Oblate Mission Associates

Restructuring – “Leave Nothing Undared!”

A Lengthening History

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been opening new frontiers across Canada since 1841, largely in response to the vision and the passion of their dynamic founder, St Eugene de Mazenod, OMI and his life-long urgent challenge: “Leave nothing undared!” These frontiers, of course, had to do with preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the founding and fostering of communities so necessary for the day-to-day living of the Good News of Christianity. Additionally, new frontiers for Oblate missionaries in Canada also included setting up schools, hospitals, railroads, post offices, community centers, villages and towns, universities, printing presses, stores and much more.

Session A

Meeting of Communications Task Force, August, 2005

“Leave nothing undared!” In September, 1996, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate felt themselves once again being challenged by these three words of their Founder, this time at a meeting of leadership from across Canada and from the world-wide Congregation itself. This time, the frontier was the very future of the Oblates, intermingled as it is with the future of Christianity within a very modernized Canada. It was all too clear that this advanced, secularized society no longer needed the Oblates to build schools, clinics, post offices and highways. Does Canada even need the Oblates anymore? Above all, the painful question had to be asked: does Canada even need the Christian Gospel?

“Leave nothing undared!” From a humble posture of uncertainty and courage, diminishment and hope, the Oblates throughout Canada began to take seemingly small steps to entirely rethink their very identity and various missionary ministries. Eventually, this renewed way of closer working together, including grieving many losses and risking new dreams, led to several historic changes.

One of the shoots of new life, from what at times seemed to be a dead stump, was the beginning of a new Canadian Oblate community (or what is known as a “province”) called OMI Lacombe Canada. This officially took place on December 8, 2003, directly involving 5 previous Canadian Oblate provinces, extending across the entirety of Canada. This new entity of Oblate priests, brothers and lay associates became one of four communities in North America, namely, OMI Lacombe Canada, the Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Assumption and United States provinces.

The refounding of OMI Lacombe Canada had many ripple-like consequences, including beginning a new Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate in Canada. One more dying and rising occurred in the ending of four former Missionary Associations (namely, St Paul’s, St Mary’s, Manitoba and St Peter’s) throughout Canada, and the beginning again of AMMI Lacombe Canada MAMI – or more simply known, as the Oblate Mission Associates – always in response to: “Leave nothing undared!”

 

Out of the Ashes

A very important gathering took place at Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre on February 9 – 10, 2005. We now look back, and see this as the first meeting of what was to become the new Oblate Mission Associates. Both coincidentally and providentially, that date was also Ash Wednesday. Participants at this meeting, with ashes on foreheads lingering through part of the meeting, felt reminded that this time was both a moment of death and of new life.

Task Force 1

Task Force 1 - Left to Right:
Vaughan Quinn, OMI, Tim Webster (Former Assistant Director St. Peter's),
Diane Lepage (Former Director St. Mary's), Ed MacNeil, OMI (Former Director St. Peter's),
Adèle Blondeau (Former Director AMMI Manitoba), Glenn Zimmer, OMI,
André Blondeau (Former Director AMMI Manitoba)
Missing from photograph: Terry Conway, OMI -- Former Director St. Paul's (BC)

The participants of this meeting, true to the traditional composition of Missionary Associations, included both lay persons and Oblates. These were Tim Webster, Adele and Andre Blondeau, Diane Lepage and Don Leier along with Oblates Ed MacNeil, Vaughan Quinn, and Glenn Zimmer. A significant reference point for this meeting was the very helpful preparatory work and recommendations done earlier by a task force consisting of JoAnne Chrones, Chris Pulchny, OMI, Emily Cherneski and Mark Garczynski. They in turn heavily relied on the previous work and recommendations done by Brother Tom Novak, OMI.

Task Force 3

Task Force 3 - Left to Right:
Danièle Miny, Mary Ann Lewis Jamin, Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers,
Emily & John Cherneski, Don Leier, Diane Lepage,
Oblates Raymond Marquis and Glenn Zimmer

Not at all surprising, this first gathering and much else since has undergone many of the same struggles – the losses and the new beginnings, the mourning and the new hopes, the darkness and the light – as were being experienced by the ending of former Oblate provinces and the birthing of OMI Lacombe Canada. The challenge is always two-fold: where do we want to go (vision) and how do we best get there?

From that first Ash Wednesday gathering, there has been a profound awareness that not only were the Oblates and the lay collaborators struggling with change, but also, the supporters of the various Missionary Associations were also being affected. Many of these supporters had been part of Oblate community, prayer and missionary activity for several decades. Not unlike the Oblates themselves, and those who worked with the missionaries, the many friends of the Oblates, supporters and members of the various Missionary Associations of Mary Immaculate began to wonder: do we belong anymore? Do we count anymore? Why all these changes? If what was is passing away, do I still have part?

Similar anxieties and losses were being experienced by lay persons and Oblates alike as together we peered into the frontier of the dim future, often as through a glass darkly. A few Oblates and co-workers even wondered if we might lose the friendship, the loyalty and the support which had been so generously given over the past years because of the changes that were underway.

Indeed, this was a time for ashes. And for new life. “Leave nothing undared.”

 

Launching into the Deep

Not unlike the disciples after the Resurrection, the new Oblate Mission Associates felt challenged to throw its nets on the other side of the boat, into deep waters. Accordingly, following the founding gathering on Ash Wednesday, 2005, a ten-point action plan was developed. This included contacting all Missionary Association supporters, planning new publications, setting up a central office in Saskatoon, seeking professional assistance, renewing close contact with the missionaries both beyond and within Canada, calling on the advice of many others and much more. And more meetings!!!

Don Leier
Don Leier

Thanks to the valued assistance of Don Leier and Compton International (who assist many parishes, church groups and other non-profit organizations), a major survey among supporters of the former Missionary Associations was done. The responses were many – and very encouraging. Perhaps in a nutshell, the hundreds of responses said to us: “We’re maybe not too sure where the Oblates are going at this time, but we’re with you!”

 

Among the many replies, we were told:

“Oblates need to be aware that their active promotion of ministry works and personal relationships have a huge and deep impact …”

“If Oblates are true to Eugene’s charism, being daring and real in this world, others will see and want to share in this new life …”

“Consider women’s issues not only in the communities but within the church. Poverty and children here in Canada and abroad – I know these are important, but make them stand out …”

“Do not give up your ministry to native and aboriginal people … “

“Promote the welfare of females in whatever work you do …”

“God willing, your work will be even more successful than in the past …”

“I’m not sure if the Oblates have the energy and the power to take on more than they already have, but I will support the programs …”

We need to show we care through prayer every day …”

“Make the natives proud: they have suffered enough abuse, ridicule, etc. The poor, the down and out, the lower income people need empathy, connection, love, recognition …”

“Don’t buy into the capitalist/imperialist version of the RC hierarchy. They are out of touch with Jesus’ life and message …”

“Supporting youth ministry is essential …”

“ I appreciate all that you undertake here in Canada and abroad. I am 79 years old …”

“Encourage involvement of the laity …”

“Prayer support for more vocations …”

“We are thankful for the many years that we were served by Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Their example of devotion to God, prayers to Mary our mother, and service to the people was inspirational and worthy of being followed by today’s Oblates and lay people.”

In a word, we also heard friends of the Oblates and supporters of the missions also saying: “Leave nothing undared.”

 

Continuing the Journey

Several more meetings have taken place since the founding meeting in February, 2005, always with the purpose of drawing on the wisdom and experience the lay and Oblate leaders of the former Missionary Associations, and to invite ideas also from other women and men. An image from the New Testament Scriptures that seemed to help better understand the changes underway was that of new wine and new wineskins. Just as the heart of the new Oblate Mission Associates was being shaped, often from the older good wine of the former Associations, so too many steps were being taken to bring about new structures.

Roberta Edworthy

Roberta Edworthy

As the former offices in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa began to wind down, the new Mission Office was set up in Saskatoon within the Oblate facility of Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre, though separate from the retreat house’s operations. Diane Lepage was appointed as the administrative director, and she, along with Oblates Vaughan Quinn ( Toronto) and Glenn Zimmer (Qu’Appelle House of Prayer) became the Coordination Team of the Oblate Mission Associates. A first major task was to bring together all the members and supporters of the Missionary Associations, a list of well over 5,000 names and addresses. As the work continued to grow, and support increased, Roberta Edworthy was hired in October 2006 to assist Diane in the mission office.

Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers
Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers
Communications Coordinator
2006-2009
 
John & Emily Cherneski
John & Emily Cherneski
Communications Coordinators
2009

Another very large activity was creating, developing and producing the various publications (and this Website) of the Oblate Mission Associates, both in English and French. Accordingly, Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers was hired part-time in May, 2006, serving as our communications co-ordinator until January of 2009, at which time she pursued further involvement with her heart's passion, gifts and abilities within her local parish.

John and Emily Cherneski began as Communications Coordinators May 2009.

As we continue the various tasks now underway, especially getting to better know the many supporters, other plans are underway. Part of these plans include being on the road to meet, to offer retreats and generally be present to Oblate mission supporters and Oblate communities across the country. More and more, the Mission Office looks to connecting friends and supporters of the Oblates within Canada with missionaries and the people whom they serve. One way is to plan trips, such as those already underway to Cuba, to Kenya and other places served by the Oblate Mission Associates.

The heart of the newly formed Oblate Mission Associates is the same as that of the former Missionary Associations: that is, to foster a community of faith, prayer and service (that is, to be family with one another because of the spirit of St. Eugene de Mazenod); to promote a distinctly Oblate missionary presence through what we say and do; and to assist the financial needs of the poor served by Oblate missionary work beyond and within Canada.

Much has already been done, continuing the wonderful good wine of the past Missionary Associations, and much is yet to unfold. Like the Oblates themselves in Canada, the Oblate Mission Associates has also looked into the frontier of the future, and heard the urging of the Founder of the Oblates: “Leave nothing undared!

 
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