Wilmington Oblates host their superior general

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Dialog reporter

 Father Kiesel found his vocation with the order in Brazil, now he leads the order from Rome and the road

WILMINGTON — He lives in Italy, but Father Aldino Kiesel keeps a close eye on the work being done by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales throughout the world. This month, Father Kiesel, the superior general of the congregation, has had an opportunity to see the local Oblates in action during a visit to the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province.

Father Kiesel visits each of the provinces once every four years, and his stops in the Diocese of Wilmington have included the Oblate facilities in Childs, Md., Salesianum School and Christ Our King Parish. He also traveled to DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., and parishes in New Jersey, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.

The superior general also participated in the diocesan Mass for women and men religious celebrating jubilee anniversaries in their congregations. Four Oblate priests were among the honorees at the May 5 Mass at the Church of the Holy Child in Wilmington, where Bishop Malooly was the main celebrant. (See bios of jubilarians on page 3.)

 

• Leader on the road

Father Kiesel, 56, will visit the Oblate’s Toledo-Detroit Province and return to Rome at the end of June.

The superior general spends about half his time on the road. The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales minister in 18 countries, including India, South Africa, Ivory Coast and his native Brazil. His objective is to encourage the Oblate priests and brothers and to be open to help them in whatever manner they need. He keeps up with news from the various provinces through reports from local officials, but visiting gives him another perspective, he said. Through his first few days in Wilmington the first week of May, he was encouraged by what he experienced.

Father Aldino Kiesel, superior general of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, has been visiting the order’s Wilmington-Philadelphia province in recent weeks. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Father Aldino Kiesel, superior general of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, has been visiting the order’s Wilmington-Philadelphia province in recent weeks. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

“One of the good things I am experiencing here is a very good spirit among our confreres,” he said during an interview at the faculty house at Salesianum. “In small things, our Fathers try to help each other. I think the small things are very important for community life.”

He is pleased by the Oblates’ commitment to the poor, both locally and worldwide. He pointed to Nativity Prep in Wilmington, a tuition-free middle school for boys in Wilmington, and their work in Camden, N.J.

“These are signs that this province is committed to the poor people,” he said.

Father Kiesel was also impressed by the commitment to Salesian spirituality at Salesianum, where he met with the principal, Father Chris Beretta, and the president, Brendan Kennealey. He said the school makes the lay staff part of the Oblate family by training them in Salesian philosophy.

That same spirit permeates the building, he added.

““I was very happy going around, you see a really Salesian spirit,” he said. “You see pictures, you see statements or thoughts. There’s really a different atmosphere in the school, especially compared to a public school. It makes us very unique, very Salesian.”

• Oblates in Brazil

A native of Brazil, Father Kiesel speaks Portugese, Spanish, Italian, English and German, which is his family’s ancestral tongue. In fact, German was spoken in his home as a child and was his first language.

There was an Oblate minor seminary in his hometown, and when he was 12 he met an Oblate priest who visited schools and promoted vocations. That was his introduction to the congregation. Father Kiesel entered the minor seminary but left after a year. That contact with Salesian spirituality, however, left him wanting more.

“It was like a food I needed for my life. I was glad and joyful when someone would teach something about Salesian spirituality,” he said.

He made his first profession as an Oblate in 1981 and was ordained five years later. After two years in parish work, Father Kiesel began working in formation for seminarians and doing mission work. He was the head of the South American Province for two years, and in 2006 was elected to his current position.

One of his main objectives is the congregation’s identity.

“It doesn’t matter if we are in school, parish or other ministries,” he explained. “It is important that we don’t lose our focus on identity, to live and to spread Salesian spirituality because it is a treasure we have received from God, and it’s part of our mission.

“We have so many positive reactions from lay people to whom we minister. We offer the treasure of spirituality to lay people.”

 

• On another South American

Pope Francis has a fan in Father Kiesel. The two have met once, in 2013, at a meeting at the Vatican of the leaders of religious congregations. One morning during that meeting, the pope had set aside three hours to speak with the various clergy.

“When we started the meeting, after the prayer, he said, ‘OK, today we will have three hours to dialogue, but then I have to go because at one o’clock I have a torture with the dentist,’” Father Kiesel recalled with a laugh.

He sees the South American in the pope, who is from Argentina. Pope Francis likes to be with people, which is part of the culture in South America, and wants the church to be like a home where everybody feels welcomed. He also talks a lot about mercy and forgiveness and has declared a year of mercy to begin in December.

Pope Francis is convinced of the importance of mercy, Father Kiesel said.

“He preaches more by deeds than by words,” he said. “He remembers the words of Francis of Assisi: You have to preach always, always, sometimes also by words.”

His honesty and openness has appealed to people, Father Kiesel said, who relayed the story of an older Muslim man he met last year. The man was with a group of people at St. Peter’s Square in wheelchairs. The pope reached out to one of the man’s friends, and the man was so impressed that he asked to be baptized.

“Pope Francis is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working,” Father Kiesel said. “He’s a happy person. Each happy person touches the other’s heart. When he smiles, it is something that comes from his heart. It is not artificial.”