Superior General’s Newsletter – 3 – September 2007

Meeting of the Major Superiors, Formation Persons, and International Conference

At the end of July and beginning of August, the meeting of the Provincial and Regional Superiors of the Congregation was held, with the presence as well of those responsible for formation. The meeting occurred at De Sales University, in the United States.
The first days were dedicated to sharing what is happening in formation in our Congregation. It was a glance at our internal workings of formation. I would like to cite two aspects that became apparent from this sharing: in the first place, the written reports, groups sharing and full assembly sessions, made it clear that there exists, in general, a great effort on the part  the Congregation to offer effective formation. There are many good things happening! There is much creativity and persistence in helping the candidates who have been received into our houses of formation. In the second place, we perceive that there exist striking differences with formation among the various Provinces, Regions and mission sites. The process of sharing brought about a consciousness that we need to search for greater unity in our formation, and hence that it would be good to formulate guidelines to help us reach a greater common ground in the formation field.
We debated together differing proposals for having common formation programs, such as:
1.   having a common scholasticate (for all Oblates; or for the scholastics in the Europe; or in Pretória, for English speaking scholastics);
2.   organizing a period of common formation, on the international level;
3.   having an international community of Oblates in France (with the possibility for  studying salesian topics).
In general, the various proposals did not receive much support. Practical questions (different languages and cultures, danger of the loss of cultural identity, financial difficulties, difficulties in carrying-out pastoral works, etc.) were presented as factors that would make it difficult to join scholastics from differing Provinces or Regions in a common program.
But if, on the one hand, we do not see the possibility of following these proposals for common formation programs, on the other hand two things were made very clear:
1.   We need to continue carrying-on experiences of working together within common programs that are interconnected in accordance with necessity and possibility. For examples: in Pretória the scholasticate of South Africa  has for some  time received  young  Oblates from Namíbia and Benin; in Brazil, the novitiate has received novices from Italy and France; the Provinces and Regions which are in the process of consolidating  have already a common formation program.
2. There is a strong desire to cooperate more in formation. This is shown by the decision to elaborate common guidelines and orientations for salesian formation.
Moreover, it is evident that we have at our disposal a very rich salesian inheritance. We have available for our use in formation a vast and a diverse amount of material. God's blessing has favored us by leaving us as inheritance a rich and unique spiritual treasure. However, there clearly exists the necessity of selecting this material and making it available adequately to the service of the formation of new Oblates.

General Formation Coordinator

One of the immediate results of this meeting between Major Superiors and Formation Personnel was the decision of the General Council to nominate Fr. Lewis Fiorelli as General Formation Coordinator. This is a new function and comes about as a necessity at this moment of our history. In this function, Fr. Fiorelli assumes three specific tasks:

1. To coordinate the process of formulating guidelines for salesian spirituality and Oblate life. This will include orientations for the three stages of formation: postulate, novice and post-novitiate. The guidelines for each one of the different stages will include the formulation of an objective for the particular stage of formation, the establishment of a minimum salesian content to be developed for each stage, and the indication of available and useful salesian sources for each stage. Fr. Fiorelli will draw up a first draft, which will be sent to the Major Superiors and formation personnel, so that these can contribute to the process. Subsequently, at a future meeting of Provincials and the Regionals the final approval of the document will take place. Evidently, the guidelines to be definite will have to be in accord with the directives of our Constitutions on the formation of Oblates.

2. To evaluate the specifically salesian elements in the formation in the differing Provinces and Regions, and to be at the disposal of any Province or Region that needs assistance in the formation of some specific subject  area of the salesian formation.
3. To study the viability of continuing in the future, formation meetings in the area of the Salesian spirituality for our Oblate formation personnel. This viability will be discerned and determined by the General Council.

I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to my predecessor, Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, for his prompt willingness to serve the Congregation in this area of formation which is a fundamental priority for us. May his service be guided by the Holy Spirit!

Standing on Sacred Ground

Almost at the very end of the meeting of the Major Superiors and Formation Personnel, it was suggested that each participant express what for him was for most significant about the meeting. One confrere said that he became aware that we were standing on sacred ground.

This was a very opportune comment. It was an affirmation filled with prudence and, principally, with divine wisdom. All of us, as Oblates, at some moment in our mission, certainly have already perceived that the human person is a mystery. This is equivalent to affirming that he deserves all our respect. Once when Fr. Brisson asked the Oblates priests to pray for their penitents before hearing their confession, certainly he was conscious of the mystery that is each person.

This is true in special way when we speak of helping somebody who approaches us expressing his desire of becoming an Oblate. What was it that brought this young person to present himself to us? What is it that really occurred in his heart? What experiences have marked his life? What are his dreams, his ideals? What is the work that God is bringing about in this person?

To be a formation person is essentially to help those in formation discern the will of God in their life, and to verify if they possess a personality structure capable of assuming the consequences of the consecrated life. This is a noble task, but it is complex and often not an easy one. To express that we are on sacred ground means to have the consciousness  that God  knows and loves each one in formation infinitely more than we know him and love him,. And even more: God knows and loves him infinitely more than he loves himself. Those in formation are for the formation person a sacred reality, a holy ground, on which God already has initiated a work of love.

This requires that the formation person cultivate a personal life of continuous union with God. The effectiveness of his mission requires attitudes of humility, deep respect for the person in formation, patience and, above all, love centered in Christ. Essentially the task of the formation person consists in helping those in formation listen to the voice of the Spirit, discern and receive the will of God in their life. This discernment must be made before God. The formation person places himself at the disposal of the discernment of those in formation. Of another hand, the Congregation also does its discerning based on the life journey of those in formation.  Fr. Peter Ryan, SJ, who  assisted us during the meeting, alerted us about what the Congregation must do in carrying out the forming and discerning process, and what the candidate who desires to be Oblate, also must do.

Our confrere Alexander Pocetto made a presentation on “Salesian Vision of Holiness: Spirituality for the Imperfect”. The experience of the imperfect is part of our daily life. For those who work in formation this experience shows up at different moments and raises various questions. In formation we often feel that there are more questions than answers. This affirmation should not discourage us nor serve as an invitation to go along with the current formation situation. “We should not be astonished when finding imperfections and things to correct in us. Our work is never complete. We need to always start over anew and with good spirit”, St. Francis de Sales says (Letters 1049; O.C. XVI, p. 312).

For anyone who dedicates himself to formation work for long time, a question normally appears: the years offered to those in formation really changed their lives? Have they been able to incarnate salesian values in their lives? Or formation only led to assuming external behaviors that are socially expected of a religious? These questions about the effectiveness of formation are a crucial, hence, need to be answered. Here we are touching on a very complex point, subject today of much study and research. We are dealing with the unconscious forces that we all carry as our personal baggage. The process of vocational discernment normally takes into consideration the conscious elements of the person in formation, that is to say, what he knows about himself. But what about the realities that are in him and that are unconscious? These realities also come into play when making decisions and, many times, exert a very strong influence in the life of the one in formation (as well as in the life of all of us). The truth is that, the more a candidate knows his inner reality, the freer he will be, and, therefore, he will possess the conditions of making a more consistent and lasting decision. Helping someone in formation to know himself and to accept his personal reality is fundamental and freeing, and enables an individual to make decisions with more interior liberty.
Moreover, two facts nowadays have to be taken into account. The first one is the fact that, in various houses of formation of the Congregation, there are people in formation from diverse and different cultures. Some are also from differing countries. This requires that the formation person pay special attention to these diversified cultures. This diversity, on the other hand, is both a source of wealth and, at the same time, a challenge. The second fact is that we can note the presence, in various houses of formation of candidates who are already much older. This fact requires from the formation person a more specific and individualized accompaniment, in accordance with the history and the personality of the candidate.
All this challenges the formation person permanently to continue his own formation.

The texts of the International Conference in DeSales University are available at the page of the Internet in the following address:

International Scholasticate in Pretória

One of the practical results in the effort to aument inter-province assistance in the field of the formation is the fact of the Fr. Frank Danella is preparing to go the Pretória, South Africa. Fr. Danella has a long experience of work in formation as Master of Scholastics in his Wilmington-Philadelphia Province. He also is professor of Pastoral Theology. Beginning next year, he will assist in the Scholasticate in Pretória, where currently there are scholastics from both the African Regions: South Africa and Namíbia. In previous years, this scholasticate had scholastics from Benin, and it is predicted that young Oblates of the Benin will again go there for their philosophical and theological studies. We are immensely grateful to Fr. Danella, as well as to the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province which freed him for this service outside its own Province. Let us pray that Fr. Danella's presence produces fruits for the young and all Congregation.

Situation of the Cause of the Fr. Brisson

In October, there has been scheduled a meeting of the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints. It has been confirmed that the situation of the cause of our Founder will be on the agenda. If the heroic virtues of Fr. Brisson be recognized and approved by the Pope, our Founder will be then “Venerable”.

I renew, at this special moment, the request to each one of you, my dear confreres, to pray with insistence for the Beatification of the Rev. Fr. Louis Brisson.

Mission in India

In May, I had the satisfaction of visiting our confreres in India, with whom I passed almost three weeks. I confess that I left there with feelings of joy and thanksgiving. Yes, challenges and difficulties exist. But the spirit of responsibility and the involvement of all the confreres in the process of discerning our mission in India have given me the certainty that we are on the right path. The personal dialogue with each confreres with whom I had the chance to meet, revealed to me that all are being involved in the process and that all feel challenged to make a personal contribution. The current phase of discerning the types of ministries which our confreres will dedicate themselves to in the future, requires the responsible participation of each confrere. The alternatives for involvement: parochial ministries, schools, or other services, are part of the agenda of their discernment. The question of how to support themselves economically in the future in India is, also, being faced in a very realistic way. This discloses the seriousness with which the members are dealing with the concrete situation of our mission in India. The change in the formation program made a few years ago will show its results only in the future. The decision to begin now the construction of the novitiate house in Eluru/Andhra Pradesh - a region where we have not as yet been present in India - discloses a the missionary spirit that is spreading us and taking us into new regions. Currently we have 12 Indian confreres with perpetual profession, 10 of whom are already priests. Soon our Indian confreres will have the priestly ordination of our 11th Indian confrere. In addition, two others will make their perpetual profession. Let us join them with our prayers at these important moments.

With the exit of Fr. Sebastian Leitner from India, Fr. Mathew Mukkath was appointed as Delegated Superior of the India Mission. Fr. Joseph Költringer will come back to assist in India during the next years. He had dedicated some years of his life to the mission in India before going to the Philippines.

Your experience and wisdom, Fr. Joseph will be certainly an important aid in the continuity of the process of our mission in India. I thank you, on behalf of the whole Congregation, for the promptitude and the spirit of service that once more time you have demonstrated. I know that your love for the Church and the Congregation makes you remain open to serve, with missionary spirit, where ever it may be necessary, even though that this implies in renunciation and personal sacrifices. May God accompany you, and that your life continue to be a blessing!

Our Presence and Mission in the Philippines: Last Appeal

In a letter directed to the Major Superiors some weeks ago, I presented the situation about the uncertainty on our continuing in the Philippines.

I would like to look back briefly on our presence in the Philippines. Some time ago, after years of service in India, our confrere Fr. Anthony Ceresko – who left us two years ago for our Father's Dwelling - went to live in the community of the Divine Word, in the Philippines, teaching as professor of Sacred Scripture. He dreamed about one day seeing our presence in China. He placed himself at the disposal of Pope John Paul’s II invitation to prepare ourselves for the mission in China. Moreover, he knew that to be in the Philippines would open the doors for us to take our charism and our spirituality to that part of the world - eastern Asia. We see today that the Church of the occidental world is moving in direction of the eastern world. John Paul II, in “Ecclesia in Asia” (November of 1999) writes: “It is a mystery because the Savior of the world, born in Asia, has remained to a large extent so far unknown to the people of the continent” (Number 2). In addition, the Pope expressed his dream that in the third century of Christianity “a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent” (Number 1). As we know, various countries of eastern Asia are supplying a great number of vocations to many religious Congregations, as well as for all the Church.

Two and a half years ago, Joseph Költringer, joined Fr. Ceresko by also going for the Philippines. Both dreamed of seeing our presence confirmed in that part of the world, and they also planned on starting to receive candidates. But the sudden death of Fr. Ceresko interrupted their dream. At the beginning of this year, 2007, our confreres in India decided to send a confrere to the Philippines. Fr. Bruzily Abraham and Fr. Joseph Költringer have so far been living in Batangas, to the south of Manila, in a house temporarily let to us by a woman.

Fr. Joseph has expressed his desire to return to his Province of origin, Austria-South Germany, within two or three years. With such a situation, we do not have enough stability in the Philippines to allow us to carry on vocational work and to receive candidates. It is a question of honesty to guarantee some stability for the coming years before encouraging the dreams of the young who might have interest in becoming Oblates in that part of the world. Now, with Fr. Joseph leaving to serve in India in the coming years, the uncertainty about our presence in the Philippines has only been confirmed.

I know that there have been one or another confrere who has expressed his desire to serve in India. Clearly, we are opened to receive those who feel called to go there, with the understanding that the required discernment has been done. But what we need now is for at least one confrere who is able to work in the formation, and is willing to give a certain minimal guarantee to serve in the Philippines for a longer period of time. To illustrate this point: at the General Chapter of 1988 we decide to initiate the mission in India and, only now, the main functions of leadership are passing into the hands of our Indian confreres. If we decide to begin to receive candidates from the Philippines, certainly we need a similar time frame so that our mission in that part of the world can walk on their own legs.

Therefore, I have come here to make one last appeal. I ask all of you that, in your prayers and discussions, consider our situation in the Philippines and in that part of the world. Is God really sending us there? Is it Divine will that we, as Oblates, be in that part of the world? Are we in condition to respond to the appeal of John Paul II and to take the Christian faith to the heart of the people from that part of the world?

I am writing about a discernment that we need to carry out with serenity and firmness. But one that we cannot postpone indefinitely.
After considering the subject and discerning on it, I ask for a reaction by the latest, the end of December of this year. During our meeting in Troyes, in beginnings of 2008, we will take a decision final.

Processes of Restructuring

I believe that many of you already know that we have today, in progress, two processes of restructuring of units in the Congregation.

One is the process between our two German speaking Provinces: the German Province and the Austria-South Germany Province. There has been set up a small commission with members from both the Provinces to coordinate this process. It has already been decided that in mid-year of 2009 both Provinces will be joined into a single one. Various steps in this direction have already been taken. Both the Provinces together edit the magazine LICHT. They have a common Missions Procurator as well as common novitiate and scolasticate. A small commission has elaborated a common program of formation, which already has been approved by the Council of both Provinces and also by the General Council. Twice a year the two councils hold joint meetings.  The Provinces have already programmed an open meeting for all the members of both Provinces. The commission that coordinates the process is, at this point, busy with juridical and legal questions raised by the joining of the Provinces. Finally, the confreres of the Swiss community are in a process of deciding if they are to join the new German speaking Province or not.

Another consolidation process is occurring between the Regions of Keimoes-Upington and Keetmanshoop. A commission to coordinate the process. composed of members from both Regions, also exists, This commission held a meeting in Pella with the confreres from both of the Regions in November of last year. There it was determined that officially the joining of the Regions will occur on 21st  of November of 2009. However, this date is not yet definitive. There is the possibility of the official date of the joining be anticipated, and could occur during the year of the centenary of the death of our Founder. The members of both the Regions will work on this during their annual retreat that will be held shortly at the end of September. In any case, all the formation program is already practically unified.

Let us pray that in fact the Holy Spirit be the one who guides these restructuring processes. And that, in both the cases, the union  not be only legal and juridic but, above all, that this process help our affected confreres to be more united and helpful to one another in living out of their vocation as Oblates.

Chablais Mission Fund: Distribution of Financial Resources

The last General Chapter approved that, annually, 75% of available resources of the Chablais Fund   be distributed either in internal ministries in the Regions and in mission sites approved by the Congregation. By internal ministries it is understood: formation and vocations; healthcare, retirement and administration. It was further determined  that the other remaining  25% of funding  be available for  Oblate projects, either projects of Oblates in missions and Regions approved by the Congregation, or projects of Oblates in situations of mission (for example, social justice).

The Disbursement Committee is distributing this year a total of $ 51.400 USD for the Regions and missions that need aid.

The Commission is working so that the available amounts are distributed in accordance with the real existing necessities in the Congregation. Therefore the supplying of information, when making a request to the Disbursement Committee, is of basic importance. We are at the beginning of a new process, and it is normal that not everything will proceed perfectly when initiating something new. The contribution of all those involved will help the distribution process to become ever more consistent with a sense of justice.

Jubilee Celebration in Pella

In 1882, our Founder sent the first Oblates to the missions in Namaqualand, in South Africa. One of those sent was Fr. Jean-Marie Simon, later the first Oblate bishop, who died 50 years later, on the 21st of November, 1932. His body is buried in the cathedral of Pella, where the first Oblates initiated their arduous mission. The seed sown with so much sacrifice in those lands germinated, and today extends in two diocese: Keimoes-Upington and Keetmanshoop.

To mark these facts - 125 years of our presence on the African continent and 75 years of the death of Bishop Simon – there will be in Pella special celebrations. On the 6th and 7th  of  this December  Oblates and the Oblate Sisters from both the Regions will gather in this place which marks our historical beginning on African soil. Also, interested diocesan clergy will participate in this Thanksgiving celebration, together with the people from the region. These celebrations will conclude with a special Eucharist to be celebrated on the 8th of December, with the presence  of the Apostolic Nuncio to South Africa and Namíbia, Bishop James Green. I decided to be present personally in Pella for this occasion. This event invites us to look at not only at the past, but also embark on the future. I believe it is a good thing to reflect and pray: about our mission as Oblates on the African continent; about what it means to be missionaries today in the midst of  the  suffering people on this beloved continent; about how to face the challenges that today places before our confreres from both African Regions.

Toledo-Detroit Provincial Reappointed

During their Convocation in June of this year, the Toledo-Detroit Province concluded its process of selecting their new provincial government. At the end of the process, Fr. David Whalen was reappointed by the General Council as Provincial Superior, thus initiating his second term. Elected as members of the Provincial Council were: Frs. Ronald Olszewski, Kenneth McKenna and Geoffrey Rose. May divine light and grace never be lacking to these confreres at the helm of this Province.

Among the many good and encouraging things that Fr. Konrad Esser and I witnessed was a one week workshop on “Salesian Leadership” Dozens of young leaders from schools and universities participated. They received training to be disseminators of our salesian spirituality in the various schools and university where they study. Moreover, normally it is from this group that young candidates to the life of Oblates appear. The program is sponsored by both our Provinces in the United States and also in conjunction with the Visitation Sisters. I am sure that the young who participated in it left enthusiastic and vibrant. May God keep them firm in their mission within educational environments.

Choosing the New Government of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province

This year the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province is in the process of discernment for choosing their new provincial government.

A first stage of the discernment process has already occurred during the Convocation during the month of June when around of 150 members of the Province met together. The process continues through this semester. At the end of October and during the month of November, I will make the canonical visitation to this Province, accompanied by the Assistant, Fr. Konrad Esser. The new choice of the Provincial and the members of the Provincial Council will be made during the Chapter of the Province, which will be held this January. I ask that you keep this Province, the largest of the Congregation, in your prayers at this important moment of their history.

February of 2008 in Troyes

Celebrate the centenary of the death of one's founder is not just any occasion. It is a moment that carries with it special importance and meaning.

A number of things are already programmed. On the 2nd of February, 2008 – the day of the centenary of the death of our founder - a celebration in Plancy is planned, with a gathering of the Oblates and Oblate Sisters. The diocesan bishop, Bishop Stenger, as well as religious from Troyes will be present. It has been the custom for men and women Religious to celebrate together on the 2nd of February. On Sunday, 3rd of February, there will have a celebration in the cathedral of Troyes. Also a mass of Thanksgiving is scheduled for the monastery of the Visitation in Troyes.

The General Council decided to anticipate the meeting of the Major Superiors for the year 2008, holding it at the same time, in order to take advantage of these celebrations. Thus it has been defined that the Provincial and Regional Superiors will have their meeting on the 4th , 5th and 6th of February in Troyes. The meeting will be focused on Fr. Brisson and the Spiritual Directory. The members of the International Commission of the Salesian Studies will also be present.

Evidently all Oblates who can be part of the celebrations in commemoration of our Founder are invited. I ask that those interested in participating communicate directly with  Fr. Michel Tournade, who lives in Troyes. Its email is:

Salesian Youth Pilgrimage

Last year the General Chapter discussed the question of salesian education. The task of nominating a commission to reflect and to present concrete proposals towards developing the concept of salesian education was entrusted to the General Superior and his Council. A first step in this direction is presently being undertaken.

Our confreres Fr. Bill McCandless, director of Salesianum School, in Wilmington, and Fr. Bruno Lecoin, director St. Michel Academy, in Annecy, are coordinating a Salesian Youth Pilgrimage.  This pilgrimage will be made up of students from our own schools, and various other schools where our confreres are active in the apostolate of salesian education. Also Oblates who work in the ministry of salesian education will participate of the event. Other confreres who have an interest in participating in the pilgrimage are also welcome. In this case, I ask that you please contact Fr. Bill McCandless, whose electronic address is:

This pilgrimage will take place in Annecy, from the 15th to the 20th of June of 2008. Saint Michel and the French Province will take care of housing for the participants. Programming is presently being put together, and different tasks will be distributed among the participating schools. Each day will consist in a spiritual exercise, an educational activity and a social activity.

It is a challenging task to carry-out the ministry of spreading our salesian spirit among young students in the various schools where we are present. But at the same time, our schools are a privileged place for this to happen. We need to share what we are doing in this direction, and to search for new insights and new ways of together efficiently carry-out this ministry. Let us pray that this youth pilgrimage to the geographic places of our beginnings by students from our schools, encourage them to be disciples and apostles of our salesian spirituality.

In Search of a Unified Accounting System

Our Constitutions (Article, 291) reads that annually each Provincial Treasurer send to the General Treasurer a financial report. Together with Fr. Robert Mancini, General Treasurer, the General Council reached the conclusion that we do not have a system of unified accounting in the Congregation. Fr. Mancini spoke about this during the last meeting of the Major Superiors. At the present it is difficult, for example, to have a common understanding on some income or expenditure items. Therefore we do not have a common system that would aid us in having a common understanding. Evidently, each Province and Region must have an accounting system in accordance with the legal requirements in their respective countries. Fr. Mancini intends to contact the treasurers of the Provinces and Regions, so as to involve all in the process of developing a common system of accounting for the Congregation. I know that he will be able to count on the understanding and the contribution of the Provincial and Regional Treasurers. I am grateful to Fr. Mancini and to all those who will collaborate in this process.

My Schedule

During the months of October and November, accompanied by the Assistant General, Fr. Konrad Esser, I will be in the United States. In the first weeks we will continue the canonical visit to the Toledo-Detroit Province. Later, at the end of October and during November, we will be making the canonical visitation to the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province which, as I have already mentioned, will be at a very special moment of choosing its Provincial leadership.

In December I will spend two weeks visiting the confreres in South Africa and Namíbia. I will participate of the jubilee celebrations of our presence in Africa and of the death of Bishop Simon.

Next year, during the first semester, I will also make canonical visitations to the German and Dutch Provinces. Both the Provinces will be choosing new governments for the next years.

I know that during all these multiple visits, I can count on your invaluable prayers, for which I am deeply grateful. 

Fr. Aldino José Kiesel, osfs
Superior General