Oblates (Lat. oblati, oblatae, "offered up") is the name of three different classes of religious bodies in the Roman Catholic Church, which differ from the religious orders strictly so called in not being bound by the solemn vows of the religious profession.
(1.) The institution of the first of these, called The Oblates of St. Ambrose, was one of the many reform; introduced in the diocese of Milan by St. Charles Bor romeo towards the close of the 16th century. The members consisted of secular priests who lived in community, and were merely bound by a promise to the bishop to devote themselves to any service which he should consider desirable for the interests of religion St. Charles made use of their services chiefly as missionaries in the wild and inaccessible Alpine districts of his diocese. He drew up their constitutions, which were revised by St. Philip Neri (q.v.) and St. Felix Cantalici, and approved repeatedly by the papal see This institute, which had many establishments at Milan Verona, and other parts of Northern Italy, still exists and has recently been introduced into England by cardinal Wiseman, and the order possesses at present in London five houses, and serves four city missions.
Attached to the London oblates, but distinct from them in idea and institutes, is St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart of Foreign Missions, with a central house at Mill Hill, near London, and intrusted by pope Pius IX with the spiritual care of the freedmen of the United States. All missionaries educated by St. Joseph's Society leave Europe for life, devoting themselves to non-European races. They make vows of obedience, and bind themselves to practice evangelical poverty, and to go wherever sent: This society counts (1875) twelve priests and thirty students in divinity from men of all nations. They have three missions to blacks exclusively, in Baltimore, Charleston, and Louisville. Bishop Herbert Vaughan, of Salford, is the superior general.
(2.) Another institute, confined to females, is the Oblates of the blessed Virgin Mary, a body of French origin, which arose in the present century, and has been very widely extended. Their chief object is to assist the parochial clergy, by holding missions for the religious instruction of the people in any district to which they may be invited. This body was approved by pope Leo XII Feb. 17, 1826. They have been established in England and in Ireland, the British colonies, the islands of the Pacific, and the United States. Called to Canada in 1841, they immediately occupied in the extreme north and west of British America the old Jesuit missionary posts, and extended their labors to the remotest tribes. In' Canada they have several colleges, seminaries, and academies, with a constantly increasing body of priests. They also have numerous establishments in Northern New York, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington Territory. Other similar institutes might be enumerated, but the constitution of all is nearly the same.
(3.) There is also a female institute of oblates. which was established in Rome, about 1440, by St. Francisca of Rome, and which consists of ladies associated for charitable and religious objects, and living in community, but bound only by promise, and not by vow.
(4.) There are besides the Oblates Sisters of Providence, a sisterhood of colored women, founded at Baltimore in 1825 by the Rev. H. Jowbert, for educating colored girls, taking charge of colored orphans, and attending to the general needs of the colored people in the United States. These sisters were approved by Gregory XVI in 1831. Their mother house is in Baltimore.