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Oratory-in-formation brings unique ministry to Over-The-Rhine

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By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph

Three men following a unqiue call are bringing the Gospel and their commitment to joyful voluntary service to the historic neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine as members of the Cincinnati Community-in-Formation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri.
“We are committed to building up the church and proclaiming the Gospel in our neighborhood, in Cincinnati in general and around the world,” said Father Jon-Paul Bevak, who was ordained to the priesthood last May. “We hope to do this through great devotion to the sacred liturgy, education and simply living the life of Christ through the Oratorian spirit.”
That spirit originated in the 16th century with St. Philip Neri, an Italian priest who became known as the “third Apostle of Rome” (after St. Peter and St. Paul). He sought to promote holiness among the people of Rome through sermons, hymns and spiritual exercises and highly promoted the frequent reception of Communion and the sacrament of penance.
An Oratory provides the opportunity for priests to live out their vocation in a manner that falls halfway between that of being a member of a religious order and the life of a diocesan priest, explained Father Bevak. Oratorians take a vow of stability, residing in a community of their choosing and are not subject to transfer to other Oratories or communities. They do not take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but rather seek these perfections freely through a spirit of voluntary observance. They are under the direction of their Ordinary rather than the local bishop for most matters. Oratorian spirituality is focused on joyful service, charity and love, fostered by communal life and prayer.
An Oratory provides an opportunity for its members to live in a more structured environment of work and communal prayer than what is typically experienced by diocesan priests, while at the same time offering them greater flexibility in ministry than a religious order. It is possible for an Oratorian to take up additional apostolates, or change his apostolate, at his own initiative and the discretion of the Oratory community, always guided by the local Ordinary. Oratorians are involved in ministries as diverse as schools, hospitals, prisons, university chaplaincies, seminary teaching, and work in curial offices in Rome. They also serve in traditional parish ministries. Father Bevak, for example, teaches at LaSalle High School and assists at Old St. Mary’s Parish in Over-the-Rhine.
There are currently seven Oratories around the world. The idea for establishing an Oratory in Cincinnati came about in 2008, when Father Bevak and Brother Adrian Hilton, both in of whom were then in formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West, and Bill Wilson approached Father Lawrence Juarez, parochial vicar of Old St. Mary’s, with the concept. Father Juarez, who is originally from the Philippines and came to Cincinnati to join the late Father Al Lauer’s Fathers and Brothers of Pentecost, was open to exploring the idea. Inspired by the Holy Spirit to pursue their endeavor, the group visited the English Oratories, as well as the Toronto Oratory, and received education and assistance on how to proceed.
In the summer of 2010, the Oratory delegate, Father Mario Avilés, visited Cincinnati to assist with the establishment of a Community-in-Formation, resulting in decrees from Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr and the procurator general of the congregation in 2011. These decrees allowed the community to proceed to the formative stage with the title Community-in-Formation of the Oratory of St. Phillip Neri.
Last March, Archbishop Schnurr conferred the habits of the congregation on Father Juarez, who serves as superior, Father Bevak and Brother Adrian. During the centuries old ceremony, the three men made the following request of the archbishop: “Most Reverend Father, we ask that you receive us to wear the habit of our holy father, St. Philip, that we may begin community life with you among the clerics according to the constitutions.”
Accepting their request, the archbishop blessed their habits (black cassocks with white collars, fastened on one shoulder with five buttons) and sprinkling them with holy water, presented them to each man, saying, “Receive dearest son this blessed habit, praying almighty to God that you may wear it without stain and may the Divine Mercy grant to you all those virtues which befit the sons of our holy Father.”
One next step in the formation of a future Cincinnati Oratory is a recommendation from Archbishop Schnurr to the pope and receipt of his permission. Until that papal approval comes, the Oratory will continue to be called a Community-in-Formation and the men will live together for a period of one to years, much like being in the novitiate, Father Bevak noted.
Also essential is the establishment of a Pious House to serve as a residence for members of the Oratory and as a symbol of their stability and ministry in the area.
With the support of family and friends, the community was able to acquire two three-story, Italianate style houses in Over-the-Rhine that will be used for this purpose, and has begun a capital campaign to pay for renovations. To date, about half of the funds for the project have been raised. “God has been very good to us in that way,” Father Bevak said.
Because any establishment must also have at least four members, the men are looking for others who want to help build the community. Father Bevak said they typically receive one visitor a month, usually from outside the archdiocese. “I don’t anticipate that we’ll ever be any larger than 12, much like a family,” he said, noting that he has “always felt called to community life.”
“We know that God will provide,” he added. “He will send the fourth person and finish the house, but it will happen when God decides it is time.”
Meanwhile, the men are committed to their ministry in Over-the-Rhine. In observance of the Year of Faith and in conjunction with Old St. Mary’s, they are hosting a series of community evenings through next November. Held monthly on Thursdays beginning at 6 p.m., the evenings include a potluck dinner, solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by the rosary, a sermon on an article of the Apostles’ Creed, a quiet holy hour with the opportunity for confession, and solemn Benediction.
Their hope, said Father Bevak, “is to get back to the basics of the Catholic faith and try to help people live holy lives. High intellect and high teaching won’t inspire people. Our whole goal is help people to live like Jesus to did and get to know Him heart to heart.”
For more information, visit http://www.spncincinnati.com/.

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