For All the Missions: Oblates of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines

When U.S. Catholics talk about a shortage of priests, we’re talking about how we have one priest for every 2,000 Catholics. But the priest shortage in the Philipines is five times more dire; one priest from every 10,000 Catholics in the most Catholic of Asian nations.

Yesterday at Mass in my home parish, Father John Wykes, O.M.V., spoke about his order and its mission, which includes fostering vocations in the Philippines.

The Oblates of the Virgin Mary was founded in the early 19th century in Italy by the Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri to encourage the spiritual rebirth of Catholics through retreats and parish missions. In 1994 an Oblate began giving Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Cebu, the Philippines. By 1999, the order was building the Oblates of Virgin Mary Formation and Retreat Center. Here, seminarians prepare for ordination and lay and religious can stay for extended retreats. From the Center, Oblates regularly offer the Spiritual Exercises to other parts of Asia: Japan, Korea, Mongolia and so on.  

I was unfamiliar with this order. Those of you who live in the Boston area might know of the Oblates because since 1983 they have directed the Saint Francis Chapel on the ground floor of the Prudential Center in Boston. It has Eucharistic Adoration during the morning and afternoon hours six days a week, and one hour in the afternoon on Sundays. Father Wykes directed the chapel from 2005 until earlier this year, when he became Director of Media Communications for the U.S. Province, which comprises communities in Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois and California, as well as the Cebu mission.

I was touched by Father Wykes’ story of how, as a six year old in Detroit, he spent 35 cents on his very first book. Published by Paulist Press, the book is called “Who Knows Me?” Now middle-aged, Father Wykes still has the book, which he held up during his homily. He compared the joy of that purchase to the joy of Oblate seminarians given their very first book – Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Veritatis Spendor - in the seminary.

The poverty in the Philippines is so great, he said, students usually share or photocopy their books. When folks tell Father Wykes they are amazed he still owns the book he bought when he was six, he said he tells them he is amazed he was able to buy a book at the age, while in other parts of the world, a young man must wait until he is 21 or 22 before he owns a book.

Loving Father, as Jesus taught us to beg the harvest master to send laborers into his vineyard, so we now ask you to bless the Oblates of the Virgin Mary with new vocations. May your Spirit draw men of integrity to love you intensely, and to serve you courageously in poverty, chastity, and obedience. Reveal your mercy to them, and remove the distractions and fears that keep them from echoing Mary’s joyful Yes. Guide them in discerning the mission for which you created them, so that they will become wise and gentle shepherds of souls. We ask this through the intercession of Fr. Lanteri, and in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

  • Kristen

    This post really stood out to me as I'm a first-generation Filipino American and I've taken for granted in the past having been grown up with a strong sense of Catholic identity from my heritage. I actually was able to spend this summer in the Philippines. It was an extraordinary time but what stood out in particular was a visit to the city of Naga in Bicol, where devotion to Our Lady of Penafrancia is very strong. I met a priest there and visited him at his SOLT (Society of Our Lady of the Trinity) seminary where he is a vocations director. He told me what an increase in vocations he's been seeing from the Bicol region, and he attributes it to Ina (local term of endearment for Our Lady of Penafrancia). Needless to say, I left with a profound sense of gratitude for Mama Mary and her work among her Son's people.

  • Allison

    @Kristin: That is great to hear.I was surprised to learn the priest shortage is so severe in the Philippines, given the strength of Catholic culture there. The visiting priest said one factor is oldest sons are sometimes reluctant to join the priesthood because their primary job is to support the family financially. This is why financial support for vocations is so important there.

  • Anonymous

    I think what's the matter with the world is people have allowed the ever present negative influences in life to drag their awareness – of themselves, and surrounding reality – down to very low unacceptable levels. It's now too low even for ordinary day to day business of living. In terms of the essential requirements for developing true spirituality people are barely conscious. They're actually half-asleep. The late Pope John Paul II, of loving memory, in his FIDES et RATIO, tells us:"We have to recover the profound theological traditions of earlier times; and the enduring tradition of that philosophy which by dint of its authentic wisdom can transcend the boundaries of space and time".A few lines earlier he had said:"This appeal to tradition is not merely a remembering of the past; it involves rather the recognition of a cultural heritage which belongs to all of humanity; indeed, we might even say, it is us who belong to this tradition, and it is not ours to dispose of at will". Several lines further on, he insists:"The parrhesia of faith must be matched by the boldness of reason".We will have greater chances of solving the problem of fewer and fewer vocations if we exert effort towards improving the level of spirituality among the people.

  • Allison

    @Anon: Thanks for reading and responding. I agree with you. We cannot expect more vocations if our young Catholics are not developing their spirituality. The OVM do just that – through retreats, parish missions etc.


    how to become an ovm?

  • Allison

    from their website: "If you sense that you are being called to be an Oblate religious or a priest, please contact Father Jeremy by email at or by telephone at 617-869-2429."