75th Anniversary of Daring Oblate Presence
By Fr. Bill Antone, OMI
In 1939, 7 Oblates from the United States sailed for the Philippines. They gave their lives as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to the people of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago to the south, in and around the cities of Cotabato and Jolo. Today, 75 years later, there are more than 100 Filipino Oblates who serve in the Philippines, the Thai-Lao Delegation and beyond. They continue the missionary work of the pioneers in the southern part of the nation, but are also significantly present in Metro Manila.
The U.S. Province congratulates the Philippine Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as they celebrate the “75th Anniversary of Daring Oblate Presence”.
I was privileged to be able to participate in the 3-day Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Mitsayap, to the east of Cotabato. On this occasion, we honored the memory of the first 7 Oblate pioneers who have been given the name “The Magnificent Seven” by the Oblates in the Philippines.
They were Frs. Gerard Mongeau (first superior and later bishop), Joseph Boyd, Cuthbert Billman, Francis McSorley (later bishop), Emile Bolduc, George Dion (also later bishop), and Egide Beaudoin. In the two years that followed before the outbreak of World War II another 11 Oblates arrived: Frs. Baynes, Gordon, Laquerre, Quinn, Sheehan, Drone and Bro. Braun and then Frs. Burke, McMahon, Sullivan and Clancy.
Up until the arrival of the Oblates, there were only two Jesuits charged with the pastoral work of this vast area. The Oblates were entering into a territory historically dominated by Muslims since the 1300’s, prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500’s. The population today remains Muslim in the great majority.
Many of these first Oblates, only a few years after arriving, were prisoners of war under the Japanese occupation and three were killed. Released at the end of the war, they returned to their missionary labors. One crucial insight they had was that the education of the youth would be a key to future development and progress of the people. This led to the establishment by the Oblates of more than 60 secondary schools, including today Notre Dame University in Cotabato. All the schools bear the name “Notre Dame”. Muslim and Christian youth attend school together, sharing friendship and dreams for a prosperous future. How appropriate the establishment of schools when taking into account that the median age of over 100 million Filipinos is 22.7 years! I was especially struck by the seemingly boundless energy of the many youth who participated fully in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
These first Oblates would travel by boat and by land for days in order to be present to God’s people living on the remote islands and in the surrounding mountains. The Philippines is a nation of more than 7000 islands, 19 languages and dozens of dialects. These first U.S. missionaries immersed themselves in the languages, customs and cultures they encountered. Some of their best teachers were the children themselves.
Today four Oblates from the United States remain in the Philippines. I was very happy to be able to visit with Frs. Maurice Hemann, Armand “Pete” Carignan, Richard Pommier and Richard Weixelman. They told me they had come to love their life and the people they have served. There is a long list of U.S. Oblates as well as Anglo-Irish Oblates and others who served in the Philippines. Some are still with us today.
The Oblates in the Philippines are recognized for their Christian witness among the Muslims, presence among the indigenous peoples, leadership in education, promotion of inter-religious dialogue, and work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
The OMI Philippine Province uses radio, newspaper, the arts, music and the latest media and internet technologies in order to proclaim the Good News. Oblates are known for their closeness to the people at their parishes, retreat centers and shrines.
On this occasion, we also remembered the Oblates who have suffered martyrdom: Fr. Nelson Javellana (Nov. 3, 1971), Bishop Benjamin De Jesus (Feb. 4, 1997), Fr. Benjamin Inocencio (Dec. 28, 2000) and Fr. Reynaldo Roda (Jan. 15, 2008). What strength they give to our Oblate brothers and to us!
It was a wonderful experience to participate in the three days of very well-organized celebrations in Mitsayap which drew in very large crowds of laity and religious, including those from Manila. There was music, dancing, a variety show and concert, a parade and of course food and drink and several beautiful liturgies. Bishop Lito Lampon, OMI, from the Vicariate of Jolo, and Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, OMI, archbishop of Cotabato participated and inspired us with their homilies and simplicity. I was also happy to meet many young men in First Formation, including a short visit to the Scholasticate in Quezon City.
At the closing Mass Fr. Larry, the provincial, presented to the United States Province a recognition which I received in the name of all of the Oblates in the U.S. It reads:
The Philippine Province of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate awards
this Plaque of Appreciation to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate United States Province
for its invaluable role and contribution to the beginning and growth of the Oblate Philippine Mission:
by generously sharing Oblate missionaries from its five former Provinces
—Northern Province, Central Province, Eastern Province, Southern Province and Western Province—
to become pioneers of the Philippine Mission;
by endowing the Oblate Philippine Province with the resources needed to initiate and sustain
the varied institutions, ministries and activities
that were established to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ;
and by continuing to be the Oblate Philippine Province’s reliable partner
in the furtherance of its vision and mission.
Given in Mitsayap, Cotabato, Philippines on September 25, 2014,
on the occasion of the 75th Jubilee of the Oblate Mission in the Philippines.
Fr. Lauro De Guia, OMI, Provincial
Many blessings of Peace for our brother Oblates and the people of the Philippines!
–Bill Antone, OMI