Despite the small numbers and limited resources of the Oblates, the Congregation spread quickly through Canada. The Oblates gradually extended their reach westwards to the future provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, and to the Great North. At some stage it got to the point that the Oblates and the Catholic Church were equivalent in Canada. We can imagine the country with a population similar to Australia and having more than a thousand Oblates working in various missions. Try to imagine a thousand Oblates in Australia. That would be something.
This vast Canadian land has been marked by hard and committed ministry of many Oblates. Their known and unknown graves are spread across this country. That’s why it was a very moving experience when I landed in Toronto. I knew that my nine-hour-flight was nothing comparing to two-month-voyage of those six Oblates who came to Canada in 1841 but it was a humbling moment to stand on the land that has been shaped by a few generations of men who wore the same cassock and the missionary crucifix and who lived the same Rule of life given us by St Eugene. I realized that a few days in Toronto wouldn’t be enough to “touch” the Oblate heritage here but still I was most grateful to be here.
However the main point of my visit wasn’t so much the past but the present ministry of my Oblate confreres. Although the numbers are down but they still continue the commitment of their predecessors. At the moment the Oblates in Canada are gathered in three independent provinces. One of them, and the smallest, is the Assumption Province. Originally it was established to provide pastoral care for the polish migrants. Today the profile of the province is changing. The Oblates are involved in other ministries and communities. As their numbers are similar to ours in Australia it was a beneficial time for me. Once again I could see that belonging to the Oblate Congregation is like having a family. Although I didn’t know most of the priests I felt like among family members. When the first Oblates were coming to Canada in 1841 they were thrown into the unknown, in my case I was welcomed to well-established Oblate communities here in Canada. I stayed at St Casimir church in Toronto which is one of the oldest Oblate parishes in the city. I also had an opportunity to visit the new church of St Eugene de Mazenod. The church has been just completed and it made a good impression on me. As an Oblate I love seeing that St Eugene is going to be better known and venerated here. The Oblates wouldn’t have come to Canada if St Eugene hadn’t had vision, courage and faith. Another place I couldn’t miss was the church of St Maximilian Kolbe. With 40 thousand parishioners it is the biggest Catholic parish in the Northern America. To cater for such a big community they have 8 Sunday Masses and many groups actively participating in the life of the parish. Visiting those places I did feel warm in my heart despite freezing November days. I must also admit that I did enjoy their heated churches. On Sunday I went to the Cathedral. It was such a cold day but the moment I stepped in I had to take off my jacket as it was really warm inside. However what touched me wasn’t only the temperature in the Cathedral but a good number of people praying quietly. I stayed there for some time too thanking God for the work of our Oblates who over 150 years have devoted their lives to Christ and his people.