Dictionary of Oblate Values  vol.: 1  let.: B


History and evolution of the vocation of the Oblate brother[1]

a. Legislation and the life of brothers from 1816 to 1861

It seems that when he was laying the foundations of the future Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Eugene de Mazenod never revealed the full extent of his plans to the small number of fellow priests who surrounded him. The only exception, perhaps, was Abbé Henry Tempier. In his first letter of October 9, 1815, Eugene told him: "We will live together in one house, the one which I have bought, under a Rule we shall adopt with common accord and for which we will draw the basic principles from the statutes of St. Ignatius, St. Charles for his Oblates, St. Philip Neri, St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Liguori" [2].

Three years later, at Saint-Laurent du Verdon, from September 2 to 16, he wrote the Constitutions and Rules and submitted them to the members for approval on the occasion of the first General Chapter, October 24, 1818. The capitulants, whose attention was especially focused on the vows, did not protest. Undoubtedly they hardly noticed that in five of the articles the matter of brothers was taken for granted since the religious congregations known to Father de Mazenod, the Redemptorists in particular, were made up of priests and lay brothers.

Nevertheless, nowhere in this first text of the Rule is it stated that the Society would henceforth be made up of priests and brothers. It could be said, then, that juridically the brothers tiptoed discreetly into the Congregation without raising a lot of discussion. However, in the Rule, two pages remained empty where it was stated the Rule for the brothers should be.

As a result, the first brief legislation on the brothers actually preceded their concrete existence. In like manner, their beginnings were very discreet.

Ignatius Voitot, the first novice brother, entered the Congregation at Notre-Dame du Laus about 1820 and it was only in 1828, two years after the approbation of the Rule, that the first brother, John Bernard Ferrand, made his vows. He was also the first to make perpetual vows in 1834, some twenty years after the Congregation was founded [3].

The first rule or paragraph of the twenty-nine articles of the Rule treating of brothers was written by Father Tempier after the reception of the first novice. It was a summary of the 1818 Rule with article one finally announcing the existence of brothers in the Congregation and three articles written by the Founder himself in which he gave clear expression to his thinking [4].

The first article reads as follows: "The Society accepts receiving within its ranks men of good will, men lacking in the education necessary for becoming missionaries and accepting the fact that they will never acquire it but who still wish to work effectively for their own salvation under the direction of the holy Rules of the Institute while working at the tasks set aside in religious orders for those known as lay brothers".

The articles written by the Founder read as follows:

"Article 11: In our Society, lay brothers must not be regarded as house servants. They are members of the Institute given the responsibility of manual work in the houses just like the other members are charged with more noble tasks for the common benefit of the Society and the Church."

"Article 12: Consequently, they will dine in the refectory and will be present at all the exercises in keeping with their work and adapted to their intellectual capability."

"Article 13: In the same way, all matters of the Rule which they are capable of observing apply to them and they are held to observe them as strictly as the other members of the Institute."

In its general lines, we have here the very simple legislation for the brother for the period of 1818-1821. Throughout the lifetime of the Founder, this legislation endured with almost no change.

Before the definitive approbation of the Rule in 1826, a few articles were added concerning the spiritual prefect of the brothers. And in the second edition of 1853 a line was added to article one; the line read as follows: "The society agrees to receive [...] men [...] who [...] wish to work at tasks reserved in religious orders to those whom we call lay brothers and to the teaching of poor children when it will be judged appropriate".

This is a matter where lived experience preceded legislation. In fact, already in 1850-1853, brothers were teaching in Canada and in England. In the period between 1841 and 1861, at least twenty-five brothers taught catechism in France, at Vico and in Sri Lanka [5].

The brothers were so much a part of the Congregation after 1841 that Bishop de Mazenod distributed as many as possible in the houses in France and made them a part of every missionary contingent. Two fathers and Brother Ferrand were sent to Ajaccio in 1834; four fathers with Brothers Basil Fastray and Louis Roux went to Canada in 1841; two fathers and Brother Louis Dubé went to Red River in 1845-1846; four fathers and Brother Celestine Verney went to Oregon in 1847; three fathers and Brother Gaspard de Steffanis went to Sri Lanka in 1847; two fathers and Brother Augustine Chalvesche went to Algeria in 1849, four fathers and Brother Joseph Compain went to Natal in 1851, etc. [6] Moreover, more and more brothers joined the Congregation after the acceptance of foreign missions. At the time of the death of the Founder, of the four hundred and fourteen Oblates, there were eighty-seven brothers, giving a total of twenty percent.

In the appendix of the 1853 Rule on foreign missions, Bishop de Mazenod did not forget the brothers. He even opened up a new field of apostolate for them by asking that in all our missions the priest should never be alone, that he be accompanied by at least one brother. He added that the Oblates should turn their attention to teaching the youth and striving to lead the nomadic tribes to give up their wandering life, establish settlements where they would learn to build houses, cultivate the land and learn the rudiments of civilization.... He continued: "Superiors will not fail to send along with the fathers lay brothers already conversant with the different trades and as a result equipped not only to help them but even to take over for the fathers in this entire sphere of their activity" [7].

The 1850 Chapter and the Rule of 1853 changed a third point with regard to the brothers. An article taken from the Rule of Saint Alphonsus which specified that in communities there should be a maximum of twelve priests and seven brothers was suppressed [8]. Seven brothers would, in fact, suffice to take care of the material needs of a house, but in the missionary perspective which was the perspective adopted by the Founder more and more after 1841, the number of brothers in a house could be greater than that of the fathers if missionary work demanded it. Consequently, several houses, several mission vicariates and the Province of Germany in its beginnings numbered more brothers than priests.

So great was the interest for having brothers teach and so numerous were the brothers engaged in this work that at the 1856 Chapter the capitulants suggested forming in the Congregation a special branch distinct from the fathers and lay brothers with the intention of providing them with an adequate formation. The capitulants opposed the setting up of a branch of teaching brothers because of the great difficulties of administering their relationship with the lay brothers strictly speaking, but they did affirm that all the brothers who showed an aptitude for this could be called to this ministry [9].

b. Brothers such as the Founder wanted them

In the Congregation, at the time of the Founder, the brother bore all the traditional characteristics of brothers of clerical Institutes of the XVI to the XIX centuries. In point of fact, Bishop de Mazenod drew his inspiration from the text and spirit of the rules of five founders: Saints Ignatius, Vincent de Paul, Philip Neri, Charles Borromeo and especially Alphonsus Liguori.

The Oblate brother also enjoys an association with the monastic tradition through participation in the Divine Office (minor office) to which the fathers are obliged and also by the obligation that they have in common with the fathers to reproduce in themselves all the virtues of the religious orders which disappeared during the Revolution. Indeed, the Congregation numbered among its ends the making up for those religious bodies that had disappeared. No doubt, the Founder came upon this idea and its return to the original sources because of his daily association from 1812 to 1815 with his house servant, Brother Maur, a Camaldolese, forced out of his monastery by Napoleon.

The brothers are members of the Congregation on equal footing with the fathers, and the family spirit which the Founder desired in the Congregation was also to be the fundamental norm for the relationship between fathers and brothers. In every way possible, he showed his interest in them, his concern for their health and especially for their spiritual growth.

However, in clerical Institutes, the distinction between fathers and brothers had always been that of one social class to another. In this regard, we find something very unique to the Founder, a dichotomy characteristic of him. For example, a dichotomy between very grave bodily penances such as those practiced by the monks and the penances of the heart, the will and labors of the active life; between the very demanding life of prayer and contemplation and the life brimming over with apostolic activities. For the brothers, there was the life of a son of the family on the one hand and of numerous instances of a lack of equality. In fact, the brothers were not on the same footing as the fathers when it came to prayers for the dead. They did not have the full text of the Rule. The lowliest scholastic novice was superior in dignity to the brothers and could make remarks about them at the coulpe. All of them, even the teaching brothers, did not eat at the fathers' table. They did not take their recreation with the fathers and did not enjoy any consultative vote at all, etc. It was a case of a sociological distinction entirely normal at the time, but Bishop de Mazenod, son of a nobleman, who had inherited the spirit of order and hierarchy of his class drew some strict conclusions from the eminent dignity of the priesthood.

Means adopted to ensure serious supernatural vocations: a) Seriousness was ensured by demanding six years of temporary vows as opposed to the custom of the time, except for the Brothers of the Christian Schools. b) The supernatural aspect was ensured by a retreat in preparation for the vows, the appointing of a prefect with responsibility for the formation and spiritual interests of the brothers, contact maintained with the brothers by letter in order to urge them on to perfection.

A principle according to which the brothers were to be given work according to the aptitudes they showed and a direct introduction into apostolic work and the teaching of catechism. In this regard, Bishop de Mazenod was a man ahead of his time.

In conclusion, if he followed previous models, he did not come up with a stereotype. He was able to come up with something original. Nor did he create a lifeless rigid copy of something else. He knew how to be adaptable and how to adapt the Rule to the demands of life and the growth of the Institute.


For one hundred years, from 1861 on, the brothers lived the Constitutions and Rules and the spirit of the Founder. There was, however, a gradual evolution. It went smoothly, starting from the needs of the Church and not from theological reflection or theoretical planning [10].

Here are a few considerations based on the bibliography prepared by Father Yvon Beaudoin and the references found in Missions, a rather faithful reflection of the history of the Congregation.

a. The number of the brothers, recruiting and formation


During the life of the Founder and previous to 1841, the vocations to the brotherhood came to us in a trickle, subsequently it set a rate producing a percentage which has remained more or less constant for the last one hundred and fifty years.

At the time of the death of the Founder, brothers counted for 20% of the Oblate personnel, 18% in 1899, almost 25% in 1933. In 1964, when the total membership of Oblates was at its highest peak, that is, 7,526, there were 1,309 brothers, about 17%. In 1987, there were only 14%, that is, 728 in a total of 5431 Oblates.


Rarely was the recruiting of brothers done in a methodical way, even though the superiors of all the missions have always asked the General Administration for brothers.

Postulants joined the Congregation especially from their contacts with mission preachers preaching parish retreats and missionaries in the field. In the course of his famous recruiting tour in Europe from 1846 to 1848, Father John Claude Léonard only visited the seminaries and brought in practically only scholastics to the tune of one hundred in two years [11].

In his report to the 1873 Chapter, the provincial of France-Nord complained of the lack of brother vocations because of the military regulations and also because little effort was made to find any.

At the time, the provincial of Canada admitted that he still had only one Canadian lay brother in perpetual vows and there was not a single one in the United States. The cause for this, he stated, was related to the "low regard in which house service was held in America, a condition rather easily equated with the condition of our brothers [12].

In 1883, Bishop Vital Grandin took the measures necessary to obtain brothers. He got the bishops of Quebec where more than two-thirds of the Catholics in Canada resided, to issue in common a pastoral letter for the purpose of collecting money and of speaking about the vocation to the brotherhood. Among other things, we read in this letter: "[...] these young chosen ones of the Lord [...] will be welcomed with open arms [at the novitiate in Lachine] and will learn silence, humility and self-denial with a view to dedicating themselves to the salvation of the poor savages [...]. They will bring highly valued help to the missionary by teaching the children of the forest to work under the gaze of God and to make themselves useful to society. When seen in a faith perspective, what a wonderful mission it is! What a fine calling even in the eyes of men [....]" [13]

Until 1950, the problem of recruiting brothers was not often mentioned. But a number of books were published on a regular basis with this in view, starting with Hidden Apostles, by Father Peter Duchaussois in 1924, a book which sold very well in the bookstores and was translated into a number of languages. A dozen biographies of brothers were published as well with this object in view [14].

Nevertheless, in their reports to the 1953 Chapter, several provincials spoke of the lack of brothers and the fact that they were aging. But it was at the 1959 Chapter that one saw for the first time a concern shared by several provinces in Europe, the United States and Canada for the lack of brother vocations, their lack of perseverance and the search for new solutions. At the same time, recruiting was still very good in Eastern Canada and Germany where there were a few fathers given the responsibility of recruiting brothers and a specialized school of formation for them in Hünfeldt as at Rougemont in Canada.


During this period, especially during the pre-Second World War period, the formation of the brothers seems to have been treated as the poor relations in the hierarchy of concerns of superiors. Little was said about professional formation except in the General Chapters of the XIX century when it was a case of brothers as teachers. Religious formation took place at the novitiate and from then on, for the most part, was left to the initiative of the spiritual prefect in the various houses.

The first text of some importance on this subject was found in the draft of a circular letter of Father Euloge Blanc on the brothers in 1939. In it, it was stated that the brothers should receive the same formation as the scholastics and that this formation should continue after the novitiate.

From 1950 on, the provinces of Germany, Eastern Canada and Italy which had a large number of brothers, dedicated themselves in a concrete way to give them a better formation in special schools [15]. In 1951, general interest was aroused by the survey and report on the novitiate for brothers drawn up by Father Daniel Albers, Director General of studies. He set forth a wide-ranging program of formation. According to the reports presented at the General Chapters of 1953 and 1959, everywhere people were making an effort to advance in that direction. In 1962, there were already nine professional schools for brothers [16].

b. The brothers' work, their apostolate

Manual work.

On the occasion of the brothers' congress in 1985, Father Jetté said: "As far as I am concerned, the Congregation is incomplete if it is lacking brothers" [17]. This is very true. In the correspondence of superiors throughout Oblate history, the important and even indispensable role of brothers was always stressed and praised.

In 1958, Father Jean-Marie Larose published a long article on the work of the brothers. Their activity, like that of the fathers, was carried out on three levels:

- activity specific to religious life, that is, to imitate Jesus Christ and to sanctify oneself by observing the Constitutions and Rules and carrying out one's duties of state

- activity within the community: fraternal charity and taking care of the house;

- external activity: to evangelize the poor.

Later on, we will pick up the theme of religious life again. This is the aspect the Founder cared the most about. Oblate correspondence stressed especially the indispensable role of brothers for building houses, their work to feed the communities and to watch over all material needs. If we examine the reasons given to praise the indispensable contribution of the brothers to community life, we find two or three which come back again and again.

The first is that of poverty. Without the brothers there would not be enough money to build, feed and maintain communities and their works. Often superiors made the observation that spiritual progress of the missions was linked to a great extent with their material progress.

A second reason which often surfaced was that they did not like having women doing the work in communities and in addition to that, always and everywhere, hired help both men and women did not do half the work carried out by a brother or in the mission context, they are not trained to do specialized work. Finally, the missionaries often spoke of the value of brothers even if they were ill; they at least offered companionship to lessen loneliness, labor and privation.

Intellectual work

According to Bishop de Mazenod's principle which stated that each one was to be allowed to use his talents for the benefit of the common good, a number of brothers served as community treasurers, secretaries and especially teachers. Fathers Larose and Cosentino made a study, superficial though it may have been, of this question. The teaching brothers are often mentioned in Missions, especially up until the end of the last century. For a few years, there were at least seventy-five who worked in this area. But in 1958, Father Larose counted only twenty who were left. This kind of work declined because it demanded too specialized a training and the Congregation was not able to provide it. And even, in some fashion, after Father Louis Soullier's term as superior, the Congregation did not want to provide this training for fear of creating a third kind of Oblate. In 1893, it was even said that when lay brother teachers lived together with priests in the same Congregation, it always generated inevitable divisions or a decline in the religious spirit" [18].

In 1928, faced with a decline in the number of teaching brothers, the passage in the Rule which speaks of teaching was replaced by a text more open to the apostolate. Formerly, it read: "The Society accepts to receive within its ranks [...] men who will work at tasks set aside in religious orders for those we call lay brothers [...] or even rendering assistance to the missionaries according to what the superiors judge suitable" (article 9) [19].

Direct apostolate

With the exception of the teaching brothers who conducted catechism classes, few of the brothers exercised a direct apostolate, as for example the leading of prayer meetings.

Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat sometimes had a brother as his co-worker in the missions he preached in the diocese of Nîmes in 1829. In 1868, Bishop Henry Faraud left Brothers Alexis Reynard and Louis Boisramé alone charged with responsibility for the temporal and spiritual needs of the Providence mission. In 1875, at Caribou Lake, Brother Celestine Guillet made missionary journeys to lead prayer for isolated groups. Brother Joseph Patrick Kearney was doing the same thing at Good Hope about 1880-1890. They designated him by the same name as they used for the fathers: yaltri. Sometimes in the parishes, in the houses of education or the houses for closed retreats, superiors made the observation that by their example of prayer the brothers exercised a strong influence - even spiritual - on the faithful and the young people.

The brothers never complained about their very limited participation in the direct apostolate. Indeed, it seems that in the Congregation fathers and brothers always acknowledged that all were missionaries and apostles, evangelizing abandoned souls, each one in his own way and according to his talents. On May 5, 1870, Brother Boisramé, handy man at Providence mission wrote to Father Joseph Fabre that he was happy earning his salvation through his work to the extent of his ability for the salvation of the poor savages.

In 1909, in a report on the mission of Cumberland in the Keewatin, Father Henry Boissin praised the work done by the brothers in the missions, saying: "His work is an apostolate, the apostolate of prayer and good example, sometimes no less fruitful than that of the word" [20].

In 1924, in his well known work Hidden Apostles, Father Duchaussois entitled his first chapter: Religious; the second chapter he called: Missionaries. In this second chapter, he wrote: "Missionary as the guardian of the priest, the brother is a companion as well, a man of example and counsel, a catechist, teacher, a person who works with his hands" [21].

Father Beaudoin gives many other examples that speak for themselves and enables one to see the missionary spirit among the brothers. Even their direct apostolic activity is nothing new or born after the Second Vatican Council.

c. Sons of the family

We do not often find in the pages of Missions or in other writings references to the fact that the brothers are genuinely sons of the family. The Founder stressed fraternal charity so strongly and showed his love for all, fathers and brothers, that it became a family tradition and not much time was devoted to examining the humble and dutiful situation of the brothers, for a long time treated as members of an inferior social standing.

During a retreat for superiors in Autun in 1864, Father Mark de L'Hermite said: "And you too, dear lay brothers, humble and untiring children of the family whose virtue we silently admire" [22]. It is interesting to see how in 1939 already, Father Euloge Blanc in the draft copy of his circular letter on the brothers wrote that they were sons of the family but they did not enjoy full equality; brothers were not suited to wield authority or take part in government, he said. Yet he concluded by saying that superiors did not always show the brothers the same goodness the Founder did [23].

Social barriers fell little by little, especially in small communities where, for example, the brothers ate at the fathers' table. During the last century, this point was more strictly observed. In the death notice of brother Anthony Jouvent (+1885) who had often lived as the only brother in small communities, we see that he spent part of his life eating alone at his own table [24].

d. Religious life

The observation has been made that in the Congregation the priests began by being missionaries and subsequently became religious; the brothers, on the other hand, accepted to be religious in order to work more effectively toward their salvation; subsequently, they became missionaries.

The Founder always stressed the religious life of brothers. In all the Notices nécrologiques, their religious life is given more prominence than their work.

In their correspondence with the General Administration, superiors were generally satisfied with the religious life of the brothers and praised their untiring devotion. In 1863, Bishop Jean François Allard, always dissatisfied with the fathers whom he did not find religious enough asked Father Fabre to send him six brothers. He added: "[...] I know the Irish Oblate brothers that we had in Canada; they are imbued with an excellent spirit and are just as I would have them for the Basotho" [25]. In correspondence and reports, we often find expressions such as the following: "We admire in silence their virtues", "unshakable good will", "what an inestimable treasure is a lay brother faithful to his vocation", "admirable devotion ... tireless", etc.

In 1904, on the occasion of the golden anniversary of vows of Brother Roux, the first lay brother in Canada, Bishop Adelard Langevin, Archbishop of Saint Boniface made this general statement about the brothers: "Faithful and prudent men, worthy of all confidence, worthy to be in charge of the temporal things of the house of God; a necessary and highly valued complement to our religious communities, worthy of unlimited respect both for the nobility of their unconditional dedication and for the uprightness of a life entirely consecrated to God, living a life of prayer and work, a life in which the world has no part" [26].

In 1907, speaking about the founding of the house of Engleport, Father Scharsch wrote: "Ah! Our good lay brothers. It is difficult to relate in these pages all their dedication, their life of sacrifice [...]" [27]. In reports to the Chapters of 1953 and 1959, the provincials paid a continuous tribute to "the humble and steady dedication" of the brothers. They paid tribute "to their spirit of sacrifice", to their generosity, their religious spirit which leads them to discover the true value of their lives beyond their work, beyond their concrete situations: the gift of self to God [28].

As one can see from the bibliography on the brothers, from 1949 on, the spiritual prefects of Eastern Canada published several works on the spiritual formation of brothers.

In spite of departures, problems of all kinds such as we find everywhere in the human race, many brothers achieved a high degree of perfection. About 1935, Father Gerard Paris made an analysis of the first seven volumes of the Notices nécrologiques. He noted that, according to the authors of these notices, a dozen or so of the brothers were considered genuine saints; a dozen were considered truly good brothers; and many others were considered good brothers. This amounts to a good half being excellent religious and, as Bishop de Mazenod used to say about the scholastic Louis Morandini, some of them, if they had been Jesuits, would have been canonized.

e. Happy in their vocation

In the past, there never was a survey such as that of 1985-1986 to find out whether the brothers were happy in their vocation. Yet the Notices nécrologiques seemed to indicate this in the majority of cases.

Here is an interesting anecdote dealing with this topic. In Mackenzie toward the end of the last century, there was a well-known Protestant minister, Bompas by name, who was very aggressive and who used to continually struggle against the Catholic missionaries. In 1870, he encountered Brother Boisramé in Fort Simpson. Brother Boisramé himself tells us about this exchange: "Since all Bompas could think about was quarreling and debate in matters of religion, he offered me a New Testament in order to be able to discuss the Sacred Scriptures. I thanked him for his offer and apologised for not accepting it by telling him that I could not read English and that I had not engaged in higher studies and that I was not able to engage in an argument with him. He then began to bemoan our lot in life of us, poor lay brothers. He told me that we were a pitiful lot, that we were slaves of the Catholic priest, etc. 'No, Sir', I answered him, 'we are not slaves and we are not treated as such; and besides, if we were, we would be so entirely willingly. The fathers did not seek us out; on the contrary, it we who begged them to allow us to help them in material matters, while they took care of the spiritual matters. They hold us in high regard and treat us like brothers, and what is even better, is the fact that we share in their merit. There, in a word, Sir, is what we are and how we are considered; so stop complaining'." [29]


Rapid evolution of the post-war society and the gradual spread of a secular mindset have made a large contribution to very significant changes in the life and legislation regarding the brothers. Everywhere intellectual formation has been developed, allowing almost all young people to attend junior colleges and technical schools and earn degrees from these schools. On the other hand, we have seen developing everywhere a spirit of equality and brotherhood which does not tolerate a system of social classes.

In the Church, it was the Council which changed mentalities bringing them a new theological vision, or at least, stressing points of doctrine previously left in obscurity. For example, the notion of mission was broadened. This brought about that all Christians, in virtue of their baptism and confirmation, are missionaries of some kind. All the more so would the brother, a member of a missionary Congregation, be such. Then, there was the fostering of the ministries of the Christian laity and the priesthood of the faithful and finally, the possibility for laymen to become deacons, celibate or married.

a. The 1966 Chapter

Changes in society and in the Church had their impact on the Congregation which, during the 1966 Chapter, completely transformed the Constitutions and Rules of the past with regard to brothers.

During the years preceding the 1966 Chapter, this is the kind of development that had been desired and proposed, especially in the numerous articles written by Father Larose and by a significant critical analysis and study on the brothers carried out by Brother Cyril Bernier in 1965 and again by the surveys conducted before the Chapter. In his circular letter of May 1, 1966, Father Leo Deschâtelets wrote that the 1966 Chapter had available a number of documents and three hundred suggestions concerning the brothers.

It must be said, however, that the changes in the Constitutions and Rules of 1966 were rather more theological and psychological than juridical [30]. Fathers Leo Deschâtelets, Irénée Tourigny and Maurice Gilbert in various writings commented on the Constitutions and Rules and pointed out clearly the important changes with regard to the brothers. Father Gilbert summarized in two points the general directions adopted:

- Focusing once again on Christ. The brothers are no longer called lay or coadjutor; fathers and brothers are cooperators with Christ.

- Full integration into the apostolic community. This was one of the strong features of the Constitutions and Rules of 1966 [31].

This integration into the community, however, was set in the traditional structures of the Congregation. It remained and still remains restricted at least with regard to government.

Integration into the apostolic community was more pronounced with regard to the brothers sharing in the mission of the Congregation at the service of the Church. The Constitutions and Rules of 1966 set the true value of the brothers' vocation on a higher level than the tasks they carried out. In turn, these tasks were seen rather from their apostolic perspective. Indeed, as Father Gilbert explained, the brothers are missionary:

- in virtue of their life witness (R 17). It was clearly stressed that their work often brings them in close contact with the daily life of people. In this way, they are led to give special witness to the evangelical life and can exercise a very fruitful apostolate complementary to that of the priests.

- in virtue of prayer, in particular in view of the fact that from now on brothers can recite the Divine Office in the vernacular with the fathers and by their more intense participation in the communitarian concelebration;

- in virtue of their professional activity, always more highly developed because of a higher level of education;

- in virtue of tasks in the field of the direct apostolate. On this topic, Father Donat Levasseur wrote in 1972: "A new avenue is opening up for the brothers with the style of evangelization which is developing at present, that is evangelization while working on the socio-economic, cultural and human levels (development). The action of brothers in such an area of activity can become the same as that of the Oblate priest, although that calls for specialized training".

However, Father Levasseur also pointed out that if this field of apostolate is opening up for brothers, another is closed to them: "The works or apostolic community endeavors in which the brothers used to work in close collaboration with the Oblate priest are becoming less numerous" [32], teaching establishments, closed retreats, etc.

b. Since 1966

This latter period stands out because of three characteristics:

- Numerous surveys, meetings of brothers and studies to make adjustments to the Constitutions and Rules and a life lived according to the demands of the Council and especially the needs for evangelization of the world.

- Constitutions and Rules more juridically developed and still further developed along the lines of integration of the brothers and their apostolic activities.

- The concrete life of the brothers which, in certain aspects, in its development has lagged behind the legislation.

Numerous surveys, meetings of brothers and studies on the brothers

As we can see in the bibliography on the brothers, the majority of writings and studies were conducted after the war. From 1947 to 1965, there were about thirty of them and as many since 1966.

Surveys and meetings as well have been numerous:

In 1968, a conference for the brothers was held in Europe [33]. The theme of the meeting was: The Oblate brother: Is he an apostle? That same year saw a survey on the brothers and the permanent diaconate [34].

In 1969, a seminar or gathering of brothers was held at San Antonio with a focus on formation and the importance of the religious life as opposed to the kind of work or apostolate [35].

In 1971, a consultation was conducted by the Precapitular Commission. In it were found some important considerations on religious, communitarian and apostolic life, formation and recruiting [36].

In 1974 there was a three day meeting of the German brothers and a meeting of the American brothers in Texas [37].

In 1983, a new survey was conducted among the brothers on the theme: Why did I become a brother? Am I happy? And if I had to do it all over again.... [38]

Finally, in 1985, there was a congress held in Rome for the brothers [39].

Constitutions and Rules which are more juridically developed and more advanced in the direction of integration of the brothers

The Chapter of 1972 [40]:

- mitigated the distinction between coadjutor brothers and scholastics. There is no longer any talk of two categories of members: religious priests and those who are not priests.

- made the decision that brothers in vows also have a passive voice at the Chapter. If six of them have not been elected, the Superior General extends a special invitation to them;

- brothers in vows are eligible for the position of local assistant, provincial consultor, members of the General Council and, with an indult, can become local superiors;

- Finally, it introduced the permanent diaconate for those brothers qualified for it and have a vocation to the diaconate.

In this regard, when he was Vicar General, Father Jetté published on January 6, 1973 the re from the Holy See approving the introduction of the permanent diaconate into the Congregation. This took on the form of article 67 of the 1980 Rule which speaks of the call of brothers to the permanent diaconate and, in certain circumstances, to the priesthood.

The Constitutions and Rules of 1980-1982 added nothing new to this. This is how Father Jetté summarized legislation concerning the brothers: "On the level of life, it is [..] the fullest relationship of brotherhood without discrimination from one person to the other because of his specific vocation; on the level of activity, responsibilities are complementary with everyone working together for the evangelization of the world and the establishment of living Christian communities, while always keeping in mind that such a work is brought to completion only by the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, "source and summit of the Church's life" (C 33), which calls for the action of the ordained priest to achieve this end" [41].

A concrete life which, in certain aspects, in its development lagged behind the legislation.

- With regard to certain issues, the brothers wanted to see more concrete and rapid changes, for example in community life and in participation in government. At the conference of the brothers of Europe in 1968 which had as its theme the apostolic life, the brothers from Holland proposed a complete and radical elimination of all categories of Oblates and requested that everyone receive the same formation. They even proposed that only those be ordained priest who, in fact, carried out priestly functions and not teachers, for example, and that, on the other hand, those candidates suitable for such a ministry be ordained priests or deacons [42].

In the 1971 survey, all reports stressed equality, understanding, dialogue and brotherhood. It was found that on these points as well as on those of participation in government a lot of progress needed to be made and that old habits were showing signs of dying too slowly [43].

- On the other hand, in other areas, the brothers were not rushing to take advantage of the possibilities of changes that were made available to them. This can be explained by the fact that there were few men joining the Oblates in those regions where brothers were the most numerous. Communities had grown older without undergoing renewal; consequently, old ways of doing things changed slowly. Here are a few examples related especially to work and the apostolate.

Evidently, brothers with more education were given work of a more intellectual nature. The work of maintaining our houses was done rather by lay people because the Congregation has money today and the brothers are fewer in number. Moreover, brothers were always given work according to the talents they possessed.

Nevertheless, the conference of the brothers of Europe in 1968 which dealt especially with the apostolate of the brothers was very revealing as to their wisdom and good judgment. The majority asked for more responsibility in their own areas and more dialogue with the treasurer, but they admitted they felt they were really participating in the mission of the Congregation and the Church by means of the different material tasks entrusted to them. Not only did they find genuine human growth, but the expression of their consecration to God in the Church as well.

Reports from the three provinces in France proved especially interesting; they even expressed the concern of seeing the brothers being involved too directly in the apostolate.

On the occasion of the survey on the diaconate in 1968 as a follow-up to the Motu proprio of Paul VI on reinstating the permanent diaconate, only four provinces were very much in favor of the diaconate for the brothers; six others were simply in favor and all the rest were opposed to it. The reasons brought forth were of two kinds: firstly, the bishops already have laity responding to this need; secondly, as was already pointed out in the 1966 Chapter, if some brothers are ordained deacons, would we not be running the risk of creating two categories of brothers which would be to the detriment of the common life [44].

In the 1971 survey conducted in preparation for the 1972 Chapter, it was surprising to see how the brothers still valued work within their own communities as a means of creating an atmosphere of brotherhood. This work was viewed as being an apostolic activity. Even the diaconate still held very little attraction for them. It was stated that deacons should emerge from the community of the local church and that this was not generally the case for the brothers [45].


The brothers among us, just like the Congregation as a whole, owe a great deal to Bishop de Mazenod. He is the one who willed them into existence, who contributed the family spirit which characterizes our religious society and directed the work of the brothers toward the direct apostolate.

The century following the Founder's death did not produce much development from the juridical point of view. It was a century of living, a century during the course of which the Oblates worked hard to save souls and to extend the Kingdom of Christ without indulging in self-analysis or self-adulation, that is, little was written about their activities. It was then the brothers showed what they were capable of with regard to the greatness of their vocation, or yet again showed their ingenuity and boldness especially in the area of maintaining the material aspects of the missions.

Recent times will fade into history recognized for their great changes, especially juridical changes, but also real changes in the vocation and concrete lives of the brothers. Unfortunately, it will also record a significant decline in the number of vocations. At the Congress of the brothers in 1985, Father Jetté drew an array of conclusions concerning our recent development: "[...] Personally, I see the importance of the brothers in the Congregation, today more than ever when the Congregation is turning more toward collaboration with the Christian laity. If I consider the future, I remain confident that this vocation will grow among us and I can only strongly encourage the provinces, all provinces, to be welcoming of such vocations" [46].

[1] Father Yvon Beaudoin has developed this aspect in "Les frères dans la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée", in Vie Oblate Life, 50 (1991), p. 3-38.
[2] In Oblate Writings I, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 6.
[3] LAROSE, Jean-Marie, "Etude sur l'origine des frères convers chez les Oblats", in Oblate Writings, 12 (1953), p. 77-78, 84-87, 90-91.
[4] IDEM, "Les sources des articles des Règles concernant les frères coadjuteurs" in Etudes oblates, 14 (1955), p. 211-244, 278-301.
[5] IDEM, "Etude sur l'origine des frères...", p. 101, 107-115; "La place des frères...", in Etudes oblates, 24 (1965), p. 138.
[6] See BEAUDOIN, Yvon, "Les frères au début de la Congrégation (1818-1843)", in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1968), p. 142-143; LAROSE, Jean-Marie, "Etude sur l'origine...", p. 101-104.
[7] "Instruction de notre Fondateur relative aux missions étrangères", French text published in 1936, p. 13.
[8] See CC and RR of 1826, "De voto paupertatis", art. 43.
[9] LAROSE, Jean-Marie, "Etude sur l'origine...", p. 112-115.
[10] See JETTÉ, Fernand, "La vocation du frère oblat, hier et aujourdhui", in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1986), p. 154-155.
[11] VERKIN, Henry, "La tournée de propagande du père Léonard", in Etudes oblates, 26 (1967), p. 55-88.
[12] In Missions, 11 (1873), p. 294-323.
[13] In Missions, 21 (1883), p. 205-206.
[14] BEAUDOIN, Yvon, "Essai de bibliographie sur les frères dans la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée", in Vie Oblate Life, 50 (1991), p. 27-38.
[15] Father Athanase Francoeur then published a small work on the choice of books for use by the Brothers and Father Gilbert published an article on the house in Hünfeld.
[16] See Etudes oblates, 21 (1962), p. 184-188: Hünfeld, 1949; Santa Maria a Vico, 1950, Rougemont, 1954; Sevenum, 1956, Velaines, 1957, Notre-Dame de Lumières, 1957, Pass Christian, 1958; Caen, 1959, Pocos de Caldos, 1961.
[17] "La vocation de frère oblat, hier et aujourdhui", in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1986), p. 159.
[18] See LAROSE, Jean-Marie, "Les travaux des frères", in Etudes oblates, 17 (1958), p. 144; "Etude sur l'origine des frères...", p. 115; COSENTINO, George, "Histoires des Règles", Ottawa, Oblate Studies Edition, p. 26-29, 80.
[19] See LAROSE, Jean-Marie, "Etude sur l'origine des frères...", p. 115.
[20] In Missions, 47 (1909), p. 249-250.
[21] Apotres inconnus, Paris, Spes, 1928, p.33
[22] In Missions, 3 (1864), p. 229.
[23] See BLANC, Euloge, Circular Letter, 1939, p.3-4, 9-10, ms., Oblate General Archives.
[24] Notices nécrologiques, VI, p. 127.
[25] In Missions, 3 (1864), p. 17.
[26] In Missions, 42 (1904), p. 31.
[27] In Missions, 45 (1907), p. 122.
[28] In Missions, 80 (1953), p. 6, 401, 417-418; 86 (1959), p. 39-40.
[29] In Missions, 11 (1873), p. 180.
[30] See WOESTMAN, William H., The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Clerical Religious Congregation with Brothers, Ottawa, Saint Paul University, 1995, p. 241.
[31] See GILBERT, Maurice, "Le Frère oblat", in Etudes oblates, 27 (1968), p. 225-237.
[32] LEVASSEUR, Donat, "La vocation apostolique du Frère oblat", in Documentation OMI, 36, 1972, p. 22-25.
[33] The acts of this conference appeared in Missions, 95, (1968), p. 665-669.
[34] Father Joseph Schulte gave a report on this in Documentation OMI, no. 3 (1969), p. 66-67.
[35] See Missions 96 (1969), p. 373-78.
[36] The synthesis of the responses and several studies were published in Documentation OMI, no. 36 (1972), p. 3-30.
[37] See Documentation OMI, no. 51 (1974), p. 2-7.
[38] Father Larnicol made a good synthesis of three hundred and fifty answers received in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1986), p 209-233.
[39] The acts appeared in French and in English in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1986).
[40] See TOURIGNY, Irénée, "Le Frère oblat selon le Fondateur et la tradition oblate", in Vie Oblate Life, 39 (1980), p. 50-60.
[41] "La vocation de frère oblat, hier et aujourdhui", in Vie Oblate Life, 45 (1986), p. 159.
[42] In Missions, 95 (1968), p. 671-675.
[43] In Documentation OMI, 36 (1972), p. 8-9.
[44] In Documentation OMI, 3 (1969), p. 66-67, 71.
[45] In Documentation OMI, 36 (1972), p. 6-8.
[46] Ibidem, p. 159; also p. 155-157.

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36th General Chapter 2016
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Oblate Triennium
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