510 - April 2011
March 10th, 2011 - April 7th, 2011



A gift from St. Eugene
In trying to find an appropriate way celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Eugene de Mazenod, the Office of Mission Enrichment and Oblate Associates in Belleville, Illinois, has begun a project to help former prisoners re-enter society. The associates prepare backpacks containing personal hygiene items: a towel and washcloth, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, etc. These backpacks are given to poor ex-offenders as they are released from prison.

This special ministry is deeply rooted in Eugene de Mazenod’s life. Long before he was “St. Eugene” and even before he was “Father de Mazenod,” he did prison ministry in France as a young layman. Writing to his father, Charles Antoine, on January 19, 1807, he says: “… the one who is fulfilling this ministry of charity does not see in these criminals… anything but unfortunates in need of help. It is the task of justice, with both equity and severity, to establish guilt; our duty is to ease their sufferings by every means in our power…”

About a 15 minutes drive from the Oblate ministry sites in Belleville, there is a building that for many years was Assumption High School (a Catholic all-boys high school for the East St. Louis, Illinois, area). In August of 1995, it opened its doors as the Southwestern Illinois Correction Center, a minimum-security facility for adult males; the usual daily number of prisoners is 672.

Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center is a totally dedicated to the treatment of substance abuse. All offenders involved at the facility attend substance abuse treatment groups five days per week for a minimum of 15 hours per week. Approximately 40-50 men are released each month after serving their sentence.

The Warden, James Davidson, is a graduate of the old Assumption High School. The Oblate Associates are grateful to him, not only for his valuing the dignity of each human person and his willingness to allow this outreach program, but also for the way he encourages his staff to support this endeavor. Each month, twenty backpacks are taken to the prison. Not every ex-offender receives one: only those who are most in need. On the day of their release, after serving their sentence, as they walk out of the prison, they are handed one of St. Eugene’s Care Packs. (Geri Furmanek, Director of OMI Mission Enrichment and Oblate Associates)

An award of distinction

In 2004, the Niagara Catholic District School Board introduced the Niagara Catholic Education Award of Distinction to recognize the valuable contribution made by individuals and groups to Catholic education in the Niagara Region of Canada.

The recipient this year was the late Fr. Stanley PUCHNIAK, the first Oblate to come to the Archdiocese of Toronto in 1935 at the invitation of Cardinal James McGuigan to serve the Polish community. He died in 1989.

Marco Magazzeni, in his submission to the Niagara Catholic District School Board requesting that Fr. Puchniak be recognized as a true pioneer of Catholic Education in the Niagara region, said: “Fr. Puchniak is what Catholic education was, what it is today and what it needs to be into the future – sacrifice and determination.”

In accepting the award on behalf of the Oblates, Fr. Chris PULCHNY said of our honouree: “It is an honour to be here this evening to receive the award and recognition for Fr. Stanley Puchniak as the recipient of the 2011 Niagara Catholic Education Award of Distinction. As you know, he was the first Oblate to come to the Archdiocese of Toronto. He was invited by Cardinal McGuigan in 1935 to serve the Polish community. He had a tremendous love and care for immigrants, the poor and abandoned. He was the founder of St. Stanislaus - St. Casimir Parishes Credit Union which is the largest parish Credit Union in the World. He was instrumental in bringing the Felician Sisters to Canada from the USA. He built three schools, two in Welland and one in Fenwick. And he received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” medal. He was a priest, teacher and preacher but above all, he was a missionary. He was a proud member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a religious community of men which contributed much to the building up of Canada and helped in weaving the fabric of our society. Whatever he did, he did with the support of his religious community and without that support, I don’t think he would have been able to accomplish all that he did. He was a visionary, a man full of humour and down to earth. He was able to dream dreams and bring them to reality. If he were here tonight, I think he would be speechless, but in his heart, he would be saying that he was only an instrument and did only what he thought should be done for the betterment of the people he was sent to serve. But I think he would also say: Thank you. Thank you for continuing to believe in dreams and thank you for continuing to make them a reality! On behalf of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, I humbly accept this recognition for Fr. Stanley Puchniak and all Oblates who have served in this region”. (News and Views, Assumption Province, March 2011)

Oblate parishes march for justice
On January 29, at least 2000 people took to the streets of Pacoima, California, in an organized, peaceful march for the rights of undocumented and all immigrants. They carried American flags and signs, such as “Stop Ripping Families Apart” and “No to Deportation, Yes to Legalization” and “Dreams not Nightmares”.

The march was led by young Hispanic U.S. military veterans, and then by children waving small flags from many other nations, representing the contributions of immigrants to the United States. These were followed by Aztec dancers and drumming, representing the indigenous roots of many. Many marchers were high school and college-age students who came here as children and who dream of a future as citizens.

The participants were from the Oblates’ Mary Immaculate and Santa Rosa parishes, as well as from other parishes and civic organizations. The two-mile long march ended at Mary Immaculate where there was a rally and messages of encouragement given by the organizers and some local politicians to all those who are advocating a sensible reform of the current immigration laws and system.

The Oblates who participated in the March and in the prior organization of the March were Frs. John CURRAN, Porfirio GARCIA, Antonio PONCE, Stanley ZOWADA and William ANTONE. (http://omiusajpic.org)

Prisons: authentic Oblate work
Fr. Dennis ALEXANDER was first exposed to prison ministry while in Peru. In Puerto Rico, he spent four years as prison chaplain and has worked in the prison system since returning to Canada. 

He says that the work of a prison chaplain is to establish a presence, a presence of faith, for prisoners and the staff. Each group has a different set of needs. It is from this presence that the chaplain can then build relationships with the prisoners and staff. 

The prison is a building the cement and steel, but it is what happens within the physical structures of the prison that matters. A prison cell is a cement room, but there is no privacy; you can smell all unpleasant odors of others; you hear all the shouting and insults that are hurled at other prisoners. The atmosphere does not promote dignified human living. How do the prisoners get along with all the others in the prison setting? How can and will they relate to each other in a world that is meant to separate and to isolate the prisoners from each other? 

Often, the chaplain must be one of the first responders when there is a crisis within the prison. The chaplain needs to be of assistance when there are moments of critical trauma. Dennis framed the work of the chaplain as “one who safeguards the rights of the prisoners within the system” and the “ethical voice for the interactions within the prison.” There are times when the chaplain must challenge certain behaviors and negative events.

Today there is a very strong emphasis on restorative justice. What do we have to do to reintegrate these prisoners into a healthy and contributing part of the larger society? How can we give a vision to the prison that there can be a new future? How can they reinterpret their own reality and embrace a lifestyle that is healthy and life-giving?

The person in front of you is “a different face, a different person, with his own unique needs and life experiences. He is different from anything you have ever known.” Dennis describes how there are times when a dangerous prisoner is brought to him, shackled by his feet and hands (correct procedure to move a dangerous prisoner within the prison building). Then the shackles are removed and “I am alone with the prisoner. Here is where you trust in God and God’s presence with you. The behavior of this man could flip and you could be in danger.” There was a pause in the sentence. “You spend a lot of time in prayer.” 

The ministry of the Catholic / Protestant chaplain is not limited to their own faith community. They are meant to provide spiritual services, counseling and support to the prisoners of all other faith traditions and those of no religious connection. There are dietary considerations to be recognized and religious materials in the library that other faiths can consult and use. “This ministry takes time and takes patience. The prisoners do not necessarily want your spiritual stuff. There is a very strong reluctance to get involved in institutional religion.”

Dennis shared the painting of Christ behind bars that is hung in the chapel. He asked his listeners as he asks the prisoners: “Is Christ the visitor or is Christ the inmate?” This painting identifies the prisoners with Christ who is with them in all this brutality and hurtful language of the prisoners and guards. 

What keeps him going in such a rough and dangerous atmosphere? “Prayer is extremely important. It is the hope that is connected through prayer.” (By Nestor GREGOIRE in www.omilacombe.com)

Celebrating the witness of women

Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, celebrated 2,000 years of the inspiring witness and leadership of women in the Catholic Church by dedicating 206 icons of women who have made their mark in Catholic history, as well as pictures of women today and silhouettes depicting women at various stages of life in the future. About 50 more icons are to become part of the collection this year. The collection, titled Women in the Church: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, adorns the walls of a stairwell of the school's library.

A library not only speaks through books and magazines; it also should speak visually. OST wants to honor those who have given such wonderful contributions to the Church, including not only those of recent vintage but women from the earliest times -- Perpetua, Felicity, Agatha, and many others. The Eastern-style icons depict holy women in the life of the Church over the centuries. Many depict the Blessed Virgin Mary under various titles, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Grace and Our Lady of Czestochowa, as well as many titles less familiar in the United States.

Church women in American Catholic history featured in the display include Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lilly of the Mohawks”; Italian-born St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first saint from the U.S. Church; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint; St. Katherine Drexel, who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve African American and Native American Catholics; and St. Rose of Lima, the first canonized saint of the Americas. Twentieth-century saints include St. Edith Stein, a Jewish-born Carmelite nun who converted from atheism to Catholicism and was murdered in the Holocaust in 1942; and St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun whose diary contains the message of God's Divine Mercy. She died in 1938. Pope John Paul II canonized Stein and Kowalska.

Group photographs of the women serving at nearby Oblate institutions represent women in the Church of the present. Women of the future are represented with silhouettes - a grandmother, a young girl playing sports, another receiving First Communion, and a bride. The first icon put up was of Eve, the first woman; right next to her is the Blessed Virgin, the “new Eve.”

Sister Sarah Sharkey, professor of Scripture, said that through the displayed icons, believers can enter sacred time and space and can be led to communion with the actual people depicted. “[The icons] also serve as vehicles for spiritual communion with God. Icons are windows into heaven. We take this opportunity to meet and engage these women of the Church - those who have gone before us, those who walk with us today and those who surely will come tomorrow,” she said. “These women of yesterday are part of a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us - women who have run their segment of the race faithfully and who now reach out to us, supporting and encouraging us.” Sharkey said.

Father Ron ROLHEISER, president of Oblate School of Theology, prayed that, looking at the display of women who have followed Christ faithfully in the past, those who do so today and those who will in the future, “we will be motivated to seek the city that is to come, we will learn the way that will enable us most assuredly to attain complete union with Christ; as we struggle with our earthly cares, we will be mindful of these women, these friends and co-heirs of Christ, who are also our own sisters, sisters of those who have gone before us, and of our special benefactors.” He reminded listeners to remember “how they love us, are near us, intercede ceaselessly for us, and are joined with us in marvelous communion.” (OST NEWS, Spring 2011)

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36th General Chapter 2016
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Oblate Triennium
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