Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

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Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

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Other form(s) of name

  • OMI
  • O.M.I.

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Description area

Dates of existence



The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) is a Roman Catholic religious congregation that was founded in 1816 by Eugène de Mazenod (1782-1861), an aristocrat and Catholic priest from Aix-en-Provence, France. During the French Revolution, Mazenod’s family left their wealth behind and fled to Italy, where they travelled around as refugees. At the age of twenty, Mazenod returned to France, where he became more regularly involved in the church and in charity work. Mazenod was ordained as a priest on 21 December 1811, dedicating himself to evangelizing the poor, imprisoned people, and youth.

Officially founded on 25 January 1816 when Mazenod first invited other priests to join him in his work, the OMI congregation was originally called the Missionaries of Provence. Although initially starting with four members, the community of priests expanded in number and in location, and on 17 February 1826, they received formal approval from the Pope. Officially a congregation, the Missionaries of Provence changed their name to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée). Over time, the OMI expanded their missionary outreach worldwide. Today, Oblates continue to work in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. Their motto is, “He has sent me to evangelize the poor” (Evangelizare pauperibus misit me…pauperes evangelizantur).

The OMI’s first foreign mission was established in 1841, when Ignace Bourget, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal, asked Mazenod to send missionaries to Canada. By 1844, ten Oblates were stationed in Canada, and in 1847, five Oblates arrived in what was then the Oregon Country region. Oblate work extended quickly throughout what would later become known as the Province of British Columbia: in 1849, Timothee Limfrit, OMI, built a chapel and school at Fort Victoria; in 1858, Louis d’Herbomez, OMI, established a mission at Esquimalt; and in 1859, Charles Pandosy, OMI, established the Sandy Cove Mission in the Okanagan. More Oblates arrived in the region throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, and missions were established in New Westminster, the Fraser Valley, Fort Rupert, Williams Lake, North Vancouver, Sechelt, Fort Nelson, Fort St. James, Kamloops, and various other locations. This mission work continued to expand throughout the twentieth century, as Oblates established missions, parishes, schools, colleges, retreat centres, and hospitals throughout British Columbia.

In British Columbia, as in the rest of Canada, a significant portion of the work of the Oblate missionaries was the evangelization of Indigenous peoples. As part of this work, the OMI opened and/or administered ten residential schools in British Columbia. These included:

● Cariboo Residential School (1891-1981): Also known as Williams Lake Residential School or St. Joseph’s, located just southwest of Williams Lake

● Christie Residential School (1900-1983): Also known as Kakawis, located on Meares Island between 1900-1971, then moved to Tofino where it operated from 1971-1983

● St Eugene’s Residential School (1890-1970): Also known as Cranbrook Residential School, located just north of Cranbrook

● Kamloops Residential School (1890-1978): Also known as St. Louis, located in Kamloops

● Kuper Island Residential School (1890-1975): Located on Penelakut Island (formerly called Kuper Island), near Chemainus

● Lejac Residential School (1917-1976): Also known as Fraser Lake School, located at Stuart Lake (1917-1922), and then at Fraser Lake (1922-1976)

● Lower Post Residential School (1951-1975): Located at Lower Post, on Highway #97, just south of the British Columbia-Yukon border

● Sechelt Residential School (1904-1975): Also known as St. Augustine’s, located in Sechelt

● St. Mary’s Residential School (1867-1984): Also known as Mission Residential School, located in Mission

● St. Paul’s Residential School (1899-1959): Also known as the North Vancouver Residential School and the Squamish School, located in North Vancouver

In addition to these ten residential schools, the Oblates administered the Anahim Lake Dormitory (also known as Ulkatcho), funded by the Government of Canada between 1968-1977. The Anahim Lake Dormitory housed children who attended the Anahim Lake Day School.

The OMI Central Government has been located in Rome, Italy, since 1905. Previously, it had been located in France (in Marseilles until 1861, when it was relocated to Paris) and in Liège, Belgium (1903-1905). The central government includes the Superior General, the Vicar General, two Assistant Generals, a number of General Councillors (representing the OMI’s different international regions), a Secretary General, and a Treasurer General. Reporting to the central government are the OMI’s various provincial governments, each lead by Provincial Superiors, which operate in various locations internationally. The Oblate Constitutions and Rules gives each province a great deal of autonomy. Based on civil law, each Province is a separate legal entity.

In Canada, there are currently three OMI provinces: OMI Lacombe Canada (headquarters located in Ottawa), Notre-Dame du Cap (headquarters located in Richelieu), and Assumption Province (headquarters located in Toronto). The structure of Oblate provinces in Canada has changed significantly over the years. Some of the administrative changes relevant to the OMI records held at the BC Archives include:

● 1926 – St. Peter’s Province established

● 1963 – Provincial Delegation of Peru attached to St. Peter’s Province

● 1968 – St. Paul’s Vice-Province established

● 1973 – St. Paul’s Vice-Province becomes St. Paul’s Province

● 1983 – St. Paul’s Province is united with the Vice-Province of Whitehorse to form a new St. Paul’s Province

● 2003 – Reformation of Canadian provinces, leading to the establishment of the OMI Lacombe Canada province

Due to these administrative reorganizations, Oblate missionaries in both British Columbia and the Yukon have reported to the Provincial Superiors of various provinces: St. Peter’s Province, St. Paul’s Vice-Province, the Vice-Province of Whitehorse, St. Paul’s Province, and OMI Lacombe Canada. For a time, Oblates in British Columbia and the Yukon had their headquarters in Vancouver, at the Oblate Provincial House; this location was the previous administrative home to St. Paul’s Province, and later to the BC/Yukon Community of OMI Lacombe Province.


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