Father Alphonse RAKOTONDRAVELO and his mission in Rome

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Rome 06On November 1, 2016, upon request of the Superior General, I was officially nominated by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, as the director of the Papal Library at the Pontifical Urban University. I am writing this article at the request of Father Mariusz Kasperski OMI, the superior of the Delegation of Madagascar.

1. A short history of the University

The history of this great Vatican University goes back to the founding of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, which was founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. The idea for the founding of an educational facility for missionaries Ad Gentes already began in 1609. This led to the founding of the pontifical school in 1624; founded to preach the Gospel in new geographical and cultural contexts. Pope Urban VIII erected this institution on August 1, 1627. This is where the current name comes from, “Pontifical Urban University”.

On October 1, 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the school to the rank of university, titled the “Ponificia Universita Urbaniana” (PUU), or the Pontifical Urban University. From the moment of its conception, it specializes in missiology, and today it has 5 main faculties: philosophy, theology, canon law, missiology, and the ISCSM - the Higher Institute of Catechetics and Missionary Spirituality. Likewise, it teaches foreign languages. Currently, there are about 1200 students (priests, seminarians, religious, and lay people) from across 5 continents. Certain Italian Oblates taught for many years at this university.

The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples is the High Chancellor.

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2. Library, missionary bibliography and the Oblates

The present building of the PUU library opened on October 1, 1979; it is a large library, which actually joined two libraries: the University Library of the Pontifical school (formed in 1627) and “Pontifical Missionary Library” of the Propagation of Faith (1926). Today this library is rich with 350,000 books, 1350 antiquity tomes, 4,660 periodicals and 6 special sources (14,000 books).

In 1925, Pope Pius XI already wanted missionary publications, hence the birth of Library of the Missions. This was the educational bibliography of mission or a missionary biographical collection of the Catholic Church. The concept and the publication of the Mission Library was undertaken by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the person of Father Robert STREIT, OMI (1875-1930), and next Father John DINDINGER, OMI (1881-1958). On this foundation, the directors and librarians of the “Pontifical Missionary Library” began a yearly publication “Bibliographia Missionaria” which was first published in 1933. This volume is international and inter-ritual in the missionary world and in missiology. Each year, the university publishes around 3500 publications. But the real foundation of the “Bibliographia Missionaria” depends on Father Johannes ROMMERSKIRCHEN OMI (1899-1978), the assistant of the then “Pontifical Missionary Library”.

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From 1972, the directorship of the PUU was completely put in the hands of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The three Oblates who worked as director are: Father Willi HENKEL OMI (from 1972 to 1999), Father Mark A. ROSTKOWSKI OMI (from 1999 to 2016), and Fr. Alphonse RAKOTONDRAVELO OMI (from 2016 onwards).

3. Role of the Director

The director of the library is an employee of the Vatican, who is in charge of 8 employees - specialists and alumni of this field :

  • Above all, the director ensures unity between the university, professors, and students; personnel - his primary coworkers, have their own roles, which the director has to coordinate ;
  • Supervises his employees. Each one of them have their own office (most of their work is on computers) and they alternate shifts in the reading room ;
  • Stores and renews the patrimony (books) of the university. He is responsible, as well, for the finances of the library: including buying 2-3000 new books a year, upkeep of buildings, and care of books according to policies ;
  • On one hand, maintains the relationship of the university with other libraries grouped in the URBE, the “Unione Romana Biblioteche Ecclesiastiche,” which is a network encompassing 18 Papal universities, academies, and institutes of Rome. On the other hand, the director also maintains relationships between universities and institutes around the world ;
  • The director also has under his care the library “Mater Ecclesia” in “Castel Gandolfo”, an annex of the university.  This is an institute that contains a boarding school for women, formation house, and catechetical studies. There are around 30 Sisters there, coming from different countries and different local congregations; some of them are taking courses at the Urban University with the hope of obtaining a license or a doctorate.

Our Congregation asked me to take on the responsibility of the role of Director. This responsibility is entrusted to the Oblates for decades. There are 4 Oblates working in the Vatican, three of whom work in the Propaganda Fide, and one for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

02RomeI arrived when there was a major renovation of the large reading room. The library has been closed for over a year, and that is why we must work in temporary offices. The decision was made, also, that the “Bibliographia Missionaria” should be published digitally; therefore the publication of books has ended…

While he may never read this article, I would like to sincerely thank the formal rector of the university, Father Alberto TREVISIOL. I also thank the library personnel... It is here, now, that I seriously realize the importance and meaning of the two inseparable legacies: of libraries, and books.

And this is the next mission...

Rome, December 8 2017
Father Alphonse RAKOTONDRAVELO, omi