The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) is a Roman Catholic religious congregation of men founded in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1816 by Eugène de Mazenod, with the primary aim to serve the poor and evangelize, preaching the word of God to the disenfranchised and non-Christian throughout the world. The son of a wealthy aristocratic family, Charles-Joseph-Eugene de Mazenod (1782-1861), was ordained as a priest in 1811. The Society of the Missionaries of Provence was formally established in January 1816. In 1826 the congregation was formally approved by the Pope under the name, Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Congrégation des Oblats de Marie Immaculée) with the motto, “He has sent me to evangelize the poor.” In Canada, their mission and duty has remained consistent over time; the devotion to God, salvation of souls, and to practice charity, has served as the basis of Oblate rules and their constitution.
The Oblates were invited to Canada in 1841 by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal, where they began their first foreign missionary work. In 1844, the Bishop of St. Boniface, Mgr. Provencher, made an appeal for missionaries to serve the vast territory of the west, and the Oblates sent missionaries to the St. Boniface area of Manitoba, arriving by 1845. Gradually moving west into what is now Alberta, the Oblates established a mission at Fort Chipewyan in 1847, in 1855 were present at Lac Ste-Anne and Lac-la-Biche, in 1861 had established a chapel in Fort Edmonton, and commenced the Saint-Albert mission. The primary goal of the Oblates in Canada was to evangelize and introduce Christianity to the Indigenous peoples. The Oblates would therefore establish, expand and develop their missions in strategic areas which served as central points to conduct their mission work, eased travel, and could more easily provide supplies to transport to missions. They would continue to establish missions throughout the west and the north, and these missions would often serve as bases for the church to develop as parishes.. As settlement of the west proceeded, the Oblates continued to establish missions, schools, later Indian Residential Schools and boarding schools, radio stations, hospitals and colleges, to expand their missionary role. The Oblates would also purchase property and develop businesses to support the apostolic work in communities.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s central government (worldwide) is located in Rome, Italy since 1905, and is composed of a Superior General, a Vicar General, two Assistant Generals, a number of Councilors, a Secretary General, and a Treasurer General. The congregation has several provinces, delegations and missions on all continents, the provinces being managed by an administration team structured closely to the central government.
In western Canada, the religious organization was supported by a civil corporation. Federal statute modified the structure of the organization in 1883, and the corporation became known as Les Reverends Peres Oblats de Marie Immaculee des Territoires du Nord Ouest. Administration of religious matters was to be managed by the various vicariates and later vice-provinces and provinces.
The first administrative council set out three branches of the corporation, each of which would administer its own affairs within a given territory; the Vicariate of St. Boniface outside Manitoba, the Vicariate of St. Albert, and the Vicariate of Mackenzie. The statutes were revised in 1894, 1906 and 1946 to reflect various changes to the corporate body in the west, and allow the legal structure to support the religious work of the canonical administration as missionary work expanded. In 1984, the corporation, consisting of the Province of Alberta-Saskatchewan, the Vicariate of Grouard, and the Vicariate of Mackenzie, was continued under the Canada Corporations Act. In 1986, the three branches of the corporation were merged and the name of the corporate body changed to the Missionary Oblates-Grandin Province. The most recent change was the creation of OMI Lacombe Canada in 2003.
The structure of administration remained consistent in the late 19th century and early 20th, organized in a Province in developed areas, and in a Vicariate of Missions in the mission territory. The Oblate administration is hierarchical, reflecting the importance and role of the Provincial House.
Each Province had a Provincial as the chief administrator. Each Vicariate of Missions had a Vicar of Missions as chief administrator. As Superiors, their major responsibilities were to develop and administer all aspects of the missions, and ensure the propagation of faith in the communities. The goal of the work in each vicariate or province was to establish missions, schools, orphanages, hospitals and other institutions of charity, such as churches and chapels. The responsibilities of the Superior included the general well-being and the supervision of the members of the Oblate congregation, supervision of the mission work, the management of the missionaries, their work and finances, the staffing and governance of the missions, the direction of schools and the establishment of other institutions to assist in the work of the congregation. The Superior had a Treasurer, council, and various committees to assist in the administration of the organization and the political and financial aspects of the corporations.
The Superior represented the Vicariate / Province to the outside world: conducting administrative, ecclesiastical, and corporate activities with Rome and the Roman Catholic Church, its archdioceses, with other Oblate provinces, and with the federal government and other external organizations.
The provincial was also responsible for the management of the Oblate congregation in the territory, as well as its relationships with organizations within the communities the Oblates served. The Congregation is made up of priests, who have received the sacrament of holy orders and pronounced vows, and brothers, who have made religious profession and pronounced vows but have not received the sacrament of orders. Oblate missionaries were expected to observe the rules of the order and to live according to the priestly vocation. Responsibilities of the Provincial also included fostering of vocations, formation (initial and ongoing), communications, and parish affairs/management.
The majority of missionary work was carried out within the geographic areas administered by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Oblates worked closely with and within the various dioceses. Oblates often reported to Catholic bishops, were often appointed as bishops, and in some provinces, were responsible for diocesan, as well as missionary administration.
The Provincials also worked closely with religious communities of women to evangelize, such as the Sœurs de la Charité (Sœurs Grises) and Sœurs de la Charité de Notre-Dame d’Évron. Along with working hand in hand with the dioceses, the Oblates and the sisters administered and supported the Indian Residential School system in Canada, including nine schools in Alberta-Saskatchewan.
The Oblates sought to learn and become proficient in the languages of the indigenous people they wanted to convert to Christianity. Their goal was to work amongst the First Nations, and they lived in their communities, or at least near where they traded, and instruct them in their own languages.
This mission work and the general organization of the religious operations of Oblates in the west would remain fairly consistent over time. By the end of the 20th century, however, the number of Oblates had decreased, for example, from 889 in 1967 to 503 in 1990, and various reorganizations took place to reflect the realities of mission, financial, and personnel changes in Canada. Significant changes occurred in the Canadian west in 1967, with the elevation of the Vicariates of Missions of Mackenzie and Grouard to Vice-Provinces, and the west and north saw the amalgamation of administration in the 1980s, culminating in the establishment of Grandin Province, in 1986.
On December 8, 2003, the western Oblate provinces of Grandin, St. Peter’s, Manitoba Corporation, St. Mary’s and the Order of OMI British Columbia, also known as St. Paul’s Province, as well as the central provinces, were canonically amalgamated to form OMI Lacombe Canada. The amalgamation was in response to the changing views of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada through the 1990s to better reflect changes in church structure and community based activities and mission work. Today the 185 Oblates in OMI Lacombe Canada carry out their mission work in over 60 countries on five continents.
Upon incorporation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Lacombe Canada province, the five existing Provinces ceased to exist, and OMI Lacombe Canada assumed the assets and all members of the five Provinces. A less hierarchical leadership model was implemented towards a community-based model, with leadership provided by a Provincial, and a Council. As of 2022, there are two Oblate religious communities, Notre-Dame-du-Cap Province, based in Richelieu, Quebec, and OMI Lacombe Canada Province, in Ottawa, Ontario.
The goals of OMI Lacombe Canada remain consistent with the original mission of the congregation. Administer and provide for the missionaries according to the constitutions and rules, promote education and caring for the poor, and establishing, operating, and maintaining religious institutions. The Provincial Council is divided into two components: an Ordinary (or central) Council made up of the Provincial and three councillors at large; and an Extended Council comprised of the Superiors of each local community who are full voting members of the Extended Council. The Council is responsible for major decisions and directions, while the Ordinary Council is responsible for the ongoing administration of the Province. The Provincial and full Council meet quarterly. OMI Lacombe Canada also has lay oblates who are part of the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate (MAMI), a separate corporation. This includes friends and family who have a unique relationship with the Oblates, and are partners with the Oblates in their charity work OMI Lacombe Canada is responsible to a Board of Directors overseen by an Administrator who also administrates affiliated bodies consisting of MAMI, local offices, employees and boards, and honorary oblates.
Provincials, OMI Lacombe Canada:
- André Boyer (2003-2009)
- John Malazdrewich (2009-2013)
- Kenneth Forster (2013-2019)
- Kenneth Thorson (2019-present)