The following article was written by the spiritual director of our Comitium, Fr. Jason Vidrine. It was published in the May 2009 edition of the Acadiana Catholic of the Diocese of Lafayette.
Mary’s army seeks to save souls
by Fr. Jason Vidrine
Prayer and outreach characterize the work of the Legion of Mary, now marking over 75 years in the Diocese of Lafayette.
There was an elderly gentleman sitting outside of his apartment in Carencro with an oxygen tank next to him. Seeing two Legion of Mary members visiting his neighbors, he asked them to come inside his apartment to speak with him. Going in, the two members heard how he was an altar boy at the Cathedral while growing up. They learned that he had moved to New Orleans and strayed far away from the Lord and His Church. After many years, he moved back to Acadiana and now wanted to find his way back. “We patiently listened to his story and answered as many questions as we could”, says Belva Fontenot, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Praesidium at St. Peter’s Church. They visited him about three times, and on the last visit, they brought a priest along. The elderly man went to confession and received Holy Communion. He also received the anointing of the sick, and about two months later, passed away. “This is the great joy that our work brings,” said Fontenot, who tells this story as an example of the quiet works of conversion being done by members of the Legion of Mary in our diocese.
As president of Our Lady of Grace Comitium, Gracie Guillory receives many reports like this from the 20 parish-based Legion of Mary groups, or praesidia, that are active throughout the Diocese of Lafayette. Membership in the legion includes over 100 active members and many more auxiliary members who commit to daily prayer. “Performing our works gives us a sense of doing Mary’s work by bringing people closer to her Son through her intercession,” said Joseph Charles, a fellow member with Guillory of Our Lady, Morning Star Praesidium, which meets at St. Ann Church in Mallet and Holy Family Church in Lawtell.
THE WORK OF MARY WITH GREAT LOVE
Founded in Ireland in 1921 by Servant of God Frank Duff, a layman, the Legion of Mary is one of the oldest and largest international lay movements in the Church. Its purpose is to help members, both men and women, become holy through prayer – especially a daily rosary – and by doing weekly apostolic work that help them become instruments of conversion for others.
Frank Duff and the first members of the Legion of Mary worked to lead prostitutes off the streets of Dublin and helped them rediscover their dignity. Working closely with their pastors, legionaries in southwest Louisiana continue that same love for others with zealous works like visiting the sick in hospitals and nursing homes and taking Holy Communion to shut-ins. Their most treasured work- which is a hallmark of the Legion- is their continued work of going out each week two by two, walking door to door, visiting homes within the parish to reach out to unchurched or fallen-away Catholics.
“The door to door visitation of homes as well as hospital visits are a great joy for me,” said Raymond Soileau, a member of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Praesidium, which meets at Village du Lac in Lafayette. “Each week, we are able to give an answer to that hunger for the Lord which we always find in them.”
NOT DYING OUT
The Legion of Mary predated the Second Vatican Council some forty years as a lay apostolic organization, and has always taken seriously the role of the laity in the work of evangelization. Frank Duff was honored at the Council as a lay Observer for his pioneering efforts with the lay apostolate. From its very beginning, he intended to develop a model of apostolate, which cherished both the contribution of priests and the essential role of laypersons. He knew that to stress the role of the laity is in no way to down play the role of the clergy.
In recent years, the Legion of Mary has experienced decline in different parts of the United States. While some English-speaking groups are seeing members dwindle as they age and die, other Spanish-language groups are flourishing. It continues to experience tremendous growth in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Annie Miller, a long-time member of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Praesidium at St. Genevieve Church in Lafayette sees the great need for the Legion of Mary’s work here in our diocese. “I enjoy the home to home visitation, but I also enjoy visiting the nursing home so much,” she says. “So many people are in need of Jesus in their lives…this area needs this great work because there are so many people in Acadiana who do not know their faith or who take it for granted.”
Our Lady of Prompt Succor Praesidium is one of the original groups that was founded shortly after the Diocese of Lafayette was created in 1918. According to a 1938 report, other parishes with a praesidium of the Legion of Mary included St. Paul in Lafayette, Immaculate Conception in Washington, Assumption in Carencro, St. Edward’s in New Iberia, and Holy Ghost in Opelousas. The Diocesan archives contain a letter sent from the Legion of Mary in the Archdiocese of New Orleans to Bishop Schexnayder in 1956 asking him to encourage the praesidia in the Diocese of Lafayette who were struggling to continue. Many of today’s existing praesidia were either revived or created at that time.
The newest group that joined together for the work of the Legion of Mary in our diocese is Our Lady, Queen of Apostles Praesidium at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Scott at the request of the Pastor, Fr. Gil Dutel. It has ten active members and seventeen auxiliary members.
“My favorite thing about the Legion of Mary is being an apostle with our Mother Mary, one who is literally sent to do the will of Christ,” said Katherine Hollier. Asked why she joined this new Praesdium of Sts. Peter and Paul in Scott, she responded, “I had prayed about wanting to do more in the service of God. I had tried other things and as they say, it wasn’t my cup of tea. After attending the first meeting of the Legion of Mary and learning what type of service it was – saving souls! – I realized Christ had answered my prayers through our Blessed Mother Mary.”
Legionaries are known as “Mary’s Army” because their groups are organized along military lines. Once a praesidium surpasses eight to 12 members, a new one is created in order to facilitate the weekly meetings, which consist of prayer and reports on how last week’s assignments – going door to door, visiting the sick, or teaching – were carried out. The Legion is, in essence, an extension of the heart and hands of the pastor. It is described as Christ-centered, Marian, evangelizing and missionary. Members work in the parish, with the parish, for the parish, doing whatever the parish needs.
Hollier said, “We Christians often serve others because of our love for God, neighbor, and wanting to be like Christ. With the Legion of Mary, you can do this with your whole being, and really feel, see, and hear what our Mother Mary has and continues to accomplish. We also share the love, joy, and courage of other members of the Legion. Some who first thought they couldn’t do door-to-door work, who were shy, handicapped, or felt unqualified have done just that: knocked on doors, knowing they are truly doing what Christ and the Apostles have already done.”
Fontenot, Guillory, Soileau, Miller, and Hollier, were among the legionaries who attended Holy Mass March 21 at St. Anthony Church to re-consecrate themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary and her work in an annual ceremony known as the Acies. Together they recommitted themselves to the important work of evangelization under the banner of Our Lady.
One of the primary goals that Bishop Jarrell highlighted last year for our diocese is the reconciliation of Catholics who have, for whatever reason, fallen away from the practice of their faith. The Legion of Mary has a long and excellent record of collaboration with the local pastor in reaching out to those who are away from the practice of the Catholic Faith and leading them back to the sacraments and the life of the Church. As the Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Grace Comitium of the Legion of Mary in Diocese of Lafayette, I know personally of the good work accomplished quietly and faithfully by its zealous members. How great it would be for every parish to have an active praesidium (local unit) of the Legion of Mary. In those parishes where an existing praesidium has become inactive or in those parishes which never had a praesidium, I highly recommend my brother priests to give serious consideration to supporting this important work. For many years, it has, and continues to produce great fruit.
For more information about the Legion of Mary, click on the website: https://legionofmarylafayette.wordpress.com or call the President, Gracie Guillory (337- 684-2881).