He has sent me to preach the Good News to the Poor.
- Oblate Motto
Founded in France in 1826 by
Eugène de Mazenod, the Missionary Oblates dedicated their efforts to
re-evangelize the peasants of post-revolutionary France. The Oblates have dedicated themselves to
"preaching the word of God to the poor and most abandoned."
Following the example of their founder they do so "not in loftiness
of speech, but in the showing of the Spirit." Consequently, wherever the Oblates
have gone, their first task has been to learn the language of the people.
The first Oblate missionaries in Canada were European immigrants
themselves. With the rise of poverty in their homelands, they were taught
that helping the needy was their duty as a Christian and as a servant of
God. In doing so, there was also an obligation to spread God's word,
helping others to encounter the riches that nurtured their own being and
When the request for missionaries in Canada's West was made to Bishop
Provencher of Red River, he invited the Oblates and the first mission in the West was established in Fort Chipweyan in
1851, followed in 1852 by Lac La Biche and in 1854 at Lac Ste. Anne, when
Father Albert Lacombe entered the Oblate order.
The Missionary Oblates
travelled-often alone-for hours on end, praying for safe passage and protection under the watch of their patron, the
Virgin Mary. For many Oblates, a devotion to Mary sustained them in
adverse conditions and as they attended to the sick and those
facing difficulty. At new missions they planted trees and gardens, built
churches, established schools and farming operations and generally
attempted to create a sense of community through their personal presence
and in the institutions they built with local people.
In these institutions the
men and women missionaries practiced and taught new skills necessary for
changing times-sewing woven fabric to replace scarce animal hide, growing gardens to
replace disappearing game and wild plants and running livestock and
farming operations to create industry. In offering housing and
schooling to children, they sought to introduce skills and understandings
necessary to face change. In general, their practices were
thorough, efficient and consistent with the common educational practices
of the day. Later, as the darker side of this institutionalization became
apparent, they continued to work with the local communities they served,
maintaining friendships and community activities in spite of the larger
political issues related to residential schools and Aboriginal
As the recognition of harm done was articulated, Missionary Oblates continued to serve Aboriginal communities. Besides
serving as pastors of the Roman Catholic faith, they continued such
initiatives as developing co-operative business ventures, supporting
community organizations and establishing inner-city missions to minister to urban Aboriginal peoples.
50 percent of Aboriginal people in Canada describe themselves as
adherents to Roman Catholic practice and tradition. The Missionary Oblates
have continued to work with Aboriginal people in the practices and
expressions of Christian faith. The annual Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage is an
example of this collaboration-in 2000, the Missionary Oblates turned over
the organization of this event to Aboriginal committees and communities. The Oblates are still present as pastors and
overseers in the religious services at the pilgrimage. The event draws upwards of 30,000 Aboriginal people annually from Canada
and the United States.
Today Missionary Oblates work in 68 countries around the world seeking
out the most abandoned. During the past decades their work has shifted in
many places from the countryside to the city streets.