FRANCE’S saving grace after the French Revolution came directly from a young Catholic priest with a heart to save the souls of the poor and forgotten.
St Eugene de Mazenod, a man born into wealth and nobility, felt called to renew the Church and work with the poor in France, founding the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Against all odds, including opposition from local clergy, the congregation began building a bright future for Catholics in a nation struck by enormous turmoil and pain.
The Oblates eventually ventured into Switzerland, England and Ireland, and in 1894, they landed on Western Australian soil with sights on establishing a parish and school.
This year, Australia’s fleet of Oblate Missionaries will join the worldwide congregation to mark the order’s 200th anniversary.
Oblate priest Fr Michael Twigg is one of five Queenslanders who answered the call to prolong St Eugene’s charism in the congregation, along with Fr John Sherman, Fr William Ousley, Fr John Wotherspoon and Fr Peter Daly.
Their call to the Oblates have influenced their Queensland communities of Iona College, Rosies Oblate Mission, the iconic Iona Passion Play, and St Eugene’s parish and college in Burpengary and Deception Bay.
Fr Twigg said the vision of St Eugene de Mazenod’s of growing missionary men to save the people of France could still be found in the works of today’s Oblates.
“God inspired Eugene to begin a missionary congregation, and God invites others to play a role necessary for the success of its mission,” he said.
“The invitation to the Henri Tempier (the second Oblate) continues across the years to all who feel called to participate in Eugene’s charism and spirituality.
“It is not the question of a passing fancy to do good, but of being convinced of being needed by the most abandoned to make a difference in their lives.”
The missionary effort continued today, Fr Twigg said.
“In our lifetime, the different popes have identified various places and circumstances where the ‘situation is wretched’,” he said.
“Today, Pope Francis unmistakably continues this tradition.
“Virtually every day as we listen to Pope Francis inviting us to awareness and response, we hear the echo of Eugene’s voice.
“Both men are focused on the Cross and the Saviour’s preference for the most abandoned.
“That is the reason why Eugene ‘laid down the foundations of an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries’.
“They both invite us to celebrate the anniversary of the Oblate foundation with a renewed commitment to the Cross and the Saviour’s first option for the most abandoned.”
Within the Oblate’s own Rule of Life, there is an invitation to the call of Jesus Christ, “heard within the Church through people’s needs for salvation, (that) draws us together”.
“In celebrating 200 years, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate also look confidently into the future and continue to find ways to reach those in need,” Fr Twigg said.
“The schools, parish, Passion Play and Rosies Oblate Mission continue to find inspiration in St Eugene de Mazenod’s call to lead people into a meaningful relationship with Jesus and the Church.
“Current Oblates of Mary Immaculate working within Queensland are Frs Lewy Keelty (Iona College), Fr Michael Twigg (Iona College), Fr John David Chodagiri (Rosies and Iona), Fr David Francis and Fr Brian Harris (both St Eugene’s Parish, Burpengary and Deception Bay).”
Saintly advice for Oblates
In a letter to Henri Tempier, St Eugene reminded him that only mission could bring people back to the faith.
“Well, my dear man, what I say to you, without going fully into details, is that you are necessary for the work which the Lord has inspired us to undertake.
“Since the Head of the Church is persuaded that, given the wretched state in which France finds herself, only missions can bring people back to the faith which they have practically abandoned, good men of the Church from different dioceses are joining together in response to the views of our supreme Pastor.
“We likewise feel that it is utterly necessary to employ the same remedy in our regions and, full of confidence in the goodness of Providence, have laid down the foundations of an establishment which will steadily furnish our countryside with fervent missionaries.” (Letter to Henri Tempier, October 9, 1815.)
Live like an Oblate at home
FOUR characteristics are essential in understanding the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and in the 200th anniversary of celebration, they might be something that can be applied to your service in everyday life.
Passion: St Eugene invites us to, like Jesus, be passionate in our response to those in need. In 2016 you might make a renewed commitment to put your entire heart and soul into the service that you are undertaking.
Daring: St Eugene invites us to being daring in our approaches to service. This means thinking outside the box or trying new initiatives or approaches and not being afraid of risk or apparent failure.
Loyalty: St Eugene invites us to be loyal in our approach to life. This does not mean that we are unable to challenge or criticise but it does mean to stand with, and for, the many people in need. Being loyal to the Church he served was also deeply important for St Eugene.
Community: St Eugene promoted the concept of community and the effort it takes to form. In 2016, you are invited to make an extra special effort to help promote the concept of community within and our Church and wider society.