Past Issues - 1 - 2012/1
The meeting of the Association of Oblate Institutes of Higher Learning in Cedara

The Association of Oblate Institutes of Higher Learning (AOIHL) executive group held its fourth meeting at the Red Acres Retreat Centre near Cedara, South Africa, from 29 May until the 2nd June 2011. The host for this gathering was Fr. Sylvester David, omi, the president of the St. Joseph Theological Institute in Cedara. Fr. Fabio Ciardi, omi, recently named Director of the Office of Oblate Studies and Research, gave two presentations to the group on the involvement of the Oblate institutes and the studies related to the Oblate congregation. At this first meeting of the Association on the African continent all the institutes were represented: Institut St. Eugene de Mazenod, Kinshasa, Congo; Obra St. Bernard Scholasticate/University of Warsaw, Poland; Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada; Notre Dame University, Cotabato, Philippines; Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas, USA; and, St. Joseph Institute, Cedara.
Fr. Ciardi spoke on two important themes to the educators: the history of studies on the Oblate charism, and the relation between the Oblate institutes and studies on the Oblate charism. He also suggested ways in which the institutes through their research resources of libraries and archives and through their scholars could serve to advance the studies in the Oblate congregation, its history, its charism, and especially in the area of theology of mission. The group agreed to these proposals of Fr. Ciardi and several specific decisions were made. These included: participation by the Association as members in the new Oblate journal Oblatio, agreement to pursue development of a chair in Oblate Life and Mission in San Antonio at their institutes, and that the institutes would encourage their faculty members to study and write articles related to the Oblate identity and mission.

As a follow-up to the 2010 35th Oblate General Chapter, the members participated in a group reflection and discussion on the Chapter’s calls to conversion. The members reflected on how these calls to conversion might affect their member institutes, in particular the call to conversion in mission which stated:

Our Oblate specialists in missiology and our institutions of higher learning are called to define a way to understand the challenges of modernity, secularity, inculturation and religious fundamentalism as well as our own way of witnessing to the Kingdom of God in the midst of these challenges.[87]

The members of the executive group saw their reflection on these calls to conversion as a way to show solidarity with the Oblate Congregation and to bring these Oblate values to the life of the institutes.
As the meeting was held in Cedara, a special presentation was given by Fr. Paul Decock, omi, on the history of St. Joseph Theological Institute and the Oblate commitment to theological higher education in South Africa. During the business meeting, the members voted to amend the Association’s statutes in order to include Fr. Ciardi, in his capacity as director of Oblate Studies and Research, as a liaison member of the Association. They also discussed the possibility of inviting a superior of an Oblate scholasticate to next year’s meeting. The group decided that their next meeting would be held on May 22-25, 2012, in Cotabato, Philippines, home of Notre Dame University.

The origins of the Association

How did this Association for Oblate Institutes of Higher Learning come into existence? Recent interest of the Oblate Congregation in the ministry of higher education and in strengthening our Oblate Institutes of higher learning can be traced back to the Oblate 32nd General Chapter in 1992. This Chapter approved the following resolution as a mandate:

Whereas voices have been raised in the Chapter Assembly expressing concern that centers of theological studies and reflection should be maintained and strengthened in the Congregation, the 1992 General Chapter resolves:
That the General Council member who holds the portfolio for formation be charged with supporting and encouraging the development of those centers (universities, schools of Theology, or seminaries) which are under Oblate responsibility.[88]

In order to implement this mandate of the chapter, Fr. Daniel Corijn, vicar general, and Fr. Gerard Laprise, general councilor for Canada, called for a meeting in Ottawa at St. Paul University from 21 to 25 July 1997 in which they invited the heads of 7 omi Institutes and Centers of Study to reflect on the mandate of the Chapter. These institutes included: Saint Bernard Scholasticate (Obra, Poland), Saint Paul University (Ottawa, Canada), Oblate Center for Mission Studies (Washington, DC, USA), Notre Dame University (Cotabato City, Philippines), Institut Saint Eugene de Mazenod (Kinshasa, Congo) and Saint Joseph’s Theological Institute (Cedara, South Africa). The meeting agenda included a presentation by each school about their particular institute and its various programs.
During this meeting and in a discussion on common shared values and concerns, this group agreed upon several common statements and commitments, which they respectfully submitted to the General Administration. These schools established an informal “Association of Oblate Universities and Centers of Theological Studies:” “whose purposes, among others, are to foster communication and collaboration among these institutions.” They endorsed activities which, among others, would: promote the integration of academic education and formation, reflect on what characterizes Oblate work or ministry in theological studies and university administration, and encourage exchanges among the schools and collaboration especially in the area of Mission studies, and debate to focus on globalization, social justice and peace, respect for the integrity of creation, inculturation, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. With regard to personnel, the group agreed to continue to support the present faculties to carry out theological research and publish, and to work in partnership with others so as to further Oblate identity. The group challenged the Oblate congregation to help plan for staffing these institutes and to maintain a list of qualified professors in theology and related fields. The Congregation was asked to continue financial support where possible, to continue the institutional commitment to the schools and to help and guide the institutes’ fundraising and development efforts. The regional conferences were asked to give more support to the schools in their respective regions. The entire Congregation was also asked to consider convening a meeting of Oblates working in theology and related fields of study. The group recognized the importance of the Association of Oblate Studies and Research (AOSR) and asked the Congregation to encourage the Oblates to study and do research in this area. Finally, the schools themselves pledged to work toward greater individual and collective visibility both within and outside the Congregation, and to give necessary attention to conserving Oblate archival materials which are necessary for future research in Oblate and Mission Studies.[89]
Unfortunately, the momentum gained at this meeting did not continue into the next General Chapter.

The General Chapter of 2004 and the following steps

With the election of a new superior general and council and perhaps with the emergence of other issues seen as more urgent, the 33rd General Chapter made no mention of the Institutes of Higher Studies or the Oblate education ministry. Furthermore, personnel changes in the different institutes brought in new rectors and presidents who had not attended the 1997 meeting. Thus, after having held this initial gathering, the Association of Oblate Universities and Centres of Theological Studies, was not able to continue the project.
Interest in the ministry of the Oblates’ institutes of higher studies picked up again at the meeting of the 2004 34th General Chapter with several informal meetings of those involved in coordinating these universities and centers of higher education. The grassroots group gathered 30-40 members of the Chapter to discuss the Oblates’ institutes and the ministry of higher education. The institutes represented were: Oblate School of Theology (San Antonio), University of Saint Paul (Ottawa), Notre Dame University (Cotabato), St. Joseph Theological Institute (Cedara), Institut Saint Eugene (Kinshasa), Obra Scholasticate, Lesotho Scholasticate, International Scholasticate (Rome), and the Asian Institute (Colombo). This ad hoc group then formulated and presented a proposal to the Chapter assembly which was approved. Present at the meetings of this higher education group at the chapter were provincials, professors, presidents and rectors. The participants noted the lively interest in this topic and the large number of members of the chapter who had some express interest or connection with the schools of higher studies either as administrators, as professors, or as provincials responsible for these schools in their respective provinces.
An ongoing point of discussion at the Chapter centered upon the importance of highlighting education as part of the traditional Oblate ministry going back to Saint Eugene himself. The group saw a need to support both the individual Oblate who himself has taken on as his primary ministry that of theological ministerial education and at the same time a need to support the institutions which have developed around the Oblate world for teaching theology and its related fields. The schools were founded mostly due to a lack of any type of higher education school in these emerging mission fields in North America, Africa and Asia when the Oblates arrived there as missionaries. St. Eugene de Mazenod himself was instrumental in the establishment of Bytown College in Ottawa, the predecessor institution of the University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University. Thus, the ministry of these schools has been understood as an integral part of the missionary work of the Oblates for evangelization.
The Chapter’s Formation for Mission Commission and the Mission and Evangelization Commission both offered challenges and supports to the higher education group as their meetings continued at the Chapter. The meetings resulted in the following recommendation that was approved by the Chapter:

The General Chapter recommends to the new Central Government that it reflects upon the interrelated questions of:
1. The place of higher education (i.e. the component of academic education beyond the requirements of initial formation) within the charism of the Oblates;
2. The place of our institutions of higher education within the charism of the Oblates; and more practically, within our life and ministry at this time;
3. How the Central Government might play more of a role in facilitating more cooperation between our various institutions of higher learning. (Approved by the Chapter on September 27, 2004.)[90]

The new General Administration then began to work on implementation on the chapter’s proposals. Thus, in the October, 2005 Plenary Session the General Council approved the following statement:

1. That the General Council give its agreement to the composition of the “Executive” established during the Chapter by the ad hoc group on Higher Education.[91]
2. That the General Council direct one of its members, nominated by the Ongoing Formation Committee, to serve as liaison between the Executive and the General Council, and not as a representative from the General Council as indicated by the Chapter ad hoc group;
3. That the General Council entrust this Executive with the mandate to give a follow up to the recommendation of the Chapter to “facilitate more cooperation between our Institutions of Higher Learning” (WH, Recommendations, H#3, p. 70).
4. That the General Council direct that Warren Brown be asked by a member of the Ongoing Formation Committee to contact the members of the Executive of the ad hoc group asking them if they accept to be a member of the Executive and to execute the mandate received by the General Administration. If a member of the ad hoc Gro0up does not accept, the president of the Ongoing Formation Committee of the General Administration will see to his replacement.[92]

After receiving acceptance from the proposed Executive members of their task, the General Council at the following plenary session in January, 2006, made several concrete steps to begin a more formal and structured approach to an association for the institutes of higher education in the congregation. In a letter dated February 7, 2006, Fr. Marcel Dumais, General Councilor for Canada/US and liaison to the group related the decisions of the General Council. The members of the Executive were officially appointed along with Fr. Warren Brown as the Coordinator of this Executive Group. This Group was formally linked to the Ongoing Education Committee of the General Council. Thus, the Ongoing Education Committee and the General Council made several proposals for the work of the Executive of the Higher Education Group:

a) Examine the mandate from the Chapter and the documents produced by the Higher Education interest group, and indentify priorities for its own work and contribution towards enhancing Higher Education at the Congregational level;
b) Take steps to bring into existence a real and operative network among the institutes of higher learning in the Congregation;
c) Identify for their own institute (and other institutes of the Congregation not represented on the Executive) areas of excellence relevant to the Oblate charism, and for which they would seek wide publicity within the Congregation;
d) Take the ‘statutes’ document produced by the Heads of Oblate Universities and Centres of Theological Studies in Ottawa in 1997 as a starting point towards producing a new or revised document elaborating goals and structures for their group;
f) Eventually foresee a meeting of the Executive;
g) Identify as soon as possible one or two concrete steps that would demonstrate the beginnings of profitable collaboration among our institutions of higher learning: library, personnel, exchange of students, resource persons for consultation, programme development, reflection on the Oblate mission today, etc.;
h) Send proposals to the Ongoing Formation Committee on how and when to give a follow up to the recommendations of the Chapter and to work done during the Chapter by the ad hoc Group on Higher Education, etc. (TSD, p. 34, #3) so that they can be studied along the September, 2006 plenary session.[93]

Added as a footnote addendum to the last point, the Committee on Ongoing Education noted the following and made some financial provision for the group’s initial phase:

Note: it should be noted that the Executive Group represents a grassroots constituency in the Congregation and is not a Committee or Service of the Central Government. Consequently, no budgetary commitment has been made by the Central Government. The members should ascertain from their Institute the measure of funding it is prepared to offer to foster its own interests in Higher Education Collaboration. Units can apply to the Oblate Sharing Fund for assistance for participation in the work of the Group. The committee suggests that the central Government offer some financial support not exceeding $5000 US per year.[94]

The Executive thus began to brainstorm among themselves on some of the ideas presented by the Ongoing Education Committee and some of the institutes’ own concerns. However, unfortunately, due to constraints of time and personnel changes in the institutes themselves, there was not a strong immediate follow up to the initial steps taken.
The coordinator of the Higher Education Executive, Warren Brown, sent a proposal letter in 2007 to the Inter-Chapter Meeting in South Africa through Fr. Louis Lougen, US provincial, proposing that there be an initial international meeting of all the Presidents and Rectors of the institutes to be held in San Antonio , Texas, USA, either in later 2007 or in early 2008. In this way, the recommendations on Higher Education from the 2004 Chapter would be concretely implemented as the group would begin to meet formally. In affirming the mandate of the 2004 chapter, the 2007 Inter-chapter approved a general council ongoing formation committee document spelling out the guidelines for the specialized training of Oblates for the Oblate mission entitled: “Academic and Professional Training of Oblates in our Units.” This document provided important rationale for sending Oblates to further studies in support of the mission and of the congregation’s institutes.

At the Fall, 2007, plenary session of the General Council, the Ongoing Formation Committee accepted in principle this invitation and proposal, but asked that the first meeting of the Executive be held in Rome, preferably on the dates May 19-24, 2008. The Committee also reappointed Warren Brown as the coordinator of the group. The Executive was contacted and all agreed to the meeting in Rome for May, 2008.

1st meeting of the Executive

Thus, the first meeting of the executive group was held in Rome at the General House, from May 19-24, 2008. Present at this meeting were: Marcel Dumais (liaison), General Councilor for Canada/US, Andrzej Jastrzebski (executive secretary), Luc Tardif (USP-Ottawa), Jaraslow Rozanski (Obra-Warsaw), Sylvester David (Cedara), and Warren Brown (OST-San Antonio). Two members were not able to attend: Baudouin Mubesala (Kinshasa), and Eduardo Tanudtanud (Cotabato). In this initial gathering, the members discussed a general vision for higher education in the Oblate congregation and particularly the vision for this executive group. The group shared their concerns for higher education and the need for the Obra institutions to have some concrete means of collaboration and communication. The General Council’s ongoing education committee members who were present also shared their impressions with the executive and there was a presentation on the renewal programs in Aix-en-Provence, France by Brother Dominique Dessolin. After the discussion, the group wrote up statutes for themselves, somewhat based upon those created in 1997 at the meeting held in Ottawa of the heads of Oblate Universities and Centres of Study. This time the statutes also included the members’ reflections on their ministry of education and the charism of St. Eugene.
These statutes of the higher education group articulated a structure for the higher education ministry in general, and established an Executive group whose membership would coordinate the work of the member institutes and, in a comprehensive way, the ministry of all the Oblates involved in higher education. The statutes outlined what was the specific task of the Executive, of the Institutes themselves, and of the larger Oblate Congregation. The Executive agreed to meet at least annually in order to discuss areas of collaboration and to plan projects of mutual assistance to the Missionary Oblate Congregation. The group also foresaw that they would need to work alongside with the Oblate General Administration, the Oblate Formation Committee, the regional conferences and the Association of Oblate Studies and Research.
The 2008 meeting in Rome was a breakthrough in achieving a more concrete organization, especially having written statutes for the group. Now the group could begin really its work and begin to accomplish what had been the dream of those who were present at the 2004 General Chapter meetings. The group decided that for future meetings it would be best to meet at the sites of different educational institutes so that the other members could see firsthand the different educational facilities of the Oblate world. It was decided, therefore, to go along with the invitation of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX, USA for the next meeting. The last week of May was seen as the best common date for all of the respective schools to meet given the different academic calendars that they follow. The meeting was set for May 25-29, 2009, at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio.

2nd Meeting - San Antonio

At the 2nd meeting held in San Antonio, TX, at Oblate School of Theology from May 25-29, 2009, two important actions were included in the program of this meeting which have served the group well up until now. First, it was decided to invite a speaker who could give some input to which the group could react. The speakers would be persons who could give some insights on higher education as a ministry, and especially, if possible, a ministry among the Oblates. Fr. David Power, omi, well known international Oblate theologian, professor and author, was selected as the speaker for the 2009 meeting. The second component which was included in the program was some specific time for one-on-one meetings where each rector/president would have time to speak with each of their colleagues about possible areas of collaboration and cooperation. These times were arranged to be part of the regular schedule of the meeting. At this meeting the Executive decided to amend the statutes slightly in an effort to be more inclusive of other Oblates who minister in the field of education ministry and to be more inclusive of other Oblate institutes, such as scholasticates. Thus the name of the group was officially changed to Association of Oblate Institutes of Higher Learning.
In his reflections, Fr. Power gave some important background to the group regarding the recent history of the Oblates as a congregation in the ministry of education. He noted that after World War II, Fr. Leo Deschâtelets, as superior general, made several moves to re-found the congregation and to send Oblates for further studies in theology and other fields such as biblical studies, liturgy, ecumenism, a historical approach to dogma, and patristic studies in order to re-establish the Oblate scholasticates and institutes of higher education around the world. The Second Vatican Council and its aftermath also was an impetus for more Oblates in the congregation for higher studies in the theological and philosophical fields. There is a lack of organized approach and plan for the Congregation members for higher studies in these days than there was earlier. Perhaps this is something the Association can address. Fr. Power also addressed the question of the how the Oblate charism could be more explicitly contained in the mission statements of the institutes. He proposed that the Oblate charism includes the fol lowing themes: divine mercy in the wisdom of the Cross, mission to the poor, development of a new society and refounding of the Church, preaching the Gospel, ministry in the area of reconciliation, prophetic witness of evangelical community among the poor, and international and intercultural solidarity. Given these major themes in the charism, he proposed that the following areas might be developed in the curricula of the member institutes: charism of preaching, poverty studies, mission of reconciliation, and prophetic witness to renewal of Church and society. As part of his presentations, Fr. Power also had an evening session with the local Oblates about the upcoming ‘Year of the Priest’.
At this meeting of the higher education executive group one-on-one meetings were held for the first time and all the group members found this to be an important and highly valuable reason for gathering. In this way relationships between the individual institutions could begin to develop and collaboration could be planned. During the business meeting of the executive group, the statutes were revised, and the name of the group was changed so as to reflect the diversity of Oblates in the ministry of education and to signal an openness to be more inclusive in the group’s formal and informal membership. The group would henceforth be called: the Association for Oblate Institutes of Higher Learning. A final item of importance for group discussion was to begin developing a proposal for the 2010 Chapter on the theme of higher education and the Oblate congregation.

3rd Meeting - Obra

The third meeting of the executive group of the Association was held in Obra, Poland, May 24-28, 2010. The sessions as well as the lodging of the participants were held at the Oblate St. Bernard Scholasticate in Obra. Due to some complications with travel, not all members were able to attend. This was the first meeting at which a non-Oblate and layperson head of an institute attended: Dr. Chantal Beauvais who had recently been named as the rector of Saint Paul University in Ottawa. The invited presenter for this meeting was Rev. Eugene King, omi, Oblate vicar general. Fr. King had served as the chair of the ongoing formation committee and thus had been apprised of the development of the Association.
In his two talks, Fr. King addressed the group on two related themes: the place of higher education and the institutes of higher education within the Oblate Congregation, and the relationship of the actual institutes of higher learning to the Oblates. Fr. King explained that in the history of the Oblates, education has not always been highly appreciated, though he cited several instances where the Oblates, especially at present, have had need of the resources and ministry of those who are involved in academic fields. There is a mutual benefit for the congregation and for the ministry of education that could be better exploited. He said that the institutes can help the Oblate congregation in six particular ways: 1) help the Oblates reflect on their identity as clerics and the role of presbyteral ministry in the Church; 2) find ways that the institutes can help the Oblates’ ministries as a resource; 3) the institutes can help the Congregation to become critical thinkers and develop an appreciation for the intellectual life; 4) the institutes help the Congregation develop professional skills and a professional code of ethics for ministry; 5) the institutes can help the Congregation become prophetic leaders in their respective provinces; and, 6) the institutes can help the Congregation to connect both the institutes and the individual Oblates involved in the ministry of education. One of the innovations presented at this meeting was the development of a common website through the generosity of the resources of Saint Paul University. The one-on-one sessions again proved to be a success and were seen as a way to continue developing mutual relationships among the member institutes. There was a long discussion about the proposal that the association would submit to the pre-capitular committee of the 2010 Oblate General Chapter. A final version of the proposal for the 2010 Chapter was approved as a resolution.

The General Chapter of 2010

Following the meeting in Obra, the chapter proposal was submitted to the Oblate Congregation’s pre-capitular committee. This committee asked that the higher education proposal be streamlined, so as to be a written text which could easily be voted on by the chapter assembly. Further editing was done to the proposal at the chapter meeting itself in September, 2010, in Rome. The reason for these further changes was to match all the chapter proposals by using similar action statements.
After some discussion, the final 2010 Chapter proposal was discussed and approved as a Resolution by the Chapter assembly:

That the 35th Oblate General Chapter name Higher Education as a valued and essential ministry within the Oblate mission of evangelization and that the Chapter direct the Superior General in Council to establish policies regarding the support of higher studies in the Congregation and the place of Oblate Institutes of Higher Education within the Congregation. (Approved by the Chapter on 1 October 2010.)[95]

As reported at the beginning of this article, the most recent gathering of the Association was held in June, 2011, near Cedara, South Africa. During this meeting the members reflected on the proposals of the 2010 Chapter in light of their individual institutes’ goals and programs. As they look to the future, the leadership of these institutes know that to maintain their Oblate identity and to continue to appropriate the Oblate charism of St. Eugene, they will need to make good use of their resources for study, research and teaching amongst themselves and for the larger communities they serve. In this way they can participate fully in the work of the Missionary Oblates to bring the good news to the poor and most abandoned.
This summary of the beginnings of the higher education group in the Oblate congregation has attempted to show how the commitment of the member institutes to form a group or network has persevered despite obstacles of time, distance, culture and language. The common Oblate mission for evangelization in the charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod unites all of them today, however, in the same way that it has been critical for the initial foundation of all these institutes. Hopefully, through the dynamism of that same charism, the association and the member institutes will continue to find ways to work together and to more effectively teach the word of God in the 21st century in the spirit of our founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod. Through his charism, we will find new and innovative ways to carry out the mission of Christ and help form Christian leaders for tomorrow.

[87] Conversion, Acts of the 35th General Chapter (2010), Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Rome, 2010, p. 25.

[88] Witnessing as Apostolic Community, Acts of the 32nd General Chapter (1992), Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Rome, 1992, p. 45.

[89] See omi Communiqué no. 73, November, 1997, pp. 2 and 5 on Oblate Univer­sities and Centres of Theological Studies, 25 July 1997.

[90] Witnessing to Hope, Acts of the 34th General Chapter (2004), Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Rome, 2004, #6, H, p. 70.

[91] See Document 104 of the Chapter, September 24, 2004.

[92] Abstract from Document 104 of the Chapter: “2) This executive will exist of the following: Warren Brown (OST): Luc Tardif (St. Paul); Ramon Bernabe (Notre Dame, Philippines); W. Popielewski (Obra); Daniel Corijn (Cedara); Jean-Pierre Bwa­lwel (Kinshasa); and a representative from the General Council.” (from Minutes of the General Council Plenary Meeting, September/October 2005.)

[93] G.C. minutes, Plenary Session, September/October 2005.

[94] G.C. minutes, Plenary Session, September/October 2005.

[95] Conversion, Acts of the 35th General Chapter (2010), Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Rome, 2010, #5, D, pp. 56-57.


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