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The Oblates Today

With the great falling away from religious vocations since the early sixties, the numbers of Oblate religious recruits dropped dramatically. There are recruits, but these are few and far between. The Oblates hold “Come and See Sessions” from time to time for young men interested in joining the order, and these are fruitful.

The Oblate congregation in Canada is divided into several provinces. The largest group in based in Québec and Ontario and is francophone. The Brother Anthony Province was regrouped from several provinces in Western Canada, of which only the Manitoba and Alberta sections are bilingual. The Assumption province is based on service to immigrants and was established by the Polish arm of the Oblate congregation. In Edmonton, they provide service to two Polish parishes as well as to other immigrant groups, such as the Hungarians and others as well. Every year, the Assumption province holds a Lenten retreat, for which they bring in a predicator from Poland. The event lasts a week and is well attended by Polish parishioners.

Today, the great majority of Oblates in Western Canada are elderly and retired. In the Edmonton area, there are about 20 active Oblate missionaries, who work with parishes as replacements for regular parish priests. They also work with pastoral committees, in English and in French. A few Oblates are responsible for parishes, such as is the case for the parish of Saint-Joachim in Edmonton, but increasingly the directors of the congregation question whether this really is in keeping with their mandate of working with the poor. Nevertheless, Oblates continue to be involved in local parishes, a few work with pastoral committees and catholic schools, and are organised as the “Oblate Parish Mission Team”. Some Oblates have become university professors, and there as well, there are questions as to whether this meets the mandate of working with the poor.

Some Oblates are chaplains at hospitals in the area. Working with the sick and dying makes part of the mandate of the congregation. Chaplains are on call at all times, and work with families to provide comfort and spiritual palliative care. Oblates have long been chaplains with the Canadian Armed Forces, but they no longer serve there, and feel that this should be the responsibility of regular priests.

The Oblates continue to work with members of the First Nations and Métis, especially the poor, and helping to organise activities such as the pilgrimage at Lac Sainte-Anne, although this event has been turned over to a Steering Committee since 2000. The poor are of very great concern. The recently deceased Fr. Yvon Levaque (1915-2008), for instance began bringing lunch to the Bissel center once a week in 1988, an activity he continued until his death. Others work in organising healing sessions, summer camps for aboriginal youth and personal development programs.

In Edmonton, the congregation works closely with Archbishop Richard Smith. They are encouraged to visit distant parishes, which do not have a regular parish priest, to say mass. Some years, Oblates have done this during the Christmas season, and have flown to isolated communities in the North-West Territories for their Christmas service.

The Oblates are also involved in the Oblate Youth Ministry, an organisation which provides retreats for young people and visits catholic schools to speak about faith and involvement in the church. They work closely with parishes and catholic school, ensuring that children receive the sacraments and encourage that families attend church at their local parish. Some Oblates also work with the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a ministry for married couples which is intended for couples who wish to engage in a strong sacramental way of life.

In spite of their small numbers, the Oblates continue to be involved in giving services to the poor and needy.
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            For more on Missionary Oblates in Western Canada, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

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