Vol. 2 Issue 3         June/August 2005

Sections in this issue of the OMI Update;

Top news

1. New Life: Fr Benedict Mthanti OMI RIP

Father Benedict Jabulani Mthanti was born in Lusitania near Ladysmith on 9 January 1936. He was educated at Maria Ratchitz and Inchanga High School. He then went to St Theresa’s Minor Seminary in Lesotho. In 1960 he entered the Oblate Novitiate at Villa Maria in Lesotho, taking his first vows in January 1961, and his final vows in 1964 at the Oblate Scholasticate, Roma. He was ordained priest at Wasbank on 18 December 1965.

Father Benedict Mthanti, fondly known as Fr Ben, was a dedicated and devoted priest. He was a sympathetic and compassionate pastor who was always in his parish caring for his people. He was a wonderful role model for us the clergy of the Archdiocese and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He was an Oblate District Superior and a devoted member of the Oblate congregation. He was also well known for his love for Mary and always planned and participated in the Ntshongweni Pilgrimage. Fr Ben was an enthusiastic preacher on Radio and TV and was in great demand. He participated in Marriage Encounter and animated the Zulu encounter.

His first appointment was as assistant at Clermont in 1966, from there he moved to Maphumulo as assistant until 1970, when he was appointed parish priest of St Dorothy, Matimatolo. He was parish priest of Kwa Kristo Msindisi, Kwa Mashu from 1977-1987 and from 1987-2005 at Umndeni Oyingcwele, Mpumalanga (Hammarsdale).

Father Ben was called to eternal life on 31 May 2005 after a long illness. His requiem took place on 7 June at Umndeni Oyingcwele and he was buried in the Oblate Cemetery at Cedara. May he rest in peace. (Archdiocese News Bulletin)

2. New Life: Fr Isidore Freoux OMI RIP

Fr Isidore Freoux was born in Caden France in 1923. After school at the Oblate Juniorate he made his novitiate at Pontmain and first vows on September 8 1942. He made his final vows in 1947 and was ordained Priest on 17 February 1949 at Pontmain. He arrived in South Africa in November 1950. After learning English in Ladysmith he was sent as assistant to Newcastle and Besters. In 1952 he went to Inchanga to learn Zulu and between 1952 and 1955 was assistant Priest in a number of rural missions. He was appointed Pastor at Howick in 1955 and then served as parish Priest in Howick, Bergville, Mooi River and Pinetown before returning to Howick in 1968 until 1975. From there he spent two years at Cedara as bursar before being appointed Pastor at Greytown in 1977 where he stayed until he retired twenty years later

All his Priestly life he worked during the tough apartheid years and in all those years except for 16 months, he worked in the rural areas of the Archdiocese of Durban with the poorest of the poor. He brought them the presence of the risen Lord in the sacraments of hope and salvation and a helping hand with their day-to-day needs.

While Fr Isidore was at Greytown, he bought an old abandoned Audi in a scrap yard, and gradually re-built it completely, which he then used for the remainder of his stay in Greytown. And it worked!

Indeed one of our senior Oblates tells us that
"Isidore was an accomplished (self-taught) motor mechanic. He loved to diagnose engine troubles, and took pleasure in explaining the details to anyone prepared to listen! There was no stopping him when he began on that track".

But generally his Oblate priestly mission was quiet and unseen. His vocation was fulfilled with little noise of oration or startling events, but as a Christian presence to simple people. These are the silent mysteries, which are known only to God, and for that reason of such great merit to Him.

Writing of his spirituality, the same Oblate remarks: Probably, because of this practical intelligence, Isidore had a very down-to-earth way of dealing with life. His philosophy of life was a practical one, combined with a delightful sense of humour.

When discussing a problem with him, whether physical or spiritual, he would end up giving what seemed to be a very facile or superficial solution; very often making a joke of it, causing us to laugh it off. This gave the impression that his outlook on life and his spirituality were rather superficial, but that was far from the truth.

During the 1960s whilst working in the midlands, he took flying lessons at Estcourt, completed the required number of solo flights, and eventually got his pilot's licence. Unfortunately, because of the costs involved, he was not able to hold on to his licence for very long, and finally had to give it up. However he never lost his knowledge of airplanes and everything connected with them, including the big jets. He loved to explain in detail the intricacies of flying a plane and what pilots have to know and what they have to do, e.g. the following of beacons, and the communication with ground control when approaching an airport.

He had a very practical outlook on life, which served him well. Such, too, I would think, was his spirituality.

Life did not seem to get him down.

I am sure that sustained him in his spirituality and prayer life as well.

This is the truth about Isidore. It tells of a man who remained faithful to his commitment accepting what he was called to do in obedience and doing it in his way according to the gifts God gave him.

3. Welcome Bro. Shane Layden

Brother Shane Layden makes his first vows as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate at Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate, Godfrey, Illinois in the USA on August 1 2005. Shane originally joined the Congregation through the Anglo-Irish Province of the Congregation and made his Prenovitiate in Kilburn London during 2003 and 2004. He has asked however to join the Natal Province of the Congregation and has been called to vows by Natal province at a decision made in our July meeting. He will arrive in the Province in September and begin his scholasticate in Cedara from January 2006.

Shane grew up in Durban and was a member of the Bluff parish until his family emigrated to England about five years ago. It was during this time that his vocation grew and he wanted to join the Congregation that he had known from his childhood - the Oblates. Shane was particularly influenced by the life and witness of two Oblate Priests at the Bluff: Father Julian Williamson and Father Eric Boulle.

During his novitiate it has become clear to Shane that his vocation is linked to the continent of his birth and in particular, Natal, and so he asked to transfer to this province during the novitiate. The Province in conjunction with the Anglo-Irish province has agreed to this change and we are delighted to welcome him amongst us.

We also wish to give thanks to the Anglo-Irish province and especially the Provincial Father Tom Murphy for generously agreeing to the transfer. We should note that the Anglo-Irish province is going through a period of great drought with regard to vocations and Shane was one of the very few men they have in formation.

We welcome Shane to our Province and look forward to his presence amongst us.

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Provincial's Notes

1. Obediences and Appointments

Fr Merlin Ince and Fr Muzi Madlala Fathers Merlin Ince and Muzi Madlala received their obediences to the Province of Natal as from June 15 2005. These obediences were promulgated during the funeral of Father Freoux in a symbolic indication of the fruits of the magnificent work of the French Oblates in Southern Africa, our founders from whom we all come. Father Freoux was the last of this line. We welcome these two Priests into the Province and praise God for the gifts he has given them. Merlin has been appointed assistant priest at St Anne's, Sydenham and Muzi has been appointed assistant Priest at Sacred Heart Parish, Woodlands.

2. Priorities in our immediate future
(From the homily given at the De Mazenod day Celebration 23 May 2005)

Sheep Without Shepherds

"And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them for they were harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd."

This experience of Jesus also describes that of our founder.

When he saw the people of France were harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd he responded as best he could.

It also describes the experience of Joseph Gerard when he came to Natal and saw first the Zulus and then the Basotho like sheep without a shepherd.

And he too responded as best he could.

And it is our challenge today.

Harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd describes the prime experience of being abandoned.

Through this experience God calls people to his service and that is why we are called.

That is why we are the missionaries to the most abandoned; those who are sheep without a shepherd.

Yet when we respond me must repond in obedience to do God’s will. We are called to enter into the fire and wind that is the power of the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of evangelisation.

So Spiritual discernment is the gift we most require right now. When people are thrown into times of great socio-cultural and historical transformation, then all kinds of signs and portents appear, and all kind of prophets, healers and pundits proclaim a plethora of panaceas for survival and the fullness of life. Such ‘kairos’ times are very significant in establishing new understandings of human identity and priority.[1] We are in such a time right now in Southern Africa and, indeed, in the whole world, as the information revolution and globalisation transforms individuals and communities everywhere.

The one who wishes to shepherd the sheep must know them and know the Good shepherd, Jesus and his Father's will. This is the meaning of spiritual discernment. It is an entry into the mystery Holy Trinity and into the mystery of the world God creates. And how are we to do this?

How should we Oblates today discern the way we are to be shepherds in our world of the Natal province?

Without some articulation of method in our spiritual discernment we become susceptible to abandoning the process altogether in order to attend to the urgent demands of the day. This is because it is easier and, in the short term, more profitable, to engage with the familiar and the pressing. Another problem occurs when, for lack of a method, we substitute conventional wisdom, usually expressed as prudence, reason and practicality, for spiritual discernment. Sometimes these may coincide but often they do not. This is particularly the case in times of great change.

Christians have been promised a method for discernment by Jesus who says that ‘the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and when he comes he will convince the world of sin and righteousness and judgement and he will guide you into all the truth (Jn 14: 26, 16:8 & 16:13). We must understand that teaching, conviction, judgement and truth are spiritual matters.[2]

This gift of the Holy Spirit is manifest as fruits of faith, hope and love expressed in our lives. This tells us that we will connect most basically to the Holy Spirit when reflecting on our fundamental life commitments. These are vocational commitments, which we make in a religious congregation. This means that whilst the presence of the Holy Spirit is surely found in our own personal lives, we should hear his call and receive his gifts more powerfully within the community and its life decisions.[3] So in our search for method we might do well by examining our own Oblate tradition.

A Method for discernment from Oblate Tradition

The Holy Spirit has called and led other members of our Oblate family through circumstances with similarities to our own. Because we are linked to them in our common commitment, we can learn from those who ‘have gone before us marked with the sign of faith’.[4] This is the value of tradition. This is why we celebrate our saints and we strive to learn from them.

St Eugene De Mazenod lived in a time of great social and ecclesial crisis. When we examine the method he used in discerning the will of God in his context we find the following elements.

First, he spent considerable time examining his own experience of this situation.[5]

He also debated and discussed the issues with others who shared his concerns.[6]

He prayed about them.

He made use of books examining the socio-cultural context of his time and their impact on the Church.[7]

Gradually, through this process, he came to identify the most significant factors impinging on social and Christian life, and developed a great blueprint for the way forward which was to lead to a new missionary band constituted through vows of religion.

Eventually all this was distilled into what we call the Preface to our Constitutions and Rules.[8]

The preface is important for us. It has been called an ‘unrivalled expression’ of the Oblate charism and a ‘rule of life’.[9] It reminds us that our congregation was born out of social and ecclesial crisis. This means that such times are foundational for us. The process that led to the Preface was a discernment process. I would like to analyse this process in terms of the following steps, which describe what De Mazenod and those around him did:

In our province we, who have been called to leadership in the Provincial Council had our own three days of reflection and discernment in order to see where the Spirit of God wanted this province to move.

We asked who and where are the sheep without a shepherd and how can we respond.

We were attempting to discern how the Lord wanted us to respond so that we Oblates could be better shepherds to the sheep of our place and time.

We attempted to follow something of this method of De Mazenod in examining the context before us in the Natal province.

We did this in order to examine our vision and strategy in the next few years.

Through this process we have identified the following six priorities for this administration in the next three years. They are:

Allow me to briefly speak about each of these.

The Mission to Youth

The mission to the youth is identified as an area for particular attention. It was our first choice as the most important area for us in these years to come.

We see the youth as the category which is the most abandoned in our society today. There is a great desire amongst many Oblates to respond to this. We must take this as a sign from God.

Consequently we are resolved to do as much as we can to put resources into this ministry. This is our response to seeing the youth as sheep without a shepherd.

But how will we do that? What is our plan? It's not clear yet but our method of discernment from De Mazenod teaches us that we must begin with the experiences of the Oblates themselves.

We want to see what is already happening and who are those striving in a small way already with their limited resources to be sheep without a shepherd.

Consequently we will organise a day to do this. It will be at Cedara on July 13 and it will involve those in youth ministry of whatever kind who want to see what our response should be as Oblates.

I invite all Oblates involved in Youth ministry to a preliminary gathering to discuss the way forward for this ministry in the Province.

Oblates involved in youth ministry include those who work with young people in whatever way including in the parish, in formation, in vocations work or whatever.

Particularly important are those who wish to make a commitment to this type of ministry whether as part of their ordinary pastoral ministry or as a particular, even full time, commitment.

Unity in the Province

Our second most important area for attention may surprise some. It concerns the issue of unity in the province and it has emerged particularly from the consultation for the new Provincial both in the written responses and in the private discussions with the General Councillor for Africa.

This concern is expressed as follows:

It appears that whilst there is a superficial unity in the province there are some areas of divisiveness.

Now, superficially, we have very good interpersonal relations between Oblates in the province. Natal province has always been experienced by visitors as having a good spirit and good unity between the people who belong to it.

But this approach which only examines individuals and interpersonal relationships is not enough. We must not be blind to the very natural fact that we are not homogeneous and indeed we must recognise that we are a province of two halves and their offspring:

We are 87 Oblates in vows. The average age is 49.93 but the age breakdown of us reveals two clear groups.

Age 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70-79 80-89 90-99 Av.Age Total
No. 16 20 11 9 13 8 8 2 50 87

There is an older, predominantly English speaking, group of about FORTY over fifties primarily made up of missionaries from overseas and English speaking South Africans. The average age of this group is 65; just under half have retired from active ministry.

A younger, predominantly Nguni speaking group, of about FORTY SEVEN made up of predominantly Black Africans. The average age of this group is 35.

In addition we have 26 NOVICES AND PRENOVICES who are predominantly black Nguni or Shona speakers of average age 26. Hopefully a good number of these will be appointed to our province in the next few years thus increasing the size of the latter group.

This leads to two important matters:
The first is that we must try to learn to interact on an equal basis rather than within the cultural parameters of the one group which has often been the case in the past. We must also try to find ways to respect differences in cultural backgrounds, styles and approaches.

The second is that the question of respect for elders often means that the older group continues to exercise considerable hegemony in the province. Indeed I am from that group myself as is the mission superior in Zimbabwe. This could be a source of problems in the future and the problem must be addressed.

The striving for unity demands a number of important strategies.

Finance

The third most important area was finance.

I spoke about this at the installation and all I can say is that I have discovered that we do have a major problem in this regard for without financial resources we will not be able to realise any of our plans.

What is more we are completely dependent on others particularly overseas for our resources. We have to find ways to stand on our own feet and the articulation of strategies for sustainable development must be a major goal.

We have to grow the financial base of the province so that we can become self-reliant. At the moment we are very dependent on overseas.

We must set up strategies for sustainable development and South Africa has the resources to allow us to do that.

People want to go on trips, on holidays and for studies. But the grim reality is that these requests stretch our resources even more. We should not be in this position after 150 years but we are and it must be addressed soon.

The first thing I have done is to appoint a full time Provincial Treasurer. Next we will appoint a Provincial Finance Committee.

The appointment of a fundraiser as a full time position is also urgent and will have to be addressed as soon as possible.

We have to find the treasure in our own field. We cannot keep going into other peoples' fields. It is here but we are not looking enough.

This is a matter of great importance and indeed whilst it was the third priority for the group it was in position number one for me. I would never have expected that when I started, but the fact is that we have a real problem with finances.

The Mission to Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe was the fourth priority for the group though for me it was in position two after finances.

Once again I spoke about this at the installation so I will merely add why I think it is so important:

Over the last few years we have put many resources, both human and material, into building up this mission. Now we are slowly beginning to see the first fruits of this work as the first Zimbabwean Oblates come through. Next year the first Zimbabwean Oblate priest will be ordained and two more will soon make final vows. Almost half of those in formation are now from Zimbabwe. A number of others are going through the formation.

We must not stop now or all the good done before will be lost. We will become like foolish virgins if we do that. This is a crucial phase in the development of that mission and how we behave now is very important. We need to increase not decrease the resources being placed into Zimbabwe. Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. We must put resources here. That is why two missionaries will be sent to Zimbabwe from Natal this year. You will see a concrete manifestation of this response to these sheep without a shepherd today.

<>b>Formation This was our fifth priority and it continues to be a priority for us because of the large numbers we have in formation. They are our immense hope for the future and we give thanks to God for this great gift that he bestows on us.

We have thirty-one scholastics. This is a large number. Our formation programme is very successful and that is because we do it well.

Thanks to all who do this difficult mission.

Restructuring

This is ongoing and our council is supportive of what has gone before.

Right now the important task before us is to find out the grass roots views of all Oblates in South Africa about this process.

Father Nhlanhla Nkosi has been appointed to coordinate this effort in the three provinces and he is leading a team comprising Fr Emmanuel Mosoeu representing Central Province and Father Tony Daniels in the Northern Province.

Nhlanhla will produce a report on this work to be submitted at the next meeting of the committee of the three provinces for restructuring which will meet in August.

On the Natal level he will be visiting individual Oblates and will use district retreats and other opportunities to find out the views on the grass roots.

This project, aimed at collecting the views of Oblates on the ground finishes in August, so please help. This is your chance to say what you think about the restructuring of the three provinces into one.

After that the three provinces’ committee will propose the next steps in the process and you will be informed.

Conclusion

So you see that in some cases: with youth, with Zimbabwe, and with formation we who have obedience to the province are examining our role as shepherds.

But in others like Unity in the province, developing our financial resources and restructuring; we are the harassed and dejected sheep. This is indeed the condition of all of Gods' people. We need one another. But we never lose hope because we know this great truth:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon US;
because the LORD has anointed US to preach good news to the poor;
he has sent us to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
He has sent US to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God;
He has sent US to comfort all that mourn;

And you will be named the Priests of the LORD: People will call you the Ministers of our God:

That is us - as it was the two great saints we remember today: Joseph Gerard and Eugene de Mazenod.

May God bless all of us in our work as shepherds and in our needs as sheep.

St Eugene De Mazenod, Pray For us

Bld Joseph Gerard, Pray for us

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Provincial's Diary

JULY
4 Funeral Fr Isidore Freoux, Cedara
5 Keynote Address: General Chapter Assumption Sisters, Hartbeespoort
6-8 St Augustine College: Masters Module, Catechetical and Liturgical leadership
10-11 Provincial Council meeting, Provincial House
13 Oblate Youth Ministry Consultation, Cedara
18-19 Inculturation workshop International Meeting of Sisters of St John of God, Germiston
24 St Francis Xavier Parish, Bluff, 125 year Anniversary
30 Priestly Ordination, Bro Donovan Wheatley OMI, St Anne’s, Durban
27 Cathedral: Priestly Ordination of Oblate Brothers Merlin INCE, Siyabonga DUBE and Muzi MADLALA
AUGUST
10 Priestly Ordination, Bro Mxolisi Ngcobo OMI, Umndeni Oyingcwele, Mpumalanga
17-24 Zimbabwe
18 Zimbabwe Mission Meeting, Bulawayo
20-21 St Luke's
22-23 Zimbabwe Mission Assembly, Bulawayo
18 Inter Provincial Treasurers’ Meeting, Mazenod Centre, Germiston
30 Annual General Meeting St Joseph’s Theological Institute, Cedara
31 Board meeting St Joseph’s Theological Institute, Cedara
SEPTEMBER
1-4 Inter Provincial Conference, Mariannhill, Trefontane, Mariannhill.
5 TRIPAC Meeting, (Restructuring of South African OMI Provinces) Johannesburg.
6 Provincial Council Meeting, Provincial House, Durban
19-21 Catholic Theological Society of Southern Africa, St Augustine College, Johannesburg

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Dates to Remember - Apologies

OMITTED FROM LAST UPDATE

APRIL
29 29 Mdu MCHUNU Ordination
May
01 Thomas ZONDI Ordination

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Dates to Remember

JULY
02 Bishop Dominic KHUMALO Ordination
02 Joseph MONEY Ordination
03 Robert DE SYLVA Ordination
06 Andrew KNOTT Birthday
08 Robert DE SYLVA Birthday
11 Karl STRUVE Ordination
14 Barry WOOD Ordination
22 Nkululeko MEYIWA Birthday
24 Kingsley COORAY Birthday
24 Cedric MCHUNU Birthday
25 Rodney BOYD Birthday
28 Chris RICHMOND Birthday
31 Allan MOSS Ordination
AUGUST
07 Duncan MACKENZIE Birthday
08 Mzingaye MOYO Birthday
15 Sylvester DAVID Birthday
16 Derrick BUTT Birthday
21 Neil FRANK Birthday
21 Neil FRANK Ordination
23 John NGUBANE Birthday
24 Stuart BATE Birthday
31 Brian DUFFEY Birthday
SEPTEMBER
02 Bishop Jabulani NXUMALO Priestly Ordination
11 Francis DUFFY Birthday
14 Barry CLANCY Birthday
18 Vusi PHENYANE Ordination
19 Peter FOLEY Birthday
21 Barry CLANCY Ordination
21 Sean COLEMAN Ordination
25 Bonus NDLOVU (Scholastic) Birthday
  Errors and omissions contact the Provincial

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Appointments

25 May Father Siyabonga DUBE: Zimbabwe Mission, Prenovitiate Community, Mazenod House
20 June Father Merlin INCE: Sydenham Community to assist Parish Priest, Father Danker.
20 June Father Muzi MADLALA: Woodlands Community to assist Parish Priest, Father Wood

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Annual retreat: Bookings closing soon!!

Fifteen people have booked for the directed retreat on the Bluff. If any other members of the Province still want to do the directed retreat then they must contact me by 31 July AT THE LATEST. We can accept no bookings for the Bluff after that.

The retreat at Redacres still has places but please book soon.

Book now by post, fax, SMS or email!!

You may Post your response to PO Box 17035 Congella 4013

You may Fax it to 031 206 0270

You may email your response to scbate@futurenet.co.za

Or you may SMS your response. Please SMS the word RETREAT followed by your NAME then either the word BLUFF or REDACRES to 0827121047

DATES

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Copyright © 2005 Oblate Province of Natal