Founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, the family of the SSPX’s oblate sisters saw the light of day in 1973.
Obliged in conscience to leave her religious family, which had become unfaithful, an initial French nursing sister, Sister Marie Bernard, came knocking at the door in Econe.
Others did not delay in doing the same, and so the SSPX’s oblate sisters was born.
Therefore originally the oblate sisters were women religious who had been released canonically from the obligations to their own congregation and wished to save their vocation from the post-conciliar debacle.
Soon enough they were joined by mature individuals who were free from the duties of their state in life and desired to sanctify themselves as affiliates of the Society while devoting themselves to its works. Presently, since the crisis in the Church persists and is the source of new needs, recruitment tends to be modified, and a more flexible structure allows other vocations to find good soil that will help them to flourish.
The oblate sisters have no hierarchy of their own, unlike most women’s congregations, among them the SSPX Sisters who, despite their name and the profound spiritual ties that they maintain with the Society, are juridically independent of it.
As full-fledged members of the Society, like the priests and the brothers, the oblate sisters have no elected superior general but depend on the SSPX’s Superior General. When they make their oblation they commend themselves into his hands, remaining entirely at his disposal for the needs of the Society.
In the priories, the sisters depend directly on the prior.
If the community has more than three members, a superior may be designated by the Superior General, after consultation with the prior.
Religious or oblate?
According to the definition within the Statutes—composed by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1982—the oblate sisters form “a society of common life without vows but with a commitment, like the society of priests of the Society of St. Pius X.”
Church history shows a certain development from the general, traditional concept of monasticism (with stability and solemn vows) to more recent forms of “states of perfection”.
Indeed, over the centuries, without abandoning anything of the monastic tradition, which keeps its privileged place, new families have been created, according to increasingly flexible formulas. While detaching themselves from external forms—which are very important, of course, but not indispensable—they have kept only the essential element of a life entirely given over to God and accepted and approved by the Church.
So it is that alongside “the complete canonical state of perfection”—the perfect model of the states of perfection—to which orders with solemn vows and congregations with simple vows belong, the Code of Canon Law defines societies of common life without vows as a “second canonical state of perfection”. Although they do not have several juridical elements necessary to constitute the complete canonical state of perfection, such as public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, these societies nevertheless have the other substantial qualities of the life of perfection.
Thus, according to the law of the Church, although these societies are not religious institutes in the proper sense and their members are not religious, the Code recognizes that they are similar to them.
That is how Archbishop Lefebvre wanted the SSPX’s oblate sisters to be.
The spirituality of the oblate sisters
The spirituality of the oblate sisters is that of the Society, which is the same as the spirituality of the Church: the heart of it is the Sacrifice of the Cross renewed each day on our altars by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Thus Holy Mass is the inexhaustible source of the spiritual and religious life (Statutes).
Divine Office—Prime, Sext and Compline—meditation, rosary recited in common, spiritual reading, time for personal prayer: the whole day is immersed in the Blood of the Lamb, since the sisters are riveted by their oblation to the foot of the Cross:
“They are happy to participate in Our Lord’s Sacrifice, like Our Lady of Compassion, standing at the foot of the Cross.” (Statutes)
To contemplate Jesus Crucified with the eyes and the heart of Mary is, in truth, the vocation of an oblate.
“She will add in particular, as an intention of her spiritual life, compassion for the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross, after the example of Our Lady of Compassion, their Patroness, for the redemption of souls, for the sanctity of priests, and for her own sanctification.” (Statutes)
“For priests”: as members of a Society whose purpose is the priesthood and everything related to it, they must sanctify themselves above all for the sake of priests.
In speaking to the oblate sisters in Econe on the Feast of Our Lady of Compassion—April 10, 1981—Archbishop Lefebvre told them:
“...So you, dear Sisters, auxiliaries of the priest, helpers not only with your hands but helpers also with your souls and mind of the priesthood, of the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of His Cross, of the extension of His Reign, of the extension of His Love, you will unite yourselves in a very special way to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Like her at the side of her Divine Son, you will be compassionate and thus you too will contribute in a very effective way to the redemption of souls, to the extent to which you can do so, in the measure in which Providence gives you the graces to do so.
“Thus you will be associated in a deeper way with the priesthood of the priests, asking that these priests and these seminarians whom you serve might become true priests, that they might truly become other Christs, that they too might be associated in an ever deeper, ever more perfect way in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ....
“You will ask this of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. And so, offer your sufferings, offer your sacrifices for this intention, so that the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ might be extended.”
In this hour of torment for the Church and for the priesthood, there is another specific intention that Archbishop Lefebvre wished to add:
“More than ever there are sacrilegious abandonments, sorrowful abandonments of Our Lord, particularly by souls who are consecrated to God. This is why we urge you to offer your little trials, sacrifices and difficulties, all the pains that the Good Lord may allow you to suffer and that you have, in union with the sorrows of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary in reparation for all these sacrileges.” (Sermon, April 6, 1979)
Since the secondary purpose of the SSPX’s oblate sisters is dedication to the works of the Society, in other words, assisting priests, whether in the seminaries, the priories or the schools, the required qualifications are as follows:
- a balanced personality,
- a minimum of judgment and common sense,
- a will strong enough to persevere in spite of difficulties,
- adult maturity, since the oblate must be able to confront all sorts of situations,
- normal emotional development and equilibrium, which is all the more necessary for an oblate inasmuch as she is called to a life of service and therefore to be in contact with priests,
- the character traits and sociability necessary for common life.
The presence of these required qualifications is not necessarily a sign of a vocation: not everyone who possesses them is called to religious life; on the other hand, someone who does not have these qualifications is certainly not called.
As with all religious life, the most important thing needed to become an oblate is a call from God, in other words, a vocation.
Is any special preparation or study required? Is there a minimum age?
No special preparation is required to enter the oblates, except a Christian life that is already well rooted in Tradition.
According to the Statutes, admission can be requested by “persons whose age does not allow them to enter the sisters of the Society,” which means from the age of 30 on. But there are cases when exceptions are made to this rule when other impediments besides age do not permit candidates to be accepted by the SSPX’s sisters.
No age limit is set, as long as the aspirants are still capable of adapting to common life and of serving the Society.
It is merely necessary to have sufficient strength to be able to dedicate oneself and to render service, according to one’s own abilities, wherever obedience may place the sisters.
Postulancy and novitiate
The Statutes provide for one year of postulancy and one year of novitiate.
Since 1999 the novitiate of the oblate sisters has been established in Salvan, Switzerland, not far from the seminary in Econe.
The year of postulancy ends with taking the habit, marking entry into the novitiate, which is a time of formation.
In the silence and recollection of a more withdrawn life, postulants and novices prepare to become helpers of the priest, by the work of their hands and the prayer of their souls.
Not yet involved in the turmoil of the active life, they lay the foundations of their future life and are initiated into the secrets of the interior life, “the reason for being of persons who are consecrated to God” (Statutes). They learn that this life of union with God must be all the more profound, since it will be less protected later on, and they make their own the words that St. Vincent de Paul addressed to his Daughters (while adapting them to their own state):
“... Because they will be more exposed to the outside world and to occasions of sin than nuns who are obliged to live in cloister, having as their monastery only their house [or the school of the priory]..., as their cloister—obedience, as their grille—the fear of God, they must have as much virtue or more than if they were professed in a religious order, and they are obliged to conduct themselves wherever they may find themselves among people with as much recollection, purity of heart and body, detachment from creatures and edification as real nuns in the seclusion proper to their monastery.”
In the morning and afternoon, according to the levels of their education, courses are given to the sisters. This instruction in Catholic doctrine and Church history complements their apprenticeship in religious life and the practice of virtues. The discovery of the liturgy in integrated with the rhythm of the liturgical year, and the proximity of Econe allows them to experience the splendors of the ceremonies on feast days. Spiritual reading, combined with the daily reading of Sacred Scripture, is another part of the daily schedule, to nourish the soul and to strengthen the mind. A time of personal study then allows each novice to assimilate all these riches and to study them in greater depth.
Besides their spiritual formation, the sisters are also initiated into their household tasks and acquire practical knowledge of cooking, sewing, laundering, and the sacristan’s work, in a word, everything that makes up the life of a priory.
Add to that a half hour of singing each day, two intervals of recreation in fraternal joy, one excursion every month (or so) in the beautiful Swiss mountains, and you will have almost a complete idea of the life of the novitiate under the patronage of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.
At the conclusion of this preparation, the novice commits herself, not by public vows, but by an act in which she makes her oblation or offering to God with the Divine Victim and promises to observe the Statutes, specifically what they prescribe concerning the virtues of obedience, poverty and chastity.
After six years of an annual commitment, the oblates may ask to renew it for three years, and after nine years, they can ask to make a definitive commitment.
The renewal of their commitment is made on the Feast of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, September 15.
Typical day of an oblate
Here is the daily routine, as prescribed in the Statutes:
- 6:00 a.m. Rise
- 6:30 a.m. Common prayer (Prime or Lauds) followed by meditation
- 7:15 a.m. Holy Mass
- 8:00 a.m. Breakfast, free time
- 9:00 a.m. Work
- 12:00 noon End of work
- 12:15 p.m. Sext
- 12:30 p.m. Lunch, recreation
- Free time, spiritual reading
- 3:00 p.m. Work
- 4:15 p.m. Snack
- 4:30 p.m. Work
- 6:00 p.m. Free time
- Rosary or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
- 7:30 p.m. Dinner
- 8:45 p.m. Compline, grand silence