Foundation and History of the Passionist Oblates
Among the many Passionist associations springing up all over the world today are the Passionist Oblates associated with the cloistered Passionist Nuns of Whitesville, Kentucky. This work of the Spirit was initiated by Tom and Debbie Carter of Benton, Illinois.
During the construction of our new monastery, the Carters would drive three hours from Benton to Whitesville in order to join the crew of volunteers helping us paint areas within the monastery cloister. Working side by side with Apolka‑dotted@ Nuns whose veils and habits sported various colors of paint, Tom and Debbie received an interior call to participate more deeply in our Passionist mission.
Soon, others became interested in sharing our spirituality. A few years later, the "foundation" of the Oblates of the Passion took place on December 13, 1997, as the first group was admitted by the superior into the formation program.
After a four-year formation....
After a four-year formation this first group of Oblates made their Passionist commitment, (the Act of Oblation) on April 29, 2001, following a retreat preached by Fr. Frederick Sucher, C.P. Two diocesan priests, together with a group of married couples and single people, each in turn pronounced their wholehearted return of love to Jesus, crucified and risen: "For the honor and glory of God, and in response to his call, I (name), freely desire to lead a life of greater conformity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Passionist spirit, I promise to promote devotion to the Passion of Jesus according to my abilities, and to strive for holiness according to the obligations of my state in life. I entrust this gift of myself into the hands of Mary, Queen of the Passionist Congregation, invoking her intercession and the intercession of St. Paul of the Cross and all the Passionist saints."
Those who join the Oblates do not become religious. While remaining involved in the ordinary affairs of the world, they pursue a life of holiness in the spirit of the Passionist community in ways compatible with their state in life.
The Oblate guidelines, entitled "The Oblate Companion", went through several revisions before final approval on the Feast of the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion, 2001, by Most Rev. Paul M. Boyle, C.P., bishop of Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies. The Companion is a hand-book of Passionist spirituality adapted to life in our busy modern world. Bishop Boyle approved it for use by any Passionist community throughout the world.
Two forms of membership: Oblates and Associates
The Oblates of the Passion are an association of Christ's Faithful affiliated with a Passionist monastery or residence. (#1, Oblate Companion) Membership is of two forms: Oblates and Associates. People are called into either group as inspired by the Holy Spirit or indicated by the duties or situations of their private lives. "Oblates" are those who make the Act of Oblation, and as much as possible, attend the monthly formation meetings. Some Oblates have already been called by the Holy Spirit to pledge a greater portion of their lives to the mission of the Passionist Congregation. "Associates" are persons who desire to share our Passionist spirituality and mission, but for whatever reason, do not feel called or are unable to make the public Act of Oblation. Included among these are the physically challenged, the sick, homebound, etc. The Associates are guided by a handbook of spirituality and are encouraged to contribute to the mission of the Passionist Congregation by uniting their sufferings and hardships to the Passion of Christ in a spirit of prayer.
The Holy Spirit has poured out a variety of gifts and calls among the Oblates. Home schooling moms, other young mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. single persons. married couples, diocesan priests, widows and widowers, are experiencing the drawing power of Christ Crucified through the Oblate program. "With great love for Christ's Passion engraved upon our hearts, we endeavor to make its saving power present and fruitful in all places and circumstances." (#4, Oblate Companion) "Always seeking to grow in knowledge and love of Christ, and "experiencing that love for Christ Crucified is creative and life‑giving, we will discover many ways in which to fulfill this promise in daily life as the opportunity offers." (#20, Oblate Companion)
The Oblate formation program, lasting about three years, prepares the member for Passionist commitment and continues for the rest of their lives. Some members are devoting themselves to a study of the Letters of St. Paul of the Cross. From this, interesting reflection papers have emerged on the letters to Thomas Fossi and Agnes Grazi. Because Thomas Fossi was a married man who had extensive business enterprises, Paul's letters to him are particularly helpful for married people, men and women alike.
Getting Down to Work
The Oblates built a storage facility for the monastery farm equipment as well as a "Passionist Inspiration" shop in the retreat house. They also manage this Passionist resource center stocked with Passion-centered materials as well as other religious books and articles. An Oblate served for many years as our devoted caretaker, while others regularly help with work on the monastery grounds. One Oblate, former chief of staff at a local children's psychiatric hospital, was called to take early retirement to devote his services to the Church; a young mother left her job in the business world in order to be at home for her children. This led to the formation of a mothers' prayer group that provides faith support and study for other young mothers. Besides offering earnest prayer for good vocations for all our Passionist communities, the entire group of Oblates has been very helpful in promoting our Passionist vocation in informal ways as well as at diocesan youth gatherings.
Our community of cloistered Passionist Nuns has been deeply inspired by the Oblates' desire to share in our Passionist mission, so that many others may be drawn to make a deeper personal response to the love of God revealed in the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
During a recent Oblate retreat here at our Whitesville monastery, one of the Oblates summed up her own experience of belonging to the Passionist family in this way: "We are children of Christ Crucified. We are also children of St. Paul of the Cross, and he is very much with us providing his love, guidance and encouragement. If any of you have not yet delved into his letters, please do so. It was there that I discovered his tenderness and realized how much of a spiritual father he is to me. We have all been called. The fact that we are all here together today is a testament to that fact."
"We are Passionists. We have been called in a special way by our Crucified Lord and our holy founder to promote devotion to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and God has called us to this with an urgency at this critical time in history to do an important work. He wants the Passionist family to love, and live, and grow! The teachings of St. Paul of the Cross and our Passionist saints have so much more to say to the world.....and what an awesome gift it is to be a part of sharing that! Alleluia!"