Reunion II of the Ex-Oblates of St. Francis de Sales
at Malvern, PA, September 9-11, 2012
It was a happy coincidence that the Beatification of Fr. Louis Brisson, the founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, was celebrated in Troyes, France on September 22, so soon after our reunion. As I reflected on the events of our weekend together and of the subsequent correspondence with some of those who graciously contributed to this collaborative recollection, I dusted off my copy of Fr. Carney’s compilation, Fr.Brisson’s Commentary on the Constitutions and the Spiritual Directory of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. It was as though Fr. Brisson was speaking to us across space and time, “Warm your heart with God’s love and you will love your brothers as you should. You will love them with a love of feeling. They are not strangers to you. You are of the same family. Love them as brothers. Defend each other. Protect each other…”
At Malvern, 50 Oblates and former Oblates rekindled the warmth of their brotherhood and, for a time, experienced the joy of a family reunion. While most arrived in time for dinner on Sunday, September 9, a small group arrived earlier and made the short trip to Childs, MD, the site of their entrance into the Oblates so many years earlier. This was once a vibrant place of beginnings filled with earnest and hopeful candidates to the Oblate life. It teemed with new life amid the setting of a self-sufficient farm tended by these young “city –folk” under the watchful eye of farm-seasoned Brothers Leonard and Tom and Ed. Childs is now the site of a comfortable and well-equipped retirement and assisted-living community located in an annex of the old white building that once served as the Oblate novitiate atop Soyhieres Hill. We thank Fr. Mike Murray for his hospitality and patience with us as we enthusiastically roamed the old, uninhabited structure from the recreation room to the abandoned dorms of the “old” building and admired the refurbished, stately Buckley Hall that is still in use. The old refectory has been given over to a collection of archived documents and cherished memorabilia of the Oblates in America. The old novitiate building and its still-active chapel dominates the landscape along Blue Ball Road, and in its shadow is located the Oblate cemetery. One of us, Don Zurack, later recalled, “The walk around the grave markers and memorials on the summit gave me pause – so many close confreres, acquaintances, characters, enigmas – passed away! Oh, the impact of the collective witness that the closely arranged configuration of markers produces on that what - half acre of hilltop soil! I could spend a lot more time pacing and pondering in the Oblate cemetery at Childs.”
On Monday, following a leisurely breakfast with lots of conversation, table-hopping and laughter, Bill Mittendorf welcomed and amused us with a written message from “the voice of Childs” that he swears he found near an old steamer trunk embossed with the name John Conmy in the attic of Buckley Hall. Through Bill, Childs spoke to us. “Each of you, in a special way, contributed much to the Oblate way of life. Your years of dedicated service to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales has contributed to what they are today! This I will never forget!”
Afterward we gathered in the chapel at Malvern where Fr. Jim Greenfield, Provincial of the eastern province, presided over a celebration of the Mass. Fr. Tom Hagen, in an impromptu homily, perfectly gave voice to the intensely palpable sense of community. As the Mass ended, we broke into a hearty rendition of the English version of “Tuam Salesii.” “Warm your hearts with God’s love and you will love your brothers as you should.”
Fr. Jim joined us in a round-table discussion where he briefed us about the Oblates of today: their ministries, his vision for the future, the formation process, the state of Childs, and a candid assessment of financial issues and options being considered. He discussed our role in the Oblate family and assured us that we are a real part of the mission of the Oblates to communicate Salesian spirituality. He recognized that we have a lot to give to our Oblate family. Fr. Jim was a dynamic presence among us, affirming and welcoming and supportive of whatever direction the spirit would move us. We straddle the line between the Oblates and the secular world, deeply informed of Salesian spirit and fully functioning within lay society. It was no surprise to find that Fr. Brisson had said, “We are not to isolate ourselves from the world, not to restrict ourselves to having rare contacts with it, as education, preaching, but on the contrary to be in continual relation with it, to mingle with it. The Oblates are thus called into society such as it is, and to do this through every possible means.”
This gathering of so many of us, the Wild Geese, who through our service with the Oblates have inherited the Salesian spirit, seems to have moved some of us to pose challenging questions. This became evident in some informal discussions Monday evening. There was a clear sense of support for another reunion in 2013. There were constructive currents swirling about how to define and encourage the development of our association and these gatherings into something more. While there was insufficient time to sort through these eddies, there was clearly evidence of a stirring of the waters.
For example, an ad hoc committee was proposed and is already pursuing opportunities to offer financial counsel or assistance to the Oblates. Others have suggested that our unique experiences might be harnessed in the service of formation or ministry and wondered if there would be a willing audience among the Oblates. For those living in the vicinity, it was suggested to meet periodically at Childs to befriend and encourage the infirm and ailing Oblates living there. Some wondered about social opportunities and how to involve spouses or significant others. Ideas were floated about optional activities for those inclined to engage in during the gatherings. The original planning team is meeting in December to pursue plans for Reunion III and to discuss how to advance some of the ideas that emerged at Malvern.
Most of us left Malvern Tuesday morning, refreshed by the opportunity to drink deeply from the well we find present in our gatherings. We are especially grateful to the committee that made the Malvern experience so successful: Jim Douglas, Ray McCracken, Jim Murphy, Bill Maher and Art Nicoletti.
Bill Mittendorf’s Voice of Childs provides a fitting close to these recollections, “I’m glad you came to Reunion II. I assure you that your presence is no accident. You answered a call from the Spirit to your brothers to witness to each other the unique gift you are. You are life! You are a gift of God! You are bonded to one another and to me by Love.”
Attendees for 2012 XOblate Reunion II
Cerrato, Fr. Phil Kotz, Ron Palm, Joe
Corkery, Dennis Kovach, Joe Parise, John
Costigan, John Lehman, Joe Pilat, Tim
DeMilde, Frank McAnulty, Tom Popiel, Joe
Devine, Fr. Bob McCabe, Fr. Dick Powers, Richard
Desmond, Neil McCarthy, Mike Puhl, Steve
Douglas, Jim McCracken, Ray Reca, Frank
Gallagher, Jim McHugh, Joe Reece, OSFS, Fr. Richard
Glatthorn, Greg Maher, Bill Reece, OSFS, Fr. Robert
Gore, OSFS, Fr. Bill Mittendorf, Bill Salzmann, OSFS, Fr. George
Greenfield, OSFS, Fr. Jim Moore, Dick Smith, John
Hagan, OSFS, Fr. Tom Muller, Gerard Steger, Tony
Hallan, Tom Murphy, Jim Vadden, Tom
Hawkinson, Bob Murphy, Tom Vresics, Tom
Hohenleitner, George Nicoletti, Art Young, OCSO, Bro. Joe
Johnson, SSPX, Fr. Mike Norman, OSFS, Fr. Charles Zurack, Don
Kenney, Pat O’Neil, John
Welcoming Remarks 2012 XOSFS Reunion at Malvern, Pa.
Welcome! Thank you Art and All Members of Your Committee. This past Friday, September 7th, I retraced the steps I had made to Childs 52 years ago to the day, when I entered the postulancy. I spent the last couple of days there visiting my old friend, John Brennan. During my stay, I wondered around the place, including the third floor of what is now known as Buckley Hall. You will recall that in addition to the barber shop, the third floor housed the trunks and suitcases. There were several still there to my amasement. I saw a trunk with the name Fr. John Conmy. I didn’t open it. One old black trunk caught my attention. There was an envelope taped onto the top. The trunk had a tag, barely readable, showing Philadelphia as the city of origin. I opened the dusty envelope and found this letter inside. It reads in the voice of Childs:
“ To: The 2012 XOSFS Reunion II, Malvern, Pa.
From: Childs “
“ You arrived here many years ago to begin your Oblate formation. I was a vibrant place then, full of activity, joy, peace, silence, and happiness! My numbers were large. My farm was in full swing with the good brothers in charge. My silence enveloped the place on my country hillside! My chapel and study halls were filled ! My dorms, cells, rec rooms, refectory were almost to capacity! Sr. Jane was here with her superb meals!
I remember you well ! Your presence graced my place. You prayed in my chapel. Studied in my study halls. Cleaned my floors. Kissed my floors at times. Worked in my fields and kitchen. Yes, I was the place of beginnings!
Yes, I’ve changed like you have! I’ve grown old and grey as you! I’ve journeyed through life as you with ups, downs, happiness, sadness. Such is life isn’t it ! I now serve as the respite for your ill and infirmed confreres, as well as their final resting place.
I heard you left the Oblates some years ago. You have been gone but not forgotten! I’ve often wondered what happened to you. I want you to know that each of you, in a special way, contributed much to the Oblate way of life. I’m proud of you! Your years of dedicated service to OSFS has contributed to what OSFS is today! This, I’ll never forget!
I’m glad you came to Reunion II. I assure you that your presence is no accident. You answered a call from the Spirit to join your brother confreres: to reconnect with the past, the old stories, but more importantly, to live in the present moment to share and witness to each other who you are. For you are a unique gift! Life, the greatest gift from God! You are bonded to one another and me by love. What could be stronger! Enjoy your days together at Malvern. Come back to Childs to visit me at any time! Walk my grounds. Visit my cemetery. You will recognize most of my residents
Finally, and most importantly! Pray for me, for one another, for your families, for all OSFS, especially my sick and infirm, and all XOSFS. In parting, be yourself! And be that well! You are a treasure to behold in the eyes of God and one another! Peace be with you! “
Associate Scientist (retired) / Educator Divorced 3
Seven years with the Oblates! It was as rewarding as it was challenging, always with opportunities for personal development and many great friendships. The life skills learned propelled me through a rewarding career and raising three successful daughters. I'm really looking forward to re-connecting with my 'confreres' at the xOSFS Reunion in September.
small business owner www.4moretravel.com Married 4
psychotherapist/LCSW MarriedHope many from W-P Prov will also show in addition to me & Tom Hallan. Let's do one in the East next!
Retired Educator/IT Support (Ford Motor) MarriedI've been hunting you guys down so that I can see what you really look like now!
Operations Manager Married 4Due to work commitments I cannot get to this reunion but hope that this is successful which will lead to a repeat that I can attend.
GEORGE N.A. (DOOHER)
VERY RETIRED Married 1
Richard Eberle OSFS
Oblate - pastor Single
February 01, 1941 Retired Secondary School Teacher Married 3I am looking forward to meeting my former confreres and discovering them as I never knew them before. In the hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Father Michael Johnson
September 22, 1944 Priest SingleI was sent the "Wild Geese" link by J.:P. O'Neill, which brought a huge lump to my throat, and not a few tears to my eyes. Bravo, and thanks! Having wandered many years through the valley of the shadow of death wrought by "The Council", I have finally found home with the Society of St. Pius X, which whom I have never been happier or busier. God is good! I hope to be able to attend the reunion, but school will have begun here in Post Falls, and . . . God bless and keep us all in the bosom of His all holy Mother!