75th Anniversary of the Founding of the Ladies of Schoenstatt
The secular institute of the Ladies of Schoenstatt, or “Frauen von Schönstatt”, in its original German name, was founded in early 1946. It should have been formed on December 8, 1945, but because of a trip abroad by Fr. Joseph Kentenich, it was actually established on February 2, 1946.
Dr. Gertrud Pollak
11 February 2021
Exactly one year later, in the Apostolic Constitution “Provida Mater Ecclesia”, Pope Pius XII gave his pontifical approval to living within such secular institutes and communities. This is also how the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, founded in 1926, and the Schoenstatt Brothers of Mary, founded in Dachau in 1942, established their canonical place within consecrated life.
Religious people in the world
The Ladies of Schoenstatt emerged from the large women’s movement that had grown from many different smaller groups in Schoenstatt from 1920. At the beginning, married women, widows and those who had opted to lead a chaste life formed groups together in what were then Federations or Leagues.
In the 1930s it became clear that the motto which the Ladies of Schoenstatt community was to be constituted under was “an order in the world.” This described the two emphases that characterised the new institute: the community’s commitment to the evangelical counsels of charity/poverty, obedience, and chastity, and the permanence of one’s own place of residence and profession.
Following changes in society and the Church
The goal of consecrating oneself to God in one’s profession and to make him present in the world in everyday life had already motivated Christian women years before, after World War I and when resisting National Socialism (the Nazis). Fr. Kentenich often expressed to the Ladies of Schoenstatt to be mindful that the original mission consciousness should become life.
This way of life was always necessary to make changes in society and in the Church. “This has always been our task: to feel the finger of God in the events of our time, not to run away from them,” said Fr. Kentenich. It is very clear that such an objective among women with very different professions is urgently needed for the Church today. But it is a difficult challenge, not a relaxed single life, as some may think. This is quite obvious to us members.
Pope Paul VI expressed it in very clear terms, saying that the aim of “secular institutes should become, so to speak, experimental laboratories, in which the Church tests the ways she relates to the world” (Pope Paul VI, 1976).
Living an Attitude of Going Beyond
After the initial influx of women from a wide range of backgrounds, in recent decades it has mostly been women from educational, medical, and professional backgrounds who have joined the institute. They usually live without their colleagues or neighbours knowing that they belong to the community, and the activities and actions they undertake, whether large or small, are generally carried out quietly, anonymously, so to speak.
For example, I think of a nurse at the reception desk of a hospital who has to decide who can be admitted and who cannot. She says she could not stand the stresses of her job without connecting with God. Or two doctors who, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, have made it possible for patients to stay in contact with friends and family thanks to digital technology.
Here, too is a clear motivation in the Christian spirit: a teacher who professionally translates Fr. Kentenich’s pedagogy into a language with more modern vocabulary, so that important ideas are not lost.
But, of course, I also think of, with great appreciation, numerous other Schoenstatt Ladies, many of whom are of advanced age. In many ways they all have lived a missionary life, and now they unite themselves in prayer to the intentions of the world and in giving their lives to this great cause. They feel solidarity with the Ladies who are still active, and pray a lot for them and for all that they experience.
All of us in the community long for new vocations from young women who wish to dedicate themselves to this mission, to live in the real world what the Holy Father rightly calls the “attitude of going beyond,” and precisely what Fr. Kentenich wanted from this community.
The center of the community, which extends across more than 20 countries, is Haus Regina in Schoenstatt. Here the members of the community gather for conferences and retreats, which unfortunately are not currently possible due to the pandemic.
The chapel of the motherhouse was redesigned in 2013 and is a living testimony to the mission of the community. The Unity Cross in the niche above the altar is small, but it’s the focal point which represents Mary in her union with Christ. This union also shows how the members of this secular institute want to act towards people in their everyday lives today. The base of the cross is formed by the eternal rings of deceased Schoenstatt Ladies. These rings, signs of lives lived following Christ in the evangelical counsels, symbolically represent all of the approximately one thousand women who have walked this path in the last 75 years. Today, the institute has about 200 members internationally.
On February 2, 2021 members of the community celebrated Founding Day in their own regions and in their own ways. In July 2021 we are planning to hold an international congress and have a big celebration. We hope and pray that the progress of Covid-19 will be slower to enable this event to go ahead. Preparation for this congress will be important, because if the way of life of the Ladies of Schoenstatt is to be put into practice in a timely manner, it will have to be properly thought through and coordinated.
There are members of our community in the following countries: Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, Slovakia, Czech Republic, India, Congo, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, USA.
To learn more about our community or find contact details of our main centers around the world, please visit: www.frauen-von-schoenstatt.de.
Translation: Luciana Loyola and Stephen Bromley