eBfore passing on to the response of the Rock Hill Oratory to the call of the Second Vatican Council, we need once more to look at what was going on in our community life.
The Oratory has always been close to the people it serves. We were in South Carolina, and our presence meant a lot to our Diocese of Charleston. We felt very close to our bishops and diocesan priests and religious. Because we stay in one place all our lives, we can become an integral part of the local church. In our diocese, that meant we could help where needed. We not only served in York, Chester, Lancaster, and Fairfield counties with resident pastors, but during one period, the late 1940s and early 1950s, we staffed several parishes throughout the diocese. We did this primarily to be of service, filling several vacancies. Also, the income helped us as were were always overextended financially due to the mission aspect of our ministry.
As we were trying to learn more about Oratory, we did not want to forget service to the local Church. One of the stories handed down in the Rock Hill Oratory folklore has to do with the late Archbishop Hurley of Florida. One of our members was a a gathering and was introduced to the Archbishop. He had not heard of the Oratory. He asked what we did. When the response indicated that we served our diocese by staffing several paishes, the Archbishop said, “What could you do for my diocese that I cannot do for myself?”” Though said very lovingly and respectfully, it was one of those statements which occasioned some reflection. It is a phrase we have often recalled as we realize it is by being what Oratorians uniquely are that we best serve our Church. And so we were truly ready for the call of the Second Vatican Council in its document “Perfecto Caritatis:” i.e., that we should return to the charisms of our founder and adapt them to our time and place. For us, the years of renewal were an attempt to do just that.
One aspect of our congregation’s involvement with the renewal of the Oratory has been through active participation in and strong support of the Confederation of the Oratory. Delegates from Rock Hill attended the Oratorian Congresses of 1969, 1975, and 1982. In that period, three Rock Hill Oratorians were elected to positions of government in the Confederation. For each of the Congresses, we collaborated with other Oratories in the United States. Here we mention that in 1967 a second Oratory was founded in McAllen, Texas, by members of Rock Hill. That congregation subsequently relocated in nearby Pharr.
These Congresses, by their very nature, put necessary emphasis on legislation responding to the Holy See’s call to adapt our spiritual roots to the circumstances of time and place. One proud achievement of the Rock Hill Oratory was the successful presentation at the Congress of 1969 which gave voting rights to lay brothers as well as priests.
In the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, our congregation spent a good bit of time looking at our customs and lifestyle. W recommitted ourselves to service to our people through parish ministry. But we expanded our vision and dreamed of the day when our Oratory would be able to serve our local Church and our area by using our unique charisms. One work dear to Philip — for him the only work really was the Oratory — was a close bonding with laity by praying together, by evoking the gifts of the people by sending them out to minister. We began to look at ways to have our ministry reflect our charisms more. We had to be sure that while not neglecting the people we served, we did not neglect ourselves either. We asked pastors who lived out at parishes to be sure to be at Rock Hill every Monday for common life and an overnight stay. We began to search for ways in which we could share with our people the gifts the Oratory has.
In 1967, we arrived at an important decision. We would continue to give maximum effort to parish ministry, but would also develop more fully, extra parochial ministries. Also, in the late 1960’s, we clearly delineated the purpose and content of our initial formation program (i.e., training seminarians and brothers) in a way which stressed the charisms of Philip and our traditions.
In 1976, we reached a milestone. After some years of building up to the action we entered into an agreement with C.A.R.A., the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. We worked two years with Father Cassian Yuhaus, C.P., preparing for what has come to be known as Oratorian Pastoral Planning. The purpose of this ongoing program is the renewal of the congregation in keeping with the charisms of Philip Neri.
For many years thereafter, we looked at our lifestyle and ministry. We had experts in various fields come in and help us to grow. The first three years we spent three days a month with this renewal program: i.e., with all members giving the entire day. As we progressed, we were able to limit the expenditure of time to a day a month, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But we worked in small task forces with the built-in accountability that goes with a commitment to the planning process. Spending this kind of energy, time and financial resources reminds us we are to be serious about living our charisms and of sharing Oratorian values with those we serve.
In a liturgy on February 22, 1979, all our members signed our Mission Statement. We believe it speaks who we are and how we desire to be present to our people. The text of the statement reads:
–”To search the Gospel and joyfully live the charisms of St. Philip Neri in a ministry of prayer, proclamation of the Word and social justice.;
— To be challenged and affirmed in a community that is unique in its government, communal in its approach to ministry and a faithful steward of its alms;
— To be accepting of personal charisms, developing a shared ministry with the laity and actively promotion the renewal and service of the local Church.”