Living the Oblate Charism: Fr. Ray Cook, O.M.I.

Posted by on May 6, 2013

“Your destiny is to be apostles, and so tend within your hearts the sacred fire that the Holy Spirit lights there…”  - Saint Eugene De Mazenod, Nov 17, 1851

“I used to work at Yale-New Haven Hospital as a web developer,” said Fr. Ray Cook, O.M.I. “And before that I was a trainer for Microsoft products.” So when the 44-year-old decided to become an Oblate priest he couldn’t have chosen a much more drastic vocational change.

Father Ray, a New Haven, Connecticut native, reflected and prayed for years before applying to the Oblates at age 35. He can’t pinpoint the moment he decided to consider another path in life. “There was no big conversion moment,” Fr. Ray said. “It was slow…I took years to decide on religious life.”

One year later he was living in the Bishop Fallon Residence, a house of studies in Buffalo, New York for men interested in the call to the Oblate priesthood and brotherhood. “It was my first time ever being a full-time student,” said Fr. Ray. “It was a very positive experience.”

Father Ray worked as an intern at St. William Parish in Tewksbury, Massachusetts in 2010-11. “It was great to get to know and serve the community,” he said. “I loved it. They were very open to having me there and helping me learn. It was a good opportunity to practice different areas of preaching that I wouldn’t get to learn in school.”

Father Ray’s first assignment is at King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center in Belleville, Illinois. “It was a surprise to be assigned to a retreat house,” admitted Fr. Ray. “Typically we are assigned to a parish, but I’m finding that being at King’s House, I’m still celebrating the sacraments and helping at parishes – and I’m also able to reach out to the local community.”

Father Ray sought out opportunities to share the Oblate charism after only two weeks at King’s House. “I found the Family Center run by the Sparkill Dominican Sisters in East St. Louis,” said Fr. Ray. East St. Louis, Illinois is a poverty-stricken city known for its high rate of violent crime. “I asked the sisters if they needed help with anything and in my mind I was thinking, ‘Anything but youth ministry!’ But that’s what they said they needed,” he laughed. “So I started a youth group with two of the sisters.”

The group began with eight young people between the ages of 15 and 21. When the group met a second time, that number doubled. “By the time we had our third meeting we started establishing trust,” explained Fr. Ray. “The group is smart and motivated – it’s easy to see that they are going to be the future leaders of their city.”

Father Ray tasked the young adults to name their group – and they decided on The Cure. “They feel like areas of the city are unhealthy and they want to be the cure,” Fr. Ray explained. “We’re still in the beginning stages. We’re getting ideas, talking about our faith and about real-life issues. They want someone to listen and encourage them.” Father Ray has even encouraged the group to share their feelings about several shootings in East St. Louis. Many of the victims were their friends and neighbors – including a teen who was mowing a lawn when he was murdered.

Father Ray and the sisters took some of the older youth to watch Anne and Emmett at the Black Repertory Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri. The play tells the story of an imaginary meeting between martyr Anne Frank and Emmett Till, a victim of racial hatred in the U.S. “The kids were able to see the difference these two children made,” said Fr. Ray. “Now they want to have a peace rally in their city.”

Saint Eugene De Mazenod, the Oblate founder, told his fellow Oblates that their destiny is to be apostles. Father Ray Cook has certainly taken the founder’s words to heart as he shares the Oblate charism with everyone he encounters.