Servant Leadership Extraordinaire!
And they, took off their outer robes … and washed the women’s feet!
Sitting around the kitchen table at Dan and Joanne Friedt’s home last summer with Fr. Mike Dechant, OMI, the three of us (Mary Kieftendbeld, Joanne Friedt and Debbie Doornbos) told him about a dream we had to lead a retreat we had co-created. Fresh from forming as a team and facilitating our first Seasons of Our Lives retreat for the women in Pickardville, Alberta and area, we were excited and wanted to continue this ministry.
It seemed to us this was just the opportunity this Oblate priest was looking for. Fr. Mike wanted to do something special for the women of St. Philip Neri Parish in Saskatoon. He intuited that they were ready, and now that the pandemic restrictions had eased, it was time to make something happen. A plan was put in place and began to unfold. We discovered Fr. Mike has a ‘knack’ for promoting – a good missionary skill to have! We also discovered he is not an easy person to say ‘no’ to. He wants you to encounter the Lord!
As Fr. Mike was preparing the parish for our visit, we were preparing our retreat.
The Seasons of Our Lives retreat is about looking at our lives through the lens of nature and seeing the seasons of nature as a metaphor for our lives. Through Mary’s uplifting music, Debbie’s thoughtful input sessions, and Joanne’s meaningful rituals, we put the finishing touches on the retreat and ‘hit the road’ for Saskatoon with Dan Friedt as our chauffeur. The first week in May, with the trees just beginning to leaf out, we spent two amazing and blessed retreat days with thirty-six women gathered in the front lobby of St. Philip Neri Parish.
Should anyone wonder if there is a difference between an Oblate parish and other parishes, the following example highlights it. When lunch came, on both Friday and Saturday, the priests of the parish were not in their office or in the rectory. Fr. Mike Dechant and Fr. Bill Stang, along with associate Dan Friedt and a couple of volunteers, were in the kitchen serving the women attending the retreat the home cooked meal they had prepared largely on their own with some contributions from others. We stood back in awe as we watched them dish out the delicious food on a plate for each person. The famous Dechant flavoured family ribs were completely gone on Saturday as was the salad that Bill had spent much time chopping ingredients for the night before.
One could argue this was prudent, that it saved money or there was no one else available to do the job. Or one could argue this is just what Oblates do – it’s part of what is called “Oblate hospitality”. But when we watched it, we witnessed them being like Jesus who took off his inner robe, poured water in the basin, and washed the disciple’s feet. It was servant leadership, plain and simple!
Our retreat ended with Mass late Saturday afternoon. In true Oblate fashion, Fr. Mike invited us up to talk about the retreat – being an opportunist, he told us. We told him we would prefer to thank him rather than talk about the retreat. With gratitude expressed in abundance, our time at St. Philip Neri Parish ended with a beautiful blessing song. Looking out at the congregation, who all had their hands extended blessing us, brought tears to our eyes. “God is good”, Fr. Mike said. “All the time.” we replied.
By Oblate Associates Debbie Doornbos and Joanne Friedt