Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate Godfrey, Illinois

Posted by on January 17, 2014

Hundreds of Oblates and Oblate novices over the years have found a “home away from home” near the small town of Godfrey, Illinois.  Dense woods, breathtaking bluffs and idyllic pastures create the perfect environment for two very special Oblate ministries there: the Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate and the Oblate Ecological Initiative.

The Oblates have claimed this land as a sanctuary of peace and community since 1950, when the Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate was founded.  The novitiate was originally a part of the Oblates’ Central Province, but 35 years ago it became the novitiate for what is now known as the U.S. Province.

Young men who have completed the Oblates’ pre-novitiate program in Buffalo, New York or Lusaka, Zambia move on to Godfrey for their novitiate year.  The novices deepen their prayer life and their relationship with the Lord so they are prepared to go out in mission and serve in His name.  Novitiate is the “heart” of an Oblate’s training, focusing on the spiritual life, history, Oblate traditions and religious vows, the charism of the congregation and the person of St. Eugene De Mazenod, O.M.I.

Novitiate is a time set aside for prayer, self-knowledge and personal growth in faith, under the guidance of the Novice Master, Novice Staff and a Spiritual Counselor or Director, whose role is to “walk with” the novices on their journey to brotherhood or priesthood.

Father Tom Horan, O.M.I. has been the Novice Director at Immaculate Heart of Mary for six years.  He has worked with about 30 young men in that time.  “The most rewarding thing about this role is watching these young men grow in their Oblate identity,” said Fr. Horan.  “They acquire new skill sets through Novitiate.”

The novitiate year is highly structured.  Each day begins with a morning prayer followed by a classroom experience.  Students learn about a variety of topics including the Oblate constitution, human development, theology – and the life of the Oblate founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod.  Classes are followed by Mass and lunch, where the novices are expected to set up and clean up the meal.  The novices have free time in the afternoon to do homework or spend time in prayer.  The community gathers together for evening prayer and dinner and they close the day with quiet time for reading, study and recreation.

The novices have a number of responsibilities throughout their stay.  They are expected to maintain the bathrooms, common areas, kitchen and even vehicles, as well as regular yard work and house maintenance projects.

Each week the novices visit with retired sisters or Oblates.  The Ursuline convent is in a neighboring town.  “The novices provide music for the sisters, tell stories – it’s a very reciprocal relationship,” said Fr. Tom.  “They absolutely love it.”  The novices also meet the elder Oblates at St. Henry Community in Belleville, Illinois where they encounter Oblates and their rich stories of missionary life.  “This helps the novices deepen their own Oblate call and identity,” explained Fr. Tom.

Every two weeks the novices share their prayer life with a qualified spiritual director of their choosing.  They also participate in “Desert Days” – 24 hours of prayerful silence.  The young men gather as a community after the 24-hour period to reflect on the rewards and experiences of their “desert” time.

Living in community can be a difficult situation for some of the novices.  “We have a house meeting every two weeks with a local psychologist,” explained Fr. Tom.  “We work on living better in community, gather feedback and discuss the gives and takes of community life.”  These “community building” meetings allow the young men to be presented with new communication skills and to put those skills into practice.

The ultimate purpose of the novitiate year is to help the novices discern their Oblate vocation.  Through regular formation interviews which include goal-setting and growth-building challenges, the Novitiate Staff accompanies each novice as he prepares himself to make his first public commitment to religious life.

The year concludes when the novices make their first formal commitment to the Oblates by taking First Vows.  They commit to live the Oblate vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for one year.

Novitiate formation ends with a free and faith-filled commitment in the Oblate Congregation.  The novice, having received the Father’s love in Jesus, dedicates his life to making that love visible.  He entrusts his fidelity to the one whose cross he shares, whose promises are his hope.

Constitutions and Rules of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Rule 59