The Oblates of the Virgin Mary arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s, and those pioneering generations of brothers are now our cherished elders and retired religious. Their years have been filled with exciting growth and opportunity within the Oblates, and their extraordinary promise to live according to God’s plan for them has changed their lives and those they’ve reached through ministries near and far.
Celebrating a Lifetime of Service
Becoming an Oblate of the Virgin Mary is a journey as much as it is a lifelong commitment. Discerning a vocation and the formation process is just the beginning of religious life, which can turn into decades spent in different parishes and ministries.
Meet Our Oblate Elders
If you were to visit California’s St. Peter Chanel parish in Hawaiian Gardens, you might have the good fortune to meet some of the Oblates who have served in OMV missions and ministries around the world.
Fr. Vincenzo Antolini, now a Priest in Residence, and Fr. Larry Darnell, the current Pastor, have countless stories to share about religious life, including their shared time in São Paulo many years ago. While one of them isn’t ready to transition to a “retired religious” status just yet, both men demonstrate how a lifetime of service can strengthen our spirituality and faith in places far from home.
Fr. Vincenzo Antolini, OMV
As written by Fr. Tom Carzon, OMV
Every great epic – the Divine Comedy, the Odyssey, even Star Wars – starts in medias res, in the middle of the action, and that is how I got to know Fr. Vincenzo Antolini. When I entered Our Lady of Grace Seminary in 1986, I met Fr. Antolini as a funny Italian priest – think of Danny Devito in a collar – who took a lot of pictures and cracked everyone up.
That initial impression was not wrong. But with time I learned so much more about Fr. Antolini.
First I discovered that he was the founding father of our OMV presence in the US. In 1976, 45 year old Fr. Vincenzo arrived in Boston, fresh from our mission in the Amazon, with a little cash in his pocket and no knowledge of English. He established our community at St. Clement Shrine, where he eventually opened Our Lady of Grace Seminary in 1978. As our presence in the US grew and changed, so did his ministry.
He was sent to Los Angeles in 1979 to begin a new OMV community, and became the founding pastor of St. Peter Chanel parish in Hawaiian Gardens in 1987.
In 1991 he was sent to serve as director of a retreat house in Wisconsin, and later returned to Italy. In 1994, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, he went to Romania to interview some young men seeking to join our community. His epic took him next to Mexico, where he became a spiritual father to a small village, caring for the material and spiritual welfare of his flock.
Eventually, Fr. Antolini was called back to Boston, where I worked with him at St. Francis Chapel. He called me “Boss”, which was quite humbling. There he dedicated himself to the confessional, reaching out to the many visitors from around the world who visited our Chapel in the Mall. Père Vincent offered Mass in French, Pai Vicente said Mass in Portuguese and Padre Vincenzo offered Mass in Italian.
“It looked like different priests, but it was the same guy!” he said with a laugh.
While working with Fr. Antolini at St. Francis Chapel, I got to know more of his story from the beginning. Born in Rome in 1931, he experienced the hardships of war as a young boy. After surviving the bombardment of Rome and the tragic disappearance of his father, he entered the Oblate seminary at the age of 14.
“After those problems that we have right now, I don’t know why I am alive. I consecrate myself to you, Jesus. I want to go to the seminary to be a priest.”
After his ordination at the age of 27, he was sent to Brazil, to the parish of São Paulo Apostolo in Curitiba, where he built a church, a school and a seminary. From there he went on to establish our mission in Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon.
While visiting the network of chapels by boat in that mission, he heard the news that many Americans were joining the Oblates, though the community had no presence in the US. “I want to help, but you must be very good, God, because I want to help these people, but I am here, driving the boat. I would be very happy to help those people, but I am here, very far away.”
Within a couple months, he was back in Italy, where he was asked to go to Boston… just for two months because he didn’t know any English, after all. “Well, for two months I can go wherever you want – for two months.” And that brought him to the beginning of my story with him, years later.
When he celebrated his 60th anniversary of ordination in 2018, he looked back over his epic life journey to that point.
“I always tried to do God’s will. In the middle of the changing situation, always I saw God’s will guiding me. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima helped me a lot. I know I didn’t deserve all the graces God gave to me – to be always enthusiastic (not always jumping up and down) but always enthusiastic about my vocation. I have always been happy to be a priest, to be an Oblate of the Virgin Mary. I have never doubted my vocation.
That’s why I think the Lord Jesus protected me all over – in the bombing of Rome, in the mission in Brazil, and here in Boston, I felt the assistance of the Lord, the love of the Lord.
I feel grateful, and at the same time shy, because I am not a saint. I am a sinner. I wish to be better, to say, but anyway here I am. And I wish to you good health, I wish you always to be enthusiastic. Thank you for hearing me.”
Fr. Larry Darnell, OMV
As published in our Fall 2021 newsletter
Fr. Larry Darnell, OMV celebrated his 81st birthday in August. He has been an Oblate of the Virgin Mary for 46 years. At age 81, Fr. Larry still serves as a compassionate and capable Pastor of the parish of St. Peter Chanel, as he has done for over 27 years.
In a recent interview, he reflects on how God prepared him for his life’s work through each experience on his journey: from childhood, college, and career, to answering the call, formation as an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, and obediently accepting assignments around the world.
Fr. Larry grew up in a good home in Memphis, Tennessee, the youngest of 3, and attended Catholic school. He first received his priestly call at 18 when he received some pamphlets but threw them in the wastebasket because he had been accepted to Princeton.
He attended Princeton University where his focus on academics almost caused him to lose his faith. However, on the rowing team he felt a great sense of community and brotherhood among his teammates, and found release from tensions in the physical rigor of the sport. While in college, he served as a Marine reservist for 6 years. Both his crew team and the Marines fostered discipline and community, serving as foundations for religious life.
Following college, young Larry returned to Memphis and began a successful career in the insurance industry for four years. Increasingly, he felt unfulfilled and felt Our Lady calling him back to the church. He started attending daily Mass and realized that he wanted to be at church instead of selling insurance.
“When I was 29, Our Lady goes to the wastebasket, she takes the vocation out, she dusts it off… She says, ‘Try Again.’”
With the guidance of his spiritual director, he began formation with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Rome and continued later in Boston. He struggled in his journey as he had to learn to be a new person, to be humble, to obey, and to trust the spirit.
Br. Larry’s first assignment was to a very large impoverished parish of 20,000 in the suburbs of São Paulo, Brazil with Fr. Sergio, OMV. In 1982, he was ordained a priest while in Brazil. Fr. Larry credits his ability to lead today’s flock of 50,000 at St. Peter Chanel to the great example of Fr. Sergio and the pastoral training he provided. In retrospect, Fr. Larry believes, “What God was actually doing in my life was training me to come to St. Peter Chanel.”
Fr. Larry learned great love from the people in Brazil and did not want to leave them, but returned to the United States under obedience to serve as administrator of St. Francis Chapel in Boston. He felt unprepared for the role and had to learn to manage finances, maintenance issues, and legal matters. Looking back, he recognizes, “What was God doing? He was training me to come to St. Peter Chanel.”
Fr. Larry relocated to California in 1989 to serve with Fr. Antolini at St. Peter Chanel. He became Pastor of St. Peter Chanel in 1994, leading the community to great devotion to the Eucharist, Our Lady, the Rosary, the Spiritual Exercises, and the strong faith community that exists today.
There is an Oblate ideal handed down from the beginnings of the congregation that says, “The Oblate dies in the pulpit or in the confessional.” Fr. Larry appears determined to do just that!
Caring for Our Elders & Retired Religious
After years of serving the Lord and our communities, who takes care of retired priests and elder Oblate brothers? We all do. Funds for their care come from a combination of gifts to our local ministries, a charitable grant, and the Lanteri Charitable Trust.
While some Oblates are eligible for medical assistance through federal programs, the gap between that support and the cost of care is quickly widening during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’d like to help celebrate these many lifetimes of service, please consider donating to the Oblates of the Virgin Mary Annual Fund to support our elders.
Your gift not only offers comfort and compassion to our brothers, but also ensures that our operating funds stay focused on OMV ministries.
Is there an elder Oblate or retired religious brother who has made a positive impact on your spiritual life? We welcome your stories and well wishes for these men of faith, who guide us and inspire us to serve with love and humility in our search for holiness.