Wednesday, January 13, 2016

OMIs, 200 Years: 1816-2016

This January 25, 2016, we shall celebrate the 200th birthday of the missionary oblates of Mary Immaculate. We started January 25, 1816, the conversion of Paul, met by Jesus on the road to Damascus and changed from His enemy and persecutor to His friend and apostle, in a former Carmelite convent vacated during the French revolution at Aix en Provence in southeastern France. We have been preparing for this event the last three years: 2013 with reflection on love-chastity-community, 2014 with reflection on hope—poverty, perseverance—formation, government, 2015 with reflection on faith and justice-obedience-mission. This event comes toward the end of the year of consecrated life, November 30, 2014 to February 2, 2016 and toward the beginning of the year of mercy, December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, both called by pope Francis.

In his apostolic letter marking the start of the year of consecrated life, pope Francis listed its aims: remembering our past thankfully, living our present passionately, embracing our future hopefully. Personally this means remembering thankfully people and places and times that touch me deeply. There is our founder, a young priest later to be bishop of Marseilles, France, St. Eugene de Mazenod, beatified by pope Paul VI mission Sunday, 1975, and canonized by John Paul II first advent Sunday and memorial of St. Francis Xavier, December 3, 1995, merciful good shepherd to the miserable (Luke 10). There are our blessed: Joseph Gerard, French missionary to South Africa; Joseph Cebula, Polish martyr at a Nazi concentration camp; twenty-two Spanish martyrs, mostly seminarians, during the recent civil war.

Closer to home, there are Charles Pandosy, French missionary to the Walla Walla diocese in the Oregon territory that is now Washington state (1847 arrival); Peter Perisot, French missionary, member of the Cavalry of Christ (he is reported to have read St. Thomas while resting on the trail) along what is now the border of Mexico from Brownsville through Mission to Roma (1849 arrival); Edwin Guild, farmboy from southern Illinois, who as a priest created the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, a man of humble devotion to Mary; and John Maronic from Minnesota, who started a movement for people specially abled, the Victorious Missionaries. There are special places like St. Joseph Mission, Atanum, in the Yakima diocese; La Lomita, a chapel of Mary at Mission on the oblate horseback trail in the Brownsville diocese; the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in her prayer for everyday people in their needs and wants at Belleville city and diocese.

Ahtanum. Photo via UW Special Collections.

La Lomita. Photo by Onleal91 via Wikimedia Commons.

La Lomita interior. Photo by Onleal91 via Wikimedia Commons.

There are oblate teachers like Pat Fennessy from Chicago who encouraged me in speaking and writing and playing basketball, like Boni Wittenbrink who communicated a broad vision of the church and the world, oblate leaders like John Walsh from Chicago who approached difficult community situations from the heart. There are my former oblate fellow novices like deceased Gerry Fuller, classmate from first grade on, poet and preacher, singer and writer, clown and advocate of the poor; Tom O'Brien, humble energetic missionary to the poor in Brazil; Paul Wightman, shepherd to Ozark people and cave explorer enthusiast; Bill Woestman, from novitiate to the present, now church lawyer and scholar and author, caring deeply about people in difficulty.

Our novitiate class, 1949-50. Above, a break in apple-picking. Below, the prayer of the hours.

The young Fr. Francis George OMI
There are oblate bishops like John Taylor, one of our liberal arts teachers who became bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, highly gifted and ever loyal to the church; Francis George, one of our theology and philosophy students, who became bishop of Yakima, then of Portland, then of Chicago,  intellectual and pastoral giant with delighted laughter at the funny side of life, acclaimed by those of different views such as John Allen (who judged that, with the possible exception of Joseph Ratzinger, Francis was his most intellectually penetrating interview subject) and George Weigel (who judged that, of our fourteen hundred successors of bishop John Carroll, there was none more insightful into church and America than Francis). There are former oblate student seminarians like Ed Figueroa, unconquerable tireless champion of poor children and youth in Recife, Brazil; like Roy Snipes, our last Texas cowboy, a magnet of youth, first at Roma and now at Mission, blessed with the everyday poetic sense of his father and mother; like deceased Bob Olson, on fire to bring Jesus in his Catholic church to the people of Sweden.

Finally, there are those who were among us oblates but moved on before novitiate like Terry O'Donnel and Dan Donahue, before first oblation like my brother Jack Dietz husband father grandfather great-grandfather, before oblation for life like Tim Hoban and Dave Caravello, before ordination to priesthood like Steve Bulvanoski, after ordination to priesthood like Jim Relihan, but who moved back like Matt Menger who embodies the best of Texas. And most of all there are the people young and old and in between, boys and girls, men and women, each original for and with all and each, that we oblates are blessed to serve who evangelize us so profoundly as we evangelize them.

These and many other oblate heroes ordinarily unsung, brothers and sisters and companions and friends, of Africa and Asia and Oceania and Europe and America (south, central, north), past, present, future, and their places and times are a blessing that makes me thankful, passionate, hopeful, heading to age eighty-seven and now for sixty-five years and still going, though not so strong, a missionary oblate of Mary Immaculate (and of St. Joseph).

Father Don