The History of the Congregation of the Oratory in Port Antonio is a story of grace written with tears and joys. The letter sent to Pope Francis petitioning for the establishment of the Congregation underscores in a succinct way our History…we share it in an edited form in joy!
Most Holy Father,
Our beloved Community of St. Philip Neri of Port Antonio in Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica, is composed presently of 6 priests. The history of the priests of our Community living Common life and working together in the apostolic and missionary field is old of two decades.
Indeed, Our humble History began in 1992 when Fr. Samuel Alloggia (not yet ordained) and Fr. Roland Dessine (also not yet ordained) came to Jamaica at the request of the Bishop of Mandeville, His Excellency Bishop Paul M. Boyle. A year later Fr. Michael Palud would come to Jamaica and three years after that, Father Brad Smith and Fr. Raymond Sorin would come to work in Jamaica all in the same diocese. In fact, we, the five priests mentioned here, presently members of the Community of St. Philip Neri, were members of one of these “new communities” founded in the 1980s.
As time went on, problems came up concerning the “new” community to which 5 of the present members belonged. It became clear to us missionaries that this community was not being faithful to the Magisterium and thus we chose to leave this Community and continue serving the Diocese of Mandeville with no status whatsoever. We felt called to continue serving in the Missions. Since we had been ordained in different dioceses and the Group to which we belonged did not have the power to incardinate, we transferred incardination to Jamaica, in the Diocese of Mandeville. Later, a diocesan priest Fr. Joseph Burg who had come to Jamaica as a seminarian to Mandeville and had been ordained for this Diocese would join us.
Bishop Paul. M. Boyle noting that Common Life was something cherished by our group, then erected our Community of priests into a public Association of Christ’s Faithful by Episcopal decree on the 8th of December 2001 thus giving us official permission to live Common Life. It was he who offered this to us. We had not sought any canonical structure at the time, we just wished to continue living common life and serving the poor and the Catholic Community in our Apostolates. A characteristic note willed by our Bishop in his decree was like a ‘built-in’ stability where we were to be missionaries for life rather than returning to the comfort of their home countries. Apart from being ‘missionaries for life’, our community life so to speak, was influenced by the spirituality of Bishop Boyle, a Passionist priest. Following his lead, we had a devotion to the Passion of Christ, especially kept on Fridays. This is something which we would happily find later on in the Instituta of 1612 of the Congregation of the Oratory when we began our Oratorian Path 10 years later.
Thus we continued our work in the Diocese of Mandeville. One of us, Fr. Michael Palud exercised the role of Vicar General of the Diocese for twelve years. Fr. Samuel was Principal of a school for 13 years also. Fr. Roland served as Pastor of two parishes for over a decade and served as director of a Children’s Home we managed from 2001-2012. Fathers Raymond and Brad had different apostolic responsibilities, then did their studies for the priesthood at the Angelicum and were subsequently ordained in 2007 and 2013 respectively. Fr. Joseph for his part was pastor most of these years and joined our group in 2005. He had always been close spiritually and friendship-wise with us. Joining our Community seemed indeed what God had traced out for him.
Bishop Boyle retired and passed away and was succeeded by Bishop Gordon Bennett, S.J. and then by the Apostolic Administrator of Mandeville, His Excellency Bishop Charles Dufour who later would become the Archbishop of Kingston where we would be called to work in May of 2012.
For ten years under these Bishops, our group continued its Common Life dedicated to the missionary apostolate and prayer. The Community ran a High School, a parish (Saint Vincent Strambi Church and High School), then a second parish (St. Theresa’s in Black River) and mission (Our Lady Star of the Sea) as well as a Children’s Home (Our Lady of Hope). Members of the Community sat on National Committees for the Liturgy and Youth contributing especially in the Jamaican National Hymnal. Members were sought out for their preaching and two members worked for 9 years at the Mount Calvary Retreat House.
It was under the mandate of the Successor of Our Apostolic Administrator, Archbishop Charles Dufour, – also Archbishop of Kingston – that we first heard about the Oratory in the wake of the announcement that Cardinal Newman would be beatified. In 2011 we felt, as a Community, since the Beatification of Cardinal Newman, that there were a great many commonalities between the Oratory and our Community. Why ‘invent something new’ when the Oratory of St. Philip Neri seemed to respond to our needs and aspirations? One of our members at the time, Fr. Anthony Aarons, who would later leave our group to become a TOR Franciscan (Province of the Immaculate Conception in the U.S.A.) was the Vicar General of the Diocese; he had succeeded to Father Michael. He shared with the Bishop of Mandeville the idea of an Oratory. Communications began with the Procura and Fr. Jonathan Robinson of the Toronto Oratory became Fr. Edoardo Cerrato’s Delegate for Our Community. Father Edoardo Cerrato in March of 2011 wrote a beautiful letter to the Ordinary of Mandeville, encouraging us in our Oratorian vocation.
During 2011 and 2012, a number of talks took place between the Ordinary of Mandeville and the Ordinary of Kingston who had been our Ordinary as Apostolic Administrator for two years from 2006-2008 concerning our Community and its apostolates. His Grace, Archbishop Dufour, obviously with the consent of the Bishop of Mandeville, invited us to relocate to the Archdiocese of Kingston and establish ourselves in Port Antonio in the civil circumscription of Portland, a region of the Island devoid of priests, literally in the “periphery” of the Country itself. In this region three parishes with two schools would be entrusted to us. Specifically, His Grace Archbishop Dufour indicated his desire that the Oratory become a reality in his Diocese. In fact, the Archbishop of Kingston formally invited us to come to the Archdiocese in a letter dated May 17, 2012, in which he wrote, ‘In coming to the Archdiocese, this is, as I mentioned to you, a new page in the life of your community. It is my wish, as that of my Predecessor, that your Community flourish and be constituted as a Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri’.
The Community acquiesced in obedience to this project decided by the Archbishop of Kingston and the Bishop of Mandeville. The transfer was done with the placet of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and on the 1st of August 2012, we transferred ourselves juridically one by one as Diocesan priests to the Archdiocese of Kingston and we continued our Oratorian iter becoming known in the Archdiocese of Kingston -and Jamaica as a whole – as the “Community of St. Philip Neri”. From the time of our arrival, the Archbishop of Kingston enjoined us formally to follow the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Oratory.
On the 1st of June of the following year in 2013, Brother Brad Smith our confrere was ordained a deacon and incardinated in the Archdiocese of Kingston, until such time when the members would be aggregated to the Confederation of the Oratory. On December 1st 2013, His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, ordained our confrere, Brother Brad Smith in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Kingston in the presence of the Procurator General of the Oratory, the Very Rev. Father Mario Avilés, the Bishop of Mandeville, His Lordship Bishop Tiedeman, the Bishop of Montego Bay, His Lordship Bishop McPhearson as well as the Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston, His Grace Archbishop Donald Reece and over 1000 participants in the Assembly. It was a glorious day for our little Community desiring to be a Congregation of the Oratory.
Most Holy Father, after a history of two decades of Common Life and nearly two years in the Archdiocese of Kingston living the Oratorian reality which is so close to how we lived the reality of the Vita Communis in the past, we humbly petition Your Holiness to erect our Community in a true Congregation of the Oratory. Years ago we had decided to remain missionaries “usque ad mortem”. Therefore the requirement of living in our Congregation “usque ad mortem” following the Apostle of Joy, St. Philip Neri, seems to us a logical conclusion of a long path undertaken years ago.
Humbly prostrate at your Holiness’ feet we ask your paternal Apostolic blessing on this endeavor,
Your faithful sons.