18 years ago Eugene de Mazenod, Founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Bishop of Marseille, was canonized by Pope John Paul II. It was Sunday, December 3. I remember the date well because I was in the Novitiate at that time. Now after 18 years I was given an opportunity to go celebrate the anniversary of that event in the Novitiate too. It wasn’t the same house but the spirit reigning in the house is the same. The Novitiate house of the USA Province of the Oblates is located in the state of Illinois at the outskirts of a small town called Godfrey. The vast woods surrounding the house created a perfect environment for this unique house. The Novitiate is the most crucial time in the formation of our future religious. It lasts usually 12 months and is dedicated to establishing a strong and profound relationship with a candidate to the Order with Jesus Christ. Most of the Catholics can easily picture religious priests, brothers and sisters working in schools, hospitals, orphanages, parishes, foreign missions etc. but all these activities flow from one fundamental thing and it is the relationship with Jesus. When someone wants to be an Oblate we don’t focus on preparing him for the ministry but we ask the man to “waste” 12 months first in the Novitiate. These 12 months are designed for growing in prayer, for embracing other members of the community as family members, for developing faith that enables the candidate to see Jesus in ordinary events of life, for strengthening the desire to give to Christ all aspects of one’s life. The Novitiate program isn’t rewarded with a certificate or a degree but it leads to taking first vows of Chastity, Poverty, Obedience and Perseverance for one years. These for vows we the Oblates take unite us closer with our Lord and Master who has called us to this way of life like he did with St Eugene de Mazenod. The Novitiate lays foundations for the rest of our life. To ensure that the Novices aren’t disturbed in this sacred year we have our Novitiate Houses located in some remote places which supports this contemplative climate needed for the spiritual growth. The men who are in the Novitiate in Godfrey live a very simple life in the middle of the woods on the banks of the Mississippi River. There are four of them. I guess that it is more challenging for them then it was for me to handle a limited access to TV, the Internet, phones etc. During the year here they will not visit their families either and the visits they can receive are very restricted. However they have got an unlimited access to the chapel where Jesus Christ can shape them into his Oblates. The view from the terrace overlooking the River is a powerful reminder that with Jesus there are no limits for them in this World and in the World to come.
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest