Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
The Bishop of Marseille and founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate was born in Aix-en-Provence in southern France in 1782. Although he came from an aristocratic family, his childhood was not worry-free. As a result of the French Revolution of 1791, St. Eugene, then a child, was forced to leave the country along with his parents. In 1802, St. Eugene returned to France. During a certain Good Friday, he experienced a radical transformation before an image of the crucified Jesus, and once again felt a call to devote his entire life to God and to priestly ministry. The needs of this ministry were great, and St. Eugene knew that he could not possibly do all the work on his own. To this end, he formed the Missionaries of Provence in 1816 – a group of priests who devoted themselves with great zeal to the goal of saving souls. In 1826, this religious community was officially recognized by Pope Leo XII as the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Mission to Canada
On September 29, 1841, the first group of Oblates – four priests and two brothers – left Marseilles and arrived in Montreal via Havre and New York on December 2, 1841. They settled at Saint-Hilaire parish in Rouville, from where they would travel to Longueuil a few months later and, in 1848, on to Montreal. The first group of Oblates in Canada devoted itself primarily to conducting parish retreats and missions in the Montreal diocese. From 1841-1846 they preached over 120 missions and parish retreats – an impressive number testifying to their great zeal and energy. In 1844, they began working among Catholics in the United States. That same year, the missionaries took on their first mission among the Indian population of the Montreal diocese and later, among the Indians of the Quebec diocese. In effect, their mandate included the evangelization of the entire northern section of that diocese. Pope Pius XI, speaking of Oblate missionaries, called them “Specialists of the most difficult Missions.” That maxim holds true for the Oblates working in Canada, which includes not only our work among immigrants but also Oblate ministry throughout Canada and the far North.
The formation of a Polish Oblate Province in Canada
The idea of forming a separate Polish Oblate province in Canada had existed for quite some time. For years, there was a desire to make the work of the Polish Oblates in Canada run more efficiently. The Polish Oblates felt that they were too few in number to form an administrative body. But towards the end of the 1940s, the vision of an independent Polish province seemed ever more real. On August 22, 1956, Fr. Leo Deschatelets OMI erected a so-called vice-province under the name of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for Polish Oblates in Canada. This structure comprised 42 Fathers, 11 scholastics and one novice. All the Brothers remained part of St. Mary’s Province.
The Polish vice-province in Canada incorporated parishes in the districts of Toronto (ON) and Rama (SK); Holy Ghost parish in Winnipeg (MB); St. Henry’s parish in Melville (SK); St. Casimir’s parish in Vancouver (BC); St. Michael’s parish in Krydor (SK); St. Stanislaus parish in East Selkirk (MB); St. Michael’s parish in Lemberg (SK); Most Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Garson (MB); Holy Trinity parish in Tolstoi (MB); St. Teresa’s parish in Rossburn (MB) and Most Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Elphinstone (MB).
The Italian Confreres
Also belonging to Assumption Province were several Italian Fathers who worked primarily in Holy Angels parish and St. Catherine of Siena parish. In the 1970s there were twelve such Fathers – a significant number. Today, the number of Italian Fathers in Assumption Province is much lower and their ministry is limited to Holy Angels parish.
It is also important to underline the fact that in Western Canada the Polish Oblates built over 50 churches not including schools, mission chapels and the like. The first aim of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate is to preach the Gospel to the poor. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the members of Assumption Province, as Oblates, dedicate themselves to this goal. The main ministry of the Oblates of Assumption Province is work among ethnic groups. Presently, more than 50 Oblates most of whom are of Polish descent, belong to Assumption Province. However, there a number of our members who were born in Canada as well as others who hail from Italy, Germany and even Vietnam.