Oblate Associates Armelle and Louis Molin
Armelle and Louis Molin are a study in contrasts. Louis, the philosopher, speaks softly and chooses his words carefully – it is hard to imagine him rushing into anything. The image that comes to mind is of a long-standing oak tree silently pondering the important questions in life. Perched on the edge of her chair while engaged in animated conversation, Armelle is full of lively laughter, flashing eyes and scintillating energy; radiating a sense of excitement that declares, “Let’s get going!”
Residents of Ile des Chênes, Manitoba for forty years, they have been in contact with the Oblates since 1973. Perhaps the one with whom they felt the closest was Lomer Laplante OMI. The founder of AMMI in Manitoba, he was deeply involved with PRH (Personality and Human Relations) sessions. He warmly invited the couple to attend a presentation he was giving. Armelle was enthusiastic; Louis, true to his nature, took some time to mull it over before agreeing to go.
It was a life-changing experience! In Louis’ words, “As we were doing the sessions, we felt our souls were starting to grow, starting to live. There developed within me a very strong missionary desire. We started to see that perhaps we were called to do more with our lives. We began to wonder where all this would lead us. We were both busy but we felt it was time to take a break to discover something new.” Discover something new they did! They contacted a friend, originally from Manitoba, who had been working in the South American country of Bolivia. Armelle’s eyes shine as she remembers, “He was so enthusiastic about what he was doing there. He would come home for a visit but he couldn’t wait to get back. He was an inspiration and so I said to Louis, ‘I’d like to go there for three months’. We wrote and asked if our going would be possible. In a month an answer came back saying we were welcome.”
For many, just thinking about the conditions in Bolivia would have been daunting enough to dissuade them and, had they gone, they would have been planning the trip home the moment they got off the plane. Not the Molins! “Before the three months were over, we knew that we were going to go back to Bolivia. We knew that there was something there for us. We also met the Oblates there because Fr. Laplante had put us in contact with them. Within a short time, we connected with many different ministries in Bolivia. We were able to learn so much in a short time. Fr. Laplante provided us with a camera and a tape recorder. Louis is a reporter and so we interviewed all the Manitoba Oblates and we came back with a lot of slides and tapes.”
Rather than slaking their thirst for participating in the mission of the Church, three months in Bolivia only intensified it. Before they left, they already planned to go back for a lengthier stay. Their decision, however, entailed a major commitment: Louis, a reporter with CBC, would have to quit his job and Armelle would have to cut her ties with the close to fifty students coming to her for music lessons. It took a year and a half of preparation in Canada but at last they were ready to return. Were there any hesitations? There are always some but, “Deep down we knew that this was what we wanted.”
Back in Bolivia for a second time, the Molins worked with a foundation called Amanecer (Daybreak, in English) in Cochabamba, situated in a valley at an altitude of 2,500 meters and surrounded by the Andes. Founded in 1981 by Sister Stephanie Murray of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Amanecer tries to address the needs of the many children and youth living on the streets of Cochabamba. Amanecer also offers a Center for abandoned or abused women and young girls and a separate home for babies orphaned from birth to seven years of age. [For further information, you can check their website at: www.amanecer-bolivia.org] Armelle was mainly involved with the boys eleven to thirteen years of age. Since most of them had never attended school, she helped them on a one-to-one basis with their studies. She was also responsible for their clothing and prepared small groups for Baptism and First Communion. Louis helped by repairing anything and everything: light fixtures, water lines, wells, pumps, machines… whatever needed to be done. He was greatly missed when they left because of his expertise in so many areas. Armelle laughed as she said, “The cook told me, ‘you are so lucky to have such a husband. He is intelligent. He sees a problem, reflects on it and after a few moments he knows exactly what to do’. The way he obviously enjoyed helping people is what was so special.”
Because of their location, they didn’t work directly with the Oblates during their ten years in Bolivia, but they were invited and participated in most of the Oblate retreats and conventions. “The Oblates knew where we were and what we were doing. They were actually our moral sponsors. When we arrived in Bolivia, Fr. Louis Jolicoeur had us registered as missionaries within the archdiocese of Cochabamba. This was an important protection for us in case of political or social turmoil in the country.”
Their participation in Oblate events proved most helpful for the Molins to understand some of the culture, traditions and aspirations of the people. They found the charisms of St. Vincent de Paul and of St. Eugene de Mazenod to be quite similar and Louis and Armelle discovered many opportunities to share with the Oblate community about their ministry.
Then, in 1989, came the invitation to an even closer relationship with the Missionary Oblates. Armelle recalls, “While we were in Bolivia, a letter came from the Manitoba Provincial, Alain Piché OMI, asking if we were interested in being Associates. He was an innovator. He took a chance on us. We were prepared and received as Associates by Louis Jolicoeur OMI, in Bolivia. He was ready to welcome us with open arms. It was touching for us because it was happening in Bolivia – it was like he invited us into his family. We signed a formal commitment form. I told him that I felt as happy as I did on the day of my wedding! It was a serious commitment for us.”
Louis added, “For me, personally, the day we became Associates was a spiritual time for me. I became part of the Missionary Oblate family. At the time, an Associate was not what I wanted – I wanted to feel even closer! In Manitoba, the
AMMI members and Honorary Oblates
were all considered to be in relationship with the Oblates – we wanted something deeper. I felt that officially becoming an Associate was a call from the Congregation and a response from me that, yes, I want to belong to your family. It was a commitment on my part to follow the charism of St. Eugene and go to the most abandoned. In Bolivia we had the chance to do that because we were working with street children who were abandoned. It wasn’t a matter of prestige or anything like that. It was a spiritual and moral commitment of the Oblates to us and us to them. A gift we received is that as Associates, we were invited to their retreats and conventions. We learned a lot in those meetings.”
Things are never perfect and despite the general acceptance of the new Associates amongst the Oblates, there were those who had a hard time with the change. Some worried that in accepting a closer connection with Louis and Armelle – and other possible Associates, the Oblates might lose control over the future direction of the mission. They both agreed that, “All through those years, despite the acceptance, there was some resistance and this caused suffering. As Associates wonderful things have happened but there has been pain also. It’s not a honeymoon all the time. Sometimes there are misunderstandings.”
There are difficult times in any family – even religious ones, what the Molins remember most, however, has been the warmth and acceptance offered by the vast majority of Oblates. This was especially true in 1999 when they visited the General House in Rome. “We met with Fr. Wilhelm Steckling, the Superior General and Fr. Ryszard Szmydki, the General Council member responsible for Associates, and interviewed both of them for our Manitoba bulletin. For us, as a couple and as Associates, we felt very privileged. It was good to feel this acceptance at the highest level of the Congregation.”
Today, their link with the South American country remains very much alive. They communicate with the Oblates of Bolivia regularly because of the funding of a number of projects including the sponsoring of four University students. Their married children along with seven of their eleven grandchildren had all come to visit them in Bolivia and they discovered the country for themselves. In the homes of each of them is a “Bolivia Corner”. By visiting the mission, family members were better able to understand why Louis and Armelle felt so compelled to return.
Back in Canada, the way the Molins live their life as Associates has changed. “What we experienced in Bolivia, we can’t do in Canada. Here everything is super structured and you have to have lots of training. In some ways, service to the Church in Canada is more difficult than it was in Bolivia.” Also, the restructuring of MAMI has been for them, as for others, a wrenching experience. Things aren’t done the way they used to be and some of the familiarity is gone. For Associates, and for the Missionary Oblate Community as it grapples with the reshaping wrought by the formation of OMI Lacombe, change is never easy – as we were so eloquently reminded by Fr. Ray Dlugos OSA during his presentation to the Convocation participants. On the positive side, they find their connection with the Community to be an on-going source of life. Being Oblate Associates has made a difference in the way they relate to others in their local parish. When they have had difficulties, they have drawn upon their formation in Canada and Bolivia about forgiveness and reconciliation and tried to make the first step towards healing.
What do they seek in their relationship with the Missionary Oblates? “It is a privilege to share in this charism that belongs to the Church. We want to know more about the charism of De Mazenod; we want to be taught more about it. We learn about the charism from Oblates who really feel it and live it but we would like to move even deeper into it. In that vein, we feel extremely fortunate to be at the Convocation because it strengthens our link with the Congregation.”
Twenty-four Associates registered for our June Convocation in Winnipeg – many others, unable to attend, are scattered across OMI Lacombe Canada. Drawn by the charism of De Mazenod and inspired by the selfless work done by individual Oblates, they are making an ever-growing contribution to the ministry of the Congregation. The General Chapter of 2004 recommended, “That all Oblates discover the rich potential of the presence of associates who strengthen us in the Oblate vocation and mission…” and even went on to advise that each Oblate unit “…study some possible ways of sharing leadership while respecting Canon Law and the Constitutions and Rules.” (Witnessing to Hope pg. 24) Surely one of the greatest contributions Associates, such as Louis and Armelle Molin, make to OMI Lacombe is their passion. They are excited about De Mazenod’s vision and willing to make personal sacrifices so as to share in it. For the priests and Brothers of OMI Lacombe, they are an inspiration. (Submitted by Harley Mapes OMI)