- The local superior in the thought of Eugene de Mazenod
- Interpreting the Founder and the Rule
- The Constitutions and Rules of 1982
This article is divided into three parts, beginning with a presentation of the thought of the Founder on the local Superior. Although he did not write a comprehensive treatment of the topic, his ideas come out clearly in his writings. In this presentation I let the Founder speak for himself as much as possible by using quotations from his writings with a minimum of comment. I do this in the hope that the local Superiors who read this article will be inspired in their ministry by our Founder himself. For Eugene de Mazenod the Superior was the substitute of God who had full powers. He did, however, have to consult his own Superiors, and his local council before making decisions, and the members of the local community were free to present their own opinions to him. What does emerge clearly in the writings of the Founder is his loving care for his Oblates, a quality which he wanted all his local Superiors to reflect in their dealings with others.
The second part deals with the circular letter of Father Fabre, which was the first extensive treatment of the topic, and remained a key presentation for Oblates for many decades. He bases himself on the lived experience of the Congregation as it interpreted the spirit of the Founder, remembered by those who knew him. Father Fabre has a sense of the unity of the Congregation: that every Oblate is a part of the whole, and that the Congregation is judged by the individual. Here the Superior has a particular role to play.
The third section is a presentation of the idea of the Oblate local Superior as it appears after Vatican II, within the context of the Congregation unfolding its mission in apostolic religious communities. The Superior has a role to play in both the mission of the community, and in the life of the community itself.
THE LOCAL SUPERIOR IN THE THOUGHT OF EUGENE DE MAZENOD
1. THE SUPERIOR: INSTRUMENT OF GOD’S WILL
In 1817, writing to Tempier, Father de Mazenod outlines his attitude towards the person of a Superior: “Let them give me a Superior and I swear to him in advance to be entirely submitted to him and promise him to act only by his will which will be, in my eyes, that of God whose instrument he will be in regard to me” .
For his subjects the Superior is clearly the instrument of God, and in the words of the 1826 Rule: they are “to see in him who commands our Lord Himself, in whose name orders are given, and for whose sake they are obeyed” .
The Founder remained constant in this understanding throughout his life as is shown when he bemoans the weakness of local Superiors, four years before his death: “They are good men themselves but they do not know how to wield the authority vested in them by the Rules to maintain regularity among their men. They do not sufficiently realize that they have been placed at the head of their community to represent God, in whose name and by virtue of the Rules they are to govern; they are not sufficiently aware that they have a serious obligation of giving an account to the Church and to the Congregation for those entrusted to their care” .
2. THE QUALITIES REQUIRED IN A SUPERIOR
In the 1826 Rule the Founder gives a deion of the qualities he looks for in appointing a man to be a Superior:
The local Superior should be blameless and upright all his conduct. He should be conspicuous for the virtues of humility and obedience. He should be gifted with prudence and ability, so that he may rule wisely and manage affairs well. He should be well acquainted with the sacred sciences and the humanities. He should be of kind disposition, knowing how to temper the austerity required by the spirit of discipline with an appropriate mildness that is free from weakness.
Above all things, he should be a man of prayer, who, during his intimate prayerful converse, takes care to plead with God not only for his own sanctification, but also for the progress and perfection of all those entrusted to his care .
The ideal to strive for is high, but the realistic Eugene de Mazenod shows in a practical way the main elements he looks for: “When he is punctual and observant of the Rules, has competent knowledge and enjoys the confidence of the Superior General, what more must be asked of him?” . All that is needed is “good enough judgement, solid enough piety and love of order and regularity ample enough” .
3. THE DUTIES OF THE LOCAL SUPERIOR
The Rule of 1826 is clear on the duty of the local Superior being understood in terms of the mission: “His principal duty is to exercise careful supervision over those under him, to see that they diligently do the work entrusted to them” .
a. Organize the work of the community
The overall purpose of being a Superior is to ensure the smooth running of the mission of the Congregation, hence he summarises this by saying, “For each one you must make the performance of his duties easier” .”Act in all freedom in relation to the members of your community and give each the employment you judge before God should be given to him” . To the Superior was given the responsibility of the running of the house, of supervising the activities and expenditure of the bursar, of organising the work of its members, and of assisting the members with their study and preparation of the instructions for preaching .
In appointing Father Guigues to be the Superior who is to create the first Oblate community at the sanctuary of Notre Dame de l’Osier, Bishop de Mazenod gives him the charge: “you are to build the foundations of the new community, and it is vital that it diffuse abroad the good odour of Jesus Christ” . It is this good odour of Jesus Christ which forms the basis of the activities of all the members of the community, among themselves, and in their preaching and ministry.
b. Open the Rule Book for them
The guide for all behaviour was the Rule, and here the Superior had a special obligation: “it is for you to open the Rule book so that each one may draw his inspirations from it, and knowledge of the style of conduct he must pursue” . The Superior was never to stray from the spirit of the Rule, and was to ensure the most exact observance: “there is a Rule that must be observed, and it is the local Superior who must have a hand in its fulfillment” . The Rule should fill the Superior with a sense of confidence because should anyone question his actions, he need only point out that “you cannot deviate from what the Rule obliges you to do, and that no one should take it ill or be surprised to see you demand exact regularity and total obedience to the holy Rules” .
c. Care for those entrusted to him
As firm as the Founder is in demanding the obedience of the subjects to the Superior, so too is he insistent that the Superior himself be a loving and caring person towards those entrusted to him. To Father Vincent Mille, who was in charge of the students in Switzerland, and who liked to do pastoral ministry outside, he says, “I have not sent you to Switzerland to exercise the exterior ministry but to direct, instruct and look after the community that is entrusted to you; this has been repeated and explained too often for there to be the least shadow of doubt about the course you must follow in your situation” . Further in the same letter he reminds Mille of his responsibility to care for his community: “like the apple of your eye” .
“The novices must be persuaded that they have in you a father who truly loves them, who is concerned for their health and well-being, who even knows how to diminish the severity of the Rule in view of their needs” , he writes to Father Prosper Boisramé, who demanded excessive mortification from his novices. To Father Jean-Maurice Verdet he insists on the same care: “your manner of government must be gentle and kindly so that peace of soul and contentment may be preserved in all things” .
“Superiors are to watch over the health of their men” , is another theme often referred to by the Founder, a concern which mirrors his own enduring preoccupation for the health of the Oblates
In their relations with the world outside of the community, it is the duty of the Superior to protect the good name of his community. Bishop de Mazenod chides Father Honorat for being too quick to speak to the local Bishop about the weakness of some Oblates: “It is the duty of the Superior to insist upon the worth of his members, as it is the duty of the members to uphold the worth of the Superior. This concerted charity profits the entire body and facilitates the good that it is called upon to do” .
d. Direct and Instruct
The careful supervision of the Superior entails that the community entrusted to him be marked by regularity: “If he fails to institute perfect regularity in his community, he will have to answer for it to God and the Society” . The Founder constantly insists on regularity, because without this there can be no religious life and no mission. Central to ensuring regularity is the person of the Superior. Thus, a major function of the Superior is to ensure order in the Congregation, something “which cannot exist where there is no subordination” .
One of the means to be used to direct the community was that of spiritual conferences. “Your spiritual conferences will provide you with the occasion to recall principles and to maintain the exact observance of regular discipline. Without that, we damn ourselves, and all the while we preach conversion to the people. In the Rule you will find the confirmation of all the words that you can draw forth from books which treat of the duties of religious life. It is not enough to read Rodriguez  or others; we have to put into practice what they teach” .
Another means of direction is for the Superior to have private conversations with those in his community: “Don’t neglect this kind of fraternal and trusting sharing with the others as well, it always has good results and ends up forming a family spirit even amongst those who are not drawn to it at the outset” .
e. Represent the Superior General
To a newly appointed Superior, he writes that he is the one, “to whom I am confidently imparting a large share in the solicitude that is mine” . Of his own position as Superior, the Founder writes to Father Hippolyte Courtès, “You ought, in your decisions, to make them in conformity with the spirit which guides me in my administration because, as long as I am Superior, it is I who must give the guidance which all must follow, whatever they may think. Otherwise there would be friction in the machinery, there would no longer be unity in government and consequently disorder would be the result” . In 1836, the Founder bemoans, “Acting in accordance with their ideas, local Superiors have just about managed to re-fashion the Congregation. I no longer recognize my spirit in the houses I have just visited, and indeed how could it be found when no one bothers any longer to consult me?… If you had taken pains to follow in our footsteps, you would not have brought in all the abuses that I am having such trouble in rooting out” . To Father Guigues he writes, “I will never consent to the local Superior considering himself the master of the house over which he presides and acting against the spirit and the letter of our Rules independently of the Superior General” . Thus, for the local Superiors “it is not just a matter of steering the ship properly, you must also show me your chart” .
In Europe, the Founder expected a detailed monthly report from the local Superiors, and from those in the mission territories he expected a letter at least every three months . About these letters he asks that, they “neglect nothing that informs me in a complete manner. You will give me great pleasure by entering for my benefit into the most complete details about everything of interest to the Congregation” .
The Founder’s letters show a paternal interest in all that is happening in each Oblate community. Because of his high ideals, he often comes across as being critical of the Superiors and of their weaknesses and mistakes. Of this he states, “Let it be understood that you must never be disquieted or annoyed over the observations that I will sometimes have occasion to make. Be well aware that my intention is never to irritate, even when I happen to speak somewhat severely” .
The Superior’s decisions must take into consideration the good of the Congregation as a whole, as expressed by the Superior General. In chiding an Oblate for a decision he took, he says, “I am surprised that you placed your private and temporary convenience before the considerable benefit that must accrue to the Congregation as a whole from the wise and indispensable decision that I took” .
4. THE CONDUCT OF THE LOCAL SUPERIOR
a. Have a thorough grasp of the obligations incumbent upon him
The Superior must have no doubts as to his role in the community . “A great responsibility rests on your shoulders and you must not forget that the least imprudence that compromises the community in your charge would be imputed to you” .
“If the Rule is not observed, it is the Superior’s fault, and I blame him because his duty is to see that it is observed, and to alert me, if need be, so that I may advise him, I have no Rule to give other than the one that exists, that is the one we have vowed and must faithfully observe. Everything to the contrary is an abuse, which is the duty of the Superior to reform. I would like to examine whose fault it is if we are living in too individualistic a manner… I repeat, with a community such as you have, look nowhere but to yourself if it is not going well” .
The obligations of the Superior are not only to be viewed in the light of correcting failure, but in a positive light: “the place of a Superior is at the head of his community; the graces of God will not be lacking in him when at his post” . To Father Verdet, when he was appointed to be the Superior of the first Oblates going to Texas, the Founder clarifies his obligations: “You are to walk at the head of a colony of apostles, all of them worthy of their vocation by reason of their virtues and their devotion” .
b. Be a man of prayer who trusts in Divine Providence
To be a Superior is an onerous task, but the Founder counsels: “If you were to bear the burden all alone, I would heartily agree with you, but God is there to help you, for you must not doubt that it is his will that was made manifest to you through your Superiors… In view of that, you will always have to act under the impulse of the Holy Spirit in God’s presence, keeping in mind only the good of the interests entrusted to you and always being in conformity to the spirit and even the letter of the Rule from which you must try never to stray” . “The grace of state will help the Superior to shape, direct and use, according to the need and capacity of each, all the members of the community… if he applies himself to it as an essential duty which he must perform with a supernatural outlook and with means taken from this perspective” .
He insists that the Superior trust in Divine Providence because God directs events . Not only is the Superior to be guided by Divine Providence, but “he has the obligation to represent Divine Providence”  to those entrusted to his care. He is expected to make his oraison regularly on the duties of his position , and in the words of the 1826 Rule: “Above all things, let him be a man of prayer, and during his intimate converse with God let him earnestly plead, not only for his own sanctification, but also for the perfection of all those entrusted to his care” .
c. Be a model for everyone
“Remember that you must be a model for everyone. Make your oraison often on the subject of the duties of your position; it isn’t a small thing; keep a close eye on yourself” . Here is found the crux of how it is through personal example that the Superior leads: “Take care, however, that you yourself give the example of the most exact punctuality in everything prescribed by the Rule pertaining to things or to persons” , and again, “I recommend you to be the first to give an example of the most precise discipline and of fidelity to all the preions of the Rule” .
To be a model, the Founder advises Father Guigues: “it is essential that you form good habits” ; or to Father Jean Lagier his advice is: “let us scrupulously avoid giving bad example. That is one of the major duties of someone who is placed in charge of others” .
d. Superiors govern brothers not subjects
“I recommend kindness in your governing. Do not tire your people, be charitable and patient. Be firm when you must, but never be hard” . The advice given by the Founder is the attitude which he himself uses as a Superior. Every one of his recommendations to the local Superiors is permeated by the spirit of kindness, even when he has had to be severe in pointing out a fault. His fatherliness is obvious in statements like, “It is much better to inspire confidence than to frighten people” , or again, “change your ways, my dear friend, and you will arrive at your goal by condescension, mildness, thoughtfulness, marks of interest and affection. You know the proverb: more flies can be caught with honey than with vinegar” .
Bishop de Mazenod’s advice to his Superiors includes practical suggestions as to how to govern with kindness: “Permit yourself only rarely and for grave reasons to make public remonstrances. They are more apt to exasperate than to correct. Keep your reprimands, if it is suitable to make them, for a private interview and even then, make them with much mildness and care. Do not begin by scolding. On the contrary, begin always by assuring the person of the interest you take in his good and the sorrow you experience in being obliged to bring him to realise that he has conducted himself badly in such or such a circumstance. The human heart is made this way. God himself does not enter it by force but knocks at the door” .
It is the spirit of belonging to a family which the local Superior must bear in mind in his relationships with those entrusted to his care: “Superiors govern brothers not subjects. They are obliged to have much regard for the men who, even though placed under their governance, belong to the family… Kindness is an indispensable quality for making obedience easy” .
To be a Superior entails being prepared to receive criticisms from the members of the community: “welcome always with mildness and charity all the observations which come from no matter which of your members. No outbursts, no short-temperedness. The result of such reactions is to stifle communication and confidence” . These criticisms and suggestions must be made with proper respect and reserve, but always in the spirit of the Rule, to which all have the duty to conform themselves. “In case of doubt, you should always consult me. All this should be done with a view to the greater good , with all the consideration owed mutually by brothers who are moved by the charity of Jesus Christ and are well brought up. Take care, however, that you yourself ought to give the example of the most exact punctuality in everything prescribed by the Rule pertaining to things or to persons” .
To the same Father Dassy, whose style of government drew so much criticism, the Founder advises: “You are wrong in allowing yourself to be affected by remarks that are addressed to you. What you are experiencing is the inheritance of those who are in charge of others. Through patience, we will overcome everything and the severity of assessments made of us will keep us on guard against our own weaknesses. Stay quietly at your post, and do not allow to appear that you might feel any resentment against anyone at all. Pleasantness is easily reconciled with the required regularity lived out in practice” .
The Superior is not to set himself up as the sole master, who arranges everything, and orders everything as he sees fit, but he must ask the advice of his council . “You cannot leave your brethren outside of your making decisions, on whatever matters. Nobody in the Congregation has the power to act on his own ideas, without taking the advice of those who form his council. It is not always necessary to follow the advice of others, but they must always be suitably consulted; and when one is not in agreement it is suitable, even on matters that fall within the proper competence of a Superior, to consult with the major Superior, for fear of being too full of one’s own ideas and deceiving oneself as to what is opportune and suitable” .
“The Superior is bound to consult his council so that he may not be inclined to undertake something foolhardy or follow peculiar ideas. But in council, never let yourself be moved by passion or obstinacy in your own ideas. Discuss peaceably always in view of the greatest good, modifying at need your own opinion as any reasonable man should do when he perceives that he goes too far or is not forthright enough. Afterwards, whenever the case requires, notify me before concluding the matter and keep me fully informed” .
Not only does consultation help the Superior himself, but it also promotes good relationships: “It is thus, by giving others marks of confidence, by showing them deference, by knowing how to modify one’s own ideas and to adopt those of others that one gains their sympathy, their help and their affection” .
INTERPRETING THE FOUNDER AND THE RULE
1. CIRCULAR LETTER OF FATHER FABRE
Eugene de Mazenod was succeeded by the 38 year-old Father J. Fabre, who had the formidable task of having to continue to maintain the spirit of the Founder among a group of men who knew the Founder personally and who had their own interpretations of his life and spirit. In his thirty one years as Superior General he concentrated on the Rule as the normative way to be true to the Founder. The most essential duty of the local Superior was thus “to observe the Rule, and to ensure that it is observed by all and in its entirety” . In his constant call to the Oblates to be good religious, to be faithful to the Rule, and to uphold the honour of the Congregation he saw as paramount the role of the local Superiors in this task . Consequently in 1872 he wrote a circular letter to all the Superiors of the Congregation, in which he spelt out the role of the Superior .
Writing eleven years after the death of the Founder, Father Fabre uses the Rule and the thought of the Founder as the foundation of his reflections on the mission and duties of the local Superior. It is a key document on this topic because it was the first time in the existence of the Oblates that this topic was presented systematically. Subsequently no Superior General prior to Vatican II had done the same, thus this circular was important for the life of the Congregation. The ongoing relevance of this document for the Congregation is attested to seventy years later by Father A. Desnoyers, Assistant General, in the context of his canonical visitation of Canada:
“The responsibility of the local Superior and of the director of a residence is the most important from the point of view of the religious and regular life of the subjects of the communities of the Congregation. Our Holy Rule is clear and precise on this point. Moreover all should know the incomparable circular number 24 of Very Reverend Father Fabre, which is like the authentic commentary of the thought of our holy Rule. Superiors should re-read and meditate on it often” .
The Rule remained essentially the same until 1965, so with Father Fabre’s insistence on interpreting everything in the light of the Rule, the understanding of a Superior remained fundamentally unchanged until the Vatican Council. For this reason it is important to give an overview of the key elements of this circular. It is a document which can still be read today by local Superiors, with great benefit.
2. THE MISSION OF THE SUPERIOR
Father Fabre deals with the mission of the local Superior under two headings: his internal mission to the community, and the mission that he has to those outside of the community. In every section he numbers each point, and I have followed his numbering to give a brief summary of each point below.
a. Internal mission of the Superior
1. The Superior has the task of maintaining the spirit among the Oblates of being religious, a spirit which Father Fabre interprets as one of renunciation and abnegation.
2. He sustains the family spirit, which has to be that of self sacrifice, because working with the most abandoned is not easy.
3. He inspires in the community a love for their holy vocation and keeps this love alive.
4. He is the guardian of the Rule, and ensures that the members love it always, because it is this which sustains the Congregation.
5. The Superior upholds the unity of the Congregation because he has an authority which is part of the authority of his own major Superiors.
6. He maintains the spirit of charity among the members because he is the link between the members.
7. Despite the Oblates living in different houses, they form part of the same family. The Superior is responsible for ensuring a spirit of openness in the community towards Oblates of other houses. Through his example he teaches the members of his community not to be indifferent to the happenings in other houses.
8. The spirit and the life of the Congregation is in the hands of the Superiors – it will live if they make it live and vice versa. By their efforts Superiors must strengthen the family spirit among the Oblates and nourish a spirit of belonging to the Congregation.
b. External mission of the Superior
The Superior has to watch over the reputation of the community, which must edify all outside, especially the priest visitors.
1. Priest visitors are to feel welcome in the community, and the Superior must see to it that they are warmly received and edified by the local community.
2. All visitors are to find a house which is in effect a religious house. The Superior must watch over and maintain regularity, order and cleanliness. It is the Superior’s role to see to it that all the tasks in the house are looked after, and know what each member is doing, and how he is doing it.
3. One of his most essential duties is to see that the men are ready for the exercise of the ministry. This entails knowing how they are fulfilling their ministry, and seeing to it that they are sufficiently prepared.
4. The Superior is the one who decides which works are to be taken on. All requests from outside must be handled through him, and he makes the decision, enlightened by his council, after he has explored all the aspects of the task which is asked and looked into the possible difficulties.
3. WHAT MUST THE LOCAL SUPERIOR BE?
1. All the actions which the Superior fulfils must be enlightened by faith. His first duty is to do good to the men entrusted to his care, to help them to live in a state of perfection. All his actions should be for the spiritual good of these Oblates.
2. The Superior has to be a man of prayer because it is before God that he finds all that he needs to fulfil his tasks.
3. Like the Saviour he is to be a man of sacrifice, ready to suffer.
4. It is necessary that he watch over his own behaviour, and the weaknesses of his humanity, and be prepared to accept the advice of the admonitor who has been appointed for him. A member of his community acts as his moderator, with whom he talks about himself.
5. He who exacts obedience from others, must lead the way in being obedient to his own major Superiors, whom he represents in the community.
6. The Superior is at the head of his community like a shepherd, and he gives the example of a life which is truly religious. He strives to make himself loved in the community and win the confidence of his brothers by being a father who loves, and not a master who commands.
7. He must care not only for the priests, but also for the lay brothers.
8. The Superior does not limit himself to the spiritual welfare of his community, but also to their health, showing particular concern for the sick, visiting them several times a day.
9. The Superior must give to each the latitude necessary for the exercise of his ministry, but he must also be fully aware of what is happening, and everything is to be done under his authority and direction, but without his interfering in everything. He is to be discreet, especially when he reads their letters.
10. He has community tasks to fulfill: presiding at prayers and coulpe, give spiritual conferences to his community once a fortnight. He is responsible for sending an annual report to the Secretary General.
b. Temporal administration of the houses.
The religious spirit and the love for the family are the animating forces for the Superiors in their administration, as with all else.
1. The Superior has a council made up of two assessors which, according to the Rule, must meet twice a month. Minutes of these meetings are to be taken, and the Superior has to keep the Provincial or vicar informed as to the proceedings. The Superior’s responsibility is thus lightened, and he receives counsel and advice which must not be disregarded.
2. Each house can only have one set of funds, which is entrusted to the bursar.
3. All expenses are to go through the local council, and if they exceed a certain amount then written permission must be requested from the Provincial or vicar.
4. In the temporal administration the Superior is not to concentrate only on the needs of his own house, but remember that the house is a part of a province and a Congregation, which also have needs. In helping others, the community supports the family spirit and the unity of spirit and heart.
THE CONSTITUTIONS AND RULES OF 1982
1. THE SPIRIT OF GOVERNMENT: AT THE SERVICE OF MISSION AND COMMUNITY
From the earliest days of the Congregation we have seen that there was a particular stamp in the concept of the local Superior. From 1966 onwards there is a variation in the vocabulary used to describe the same concept. This is clear in the interim version of the Rule of 1966, and in the definitive version of 1982. The innovation is seen in the inclusion of an introductory section entitled, The Spirit of Government. In the 1982 Rule this section has four Constitutions (71 to 74) [C 71-74 in CCRR 2000] which give the framework for every form of organisational structure in the Congregation.
Our Congregation exists so “that we can serve the Church and its mission”, and consequently all our organisational structures “are set up in function of that mission”(C 71) [C 72 in CCRR 2000]. Every member of the Congregation is co-responsible for the twofold duty of the community’s life and apostolate. Within this framework of co-responsibility, some are called to a service which “coordinates and leads our efforts to evangelize the poor”, while at the same time, fostering within the community “a way of life based on faith and on a deeply shared love of Christ” (C 73) [C 71 in CCRR 2000]. Here are presented the two areas of responsibility of the local Superior: the mission and the life of the local community.
Jesus is shown as the “source and model of authority” (C 73) [C 71 in CCRR 2000], thus the Superiors are called to a life of service as stewards of the Lord. In their actions they are accountable to God and to their own higher authorities, as well as to the review of their actions by the members of their own community.
It is in this light that the role of the local Superiors is to be interpreted because it “is their task to lead the community in the spirit of Oblate government, according to the norms of the Constitutions and Rules” (C 80) [C 81 in CCRR 2000].
2. A SIGN OF THE LORD’S LOVING AND GUIDING PRESENCE IN OUR MIDST
The Constitutions and Rules define the role of the Superior as being a sign of the Lord’s loving and guiding presence in our midst (C 80) [C 81 in CCRR 2000]. Here is captured the Founder’s concept of the Superior as God’s instrument and representative, who had to have a loving concern for all those entrusted to his care.
This deion focuses as well on the concept of the Oblate apostolic community which is frequent in the Constitutions and Rules. Constitution 3 presents Jesus and his apostles as the model of our life “to be his companions and to be sent out as his messengers”. It is the “call and the presence of the Lord among us” which creates our community and its mission”. The Superior is thus the sign of this presence of Jesus. The idea is repeated in Constitution 26, “In the Superior we will see a sign of our unity in Christ Jesus; through faith we accept the authority he has been given”.
Father Jetté’s commentary on this concept deserves to be quoted in full for the way in which he encapsulates this understanding of the role of the local Superior:
“Only from a faith perspective can one understand his role. The Superior is one of us; like us, he has his strong points and his faults; but he has been chosen from among us to animate and guide us. Within the Congregation, ‘in the spirit of Oblate government, according to the norms of the Constitutions and Rules,’ he represents God and becomes for us an avenue to God.
I do not obey a man as a man when I obey a Superior, but rather the truth of the mission which is in him; and when I refuse to obey, I am not disobeying a man, but rather God. I am a subject of no man; we are all brothers. But I am a subject to the truth, or to the truth of the spirit that moves him.
Consequently, when I accept to be influenced by a good and truthful man, or by the truth of the mission he has received, I am obeying a legitimate Superior.” 
3. THE QUALITIES OF THE SUPERIOR
Constitution 81 [C 82 in CCRR 2000] presents the ideal qualities of a Superior.
As a religious he is to be a man of faith and prayer, who seeks enlightenment from God in humility and true obedience
As a person the Superior needs to have a spirit of discernment and a capacity for making decisions once consultation has been carried out. He is to have a deep love of the Church and the Congregation, and an apostolic spirit which commits him fully evangelization.
In his relations with his brothers he needs to have a sensitivity to persons. In seeking enlightenment from his brothers’ counsel he must be open to everyone and respectful of each person’s rights. While respecting legitimate diversity his task is to develop a sense of unity.
As a leader he should have an ability to animate a community so that it can share and dialogue in a climate of mutual trust and acceptance. Leadership entails being able to challenge the community to respond to the needs of the mission, and to be able to coordinate their own community activities and to cooperate with others in the apostolate.
The portrayal of the qualities of the Superior is to be used as an ideal to strive for. Consequently R78 [R 83c in CCRR 2000] points out the necessity for suitable training to take place through meetings among the Superiors themselves and with resource persons. “This will permit them to exchange experiences, deepen their understanding of their task, help them evaluate their effectiveness and learn appropriate methods for animation and dialogue” (R 78) [R 83c in CCRR 2000].
The local Superior is never to feel alone, because it is the role of the Provincial Superior to maintain frequent contact with him, to support him in his ministry, and to help him to integrate the local community’s life and ministry into that of the Province (C 94) [C 99 in CCRR 2000].
4. HE ANIMATES AND DIRECTS THE APOSTOLATE
The Superior’s role in the mission of the Congregation is that of animating and directing (C 89) [C 93 in CCRR 2000] the community to respond to the needs of the mission (C 81) [C 82 in CCRR 2000].It is an open-ended statement, because the shape of the animation and direction varies, depending on the particular apostolate of the local community.
What does not vary is the central responsibility of the Superior to “make decisions, support initiatives and implement policies” (C 80) [C 81 in CCRR 2000]. He does not act on his own, but in the context of consultation: “All members are to participate in the planning and orientation of the apostolate for which, however, Superiors bear final responsibility” R 1 [R 7a in CCRR 2000]. Before Oblates are entrusted with a particular responsibility the “Superiors will consult those who are to be appointed to new responsibilities, giving them an opportunity to express their own views. While respecting the requirements of the common good, they will take an individual’s personal gifts and callings into consideration before a decision is made” (R 19) [R 26b in CCRR 2000]. In this process, “Superiors must know how to delegate authority as well as assign responsibility”(C 80) .
Once discernment has taken place, the individual Oblates will receive their mission for ministry from the Superior (R 9) [R 9a in CCRR 2000], and the work is carried out in dependence on the Superiors (C 9). The men will also be able to rely on the necessary support which the Superior will provide for their ministry (C 80) .
5. HE HELPS THE COMMUNITY TO LIVE THE GOSPEL
“The Congregation’s vitality and effectiveness depend largely on the local community which lives the Gospel and proclaims and reveals it to the world” (C 76) . The Superior thus has the task of animating his community to be effectively a living cell of the Congregation, in which exists a climate of mutual trust and acceptance (C 81) . Essential here is a programme of life and prayer whose realisation is entrusted to the vigilance of the Superior (C 38). The Constitutions and Rules also point out that one of the foremost responsibilities of Superiors is to develop in the community a spirit that fosters ongoing formation (C 70).
Within the community, the Superior’s concern is for the individual Oblates, for whom he must ensure that the living conditions favour inner recollection and a rhythm of prayer, for without this there can be no effectiveness in ministry and progress in religious life (C 22). Rule 88 [R 93a in CCRR 2000] emphasises the individual Oblate’s needs: “Since the Superior’s charge includes concern for his brothers’ well-being and personal growth, he will be open and available to all and will not hesitate, if need be, to raise questions of a personal nature in an atmosphere of respect and confidence”. An Oblate who feels an injustice has been done to him by a Superior may have recourse to higher authority (C 84) [C 89 in CCRR 2000].
It is also the task of the Superior to ensure that there be fraternal contact between his own community and the other Oblates in the province (C 89) [C 93 in CCRR 2000], while showing a special concern for members who are isolated or who live alone for reasons of their ministry (R 88) [R 93a in CCRR 2000].
The administration of the temporal aspects of the community is entrusted to the Treasurer under the direction of the Superior and his council (C 83) [C 86 in CCRR 2000]. They are to see to it that Oblate goods are administered in a spirit of poverty and in accordance with the laws of the Church and the Congregation (R 124 and R 146) [C 153 and R 158c in CCRR 2000].
In the thought of the Founder and of the Superiors General who succeeded him, the role of the “Holy Rule” is constantly stressed as the guideline for the Superior. From 1966 onwards the focus is on communal discernment of the will of God and consultation, (while not in any way denying the importance of the Rule). Thus Rule 89 [R 94b in CCRR 2000]asks that in the appointment of local Superiors, “the Provincial will seek the views of the community concerned regarding the current situation and the qualities needed for leadership in the group. He will invite suggestions about a suitable person for the office and consult the candidate before making the appointment.”
The Superior is to listen to the views of the community and discern with them. From the beginning of the Congregation the Superior has been given a Council whom he is bound to consult, a situation which is still important today as C 83 [C 86 in CCRR 2000] attests: “Superiors are assisted by a Council which expresses in its own way the members’ concern for their community and for promoting its common good. Matters to be considered in Council are the ministry and our religious apostolic life, as well as temporal affairs. The Council will be attentive to the needs and desires of each member of the community.” The existence of the Council does not exclude the need for the Superior to listen to all the members of his community: “In matters of some importance affecting the entire community, the Superior will seek the opinion of all the members before making a decision with his Council. The community will be kept informed of decisions taken in Council” (R 94) [R 95b in CCRR 2000].
The presentation of the Superior as the sign of the loving and caring presence of the Lord in the community captures the essence of the understanding of the local Superior according to the mind of the Founder, of our Oblate tradition and of the present Constitutions and Rules. Faithful to the mission, charism and history of our Congregation, the local Superior’s “service coordinates and leads our efforts to evangelize the poor”, while at the same time helping us to “foster a way of life based on faith and on a deeply shared love of Christ”(C 73) [C 71 in CCRR 2000].