CANADA-UNITED STATESThe Brothers in Eastern Canada
The celebration of the bicentenary of the Oblate family (1816-2016) has given us the opportunity to focus on certain elements that influenced the development of the Congregation in Canada since its beginnings there in 1841. Already the Rule of 1818 contains five articles that dealt with Brothers as a given since most religious congregations of the time had both priests and non-priest members. After the approval of the Constitutions by Rome in 1826, the Brothers were so much a part of the Congregation that the Founder placed them, as much as possible, in all the houses of France and then he added them to all the missionary teams abroad: Canada in 1841; Oregon and Sri Lanka in 1847; Algeria and Texas in 1849; Natal in 1851 and British Columbia in 1859.
At our house in Richelieu, last March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Patron of our Brothers, the Notre-Dame-du-Cap Province paid homage to the memory of the 1,181 Brothers who, since 1843, professed their vows there: 47 are still living and 328 died in their provinces of origin. Father Luc TARDIF, the provincial, presided at the Eucharist with about 40 Brothers present. In this way, we wanted to celebrate the exceptional contribution of our Brothers to the ministry of the Province and the Congregation. In the afternoon, during a community gathering, a good number of the names of Brothers now deceased were recalled to the memory of the participants. Some of them worked outside the Province: 14 at the General House in Rome and 4 at the Paris Procure; in Africa, 14 in Lesotho and 7 in Cameroon; in Latin America, 7 in Chile, 9 in Bolivia and several in Haiti; in Canada, 21 in Bay James and several in the West or elsewhere in the Great North. It was a joyful and moving day, even historic, probably never to be repeated.
The provincial archives have the obituaries of each Brother who died here. Brother Alphonse NADEAU was the author of 112 of them. They tell at length of the prayer life and work of the Brothers. One could summarize their lives with in one word: consistency, whether it be their presence at prayer and meetings or their service. They loved the Congregation, the Church, the Blessed Virgin. And to that love is added a litany of virtues that characterized them: hospitality, devotion, piety, joy, generosity, zeal, etc.
The work performed by our Brothers varied greatly. The greatest number of them were sacristans, porters, secretaries, messengers, builders, printers, nurses, tailors, gardeners or farmers, but we also find jobs and trades that require further study and diplomas such as welders, plumbers, mechanics, drivers, accountants. Rarer still, there were boat captains and an airline pilot! Some Brothers have left a memory bordering on legendary, such as the sacristan of Saint-Sauveur in Quebec City and Maniwaki for sixty years; the doorman at the University Seminary in Ottawa for forty-six years; another whose skill and talent touched upon the genius!
One author writes: "It must be admitted that they are not the voice that preaches, the pen that writes, the hand that absolves; in our communities, the Brothers often play the role of the heart that is not seen but which we notice by its beats...” Many Brothers were apostles in touch with the people, counselors and comforters. Archbishop Adelard LANGEVIN, OMI, praised the Brothers to whom, he says, we can apply the word of the Church at St. Joseph’s address: "Faithful and prudent men, worthy of confidence ... necessary and valuable additions to our communities by the nobility of an unreserved dedication and the rectitude of a life dedicated to God, divided between prayer and work.” "The Congregation would be incomplete without the Brothers...,” wrote Father JETTÉ. "They are a great wealth for the Congregation and for the Church...”
By looking closely at the obituaries, we see that several Brothers are worthy of being considered true saints. St. Eugene said of some of them that if they had been members of some ancient Order, they would already be canonized. Among Oblates, Venerable Brother Antoni KOWALCZYK is already in the process of being considered for that. (Richelieu, Fr. Yvon BEAUDOIN)
On March 21, 2016, two refugees originally from Eritrea moved into the new house belonging to the Fraternité´ Nazareth at 2575 rue Letourneaux in Montreal. Mrs. Ghidey Ghirmay and her son Essay Michael had arrived in the country a month previously. After fleeing their country of origin and passing through Ethiopia, they waited for five years in Uganda before joining their two Eritrean aunts, Briketi and Hermon, who have been living for several years in Montreal.
At the suggestion of several confreres, the Provincial, Fr. Luc TARDIF, and his council had agreed to let them use an unoccupied apartment in the basement and free of charge. (http://www.omi-qc-on.com/ )
A young seminarian from Côte-Saint-André, France, André GARIN, entered the Oblates during Saint Eugene de Mazenod’s lifetime. At the end of his studies, André was sent as a missionary to Canada. In 1868 Father André Garin came to Lowell, Massachusetts, to preach a mission for the hundreds of working persons who had come there from Canada. The local diocesan priest, Father O’Brien, could only minister in English. This was a barrier for the many Canadians who were working in the area textile mills. A true disciple of Saint Eugene, Father Garin preached to the working people, not in "Provençal”, but in French as it was spoken in Canada.
During that first mission, enough money was raised by the donations of the working people to meet the down payment for an abandoned church structure at 37 Lee Street. This was the first parish established in Lowell to serve the spiritual needs of the French-speaking immigrants. Saint Joseph was selected as the patron.
As the French population grew, Father Garin began the construction of St. John the Baptist church in 1890 to accommodate more parishioners. The building on Lee Street remained as a chapel, and in 1956, with the encouragement of Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston, it was blessed as a shrine in honor of St. Joseph the Worker.
As part of the many events commemorating the establishment of the Shrine in 1956, historian and curator of the Oblate Historical Museum, Bro. Richard COTE, will be giving a series of four talks entitled "Oblate Heritage Series”. The presentations will focus on significant events in the Shrine’s history: The First Mass held in St. Joseph Church, May 3, 1868, and celebrated by Fr. Lucien LAGIER; the Founding of the Shrine by Fr. Eugene NOURY, May 10, 1956; the dedication of the Oblate Historical Museum by Fr. Hervé GAGNON, May 28, 1995; and the establishment of the first Oblate community in Lowell, November 1, 1868, with Fr. André Garin, OMI, as first Superior.
Fr. Ali C. NNAEMEKA is a Nigerian Oblate ministering in Canada since 2014.
After my arrival in Canada, I took one year for my missionary immersion in Quebec’s local Church. The primary assignment of my community is to minister to the Innu people, a First Nation of Quebec.
After my year of pastoral initiation, I started my pastoral assignment shortly before last Christmas. With the recent arrival of Fr. Alfred RAVELOMAMPISANDRAIBE from Madagascar, our missionary team is comprised of four priests who are in charge of seven out of the nine Innu communities of Quebec.
I am presently in-charge of two of these communities, namely Schefferville (Metimekosh) and Ekuanitshit (Mingan). Although I’ve been here only a few months, I am already finding the mission very interesting. Our communities, just like every Christian community in Quebec, are made up of the elderly. So, it is almost a luxury to have the youth attend Church activities.
Nevertheless, I have discovered a new way of reaching out to the youth. I found out that the saying, "If the mountain does not come to Muhammed, Muhammed has to go the mountain” has to be applied in their situation. Coming from a nation where soccer is the national sport, I had to make few adjustments in my own choice of sports in this country where the national sport is hockey.
So through sports activities, I started gaining the confidence of the youths. And from all indications, it seems to be fruitful. Surprisingly, during the Easter celebrations, the youth in Mingan showed me their love. During the Holy Thursday and Good Friday celebrations, the youth in our Church helped us greatly. Due to certain cultural activities in the region, most of the members of our Christian communities were traveling. And so, in the absence of the elders, the presence of the youth was not only comforting but providential as they helped out in some of the services, a reality we are no longer used to. While one of them took the first reading on Holy Thursday, two other groups served at the altar both on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
On Good Friday evening, we showed a film (Of Gods and Men). During the projection of the film, with the exception of a single elder, all those in attendance were youth. At the end of the Easter celebrations, I have come to understand that if the youth are to be reached in today’s Church, non-traditional pulpits cannot be ignored. (Ali C. Nnaemeka)
Renowned as a teacher, preacher and iconographer, the South Dakota roots of Fr. Clyde RAUSCH are evident in his friendly manner and casual demeanor, but when he talks about his ministry of painting icons there is a special excitement in his face and voice. Fr. Clyde became interested in the priesthood while still in high school. He knew he wanted to be a missionary which brought him to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. After ordination he spent 29 years as a missionary in Sweden and it was there that this man, "who never painted anything except buildings,” became fascinated with the ancient liturgical art of painting icons (iconography). He also served for six years (1998-2004) as General Councilor for the Region of Europe and from 2005 until 2013 as treasurer of the General House.
Fr. Rausch shows his original creation featuring Bl. Teresa of Calcutta with the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child.
In 1969, the newly-ordained Fr. Rausch was sent to a parish in Täby, Sweden. It was there that he first met Swedish Oblate Brother, Olof Åsblom. But it would be years later, in 1986, that Fr. Clyde and Brother Olof would discover their call to iconography when they sponsored a course in the art at the Mariebäck Retreat House in Luleå, Sweden. Fr. Clyde recalls that he thought the serene nature of religious icons would have special appeal to the characteristically quiet and reserved Swedes.
Fr. Clyde points out that new trends in church art developed during the Renaissance, "… painters from Belgium, Germany and other countries tended to be much more detailed than the simpler art form from earlier Swedish artists”.
That first one-week course, taught by Fr. Johannes Deurloo, a Dutch Orthodox priest, captured the interest of local village people from all denominations and especially Brother Olof and Fr. Clyde. From then on, the two Oblates began painting icons and teamed up to teach courses in iconography throughout the year between visits from Fr. Deurloo.
Fr. Clyde came back to the states in October 2013 and now resides in San Antonio, Texas where he continues to paint in his studio at the Oblate Retreat Center. In addition to painting reproductions of early Orthodox icons, he creates some original ones and conducts classes at the Oblate School of Theology on the theology of icons, gives retreat conferences using icons, and teaches the technique and prayer method of painting/writing icons.
The liturgical art of painting icons is an ancient one. In the Christian tradition it goes back as far as the first century A.D., when the famous icon of Mary and the infant Jesus which hangs in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Salus Populi Romani, is said to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist.
Later, icons became very popular in the Eastern Orthodox Church and were meant to visually tell stories from the Bible. There were very strict rules about what colors should be used along with who and what needed to be depicted in the various scenes based upon the text from the Bible.
Icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church didn’t allow for artistic license. Almost everything had a symbolic aspect. The Biblical subjects of the icons had very consistent facial features and tended to be represented in the same pose. Color also played an important role: gold, in the sky, represented Heaven; the clothes of Christ and Mary: red, divine life, blue was the color of human life, etc.
According to Fr. Clyde, Christian icons are not just representations of Biblical events. In the prescribed format of icons, the outer frame represents the border between heaven (the picture) and "the world today” (outside the frame.) The faces of the people in the pictures are "serene,” the art takes the view that we are seeing them not as they were, but as they are now (saints in heaven).
A feature of some of Fr. Clyde’s icons is that part of the picture crosses over the frame into "the world today,” symbolizing that the event is as present today as it was in the past. According to Fr. Rausch, one of the special attributes of icons is that, "The picture will pull you into it, or it will come out to you.”
These days, Fr. Clyde’s reputation is such that he sometimes is commissioned by churches to create special icons for their sacred spaces. One example is a recent project depicting Mother Teresa with the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus that was commissioned by the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Wisconsin.
For the future, Fr. Rausch hopes to continue painting a series of icons coinciding with the events of the liturgical year. His work is now being published in card-form and anyone interested in more information can contact Fr. Rausch directly at: email@example.com. (www.omiusa.org)
Fr. James FIORI tells of a special project undertaken by his parish in the capital of Canada.
Some months ago, even before the plight of the refugees had reached a fever pitch, someone at Canadian Martyrs Parish in Ottawa asked the question: "Can we and should we, as a parish, sponsor a refugee family?” A mini referendum was conducted. People were asked if they were in favour of sponsoring a refugee family. They were also invited to indicate how they saw themselves contributing to this undertaking: financial aid, providing furniture, clothing etc. The immediate response was incredibly positive.
A committee was formed to co-ordinate this project. In one of my Sunday homilies I reflected that this experience was truly an example of the miraculous. Not unlike the miraculous catch of fish, we have experienced the unfathomable presence of God in our midst. Ours is a very small parish and yet we had achieved our financial objectives within weeks, so much so that it was decided we would accept a second family. Our neighbouring parish, Sagrada Familia, joined our efforts in fundraising.
There has been an incredible sense of joy permeating this project. People are excited about reaching out to brothers and sisters who are struggling and in peril. During the Jubilee Year of Mercy we are encouraged to do the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy. This project certainly was a prime example. I keep asking myself where the people learn these values. Clearly this is an Oblate parish and it would seem that the people have adopted many of the Oblate values and yes, the Oblate Charism. My Oblate predecessors certainly have effectively shared Oblate values. There is no doubt in my mind that this parish is both Oblate and missionary.
On February 2, I had the privilege of leading our Refugee Committee to the airport to receive our first refugee family, the Alkouries, a family of seven. On behalf of the entire parish family I welcomed them to Canada and to their new home. There are some things that don’t require words. We could see that in the faces of the family as they recognized the banner welcoming them in Arabic. They too could recognize the love and acceptance in our faces. They are refugees no more. The have come home. As we have told them so many times, "You are safe now.”
We welcomed our second family, a couple, on February 18 in a very similar way. There wasn’t the awe and wonder of faces of children, but nevertheless there was the deep gratitude that their exile was over and they too had come home.
The committee members have been busy and diligent getting the families settled. Most of the legal things have been accomplished – housing, bank accounts, medical, etc. The children are all enrolled in school and the adults have begun their language classes. It appears they are doing well. We have had two receptions for them at the parish. People have been very authentic in welcoming them to our community. It was only once they arrived that we became aware that they are not only Christian but also Catholic. They are members of the Melkite Rite. It is indeed a bonus that we can join together at Eucharist to give thanks to God. We thank God for allowing us the privilege of manifesting the mercy of God by welcoming them into our lives and hearts. They are our brothers and sisters who have suffered much and lost everything. No doubt they too are thankful that God heard their cries for help.
I think this is what it means to be an Oblate Parish. I have never been more proud to be a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate.