The burgundy door is not the only entrance to the Mission House, but it is the only one I used while I was there. Otherwise, I was in real danger of getting lost. The old Carmelite monastery that Eugene purchased for his fledging community was, in my mind, a maze, a mystery to be experienced, not solved.
It’s a big building, first of all, and rather rambling. There are multiple wings accessed via crooked flights of stairs and these, like the Hogwarts floating staircases, opened always into unfamiliar corridors. There are a bewildering variety of rooms: we met in one, ate in another, prayed in another and slept in an entirely separate wing. My sole positioning point was to find a window and locate the inner courtyard. From that vantage point, I could maybe figure out what side of the building I was on. I loved the high ceiling rooms, the stone walls and the wide corridors but the house and attached Mission Church remained, throughout my time there, a labyrinth to be navigated only with the help of others.
I could, and did, get happily get lost in that house, however. It is permeated with Oblate spirit and history. I never tired of wandering along the hallways, hung as they were with paintings and sepia photographs of missionaries of the past. These Oblates were bearded, robed, and often rather stern-looking but I was delighted to make their acquaintance. What adventures had they been on?
I would linger at the many display cases lining the expansive corridors. Filled with Oblate memorabilia from around the world and across the decades, they revealed the international scope of the Oblate mission. The personal items, bibles, crosses and vestments, told of particular missionaries while the cultural artefacts, statues or tapestries, spoke of particular missions. It was eye-opening for me to see, first-hand, the global extent of the Oblate world and to consider the stories of grace: lives touched by the gospel, churches planted and nurtured, and the fidelity of men who went where they were sent.
But I loved the house for more reasons than that. I loved it because of Eugene. I knew little of his story at the point in my life, but it was enough to be there, living, moving, breathing, in his space. We met in the chapel where he and Tempier made their first vows. We celebrated morning prayer in their ‘Chapter Room,’ passing through ‘the gut’ where Eugene so happily slept. We ate in the stone-arched area that the French Revolutionaries had transformed into stable to house their horses! And when we gathered each evening in the enclosed courtyard to relax, enjoy the evening air and partake of more Oblate hospitality, I like to think Eugene and his companions had done the same.
I think of that little band of men clattering through the corridors, rushing up and down the stairs, celebrating Eucharist together, planning their parish missions, meeting with the youth. I think of the dreams, hopes, and successes Eugene had there, as well as the struggles, disappointments and failures. I think of the work he did and I think of the work we were about to do. I think, how special it all was, and I think, Eugene would have been pleased.
Sandra Prather, HOMI