Jeff Dols, OblSB
Since 1980, when Sister Pat Collins became the first Oblate Director, the oblate community of St. Paul’s Monastery has been thriving, with approximately 200 men and woman who have discovered the gift of Benedictine living as articulated and written by St. Benedict over 1500 years ago.
For the past 43 years, these Oblates have been incorporating the practices of Benedictine Spirituality into their daily prayer and relationships. They have made a formal commitment of Benedictine prayer and values and choose to live a life based on the Gospel and the Rule of St. Benedict by integrating Benedictine values into their lives. They welcome Christ’s presence into their families, church, cities, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The difference they make in their world helps to change the world.
Under the leadership of past and present directors, the oblate ministry at St. Paul’s Monastery is very much alive and active, with a unique program for initial formation of oblate candidates, as well as ongoing formation through community prayer, ongoing education, and Benedictine spiritual practice groups. The history of oblate leadership at the Monastery has includes:
1980-1986: Sister Pat Collins
1986-1993: Sister Virginia Matter
1994: Sister Marie Fujan, Sister Laverne Hudala
1996-2008: Sister Carol Rennie
2009-2012: Initial Formation: Sister Catherine Nehotte; Ongoing Formation: Sue Buelow, Jim Bartol, Linda Manders, Jacquelyn Bush, Terry Johnson
2013-2019: Oblate Director, Sister Mary Lou Dummer; Co-Director, Jacquelyn Bush
2019-2021: Oblate Director, Sister Mary Lou Dummer; Co-Directors: Jeanne Ferrian, Travis Salisbury
2022-present: Oblate Director, Sister Mary Lou Dummer; Co-Directors: Kami Pohl, Jeff Dols
Beginning in 1996, under the direction of Sister Carol Rennie, an Initial Formation program was developed for candidates seeking to become Oblates. Each candidate was assigned a Sister sponsor (and currently an Oblate companion as well). Oblates complete a year of formation which begins with Orientation, then enrollment with the Sisters at Evening Prayer. The candidates meet monthly until the Vigil of Pentecost for their Final Oblation, when they officially become Oblates in relationship with St. Paul’s Monastery.
Each September, all Oblates are invited to renew their commitment and gather at St. Paul’s Monastery for an annual, all-day retreat. In addition, the Oblates gather for quarterly retreats (Advent, Lent, Pentecost). Retreat presenters have included Sisters, Monks and Oblates from St. Paul’s Monastery and other monastic communities.
While the Oblates make their oblation as an offering to the monastic community and the world, many have described the countless gifts they have received in return. In honor of the 75th Anniversary, here is one Oblate’s story of the blessing of oblation…
I sought out oblate formation about eight years ago. The spark for this journey came through witness. A volunteer I worked with (who always had a bit of a sharp edge, not always in a good way) went through a conversion that impressed me. It was gentle, calm, anchored. It caught my attention enough for me to ask her what happened to shift her presence so wonderfully. She shared her encounter with S. Eleanor and participation in the initial formation at St Paul's Monastery. I didn't even know St. Paul's existed, let alone what an oblate was (and I worked for the Church!).
My career in liturgy has several occupational hazards, the most dangerous being proximal and involved in the liturgy, but not ever fully participating in the liturgy because I'm working as an employee. My faith was strong, but thin. The liturgy couldn't hold my longing solely, but I didn't know where else to turn. What I saw in the witness of this oblate is what my heart longed for...
So, I reached out to St Paul's and after a great year of formation, I made my oblation in the chapel of the monastery. My job continued to cause stress and distance. I appreciated that my oblation was "as much as my station in life allows," as I was rarely able to be at the monastery for events, liturgies, or retreats, but still felt a strong affiliation even without really seeing the monastic community or the oblate community.
As we celebrate these last 75 years of St Paul's Monastery and look to the future, it is exciting to see the Oblates of St Paul's take ever more seriously their role in advancing Benedictine values in their own lives and in the world they encounter. Oblates increasingly understand that as the Sisters’ age the Oblates themselves serve strongly, not only alongside the sisters, but carrying the strong legacy of the Sisters' ministry forward into the next 75 years; and rejoice in the gift that is and has been the Sisters of St Paul's Monastery.