept judgments that are too harsh with regard to the young: “I see them [the Oblate scholastics] from time to time and I assure you that my judgment on them isn’t as harsh as yours and especially not as harsh as Lagier’s. Certainly these children aren’t perfect, but they are good, full of goodwill; they listen readily to the minor strictures that they receive; they talk good sense when one enters into conversation with them” .
One must test them, it is true, but one must not be unduly exacting: “We cannot test our candidates enough. […] All the same we must not tempt God by asking too much from human weakness. What I want to say is that not all are fit to be put through extraordinary tests. However, all must pass those tests designed to ground them in the virtues which they must practise” .
The youth are the hope of the Congregation. He looks with confidence on their efforts to be faithful: “As you know, you are the hope of our Society; so you can gauge my happiness when I contemplate you going forward in the ways of the Lord […]”  It is certain that the youth will make their contribution to the development of the Oblate endeavour: “Since this is so, our work will go forward. You are destined […] to perfect it” . Through them he foresees the marvels that will be accomplished in their mission: “I already savour in anticipation the blessings that the Lord will pour forth on them as a reward for their fidelity. God will be glorified by them and our dear Congregation will be shown honour in the Church because of them” .
4. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EDUCATORS
Many letters are sent to those in charge of formation to encourage men who would prefer to dedicate themselves to the pastoral ministry rather than to spend long years in the same house teaching and giving direction to their younger brothers.
Their task is a genuine ministry which they should value: “Moreover, it was my intention that you should in some way familiarize yourself with your sublime dignity and that you should reap abundant graces from your sacred ministry” . The object of their mission is “to neglect nothing in training religious who will be fit to serve the Church and Society” . In this same letter, the Founder points out to Father Courtès that his dedication corresponds to the generosity of God who is sending an abundance of vocations. In a letter to Father Dorey, he restates in other terms his faith in the greatness of this mission: “What more beautiful ministry than that of forming in virtue, especially in the religious virtues, the chosen souls called by God to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles to spread the knowledge and the love of Jesus Christ!” 
The educator should be totally dedicated to his task and should accept the renunciation that this implies: “So if you renounce yourself entirely, together with your tastes and even the reasonings your mind may entertain, you will give a good account of yourself in the delicate task imposed on you. I am not trying to minimize your own estimate of the burden that weighs you down. On the contrary, I agree that it could not weigh more heavily on your shoulders, but by living in close union with God, pondering frequently on the importance of your tasks and studying how men who have achieved success in this field have acted, you will achieve the same results. But you must apply yourself to your task and tell yourself again and again that God, the Church and the religious family will be demanding an account villicationis tuae” . He gives the same kind of advice to Father Mouchette .
Several times the Founder protests against the frequent absences of a superior of a scholasticate or a master of novices. He writes to Father Mille, superior of the scholasticate of Billens: “Once and for all impress this upon yourself: I have not sent you to Switzerland to do outside ministry but to direct, instruct and look after the community that is entrusted to you” . And to Father Bellon for Father Richard, master of novices: “I have only one thing left to tell you: It is that before leaving you specify clearly the responsibilities of each one, especially for the novitiate which should be entirely separated from the rest of the community and governed by the Master of Novices who must have no other work or ministry to carry out. He will never have enough time to care for such a large family upon which the future of the Congregation depends” .
This, however, does not rule out the fact that ministry can be beneficial for educators, especially during the vacations: “In the case where I will have found it acceptable that it is proper for this one or that one to absent himself briefly, I would not have allowed him to absent himself more than twice in a row, unless it was in order to fulfill some duty of the sacred ministry such as giving a spiritual retreat to some religious communities or to some parishes, which would fall within the particular competencies of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. I would even like for them to obtain this kind of work, in a moderate measure, no doubt, but in a manner useful for the preacher and for those he is evangelizing” .
The educator allows others to benefit from the gifts that he has received from God: “But since the aptitude you received for the sciences is a gift from God, I judge it important that you don’t neglect it. Assign it a subordinate role, yes; shun and leave it in disuse, no. […] Be generous with your riches, share them with others” . One must care for each individual: “Concentrate particularly, my dear Father, on your novitiate. That is your most important work. […] It is not enough to teach in a general way during the lessons in common, it is necessary to work with each one in particular as if he was the only person you had to form” . Spiritual direction is especially necessary: “Give all your attention to the novitiate. I know that they have enough lessons, but direction has always been defective for one reason or another, and thus the novices generally do not change, do not improve, which is a great misfortune” .
One element of particular concern for the Founder in regard to young men in formation, as well as for all Oblates, was the question of health: “Watch out for the lungs of our young men. […] Let them get lots of rest; be willing to let them remain an extra hour in bed” . In several letters the Founder betrays the same concern for the health of the young Oblates. He does not see this as being in opposition to the spirit of mortification: “I consider it very important that we care for the health of our Oblates; but I also consider it very important that the spirit of mortification not be lost among us. We have to be careful not to make sissies and sensual men out of those whom God will perhaps call to all the privations of the apostolic life” .
The Founder demands precise reports on each one of the candidates, reports which oblige the educators to be attentive to each person: “Again you will point out to the moderator of the scholastics that he must, just like the master of novices does, correspond directly, not through an intermediary, with the Superior General to whom is reserved the overall direction of this so important sector of our great family” . “You must get into the habit of each one writing me separately [superior and Novice Master] and without influencing each other. It is only thus that I shall possess the conscientious opinion of two people who must provide the material for my judgement and the properly motivated vote of the Council” . Often enough the Founder thanks the master of novices and the moderator of the scholastics for the reports that they have sent .
5. QUALITIES OF THE EDUCATORS
The Founder tells us what kind of a man he counts on to carry out this kind of ministry.
The educator is a model for those confided to his care: “[…] So at this time the heart of our novitiate must be very sound and for this we need a master of novices. This master of novices is you, my dear Father Honorat, who combine an unshakeable loyalty to the Society with a love of order and regularity” . Father de Mazenod considered Father Tempier the ideal educator. It is to him that he confided Notre-Dame du Laus, the second house of the Congregation, and it is to him that he gave the responsibility of forming the young Oblates in this community. He tells him why: “First companion of mine, you have from the first day we came together grasped the spirit which must animate us and which we must communicate to others”. That is why he must stay at Notre-Dame du Laus as the one in charge of formation: “Is it surprising, after that, that having a house somewhat remote, very essential for us because of the circumstances and the locality, you should be in charge of its management?”  The true educator is therefore the one who has grasped the spirit of the Congregation and who is capable of communicating it to others. It is because he believes in the importance of the mission of educator that the Founder chooses the best for this responsibility. He sends Father Mounier to the novitiate to help Father Vincens “because of his good attitude and his fine qualities. A community like yours is too important in our Congregation for me not to consider it as my principal duty to provide it with all that can contribute to maintain the good spirit that prevails there. The same motive that prompted me to put you in charge at the novitiate obliges me to get you all the help you have a right to claim for carrying out that task” .
The educator is a man who lives through faith in the presence of God, a man for whom oraison is indispensable: “Oraison will be your rich mine and the daily examens will serve you as beacon, mirror, compass and as a spur too, if necessary. Proceed, therefore, with confidence and like Saint Ignatius tell yourself: Alone, Vincens can do nothing. Vincens and God can do everything” . Moreover, the ministry of formation faithfully carried out is a source of sanctification: “How much a person profits for oneself in leading others to perfection! This has turned out to be your lot. Rejoice over it […] and count on God’s help in this valuable ministry” .
In order to be capable of forming men of God, the director must apply himself to his own spiritual formation: “I request Father Vincens to pay special attention in training the good Brother Nicolas in the religious life. When he will be in charge of the dogma class, there won’t be time any more. It would certainly be a pity that such a good member were not equal to his duties because he had not applied himself sufficiently to working on himself according to the spirit of our Institute” .
The educator is a well balanced man of sure judgement: “Father Dorey redeems his youth in the priesthood with a great spiritual maturity, very good judgement and an exemplary piety” . “When one has the intellectual training that you have, the wisdom, modesty and reserve that no one will deny you possess, plus kindness and the other qualities that I know you have, one need not be uneasy about the decisions one takes, nor about assuming responsibility” .
The educator is a competent individual who continues to study: “Arrange everything well in advance with him [Father Courtès] and Father Guigues [new Master of Novices] whom I have advised to nourish himself with reading suitable to his new employment, such as Father Lallemant, Rigoleuc, Judde, etc” .
Study goes hand in hand with spiritual reading which maintains one in an attitude of faith: “Spiritual reading is a necessary nourishment for the piety of the man of study who is conducted by it to the practice of the virtues which one is liable too easily to neglect when absorbed in the pursuit of learning. […] This duty must never be neglected” .
The educator is a community man. Several times the Founder repeats that the directors must meet regularly: “I strongly recommend to you to maintain the community on the basis of one of our religious houses, and don’t lose sight of the fact that you are not to be like isolated priests who are together because they are directing a seminary. The Rule cannot be put aside” . It is especially those who are directors in diocesan seminaries whom he reminds of the necessity of living in community: “We are community men and not vagabonds of the main highways. Once the seminarians have left, the religious community does not cease any less to exist” . Seminary directors should pray together: “Father Nicolas has not asked me for a dispensation from saying the Office in common. He did well because I would not have granted it, at least not semel pro semper. I would have referred him back to you to judge when it would be opportune to dispense him on a temporary basis” .
The true educator gains the confidence of the youth: “I believe in your piety, regularity, zeal, but I fear your severity, your demands. […] In a word, you would have much and perhaps too much of introspection to win the confidence of young men; the latter is of primary necessity in the functions of a Master of Novices who must be considered a saint in his own novitiate, but also a good father” . He brings this subject up again when he names Father Dassy Master of Novices: “They must find with us a true family, brothers and a father; we have the obligation to represent Divine Providence to them” . And he tells another Master of Novices: “Therefore, make wider your doors and the compassion of your charity” .
After having quoted many extracts from the letters of Saint Eugene, we can affirm that they represent the man himself as a model for the educators of young Oblates:
– convinced of the fundamental values, he believes in them deeply and he says this clearly;
– firm in the matter of principles;
– overflowing with affection and understanding for the young;
– he shows a healthy balance between a clear vision of principles and the understanding of people.
Here, as in the case of his other directives, Saint Eugene has in mind the mission to which Oblates in formation should be preparing themselves developing to the full all the talents that God has given them: “It is impossible to insist too much on the importance of study: and not just theology and philosophy, but the humanities too. We must oppose modern errors with up-to-date weapons. I never cease to be astonished at seeing so many able young writers amongst our enemies, using such art and skill on the side of lies and deceptions of every kind. We must prepare ourselves for this kind of combat too. We must have a good understanding of our own language and practice to use it well. It will be time well-spent. Get some fire out of that flint-stone. You must strike it to start a fire, the spark is only produced by the blow. But never forget that it is for God you are working, that the glory of his holy name is at stake, that the Church expects this service from you. It means you must supernaturalize your studies, sanctify them by the integrity of your intention, leaving all self-love aside, not seeking yourself in anything; in this way profane authors have the same capacity to lift your thoughts to God as do the Fathers of the Church” .
Three points in this text deserve to be highlighted:
a. We have to fight using up-to-date weapons. This could be translated as follows: We must speak the language of our contemporaries and use the modern means of communications. In another letter, he states that holiness of life alone is not sufficient: “We live in an age when it is absolutely vital to be able to confront evil doctrines with means other than good example alone” .
b. He urges the study of profane authors because they reveal the world which the missionaries will address. In a letter to Father Tempier, he states several times that it is necessary to study the humanities “if we do not want to have a bunch of half-wits incapable of writing a few lines” .
c. All this effort is at the service of the apostolate. The young Oblates do not study to become brilliant, but to answer the call of the Church and thus to expend themselves for the glory of God.
It is, therefore, important to fully develop the talents that have been given by God and to take the time to train oneself well: “I am hardly concerned about the period of formation being extended. The essential is that nothing remain buried, that each one make the most of the measure of talents the Lord has given him” .
The program of studies necessarily includes English, an indispensable tool in the countries where the Oblates are carrying out their ministry. “Knowing English is essential for us in most of our foreign missions” .
Books are work tools that must be chosen with care. For the young priests who are following a special course: “As for the Summa of St. Thomas, Father Vincens and the other two Fathers are agreed that a copy should be provided for each student” . Father Tempier is the one who set up the library for the scholasticate of Montolivet. On this topic, Mgr. de Mazenod writes to Father Rey: “You will tear out your beard when you see all the books over which you had the exclusive right of leisurely enjoyment fly off without you to the holy mountain [Montolivet, while Father Rey is at the major seminary], where others than you will leaf through them, will read them or fall asleep on them” . When the wanderings of the first scholasticate came to an end, the library of Montolivet ended up at Solignac, where, in great part, it still remains. We have to acknowledge that the choice of books was of a high standard.
7. FORMATION OF THE BROTHERS
Everything that has been said up until now concerns the Brothers as much as it concerns the future priests. Since most of those who presented themselves to become Brothers were manual workers, they needed special attention, not having had the benefit of the kind of education enjoyed by the other candidates. On the other hand, the Founder reacted to the temptation to see the Brothers as mere labourers and to give them too much manual work: “The novices, irrespective of who they are, must live under the care of the master of novices up to their oblation. It isn’t a question of knowing if one can use them sufficiently in the novitiate house during the year of their testing, they have to learn what it is to be a religious and a year is not too much for that, but it is vital to take pains with them, the more uncouth they are the more unremitting the care they need” .
It is an injustice to make them work all day: “I reply that I have always considered it an injustice to make men, who have come to us to become religious, work from morning till evening. Surely they have to work, but they must also pray and be instructed in the duties of the religious life. They are not common labourers, they cannot be treated as hired domestics who are paid so that they work the whole day. […] All of them will do their spiritual reading daily and when a Father has been appointed to be in charge of them, he will give them in common the instructions prescribed by the Rule. If there is no such priest, at least once a week the Master of Novices must attend to their instruction, even if he has to cancel that day what he would normally give to others” . “During the year of novitiate, manual work must give way to a lavish spiritual concern” .
Brothers are necessary for the mission: “We will need a skillful Brother to accompany the Fathers who are destined to the conversion of the gentiles on the island of Ceylon. I propose to call him for that mission. Even though he does not have much time at hand, have him begin to learn English, that will be so much gained. Do not delay a single day and have him study it all day long” .
When they have received their obedience for a house, their formation is not at an end. Even if there is only one Brother in the community, he has the right to be helped and sustained in the pursuit of his religious formation: “You mentioned good Brother Picard in passing. Please look after him well. Instruct him at least once a week in the duties and the advantages of the religious life. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our lay brothers are not domestic servants, but rather our brothers who need to maintained in the fervour of their holy vocation. I lay this on you as a special responsibility. ” The insistence on the religious formation of the Brothers recurs in several letters in more or less the same terms: “I charge you with the care of the lay Brothers. Teach them well what it is to be a religious, that it is not sufficient to be a religious in name only” .
Formation must also adapt itself to the Brothers, taking into consideration their talents: “I have only the time to charge you with the responsibility of the postulant whom I am sending to you. He is a man of good will, capable of the greatest sacrifices for the good God on whose behalf he abandoned all the benefits that he could have come upon in the world. I warn you that he is not made for manual labour of too crude a sort […] He possesses another kind of talent that we will have to apply ourselves to use in the Congregation, perhaps in some house where we are engaged in education. Make a good religious of him, and only require of him that of which he is capable and that for which he is suited” .
In 1859, an edition of the “Rules and Constitutions for the use of lay Brothers” followed a circular letter in which the Founder expressed his esteem for the Brothers.
8. VOCATIONS APOSTOLATE
A constant supply of new recruits is a necessity in order for the Congregation to accomplish its mission: “We have an immense need to maintain our army. The reserve forces melt away, so to speak, in our hands. Forty Oblates seemed to me to be more than enough to face every need. A lot remains lacking” . The Founder feels this need deeply: “My praises to the Lord would be doubled if, as well as the conversions effected, you had succeeded in attracting some candidates to the house. It pains me to be able to reply only with refusals to the requests that come to me from all our houses, it is to wither on the vine” .
Father de Mazenod hoped to find a few vocations among the young people that he used to gather together at Aix. From the six that he chose at the beginning, not one persevered. In fact, It was the witness of his zeal which attracted the first recruits: Marius Suzanne at the mission of Fuveau and, at the mission of Mouriès, Hippolyte Courtès who had been a member of the Youth Association at Aix . In the years which followed, vocations were slow in coming.
In order to respond to this problem, in 1840, Mgr. de Mazenod decided unenthusiastically to open a juniorate at Notre-Dame de Lumières. “I give my consent that we try to take in a few students since the novitiate is not maintaining itself, but I do not hide from them how little confidence I have in a means which takes so much time and is so doubtful in terms of recruiting results” . After a few years, in view of the good results obtained by this work, Mgr. de Mazenod shows himself more favorable to the juniorate formula and even recommends it for Canada: “I am obliged to adopt for Canada, where the flow of vocations has so soon dried up, our system at Lumières. We have only this means left to supply our novitiate. It is a long road but one eventually reaches the end” . In 1848 the juniorate of Lumières was closed down  because the Congregation was going to benefit from another much more effective source of vocations, the recruiting tour of Father Leonard.
This recruiting tour inspired by the Oblate missions in Canada, was a grace for the Congregation. Father Léonard Baveux, French Sulpician who became an Oblate in Canada in 1843, offered himself to visit the seminaries of France in order to make the Oblate missions known and thus to recruit young people who would reinforce the missionary group and ensure its supply of fresh recruits. Mgr. de Mazenod is hardly enthusiastic in the beginning. He writes to Mgr. Bourget November 7, 1846: “I am counting little on the success of his mission. However we will overlook nothing in order to support him in the confidence with which God has inspired him” . The tour lasted from December 29, 1846, to March 8, 1848 and was a success. Numerous recruits arrived at the novitiate of Notre-Dame de l’Osier and it was necessary to open a second novitiate in Nancy. It is with joy that Mgr. de Mazenod welcomes this gift of Providence – even if he does ask Father Leonard to suspend for a short time his undertaking due to the lack of money to feed the novices . The example of Father Leonard encouraged Mgr. de Mazenod to renew this experiment with others. Two scholastics were stopping off at Viviers: “I very willingly agree that our two future Oblates should stop off at Viviers, either to present their respects to the holy Bishop, or to visit the seminary and reawaken by their presence there the vocations that tend to develop. The fact is that we have an immense need to supply our army” . In May of 1855, he asks Father Vincens to make a recruiting tour: “Go, therefore. Even if you delay a little, you will find all the seminaries closed, and we will then fail in our purpose. However, you understand how important it is to try to use this means to bring in fresh recruits. You have no time to lose. I believe that I have given you a few reports on the Congregation which it would be good for you to distribute as you travel along” . Let us also note in this letter another means of making known the Congregation and the Oblate missions: “the reports on the Congregation”. This refers perhaps to a report written by Father Leonard .
The Oblates will not attract any vocations if they do not give witness by the generosity of their lives: “Let our Fathers no longer fear, therefore, to appear to be what they actually are, namely, men who are truly religious, separated from the world by their profession, men devoted to the Church, engaged only in working for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, without expecting any other reward here below than that promised by our Divine Saviour to those who leave everything to follow him. […] And let us not fear that by this strict regularity we will turn away from our Society those whom we would be well pleased to see join it. We are confident that it will be quite a different story. […] Therefore, let’s truly be what we should be and we will see that they will come to us” .
An effective means of obtaining vocations is that which the Lord himself recommended, prayer: “Let us pray to good effect so that the Father of the family send us workers to cultivate the vineyard he has confided to us. This grace is one which is for our good Mother to obtain for us for the glory of her divine Son; let us ask for it from her with fervour and perseverance” . Even it the workload is heavy, our Founder welcomes vocations because they are a gift from God: “The enormous responsibilities weighing upon us are certainly enough to scare us. But who can dare to decide the measure of the Lord’s merciful plans? […] It is at this moment when the Lord calls our Congregation to extend its zeal to a great many countries, that he at the same time inspires a great number of men to offer themselves to accomplish his desires, so how could we refuse to accept their dedication which enables us to obey the will of our Master!” 
Before admitting young men to the novitiate, it is necessary to discern carefully if their vocation comes from God: “Be careful to discern well the motives which bring them to us, to weigh their virtue and to judge if their talents are sufficient” . “We must during the novitiate examine men about their talent. I do not claim that we should admit only geniuses, but there is a degree of ignorance and incapacity that is not admissible” . Therefore, one must not allow oneself to be unduly impressed by human talents: “Talent is a good thing, but we must put it in second place after the virtues which are indispensable for a Missionary Oblate of Mary” . Nor must one allow oneself to be unduly impressed by family connections . Past difficulties are not necessarily an obstacle for a vocation: “I do not recall having deterred you from receiving those who may have given way to reprehensible conduct before coming to the novitiate. I am not at all inclined to seeing them excluded. It would be another thing if they did not correct themselves in spite of the abundant help that the goodness of God provides for them in this holy place” . In his biography of Mgr. de Mazenod, Father Rambert quotes a long letter our Founder wrote to a parish priest of his diocese who wanted to enter the Oblates. The Bishop acknowledges all the qualities of this priest; he admits that there is perhaps an authentic vocation here, but he asks him to reflect and to pray before making a decision. This letter shows clearly that the Founder was not just trying to draw people into the ranks of the Oblates, but that he wanted, above all, to be faithful to the will of the Lord for each one .
9. ONGOING FORMATION
A generous and competent response to the call of the Church was the motive which prompted Father de Mazenod to involve himself in the mission and to found the Congregation. So that the Oblates can become involved along with him and so that they should measure up to what was expected of them, among other things, they were required to maintain and to renew their intellectual knowledge.
The first appeal Eugene de Mazenod makes to the Oblates is that they continue to study: “You should rather thank God for having obtained for you this solitude in order to set you once again upon the paths of the interior life and to use your time for study. How could you possibly convince yourself that at your age you could be dispensed from study? What did you know when you came out of the seminary? You have everything to learn” . The Founder reminds superiors that one of their duties is to make the young priests study: “So do not tire of giving good formation to the men I send you […] but if you are continually on the go, I am mistaken in my expectations. So program some time for yourself and attend to this duty which is meant to produce happy results for the Church and the Congregation” . He makes the same appeal to Father Moreau in regards to Father Nicolas: “Warn him so that during this year he will always have something prepared” .
It is necessary to work methodically and, first of all, to impose upon oneself a discipline of silence and constant application in study. In the acts of visitation of Notre-Dame du Laus of June 26, 1828, he directs that they should observe the silence, stay in their rooms and study. And he adds: “We have stated that by observing these Rules, more studying could be accomplished. […] Who, then, could ever dispense priests from this duty, priests who are religious who should not only be the salt of the earth, but also the light of the world? What we call not studying is to be satisfied with reading a book now and again, out of sheer curiosity and without any lasting fruit. In order to study, one must have a plan, do reading which is related to that plan, take notes on what one has read, add to these notes one’s own reflections, consult different other works which confirm, corroborate or give a deeper understanding of the matter or the subject upon which one is working. We study when we become better and better informed in theology, when we acquire a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures, when we compose speeches, when we prepare instructions for the missions and for retreats. It would be a terrible mistake to believe oneself dispensed from writing because one has already preached several missions” .
Ongoing formation also involves prolonged study sessions: “My Council decided that our young priests would meet at N.-D. de Lumières to prepare themselves by study for the holy ministry, which is being compromised daily by the ineptitude of those who exercise ministry without experience, possessing little doctrine and less written material” . The Founder remains firm in this decision even if the mission is for a while deprived of workers: “The necessary step I have taken this year does not allow me to assign any young members. They are at work getting ready for the holy ministry” . After having made the experiment, the Founder expresses his satisfaction: “I foresee good things under every aspect in regard to the action that I decided to take. Regularity is being admirably observed among our young people assembled at Calvaire” . And he directs Father Tempier who is visiting in Canada to organize a similar course: “It is not only today that we have had cause to bemoan the too great facility of using our subjects before they have been sufficiently trained. One should not fear taking some strong measures to remedy this evil in Canada. […] I have withdrawn from their work, already crowned with many blessings, several of our missionaries who may have been offended by this action. […] If we could set up something similar in Canada, I would not shrink from the suspension of all missions for one year for each individual” .
We have not quoted from all the letters sent to the educators and Oblates in formation. Those which we have used are always related to the topic being treated. They make known to us the convictions of our Founder. Consequently, they can give those who are responsible for formation something to think about and can sometimes challenge them.
Formation in the history of the Congregation
1. DECISIONS OF THE GENERAL CHAPTERS
When we read the circulars of the Superiors General, especially those who report on the deliberations of the Chapters, we notice that, almost every time the question of formation was broached, the same directives on the necessity of preparing well the Oblates for their future mission in all areas are repeated. It would be tedious to report the norms that are repeated almost word for word; let it suffice to note a few specific decisions.
The Chapter of 1906 decided that the scholastics would be placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Provincials and not under that of the Superior General so that they can be more closely supervised. The communication of this decision provided the Superior General, Father Auguste Lavillardière with the opportunity to restate the prime importance of formation in the scholasticates” .
The Chapter of 1920 presents a complementary plan for the formation of future missionaries:
– History of the Congregation, to be given especially at the juniorate and at the novitiate;
– The study of English at the juniorate and at the scholasticate. On this topic, the Superior General says: “For those houses of formation which might be behind in this regard, we would willingly grant them permission to send a professor to spend his vacations once or twice in the British Province”.
– Courses in eloquence and also “practical advice on the way of teaching catechism to children”.
– A course in accounting given by an expert during the vacations.
– A course on ascetic and mystical theology.
After this, Mgr. Augustin Dontenwill writes a long paragraph on the apostolic spirit in the formation of subjects .
The Chapter of 1953 reviews all the stages of formation giving directives for each one as well as for the preparation of educators .
The many repetitions from one Chapter to the other are a sign of vitality. They show that at every important meeting, the Oblates in positions of authority wanted to stress this point and to carry out their responsibilities in a domain vital for fidelity to the mission. Other decisions of Chapters and Superiors General will be studied in the following paragraphs.
2. DOCUMENTS FROM THE GENERAL ADMINISTRATION
The oldest official document promulgated by the Superior General is the Directory of novitiates and scholasticates which Father Joseph Fabre had charged Father Rambert to draft. The latter had used existing manus already available to the Masters of Novices .
After several Chapters, the Superiors General wanted to see published a Ratio Studiorum ac Vitae to be used by the scholasticates. Father Louis Soullier wrote in circular no. 57 of March 26, 1894: “This is the kind of work that cannot be improvised and, even though it has been pending for a very long, we believe that nothing has as yet been done”. In fact, we had to wait until 1960 to see appear, by mandate of Father Léo Deschâtelets, the Ratio Studiorum applying to the Congregation the norms promulgated in the Apostolic Constitution Sedes Sapientiae of Pope Plus XII and in the Statuta Generalia appended to this Constitution. In presenting this Oblate document, Father George Cosentino passes in review all the projects of this kind since the Chapter of 1879 .
In applying Rule 33 [R 49a in CCRR 2000]of the present Constitutions: “The Superior General in Council establishes the general norms for Oblate formation”, a document was developed after an extensive consultation throughout the Congregation and thanks to the joint effort of many educators. It was officially promulgated by Father Fernand Jetté, March 24, 1984, under the title General Norms of Oblate Formation. Translated into several languages it is very useful for Oblate educators.
In their circulars, the Superiors General often broach the question of formation. Among these circulars, the letter of Father Soullier entitled: Concerning the Studies of the Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate deserves special mention . It is a long document of 127 pages. In the first part of this document, the Superior General presents the need for study: for the religious who must “acquire fully the science of the supernatural life”; for the priest who “evidently can only dispense Jesus Christ to souls under the concrete form of the human word after having previously experienced himself a sort of intellectual communion”; for the missionary, for the Oblate who, in the footsteps of the Founder, must remedy the people’s ignorance; for the Oblate in the foreign missions. In the second part, Father Soullier lists the subjects that the Oblates should study. In first place are the ecclesiastical sciences. First of all Sacred Scripture, which “taken as a whole is the great power of the apostolate and the most effective instrument of personal sanctification”. He also recommends the study of secular sciences and of foreign languages, which are necessary for the missions and for fraternal exchange in the Congregation. The third part speaks of the supernatural character which should be given to studies: “No study or knowledge but that which becomes transformed into the love of God”. Apart from the style, which is no longer current, the directives of this letter still remain valid.
Father Deschâtelets’ letter, Our Vocation and our Life of Intimate Union with Mary Immaculate , a letter meant for all Oblates, is not directly addressed to houses of formation. I mention it here only because it was analyzed at meetings of educators and they found it helpful in their work .
During his term as superior, Father Jetté showed a particular concern for the works of formation. In addition, he took every opportunity to express his thinking on formation in his letters and on those occasions when he met with educators and with young Oblates . These documents as well as the extracts from the letters of Superiors General quoted in other paragraphs show that, following the lead of Saint Eugene, they are conscious of their responsibility and want to supervise formation carefully.
3. RESPONSIBILITY OF THE GENERAL COUNCIL
In reporting on the work done by the Chapter of May 1893 where he was elected Superior General, Father Soullier stated this in circular no. 57 of March 26, 1894: “It is expedient and fitting that one of the assistants of the Superior General have the particular responsibility for the things related to studies in the Congregation and more especially for the Catholic University of Ottawa”. In fact, Father Soullier named two assistants, “one more particularly charged with fostering studies inside the Congregation; the other to supervise the development of the teaching at the University of Ottawa” .
The desire to see one of the members of the General Administration put in charge of formation in order to assist the Superior General in this field was taken up again by the Chapter of 1947 which recommended that there a Director General of studies be named. The Chapter of 1953 confirmed this decision and gave the Director of Studies an official position in the General Administration .
The Chapter of 1966 further enhanced the institution by establishing a General Secretariate of Formation, directed by a specialized secretary who worked under the control of an Assistant General . This organization was not retained by the Chapter of 1972. But from the Chapter of 1974 on, it was decided that the Assistant General responsible for formation would be assisted by a general committee composed of at least one Oblate from each Region. This institution was confirmed by the Chapter of 1980 (R 34) [R 49b in CCRR 2000]. It permits the Assistant General to have continuous contact with the works of formation in the entire Congregation.
It was in an effort to carry out in a collegial manner their responsibility that, in 1978, the members of the General Council organized a systematic visit of all the houses of formation in order to evaluate the situation and to encourage all of those who devoted themselves to formation .
All this enables us to see how the Superiors General and their council ranked formation among the very first of their concerns.
4. PREPARATION OF EDUCATORS
Superiors General and Chapters have often complained that educators were too few in number and lacked adequate preparation. To remedy this lack, Father Deschâtelets decided to establish a community called Studium generale superius which would have as its primary goal the preparation of individuals for the task of being educators. The Chapter of 1953 had a very broad vision of the role of this new institution:
a. “all of our Oblate houses of formation should be represented at the Studium one year or the other by Fathers characterized as ‘in training’;”
b. the Fathers should be grouped alternately according to the nature of the work to which they are assigned or to which they are destined: the juniorate, the novitiate, the scholasticate;
c. in addition to the courses, the program of studies in this house consist in personal work and even exams […]
d. for a brief period there can be received from time to time in the Studium some Fathers involved in ministries other than the formation of young Oblates, as long as the Institute does not have other means available for providing these Fathers the supplementary formation their respective needs require;
e. the Studium should receive as well those Fathers who will have been sent to Rome to obtain academic degrees at the Roman universities .
In fact, the Studium received mostly Fathers who were following courses at the Roman universities. In addition to the academic courses, for a few years the program consisted of special sessions on the problems of formation. From the outset it was never possible to carry out the ambitious program of the Chapter of 1953. “We do not want to fail to mention that, whatever the current success of the Studium may be, the final formula has not yet been found. It can describe two distinct organizations: first of all, a centre for meetings, where at set times the Oblates trained in one or the other purpose of the Institute can meet […] We can also envisage a permanent studium where missionaries, professors, sociologists could meet to study the major problems of our apostolate, of our works, of our teaching. But that cannot be carried out at the present time because, for the moment, because of circumstances the Studium is nothing more than a residence for our student-priests” . During the preparation of the 1966 Chapter, it was clear that Father Deschâtelets had not given up hope of making of the studium a nerve centre for various activities . This project was never launched. After the Chapter of 1972, the Studium no longer existed as a separate community. The student fathers stayed at the General House and tried to fit in as best they could into the life of the local community.
This in no way means that the preparation of educators did not continue to be a matter of major concern. During Father Jetté’s term of office as Superior, six congresses were organized for educators. For one month, several of them met in Rome (once in Washington) to pool their experience and to study the best means of being faithful to their task. Congresses of the same kind, but of shorter duration, were also organized by several Regions. These international meetings are a more modest project than the Studium Generale Superius, but they are easier to carry out. They serve a real need and they are considered valuable by the participants.
5. ONGOING FORMATION
There was in the former Constitutions a rather rigid structure which upheld the pursuit of study and mutual support in the community to assure that it took place. It was the theological conference which was to be held once a month . And even other conferences were foreseen in order to exchange points of view on the missionary method . According to the first Rule, the theological conference was to take place once a week. Father Fabre reminds his subjects of the need for this . Moreover, he had planned to have an Assistant General write up a conference plan adapted to our ministry and which could provide for each one through serious work the means of keeping or obtaining the indispensable knowledge for its perfect exercise . In fact, this plan never saw the light of day.
The first years of ministry were considered as a privileged time in which to provide for the young fathers the additional formation they needed. In his circular on preaching, Father Soullier says: “We are making every sacrifice in order to obtain for our scholastics the most solid and the most complete studies. […] But once these subjects pass under the jurisdiction of the provincial superiors and the local superiors, we desire that they should strictly observe the directives of our Holy Rules and of our General Chapters: the annual exams, the three years without regular ministry, years used for the immediate preparation for the missions, the theological conferences, etc. Once the basic fund of knowledge is acquired, it is our duty to augment it by constant work and to apply it in our apostolic works through serious preparation” . The foundation principles of these decisions are upheld in the new text of the Constitutions , but what has not been kept is the rigid structure which ensured the actual application of these principles.
In the face of the intellectual upheaval of the post-war period, the need was felt to give the Oblates a time of reflection so that they could take stock of their lives and renew themselves. It is again due to an initiative taken by Fr. Deschâtelets that the “De Mazenod Retreat” is set up. Speaking about the suggestions made at the Chapter of 1953, he presents the project in the following manner: “[these suggestions] express all the advantages there would be, after a few years of active life, to give our Fathers the chance to reflect for a certain length of time on their spiritual and apostolic life” . Father Deschâtelets sends out a special circular to announce that the Sacred Congregation of Religious approves the setting up of the De Mazenod Retreat . The first part of the circular describes the history of this institution beginning from the Chapter of 1837 which already suggested: “A six month retreat in the novitiate after ten years of oblation”. Next, Father Deschâtelets makes reference to the proposal of the 1953 Chapter and he explains the spirit animating this new institution: “A period essentially dedicated to a basic review of the whole of Oblate religious life with an adult awareness and with all the experience of several years of religious life and of Oblate ministry, permitting each one either a deepening of that life, or perhaps a true returning to basics to make a fresh start” . A few years later, he shows how this institution had operated . After the Chapter of 1972, it was entrusted to the Regions and had varying degrees of success. In considering its eventual revival, it would be advisable to remember the suggestions made by Father Armand Reuter, Director General of Studies: “It would seem to be worthwhile to try to make of it a combination of spiritual and pastoral renewal, something which seems to us to be a psychological necessity to ensure a fruitful experience at this level” .
In order to ensure that the action of the Superior General and of his council should be effective in this field, the Vicar General was named the person in charge of ongoing formation in the first session which followed the Chapter of 1974 . And he [the Vicar General] established a “network of persons” apt to help the Provinces for the ongoing formation of Oblates. This network is meant to respond to the need for exchange and of mutual support in the Congregation as a whole, without it being necessary to set up a new official structure. It is also an invitation to call upon all the competence available to work together in ongoing formation . A newsletter served as a communications link among the members of this network.
In addition to this work which involved all the Provinces, Father Jetté saw to the organization of different international meetings. Starting from the principle stated in Rule 70 [R 69b in CCRR 2000] “an adequate formation should be assured when an Oblate receives an assignment for which he has not been trained”, he offered several sessions to educators; this was treated above. He also offered sessions to newly appointed Provincials to help them take on their responsibilities in the best possible conditions . It was also due to Father Jetté’s initiative that two important congresses were organized: one on the charism of the Founder and the other on the Oblates and Evangelization . Another congress sponsored by the General Administration was held in Ottawa in August 1982 to study evangelization in secularized societies.
6. FORMATION OF THE BROTHERS
Throughout the history of the Congregation we find a concern for the religious and technical training of the Brothers. In his report to the Chapter of 1904, Father Cassien Augier makes the acute observation that: “If technical training produces little when it is not accompanied with good will, good will without technical training remains practically sterile” . A little further on he states: “The lay brothers will fulfill only very imperfectly their task if they are not enlightened from the supernatural point of view” . This concern was given a concrete form in the former Constitutions , entrusting the ongoing formation of the Brothers to a Spiritual Prefect who was to gather them once a week and accompany each one personally. The Provinces with many lay brother vocations organized with special care the spiritual and technical formation of their Brothers. Father Deschâtelets, reporting on the second Extraordinary General Council, could say: “At the present time, we find schools or houses specialized in the ongoing formation of Brothers in twelve Provinces” .
With the advent of a change of mentality, the need was felt to reduce as much as possible the differences which existed between fathers and brothers. That is why, in his report to the Chapter of 1959, Father Deschâtelets begins the paragraph on the Brothers this way: “Up to now we have said little about our dear coadjutor brothers. We did this deliberately. They are so identified with, incorporated into our Oblate life that we should not treat them separately when we are treating of the Congregation in general as it is our purpose here” . But it still remains true that the Brothers, like all Oblates, have the right to a solid formation in every domain. That is what Father Deschâtelets develops in the rest of his report. He stresses this same topic in his opening speech at the Chapter of 1966 . He even wrote a special circular on this subject in which he comments on the articles of the Constitutions which treat of the Brothers .
It is because he wanted to acknowledge and show consideration for the change in mentality and because he felt it was important to maintain a solid formation for the Brothers that Father Jetté convoked a special congress for them. This congress was held in Rome in August-September of 1985 and was organized by the Brothers themselves .
In conclusion, we do well to remember the directives Father Jetté gave to the Chapter of 1986: “To respect and to promote the vocation of the Oblate Brother according to its own proper specificity – To abolish all the unnecessary distinctions between Fathers and Brothers in the life shared in common, on the religious and human level – To guarantee a serious doctrinal and spiritual formation as well as an adequate technical formation” .
7. WORKING TOOLS AT THE SERVICE OF FORMATION
We have already spoken of the documents published by the Superiors General in council. Other initiatives are worthy of being mentioned here.
Sometimes the Oblates write with more good will than competence about the Founder and his spirituality or about the Congregation. Faced with the abundance of this literature, the Chapter of 1947 feeling the need to guarantee the soundness of Oblate historical studies and spirituality, wanted to create an “Institute for Historical Studies”, to be established in Rome and to be made up of Oblates who would have been scientifically prepared for this task at various universities . This Institute never saw the light of day, but the Chapter’s wish did not remain a dead letter. A certain number of Oblates specialized themselves in spiritual theology and in the history of the Church. Thanks to their work, we now possess a considerable number of valuable theses and studies which are a rich source of information on formation which is specifically Oblate. Among others, we can cite the Archives d’histoire oblate under the direction of Fathers Maurice Gilbert and Gaston Carrière (published by Études oblates, Ottawa), the periodical Études oblates, which became Vie Oblate Life in 1974 (same publisher), the Quaderni di Vermicino published by the scholasticate of the Province of Italy.
In view of the theological controversies and the climate of uncertainty which arose after the Council, the Superior General felt the need to surround himself with theologians to shed light on the problems which touch on Oblate life . He called two priests to the General House and centres for research were established in six Regions. This group experienced some difficulty in establishing a working method and was discontinued after the Chapter of 1972.
Another project of the same kind made its appearance at the intercapitular meeting of May 1978. “Father Gilles Cazabon, Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph in Canada, suggested setting up a freely constituted group of Oblates desirous of sharing their research and reflections on the history, the spirituality and the present life of the Congregation” . This suggestion received the strong support of all the participants. On the occasion of the Congress on the Oblates and Evangelization, held September 14, 1982 , this organization was set up under the title of “Association for Oblate Studies and Research”. The charter was officially approved at the plenary session of the General Council of November-December 1982 . The houses of formation will find its work useful.
The Chapter of 1947 also entrusted to the Superior General the responsibility of publishing writings which cast light on our history: “The time has come to especially collect and verify according to scientific method the sources of this history and to publish them in order to make them accessible to all researchers” . A first collection of texts was published in Missions and in a separate edition thanks to the work of Father Paul-Émile Duval. Reporting on this work to the Chapter of 1953 Father Deschâtelets observed: “Would it not be better to reserve Missions for more recent events and to organize another series in the form of a special publication” .
The task of carrying this out fell to Father Jetté. At his urging, Yvon Beaudoin has already published, in a first series of a sixteen volumes of Oblate Writings, the letters of the Founder to Oblates as well as to the Sacred Congregation and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The publication of other texts continues. This collection is a work tool of great value in the hands of Oblate educators.
In reviewing the history of Oblate formation, we have seen all sorts of projects arise and develop in response to the need for a sound education. Some continue, others have been abandoned. The spirit which animated these undertakings is the spirit of Saint Eugene when founding the Institute: to respond to the call of the Church and in order to do that to form “apostolic men deeply conscious of the need to reform themselves, who would labour with all the resources at their command to convert others” (Preface). The method, just as it was at the time of the Founder, is always the same: to imitate Christ in the formation of the Apostles (cf. C. 45).