Category Archives: Benedictine Oblate

Saint Henry, king and Benedictine Oblate

St Henry Benedictine oblateToday we liturgically honor memory of the emperor, Saint Henry. He is the Patron of Benedictine Oblates. Those who are Benedictine oblates will also recall that Saint Frances of Rome (who feast is in March) is the other holy patron of Oblates. This King Saint Henry II is not the same person of the English or French Henry II of those monarchies. He is the only German monarch canonized saint. His wife was Saint Cunegonda. Saint Henry’s feast day, falls within the Octave of Saint Benedict reminding us of the bond that united him with our Benedict.

The Henry we honor today was crowned Emperor in Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Benedict VIII in AD 1014. Henry had the reputation of visiting Benedictine monasteries, often singing the Divine Office with the monastic community and spending time in prayer. His manner of life was centered around the Divine Office and living according to the Rule of St Benedict.

One of the miracles of Saint Benedict did for Henry was to cure him while at the famed monastery of Monte Cassino. Saint Henry was an oblate of the Abbey of Cluny and then asked to make profession as monk at the Abbey of Saint-Vanne. The abbot received him as a monk, and then ordered him, in the name of obedience, to return to the throne.

The Mass speaks of Saint Henry as person who meditated the revelation of Divine Wisdom and held the Word of God in his heart. Likewise, history tells us that he was not obsessed with the accumulation of wealth; he used his goods as alms for the poor; that he resisted temptation and relied on the truth and mercy of God when his subjects lied to him.

“Set your minds on things that are above,” says Saint Paul, “not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:3).

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca RomanaThe Church gives us the liturgical memorial of Saint Frances Rome (1384-1440) today. However, her feast is obscured by the fact that it is the First Sunday of Lent. Yet, we cannot move from today without a mentioned of such a terrific witness to the Lord.

Saint Frances is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates and car drivers; and as one of the patrons of Rome along with Saints Peter and Paul and Philip Neri. She is proposed by Mother Church as a clear model of the tenderness of married life and motherhood, but also as a person who devoted her life to the poor and the sick (works of Mercy). Hence, her saintly example is much in need today.

In 1433, Frances founded the Benedictine Oblates of Mary as part of the Olivetan Benedictines. The Mass Collect for Saint Frances of Rome  gives us the lex credendi:

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

Saint Frances’ congregation of Oblate sisters exist today in Rome, Le Bec-Hellouin, France, and at Abu-Gosh in Israel. In addition to the characteristic devotion to the Divine Office and the fraternal life, is the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Guardian Angels which gives rise to the service of the Church in Rome. Their habit remains the same as their Mother Foundress of a black habit and long white veil. The Roman monastery is open to the public once a year for Mass and interaction with the sisters. I was privileged to be in the monastery with two friends a few years ago.

It is interesting to see how God works in the lives of the unsuspecting. In the period in which Frances lived and in movement of her heart, the Holy Spirit identified a new form of life with some of the Roman widows. Frances discerned a new form of Benedictine life never previously proposed before: women living under the Rule of Saint Benedict, not as enclosed nuns, but as Oblate Sisters of the Roman monastery of the Olivetans at Santa Maria Nuova.

Frances’ followers left the monastery following prayer to serve the poor and sick; the foundress, though, did not limit the sisters to this form of ministry allowing for other skills and talents to give glory to God. Nevertheless, Frances was clearly inspired by Chapter Four of Benedict’s Rule, the Instruments of Good Works:

To relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to give help in trouble, to console the sorrowful, to avoid worldly behavior, and to set nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4:14-21).

The beauty of the vocation attracted the attention of the Roman people that  Frances, a widow, a servant of the poor, a mother to the sick, a spiritual daughter of Saint Benedict, and a mystic was an attractive witness. Frances has also been a favorite saint of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Her practical approach to the spiritual and apostolic life has been noted in her saying that “Devotion in a married woman is most praiseworthy, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. Sometimes she must leave God at the altar, to serve Him in her housekeeping.” Perhaps we all can find inspiration here.

Benedictine spirituality for the laity

Oblates Vows at St MeinradThe charism (the gift given by the Holy Spirit) of Saint Benedict, a layman, who is known as the Father of Western Monasticism, was to provide the Church a method and ultimately a culture by which we all can meet the Triune God. The central aim of the Rule, however, is to encourage the adherent to focus attention on seeking God at all times and educate to maturity the person who desires to know and love the Lord in this life, and in life eternal. Benedict’s holy Rule has been a source of inspiration, guidance, self-examination since the sixth century.

It is very true, Benedictine spirituality isn’t just for monks. The laity since the beginning have oriented themselves to the life of a monastery while keeping their secular vocation intact. This vocation of the baptized person in the Catholic Church is fittingly explored in a church documentby John Paul II in Christifidelis laicior more recently in an essay by Father Julián Carrón, “Life as Vocation” (you can select the text in various languages).

Among the many things that the laity have experienced and been educated to, are things like praying in common the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours), the practice of lectio divina — or sacred reading of Scripture — a theology and practice of work, and a method for ongoing conversion to Jesus Christ. Like the monks and nuns, the lay person is given instruction in the Rule of St. Benedict, the guiding principle behind Benedictine life, but the lay person is given a way of thinking that is oriented to life precisely as a lay person. However, secular priests are also Oblates. A good example may be the steps of humility of chapter 7 of the Rule are lived differently by a lay person than by a monk or a nun without reducing the content.

There is more to being an Oblate that is beautiful and fitting for many people can be said at this moment. It is , indeed, a proposal that we ought to make to others because it is a source of inestimable graces. In a recent article on Benedictine Oblates connected with the Illinois monastic community of St Bede, opens a door, “‘Monks Outside the Walls’ Oblates bring monastic spirituality to secular life.” In the article we learn that,

The interdenominational group [of oblates] boasts a membership of about 100 from across Central Illinois and the Chicago suburbs, with an average of 20 attending the meetings each month. The most recent numbers from the Vatican’s website for International Benedictine Oblates from 2008 indicated there were 25,481 oblates in 50 countries, with 42 percent of those in the U.S., and the numbers are growing.

Dorothy Day and St Procopius Abbey meet again

Dorothy Day 2.jpgI don’t hide the fact that I believe Dorothy Day is a very reasonable and attractive candidate for the Church to canonize. Following John Paul’s insistence, we need more contemporary saints from among the laity. Several times in the past years I have posted articles on Dorothy Day (+1980) and I am happy to do so again today. My enthusiasm has less to do with Day’s social activism –even though at one time the Catholic Worker Houses were more Catholic and Benedictine-like– as it does with her accepting the truth of Jesus Christ as Messiah, her eventual conversion to Catholicism and her being a Benedictine Oblate.

Oblation as a lay woman she was first connected with the Benedictine monks of Portsmouth Abbey before she moved her Oblation to St Procopius Abbey (outside Chicago). However, there is a difference of opinion on where Day’s Oblation was first offered, Portsmouth or Procopius. The historians are doing some fact checking.
Personally, I have been anxious for the Benedictines and the officials of Day’s sainthood cause in the Archdiocese of New York to talk about the relevance of Day’s Benedictine connection and to propose it for the laity’s consideration to follow. Hopes have been fulfilled with St Procopius Abbey Abbot Austin Murphy’s posting of the Oblate Dorothy Day on their web site.
More on the Dorothy Day-St Procopius connection and the prayer for her canonization is noted here.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin.jpg

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

This painting given here for today’s lectio is attributed to Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo, depicts Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440) being clothed by the Mary in the white veil of her Benedictine movement that, even today, characterizes the Olivetan Benedictine Oblates of Mary she founded in 1425.

Mary, Mother of God wears a mantle of gold, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Frances Romana. The presence of certain saints is instructive: the great evangelizer, Saint Paul, Saint Mary Magdalene (the Apostle to the Apostles and dressed in red) and Saint Benedict,  the Father of Western Monastic Life, with the various ranks of angels, including Francesca’s Guardian Angel.  Magdalene and Benedict wrap/invest the mantle on the gathered Oblates.

The angel below the Gothic windows is busy carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Nearby are two frisky dogs and two cats, a frequent sight in Rome. The Oblate Congregation, commonly thought to be woven together by heavenly graces and harassed by evil spirits. The evil one is given flesh in the form of cats and dogs. As a testimony of grace the Oblates flourish today at Tor de’Specchi. Several years ago I had the privilege with many others to pray in this monastery opened to the public only Saint Frances’ feast day.

I have longed hoped that the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome would found a house in the USA. We are ready for this witness.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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