Oblate Founder’s Day

Louis and Francis

Editor’s Note: On Monday, October 12, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales celebrated Founder’s Day, a day in which we remember the first Oblates beginning their novitiate. On this day in 1873, Bishop Ravinet of Troyes, France, presented the Oblate religious habit to Fathers Brisson, Gilbert, Rollin, Lambert, Lambey, and Perrot as they began their novitiate. In this blog entry, Fr. Jim Greenfield, OSFS, provincial of the Wilmington-Philadeplhia Province, offers his reflections on Founder’s Day. Last week, we learned that one of of our oldest ministries, Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, will be closing at the end of the school year. Fr. Greenfield reflects on this development and some of our other ministries in light of our founders’ vision, Salesian spirituality, and Catholic social teaching.


Founders’ Day is an opportunity to celebrate who the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales are, where we’ve been and where we are going as a community founded by Fr. Louis Brisson and Mother Mary de Sales Chappuis.


Due to the announcement of the closing of Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia last Thursday, I want to reflect on what this decision by Cardinal Rigali—and others like it— could mean for us Oblates as we begin to accept this type of situation, in our Salesian manner, in the providence of God. It really does invite us to celebrate who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going.


In January of 2008, Stan Dombrowski, pastor of St. Cecilia in Ft. Myers, FL asked me to present the Parish Mission on the topic of Stewardship. I had never done a Mission on this topic so I needed to pull a lot of information together and get to the task of devising three one-hour talks. I have continued to reflect on stewardship, and since the Mission I led was just after my election as provincial, the preparation has been most helpful to me in my ministry.


We know that to be a steward is to care for and manage that which has been entrusted to us – originally understood as a steward for guests on a ship! We hear about being good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure. We are blessed and we are invited to share the blessings we have been given with others in concrete ways.


In this entry, I offer three considerations for our Founders’ Day:
· A reflection on stewardship and the principle of solidarity from Catholic Social Teaching
· An vignette of solidarity at North Catholic shared by Nick Waseline
· An example of solidarity from DSW prepared by Mike McCue


Reflection from Catholic Social Teaching
Our primary responsibility as stewards is to one another. I see this most boldly and clearly in the care of our youngest and oldest members. For our future to be strong, we help—through our prayers, example, and support—to educate and form our young men so that they can serve the Church through our mission. Perhaps more powerfully, I see our stewardship in the care of our retired, sick, and dying members. Again, our prayers for them are abundant, and our allocation of resources for their patient healing and dignified dying is vast. Yes, we are responsible for them. And, for those of us not yet in need of such care, other Oblates will, in time, be caring for us. In large measure, the preparation, cultivation, and investment of the necessary resources for the future are occurring now.


The contemporary moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre says that there are really two qualities of human beings that are indisputable: We are vulnerable and dependent — vulnerable to disease, hurt, and finally death, and dependent on one another.

It’s surely true to say that we all have been vulnerable and dependent. Perhaps we are now, and certainly we will be in the future. MacIntyre notes the importance of our remembering who we are as vulnerable and dependent and that it not be a source of fear.
On this Founders’ Day, I invite us to celebrate our stewardship of one another as we continue to face the challenges of aging, diminishment, and dwindling resources with a new resolve to choose trust and hope in whatever direction the hand of God is guiding us.

The closing of North Catholic raises these similar concerns: The fear that creeps into our province conversations about diminution and death, the questions about our longest ministry now coming to a close, the castles of our youth symbolized by the fortress on Torresdale Avenue poised for closure alongside the faculty house there perhaps on the verge of being razed.


Catholic social teaching underscores the virtue is solidarity. Pope John Paul II defines solidarity as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (On Social Concern, 1987, 38). He says further that solidarity is at work when members of society “recognize one another as persons” (On Social Concern, 39) and that “everyone should look upon his or her neighbor (without any exception) as another self” (Gaudium et spes, 26).


The closure of Northeast Catholic and the way we respond to it will ultimately be a matter of figuring out what it means for us to remain one with the students at North and the alumni. We will be called to recognize that we will always be committed to this inner-city ministry and to discern what the commitment will require of us. Furthermore, at this moment of a deepening of solidarity with those we will not let go of in the North Community, we are called to a greater solidarity with one another, especially as we navigate our way through these issues with the spirit of our Founders.


An example of solidarity from one of our oldest ministries
Nick Waseline (principal of Northeast Catholic) recounts the mood of last Friday, the morning after the closure announcement:
“By 7:00 a.m. the media were conspicuously present on Torresdale Ave. As the students arrived, a spontaneous ‘pep rally’ took place for about 20 minutes. It unfolded as an event of true ‘red and white’ Falcon pride. The students knew from the news of the night before that Northeast Catholic was slated to close its doors in June. Their response in the morning was none other than that of love for their school, solidarity in their identity as Falcons and their loyalty to its tradition and spirit. As this impromptu rally was taking place on the front steps of the school, the faculty was gathered in the Resource Center to plan a strategy for a day of unusual emotion and reaction to the news of closure. They were sad, the pain was evident. After a short period of planning and sharing they joined the students who were, by 8:00, gathered in the auditorium for an assembly. The atmosphere was a combination of so much emotion: sadness, pride, unity, love for North and the Salesian tradition, gratitude for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and the dedication of the faculty over the years – it was a celebration of ‘North’ at a very significant moment in its time-honored history.


Those who were present will never forget the experience it afforded – the ‘graced’ power of the presence of the Holy Spirit in lifting a community of faith to a level of hope and confidence in the Providence of God.


The students and faculty left the assembly for a day of classes with a somewhat consoled spirit. However, throughout the day many concerns and emotions continued to emerge and be expressed: Why us? What will happen to us? Where will we go? What will the rest of the year be like? And much more.


We are challenged by this turn of events, but with the help of God, the spirit of DeSales and the two standards by which we follow life at North: ‘Tenui nec Dimmitam’, and ‘Be who you are and be that well.’ We will work, pray through and celebrate the best Salesian year North as ever had.”


An example of solidarity from one of our newest ministries
There is another point from Catholic social teaching that has deep roots in Scripture. That is, in our stewardship for one another, we ought to have a preferential option for the poor. Our attention should be first directed to those most in need, those lacking the basic necessities of life.


Mike McCue (director of De Sales Service Works) writes about Salesian compassion and solidarity
“One of the most striking aspects of Jane de Chantal’s life was the tremendous pain which she encountered. She dealt with the loss of her young husband, three children, her friend and spiritual director Francis at 53, as well as undergoing a lengthy period of feeling God’s absence in her spiritual life. Despite all of this pain, St. Jane was able to open herself to the sufferings of others and recognize that all human beings depend on God’s grace. Her own suffering allowed her to relate to other people in pain and to minister to their particular situations. All of us have experiences of pain in our own lives, but we are not called to isolation as a result of these experiences. We are called to enter into the pain of others and to ease each other’s burdens, regardless of the differences between us that might lead to separation.


Cardboard boxes are common and useful, and usually end up in the trash or recycling bin. Here in Camden used cardboard is a valued item. Flattened out cardboard boxes become the mattress of choice for our homeless neighbors. Homelessness is a problem across our country. Living here, we have encountered it not so much as a national problem, but simply as our neighbors’ situation. Maybe because we are a church—or because the property is well lighted, or maybe because people end up anyplace where they are not chased away—about a dozen men and women with no other place to go, camp out around us. We exchange pleasantries coming and going; we channel food, blankets and clothing; and we intend to communicate respect, patience, and kindness.


A couple who goes by the names Ken and Barbie spend most evenings and nights on our front porch. The front door has a large stained glass panel; so we cannot forget they are there outside, while we are inside. The thin line of that door separates our very different worlds. The two of them sleep on cardboard spread over the cold cement of our front porch, and we sleep on comfortable mattress, in our own space, safe and warm inside.
Because the warmth and security we enjoy is—in a sense—normal, and something everyone should have, I can say that I do not feel guilty. However, this situation raises many feelings and thoughts. It feels uncomfortable and really painful that these neighbors whom we have connected with and whom we like—despite differences of background, education, experience, and expectations—have such pain and burden.


Solidarity is more than a feeling—or is not enough to let it stay on the feeling level. All of the feelings and the awareness bring us to action. We ask what can we do for homelessness or, specifically, for our neighbors—for Ken and Barbie? St. Francis de Sales challenges us to bring respect, gentleness, humility, and gratitude, and to treat our neighbors as adults and equals. Catholic social teaching calls us to work for shelters, aid, housing, and health care—for structures that can lead to better situations for our neighbors. And, all the while, we continue to feel the discomfort and pain that things are not as they should be when people have to sleep on cardboard.


For us in Camden and in so many other places in our world, homeless people are literal neighbors. But few neighborhoods are without homelessness and poverty, and no neighborhood, no community is without people struggling—whether the people be in Camden, or your home or in distant Haiti, Darfur, or Afghanistan. All—near or far— are our gospel neighbors.


We do what we can, we do not forget, we are incomplete and uncomfortable. The kingdom of God is here. It is also not yet fully here.”


We really do need one another and we need to take seriously our commitment to be neighbor to one another. We cannot let go of those who need us to care from them. Solidarity calls us to this. So, do our Founders!


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