In the Beginning
When did our history begin? According to thorough research, our origins are found in the installation of the Third Republic in France. In the beginning of this regime, in 1880 to be more precise, a certain number of repressive decrees and laws were enacted against religious congregations. The Jesuits were expelled. Other congregations, such as the Oblates, were forced to disband; their belongings would have been confiscated if they had refused to submit to the supervision of the government.
Episodes of violence followed, and it is because of the brutal eviction from the Sacred Heart Scholasticate in Autun (France) that the Roman Scholasticate was created. After a short stay at Inchicore in Ireland, a group of scholastics was sent to Rome by the Superior General, Father Fabre. In fact, the idea had already been put forward by Father Martinet, assistant to the General, but it was only after the expulsion at Autun that this was accepted.
The city of Rome to which the students came was very different from the Rome visited by the Founder, who had then been dead for twenty years. Under Victor Immanuel II, Rome had become the capital of the monarchy. The Pope, Pius IX, had become “the prisoner of the Vatican.” Much of the Church property was lost, including the great universities: the Sapienza, the Minerva, the Collegio Romano or the present-day Gregorian University.
A sign of the growing maturity of the Congregation
There had already been an Oblate presence in Rome for some years: St. Brigid’s house in Piazza Farnese, Via Montanara 115, Via Monserrato 149, Via della Purificazione 54, Via Monterone 79. These addresses had housed a procure and also, from time to time, various priests, students and guests.
In 1880 a property was acquired at Piazza S. Ignazio 151-152, and it is this building that housed the first group of scholastics, fifteen in number, when they arrived in Rome on 10 November 1881.
Then as now, the students went to the Gregorian University, given hospitality at that period at the Collegio Germanico near the Pantheon. At home, there was a lively and intense community life. It was a life of prayer and study, intense study undertaken with an almost fierce desire to succeed. And succeed they did. But what emerges in the letters of the first superior, Father Cassien Augier, as the profoundest influence on the spirit of the community is the close proximity to the Holy Father. This contact found its most notable expression on 28 May 1882, Pentecost, when the whole community was received in audience by Pope Leo XIII.
The successful establishment of the Roman Scholasticate was a sign of the growing maturity of the Congregation, of its ability to take its place side by side with the great religious orders that had done so much for the Church. It was also a sign of catholic loyalty: the Scholasticate expressed this loyalty in the very depths of its being, and in so doing it expressed the feelings of all Oblates of that time.
Via Vittorino da Feltre
On the 9th April 1887, the community took possession of a newly built house near the Colosseum, en a street later named Via Vittorino da Feltre. Here the Scholasticate was destined to remain for a long time.
These can be called the “years of plenty,” the years in which the Scholasticate emerged as a pillar of the Congregation. The presence in Rome of a great number of young Oblates was a visible sign that the Oblate future would be in the hands of men formed in the true Oblate mould, because formed at the centre.
Already in 1887, the Scholasticate hosted a General Chapter of the Congregation, and from 1905 it afforded accommodation to the General Administration which transferred itself to Rome from Liege in that year. Later another building was put up alongside the Scholasticate for the General Administration. It is from this time that the value of being close to the Superior General comes to the foreground.
This too is the period of Roviano, the summer house of the Scholasticate from 1900. Hikes, games, manual labor, study, retreats, professions and ordinations: how many former Roman students have rich memories of those summer days at Roviano?
The Pineta Sacchetti
The ever-increasing number of students, together with the changing character of downtown Rome, motivated a decision in 1962 to build a new Scholasticate. Already in 1950, the General Administration had moved to via Aurelia 290. Now it was intended to build a fine new house for the students near the Pineta Sacchetti. The occupation of this building in 1966 (it was first used for the concluding phases of the Chapter of that year) marks a watershed in the story of the Scholasticate.
On the surface, the future of the International Scholasticate seemed ever more splendid. A new scholasticate for new times: post-conciliar times, ecumenical times, times of dialogue. But there was to be a rude shattering of expectations. Throughout the Church – but more especially in the ranks of clergy and religious – there occurred a massive change of perspective. There was a flight from the centre and from its institutions. “Pineta Sacchetti” (or via Gioacchino Ventura, 60, to give it its official address) was doomed to be deserted and left high and dry like a great harbor from whose shores the sea had suddenly receded.
Those who lived through those years in the Scholasticate experienced them as happy and fruitful years, but the criticism that led to the sale of the Scholasticate building after the 1972 Chapter shows that the Scholasticate was no longer accepted without question as a sign of hope for the Congregation at large.
Via Aurelia 290
The Scholasticate moved to Via Aurelia 290, the guest now in its turn of the General Administration. During these years, for the first time in its existence, the very idea of the International Scholasticate was put into question. Numbers dwindled. Would, could, should the International Scholasticate survive?
After much heart-searching, the General Council came to the decision that the International Scholasticate should be given its full support as an important instrument for affirming certain essential Oblate values.
Its role today
The following is an excerpt from the homily preached by very Reverend Father Fernand Jetté, Superior General, on the occasion of the celebration of the Scholasticate’s first centenary, October 24, 1981.
The present General Council is convinced that this institution has an important role, indeed, an irreplaceable role to play in the Congregation today. In fact, within an international family such as ours, and in a time of decentralization and of more pronounced growth of legitimate diversity, it is essential that we maintain, and if possible even multiply, such meeting points and centers of dialogue and exchange as are most likely to further unity among ourselves. In actual fact, the Roman Scholasticate ranks among the very first of these privileged centers. As Father Cassien Augier already wrote in 1883: “We look forward to and hail the day when all the Provinces and Vicariates of the Congregation will be represented in the Scholasticate at Rome” (October 15, 1883 in MISSIONS, vol. 21, p. 447).
Why? Because Roman universities offer opportunities for good ecclesiastical studies? Yes, there is that, to be sure. But there is still a more specific reason; such a formation house cannot but foster unity, lasting unity, among all the Provinces.
This unity derives from the cultural exchange, knowledge of languages, and intercontinental friendships, which grow in this House. As the 1966 Rule noted, it especially derives from the fact that here young Oblates “may imbibe more fully the spirit of the Congregation and of the Church at its source, and thereby impart greater life to the whole body.” (R. 174) [R 123 (1982)]
To develop a certain spirit
At times, some have been of the opinion that the principal aim of the Roman Scholasticate was to form professors for other scholasticates. No; this is not correct. Father Cassien Augier already felt the need to rectify this when he wrote in 1886: “To dispel certain fears, may I point out that of the ten Oblates who have graduated from the Scholasticate of Rome-since its foundation, six have gone to the foreign missions. It is therefore not true that we have been disinherited from the joy and grace of dedication.” (April 25, 1886 in MISSIONS, vol. 24, p. 176-177) On December 8, 1953, Father Deschâtelets repeated the same position. (Circular of December 8, 1953)
Thus, the Roman Scholasticate’s raison d’être is, first of all, to develop a certain spirit, a spirit which will be an incentive for unity throughout the entire Institute.
The Congregation is universal. It is at work in over 50 countries, and its heart is as large as the world. This makes it necessary that, at its centre, some young Oblates be able to experience better this international dimension and live it more intensely.
Furthermore, the Congregation takes its life from the Church, not only from the local Church but also from the universal Church. Our Family was approved by the Pope, and it is from the Pope that it receives its mission to go everywhere on earth to preach the Gospel to the poor and to work for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.
A sense of the Church
The stay in Rome and living in the International Scholasticate ought to foster in these young Oblates a sense of the Church and a loyalty toward its Head that is equal to every test.
The Congregation is also a family, a large family. It has a soul; it has a past; it has a Founder and some saints; and it is moving toward the future with faith and courage in spite of its weaknesses. We can see all this in Rome.
The Postulation and the Archives make up the richest source for knowing well our past and for in-depth study of Oblate history. The many Oblate visitors, coming from everywhere and involved in all kinds of works, are, each in their way, an illustration of the present vitality and inspiration of the Congregation.
These are the rich resources offered by the Roman Scholasticate, benefits found nowhere else. They are a marvelous way to acquire the Oblate spirit and to assure unity within the Institute.