The Legion of Mary in the Archdiocese of New York has been commemorating the worldwide Catholic lay organization’s 100 years of service rooted in the “spiritual works of mercy.” The organization was founded on Sept. 7, 1921, in Dublin, Ireland, by Servant of God Frank Duff.
“He was a layman who was inspired to develop a lay organization that focused on the spiritual works of mercy after he saw how much good the St. Vincent De Paul Society was doing in helping souls with the corporal works of mercy. He worked in that organization first,” John Kinney, president of the Legion’s New York Regional Senatus, told Catholic New York.
Gatherings to commemorate the milestone included a Sept. 25 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral celebrated by retired Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara. The homilist was Father Hugh Gillespie, S.M.M., a Montfort missionary who is director of Our Lady of the Island Shrine in Manorville, L.I. Father Gillespie has conducted Legion of Mary retreats throughout the United States. His homily included words of gratitude and support for the Legion’s good works over the past century.
Kinney said, “The Legion is active on Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and Putnam counties, and of course throughout the world. Like many organizations in the Church we have an aging group of members but we also have some young members.” He noted that most of the members are “doing good deeds in a quiet way in the parishes. Mother Teresa said, ‘Not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love.’”
Legion of Mary members become instruments of the Holy Spirit through a balanced program of prayer and service. Works include door-to-door evangelization inviting people to the parish, parishioner visitation, visitation of the sick, the homebound and the aged, religious education, visiting the newly baptized and meeting other spiritual needs of the parish community.
The Legion, in essence, is “an extension of the heart and hands” of the pastor and works under the permission of the pastor, as the Legion’s informational materials explain. Parish-level members meet once a week for prayer, planning and discussion in a family setting; then they do two hours of work, such as visitation, each week in pairs. The volunteer outreach efforts include praying the Rosary with families and handing out parish bulletins, prayer leaflets and religious medals.
Kinney noted that the Legion prays the Rosary in public, including during pro-life events. “The Legion of Mary focuses on the spiritual works of mercy,” he said. The first Legion of Mary group in the Archdiocese of New York was established in January 1935 at St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Bronx. It was named Mother of Divine Grace Praesidium.
“Many of our Legion groups at the parish level, which we call a praesidium, have reopened this spring or summer; some have not due to the reluctance of members who are elderly,” Kinney said. “We have some members who have not returned due to fear of Covid and their age, their physical frailty. We have a large group of legionaries who are Hispanic, and we have Korean legionaries as well as Haitian legionaries who speak mainly in their native language.”
Suzanne Zisblatt, a parishioner of Our Lady Star of the Sea on Staten Island, is president of the parish’s Legion praesidium and vice president of the Staten Island Curia. Mrs. Zisblatt told CNY, “It is a beautiful prayer organization. The motto is ‘To Jesus Through Mary.’ The backbone is the weekly meetings of the (parish) praesidium. The curia meetings are monthly. It is evangelization; the goal is the salvation of souls.”
The first Legion governing council, the New York Curia, was established in 1944; it became a Senatus in 1956. The New York Regional Senatus governs all councils in New York state; it is subject to the highest council, the Councilium in Dublin.
Organizers said there are 10 councils active in the Archdiocese of New York totaling about 800 members (300 active, 500 auxiliary). Auxiliary members are those who don’t engage or no longer engage in active service but do participate in Legion-guided daily prayers and stay in supportive contact with the organization. Statewide, there are more than 2,000 active members, and 4,000 auxiliary members in New York and northern New Jersey. Worldwide membership totals more than 3 million active members and 8 million auxiliary members.