Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 15, 2003
Oblates begin a new life
Pioneering order faces up to dwindling number
By BILL GLEN
"Personally, among the difficult missions I count Canada."
- Fr. Wilhelm Steckling
Father Andre Boyer, former director of planning and communication for Grandin Province, is the provincial superior of Lacombe Canada. He will serve as national leader for three years.
There are seven local communities, including Alberta/NWT (called Brother Anthony Community after Brother Anthony Kowalczyk) and Foyer Grandin, a retirement community in St. Albert for elderly Oblates.
Father John Malazdrewich, pastor at St. Charles Parish in Edmonton, was chosen as superior for Alberta/NWT. He will also sit on the national council.
The secret of good leadership is summarized in the Oblate constitution, Steckling said. Constitution article 71 says Jesus is the source and model authority of the Church.
"Just as he washed his disciples' feet, so too are those in charge of us called to serve, and not to be served. It's very clear that leadership in the Church of the Oblates is service," he said.
Two convocations have been held in Calgary where Oblates from across Canada met to discern the mission statement of the new province.
"Oblates exist to evangelize the poor, to reach those who are especially in need," Steckling said. "Many missions are not easy, such as Pakistan, or the south Philippines or Paraguay.
"Personally, among the difficult missions I count Canada. It's not easy to announce the Gospel in a secularized society which, for the moment, has put in brackets the role of God and the Church.
"It's not easy to be missionaries there. That is precisely why the Oblates in Canada exist. That is precisely why the new province of Lacombe Canada is born."
Leadership is also a service of community life, he said. The Oblate leaders foster a way of life based on faith and a deeply shared love of Christ.
Steckling said if the Oblates live what they proclaim, there will be no shortage of people who associate with their mission.
"Mary is also a model of leadership," he said. "According to the new word of God's kingdom, her authority comes from inside from the Spirit that dwells in her. It's not based on structure or offices. It comes from God himself.
"Let us be what our name says - Oblates, people totally given to Mary Immaculate, in community. Then we will be able to accomplish our historical task of bringing the Gospel to a secularized world in Canada. It is not a task any smaller than the one that lay ahead for Father Albert Lacombe in his day."
Among his many accomplishments, Lacombe helped to end the traditional violence between the Cree and Blackfoot tribes.
He successfully negotiated with Chief Crowfoot to allow the Canadian Pacific Railway to build its transcontinental line across Blackfoot land and he worked to keep the Plains tribes out of the 1885 Riel Rebellion. He also compiled a dictionary and a grammar text in an effort to preserve the Cree language.
Father Malazdrewich says it is a great privilege to continue service in the very Oblate community Lacombe was instrumental in establishing.
"The main objective for the moment is to live through this transition," Malazdrewich said. "But the real objective of Lacombe Canada is going to be the life of the local community. The congregation is the living cell. It's a new beginning for us, with a lot of unknowns. But I think there is a lot of hope and expectation for a renewed administrative structure and a renewed community life."
The communities intend to include lay people in ministry in any way possible. There is already quite a group of lay associates in Alberta, Malazdrewich says, which he presumes will continue to grow and develop.
"But what is new for us here and for Lacombe Canada is having laity in our governance."
The Lacombe province is still a work in progress, and Malazdrewich expects to travel to Ottawa four or five times over the next 12 months.
(With files from Frank Dolphin.)
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