Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
May 23, 2023 // Diocese

New Chapter of Benedictine Oblates Fulfills Need for Those Seeking God in Everyday Life 

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

At a young age, Patty Opaczewski felt called by God to live a life of faith. Her time being educated in the Catholic schools left a lasting impression on her including a deep love and admiration for the Sisters. Although she discerned religious life, she also knew she desperately wanted a family and took the path of marriage and motherhood. 

Lisa Kochanowski
Dan Sheets, Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey Chapter Organizer, leads the group in prayer at their monthly meeting at St. Bavo Parish in Mishawaka on Monday, May 14.

“I talked to God a lot and I said, ‘You know what, I think I would love that life, but I really want a family too,’” recalled Opaczewski. She got married and had four children. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce and her children grew and started lives of their own. “And so, years went by and I was searching again and doing everything I could at church. I belonged at that time to St. Matthew’s Cathedral in South Bend. I was a Eucharistic minister and used to go to all of the retreats. I just soaked up anything I could find but I just kept wanting more.” 

A chance reading of a pamphlet about St. Meinrad Archabbey inspired her to travel to the monks of the Benedictine community and learn more about their work and devotion to the Rule of St. Benedict with the motto ‘ora et labora’ or pray and work. 

“It felt like home. And the people down there are so welcoming. All the monks and the brothers, everyone is just so welcoming. It fills a part in your life,” said Opaczewski. She joined the Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey in 2004. 

The Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey form a community that adheres to the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the holy “Rule of St. Benedict,” and the values of the monks of St. Meinrad. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has a local chapter started by Oblate Dan Sheets. They meet at the St. Bavo Community Center every third Monday of the month. Members of the chapter, a small local community of believers from different parishes, live by the “Rule of St. Benedict.” They support one another and join together in prayer and spiritual discovery. The mission statement for chapters of Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad is: “We, Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey, are Christian men and women, lay and ordained, living in the world, united by the holy ‘Rule of St. Benedict.’ We come together in chapters to support one another and strengthen our spiritual life through liturgical celebration, instruction, and fellowship in Christ, so ‘that in all things God may be glorified.’” (RB 57:9) 

Lisa Kochanowski
Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey Mishawaka Chapter meet at the St. Bavo Church Community Center in Mishawaka on Monday, May 14.

To become an Oblate, one must be a Christian lay or ordained person with an upright character, not be an oblate of another monastery, and have an earnest desire for spiritual advancement according to the Christian ideas outlined in the “Rule of St. Benedict.” Interested persons embark on a novitiate program that lasts a minimum of one year with a maximum of two years. After a year as an oblate, novices participate in a ceremony called the act of final oblation and become permanent members of the monastic family. 

According to the St. Meinrad information site, the group strives through prayer, liturgical celebration, instruction, and fellowship in Christ to be people who experience the richness of the Benedictine monastic tradition while living in the world. 

Oblates are formed with three promises and five duties. The first promise, stability of heart, expresses the commitment the oblate makes to a particular monastic community. The stability of the heart reaffirms the basic promise of conversion made at baptism. The second promise, fidelity to the spirit of monastic life, expresses a commitment to live lives of spirituality, piety, and balance. The third promise, obedience to the will of God, expresses a commitment to growth in the discernment of God’s will through prayer, spiritual direction, and faithfulness to one’s religious traditions. 

Reading materials are laid out for the meeting of the Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey Mishawaka Chapter at the St. Bavo Church Community Center in Mishawaka on Monday, May 14.

Oblates accept five duties into their lives that hold a formative and sustaining function in their journey. The five duties are praying the Liturgy of the Hours, regularly reading the “Rule of St. Benedict,” practicing lectio divina, being faithful to the sacraments or other religious practices, and cultivating a sense of God’s presence in daily living. Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey are committed to forming a community of love and faith based on the promises and duties of oblate life. 

Different reasons and circumstances call people to join a monastic lifestyle. The timing was everything for Tim Allega, and his life changes led him to the Oblates. 

“About three years ago, we became fully retired and moved to South Bend to be closer to the grandchildren. And at that time, I noticed a nice little announcement that said a chapter was forming of the Oblates,” said Allega about how he became involved with the local chapter. He attended St. Meinrad High School back in the 1950s which ignited his association with the community. “During the time of becoming fully retired, I needed a little boost to provide a little discipline to my prayer life and the Oblate chapter has certainly done that for me.” 

Through his participation, he has realized the Benedictine fundamental principle is to help one another get to heaven. “And I figured I needed some help, so I hope that by being a member of the Oblate community, I’m getting that help and perhaps providing help to my brother Oblates and sister Oblates in that direction.” 

Pam Washbarn takes part in the meeting of the Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey Mishawaka Chapter at the St. Bavo Church Community Center in Mishawaka on Monday, May 14.

Allega began his formation period during the COVID-19 isolation period. The novice period is a one-year program where participants complete a series of 12 lessons under the mentorship of one of the monks. They receive a challenge every month and are required to respond to a list of short readings. 

“It was a real opportunity to get closer to God,” notes Allega. While in quarantine, the program formation was a welcome break from listening to CNN and a way of remaining active and connected during a time of isolation. 

John Lehner went on a men’s retreat that took him to St. Meinrad’s and he said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He returned home from the trip on a Sunday night and called the director on Monday morning asking to become an Oblate. 

Lehner said his reasons were deeper than just an inspirational moment on a retreat though. Years ago, while doing his daily 52-mile commute to work, he was in a horrible accident. Hit broadside by a semi, his vehicle was pushed more than 135 feet and his life was changed. Lehner found himself frustrated with God asking why this happened to him. Words from his pastor saying he needed to look at this experience not as why did it happen to me, but I survived because God has more for me to do on this earth inspired his journey to a deeper devotion to his faith. 

Lehner became a regular volunteer at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey and found great joy in his work and connections with the monks and Oblates. “It’s just a whole different experience rather than just an everyday walk of life. It just makes me feel so close to God.” 

A visit to the Sisters in Ferdinand, Indiana, had a lasting impression on Oblate Karen Dwyer who upon research fell in love with the Benedictine Rule and Benedictine way of life. She spent several years going on retreats with the Sisters and found the opportunity to join a local chapter of Benedictine Oblates immediately sparked her interest. 

“I was just retiring at that point and I thought, ‘I need something to do and this really is attractive to me,’ so I came to the first meeting that we had. There was just a very small number of us and I attended the meetings for a year,” recalled Dwyer. She was called to become a novice and took her final profession to the organization in 2021. 

“As a local chapter of Benedictines in the diocese, the greatest highlight was having Bishop Rhoades visit us at our monthly meeting in April. It was such an honor to have him pray with us and see what we do,” said Dwyer about a memorable moment within the local chapter. “We presented him with a copy of the ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ because of its importance in forming our spirituality. We also presented him with some of the products made by the monks like Peanut Brother Daily Grind peanut butter and Alleluia Almond Butter. It was a lovely, informal visit and meant so much to all of us to share our faith with our bishop.” 

Dwyer said her time being part of the Mishawaka Chapter of Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey has been a wonderful experience. “This past Christmas, we adopted a family and provided $250 for groceries and bought clothes and toys for the children. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of our small group in providing a happy Christmas for this small family. It is so nice to have a group pull together to make a service project so successful.” 

To learn more about the local chapter of the Benedictine Oblates of St. Meinrad Archabbey, contact chapter leader Dan Sheets at [email protected].

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.