Oratorians Receive Habits
Early Friday evening at Old St. Mary’s Church, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr conferred the habits of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri to the thee members of the Community-in-Formation in Cincinnati. Two seminarians and a priest active in Over-the-Rhine, the future Oratorians mean to bring the distinctive Oratory spirituality to that historic Cincinnati neighborhood, where they will live and work.
“Our hope for the future is the proclamation of the Gospel to the culture, around Over-the-Rhine, and Cincinnati in general,” says transitional deacon and future Oratorian Jon-Paul Bevak, who will be ordained in May. “We hope to do this through a great devotion to the Sacred Liturgy, Education, and simply living the life of Christ through the Oratorian Spirit.”
Established in the 16th century by an Italian priest now known as the “third Apostle of Rome” (after St. Peter and St. Paul), the Oratory is halfway between a religious order and the life of a typical secular priest. Like monks, Oratorians take a vow of stability (to live in a certain area), which means they cannot leave for or be transferred to a different Oratory. In most matters, they are under the direction of their Ordinary rather than the local bishop. Like a monastery, an Oratory has a more structured day of work and communal prayer than a typical priest’s residence. But unlike monks, Oratorians can have a variety of apostolates, and can change them at will (under the guidance of the Ordinary). They often work in schools, hospitals, prisons, and other areas where priests are needed.
The spirituality of the Oratory is centered on voluntary, joyful service and bonds of friendship. Oratorians do not take vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity; but they offer these things freely in a spirit of love and charity rather than compulsion. Communal life and, especially, communal prayer foster this vocation to service and love.
Permission to form an Oratory comes directly from the Pope, and follows recognition from the Confederation of the Oratory in Rome, and the permission of the bishop. There are seven Oratories in the United States, and last March Archbishop Schnurr established the Oratory here. Fr. Lawrence Juarez, Parochial Vicar of Old St. Mary’s, will be the Superior. Seminarians Rev. Br. Jon-Paul Bevak and Br. Adrian Hilton make up the remaining members of the congregation. Until the Oratory is approved it will be called a “Community-in-Formation” and will live together for one or two years, according to Bevak, much like a novitiate. The men are currently renovating two houses on Clay Street to use as their “Pious House” residence.
Nearly all Cincinnati’s seminarians, as well as several seminary professors bolstered the large crowd of family, friends, and area residents at Friday’s ceremony. Dominican Fr. Paul Keller, Seminary Rector Fr. Benedict O’Cinnsealaigh, Msgr. Frank Lane, and others joined the future Oratorians and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr for the ceremony. The choir of Old St. Mary’s sang ancient hymns, the Litany of Loreto, and prayers in between short prayers by the Archbishop and exchanges with the Community-in-Formation.
“Most Reverend Fathe we ask that you receive us to wear the habit of our holy father, St. Philip, that we may begin community life with you among the clerics according to the constitutions,” the three men asked the Archbishop, in the words of the centuries-old ceremony.
“Freely and with affection of hear in the Lord do we receive you to take this step,” Archbishop Schnurr answered. After blessing the habits (black cassocks with white collars, fastened on one shoulder with five buttons) and sprinkling them with holy water, he presented them to each man in turn, saying, “Receive, dearest son, this blessed Habit, praying almighty Godd that you may wear it without stain, and may the Divine Mercy grantt o you all those virtues which befit the sons of our holy Father.”
Later in the ceremony Archbishop Schnurr blessed chalices and pattens for use in the Community, and blessed everyone assembled with a relic of St. Philip Neri that they were invited to come forward and venerate.
“The step represents for the three of us a deepening of the Spirituality of St. Philip within us,” Bevak says. “This is is taken in a visible way, and it helps to form an identity around us.”
Portrait photo courtesy Donna Franer.