CHAPTER 2 -
Signs of the times.
The Missionary Recluses.
The Voluntas Dei.
|THE MISSIONARY COLONIZER
At the beginning of this appointment, another event occurred which seemed trivial but it was to have a powerful impact on Father Parent’s missionary activity. In November, 1945, one of his Oblate superiors, Father Henri Routhier, made a remark, which could have been offensive, regarding the new contemplative community. He stated that the Recluses were not the type of community needed in the vast, wild and forsaken regions of Western Canada. Then, he proceeded to describe the ideal community that would be suitable. Unwittingly, his proposal was close to the actual definition of secular institutes where consecrated persons would live in the midst of world and dedicate their lives to evangelization, transforming their milieu like leaven in the dough by being Christian witnesses.
During this same period, the Magisterium of the Church addressed the same concerns in the encyclical Provida Mater Ecclesia. Deeply inspired, Father Parent found direction in that document for his project of a secular institute for women.
The foundation of the new Oblate institute was launched by a providential event. The hospital in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, in state of disrepair, was on the verge of being closed down by the provincial government. His Excellency, Roméo Gagnon, the Bishop of Edmundston, and the priests of the region wanted it to remain open because it was the only French-speaking hospital within a seventy kilometre radius. They had asked different religious communities to take it over but all had refused. Luce Lacombe, who was in touch with Father Parent, learned that Bishop Gagnon was looking for nurses to run the hospital and she informed Father Parent who accepted the project. Following a meeting between Father Parent and Bishop Gagnon, the Bishop accepted the Institute of the Oblates in his diocese by writing a quick informal agreement. Later, a formal request for approval was presented describing the future institute, its works and its purpose.
“In a prophetic act of faith, Bishop Gagnon took the risk of granting the institute the status of Pious Union. Through these two documents the existence of the Secular Institute of The Oblate Missionaries of the Immaculate was made official on May 8, 1952, and the agreement ratified that same day.
And so began the Institute with 22 young women from four different Canadian provinces gathered in Edmundston. On July 2, 1952, Luce Lacombe pronounced the first “YES” in the Institute as its foundress, accompanied by Isabelle Delisle, designated co-foundress. This was the fourth foundation attempt. Father Parent said, “In the eyes of my fellow Oblates… God had given me particular gifts: that of not getting discouraged, of keeping my bearings and believing in the present moment.” The Institute was finally born and was full of promise.
Father Parent proposed to the Oblates what he called the spirituality of the three ‘fives’. Where did this idea come from? Here is how he explains its genesis:
He had also noticed that many people complain about their work or living conditions. Their self-centredness made them gripe about their lot in life. The effect was to wear down the most courageous among them. The antidote, he thought, was to encourage these people to give of themselves without expecting a return and to develop a spirit of service towards their neighbour who is a member of the body of Christ. This practice produces a sense of wonder and service without complaint. The fruit of these gospel-inspired attitudes is peace in the milieu.
This is how the simple and practical spirituality of the “5‑5‑5” was born: five moments of prayer, five attitudes of life and five acts of charity. Its richness and its value are immediately obvious:
This spirituality is lived by The Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and the members of its associate group, the Volunteers of God, by the Voluntas Dei and their members in the broad sense and by several other groups who have adopted the “5 points” as their spirituality without being attached to either the Oblates or to the Voluntas Dei.
What followed was a flurry of requests for Oblates from all directions. Father Parent describes the growth of this foundation with his usual enthusiasm: For the two years following the foundation, there was a young woman of less than thirty years of age joining every three days. On one occasion, we opened fifteen houses in a single week.
In 1953 the Oblates set foot at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec. The street address of the first house situated close to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape was 555 Notre Dame Street. This was considered as a nod from the Virgin Mary who was welcoming her daughters to her shrine. That same year, the Institute was implanted in the United States and, the next year, the first missionaries left for Chile. There followed foundations in many Canadian provinces and territories and on four continents. In a few years, the Institute had spread to twenty-five countries
Father Parent taught the Oblates not to dwell on their weaknesses but to develop their talents. He was daring and, consequently, nothing could stop him in endeavours for the glory of God, the good of souls and the sanctification of the Oblates. He had boundless confidence in each one’s potential and this gave her the opportunity to surpass herself and to develop her talents. This was a positive experience for most of the Oblates. However a few pushed themselves beyond their physical and psychological strengths and consequently lost their vocation.
What can be said of his boundless charity that resulted in him offering refuge to girls, some who were teenagers, some in a fragile state of health and others who were under‑privileged. They were given a place in the Oblate houses and shared the Oblate lifestyle. Father Parent’s goal was to help them finish their studies so that they could get to know themselves and be better equipped to cope with life. The only requirement to be welcomed in was to love God.
Reine-Aimée Welsh, the second directress general, liked to quote Canon Moreau, who had the reputation of being a saint. “Mademoiselle Welsh,” he said, “do not forget that the success of the Institute is founded on the charity of Father Parent.” That observation justly confirms the spirit that animated Father Parent.
Among the relatives of the Oblates, their friends and the friends of Father Parent, were many who were attracted to the spirituality of the five attitudes of life and wanted to live them, without, however, consecrating their lives to God. So Father Parent founded the “auxiliaries” of the Institute. This group, open to both men and women, later became known as an associate group named the Volunteers of God.
The presence of Oblates in mission countries gave rise to needs and attractions for a greater secular presence in these milieus. In response, Father Parent invited young women to go and work with the Oblates as lay missionaries. After receiving special training, these women would give a few years of their lives in mission countries while living with the Oblates, participating in their works and sharing the spirituality of the five attitudes of life and their pursuit of charity. In 1957, the “School of Smiles” was set up specifically for the training of these lay missionaries. This service, which lasted more than twenty years, provided the assistance of lay missionaries to a number of countries.
He also invited a few young women sympathisers to live with the Oblates for a year or two, even though they had no intention of becoming Oblates. It was an invitation “to come and see” without further obligation.
ATTENTIVE TO THE SPIRIT
“A constant availability to the will of the Father«
was lived assiduously from the time of the foundation of the Institute in 1952. It was at the heart of the charism of the founder.
THE VOLUNTAS DEI
Itinerants of the Will of God
July 2, 1958, they were twelve men, the twelve apostles! Only one, Maurice Roy, had been part of the first group of men back in 1954. They could now start afresh and create a new association that would meet the criteria determined by Father Parent a few years earlier. Father Parent said to himself, The Voluntas Dei Institute is surely desired by God. In July 2008, the Voluntas Dei Institute celebrated its 50th anniversary of foundation.
TO BE CONTINUED...