Oblate School of Theology has become the first institute of higher education in the world to have an endowed teaching chair specifically focused on Oblate Studies. Fr. Frank Santucci, OMI, assistant professor of spirituality at OST, is the first professor to hold the chair.
The Kusenberger Chair of Oblate Studies was inaugurated Jan. 21 in the chapel of the General Administration House of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Rome. Father Louis Lougen, OMI, Superior General; Fr. Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General; Fr. Cornelius Ngoka, OMI, First Assistant General; members of the General Council; Fr. Fabio Ciardi, Director of Oblate Studies and Research in Rome; and the communities of the General House, the students and the International Roman Scholasticate, attended.
OST Vice President for Administration Fr. David Kalert, OMI, representing Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, President of the School, formally declared the erection of the chair. Also attending from OST were Deacon Robert Kusenberger and Mrs. Ruth Kusenberger, both Honorary Oblates of Mary Immaculate whose generosity enabled the endowment of the chair; Fr. Bill Morell, Oblate Executive of the Oblate Missionary Society Inc. and former OST president; Sister Jane Ann Slater, CDP, an OST Trustee; Fr. Fernando Velazquez, OMI, a member of the OST faculty currently studying in Rome; and Mrs. Lea Kochanek, Vice President for Institutional Advancement.
Fr. Santucci, in his inaugural lecture, noted that the Kusenberger Chair is dedicated to “the study and dissemination of the history, charism, spirituality and mission of the Missionary Oblates through teaching and research, academic and enrichment programs, an annual Kusenberger lecture and cooperation with other institutes of higher learning.”
Fr. Santucci cited Oblate identity, Oblate spirituality, a sense of the congregation’s historical roots and development, and the spirit and focus of the congregation’s work as the main elements of its mission. He added, “Oblate spirit and missionary commitment to the poor are necessary for a positive and healthy identity. This can become a helpful point of departure for the greater discussion on mission and to strengthen our lives as missionaries.”
Spirituality is the way Oblates express their identity and live it, he continued. “It is clearly expressed in our Constitutions and Rules. It is that particular way that St. Eugene has taught us to perceive God as Savior and to see people, the world and the Church through the eyes of Christ the Savior. This experience and vision are meant to be expressed in a characteristic way of life, values and spiritual practices that transform the world by reaching out to the most abandoned,” Fr. Santucci said.
Quoting Sr. Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND, PhD, Director of OST’s Sankofa Institute for African American Pastoral Leadership, Fr. Santucci said that Oblates “must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.”
He also observed that a clear sense of identity, expressed in Oblate spirituality and in an understanding of the congregation’s development, “must lead to a clarity of spirit and focus in discerning and responding to the call of the poor in constantly changing circumstances.”
Fr. Ciardi quoted St. Eugene de Mazenod, who founded the Oblates in 1816, saying that “the manner and purpose of the mission are carried out by people who tend to holiness, and that they sanctify themselves in the mission and work to spread the holiness of Christ.” The founder added that his missionaries “have to work seriously to become saints, courageously walk the same paths of many workers of the Gospel…They have to devote all their energies to the mission to ‘make men reasonable first, then Christians, and finally help them to become saints.’”
In 2011, Fr. Ciardi proposed to Fr. Rolheiser a chair of Oblate studies at OST. Fr. Rolheiser promised that once he found the necessary money, he would see to the establishment of the chair. “He found the right person to lead it…and the money has arrived, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Kusenberger,” Fr. Ciardi said. He called the inauguration of the chair “the realization of a dream.”
Fr. Warren Brown, Area Councilor for the United States and Canada, noted that the new chair will collaborate with the two other major Oblate resources, Fr. Ciardi’s Office of General Service of Oblate Studies in Rome and the Eugene de Mazenod International Centre in Aix-en-Provence, France. Fr. Brown explained that the Oblates intend for the chair to be at the service of other religious congregations which trace their roots and spirituality to St. Eugene de Mazenod, and to lay men and women aligned with St. Eugene’s spirituality.
The Kusenbergers expressed amazement at the reception the Oblates in Rome gave them and at the depth of the Oblates’ appreciation for the endowment. “This was much bigger for the Oblates than I had imagined,” Deacon Kusenberger said. “I didn’t realize that this was going to be a worldwide initiative. This is going to have a tremendous impact on the worldview of OST and the Oblates themselves.” Ruth Kusenberger added, “Bob and I are very blessed to have the opportunity to serve the Oblates.”
To learn more about the Certificate in Oblate Studies, visit the Oblate Studies webpage.