FATHER JOSEF KAUFMANN, O.S.F.S.
Very early on the morning of January 13, 1999, I received a phone call from Father Joannes Wicki of the Swiss Province with the sad news that Father Josef Kaufmann had died quietly in his sleep. Together with members of the General Council and many Provincials, I quickly made plans to go to Switzerland. On a cold and sunny winter's day, we joined our confrères in commending Father Kaufmann into the hands a good and caring God.
At the end of the Mass of Resurrection, I spoke a few words to the confrères, family and
friends of Father Josef Kaufmann. I spoke those words on behalf of all of you, members of the
Congregation. Therefore, I would like to share with you here what I said then, with the confident
hope that you will keep Father and his family and confrères in your prayers.
"As followers of St. Francis de Sales, we Oblates rejoice that God is 'Emmanuel,' God-with-us! As Emmanuel, God is a part of every moment of our lives. We recognize him in every person we encounter and we find him in each event which unfolds before us. In this way, we learn to live our lives as Jesus lived his life: in a state of continual union with God, heart to heart and will to will.
"We know that at one particular moment of our lives, we will meet God face to face. Our heart longs for that moment. We have been created for God and we know that we will only be complete when we are finally one with God. That moment of total union comes for us at the moment of our death. That is why death is for us believers never an ending but a beginning. It is a door or a gate which leads us, finally, to fullness because it leads us, at last, to total union with God.
"A few days ago Father Kaufmann saw that door open up before him. Through it was shining the beautiful light of glory. And in that light Christ stood before him as Emmanuel, God-with-us. Father Kaufmann ran through that door with great happiness; he entered into that light with deep joy; and he found forever his heart's desire: complete union with God in Christ. He is at peace now, and we are comforted.
"By human standards his death was an untimely one. He was with us for all too brief a time! But we trust that the moment of his death was the right moment for him according to God's plan and will. For we believe that the divine Gardener had come to harvest what he himself had planted with so much love and had cared for with such great tenderness. It is for this reason that we take comfort in the words which St. Francis de Sales once wrote concerning an untimely death: 'Let God gather to Himself whatever He has planted in His garden. He takes nothing out of season.'
"On behalf of the Congregation of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, I extend to you, my confrères of the Swiss Province, and to each of you, the family and friends of Father Josef Kaufmann, my deepest sympathy at your loss and my sincere promise of prayerful support in the days and months ahead.
"As for our dear confrère and friend, Father Josef Kaufmann, we send him home to God. And since he is with God who is Emmanuel, we believe that he remains with us still. That gives us a deep comfort, even a quiet joy, in the midst of our sorrow.
"I conclude with the comforting words of St. Jane de Chantal: 'Find strength in the confident
hope that we shall all be united in the joy of a blessed eternity'."
THE PREPARATORY COMMISSION
The January meeting of the General Council took place in our community of St. Charles in Monaco. At that time, Father Sebastian Leitner, the chair of the Preparatory Commission, informed us that there were, to date, relatively few proposals for consideration by the meeting of the Preparatory Commission which was scheduled for July, 1999. I suggested that we wait until after my return from the visitation of the South American Region before making a decision relative to that meeting. We were, understandably, most reluctant to call Oblates from around the world for a meeting which would likely be completed in only a day or two.
In late February, then, the members of the General Council joined me in the decision to
cancel the meeting of the Preparatory Commission for July, 1999. We will, however, seek in writing
the views of the members of the Preparatory Commission regarding the proposals submitted. The
members of the General Council and I will meet in Dachsberg, Austria, this July to consider these
proposals as well as the written opinions of the members of the Preparatory Commission. I know
that we can count on your prayers for this important step in the preparations for the 17th General
Chapter of the Congregation, scheduled for July, 2000, in Fockenfeld, Germany.
BIOGRAPHIE DOCUMENTÉE OF FATHER BRISSON
It has been ninety-one years since the Founder's death. The official biography, recounting his life and heroic virtue, has been submitted to the Congregatio De Causis Sanctorum. This 676 page document is the result of years of serious research and hard work by Father Yvon Beaudoin, O.M.I. He was greatly assisted in this endeavor by Father Roger Balducelli. A vital force behind this project was also our sister Congregation, the Oblate Sisters. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Their loving work and devotion, over many years, along with considerable financial sacrifice, has brought this important document to fruition. Without them, and the special encouragement of Mother General, Mother Françoise-Isabelle Stiegler, it simply would not have been accomplished.
Each major superior of the Congregation has received a copy of this work. It is now a key
addition to each province's archives, available for reading and research. I urge each of you, my
confrères, to pray that this document will soon be favorably accepted by the Congregation for the
Cause of Saints. I ask you especially to make daily use of the new prayer for our Founder's
beatification for this intention. If a favorable judgement is forthcoming regarding this work, an
important step in the process of the beatification of this good and holy man will have taken place.
VISITATION OF THE SOUTH AMERICAN REGION
From January 27 through February 17, 1999, I made the canonical visitation of the South American Region (excluding Equador, which was visited in January, 1998, and Saúde which will be visited in September, 1999).
It was heartening to experience the infectious joy, simple lifestyle, friendly spirit and passionate apostolic zeal of all the confrères of the Region. Very good work continues to be done in the many parishes and chapels under our care. Not only are the sacramental and liturgical needs of the people being met in these parishes and chapels, so are many of their basic human needs as well. Schools, clinics, soup kitchens, clothing and food banks, herbal medicines, catechetical classes, adult education, and the much-cherished parish hall --all of these, and more, underscore the Salesian commitment to the well-being of the total person.
Community life is very much a priority, especially in the formation communities, but also in the regional meetings and the twice annual gathering of the entire Region.
I wish every member of the Congregation could have been present to experience the happy enthusiasm which characterized the first profession of the six novices (four from Brazil, one each from Colombia and Equador) and the renewal of vows of five scholastics during the annual Retreat. There was much excitement in anticipation of a priestly ordination in April. Counting pre-postulants and postulants, there are about forty men in formation at this time. What a great hope, not only for the Region but for the Congregation and Church as well!
Collaboration --with members of the laity, the De Sales Secular Institute (Salesianas), and the Daughters of St. Francis de Sales-- is alive and well in the Region. Oblates work hand in hand with many gifted and generous people, most of whom share our enthusiasm for living and spreading the inviting spirit of de Sales.
A particular joy for me was the interest expressed by several men in formation regarding a
future ministry in our missions. It is encouraging to witness so lively a missionary spirit among the
young. To be sure, that spirit has been well-modeled for them by Oblates who, coming from Europe
and, later, from the United States, have ministered in the Americas from the earliest days of our
foundation. So many decades of challenging and often lonely work have cultivated the field which
is bearing so much fruit today! May the Lord of the harvest continue to bless us, there and
I am happy to report that there are many projects in preparation for the celebration of the 125th year of our Foundation and of the death of the Good Mother in 2000. At the risk of forgetting some of them, I note the following:
(1) The ICSS has received funding from Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales for a feasibility study to place the Annecy edition of the Works of St. Francis de Sales on CD-rom. (2) Father Dirk Koster is writing a popular life of St. Francis de Sales in Dutch. (3) Each year every major superior of the Congregation receives several copies of the Personnel Directory of the Congregation as well as the Necrology of Deceased Confrères. They are distributed in hard copy as well as in diskette form. In 2000 each member of the Congregation will receive special anniversary editions of each of these documents. (4) The Congregation is sponsoring a gathering of men in formation in Annecy and Troyes just prior to the 17th General Chapter in July, 2000. Capitulants to the General Chapter will be invited to join these young confrères in Troyes for a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Congregation's foundation and of the death of the Good Mother. After accompanying the capitulants to Fockenfeld, these same confrères will give the Day of Prayer and Recollection on the first day of the General Chapter and will be invited to participate in its proceeding as non-voting observers. The Congregation rests on the broad shoulders of the hundreds of confrères who have gone before us. It is being well-served today by confrères throughout the world. Its future, however, is in the hands of the young Oblates, and those they represent, who will gather at the holy sources of Annecy, Troyes and Plancy. Let us, therefore, pray earnestly for its success! (5) The ICSS is translating into several languages a conference on the Cause of the Good Mother which was given by Father Roger Balducelli in 1993 on the occasion of the bicentennial of her birth.
Additionally, each Province and Region is looking into ways of observing the two
anniversaries. May all of those occasions provide us with opportunities to renew our commitment
to live and spread the charism of the Congregation!
There is yet another anniversary in the year 2000. In that year, we Oblates will have served the people of St. Charles Parish in Monte Carlo for fifty years (1950-2000). When that celebration takes place, in May of that year, it my sincerest hope that the Congregation will be able to assure the Archdiocese, the Principality and the people of St. Charles Parish that the good work of the Oblates will continue into the future. The best way to give that assurance is for me to be able to announce new Oblate personnel for St. Charles.
I have spoken with a number of Oblates who, over the past several years, have expressed an interest in this ministry. Several Oblates, after prayer, have discerned that they are not being called to ministry there at this time. One Oblate, however, with his Provincial's blessing, is actively discerning the possibility of serving there. I will keep up my efforts, and my prayers. Please join me in both!
There is a very real time factor for us. By September 2002, the current Pastor, Father Cesare Penzo must, according to diocesan policy, retire as Pastor. Both Father Penzo and Father Jean-Claude Dietrich have expressed their desire to be replaced, if possible, by other Oblates even before that date. If the Congregation is unsuccessful in this effort, justice demands that we inform the Holy See, the Prince and the Archbishop well before September 2002 so that they can plan accordingly.
At the suggestion of the members of the General Council, I requested a written document which gives a brief history of the Oblate presence in St. Charles, as well as description of the parish, its people and its activities. I will be happy to provide that document, prepared by Father Penzo, to any Oblate who requests it. I would like to highlight several of its aspects here.
The 1950 agreement to staff St. Charles Parish --initially for ten years-- was made between the Holy See, the Royal Family of Monaco and the Major Superiors of the Congregation. (On July 25, 1981, this arrangement was made permanent.) Father J. Francis Tucker arrived in Monaco at the beginning of May, 1950, and was named the pastor of St. Charles on the 23rd of that same month. He was assisted by two other Oblates, Father Albert Pennel and Father George Shugrue, with Father Mario Dalla Zuanna joining them a few months later. After getting to know him, Prince Rainier III chose Father Tucker as his personal chaplain. Although Father Penzo now serves in that capacity as well, the pastor of St. Charles does not automatically serve as the chaplain to the Royal Family.
In the beginning, in addition to the usual liturgical, sacramental and catechetical responsibilities associated with any fairly large urban parish, the Oblates worked particularly with the youth by assisting the Catholic schools of the parish to prepare children for the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Confirmation, and by creating the "Cadets du Prince" and the "Jeunesse Saint-Charles." In the early years there were often four or five Oblates assigned to St. Charles. Because of this, there were many out-reaching ministries: to schools, to hospitals, to homes for senior citizens, to convents, and to prisoners (yes, unhappily, there are criminals even in story-book Monaco!). With only two Oblates assigned to St. Charles in recent years, most of their efforts have necessarily revolved around the parish. To assist them in their care of the approximately thirteen thousand parishioners, there is a wealth of dedicated and gifted laity. The language of the Principality is, of course, French.
I urge each Oblate who thinks that he might be of help in continuing the Congregation's
commitment to St. Charles to contact me directly, or any member of the General Council. As I
mentioned earlier, justice demands that we give adequate notice if we can no longer provide Oblates
to staff the parish. My hope, however, is that we will be able to do so. It is an important ministry
to which, as a Congregation, we have made a lasting commitment.
It is with great joy that I announce here that, with the unanimous consent of the members of the General Council, I have appointed two confrères to serve in the foundation in India. These confrères, Father John Dolan (Wilmington-Philadelphia Province) and Father Fred Smuda (South America Region, with Province-of-Origin being Wilmington-Philadelphia), have received the generous blessing of their major superiors for this assignment. They will arrive in Samarpanaram in time to celebrate the feast of St. Francis de Sales, January 24, 2000. The happy growth of the young community will be served well by these two gifted and generous confrères. Together, they bring with them to the India Mission a combination of youth, experience in formation work, years of ministry in the missions and a practical wisdom.
These next five or six years are critical ones for the Foundation. Several confrères will be
ordained during that period. Therefore, the important moment will soon be upon us when we will
have to discern the Lord's will for us regarding apostolic fields. There are a few parameters already
established. We will honor the ministerial fields suggested by Article 13 of the Constitutions while
recognizing that this "service to the Church can assume all the forms our age requires" (Article 12).
We will work with the very poor. And, in choosing apostolates, we will accept only those in which,
all things being equal, Oblates will be able to live in communities of no fewer than three to five
Oblates. Thus, from the very beginning, the religious and, thus, the community-life character of the
Congregation will be factored into our choice of apostolates.
On January 24, 1999, Father Michel Tournade began his tenure as Provincial of the French
Province. His predecessor, Father Jean Gayet, has succeeded him as the French-speaking member
of the ICSS. The Congregation is grateful to both of these confrères for accepting ministries which
benefit Province, Congregation and Church.
Beginning in July, 1999, Father Valdir Formentini of the South American Region will be
assigned for several months to our parish of St. Charles in Monaco. There he will perfect his
speaking and writing knowledge of the French language in preparation for studies in Salesian
NEW MISSIONARY FIELDS
In addition to the Congregation's missionary presence in India, Namibia, South Africa and
South America, there are Oblates serving in Bénin, the Yucatan (Mexico), Haiti, and Ukraine. In
these newer missionary fields, our confrères often minister either alone or with just one other Oblate.
Please remember them in prayer and support them with your friendship and encouragement. Second
and third careers are common today. Why not give some prayerful thought and discernment to
ministry in our missions? There are many needs and, thus, many ways to serve. The ministry of
presence and prayer come immediately to mind.
I have received a special request from the members of the Swiss Province which I commend to your prayers. Because of their few numbers, our Swiss confrères have asked to change their status from a Province within the Congregation to that of Oblates who come directly under the jurisdiction of the Generalate while continuing to live and minister in Switzerland. Obviously, such a request demands our serious and prayerful consideration. I, along with the members of the General Council, must discuss how the new entity will function in terms of governance, personnel, apostolic life and finances. When the General Administration and the Swiss confrères reach final agreement on the understanding of these matters, the transition to the new status will take place. That moment will be solemnized during a special Liturgy in Switzerland.
For those who embrace the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, whatever befalls us in life is
considered to be God's will for us, whether his direct will or the will of his good pleasure. Because
it is the divine will, to which each Oblate is wholly dedicated, we embrace it enthusiastically,
generously, even joyfully, if only, at times, at the high point of our spirit. This is what our Swiss
confrères have done in making this request.
THE DIRECTORY IN THE 21ST CENTURY The world is rapidly approaching the year 2000. Its approach is being met with various reactions, many of them unfortunate ones. Irrational fears, bizarre behavior and religious fanaticism are just a few of those reactions! At times, there is an apocalyptic feel to the air. Many people are laying up supplies of food, water and --yes!--munitions to ward off the sinister Unknown which lurks just beyond the new year. Some balanced and intelligent people are predicting incalculable disruptions to the daily routine of modern life by that insidious little rascal, the Y2K bug. Biblical literalists of every ilk have, they assure us, finally discovered the true significance of many obscure passages in the Book of Revelation. Surprise of surprises, they all point to something foreboding, perhaps catastrophic, which awaits us with the dawning of the new millennium. It is indeed unfortunate that we have so short a memory of history. A cursory reading of the events and fears which occurred just prior to the year 1000 would remind us that our fears and apprehensions were part of the social landscape at that time. That year came and went, quietly.
Desiring to inject balance and perspective into the mix, the Holy Father has rightly called upon the Catholic faithful to prepare for the new millennium with a three-year spiritual preparation for the Holy Year by honoring the divine Persons of the Trinity.
For us Oblates, the year 2000 also marks the 125th year of our Foundation and of the death of the Good Mother. One of the best ways we can celebrate that event --as well as to insure a good beginning to the new millennium-- is to rededicate ourselves to our identity as Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and to our special mission to the contemporary Church and world. With that in mind, I would like to reflect a little on the role of our spiritual Directory in our identity as Oblates as well as its place in our mission to today's world.(1)
There are several proposals to the 17th General Chapter which follow upon suggestions from the 16th General Chapter. They concern the establishment, over time, of Oblate Lay Associates. What is written here suggests that the idea is not a new one for us. Earlier General Chapters, even the Founder himself, envisioned something very similar to a Third Order. Formed in the spirit of the Directory, these laity would collaborate with us in the mission of sharing the spirit and doctrine of de Sales with the world.
We have been reminded again and again in recent years that the next century promises to be
the Age of the Laity in the Church. The spiritual tradition of our Congregation has much to offer
to assure the fulfillment of that promise!
Union with God--in love, will and life--characterized the life of Jesus. In order to live Jesus and to continue his redemptive work, which are the goals of every Oblate, we are invited to imitate his union with God. And the practice of the Spiritual Directory of St. Francis de Sales is our privileged means of attaining that goal, both individually and as a Congregation.(2)
After the Lord's appearance to him, Father Brisson was unshakably convinced of the Good
Mother's holiness. It was she who, living the spirit of the Directory herself, proposed its practice
to us Oblates. It was to be our special means of appropriating the spirit of de Sales and of sharing
that spirit with our world.
Both the Good Mother and Father Brisson insisted, over and over again, that "living the Directory is our 'privileged means' of attaining a state of "total and constant union with God." It is therefore specific to our identity as Oblates (Article 14 of the Constitutions). At the 1894 General Chapter, Father Brisson stated emphatically that "each Oblate ought to be able to say this to anyone who wants to know the spirit of our Institute: 'Look at me; I am a living Directory'." He goes further. Only the practice of the Directory is what, in the end, makes an Oblate who he is as Oblate. " With it we are everything; without it we are nothing....Without this you will be nothing; you will be less than nothing; beings without a name, without identity, without purpose, without a goal."(3)
At a special community chapter on December 23, 1874, the founding Oblates, still in formation,
received printed copies of the Directory for the first time. Until that time they had committed to
memory the articles of the Directory as practiced at the Troyes Monastery of the Visitation. Father
Brisson had reminded his confrères "a thousand times" that it was the Directory which made
Visitandines who they were. And it would do the same for our identity as Oblates. Its practice,
therefore, ought to be the principal goal towards which all our efforts are directed.(4) The multiplicity
of its exercises eventually become "an habitual disposition always to do God's will." In practicing
it, one is, with each passing moment, "attached to God's will and thus united to God himself."(5)
Father Brisson gave the September, 1896, Retreat to his confrères. In the 8th Instruction of that retreat, the Founder makes an important connection between the practice of the Directory, the Oblate's personal union with the Savior (identity) and his efficacy in the apostolate (mission). (6) He tells his confrères that "Our Directory unites us intimately to the Savior in order to accomplish the mysteries of the Redemption....[It is through its practice] that souls are won [mission] and we become saints [identity]." (7)
The early General Chapters of the Congregation were quick to sum up the spirit of St. Francis de Sales, the legacy of the Good Mother and, after his death, the charism of the Founder, as the assimilation and dissemination of the Spiritual Directory. Some early Oblates made efforts to form diocesan priests and members of the laity in the spirit of the Directory. In applauding those efforts, the members of the 3rd General Chapter suggest that those efforts ought to be intensified "so as to extend the spirit of St. Francis de Sales." The goal of such efforts, they continue, "is the sanctification of laity by the practice of the Directory."(8) At the 4th General Chapter which took place at Albano in 1908, Father Rollin, while speaking favorably of the decisions made by the 1904 General Chapter to spread the Salesian spirit by means of the Directory, wants those efforts to continue. "This is our mission, our raison d'etre....Each and every Oblate, no matter his apostolate or position, is to teach the laity the major principles of our life, specifically the direction of intention, the presence of God, the will of God, the duty of the present moment, and so on." (9) This same Chapter lists three elements in the Salesian formation of the laity and diocesan priests. They are: the principal aspects of our spiritual life (such as those just listed); the Directory itself; and private vows. Those who successfully complete their formation are to be presented with a profession cross which is similar to ours.(10)
These early Chapter decisions are simply the implementation of the Founder's desire to establish associations of secular priests and laity whose members would be formed in the spirit of the Directory. When thus formed they would become a source of encouragement to us in our ministries and would assist us in the dissemination of our spirit.(11)
According to the Father Dufour, a full eight years before our foundation Father Brisson contemplated the establishment of something like a Third Order. The spirit of St. Francis de Sales is life-giving in its spiritual vigor. If it is shared with the laity, he was convinced, it would lead a great number of them to holiness.(12) A kind of Third Order was in fact established in 1890 in Paris by an Oblate, Father Pernin, O.S.F.S. At monthly meetings he would comment on articles of the Directory and give spiritual advice to those attending. (13)
At the end of the 1904 General Chapter, the capitulants attended a private audience with the Holy Father. Speaking for his confrères, Bishop Simon promised the Pope that "we will work valiantly to diffuse the spirit of St. Francis de Sales in the religious and priestly life and, more fully than ever before, in the Christian life of the simple faithful. This is the goal proposed by our inspiration and foundress, the Venerable Mary de Sales Chappuis."(14)
When they discuss the proposals regarding the establishment of Oblate Lay Associates, the capitulants to the 17th General Chapter will be fortunate in having in our tradition both the encouragement for such a movement as well as some guidelines for its development.
As a Congregation, let us follow the advice of the Holy Father by spiritually preparing
ourselves for the Holy Year. Let us do that by rededicating ourselves to the expectations of our
charism to live and share the spirit and doctrine of St. Francis de Sales. And let us do that by
faithfully practicing the Directory ourselves and by generously sharing its spirit with those whom
we serve in our apostolates.
As I write this General's News, I am preparing for the visitation of the Toledo-Detroit
Province (May, 1999). The General Council will meet in Dachsberg, Austria, in July. Along with
other business we will be plan for the 17th General Chapter in 2000. In September the visitation to
the South American Region will be concluded by a visit to Saudé in the north of Brazil. Much of
the fall, 1999, will be dedicated to the visitation of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province. The
General Council will meet in Rome in early January, 2000.
Each day I pray for the "human and spiritual" well-being of each of you. I know that I have
your prayerful support as well. For this, I am deeply grateful!
Fraternally yours in our saintly Patron and holy Founders,
Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S.
1. I spoke about this at the 1987 convocation of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province in a two-part conference which was entitled, "The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales: Identity and Mission, " pp. 16-20. See the sources cited there.
2. Proceedings, 1894 General Chapter of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (Troyes, College de St. Bernard), p. 100.
3. Tilburg Edition of the Works of Father Brisson, vol. 4, pp 189-190.
4. Tilburg Edition, vol.1, p 14. The practice of the Directory was particularly esteemed at the Visitation Monastery of Troyes Monastery with which the Founder was most familiar. He was closely associated with it for all his priestly life and was chaplain there for over forty years. To the surprise of many Oblates, the practice of the Directory was and remains optional for each particular monastery of the Order. Its spirit, though, is part of the very fabric of the spirituality which they have inherited from Francis and Jane.
5. Tilburg Edition, vol. 6, p. 101.
6. Tilburg Edition, Vol. 6; the 8th Instruction is found on pages 204-206.
7. Ibid., p. 206.
8. Proceedings, 3rd General Chapter, (Giove, Italy, October, 1904), p. 28.
9. Proceedings, 4th General Chapter, (Albano, Italy, May, 1908), p. 15.
10. Ibid., pp. 15-16.
11. cf. E. Carney, O.S.F.S.'s Father Brisson's Commentary on the Constitutions and the Spiritual Directory of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (Hyattsville, MD: ICSS, 1966, p. 14, and the sources cited there.
12. P. Dufour, O.S.F.S., Le Très Révérend Père Louis Brisson (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1936), p. 170.
14. Proceedings, 4th General Chapter, (Albano, Italy, May, 1908), p. 36.