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Living On a Prayer

For the week of Monday December 1, 2003

On December 2, 1841, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate arrived in Montréal from France to start their first foreign mission. From Canada, many Oblates travelled to other countries to start new missions. The Oblates now have missions in 68 countries worldwide.

Église de St. Hilaire on the Richelieu River, Quebec: The First Oblate Church in America
© Jean-Paul Picard, OMI

Father Eugène de Mazenod founded the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1816 in an attempt to rekindle the faith after the disturbances of the Napoleonic era and to preach the Gospel to the most abandoned. The word “oblate” means “dedicated to God.” Since their inception, the Oblates have looked to the Virgin Mary for guidance in their endeavours. In 1841, Bishop Ignatius Bourget of Montréal called on the Oblates to provide him with missionaries to minister to both settlers and Aboriginal people. De Mazenod enthusiastically sent four Fathers and two Brothers to Canada. Oblates continued to come to Canada in the following years and eventually the order in Canada became numerous enough to send many missionaries to Africa and South America.

In Canada, the Oblates were very much involved in preaching Christianity to the Aboriginal people. The Oblates travelled across Canada and gained a good knowledge of the land and its many cultures. They expanded their missions further north and west of Montréal and were able to reach more Aboriginal communities.

A liturgical dance performed by aboriginal People during a eucharist at Lac Ste-Anne
© OMI, 1994

In addition to their missionary works, the Oblates engaged in other Christian pursuits. In 1848, they established the College of Bytown, which became the University of Ottawa; in 1965, it was transferred to the Government of Ontario and the ecclesiastical faculties became Saint Paul University. They also established the Collège Saint-Jean in Edmonton. The Oblates manage the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, and the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage in Lac Ste. Anne County, Alberta. They founded the Galilee Mission Centre in Arnprior, Ontario and the Maison Jésus-Ouvrier in Québec, to offer people the opportunity to learn, interact, and renew their faith.

Currently, there are still some 700 Oblates in Canada, divided into three oblate provinces. Although this number is small, they remain active. The arrival of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Canada is an event of national historic significance commemorated by a plaque in Ottawa, Ontario.

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