1. Introduction
  2. Religious life in the writings of Eugene de Mazenod
  3. After Eugene de Mazenod's death


Eugene de Mazenod did not have two vocations: one to the priesthood and the other to the religious life – he had one vocation exclusively, that of becoming fully an apostolic man. The priesthood and the religious life were contained within that vocation. Priesthood: to be a priest who teaches, who proclaims the Word of God, who administers God’s pardon, who celebrates the Eucharist, and who gathers the Christian community around Christ. Religious life: to be a consecrated apostolic man who gives all, who refuses nothing to God, who is interiorly free, a man who is detached, zealous for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, in a word, inclined to follow and practice the evangelical counsels.

Eugene de Mazenod used to say: “If we wish to achieve the same results as the Apostles and the first followers of the Gospel we must use the same means as they and, this all the more because we do not have the power to perform miracles and so we must bring back those who have gone astray by the splendor of our virtues”. [1] That is why he felt it was so important to have Abbé Henry Tempier as a member of his group. “Be sure that I regard it as most important for God’s work that you be one of us. I count on you more than on myself for the regularity of a house which, in my mind and my hopes, must reproduce the perfection of the first disciples of the apostles. I base my hopes on that much more than on eloquent discourses. Have they ever converted anyone? Oh! how well will you do what must be done!” [2]

We can say that, after his “conversion” during the years 1805-1807 and in spite of his faults, [3] the will to make a total gift of himself to God was always present in his heart. Once he had experienced Christ’s love for him, and how Christ offered his blood to save him, Eugene de Mazenod wanted to live only for him and for the salvation of all.

In this article, we will explicitate what religious life is for the Oblates: its birth with Eugene de Mazenod, and more briefly, its evolution and present state. Some studies do exist on this subject; they can be found especially in Etudes oblates (Vie Oblate Life) [4]and in some recent works. [5]

Religious life in the writings of Eugene de Mazenod

In the third part of the article on Eugene de Mazenod: “The Spirituality of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate” in this Dictionary, we touched upon this question and laid out the context in which it is necessary to treat it. [6]

Eugene’s attraction towards the religious life revealed itself step by step and in various ways. When he was 13 or 14 years of age in Venice, the life and attitudes of his spiritual teacher, Don Bartolo Zinelli had a strong impact on him. The same can be said for his reading of Lettres édifiantes sur les missions étrangères écrites par les missionnaires de la Compagnie de Jésus (Edifying Letters on the Foreign Missions Written by the Missionaries of the Company of Jesus). He would later write: “My vocation to the ecclesiastical state dates from there [Venice] and perhaps also to a more perfect state.” [7] At this point, it was not a question of religious life, but that the impact of the conduct and regularity of Don Bartolo’s life was not lost on him. It would seem that in Naples and Palermo he did not give this matter much thought; and the same can be said of his first years back in France (1802-1805). Nevertheless, he did notice that the people were spiritually deprived, especially the poor; he noted as well the small number of priests and lack of religious to help them. He himself set to work caring for the prisoners of Aix.

On a Good Friday, probably in 1807 – he was 25 years old at the time – God’s grace became more manifest and changed his life. The sight of the cross of Christ touched him to the depths of his soul. “[…] despite my grief, or rather through my grief, my soul took wings for its last end, towards God its only good whose loss it felt so keenly”. [8] The following year, “a strong impulse from without”, a genuine action of the Holy Spirit, fixed his resolve to become a priest. [9]

The four years spent at Saint-Sulpice seminary increased his awareness of the needs of the Church. Those years brought him a more strongly structured spiritual life: exercises of piety, participation in the sacraments, a method for prayer, examination of conscience, a rule of life… He admired the Sulpicians and his knowledge of the religious life increased. Already cool towards his idea of entering the priesthood, his mother became even more worried when she saw him beginning to associate with “the Brothers”. In a letter of March 23, 1809 to her, Eugene addressed this issue: “I could not help smiling when I read your plea not to get too involved with these good Brothers [the Grey Brothers] and to remember that our mission must be different. I thought I detected in this maternal solicitude a certain anxiety lest I become attracted to the way of life of these good Brothers as I had veneration for their virtues. I must not keep you on tenterhooks before reassuring you about this. I have never for a single moment thought of taking a step so much beyond my strength and so little to my taste. It would take a quite different kind of virtue than I have to embrace the highest level of evangelical perfection and God has never inspired me with the least attraction to the Retreat [that is to say the Priests of the Christian Retreat?] and an over-large degree of dependence. If one day I can do something for this establishment, I will do it with all my heart, as I am convinced they do an enormous amount of good, but that is as far as it goes…” [10]

In 1811 towards the end of his seminary training, Eugene had need of a house servant. His choice fell upon a former religious, a Trappist Camaldolese called Brother Maur. In 1812, Brother Maur remained in Eugene’s employ and accompanied him to Aix. In 1814, the Trappists were re-established in France. When Eugene consulted M. Duclaux about it, he responded in a letter which read in part: “I have the clear sense that you are right in feeling the loss of Brother Maur. It will be difficult for you to find someone to replace him. You have made significant sacrifices to retain him, but at the time you chose him, you were aware that in his heart he was a Trappist as well as being a vowed member of that society and that he had made an irrevocable commitment binding himself to a greater Master… From the moment that a Trappist house will have been firmly re-established, he will have an obligation in conscience to withdraw to it; this is a sacrifice you owe to God and to religion which is well served by these good Trappist Fathers.” [11]

This brother was a fervent religious who, while living in the world, had maintained the holy practices of his state as a religious. At Aix, Eugene had given him the task of “rebuking him for his faults at oraison in the morning”. [12] On September 17, 1814, Father de Mazenod received him officially as a member of his Christian Youth Group. “[…] When he was received, the Director […] did not forget to point out to the brother’s new confreres, the youthful members of the group, all the advantages that would accrue to them from the bond of prayer and merit henceforth established between them and this holy religious who from the depths of his solitude, even in the stillness of the night, would in some way watch over them […]” [13] The next day, Brother Maur left Aix and withdrew to the Trappist Monastery. Father John Mary Larose wrote: “It is our impression that it was from this humble Camaldolese brother that our Founder learned the profound richness of the religious life. We would almost say: he made his novitiate as a religious”. [14]

That may be so, but in the meantime Abbé de Mazenod had reflected on the religious life; he had made retreats which drew their inspiration from Jesuit authors, among others that of Father François Nepveu. [15] He had had contact with the Redemptorists, the Lazarists, the Sulpicians; he had mused about the ancient Orders and mourned their disappearance from France. In 1811, he wrote to his sister, Eugenie: “According to what time it is, take yourself off in spirit and keep company with saintly people praising and blessing the holy Name of God, to the Carmelites between 9 and 11, between 11 and 2 the Religious who in various places still have the happiness of being able to sing the Lord’s praises at the hours prescribed by their rule; from 2 to 4 to the Trappists […] When one has faith and even a tiny modicum of love of God it is easy to find ways of not losing sight for too long of one’s well-beloved.” [16]

In 1814, Eugene shared his own search and his availability with Charles de Forbin-Janson: “I still do not know what God wants of me but am so resolved to do his will that as soon as it is known to me I will leave tomorrow for the moon, if I have to. I keep nothing secret from you. So I will tell you without ado that I am hesitating between two plans: either to go off and bury myself in some well regulated community of an Order that I have always loved; or do in my diocese exactly what you have done successfully at Paris. … I was feeling more inclined to the first plan because, to tell the truth, I was quite sick of living solely for others. … The second plan, however, seems to me more useful, given the dreadful plight to which the people have been reduced. … I also have in mind some rules to propose for I insist that we live in a completely regular manner. … May God be glorified, may souls be saved – that is what matters. I see no further than that.” [17] It is the apostolic orientation which holds sway, but with the desire “that we live in a completely regular manner”.

In 1813, Eugene founded the Youth Congregation of Aix and endowed it with a serious rule of life which he held to be very important. [18] In 1815, he was looking for candidates to establish the mission of Provence. He knew that he was unable to succeed by himself. His letters to Abbé Tempier are specific and clear: he wants to have a group of “fervent missionaries”, who “will live together in the same house” and “live under a rule which they will adopt with common accord”. He wants “men who have the will and the courage to walk in the footsteps of the Apostles”. He wants to see that “the greatest regularity be established” in this house. “And it is precisely for that reason that you are necessary to me because I know you to be capable of embracing an exemplary rule of life and of persevering in it.” [19]

A few weeks later, on December 13, 1814, he reiterates to Abbé Tempier: “Be as humble as you wish but know, just the same, that you are necessary for this mission work. I speak to you before God and openly from my heart. Were it a question of going out to preach more or less well the Word of God, mingled with much alloy of self, of going far and wide for the purpose, if you wish, of winning souls for God without taking much trouble to be men of interior life, truly apostolic men, I think it would not be difficult to replace you. But can you believe I want merchandise of that sort? We must be truly saints ourselves. In saying that, we include all that can possibly be said. Now are there many priests who thus wish to be saints? Only by not knowing them could we believe that they do. I myself know the contrary. Most wish to go to heaven by a road other than that of abnegation, renunciation, forgetfulness of self, poverty, fatigue, etc. Perhaps they are not obliged to do more or otherwise than they do but at least they should not be so obstructive if some, believing that more is demanded by the needs of people, want to try to be more devoted in order to save them.” [20]

In his January 25, 1816 letter of petition to the Vicars General of Aix, Eugene restated his direction and goal: he wants to found “a regular community of missionaries […] in an effort to be useful to the diocese, while at the same time working at their own sanctification, in conformity with their own vocation”. [21] He even specifies: “[The community wants] to provide its members with the means necessary to practise the religious virtues to which they are so strongly attracted that the greater number of them would consecrate themselves for life to their observance in some religious Order, did they not nurture the hope of finding in the missionaries’ community more or less the same advantages as in the religious state to which they wanted to pledge themselves”. [22]

In a letter of November 4, 1817 to Father Tempier, who at that time was in charge of the formation of young Oblates, he stressed: “As the number of young people who belong to the house has increased, exactness and regularity must grow in proportion. This is the time to form the spirit of the house which I have discussed with you in another letter. You have to beware of frivolity, of self-sufficiency, lack of discipline, independence… I quite insist that all give a good example at the seminary … They ought not to forget that we are a Congregation of regular clerics, that we ought in consequence to be more fervent than simple seminarians, that we are called to replace in the Church the piety and all the virtues of the religious Orders, 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 enflame them with his love and give them the signal to go forth swiftly and conquer the world.” [23]

Already Eugene viewed his society as “a Congregation of regular clerics”! We were not “religious”, but as far as the Founder was concerned we should have the spirit of religious and live their regularity. Father George Cosentino observes: “In the January 25, 1816 Rule, even though vows are not mentioned, it is still explicitly stated: ‘Upon entering the Society, the Missionaries must resolve to persevere in it their whole life through. […] Each individual member makes the commitment toward the Society to live in obedience to his superiors and the observation of the statutes and rules’.” [24]

On Holy Thursday, April 11, 1816, Father de Mazenod and Father Tempier made a mutual vow of obedience. The Founder wrote: “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, practice 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 noticed about the words of those who proclaim the same truths, namely sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. My consistent thought has even been that our little family should consecrate itself to God and to the service of the Church through the vows of religion… Briefly put, Father Tempier and I felt that we should not delay any longer, and on Holy Thursday … we pronounced our vows with an indescribable joy.” [25] In Father Tempier’s death notice, Father Joseph Fabre would say: “We can consider this act as the initial step toward religious life, a consecration they would most joyfully make one day”. [26]

The founding of a house at Notre-Dame du Laus beyond the limits of the diocese of Aix, in January 8, 1819, compelled them to take a further step. Eugene had grasped the fact that by expanding beyond the borders of a single diocese his group needed some Constitutions. In the period of August-September 1818, he withdrew to Saint-Laurent du Verdon and compiled the text, drawing much inspiration from Blessed Alphonsus Liguori.

Father de Mazenod discussed the problem of religious vows with the members of the Institute during the first General Chapter in 1818, and since the priests were not all in agreement, he brought the scholastics into the voting process – the Constitutions with their commitment to vows were thus accepted. There were seven priests involved (Eugene de Mazenod, Henry Tempier, Pierre-Nolasque Mie, Noël François Moreau, Jean- François Deblieu, Emmanuel Maunier and Marius Aubert) and three scholastics (Hippolyte Courtès, Marius Suzanne and Alexandre Dupuy). Six opted for the acceptance of vows. On November 1, 1818 the first profession of obedience, chastity and perseverance took place in the chapel at Aix, at the close of the retreat. Two members, Fathers Deblieu and Aubert, chose to wait. [27]

The Founder was motivated by a number of factors with regard to the vow of perseverance. First among these was the fact that Alphonsus de Liguori had written this into his Rules. Then there was a compelling historic reason as well, that is, that at that time the bishops could, or thought they could, dispense individuals from vows emitted in Congregations with simple vows.

As for the vow of poverty, Eugene de Mazenod did not judge that his Institute was ready to accept it. He himself desired to take this vow; and he encouraged his companions to “absorb well the spirit of [poverty]”. [28] Subsequent Chapters would see to it that this was accomplished. Indeed, the second General Chapter held on October 21, 1821 introduced it into the Constitutions. So it was that in 1825 when Rome was petitioned to approve the Institute, the Constitutions contained the four vows.

These vows, rooted in a solid community life, based upon a profound love of Jesus Christ, on the will to “work earnestly to become saints, [to] follow courageously in the footsteps of the Apostles… [to] renounce [oneself] entirely… [to be] ready to sacrifice [one’s] goods, [one’s] talents, [one’s] rest, [one’s] very person and [one’s] life for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of one’s neighbor…” and to reach out to others “to fight to the death” to teach them “who Jesus Christ is” and “extend the empire of the Savior”, [29] that is what the deion of an Oblate is in 1826!

The Founder also asked his members to live under the patronage of Mary Immaculate, to be very good-hearted to people, especially the poor, and to be faithful to the life of prayer: two half hours every day; faithful to recollection: “The entire life of the members of the Society should be one of continued recollection”; faithful to the practice of mortification: “Gospel workers should also hold in the highest esteem the practice of Christian mortification if they truly wish their work to bear abundant fruit. Consequently, all the members of the Society will apply themselves mainly to mortifying their internal inclinations, to mastering their passions, to bringing their wills into complete subjection in every respect, to striving to imitate the Apostle in taking pleasure in the sufferings, rejections and humiliations of Jesus Christ.” [30] In addition to that he added: “In all the houses wherever practical and feasible, the members will recite the canonical hours of the breviary in choir with great recollection.” [31]

One paragraph of these Constitutions, which remained part of the official text right up to 1966, is the one which mentions the Oblate’s life as being divided into two parts: one part devoted to prayer and the other to external activities. “It has already been said that the missionaries ought, as far as the weakness of human nature allows, to imitate in everything the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, the chief Founder of the Society and of the Apostles, our first fathers. In imitation of these great models, one portion of their life will be given over to prayer, interior recollection and contemplation in the privacy of God’s house, wherein they will dwell together in common. The other portion will be entirely consecrated to outside works requiring the most active zeal such as missions, preaching, confessions, catechizing, directing young people, visiting the sick and prisoners, giving spiritual retreats and other similar exercises.” The Rule ends thus: “However, their chief concern will be, as much when out on missions as when in the house, to make progress in the paths of ecclesiastical and religious perfection; they will especially cultivate the virtues of humility, obedience, poverty, self-denial, the spirit of mortification, the spirit of faith, purity of intention and others; in a word, they will strive to become other Jesus Christs, radiating everywhere the fragrance of his lovable virtues”. [32]

Subsequently, in his visits and in his letters to the end of his life, the Founder strongly stressed the kind of regularity necessary to live as an Oblate. For example, at the age of 74, he addressed the Congregation in the following words: “Thanks be to God, the majority of you have understood this well. Yet, I say this in sorrow, too many still leave much to be desired in this matter. One would say that our Rules and Constitutions are for them a sealed book … What are they doing during oraison…? Of what use to them are the two examinations of conscience… Do they find no food for their soul in the Holy Office… in the Holy Sacrifice…? And what about this day of retreat each month and the spiritual exercises which each year precede the renewal of vows? Or confession at least once a week, and direction conferences of the coulpe. In short, this ensemble of a life of perfection which is quite adequate to form great saints in the God’s Church? Flens dico, it is precisely the abuse of so many graces which constitutes unfaithfulness … and which explains the distressing apostasies that embarrass us.” [33]

As Bishop of Marseilles (1837-1861), Eugene de Mazenod was pleased to welcome several religious congregations into his diocese. [34] As Superior General of the Oblates, his main task was the deepening of the missionary and religious commitment of his Society. [35] The nine General Chapters at which he presided would bring the necessary clarifications called for with regard to the development and the life of the Institute: for example, the sending of members to the foreign missions (1831), the adopting of the moral theology of Blessed Alphonsus Liguori (1837), knowing how “to bring our Rules more in tune with the needs of the Society and also with regard to the broader horizons opening up to us” (1843), establishing provinces in the Congregation (1850), launching the cause of beatification of Father Dominic Albini (1856)… And even affirming in 1850 that which is truly characteristic of Eugene: the necessity to “be perfect religious in order to be good missionaries”. [36]

After Eugene de Mazenod’s death

After the death of the Founder, how did religious life evolve among the Oblates and what is its state today?

On the whole and right up until after the Second World War (1939-1945), the Congregation grew and its religious life proved itself faithful and solidly grounded. Geographic expansion was intense: in 1861 the Oblates numbered 414 members, while in 1995, they numbered 5,000 in more than 60 countries. The Constitutions and Rules have remained substantially the same; with a serious transformation in form only in 1966. [37] The Superiors General and the Chapters endeavoured to respond to the needs of the Church and the world of the poor: they adapted the Congregation to the changing times; they founded new missions; they strengthened the family bonds among Oblates; they sought the best means to obtain financial resources for the Institute; they founded the review Missions O.M.I. in 1862; they fostered collaboration with Christian lay people by establishing the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate (1893)… Religious life as such, in its form and content, was not touched; it was a part of our being. It was lived, it was studied in depth and it was adapted to new canonical requirements (1908, 1926), to external circumstances such as the two World Wars, to the appeals of the Church (for example, involvement in Catholic Action, and the development of missions in Latin America). A good deal of insistence was placed on the community and family spirit, on devotion to Mary, the need to formulate the Oblate spirituality, [38] to have the Oblate saints glorified (Eugene de Mazenod, Dominique Albini, Vital Grandin, Joseph Gérard, Ovide Charlebois, Brother Anthony Kowalczyk…)

For the hundredth anniversary of the Congregation, Bishop Augustin Dontenwill solidly affirmed the religious character of the Institute: “In the name of God, that of his Vicar on earth and our venerated Founder, I affirm that in our Congregation we are religious before being missionaries, religious in order to be supernatural missionaries, religious to persevere unto death in apostolic work. The day we cease to be religious, even if we will still bear the title of missionary, even if we will carry out apostolic functions, even if we could be men who convert souls, we will nevertheless cease being in our vocation… It was our venerated Founder’s will that in his youthful missionary society, religious life should precede, prepare and shape the apostolic life.” [39]

At the beginning of his term as General in 1947, Father Leo Deschâtelets still benefited from this atmosphere. In his Memoires, he made the following observation: “At that time, we had to come up with solutions to so many problems! Never did we feel that the solutions we offered were not accepted or that those who took our advice regretted it. Quite the contrary was true. There were no problems about accepting authority or being obedient at that time. The Rule decided everything. We had only to appeal to it in all circumstances.” [40]

Little by little, with the technological progress and social changes which followed the Second World War, there were changes in the world and in people’s mentality. It was a whole new world; it demanded major changes. The Church herself felt the need for such a change and Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council. He stated: “The Church […] is witnessing a grave crisis in human society, a crisis which is leading to some important changes. While the human race is at the crossroads of a new era, enormous tasks await the Church, just as was the case in every difficult era. What is being asked of her at this moment is to inject the eternal, life-giving and divine energies of the Gospel into the veins of the modern world; this world which is proud of its most recent technical and scientific conquests, but which is experiencing the effects of a temporal order which some people have wanted to reorganize without any reference to God.” [41] He spoke of his “total disagreement with those prophets of doom who constantly announce catastrophes as if the world were near its end” [42]. It was his wish that the Church “would direct its attention to the present times which bring with them new situations, new forms of life and open up new avenues of opportunity for Catholic apostolic work”. [43] “We must joyfully and fearlessly address the work our era calls for by pursuing the road the Church has followed for almost two thousand years.” [44]

This willingness to seek up-dating and serious renewal was asked of the Church in general and at the same time of religious life. The Council stated: “The up-to-date renewal of the religious life comprises both a constant return to the sources of Christian life in general and to the original inspiration of the Institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time. […] For this reason, the Constitutions, the “directories”, the books of customs, the prayer books, should be suitably revised […] Effective renewal and authentic adaptation cannot be achieved save with the cooperation of all the members of the Institute.” [45]

Indeed, the world has become a new world, a world more dominated by industry and technology, a world of specialization and efficiency, a world imbued with a democratic mentality. This world has turned its back on the monolithic society with its hierarchic structure to adopt a pluralist liberal mentality. It has gone from being an aristocratic society to an egalitarian society. It no longer accepts a single belief, a faith which strives to compel recognition. And in like manner, it does not easily accept authority exercised in an autocratic fashion; it demands that authority be exercised in a collegial manner. Present-day society has become fluid. It has become a society subject to change and demands that institutions undergo revision, work in a collaborative fashion, and move forward.

At the same time, within religious life and according to geographic regions, individualism and the emphasis on personal fulfillment have become more pervasive. People became more critical; the demand was for the kind of evangelization work that is genuinely effective, which truly touches the lives of contemporary people, which stands in defence of justice and peace. In the West this modern culture became more pervasive and vocations to the religious life, especially the apostolic life, have greatly diminished. They seem to no longer respond to people’s needs and not to be effective in the work of evangelization. There is a problem of faith here, but in addition and primarily there is a human problem.

Among the Oblates, this crisis of religious life had its impact. In 1953, they asked for a new edition of the Constitutions and Rules. A post-capitular commission was established to deal with this issue. It was to present a working text to be revised by the following Chapter. The 1959 Chapter which lasted almost two months spent a long time studying the revised text, but felt unable to bring to completion the task entrusted to it. It asked that a new commission be established which would prepare a second revised edition. This second text was submitted to the 1966 Chapter. At that point, the Congregation took on a new direction: the Chapter made a clear option for an in-depth adaptation to the contemporary world. It discreetly put aside the revised text, a text still greatly influenced by the 1928 Constitutions, and drew up an entirely new text, using the language and perspectives adopted from the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The 1972 Chapter adopted the same orientation by giving its vote of approval to two documents: Missionary Outlook and Administrative Structures.

The step was taken. Oblate religious life made its entry into the present-day world and made the decision to face the challenges this world presented. The new text of the 1966 Constitutions was not flawless. Perhaps it depended too much on the Council and did not sufficiently reflect the character proper to the Oblates. Some balance had to be found. Working in close collaboration with the Congregation as a whole, this came about gradually and would produce the 1982 text, a more succinct, modern text in which the presence of Eugene de Mazenod is very apparent.

In the course of these years, our numbers fell considerably. In 1966, the Institute claimed a membership of more than 7,000; in 1995, it had 5,000 members. This decline in numbers was the common experience of religious families. But, above and beyond that, criticisms against our Oblate religious life were leveled from the inside. It was said that it was too “monastic”; it stressed too much the separation between prayer and external works; it lacked unity; it failed to take into account the diversity and increasing number of external works… And it even happened that some, strongly influenced by the changes going on in our contemporary world questioned their own commitment as religious. Here is an extreme example: “Three vows, three negations, … a real demolishing of the human world… If the three vows separate us from the world, the world of human beings, of concrete and historic humanity, how can we draw any other conclusion than that they are dehumanizing factors? … In the new cultural context (post Vatican II), religious life finds itself literally in a precarious position. Religious life, whose aim it was to separate people from the world in order to make them better Christians, is faced with the fact that a reassessment of the contemporary world indicates that the world is a necessary element, not only to achieve full humanization, but it is a necessary requirement for Christian salvation and salvation of the Church. From this it follows that the dehumanization inherent in the practice of the three vows no longer appears to be the reverse side of divinization … [the vows] prove to be the would-be assassins of Christian life itself…”

People could still see the need for the missionary life, but some could no longer see any need for the religious life. In 1974, the question was asked. The response from the Congregation was simple: in the thought of the Founder and in the history of the Congregation, the Oblate (priest or brother) [46] is an apostle-religious, a man entirely devoted to evangelizing the poor and in order to do this he is consecrated to God through the religious vows. So as to affirm this character even more strongly, the General Chapter of 1980 voted to approve the concept that the two realities of the mission and religious life form the first part of the Constitutions under the single heading: “The Oblate Charism”. In the past, these realities constituted two distinct elements. “This is an important change. It clearly indicates that the Oblate charism includes the Oblate’s way of religious life as much as it does his apostolic mission within the Church. The Oblate vocation is more than a missionary commitment in favour of the poor; it is first of all a state of consecration to God in which our missionary service is rooted.” [47]

The 1982 Constitutions remained faithful to Eugene de Mazenod’s ideal. They tried to achieve a full understanding of the religious life he wanted, to give stronger unity to our being and to adapt our missionary response to contemporary needs. For the Oblates as for the Church, stepping into this new world meant entering a difficult period. From 1947 on, great strides had been made. The Congregation achieved a greater appreciation of its past history; it grew in awareness of its fundamental values. Today it is determined to maintain these values and to live them in the heart of the contemporary world.

On August 26, 1850 Bishop de Mazenod reminded the capitulars that every Oblate had to be convinced of the necessity to “be perfect religious in order to be good missionaries”. [48] These realities are still true today. With the priesthood and the communitarian support of the brothers, they make up the essential component of the Oblate, “the apostolic man”.