Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Oblates of Saint Charles

Article

Active. Under An Oblation. Founded 1578. Motto: Humilitas.

The Oblates of Saint Charles, originally known as the Oblates of Saint Ambrose, are not a Religious Order, but a Congregation of secular priests living in community who “offer” themselves to the Bishop of the diocese to do any work he may require. Their founder was Saint Charles Borromeo, the saintly Archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal with the title of Saint Praxede. He was born in 1538, and as a little child loved to play at being a priest, and actually received the tonsure at the age of twelve; from his earliest youth he is said to have lived a life of union with God, and to have resolved to give himself entirely to Him.

When he was still quite a boy an uncle left him a large abbey and benefice in Arona, the income of which he devoted to the poor and the Church, and never allowed any of it to be spent on his family. At sixteen he went to Padua to study theology and philosophy and canon law at the University. He was there five years, and in the meantime he received another benefice from an uncle on his mother’s side, Cardinal Medici, afterwards Pope Pius IV.; and about this time his father’s death called him home, where he began to labour to bring the monks in his abbey back to their original rule, which had become relaxed, thus in his youth beginning on a small scale what, after he became Archbishop, he was destined to do for the whole diocese.

When his uncle Cardinal de Medici was raised to the Pontifical throne he called his saintly nephew, then twenty-two, to Rome, and made him a Cardinal, and a few months later conferred upon him the archbishopric of Milan, and after he had taken priests’ Orders made him Grand Penitentiary, and placed several Religious Orders under his protection. It was not till the Council of Trent, in which he played an important part, was over that he obtained the Pope’s permission to leave Rome, where he was doing such good work, and returned to Milan. After many years of trial, finding it impossible to provide for all the wants of his arch -diocese, especially in the mountainous regions, where there were many districts unprovided with churches or priests, he conceived the idea of getting together a congregation of secular priests, who united to him or his successor as their chief, should “offer” themselves to him, to go where he sent them and do whatever work he commanded, under a simple vow of obedience. He found several zealous priests ready to join him, and he placed them under the protection of Saint Ambrose, and gave them the title of Oblates. For a long time they were known as the Oblates of Saint Ambrose, or the Ambrosians.

It is well known that Saint Charles’s efforts at reforming the Religious Orders made him many enemies, especially among the Humiliants, a member of which Order actually attempted his assassination. When he was at night prayers in his private chapel, this monk fired a pistol at him as he was kneeling before the altar; the Archbishop escaped by a miracle, though struck by the bullet, and the Order of Humiliants was suppressed in 1570 as a punishment. From this time the opposition to his plans by the Religious Orders was withdrawn, and the Jesuits, Theatines, Capuchins, and other Orders all co-operated with him in his educational works, colleges, seminaries, and schools, with which the Oblates were also occupied later. We can only refer, and briefly here, to his charitable works. He spent the whole of his private fortune on the poor during the pestilence which broke out in Milan in 1576, and, not content with this, sought the plague-stricken victims, and with his own hands tended them, consoled them, gave them the last Sacraments, and distributed all his clothing and house-linen among them. He laboured for the reform of the secular clergy as well as for that of the Religious Orders, but it is to the foundation of the Oblates that we must confine ourselves.

Pope Gregory XIII approved them, and bestowed upon them some of the revenues of the suppressed Humiliants, and Saint Charles established them at the celebrated and popular church of the Holy Sepulchre in Milan, and bought some houses in the neighbourhood to accommodate them. He divided the Congregation into six communities or “assemblies,” with a Superior and spiritual director for each, and directed that two of these “assemblies” should always reside in the city, and the others be distributed in other parts of the diocese; but to keep up a spirit of union among them, the Oblates of each community were to meet together once a month for a spiritual conference, at which their rule was to be read. Saint Charles frequently visited the Oblates at Saint Sepulchre’s, and took the warmest interest in them and their work; their foundation is considered the crowning achievement of his life.

The Constitutions he drew up for them are contained in four books; the first deals with the object of the Congregation and the reception of subjects, the second with the exterior life of the Oblates, the third with their interior life, and the fourth contains the celebrated instructions on the manner of holding missions. The Oblates bind themselves by a simple oblation to obey the Bishop in all things connected with their work, and to remain for life in the Congregation. They are allowed to retain their property, but they are not allowed to dispose of it without the consent of the Bishop, and they are advised by the Constitutions to take a vow of poverty.

The novitiate lasts two years.

The Congregation numbered 200 members fifty years after its foundation; they were suppressed in 1844, but re-erected at Milan in 1848 through Archbishop Romilli.

Several Congregations have since then been founded on the same rule, with Constitutions to suit the local exigencies, in other countries.

The Westminster Congregation was founded under Cardinal Manning, and their Constitutions were approved by the Holy See in 1857 and confirmed in 1877; they now number twenty-five, and have four houses in London, besides Saint Charles’s College at North Kensington and one at Clacton-on-Sea, founded in 1895. The mother-house is at Bayswater, founded in 1857. The Notting Hill house and church were founded in 1860; the church of Our Lady of the Holy Souls and house at Kensal New Town were founded in 1872; and the church and house in Palace Street, Westminster, in 1857.

MLA Citation

  • Francesca M Steele. “The Oblates of Saint Charles”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 1 December 2018. Web. 17 December 2018. <>