Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 7, 2009
Oblates prepare for smaller future
Malazdrewich gains responsibility for helping the order of Lacombe, Grandin in uncertain times
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order of priests and brothers instrumental in establishing the Church in the West, is facing a future of rapidly declining numbers as it endeavours to remain true to its mission of bringing the Good News to the poor.
"We will shrink," says the new provincial superior for English Canada. "In the next three years I think we are going to see a significant change in terms of our numbers."
Father John Malazdrewich, a former pastor, retreat centre director and hospital chaplain, says caring for elderly Oblates in the 250-member Lacombe province is now one of the biggest tasks facing the order.
With the average age of the Oblates sitting at about 68, most of those in active ministry are likely on their last assignments before retirement, Malazdrewich said in an interview prior to being installed as provincial in a Dec. 4 ceremony at St. Albert Church.
"I'd say mission, elder care and lay association would probably be the three main areas of focus."
Malazdrewich said the Oblates must take a close look at where they are now and where they will be in the future. To do that they must first look at their charism, which calls them to be with the poor and the abandoned.
"We need to discern that. Then we also need to look at the gifts and the energies of the particular Oblates. And as we do that, those two things together will give us an indication of what we are called to do at this particular point in time."
Despite the dwindling numbers, Malazdrewich has hope for the future.
"We opened a formation house in Ottawa a couple of years ago and now we have a scholasticate there doing his second year of theology," he said.
"We also have two pre-novices living in that particular house. So there are some positive signs."
Currently, the Lacombe province Oblates are involved in ministry from Labrador to Vancouver Island as well as in Kenya.
Malazdrewich, 50, is the second provincial since five Oblate provinces across Canada were amalgamated into one entity six years ago. He replaces Father Andy Boyer.
Malazdrewich's role as superior is complex but he has a simplified version. "I suppose my role now is administration but I'm also a pastor to the membership," he smiles. "I'm kind of the pastor of my brothers as provincial. That's the way I like to see it."
Installed along with Malazdrewich were two members of his provincial core team: Fathers Robert Larouche of Manitoba and Gillbert Mason of Ottawa. The trio will function as a team and sit on the provincial council along with representatives of the six Oblate districts across Canada as well as two lay advisors.
Those representatives will include Father Garry Laboucane, who now does parish work on the Cluny reserve in southern Alberta.
Born and raised in Biggar, Sask., Malazdrewich used to call Edmonton his home. He spent nine years in Edmonton after joining the Oblates in 1983 as a brother. He did his novitiate in Edmonton and spent two years as a full-time chaplain at the Edmonton General Hospital.
Then he felt called to the priesthood and in 1989 he went to Newman Theological College to complete his theology. The late Bishop James Mahoney of Saskatoon ordained him a priest in 1991 in Biggar.
Since then, he has served as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Regina, director of Queen's House of Retreat in Saskatoon, pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Winnipeg and pastor of St. Charles Parish in Edmonton.
Having served on the Oblate national leadership team for almost two years, Malazdrewich says he's ready for the new challenge. "Having been in Ottawa the last couple of years I have a sense of what I've said 'yes' to. I'm not going in totally blind."
The Lacombe province is working well, he said. "It was a difficult beginning. The first few years were difficult in that we were trying to bring all that together."
"I would say at this point the province's identity as OMI Lacombe Canada is emerging," the new provincial superior said. "We are beginning to have a sense that we are a province. We come from five other provinces but that sense of being Lacombe Canada is certainly growing and it takes time."
The Oblates are an international missionary order with 5,000 members in 65 countries around the world.
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