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Monday, August 21, 2017

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The Australian Province

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Beginnings...

The Oblates arrived in Western Australia in 1894, taking charge of Fremantle Parish and a reform school.

For many years, the crippling distance in Australia prevented the Oblates from expanding their mission.   From 1894 to 1900, the Australian Oblate mission was a part of the British Province.  

The Oblates moved from the west coast to the east coast in 1926, to Sorrento.   The new Oblate parish comprised the south-western end of the Mornington Peninsula from the small settlement of Rye.

Missions and Retreats...

Thanks to an increased recruitment in the home Province in the 1920s, a new chapter in the Australian Oblate history was allowed to officially begin- the preaching of missions and retreats.   From the beginning the Oblates in Australia had thought of themselves as missionaries in this sense.   Despite minimal personnel, the Oblates had often preached retreats and a few missions from Fremantle.   Finally, this facet of Oblate ministry could become a reality.

In 1935, the Oblates preached 40 missions and retreats in  Australia; and by 1948 this number had increased to 37 missions and 58 retreats.  Mighty distances had to be tackled and there were long absences on the mission trail.

Sorrento became a launching pad for a virtual explosion of missionary activity.  Through parish missions and retreats the Oblates became known throughout Australia, and even established a presence in Geelong, Victoria.

Affected by the war...

The immediate post-war years saw the Oblates still very localised in WA and Victoria.   The depression of the 1930s and the 1939-1945 war reduced the Oblates' contact with the home province in Ireland.

In the years prior to the end of World War II, the Oblates did not have a fixed base in any of the great centres of population.   The war severley restricted the Oblate presence in Australia,  like so many aspects of Australian life.

In 1945 the Oblate presence in Australia was confined to Fremantle and the two communities in Victoria (Sorrento and Geelong).  These belonged to the Anglo-Irish (earlier called British) Province.

Reaching further...

In 1948, the Oblates established a parish in Sefton, NSW.

Shortly after the acceptance of the Sefton parish, the Oblates undertook the care of Moe in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria.   Like Sefton, it proved an admirable Oblate ministry.   Moe had been a very insignificant part of the Gippsland area in early days when the few settlers had been given pastoral care by priests travelling down from the southern regions of New South Wales.   Moe, during these years, formed part of the Warragul parish, yet also developed something of its own importance.   A small wooden church dedicated to St Kevin, was opened on December 16th 1900.

At the beginning of 1950 the pace of development accelerated.  A residence was purchased on Burke Road, Camberwell, in Melbourne.  This was to be a `mission house' where the preaching staff would reside, instead of Sorrento.  The residence at Camberwell has continued to serve as the residence of the Provincial, the Director of the Missionary Association  and several Oblates engaged in special duties.

Providing for newcomers...

In 1950, new life was breathed into the novitiate building in Geelong when it became a `Juniorate' for aspirants to the Oblates. The students attended classes at St Joseph's (Christian Brothers') College in Geelong.   By its fifth year of operation 12 of its graduates had gone to the Oblate novitiate, now in Sorrento.    By 1958, 11 former juniors were Oblate seminarians and the number of juniors had increased to 17.

St. Joseph's continued to serve as the Juniorate until December 1965, though by then with falling numbers.  It was replaced by St. Paul's Juniorate (1966-67) housed in the former community residence at Iona College, Lindum.

The Novitiate was transfered back to Geelong for three years (1966-1969) after which the building was used for school camps and other special groups.  Due to the poor viability of this usage, in 1993 the building was sold.

Sorrento & co.

Meanwhile in these years the parish commitment at Sorrento continued to expand.  The Oblates were given pastoral care of the Rosebud area on September 8th, 1952, and the church was built in 1955.   There was an Oblate resident there from 1975  and the parish was made a separate parish under Oblate care in April 1979.

Ministering to migrants, the poor and the imprisoned...

After 1948, the Oblates in Fremantle had to provide pastoral care for the increasing flow of migrants.   In Western Australia in particular, the Oblates gave much attention to the pastoral care of Australia's growing Italian community.

St. Patrick's parish in Fremantle, with its beautiful basilica, became a great Catholic centre and a popular place for weddings.  It also  has the Care Centre, which was established in 1971 by Brother Ignatius Hannick.   The Centre now provides meals for 60-70 people per day, as well as social security and psychological services.  For the greater part of the past 100 years the Oblates have also been chaplains to the Fremantle Gaol.

Staying true to the Oblate missionary vocation...

Throughout all of these changes, the Oblates never lost sight of the ministry of preaching as their prime objective, a focus which was enshrined both in the practice of the Anglo-Irish Province and also in the Oblate Constitutions and Rules.

During the later 1950s and early 1960s the Oblates preached missions in every parish (save one) in the Archdiocese of Perth, as well as fulfilling numerous other commitments, some as far away as the Kimberleys.

In 1952, the Oblates took possession of a mission house in Arncliffe, NSW, which relocated to Penshurst the following year.   In Penshurst  a new initiative was started known as the Oblate Education Centre.   This sought to adapt the ministry of preaching to changing demands.   In 1974 the Education Centre was sold to the Daughters of St. Paul.

The fourth Oblate mission house opened in the 1950-1953 period at Eagle Junction, in Brisbane.   This proved a popular location for Mass for many people in the immediate area and beyond, as well as special courses and retreats.  By 1967, the near-by parish, St. Anne's, Kalinga, had been entrusted to the Oblates.   Eventually the area around Eagle Junction was made part of the Kalinga parish and Kalinga-Eagle Junction simply became an Oblate parish.  It was relinquished at Easter 1986 and the Eagle Junction house sold in 1988.  

The Oblates undertook the care of a newly developing area to the north of Brisbane,  the parish of Burpengary.   A new school was constructed and the Church at Deception Bay was extended by 1993.

In 1971 the mission band moved yet again, this time a short distance away to Woniora Road, Hurstville.  This continued to be the setting for a variety of works:  missions and retreats were still conducted, though in decreasing number.   The Hurstville mission was sold in 1987.

In 1975, the Oblates built a church in Lesmurdie, in the hills of Perth, Western Australia.   In 1988 the Oblates also undertook care of the neighbouring parish of Kalamunda, an older settlement and formerly a popular holiday resort.

The Oblates were keen to establish a presence in Adelaide.   The parish of Hillcrest was undertaken in 1957 and the first Oblates celebrated Mass in a prefabricated church hall for about 250 people.   A new church dedicated to Pius X and the presbytery were built in  Dernancourt in 1976.   The parish had two out-stations, Tea Tree Gully and Hope Valley.   The latter was closed when the Church was built at Tea Tree Gully.   In 1969 the Oblates began to reside there and the church, dedicated to St. David, was built in the same year.   The original Oblate parish of Hillcrest was closed in 1973 and three separate parishes formed: Dernancourt and Tea Tree Gully (served by Oblates) and Modbury.

Committed to providing education...

The Oblates originally came to Australia to fulfil an educational role.   In the 1950s, education was emerging as a pressing need.  By the 1950s the pressures on the Australian Catholic education system appeared almost overwhelming.   Far from begging for openings, Oblates were now invited to dioceses, often for the specific purpose of education. Most of these requests came in the 1950s.

Iona in Queensland was duly opened in 1958 with 58 boys, and four Oblates in the community.  In 1964 there was only 1 lay teacher at Iona and 8 Oblates.   The maximum of 12 Oblates was reached in 1966, still with one lay teacher.

St Mary's Seminary in Mulgrave, Victoria, was officially opened in August 1963.   St. Mary's continues to provide a training ground for the development of Oblate community life and prayer, personal human growth and practical preparation for the apostolate.

With St Mary's Seminary at last established, the Oblates decided to undertake parochial care of a nearby region and also to open a school for boys.   This proposal resulted eventually in the parish of St John Vianney's, Springvale North and Mazenod College, Mulgrave being accepted.   The parish was officially entrusted to the Oblates on April 3rd 1964.   In 1981 the parish priest, Fr John Hannah launched a plan to provide a home for the frail aged.    He felt that while parishes did much for children and youth, the aged were the `forgotten poor . . . (and ) the most helpless.'

From its humble beginnings with 72 pupils in temporary accommodation in 1967, Mazenod College, Victoria had rapid growth.  By 1977 there were 625 pupils with 5 Oblates and 25 lay members of staff.  By 1987 enrolments stood at 1116 with 5 Oblates and 81 lay staff.  In 1994 there are 987 students and 3 Oblates and 92 lay staff members.

In February 1966, Mazenod College, WA was established in Lesmurdie.   Compared with the other two Oblate Colleges,  Mazenod WA has remained comparatively small.   Over the years the performance of the College in academic, sporting and cultural fields has attracted greater numbers.   By 1992 with increased facilities for boarders, there were 505 students of whom 74 were boarders, and 3 Oblates and 42 lay staff.

Across the seas...

In early 1967, the Australian Oblate Province took over the parish of Massey, in Auckland, NZ.   Massey has always proved a warm-hearted parish and many Oblates have greatly cherished the time they have ministered there.   After having temporary care of the parish for a year, the Oblates agreed to accept it for a five year period.   The pastoral care of the parish was returned to the diocese on August 22nd 1992.

A growing mission awareness was evident in the Australian province from the late 1960s.   In late 1971, the Oblates established a missionary presence in Java.   Despite the natural graciousness of the people, many, especially in poorer villages, suffered considerably  from poverty and ill-health.   An important aspect of the Oblate missionary thrust in Indonesia has been with projects to lift the quality of human living.   Furthermore, from an early date, the missionaries sought to attract local vocations.   At first progress was slow enough, though by 1973  one young Indonesian was received into the Oblate community.   By 1981 the number of seminarians had risen to eight.   In 1987 the Australian Oblate mission in Java was given a measure of independence by being declared a `Delegation'.

Establishing a supportive network...

One of the most significant missionary ventures of the Australian Oblate province has been the growth of the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate (MAMI).  This is a group of Oblate friends whose prayers and financial assistance provide a network of support without which there would be no mission.   The Association was introduced into Australia in 1952.  The acceptance of the mission in Indonesia in 1971 accelerated the need for a wide measure of support for the undertaking.   By 1983 the membership stood at 13,000 individuals or family groups.  The contributions of the members have largely supported both St. Mary's Seminary in Australia and the Oblate mission in Java.  This widely based support has been of immense encouragement to the Oblates.   It has also provided many Catholics with an opportunity to be vitally involved in the mission of the Church.

Responding to current needs...

In 1978 the Oblates undertook the care of the parish of North Melbourne for a limited period of two years.   This was, in fact, renewed several times. This move was an effort to assist the archdiocese in a needy area and in that sense had a missionary edge to it.   North Melbourne was a place to meet the poor with their many faces.   The Oblates relinquished the pastoral care of the area in January 1992.

Another Australian parish- that of Mary Immaculate, Eagle Vale, was formally established on August 15th 1991.

Ministry to youth and those marginalised in society...

A vital aspect of the Oblate mission has been a concern for youth.   Rosies, founded in Victoria in 1975, by Fr Tom Shortall, OMI, is a not-for-profit organisation that provides outreach services, friendship and hope to marginalised, homeless, houseless and abandoned people.   The Rosies outreach was established in Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula and began as a drop-in centre for young people holidaying with their families.   It was a place of refuge which helped keep these teenagers off the streets and out of trouble.   Now Rosies operates in both Victoria and Queensland.

An Oblate youth ministry in Australia, known as Oblate Youth Australia, has also been flourishing since 2000.  It continues to provide a spirit of welcome and friendship to over 100 young people throughout Australia, through its annual National Oblate Youth Encounters and parish youth groups.

Challenges abroad...

In 1990, the Oblates took charge of a mission in Hong Kong.  The Oblate mission there has always had a wider interest in China itself as well as the two schools and parish work in the present colony.  

In a variety of ministries the Oblates of Australia have kept alive their tradition of bringing the  gospel to those who, in one way or another, are impoverished and in need.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Australian Province follow the Mission Statement below: 

Followers of Jesus Christ in the footsteps of Saint Eugene de Mazenod,
we are a community of missionaries.

We proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is alive and active in the world,
by living as apostolic men of prayer and holiness.

Leaving nothing undared to establish the Kingdom of God, we work in collaboration
with the people we serve, giving preference to the poor.

Copyright 2014 OMI Australia