Our SMA / OLA common patrimony
‘Following the path of deBrésillac and Planque: Reflection on the SMA / OLA common spiritual patrimony’.
The following are the reflections of Sisters Patricia McMenamin OLA, Maria Lee OLA and Martin Kavanagh SMA concerning a recent meeting in Rome addressing the above issue. We share it with you because we think it was a worthwhile experience and, even if the topic sounded dry or boring, it proved to be anything but.
Very often international meetings can be a penance for participants. And when the meeting is held in two languages [English and French and no translators] the stress on participants makes them even more prone to finding fault with the slightest thing. Such was not the case with the recent Rome meeting between the SMA and the OLA to look at the early years of our history, up to 1920.
The title of the seminar is off putting: ‘Following the path of deBrésillac and Planque: Reflection on the SMA / OLA common spiritual patrimony’. Don’t you agree?
The ambience was very relaxed and a lot of work was achieved without any sense of time pressure or rushing. Each of the three days began and ended with prayer, joyful, celebratory and ‘enjoyable’, even if one didn’t know all the hymns. African drums gave a tempo to the singing and seemed to echo throughout the meeting as we listened to summaries presented by five excellent presenters:
- Marie-Hélène Robert OLA [France] – Mission Ad Extra, particularly in Africa;
- Bupe Chembo SMA [Zambia] and Patricia McMenamin OLA [Ireland] – Gift of self for mission;
- Irini Chenouda OLA [Egypt] – SMA-OLA one mission: variety of gifts, apostolates, roles,…
- Chantal Dartois OLA [France] – Family spirit: community life, internationality, simplicity of life…;
- François duPenhoat SMA [France] – Empowerment: of the Church, local clergy, people, women…
Thursday – Day 1 – began with introductions and an explanation of what we were going to do and how we would achieve this. Before arriving in Rome each of the 28 participants [18 SMA and 10 OLA, from all parts of the SMA and OLA] was asked to choose two of the five topics to work on in Small groups. Each presenter had 15 minutes to deliver a summary of their topic before we broke for the first of the excellent meals provided by our lay staff and Franciscan Sisters of the Presentation of Coimbatore. And so as not to forget: many thanks to them for adding to our weight!
In the afternoon we had an opportunity to visit the OLA and SMA Archives. We then returned to Nocetta to do our homework: reading the full text of our chosen topics [and the other three if you wanted to be up half the night]. Both summaries and complete texts were available in both languages so there was no excuse for not doing one’s homework! The day drew to a close with Mass celebrated by SMA General Councillor, Fr François de Paul Houngue, who was in overall charge of the seminar. Thus ended the first day!
Friday – Day Two – was the most challenging day as we met in Small groups to answer four questions on our chosen topics.
- Look to the past with gratitude: what has been the value of studying the past and our common patrimony? What are the key learnings from your study of this topic?
- Live the present with passion: how does this study / reflection challenge us for today?
- Embrace the future with hope: where do we go from here?
Two sessions in the morning addressing one topic and two more in the afternoon for our second topic. The presenter of the topic chaired and one of our number was chosen beforehand to act as Secretary who would present the fruits of our reflections on Day 3. The celebration of the Mass brought Day 2 to an end. No work after supper on any of the three days… except for the Presenters and Secretaries who had to prepare for Day 3.
Saturday – Day 3 – coincided with the Consistory during which Pope Francis gave the ‘red hat’ [though it’s actually crimson] to 17 new Cardinals, among them the Spiritan Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga. The SMA is closely linked with the Central African Republic and, at the last SMA Plenary Council, CAR was made into a separate District-in-formation. The Secretary-General of the CAR Bishops’ Conference is Fr Joseph Tanga-Koti SMA and there are two SMA bishops in the country.
Martha Pettenazzo OLA and Basil Soyoye, in a spirit of OLA / SMA collaboration [though some took exception to this word] chaired the feedback sessions which took until mid afternoon to complete [though we finished fifteen minutes ahead of schedule such was the efficiency of the reporting and discussion]. If anyone felt their views were not adequately reflected they had a chance to add their voice. Following that there was a period of open discussion on the points from the group reflection. We were struck by how focussed we all were on each of the topics. Though there were some common points in most reports [e.g. absolute commitment of our early members to doing the job given to them, obedience, willing to die if necessary…] in the general discussions we focussed on the items specific to the topic in hand.
And so that brings us to the topics in hand. Overall from the five presentations it was clear that our early missionaries were an amazing group of women and men of strong, indefatigable faith. It was all for Jesus, even their very lives. Though we could [and probably would] no longer see the purpose of mission as snatching souls from hell – therefore baptise every one you can – their zeal for mission is something we could and should emulate today.
In the feedback and subsequent discussions we noted the following points [the words students / aspirants are used to cover those expressing interest in joining us and those who are at various levels of initial formation, before Final Profession or Permanent Commitment].
The lessening of commitment by some members to the task given to them needs to be addressed. Right from the initial formation period there must be emphasis on the fact that students/aspirants join us to do “our thing, our mission” and not “their thing.” It is not about fulfilling myself but about doing the work of mission and finding fulfilment in doing this for the love of God and His people not for my own personal fulfilment. And if students / aspirants don’t accept this then they can seek to find another group who will let them do their thing as they want.
Primary Evangelization remains a priority for us and even though there are many ‘new’ areas of PE we already have sufficient within our missions to have people assigned there. But are you willing to be that one?
1 Mission Ad Extra, particularly in Africa
Why mission ad extra? The main reason put forth is that mission ad extra (which at the time was called the foreign missions) answers this call to evangelize nations and to save souls who have not heard the Gospel. deBrésillac readily made use of Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (ex. Lettres, p. 1261-1262) (Marie Helene’s text)
deBrésillac left behind the Foundation Articles as well as a certain number of texts that Fr Planque was familiar with and from which he tried to apply the main ideas. Which ones?
- To learn the language of the country (very strong emphasis).
- To know and to value the culture.
- To establish indigenous schools.
- To catechise.
- To train catechist, teachers and to have them become a part of the running of the government.
- To found a visible and autonomous local church.
- To baptise.
- To establish an indigenous clergy, if possible trained in-country, and then to leave to found a new mission
- To open clinics, hospitals and orphanages so as to care for the population and to gain their trust.
- To think about founding Christian villages (24 January 1896).
- To visit families, always two by two.
- To be assisted by the women of the country.
- To found “a self-sufficient congregation” because the purpose of the missions is “the salvation of the natives”.
Foundation and Mission Documents, Document 13, p. 169-172; Document 37, p. 219-232; Document 39, p. 234-238.
2 Gift of self for mission
deBrésillac – Self gift meant “to offer one’s life every day, despite sufferings, obstacles and failure”. Leaving the parents – obligation to go, to be true to his convictions.
Willingly and knowingly – life of a missionary is to respond to the obligation of negating oneself and carrying the cross.
The enterprise is difficult, I admit, so as collaborators I would need a number of priests who do not shy away from sacrifice, who love above all the holy virtue of self-denial and the sweet burden of the cross.
The missionary must frequently contemplate Christ on the cross.
Obedience is the most precious sacrifice we can offer to God, because by it we immolate His love those things which man holds dearest – our liberty, judgement and will. The missionaries, then, shall look upon this virtue as the best means of practising that abnegation and self-denial which our divine Lord demands of us, and which is the hall-mark of the apostolic vocation.
Fr Planque insisted on the observance of the Rule and emphasised life in community. While emphasising the element of sacrifice he was clear – he opposed self-inflicted penances saying that daily life in community would replace fasts and would be more meritorious
He encouraged them to give their all and the self gift that he looked for was rooted in the spirituality of the Cross. He talks frequently of Christ’s “union with the will of the Father even unto death. This would be lived out in different kinds of suffering and in sacrifice that frequently included the risk and probability of an early death. As evidenced in all the letters from the Sisters on mission, the Cross, abandonment to Providence, self gift and awareness of the probability of an early death, were paramount in their spirituality. They gave of themselves unsparingly to spread the Gospel in Africa. Self-sacrifice in the early days was a foremost value in the missionaries’ spirituality and lived out to the death by many.
3 SMA-OLA one mission: variety of gifts, apostolates, roles…
The three dimensions of the Charism of our Founders for SMA/OLA are complementary and interdependent:
Spirituality – Fraternity – Mission
Mission is an integral part of both charisms.
OLA and SMA had this deep conviction in common and it motivated them … and united them.
Here we touch a lovely synergy between OLA and SMA. It has been possible to this degree because the mission was so from the very beginning.
Why this work of research about the mission, One mission and several roles?
An invitation to stop and reflect together on SMA/OLA, on our being and on our missionary work.
This work of research is not simply about the work of one mission, in itself, but rather a reflection on the spirit that has permeated Bishop Marion de Bresillac and Fr Planque in founding our two Institutes SMA/OLA and our first Fathers and Sisters and which continues to inspire the life of both Institutes up to the present day. The missions continue with all their strengths and weaknesses. It is a patrimony which daily animates us even if we do not think about it. There has always been collaboration between SMA and OLA with lights and shadows, but can we discover together other zones of collaboration and thus bear more fruit from our inheritance, expressed by Bishop de Bresillac: “To be missionary in the depth of my heart and never neglect anything to advance the work of God?”
4 Family spirit: community life, internationality, simplicity of life…
In his letters from 1856 to 1859, to Cardinal Barnabo, at Propaganda, as well as to Fr Planque, Bishop deBrésillac insists on a family spirit and sees himself as the father of this SMA family. It is something that is close to his heart and that he tried to set up in his time as Superior of the seminary in India.
He insists on a life together, a common rule, as we read in a letter he wrote to Cardinal Barnabo: “…we need from the beginning to live a common rule, at least provisional…”
Fr Planque, echoing Bishop deBrésillac, writes “the OLA Congregation and each community must constitute a true family in which simplicity, cordiality, benevolence, team spirit and unity prevail.”
Empowerment: of the Church, local clergy, people, women…
Our Missionary witness must aim at a “true incarnation” not just virtual, in being close to the brothers and the sisters of any culture and race; it has to try to overcome barriers and walls which are found between countries.
As regards the Church, more than the theological changes, the new situation is the new demographic balance which makes the continents of Africa and Latin America and certain Asian countries the new lands of Christendom. There is not a dominant Church anymore, but several “big Churches “. Catholicity can be better felt now more than ever before. At the same time, the Church is rarely in a position to wield absolute power as she did in Europe for centuries – she is often criticized. Humility, collective and personal conversion has to be the essential elements of our being missionary.
The theology of salvation has evolved and invites us to enable every Christian, through his/her own means and culture, to have a real mystical experience. Inter-religious dialogue brings us to discover that God is greater than everything and to emphasize his Mystery.
Biblical and Patristic Studies in recent times have also helped us to better understand the depth and extent of the concepts of love and charity.
All these elements produce a framework through which we can carry out Missions today but the foundation remains the same: it is necessary to give of oneself completely as did our predecessors, with all our weaknesses and shortcomings, to give oneself daily and wholeheartedly – briefly, ” to be a missionary of the bottom of our heart “.
An invitation to stop and reflect together on SMA/OLA, on our being and on our missionary work.
This work of research is not simply about the work of one mission, in itself, but rather a reflection on the spirit that has permeated Bishop Marion deBrésillac and Fr Planque in founding our two Institutes SMA/OLA and our first Fathers and Sisters and which continues to inspire the life of both Institutes up to the present day. The missions continue with all their strengths and weaknesses. It is a patrimony which daily animates us even if we do not think about it. There has always been collaboration between SMA and OLA with lights and shadows, but can we discover together other zones of collaboration and thus bear more fruit from our inheritance, expressed by Bishop de Bresillac: “To be missionary in the depth of my heart and never neglect anything to advance the work of God?”
Thanks to all who did so much work before and during the meeting and who now have further work to do as a result of this Seminar.
Message from Bishop deBrésillac, Souvenirs of 12 years of mission, 78
Message from Bishop deBrésillac, Souvenir of 12 years of mission, 78