Dilexit Ecclesiam

He loved the Church



Joseph Kentenich, born in 1885 in Gymnich, near Cologne in Germany was the founder of the Schoenstatt Family Movement. He came from a " good and honourable family ", according to the parish priest who wrote a letter of recommendation for the young Joseph when he applied to enter the novitiate of the Pallotine order in Limburg in 1904. He was ordained to the priesthood on 8 July 1910 and taught at a college in Ehrenbreitstein until 1912 when he was transferred to Schoenstatt in Vallendar near Koblenz on the Rhine, where he was appointed spiritual director of the pupils at Schoenstatt college.

Personal freedom
Already, Father Kentenich was convinced of the need to form " firm, free characters " in order to enable them to stand up to the increasing mob mentality of the mass-society of the times which limited personal freedom. He observed modern man’s increasing inability to form sound attachments. This led to insecurity and rootlessness. He wanted to foster personal attachments in the religious and secular lives of his students. Father Kentenich found the " personalism " of the French philosopher Mounier a source of inspiration but above all he perceived the importance of a deep attachment to Our Lady and the necessity of having a place that would be a spiritual home (heimat). He then heard about the place of pilgrimage at Valle di Pompei in Italy, a fairly recently established place of pilgrimage developed by an Italian lawyer, Bartolo Longo who put all his trust in the Virgin Mary. In a fairly short time it became a hallowed place of Marian pilrimage.

Renewal of Church life
Father Kentenich was convinced after two years’ experience as spiritual director of the youngsters that Mary with her maternal power and wisdom had a very important role to play in their education and that Schoenstatt could become a place of grace and spiritual strength for them. In his teaching he emphasised the importance of striving for holiness in the ordinary events of daily life (workday sanctity) and of making small or big sacrifices to be offered to the Father by entrusting them to the " treasury of grace " of Mary, inseparable from her son Jesus Christ. This kind of language was not favourably received by those outside the Movement ! He also spoke of the " blank cheque " which amounted to the spirituality of self-abandonment to Divine Providence. Then the First World War was declared and youngsters were obliged to join the army. They needed to have an anchor, a spiritual home and a personal attachment. Fr. Kentenich was able to make use of a little chapel in the cemetry in Schoenstatt where he put a picture of Our Lady that has become known as the MTA (Mother Thrice Admirable). On 18 October 1914 he drew up a founding document for a sodality that formulated a Covenant of Love with Mary, Mother of God and our mother. Among these youngsters was Joseph Engling who was killed in military action in Northern France near Cambrai. In 1915 " the Ingolstadt-Schoenstatt parallel " was made. In fact the Marian Sodality of Ingolstadt, founded in 1595 and one of the first in Germany, had been responsible for bringing about a renewal of church life in southern Germany. So, why not Schoenstatt in 1915 ?

Papal blessing
In 1922 Pope Pius XI gave his blessing to the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement. Later came the Sisters of Mary, the Brothers of Mary, the Institute of Schoenstatt Women, the Institute of Schoenstatt Fathers, Schoenstatt Diocesan priests and many other elements. In 1933 Fr. Kentenich sent the first Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary to South Africa. In 1962, he sent three Schoenstatt Fathers to join them in their apostolate in Cape Town. Two of those priests are still working tirelessly in the very poor black communities in the townships and also in Transkei. In 1935 Sisters were sent to Brazil and Argentina to be followed the next year by Sisters sent to Chile. Their first house in Switzerland was established in 1938. There are now sisters in Scotland and Ireland. Meanwhile Father Kentenich gave endless retreats, conferences and formation courses. He believed in Mary as the great educator and developed this subject at length. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and the celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Schoenstatt, adversity struck the Movement. The Fulda Gestapo sent a report on the Movement to the headquarters of the secret police. Father Kentenich was arrested on 20 September 1941 and kept in solitary confinement in Koblenz for a month. In spite of his having a medical certificate stating that he was unfit to be sent to a concentration camp, he chose to go freely to Dachau in 1942.

Pastoral Activity in Dachau
Despite harsh conditions in the camp, Fr. Kentenich continued to work for the Movement and founded the Brothers of Mary as well as the Family Movement while in Dachau. In 1943 the Silver Cross of Pope Pius XII was presented to him. While he was in the camp the first daughter shrine was being built in Uruguay. In fact, the little chapel in Schoenstatt which contains the MTA (Mater Ter Admirabilis) came to be a symbol of the " Covenant Home ", the " Tabor " place of grace throughout the world. The Covenant is what is known as the Covenant of Love made by all members of the Schoenstatt family in a little ceremony of consecration to Our Lady. Replicas of this Shrine now exist as places of grace in many countries, including South Africa, South America, North America, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, to name but some.

From Schoenstatt to Milwaukee
Fr. Kentenich was released from Dachau in 1945 and returned to Schoenstatt at Pentecost. For the next seven years he worked vigourously at the development of the Marian spirituality and the training of priests, sisters etc. and he travelled extensively to visit the Shoenstatt families abroad. But he encountered opposition in the Church because his ideas were " new " and he had a large following of people who valued his spiritual direction. He was a very fatherly pastor. He encouraged them to strive towards personal holiness and to have a supernatural vision of the " new society in a new world ". He had the charism of giving people a " glimpse of heaven " while still on earth to urge them to greater holiness of life. Pilgrims to the Shrines still have this experience. As a result of opposition in the Church he was exiled from Europe in 1952 and he spent the next 14 years in Milwaukee, USA where he ministered to the local German community. " What we saw through his eyes was a person. He showed us the blessed Mother as someone who lived with others and felt the joys and sorrows of life as we do…a model for both men and women ". A daughter shrine was built in Milwaukee and he chose a magnificent site in nearby Waukesha for The International Schoenstatt Centre which is now an important retreat and conference centre with priests and sisters in separate houses on the same property.

Home at last

For Fr. Kentenich, the recognition in faith of the unique relationship between Jesus and Mary is the key to the secret of building a new Christian society. By giving the world a Marian character, by seeing in her " the official and permanent companion and helper of Christ in the whole work of redemption ", he believed a new society would come about. Mothers are urged to become " little Mary’s ". In the Covenant of Love with Mary her " children " can undergo a spiritual transformation enabling them to go into the world with confidence and missionary zeal. They experience the security of having a home as a haven of refuge and can therefore risk going out into the world with the certainty that the battle against the forces of evil will be won. In 1965 Fr. Kentenich was called to Rome where he was received by Pope Paul VI. He returned to Schoenstatt where he died on 15 September 1968 in the sacristy of the Adoration Church after celebrating the Mass of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Heavenly Father called him to his final home at the age of 80. In 1974 on 18 October, the 60th anniversary of the founding of Schoenstatt, the Holy See gave permission to open the beatification process for Father Joseph Kentenich.

Valérie Lewis

Schoenstatt Covenant Prayer
My Queen, my Mother, I give myself entirely to you, and to show my devotion to you, I consecrate to you this day, my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, myself without reserve. As I am your own, my good Mother, guard and defend me as your property and your possession. Amen

Source material :
See: Joseph Kentenich – A life for the Church – by E. Monnerjahn (Schoenstatt Publications, Cape Town)


All rights reserved Copyright AVM 1997-2003.   - Write to us